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Interview With New York Congresswoman Kathleen Rice; Attorney Used Trump E-Mail Address For Porn Star Deal; South Korean Media: Kim Sent Additional Message to Trump; White House Says Trump Summit With North Korea Still on Just Hours After Press Secretary Suggests Concrete Steps Must Be Taken First. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 9, 2018 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: What did he reveal in the Russia probe?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the hard realities that could ultimately derail President Trump's stunning agreement to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

Tonight, the White House is insisting the talks are on after White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders repeatedly said the United States wanted to see "concrete and verifiable actions" first.

Also breaking, the president's personal lawyer is firing back denying his use of Trump Organization e-mail to arrange the Stormy Daniels payoff proves that Mr. Trump knew about it. Michael Caputo now insisting he used a home equity line of credit to pay the porn star $$130,000.

This hour, I will talk with Congresswoman Kathleen Rice. She's a Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, what more are we hearing tonight about the prospect for talks with North Korea?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we do know the president accepted this invitation with a smile on his face yesterday, but now all the details are being worked after the fact, some rather messy and out in public.

But the questions tonight are has the president given up too much here by agreeing to go in advance or will he be the first U.S. president to ever have this type of meeting? We don't know the answers to that yet. But if that meeting happens, it would be unparalleled moment in the 70-year stand-off between the U.S. and the regime, but it is still, Wolf, a big if, if that meeting happens.


ZELENY (voice-over): The White House is scrambling tonight to follow through with what could be the biggest diplomatic gamble in generations, face-to-face talks between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

But one day after the president stunned the world by accepting Kim's invitation on the spot, it became clear just how complicated and confusing arranging a meeting with the two leaders will be.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president will not have the meeting without seeing concrete steps and concrete actions take place by North Korea.

ZELENY: White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tried delivering a clear message today.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: The maximum measure campaign, we're not letting up. This maximum measure campaign and this process has been ongoing. The United States is going to continue that maximum pressure campaign.

ZELENY: But left many questions unanswered about the future of North Korea's nuclear program.

(on camera): How will the president and the United States be able to verify this before the meeting?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: That's something that will be determined through the national security and intelligence community.

ZELENY (voice-over): The president has said repeatedly that his previous presidents, his predecessors, have mishandled this and misplayed this. Why can he be so confident that this is the right move, when just in October he was telling his own secretary of state it would be a waste of time to talk directly?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think it's really clear that they have misplayed it or we wouldn't be in the position the we're in. The president wouldn't be having to clean up the mistake of the previous three administrations. The president is getting promises out of North Korea that haven't been made in any recent years.

ZELENY: But delivering on those promises may be another story, particularly by May of this year, when the two leaders agreed to meet. When the invitation was delivered to the White House on Thursday evening, the South Korean national security adviser said only that Kim is committed to denuclearization, not he would take concrete steps before meeting Trump.

When asked whether the meeting be called off if those steps aren't met, Sanders said this:

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not going to sit here and walk through every hypothetical that could exist in the world. But I can tell you that the president has accepted that invitation on the basis that we have concrete and verifiable steps.

ZELENY: The look on the president's face spoke volumes when he ducked into the White House Briefing Room on Thursday afternoon to tease the announcement. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveling in Africa had expressed skepticism only hours earlier.

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: In terms of direct talks with the United States -- and you asked negotiations -- and we're a long ways from negotiations.

ZELENY: The countdown to a historic meeting, should it go forward, comes after a roller coaster of red-hot rhetoric.

Seven months ago, the president sparked worldwide alarm when he said this:

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

ZELENY: A month later, he belittled Kim during a speech at the United Nations.

TRUMP: Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself.

ZELENY: Then the president admonished his secretary of state, saying he was wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket man. Visiting South Korea one month later, he had this message for Kim.

TRUMP: Do not underestimate us and do not try us.


ZELENY: But, recently, Trump's words have been far more diplomatic.

TRUMP: I thought North Korea was terrific. They came out. They went into the Olympics. They went in with good spirit. They did well.

ZELENY: Trump remained out of sight today after calling Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It remained unclear not only where the meeting would be, but who would attend.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: At the end of the day, the ultimate person to lead that negotiation or that conversation and be at the table will be the president.

ZELENY: Despite the magnitude of the North Korea talks, it didn't entirely sweep away the ongoing saga of porn star Stormy Daniels.

But unlike earlier in the week, when Sanders repeatedly said the president had won the case by arbitration, today, she declined to answer questions.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: We've addressed this extensively, and I don't have anything else to add.


ZELENY: quite frankly as another week ends here at the White House, certainly a busy and chaotic week, there are those questions about Stormy Daniels that remain. The president has not yet been asked them, but certainly, Wolf, I expect that to happen in the coming weeks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you, Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

Now to the breaking news on the Stormy Daniels scandal. The president's personal lawyer is speaking out after revelations that he used Trump Organization e-mail to make arrangements to pay off the porn star.

Let's go to our senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin.

Drew, this is all raising more questions about Michael Cohen's account of what happened. What's the very latest?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they are just two e-mails, but they show Michael Caputo used Trump company e-mail when he was negotiating the silence of a porn actress.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): The e-mails are brief. First Republic Bank advising Michael Caputo's funds have been deposited into your checking account. Cohen forwards that message to Stormy Daniels' attorney.

What is potentially damaging for Cohen, the e-mail account he used -- is a Trump company e-mail account, which could indicate the Trump Organization was somehow involved in a $130,000 payment to silence a porn actress.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: I think this development is significant because it shows that at all times during the communication process relating to the negotiation surrounding this hush payment that Mr. Cohen was utilizing his Trump Organization e- mail in those communications, not just when communicating with Mr. Davidson, Ms. Clifford's at the time, but also internally when he was communicating with the bank about the specific issue of transferring the money.

GRIFFIN: While there's no evidence Donald Trump knew about the e-mail or the payment, if the payment did involve Mr. Trump, it could be considered illegal, a violation of campaign finance law because it was never reported to the Federal Election Commission.

AVENATTI: The cover-up is That you have attorney Cohen claiming that Donald Trump never knew anything about this. You have the White House claiming that Donald Trump never knew anything about this. That's going to be shown to be patently false. We have substantial evidence and facts that were not included in the complaint.

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.

GRIFFIN: And there may be more than just e-mails. The so-called hush agreement written by Michael Cohen says Stormy Daniels under her real name, Stephanie Clifford, came into possession of certain confidential information about D.D., Donald Trump's alias, including information, certain still images and/or text messages.

Cohen goes to write included in those are images that Donald Trump previously represented to his counsel to exist, i.e. text messages between P.P., Stephanie Clifford, and D.D., Donald Trump.

In other words, it implies Trump told his personal attorney Trump and Stormy Daniels shared text messages.


GRIFFIN: Wolf, Michael Cohen responded to all this in a statement, saying Stormy Daniels' attorney, Mr. Avenatti, "has clearly allowed his 15 minutes of fame to affect his ludicrous conclusions."

Cohen goes onto say that "the earth-shattering uncovering e-mail between myself and the bank corroborates all my previous statements, which is I transferred money from one account to that bank into my LLC and then wired said funds to Ms. Clifford's attorney."

And it goes onto say that he believes this breaking news, why this is breaking news is mystery to me.

As for the use of the e-mails, he said he used his Trump e-mail for everything, including with his family. Says most people can relate to that. If this case does go to court, Wolf, it has been assigned a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge. Her name is Elizabeth Feffer. No hearings have been set in the case so far -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see what happens next. Drew Griffin, thank you very much.

Let's talk a little bit more about all of this.

Joining us, Democratic Congresswoman Kathleen Rice of New York. She's a member of the House Homeland Security Committee.


Congresswoman, thanks for joining us.

REP. KATHLEEN RICE (D), NEW YORK: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, lots to discuss.

First, what's your reaction to the news that Michael Cohen used this Trump Organization e-mail to arrange the payment to Stormy Daniels?

RICE: I don't think it's surprising at all, when you consider the fact that he was his personal attorney, that he's stated that he dealt directly with this issue within weeks of the election. And, look, I think that we don't give the American people enough credit for seeing the obvious. There's no question that there was a relationship between Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels. And it was one that they tried to keep secret.

There's no personal reason for Michael Cohen to care about Stormy Daniels. He's not the one with the relationship with her. I think the American people see that every step that Michael Cohen took to address this Stormy Daniels issue in the days leading up to the election had everything to do with protecting his client, Donald Trump.

BLITZER: He's been fiercely loyal. He's been his private attorney now for about a decade. He's been loyal to Donald Trump.

You and Congressman Ted Lieu, another Democrat from California, you have asked the FBI to investigate this payment. Have you received any response?

RICE: No, we have not.

And just so the public knows what this letter was about, both my colleague Ted Lieu and I are former prosecutors. And we felt it was important for the FBI to look into this case because there are laws surrounding campaign finance that need to be abided by.

And the FEC obviously has been accused of lacking any real robust authority. They tend to be locked in political disagreements because of the way that the FEC is set up. And so I think the FBI is the logical agency to look into this, if in fact Michael Cohen was making this payment on behalf of Donald Trump.

Now, he says he didn't get paid back, but it doesn't seem like if, as he admitted today, that he got the money from a home equity line of credit, it's not as if Michael Cohen had $100,000 laying around that he didn't need to get paid back.

That's a loan that he took out against his home. And you would assume that he's looking to get repaid if he hasn't been already. There's a lot of stuff, for lack of a better word, regarding this transaction that implies that there was a violation of campaign finance law.

And this is a serious violation, Wolf. This is something that an individual can go to jail for up to five years for. This is serious stuff.

BLITZER: Why do you think that the speaker, Paul Ryan, the Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, they both say this isn't necessarily a concern of Congress?

RICE: Well, I think anything, any time you're dealing with a violation of the law involving someone who was trying to protect the sitting president or someone was soon to be president, I think that's Congress -- well within Congress ability to look at that.

What we're doing -- look, Congress can't do anything about this. What Ted and I, Ted Lieu and I were trying to do is say, look, FBI, there's enough here for you to look into this. This is a serious violation.

One of the reasons, Wolf, why most Americans don't trust the political process is because of our very weak campaign finance laws. You have big money pouring into secret accounts that then go and put ads on TV that are not attributed really to anyone that the public can identify.

And this is why people have lost faith in their government because there's so much -- the effect of big money on the political process is one of the reasons why, quite frankly, Washington is broken.

BLITZER: Some people have suggested, as you know, Congresswoman, that President Trump won the White House with his record on women being rather well known. Why do you think the American people should care about this alleged affair and the payment?

RICE: Well, to be honest with you, I could care less about the affair. I don't think anyone finds it surprising that Donald Trump had a relationship with a porn star.

I certainly don't know anyone who finds that surprising. He's not been any paragon of virtue for anyone in this country. And he stands as a role model for no one. So, put that more salacious stuff aside.

People should care about someone trying to silence someone who has information that may be relevant to voters two weeks before they go out to elect a president. And that is the kind of effect of big money and violations of campaign finance. As bad as our campaign finance laws are -- take that as a given -- we shouldn't just allow people to flout those laws and get away with it.

BLITZER: Congresswoman, we're getting some new information on the Russia investigation and perhaps some new terms that might allow the president to actually answer questions put forward by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his team.


I want you to stick around. We have got the information. We have got the news. We will discuss right after this.


BLITZER: We're back with House Homeland Security Committee member Kathleen Rice.

Congresswoman, I want you to stand by.

We have some late-breaking news in the Russia investigation involving the president's potential testimony before the special counsel's team.

I want to bring in our political correspondent, Sara Murray.

Sara, you're getting some new information about the condition the president's lawyers might put forward that would allow him to answer questions from Robert Mueller?



We all know, of course, that the president and his attorneys want to wrap up this Russia investigation. And so my colleague Gloria Borger is saying they're basically trying to figure out ways they can do this, ways they can expedite wrapping this up.

And one of the discussions they're having is, look, if we put forward this notion of an interview with the president, will that give us some insight into when this investigation is actually wrapping up?

Obviously, they don't want to put the president in front of special counsel Robert Mueller when it seems like there's no end in sight. That want it to be clear that that investigation is nearing an end.

They feel like that may be sort of a chit that they have to try to figure out when this will finally conclude. We know the lawyers have also tried to limit the scope of this investigation, Wolf. That might mean trying to limit it to written questions, but that also might mean trying to limit the topics on the table.

One thing they have made very clear is they do not want this to be just a fishing expedition where they put the president in front of the special counsel and let him run wild.

BLITZER: Been a pretty wild week in the whole Russia investigation.

And today Sam Nunberg showed up before a federal grand jury to answer questions, even though, as all of us remember earlier in the week he said that's not going to happen.

MURRAY: It's funny how much can change in a week, Wolf.

Nancy was perfectly happy, it seems like, to talk to any journalist about how he was not going to be following Mueller's request. He was not going to be showing up in front of the grand jury. He did in fact show up today. He was at the grand jury for about six hours.

And surprisingly perhaps when he decided to leave he did not speak to reporters on his way out. I guess he shared all of his thoughts on this matter earlier this week.

BLITZER: Yes, he did.

All right, thanks very much, Sara Murray, reporting.

Let's get back to Congresswoman Kathleen Rice.

Congresswoman, are you concerned that the president's legal team could negotiate their way out of answering certain questions?

RICE: There's really nothing about Robert Mueller that would suggest that he would allow -- that he could be played, Wolf. I think his lawyers, the president's lawyers are doing their job.

They are trying to protect their client. One of the issues that you have to be prepared for is, when you allow to go your client go and answer questions under oath is that, if you lie, you can be prosecuted for that.

We all know the history of that. I understand why they are trying to limit the subject matter. But I don't think that Mueller and his team are going to allow Donald Trump and his lawyers to dictate the scope or the specificity of the questions, certainly not negotiating way, we will give you this if you agree to end this investigation.

BLITZER: How much can the president's team realistically influence the timeline of the special counsel's investigation?

RICE: They have no authority to do that.

We all know that Donald Trump has been trying to figure out way to get rid of Mueller. He doesn't like the fact that the investigation has expanded, but this is what happens when you bring a counsel in. You start to gather evidence. That leads to other things. People tell you things maybe that you didn't expect them to.

And Mueller and his team are duty-bound to investigate everything that they are being told and they're discovering these discovery and interviews with witnesses. It seems to me like from everything that the American people know about Bob Mueller, that he is not going to have anyone dictate how this investigation is going to go and certainly not when it's going to end.

BLITZER: Representative Kathleen Rice of New York, thanks so much for joining us.

RICE: Thank you for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following.

The White House tries to clarify remarks that seem to cast some doubt now on a meeting between President Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong- un.

Plus, President Trump's personal lawyer speaking out tonight about revelations he used his Trump Organization e-mail to arrange a hush money payment to a porn star.



BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, President Trump's personal lawyer is responding to the revelation that he used his Trump Organization e- mail to arrange a payment to the porn star Stormy Daniels, who claimed she had an affair with Mr. Trump.

Let's bring in our analysts and experts. Sam, Michael Cohen says this. I will put the quote up on the screen. He says: "I sent e-mails from e-mail address to my family, friends as well as Trump business e-mails. I basically used it for everything. I'm certain most people can relate."

Do you buy that?


First of all, Michael Cohen is a lawyer. He knows what to use official e-mail for and what not to use official e-mail for. And, furthermore, this wasn't an e-mail to friends and family. This was an e-mail about a payout to a porn star. There's a pretty big difference there.

BLITZER: How do you think the White House is going to be deal with this, Rebecca?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: If what they have done so far, Wolf, is a preview of what we can expect, they're going to continue dodging this issue.

They have been referring questions to Michael Cohen, to the president's private attorneys. They have been dodging questions about whether the president knew about this or whether he would have authorized such a payment.

Sarah Sanders was asked about this today again and she said that she had already gone into great detail about this issue and wasn't going to say anything further.

Obviously, that's not true. The White House has not gone into great detail. The president himself has not addressed these questions. But it seems like the White House is trying to dodge this as much as president .

Another interesting issue came up, Ron.

Ron Brownstein is with us as well.

The president's legal team is hoping they can use his interview with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his team as way to hurry up the investigation, bring it to an end as quickly as possible.

You think that's a doable strategy?

[18:30:16] BROWNSTEIN: Boy, I've got to think they believe they have more leverage than they do. I mean, the idea that you can kind of coerce the special counsel into kind of a termination point on the investigation as the price of talking to the president just seems to me a really hard argument to make.

I mean, look, we have -- we do have the precedent of other presidents, Bill Clinton, sitting down with a special counsel. And the idea that Donald Trump would avoid such an interview, I think, while legally, you know, potentially defensible, I think it's much more difficult to defend politically. So their position, their point of leverage in this dispute may not be as strong as they believe.

BLITZER: They also would like, Shawn, no doubt, to limit the scope of any questioning, if the president does show up and answer questions before the special counsel. What do you make of that strategy?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I think from a legal perspective we can all understand why his lawyers might want to protect the president and limit the scope of the questioning.

But -- but with regard to kind of the investigation overall, we know that any efforts to limit questioning or any efforts to not explore all avenues with regard to this investigation are going to be looked at as if the president has something to hide. So from that perspective, I don't think it's a good strategy.

And it's also the case that if they want to try to leverage the president in that interview with the president, you can't do that and also say at the same time that you're going to limit the scope of questioning. Bob Mueller just has too much leverage.

BLITZER: Yes, Rebecca, it was interesting. Sam Nunberg was, at least briefly, a campaign aide to the president. During the campaign he spent five hours before a federal grand jury today here in Washington. All of us remember earlier in the week he said repeatedly in multiple television interviews that wasn't going to happen.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. So I have whiplash from that 180, Wolf. It was quite a week for Sam Nunberg.

But really, he wasn't going to have a choice in this matter. When you're subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury, you can't just say, "I'll take a pass," or you will be arrested and forced to comply.

So Sam Nunberg did what he had to do. We'll have to wait and see what his testimony yields in terms of any potential indictments or important information for this investigation.

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: I'd say, obviously, the president of the United States is in a different position. But the -- kind of the arc of this story this week is a reminder of where the leverage in these relationships really lies. And the idea that you're going to tell the special counsel, as Sam Nunberg, "Well, I'm going to do this. I'm not going to do that," it really -- you know, there are other people on the panel who can say better than I, it really doesn't work that way.

BERG: Yes.

BLITZER: Yes, and the question, Sam, is does the president really have a lot of leverage? If Robert Mueller and his team want him to answer questions, is he going to be over to say, no?

VINOGRAD: I don't think so. And I think that, to Ron's point, and Shawn, to your point, Mueller is going to get this investigation done, whether Nunberg decides to comply or other witnesses decide to comply. He has other ways of getting this investigation.

And while the House investigation is being hurried along on the GOP side, we've heard that the Republicans want to end this as quickly as possible and are focusing on speed, perhaps, rather than thoroughness. I think Mueller is going to take his time to make sure that he does this right.

BLITZER: There are some new developments emerging right now in this proposed meeting between the president of the United States and the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un. We're going to get to that. Much more right after the quick break.


[18:38:13] BLITZER: Breaking tonight, the White House is acknowledging that the details of President Trump's planned talks with the dictator, Kim Jong-un, are still very TBD. But at least one U.S. official is insisting the administration isn't having second thoughts about the president's sudden and astonishing decision to accept Kim Jong-un's invitation.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. Barbara, President Trump is taking a big risk, and there's no telling right now how it all will play out.

STARR: No telling at all, Wolf. Because tonight, U.S. military officials will tell you nothing has changed for them. North Korea still very much tonight remains a threat.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President -- STARR (voice-over): The critical question tonight is why President Trump agreed to meet with the world's most isolated leader. Kim Jong- un is feeling the bite of sanctions.

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD": The North Korean leaders' slush fund is running out of money. People are saying the country is going to run out of foreign exchange reserves by October.

STARR: But it comes to the table in the strongest military position North Korea has ever had.

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: One of the factors that affected this decision on Kim Jong-un's part was that they have reached a level of confidence in their nuclear capabilities.

STARR: Kim Jong-un has always wanted to be acknowledged as a world power and he has a recently improved arsenal in hand before he sits down with Donald Trump.

LT. GEN. ROBERT ASHLEY, He has instituted a rapid missile development and flight testing program that has over the last two years brought North Korea closer to its goals. Concurrently, Pyongyang has invested in conventional systems and training designed to increase the threat to South Korea.

STARR: The most immediate threat: the U.S. intelligence assessment is Kim, sometime this year, could put a warhead on a missile capable of attacking the U.S.

[18:40:05] MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: North Korea's ever closer to being able to hold America at risk. I said it was a handful of months. I had said the same thing several months before that.

STARR: In 2017, North Korea fired 23 missiles, perfecting its technology with each launch. The most recent and worrisome: in November, launching the ballistic missile that flew higher and farther than any previous test.

Since then, U.S. intelligence believes the regime has made further progress on missiles and warheads, U.S. defense say. And experts say Kim may also have enough nuclear material to potentially build 30 to 60 nuclear warheads.


STARR: One critical item on the "to do" list here will be to get North Korea to agree to international inspections and verification of any agreement that is reached. That is going to be critical to making sure they live up to their word -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very important, indeed. All right, Barbara. Thank you very much. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Let's go to the Korean Peninsula right now, where we're getting late word of the possible additional message sent from Kim Jong-un to President Trump.

We're joined by CNN's Will Ripley, who has reported extensively from inside North Korea. He's now joining us from Seoul, South Korea.

Will, what do we know about this additional message?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Several South Korean media outlets, Wolf, are citing a high-level government official, saying that this second message, a more personal appeal from Kim Jong-un to President Trump, was conveyed by South Korea's national security advisor at the White House.

Details of the message not being disclosed, but we know that Kim Jong- un told the South Korean special envoys in Pyongyang if he wants to be taken seriously as a key player in these talks. And so this message to President Trump was aimed at trust-building. We're told it did not involve a request for compensation or an easing effect on the sanctions -- Wolf.

BLITZER: North Korea, Will, has yet to tell its own people or comment on this possible meeting with the president of the United States. Why?

RIPLEY: That's right. Their leading newspaper reported about the opening ceremony of the Paralympics, which happened last night. But they haven't yet told the North Koreans about this.

Look, it's going to be a tough sell for South Korea -- for North Korean media after telling North Koreans for more than a year to hate President Trump, calling him senile, an old lunatic, now to turn around and say that their leader is going to be meeting with the president of the United States.

I've been to Pyongyang many times and asked people if they even wanted a meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un, and their answer was always no. But of course, Wolf, we know in North Korea, if the government tells people to think something, they will. Or at least, they'll say they will.

BLITZER: What is the calculus here from Kim Jong-un's perspective, Will? And as I say, you've been to North Korea many times. Apparently, what, was his message to President Trump that got all of this in motion?

RIPLEY: Yes, it was the message to President Trump. And you know, apparently, a personal appeal. Obviously, the North Koreans have been studying President Trump, trying to figure out a way to -- to reach out to this U.S. president. The missile launches and nuclear tests certainly got his attention but in the wrong way. He ratcheted up sanctions, threatened military action.

So now we've seen Kim Jong-un taking a very different approach, trying to -- trying to find ways to relate with the president of the United States. And he's been able to pull off something that the previous two leaders couldn't, which is an agreement for a sit-down meeting, something that Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il wanted very badly but could never make happen. Probably wouldn't have been possible with any other president. Kim Jong-un knew he had an opportunity with this president, who's willing to kind of defy norms, forego bureaucracy and standard protocol.

And now you're going to have the highest-level possible meeting between the U.S. and North Korea in a matter of weeks. Normally, these things take months or even years to prepare for.

BLITZER: Yes, good point indeed. Will Ripley reporting for us from the Korean Peninsula. Thanks very much.

There's more breaking news tonight. The White House is insisting that a meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un is still very much in the works, despite some earlier remarks that seemed to cast some doubt.

Samantha, Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, saying repeatedly in that press briefing earlier in the day that the meeting will take place if the North Koreans engage in concrete and verifiable steps towards denuclearization.

VINOGRAD: Well, let me tell you the good news, and that is we do have, at least in the short term, de-escalation in the region. That's a positive thing. But what happened today actually puts all that at risk and frankly gets Kim Jong-un a "get out of jail free" card. This is where process comes into play. A meeting was agreed to. This should have stayed private until the details were worked out. There's a reason, for example, Kissinger went to China several times before Nixon to work out the kinds of preconditions before a breakthrough moment.

Instead, the White House, for some reason, had to announce this publicly last night before the preconditions were there. And Kim Jong-un could now say, "OK, well, I had agreed to something. Those terms have changed, and so the deal is off the table." This was, frankly, disorganized and very risky.

[18:45:02] BLITZER: Because last night, it was a pretty hard statement. The president of the United States agreeing to meet between now and May, within the next two months, directly with Kim Jong-un. The North Koreans promising they were going to suspend at least for now their missile testing, nuclear testing and they weren't going to oppose the scheduled U.S. South Korean military exercises next month.

That was the agreement last month. All of a sudden, today, the press secretary saying there has to be concrete and verifiable steps towards denuclearization.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. So, we're already seeing this evolved a little bit, Wolf. And I think that while this meeting represents an opportunity, and I think it really does, it also comes with disproportionate high number of risks. You know, look, I think beyond that the intelligence community knows that the N North Korean regime and Kim Jong-un are notoriously unreliable, there's also the issue of the perspective from which the two sides approach this meeting.

When you look at the North Korean perspective, they may come to this meeting from the perspective that the United States has either recognized that they are a legitimate or a near legitimate nuclear power and from that perspective and they must sit down and they must talk, the United States must sit and they must talk with them. So, Kim Jong-un may feel like he has some leverage going into this meeting.

From the U.S. side, the administration may go in to this meeting thinking that we impose really strict sanctions and we know you're up against the wall here. So, from that perspective, we have the leverage. If we go into this meeting with those two differing opposing views, then right from the beginning, we're going to be in a tough position.

BLITZER: A White House official, Ron, insisting the meeting is going to take place as announced last night despite what Sarah Sanders said earlier in the day.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, the strange thing about this is that the basic way it's being portrayed as if we have coerced Kim into doing something that we want. And there are elements of that. Obviously, the economic sanctions have been a real bite on them as I think everyone agrees. On the other hand an agreement at the head of statement level without

any pre-conditions, as Will Ripley noted, has been a long standing goal of the North Korean leadership. But previous American presidents have viewed this as the end of the process, not the beginning. That the carrot of the meeting, a legitimacy granting meeting with the American president was not to be granted unless there was a process producing progress on all the issues that divide us.

President Trump has kind of, you know, jumped in here and moved this all the way to the end point that other presidents have thought would be the culmination of the process. Of course, the risk needs to be underscored here, which is if we're unable to reach an agreement to deal with these very real tensions at this head of state summit, what is left on the diplomatic front after that? And does that leave you in a position we're moving too quickly in the long run might give you greater risk of a military confrontation?

BLITZER: None of this should come as a huge surprise, Rebecca, because during the campaign, since he became president, the president has often said he has no problems meeting directly with anyone including Kim Jong-un. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They said would you speak to the leader of North Korea? I said absolutely. Why not? Why not?

And they come out. Trump would speak to him.

Who the hell cares? I'll speak to anybody. I wouldn't go there, that I can tell you. If he came here, I'd accept him. But I wouldn't give him a state dinner.


BLITZER: And there were many statements like that. Sure, I'd be happy to meet with him, talking is good.

BERG: Exactly. So, as we're at this table discussing all the potential risks that come along with a meeting like this, President Trump doesn't see that, because he sees himself as this uniquely gifted negotiator who when he gets in a room with Kim Jong-un will be able to extract whatever concessions he wants. And now, that probably doesn't square with the reality of the situation, but that's how President Trump sees this.

And so, it's worth considering as we're asking the question does this meeting happen, we have seen that Trump is very stubborn. When he sets his mind to something, you look at the tariffs issue for example, he likes to follow through. And he won't listen to detractors. He won't listen to critics. And so, that's one reason this might actually happen.

BLITZER: And he brags all the time that as president, he'll do things that his predecessors wouldn't do. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We're going to be so far ahead of everything else in nuclear like you've never seen before.

A historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before.

And I think what we're doing has never been done before.

American prosperity perhaps like we've never seen before.

They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

Never been done before. Never been done.

Regulations are being eliminated like nobody has ever seen before.

[18:50:01] And, by the way, we are cutting regulation at a rate never seen before.

Immigration control like you've never seen before.

We're restoring immigration enforcement at levels that our country has never seen before.

We are rebuilding the military at a level to which it's never been before.

The people are noticing like they've never noticed before.


BLITZER: I guess we have never seen this before.

VINOGRAD: Yes. You want to know who else is listening to that, though? Kim Jong-un. And I raise that because the North Koreans are going to do their homework going into this meeting if it happens. They're going to know that President Trump wants to be the president who's never done anything before, that was probably one of the drivers behind accepting this meeting.

And if this meeting has any chance of not being a total disaster, it's going to be very important that President Trump frankly for a change, listen to his intelligence community, listen to the leader profiles of Kim Jong-un and what Kim Jong-un is looking for, and does his homework. You cannot go into this meeting and wing it. And he really needs to stick to talking points, which we know he doesn't like to do. You can't ad-lib when you are negotiating nuclear issues.

BLITZER: A lot of details still have to be worked out there, including location, location, location.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Location, absolutely. And to Sam's point, look, the most important thing for the president going into the understands that he cannot go into the meeting making decisions and making concessions on behalf of the American people and on behalf of the U.S. government. This needs to be a listening session.

The president needs to go into this meeting simply saying, I'm here to hear what you have to say. And walk out having just heard what the North Koreans have to say and he needs to bring that back to the career professionals who understand the North Korean regime.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, I say from the North Korean perspective, they may view this as already they have the president's desire maybe they already gotten a meeting they could not get, a legitimacy granting meeting that they could not get from other presidents because they demanded more in return. And, you know, despite the president's view of himself, as kind of the nonparallel negotiator, in the end, he has given something that North Korea wants very much, and it's hard to see exactly what we have gotten in run for this first step.

Now, all that may prove irrelevant if there is productive conversation, but as a way of starting negotiation, you've got to believe that they think they have gotten something at very little cost.

BLITZER: Great conversation, guys. Very, very important conversation to our viewers. In fact, this was a conversation like you've never seen before.

This quick programming note, Stormy Daniels' attorney will speak to Anderson Cooper later tonight, "AC360", 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Stick around for that.

We'll have more news right after this.


[18:57:23] BLITZER: This Sunday, CNN's new original series, "AMERICAN DYNASTIES: THE KENNEDYS" sheds new light on the iconic family and how their personal relations impacted public life on a global scale.

I recently sat down with Kick Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy's granddaughter. She interviewed me about my memories of covering the Kennedy family.


KICK KENNEDY, BOBBY KENNEDY'S GRANDDAUGHTER: Now, you have been covering politics for a very long time. And I understand that you interviewed my Uncle Teddy more than once. Is there a conversation that you had with him that stands out in your mind?

BLITZER: I did interview him. And it was always a great opportunity for me to interview one of the leading political figures of our time. He was so passionate in opposing the Iraq war after the U.S. went in, removed Saddam Hussein in 2003.

I remember one conversation I had with him back in 2007 where the U.S. seemed to be continuing, continuing, losing troops, a lot of American personnel killed, many others injured. He was so angry. He was so determined to try to end this war once and for all. And he didn't want the Iraq war to continue and continue and the U.S. losing casualties. And he said he was going to do whatever he could to end that war.

TEDDY KENNEDY (D-MA), THEN-U.S. SENATOR: I'm going to be there every step of the way urging, fighting, struggling, working with my colleagues to get that job done.

BLITZER: I look at it now and I wonder how he would be reacting if he were still with us to know that the situation in Iraq is far from resolved right now.

KENNEDY: What do you think his reaction would be?

BLITZER: He would be so upset knowing the investment that the U.S. made in blood and treasure to get the job done in Iraq. It hasn't been done. Iraq remains such a fragile place. The U.S. is still deeply involved.

And instead of al Qaeda emerging as the real threat to the United States, ISIS has a foothold there, foothold in Syria. He would be so, so angry, so upset.

But you know what, if he was still with us and working in the Senate, would he be fighting it every step of the way.


BLITZER: There is still 15,000 U.S. troops in Iraq still right now, still 15,000 U.S. troops, with Iran having major influence in Iraq and the region in fact.

By the way, "AMERICAN DYNASTIES: THE KENNEDYS" premiers this Sunday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN. I think they'll be anxious to see this special film.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.