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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Accepts Meeting with Kim Jong-un; Reaction to Trump and Kim's Meeting; February Jobs Report; Tariffs Could Offset Tax Cuts; Bringing Back Steel Jobs; Stormy Daniels Scandal. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 9, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] ALEXIS COE, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: The Kennedys were liberals, but what you hear is what you sort of hear a lot from the pope, like the Catholicism that was working against JFK --

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.

COE: And certainly even in "The New York Times," on the eve of the election said that will be the wildcard. We don't know how this will play out. The same way people didn't know how Trump, being a celebrity host, would play out, how Obama would play out. It was the great surprise.

WHITFIELD: Wow. It was a surprise, indeed.

All right, Alexis Coe, thank you so much.

COE: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: And there are lots of surprises in this documentary. You don't want to miss it. "The Kennedys." It premieres this Sunday.

All right, thanks so much for being with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing yet another remarkable news day with us.

Forget fire and fury. President Trump agrees to a summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un. It's an historic opportunity and a huge gamble.

Plus, a warning from the attorney representing Stormy Daniels. He says the adult film actress has evidence she is eager to make public and says the White House is now part of a cover-up.

And as we wait to hear later today from Florida's governor about new legislation with new gun control, just released 911 tapes remind us of Parkland's horror and a mother's panic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

911 OPERATOR: OK, what is that -- what is -- what is she saying what is happening? CALLER: Somebody just entered the room.

911 OPERATOR: OK. Who is it that entered the room?

CALL: Are they the police?

BACKGROUND: Stay together. I love you. I love you. It's mom (INAUDIBLE).

CALLER: Is it the police?

BACKGROUND: No. It's not the police. It's OK. It's OK. (INAUDIBLE).

CALLER: It's the police. They said put your hands up.

BACKGROUND: I love you. I love you. It's going to be fine. Can you hide somewhere? Can you play dead?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Back to that story a bit later.

We begin the hour, though, with the biggest wow of the Trump presidency. This one with life or death stakes. The unpredictable, art of the deal president now accepting an invitation to meet with the unpredictable dictator of a nuclear North Korea. It's a giant about face for a president who has long mocked the idea of negotiating with Kim Jong-un. But there are good reason to say yes. For starters, nothing else has worked for years, and North Korea now has missiles capable of reaching the United States.

Plus, South Korea sold this idea to the president after telling him Kim has agreed to key U.S. demands. The stated goal of any talks, a denuclearized North, no new missile or nuclear tests as long as diplomacy is ongoing. No easing of sanctions and no up-front demand that the United States and South Korea stop their planned joint military exercises. A giant opportunity for the president, and a huge gamble.

Putting the American president in the same room with a North Korean dictator is a first and a propaganda bonanza for a young leader who craves credibility as a global power. And if things don't go well, some worry that might actually increase the risk of conflict. All calculations for the president and the world to weigh as they also negotiate the date and the place to make history.

Let's start with CNN's Jeff Zeleny, live at the White House.

Jeff, how did we get from "locked and loaded" to "let's talk"?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it would be one thing if we could say that there were, you know, behind the scenes communications for several months that we didn't know about, that this was an ongoing set of negotiations, but that is not true. This was something that just came together very quickly yesterday when the South Korea delegation, which was not even scheduled to meet with the president until this afternoon, the president heard that they were in the West Wing. He wanted a meeting with them. And then shortly after 5:00 yesterday, he came into the briefing room with a smile on his face and he said, stay tuned for this announcement at 7:00.

So, John, this is very much a, you know, a seat of the pants decision by this president. But his rhetoric has been shifting over the last several months. We saw it earlier this week. He said he thought that they were sincere in their efforts. So we went from "fire and fury" eight months ago to this now.

So, John, we'll see what happens.

KING: They need to pick a time and a day. They need to pick a place. Do we have any sense -- one of the questions a lot of people watching this say, Trump and Kim at the table, who will be on the president's team? Is it Secretary Tillerson? Is it the national security adviser, General McMaster? Who is it?

ZELENY: John, that is a great question. We don't know the answer to that. The secretary of state, of course, was not even here yesterday. He's traveling in Africa. And he sure sounded like he did not know this was happening.

The vice president, of course, is playing a key role in this. But this is why the vacancies throughout the government, including at the ambassador level and at the State Department are certainly important here because they're not key people in these positions. So that is something that has to happen urgently to get these discussions happening behind the scenes of the meeting.

But, John, this is all on the president and certainly the highest stakes diplomacy he's ever engaged in.

John.

KING: Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

Let's head now, across to Asia, to Seoul. CNN's senior international correspondent Paula Hancocks is there.

[12:05:02] Paula, some skepticism, a lot of questions here in the United States. What is the reaction on the Korea peninsula, North and South?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, I think the one point that sums it is from the South Korea President Moon Jae-in, when he says that this is an almost miraculous event. Almost as though he wasn't expecting it to go this far, this quickly. And I'm quite sure he wasn't because no one else here was.

It hasn't been mentioned by North Korean state run media yet, but that's not a surprise. It generally takes them about 24 hours to react to anything. They're not as quick as we are.

But going back to Moon's statement. When Kim Jong-un's sister, Kim Yo- Jong, came down to South Korea to start these talks during the winter Olympics, I spoke to the South Korea officials who were inside those meetings and they said that it was North Korea that was really pushing this forward, that was saying, they have to move faster for inter- Korean peace. And that it was the South Koreans who were being more cautious and almost pulling back, saying we have to take this slowly. SO it really shows that North Korea is driving this forward.

A very interesting fact, though. When you think about the two men, Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, just a matter of months ago were discussing about potentially destroying each other's country, personal insults, and now they may sit down together.

John.

KING: Paula Hancocks, a remarkable breaking news story. Appreciate you joining us from Seoul.

With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights on this day, CNN's Abby Phillip, Michael Shear with "The New York Times," David Sanger with "The New York Times," and "Politico's" Rachael Bade.

David, I want to start with you. We've spent some time on this over the years.

DAVID SANGER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes.

KING: Every other president has said, no, you don't meet the leader until you have the basics, on any issue -- any issue. The president doesn't meet with the other head of state 99 times out of 100 unless you've negotiated almost everything, if not everything. And maybe there's one last thing to figure out, this is very different. Two different leaders. Very different issues. But a smart idea for the president?

SANGER: Well, like everything else in Trump world, the (INAUDIBLE) this one's turned upside down. And so the concept here would be, start with some general agreement, we assume, between two leaders, both of whom view themselves as the only ones who can save the world from this approaching conflagration. And then send people off to go work out the details.

The difficulty is that the details here are vastly more complex than, say, the details in the Iran nuclear deal that the president has been so critical of. Iran never had nuclear weapons. They only had the material to make it. We don't even know how many nuclear weapons the North Koreans have. So finding this stuff, verifying it, sending people out throughout the country, the ability to go do that, it's going to be tough.

KING: Yes. And now there's a debate about, you know, are they ready to miniaturize yet, can they miniaturize a nuclear warhead, put it on a missile? But there is no debate -- let me just show you a graphic here of the recent nuclear test. There's a debate about how great their missile technology is, are they all reliable? If they fired up five, how many would blow up or whatever. But it's indisputable now. And this is where Donald Trump is different from Barack Obama, George W. Bush or Bill Clinton. North Korea can now do that. They can launch a missile. They can get inside those lanes and reach the continental United States.

The question is, the White House says these are not negotiations. This will be a talk, leader to leader. The president is proud of his negotiating powers. He thinks he's the one, as David said, he's the one, the only one, who can do this. Are they confident they can get him into a room where he has limits? You prove to me -- you prove to me you mean denuclearization. What are you going to do, take concrete steps and then steps back or what?

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": One I think I -- I think those are all the right question. I think one thing to underscore is what Jeff said early on, which was the lack of apparent -- any apparent planning for this.

I was over at the White House last night when the South Korean national security adviser made the announcement. We all went up to Sarah Sanders' office. It was kind of a chaotic scene, as how often it is in this White House. There was -- there was no sense of discipline or that they were kind of rolling -- carefully rolling out a police that they've worked on a long time. And I think the big fear -- and, you know, David, who, obviously, like watched the unfurling of the Iran negotiations over many, many, many months -- the great fear I guess would be that the two leaders get into this room and nobody knows what President Trump is going to say to his counterpart. And, you know, is it -- is it going to be something that everybody's thought out very carefully, or is it going to be, you know, a kind of shoot from the hip kind of moment. And I think that's -- that's the challenge with something that's -- the stakes are so high.

KING: Right. And, Abby, jump in with more reporting from the White House.

But, first, let's just listen here to the voice. This is the former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, who's often very critical of President Trump, who says, you know what, given the stakes, given the moment, take the chance, but be careful.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I think this is a great opportunity here to maybe profoundly change the, you know, seven-decade-long paradigm on the peninsula of abject animosity. Now, that said, I get it about skepticism. You know, we've been through this movie before. But it's a huge opportunity. I would counsel, for what it's worth, that the objectives for this meeting be fairly modest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:10:20] KING: Every time there's been an agreement, they have cheated. Kim Jong-un is the great unknown. The agreements that have been negotiated were negotiated with his father, not with him.

How do they view this at the White House, and is the president's own staff fully on board here or are they worried?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think they don't know where this is going to go or how it's going to go. And I'm not just saying that lightly. I think they genuinely, with their boss, don't often know how he's going to move forward on certain issues. And there are definitely some White House advisers who feel like this meeting may not ever happen because it just may not ever materialize in a way that is advantageous to the United States.

But at the same time there's a recognition that once the president has it in his mind to do something, he's probably going to try to find a way to do it. So they're -- they're proceeding day by day on it.

And the, you know, the other thing about Trump and Kim Jong-un is that President Trump often approaches his relationships with other world leaders in the same way, which is that, just the sheer force of his personality will be able to broach, you know, these sort of vexing problems that his predecessors have been unable to solve. And that's -- that's not a whole lot more than just his gut feeling that he is going to be able to find some common ground with some of these people.

We've heard him talk about Kim Jong-un as somebody who he kind of has some sympathy for on a very personal level. So I think that's one of the reasons why it's probably -- it was probably such a spur of the moment thing for him to say, yes, I'm willing to sit down in a room with this guy because I think that we can have some kind of relationship that can resolve these problems that everybody else has not been able to solve.

KING: That's a -- please.

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": I was going to say, it sounds like the North Koreans actually took that into their calculus, you know, when they made this invitation, right? They've been studying the president. There was a "Washington Post" story that posted last night that said they had been reaching out to American political experts asking them questions about the Trump presidency. They even, apparently, read Michael Wolff's book, "Fire and Fury." And they know that this president likes to make a deal and wants to be seen as the ultimate dealmaker. So they clearly wanted to, you know, tap into that and see if they could get somewhere with Trump that they couldn't get with Obama, they couldn't get with Clinton, and they couldn't get with Bush.

From my Capitol Hill perspective, we've seen some cautious optimism on this. Lindsey Graham came out last night and said that he is glad to see the de-escalation of tensions from Trump calling him "little rocket man" to, you know, the North Korean dictator calling Trump an "idiot" and "stupid." So they're welcoming in that regard. But it sounds like people are still very cautious on this and they're not sure it's really going to go anywhere.

And -- but the times have changed. The North Korean threat has changed. But it's also interesting for all the people who are saying, go for it, Mr. President. Be careful, but go for it, who called Barack Obama an idiot when he raised the prospect of even talking to them in his first year in office. A lot of those Republican hawks who said, that's a childish idiot who doesn't know what he's talking about are now saying, go for it, Mr. President. But, again, the times have changed and politicians say a lot of things that don't necessarily have a great shelf life.

We'll continue this story a bit later in the program.

Up next, though, jobs, jobs, jobs. The best monthly employment report of the Trump presidency.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:17:31] KING: First Friday of the month, a new jobs report is out, and it's even better than expected. Hundreds of thousands of jobs added in the month of February. And Wall Street reacting quite positively. You see the Dow up there, 335, as we count it up.

CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans here to crunch the numbers.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: John, a real strong jobs report, 313,000 net new jobs in February. That's the most since the summer of 2016. And December and January revised higher by about 150,000 jobs. So a very strong start to the year.

The unemployment rate, though, stays steady at 1.4 percent, near a 17 year low. Why didn't it go down if you had all these new jobs created? Because people were coming into the labor market, hearing the good news about a job market that is still healing and recovering, more people coming into the labor market. That kept the unemployment rate steady here.

Sectors across the board, John. We saw job creation here in construction, retail, manufacturing, even some in mining, also in health care. That has been a very strong part of the market here.

So what I would say, the takeaway from this, wages only 2.6 percent. You're not seeing it yet in the paychecks, necessarily, this strong jobs market, but in job creation, another great month.

John.

KING: Appreciate that. Christine Romans, thank you.

Those strong jobs numbers are a big win for the Trump White House without a doubt and congressional Republicans immediately rushed today to make the case their big tax cut is playing a big role. But with their celebration, a big worry, that the president is raining on their parade, ignoring appeals from fellow Republicans and global allies.

We all watched this yesterday, the president rolling out his new tariff on imported steel and aluminum. There was an important White House concession, the new plan exempts NAFTA trading partners Canada and Mexico, and it allows other allies to petition for similar exemption. Still, Republicans see a booming economy as their best asset in a very tough midterm election year and think their own president is now undermining them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: I talked to a small brewery in Colorado. They're going to see significant, significant advantages as a result of the tax cuts. They actually hired more people this week because the money they saved through the tax cuts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

GARDNER: But they're worried -- they're worried about the aluminum tariffs and what that would do to offset the good that the tax cuts did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Matt Viser of "The Boston Globe" joins the conversation.

And, Matt, this is just a great example, a fresh example. Republicans want to talk tax cuts, they want to talk strong economy, and they want the president to essentially be quiet and not do anything else.

No Stormy Daniels. No tumult of cast -- staffing chaos and certainly no tariffs that they think could impact economic growth and hurt their only good story this year.

[12:20:04] MATT VISER, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": Yes, and usually that lasts for about 15 minutes before the president will change the subject. But he does have -- I mean he does have some good news to tout. But the message is mixed with the tariffs. And that sort of highlighted it perfectly where there is great concern among Republicans about the impacts of the tariffs.

And that's sort of -- you know, the Band-Aid was ripped off. You know, the president made the announcement, and how bad is it going to hurt now? And we don't know that until we see other countries sort of fully react and fully put their own policies into place. And they're planning to target certain industries and certain areas that inflict the most damage politically to President Trump, with bourbon, you know, in Kentucky, and Harley-Davidson motorcycles in Wisconsin and aspects of Florida's economy that could cause some problem.

KING: So a giant economic story and a fascinating political story, and more proof that this president, if you forgot, is different in many, many ways. You heard Senator Gardner there. This is Senator Ben Sasse saying, we're on the verge of a painful and stupid trade war. And that's bad. Temporary exemptions for Canada and Mexico are encouraging, but bad policy is still bad policy. And these constant NAFTA threats are nuts.

That is another conservative Republican saying the president is bad. Now, listen here, the president of the United Steel Workers, a man who supports Democrats when it comes to elections, saying, thank you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LEO GERARD, PRESIDENT, UNITED STEEL WORKERS INTERNATIONAL: Donald Trump was able to see the steelworker agenda. What -- what he did is what we've been fighting for, for more than 30 years. And I think what happened is that he's going to have a major impact on our members. It's going to make it very hard for our members to ignore what he just did. And what makes me sad is we've been trying to get Democrats to do this for more than 30 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The president thinks, just like in 2016, establishment, you're wrong, Republican establishment, I'm right. The establishment this time says, this is a midterm year, we don't think so. But --

BADE: Yes, Republicans, they're not just vocalizing their worry right now, they're actually trying to strategize to stop him. And there's not a lot that they can actually do.

There was a conversation yesterday in the Senate Republican lunch on The Hill about what exactly are our options? Can we potentially introduce some sort of legislation to get two-thirds of both chambers of Congress to actually stop these tariffs? Jeff Flake is going to be introducing something like that in the coming days.

I don't think they're going to have enough votes to actually stop it because they need Democratic support. And as you just mentioned, Democrats generally like these sorts of protectionist policies, so they're not going to back that.

There's also potentially hope in the courts for Republicans. They're hoping that a court might say, this is not really a national security issue and totally knock them down. Again, probably a long shot. Republicans are in for the long haul potentially on this.

KING: Republicans fighting a Republican president in a midterm election year. Generally bad when you need your base to turn out in an election year.

The interesting thing is, the president's on the road this weekend to test this in Pennsylvania 18. This is a special election. That congressional election next Tuesday. Twenty-five, 30 years ago, that area was steel country. A little less so now if you look at the numbers.

Allegheny County and Westmoreland County are two of the counties. It's a slice -- it's only a piece of Allegheny County. So these numbers don't cover just the district but the area.

You look at the steel jobs in September of 1997, you look at the steel jobs now. It's much less now. So can the president make the case that number's down and I'm going to help you, or will the president make that case and people will say, Mr. President, that's yesterday, not today?

PHILLIP: There's a real risk that it will be seen as too little too late. I mean there was someone this morning on "NEW DAY" talking about how maybe 30 years ago this would have been a great policy that would have been really welcomed with open arms. But, today, I think the prospects that it's going to suddenly bring back droves of jobs in these industries is probably more muted. And I think for Republicans there are a lot of Republicans who are kind of looking at their constituency and saying, my constituency is not necessarily like this Pennsylvania district or like President Trump's constituency. They still want me to be a free market Republican. And so that's one of the reasons why they are being so vocal about this.

But I also think that the risk that President Trump goes down is like a ball rolling down the hill. He feels emboldened by steel and aluminum, wants to do more tariffs in other industries is the other big risk down the road. For now, the tariff policy is like Swiss cheese. So many carve-outs now and on the horizon that it may not have the impact that people fear.

KING: All right, we'll continue this story as well.

When we come back, the White House staff already in turmoil. Today, if they were watching television, a rocket from the attorney representing Stormy Daniels.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:28:33] KING: Welcome back.

The White House already facing a morale crisis can add this to the chaos mix today. A warning from the attorney representing the porn actress who says she had an affair with the president and was paid to keep quiet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Why did the American people need to hear from Stormy Daniels?

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: Because cover-ups matter. We have substantial evidence and facts that were not included in the complaint. I mean we're not going to lay all our cards out on the table.

CUOMO: True. True. That's a strategic decision.

AVENATTI: All right. And I am confidence that when those evidence and when that evidence and those facts come to light, the American people are going to conclude that Attorney Cohen and the White House have not shot straight with them on this issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is suing to have her nondisclosure agreement terminated. And as part of her court filing, she includes a document signed by Trump attorney Michael Cohen acknowledged that Daniels processes text messages and other media sent by a man identified in the agreement as David Dennison, which she says is a pseudonym for Donald Trump. How seriously do they take this inside the White House? They want to

publically say, the president didn't do this, this is tabloid fodder, this is cable television being cable television. But --

PHILLIP: Right. I mean I think there are two data points. One is that they sent Sarah Huckabee Sanders out this past week with some new information on this case hoping that this new information would somehow close the door on this story when, in fact, it really just bursted it wide open.

[12:30:01] And then, secondly, you know, we are hearing a lot of finger pointing in the building about who is responsible for this whole mess. Some people say it's Michael Cohen. Some people say that it is, you know, Sarah for how she talked about the arbitration agreement.