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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Goes Way Off Script During Speech in GOP District; The President, the Prosecutor and the Porn Star; Investors Eye Trump's New Tariffs, Possible Trade War; Trump: North Korea Talks Could Bring World's Greatest Deal; Trump Touts GOP Candidate in Pennsylvania Tight Race; "Pope: The Most Powerful Man in History" Airs tonight. Aired 6- 7p ET

Aired March 11, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:04] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're live here in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

It's one powerful night here on CNN. I didn't want to miss it. Van Jones will speak with Oprah Winfrey, followed by the premiere of "AMERICAN DYNASTIES, THE KENNEDYS." And then the premiere of "POPE: THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN HISTORY." And I'll be with you until all of that gets under way in two hours at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. All that coming up.

But first, President Trump still making waves for a free-wheeling campaign rally that featured him doing what he does best, ditching the text and going way, way off script in a speech meant to pump up a Pennsylvania Republican running for the U.S. Congress.

The president toasted himself, his looks, his new reelection slogan and roasted Democrats, past presidents, the press, NAFTA, Mexico, sanctuary cities, even boring presidential behavior. He also talked of giving the death penalty to drug dealers, going up against Oprah and being, quote, "nice to North Korea."

The crowds loved his uncensored candor but will other GOP candidates love it as well as Republicans face what's expected to be a tough race for the 2018 midterms.

Here's just a sample of the 70 or so minutes the president spoke last night and what he unleashed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I'll tell you, we did a great job on the Olympics. President Moon of South Korea said without Donald Trump the Olympics would have been a total failure. It's true. A little hard to sell tickets when you think you're going to be nuked. South Korea came to my office after having gone to North Korea and seeing Kim Jong-un and --

(CROWD BOOS)

TRUMP: No, it's very positive. No. After the meeting you may do that but now we have to be very nice because let's see what happens. The only way to solve the drug problem is through toughness. When I

was in China and other places, by the way, I said, Mr. President, do you have a drug problem? No, no, no, we do not. I said what do you attribute that to? Well, the death penalty. I think it's a discussion we have to start thinking about. Don't you -- I don't know if we're ready.

Wouldn't we love to run against Oprah? I would love it.

(CHEERS)

TRUMP: I would love it. That would be a painful experience for her. Remember I used to say how easy it is to be presidential? But you know, you'd all be out of here right now. You'd be so bored.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Let's analyze the president's epic speech and more. Joining us, CNN political analyst Kirsten Powers, she's a columnist for "USA Today." Also Mollie Ball, national political correspondent for "TIME" and CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large Chris Cillizza.

The crowd clearly, Kirsten, loved what the president had to say in western Pennsylvania. But did he do himself any favors last night big time?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the question is, did he any favors for the Republicans who he was supposed to be campaigning for? So look, his crowd loves this kind of stuff. I think a lot of people watch it and are pretty horrified, but the people on the audience clearly like it and the Trump supporters like it but that's not what he was there to do. He was there to campaign for a Republican who possibly is going to lose a seat in a district that Trump won by 20 points.

So, you know, I don't really know what he was doing, unless somehow this spectacle gets people out to vote for a Republican, which it doesn't -- I don't think it's going to. I don't know.

BLITZER: What do you think?

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: Well, I mean, this is something that if you talk to Republicans who are working on the midterms, they're very nervous about because they aren't sure if Trump helps more than he hurts. And you look at something like the Alabama race, Trump campaigned in three different votes, right? The original Republican primary, the runoff and the general election. His candidate lost all three times in one of the most Republican states in the country.

And so Republicans are very nervous that Trump going out and campaigning reminds all those energized Democratic voters and voters who don't like Trump why they have to vote, puts it on their radar this special election that they otherwise might not be conscious of. While at the same time, the Trump supporters, the Trump voters who came out in 2016, it doesn't seem to work on them. So I think this special election will be very interesting in that regard to see what happens.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I mean, that speech, I read the whole thing this morning. I would not advise people to do that.

BLITZER: You didn't watch it last night?

CILLIZZA: No, I didn't watch it last night. I watched it this morning and read along. I got a few tweets that said, you know, you should be paid hazard pay. So I'll be bringing that up. But, look, it's just -- the thing is Molly touched on this and Kirsten. It just -- he ranges so far, he doesn't talk about the person he's supposed to be there to talk about. He's talking about how Arnold Schwarzenegger got bad ratings at "The Celebrity Apprentice" and so did Martha Stewart, and that he went to Wharton. I hadn't heard that one before.

It's not clear to me whether one of this -- Molly touched on this. One of this is, is a Trump voter sort of a Republican? Can he make you go out and vote if you're on the fence?

[18:05:02] If you're a Trump person in southwestern Pennsylvania, then you're probably already for the Republican nominee. I don't know if he gets someone off the fence with that speech because that speech was sort of a bowing at the altar of Trumpism. It wasn't an appeal really to conservatism. It was about all things he had done, how he had the greatest first year.

He did touch on immigration, touch some on taxes, he said Conor Lamb won't -- he won't be a vote for me. I don't know. He shouldn't be there in the first place. I mean, look, this is a 20-plus point race that Donald Trump won in 2016. The fact that he's there speaks to where the national climate is in the first place. The fact that he's there is a little worrisome no matter what kind of speech he gives.

POWERS: But don't you think to a certain extent, I mean, the Trump voters aren't necessarily the traditional Republican voters. Right?

CILLIZZA: Not at all.

POWERS: In fact, they don't like Republican establishment very much. So he actually I think has to really be clear with them. I want to you go out and do this, this is our guy, he's on our team. Right? You know what I mean?

BALL: Especially in a place like southwestern Pennsylvania.

POWERS: Yes.

CILLIZZA: Yes.

BALL: This is the sort of (INAUDIBLE) Trump country where what's left of the sort of rustbelt Reagan Democrats surged out to the polls to vote for Trump and flip states like Pennsylvania that I think most people did not think were even in play. BLITZER: He was there to help Rick Saccone who's the Republican

candidate for this special election, for this congressional seat, and go after Conor Lamb, the 33-year-old Democratic candidate, but in the process, he went after -- I just took some notes, Elizabeth Warren, the news media, Arnold Schwarzenegger, several past presidents, including Clinton, Bush, Obama, even --

CILLIZZA: Ronald Reagan.

BLITZER: Ronald Reagan as well.

CILLIZZA: Yes.

BLITZER: Also went after Ronald Reagan, too, a bit. Oprah Winfrey, who says she's not running in 2020, that didn't stop the president. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Oh, I'd love Oprah to win. I'd love to beat Oprah. I know her weakness. I know her weakness. I know. You know, I know it very well. I was on her last show or one of the last -- I guess the last week? She had Donald Trump and Donald Trump's family. My, my, my, we've come down a long way, haven't we?

I'm now president and probably, you know. But think of it. I know her weakness. Wouldn't we love to run against Oprah? I would love it. I would love it. That would be a painful experience for her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Go ahead, Chris.

CILLIZZA: There are so many nonsequiturs in the speech. I mean, it really is difficult. You see where he says, and probably, and then he trails off. He goes from talking about "Celebrity Apprentice" to talking about tariffs, to talking about how he went to really good schools to talking about immigration. I mean, I -- look, I didn't think his speech worked during the campaign and obviously it worked because he won. So maybe he has some juju there that I don't understand, some special sauce.

But it was the opposite of what you'd expect from a traditional speech. It was really, as all his speeches in this setting are, because it's -- this is Donald Trump unleashed. It was an ode to Donald Trump performed by Donald Trump.

BLITZER: It was a very lively speech, off the cuff, a lot of it, more than 70 minutes he spoke, much of it unprepared, speaking off the cuff as he liked to do during the campaign. Lately he's been with a teleprompter, a little bit more scripted. Not last night. He went after everyone. He didn't go after Vladimir Putin. Didn't mention Vladimir Putin at all.

POWERS: Has he ever? You know, that's not what he's doing. That's not what he's there to do. He doesn't talk about -- he doesn't even talk about issues really as far as I can tell.

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL: He spoke about North Korea. He spoke --

POWERS: Yes, but I mean, it's always sort of in this context of how amazing he is, right. I mean, it's just -- it's all just to basically throw red meat at this crowd and it's probably as much about him getting fed by the crowd than actually even influencing the crowd to do anything.

CILLIZZA: And that's, by the way, just -- that's a really important point is, he repeatedly says, "Did I do great?" I mean, there's a whole section in this speech where he's talking about the Georgia special election, Karen Handle, Jon Ossoff, which not only was last year, the people of southwestern Pennsylvania -- there's probably one person in the crowd who even cares that that happened. Right? Again, it just -- it doesn't have a strategy. It's all just top of the mind, it's watching someone think out loud who also happens to be president of the United States and who has some insecurities about being loved.

BALL: Well, but to your point, Wolf, all the people that he went after, I think what we know about Trump is that he needs a target. He needs an enemy. And what worked for him in the campaign was having Hillary Clinton as an enemy. Ever since he's been president, there has not been someone of the stature that he needs to punch at. And so you see him going through target after target. Elizabeth Warren, Oprah Winfrey. He needs an opponent. And what worked for him during the campaign was being able to demonize and disqualify Hillary Clinton over and over and over.

He did that very successfully. He doesn't know who he's going to run against in 2020. He can't make Robert Mueller that level of an opponent for him, although I think he'd probably like to. And so you see him just trying to create new enemies.

[18:10:02] And what works in the campaign context is reminding his supporters, reminding voters that whether or not they like Donald Trump, they share a common enemy with him and they want to go out and vote against that enemy, even if they don't want to cast an affirmative vote for him.

CILLIZZA: And to that point he kept saying, and he does this several times, where he kept saying, they are trying to take it from you. He never really defines "they" but this is to Molly's point, it's just sort of broad, elitist conspiracy as he creates it between the Democrats, the media, rich people. I mean, you know, like it's never clear but he definitely -- that's what he's using as a stand-in. "They're trying to make me," whether they as the Justice Department which by the way is run by someone that he chose, but the media, Democrats, you know, because he doesn't have a person, so it's this broad description of everyone who is not 100 percent with Donald Trump.

BLITZER: All right. Just listen to this clip. He's mocking what is traditional presidential behavior. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Remember I used to say, how easy it is to be presidential? But you know, you'd all be out of here right now if I -- you'd be so bored. Because I could stand up, right? I could stand up.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: I'm very presidential. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here tonight. Rick Saccone will be a great, great congressman. And then you go, "God bless you and God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

POWERS: You know, what's interesting to me about this is that he -- I don't even know if he's aware of what he's admitting, which is he's basically saying the only reason I've been successful is because I can be the class clown and I can stand up and entertain you. And I remember when I interviewed him during the campaign, and I asked him, you know, I said look, actually there are a lot of issues, take the Iraq war, for example, that you talk about and a lot of Democrats nod their heads and they say, yes, and there's all these different issues you could connect with people on.

Why don't you focus on that instead of Little Marco and low energy Jeb, and whatever? And he said well, if I did that, we wouldn't be sitting here having this conversation because I never would have won the nomination. And so he's basically saying like he has to act like this to be success. And that's pretty sad.

BALL: Well, he has never internalized the idea that to be politician you have to talk to all people in that room. He's very good with those people who were in that room who are there because they want to see a performance, a Trump rally, an entertainment, which is the thing that he thinks he's doing in that room.

CILLIZZA: That's right.

BALL: But there are, you know, 300 million other Americans that he's also supposed to be president of, the Trump supporter at this point, the people who love Donald Trump, love the job he's doing, 20 percent to 25 percent of the electorate strongly approves of how he's doing. So that is not the political mainstream of this country.

BLITZER: Chris, you wrote a piece on CNN.com, the 64 most outrageous lines from that speech last night. What was the most outrageous?

CILLIZZA: Well, I had to pull back, Wolf, because it could have been more. I actually think -- I mentioned it but he repeatedly uses "they." And I really think it's super dangerous. It's what Molly touched on, which is this idea that if you are not 100 percent for him, you are trying to undermine democracy, which is in Donald Trump's mind Donald Trump. That's a bad thing.

I get he doesn't want to act presidential, right? He doesn't want to stand up in what he views as being stiff. But this idea that you're not president of everyone, which he has never -- I don't mean he doesn't get -- he gets it and doesn't care. It doesn't matter because it's all the same. This idea, you know, he's talking about the 2020 campaign and what his slogan is going to be, and who he's going to run against, it's like, you've only been president for less -- you know, 400 days. Let's focus on that rather than -- I can't believe I'm saying this, than the next campaign because I'm fascinated by campaigns but he chooses not to get that. He is a hugely divisive figure and I think revels in being so. And I don't know how that plays out for Republicans in 2018, though I suspect if on Tuesday night Conor Lamb wins, if you're a Republican in even a marginal district, you should get very, very nervous because there a potential flood coming.

BLITZER: We'll coverage obviously of that election on Tuesday, special coverage Tuesday night as well.

Everybody stand by. There's a lot more we're following. Coming up, the big question here in Washington, will a porn star right now get the president in the witness chair before a Russian special -- before the Russian special counsel Robert Mueller and his team? A look at the dueling legal troubles that the president is facing. Stay right here.

[18:14:40]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The White House once again dodging on the question of whether the president authorized a payment of $130,000 to a porn star in exchange for her silence about an alleged affair with him back when he was a private citizen in 2006.

Here was the deputy White House press secretary, Raj Shah, earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did the president approve the payment that his personal lawyer made to Stormy Daniels?

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Not that I'm aware of, but Michael Cohen, the attorney in question, has addressed this. The White House has addressed -- Sarah addressed it earlier this week and I have nothing further to add.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did the president reimburse Michael Cohen, his attorney, for making that payment?

SHAH: Not to my knowledge -- again, Michael Cohen has addressed this matter extensively. And the underlined knowledge --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you asked the president that question? Did you --

SHAH: I haven't asked the president about that question. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Our panel is back with us. Also joining us right now CNN legal analyst, former federal prosecutor Laura Coates.

How telling is that answer, "not that I'm aware of"?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it tells you that a lawyer has vetted that statement completely. Things like, not that I'm aware of, not to my knowledge, oh I didn't ask the question that would actually lead to my knowledge or make my awareness complete. All that says is that everyone is trying to set up a pattern of plausible deniability. You have that when Michael Cohen decided not to have any obvious initial paper trail with respect to the account, with respect to the payment.

[18:20:06] And now you have others who are learning the script and saying, hold on, if I say that I know something is basically an invitation for Robert Mueller's team to say -- or FEC to say please come ask me further questions about my knowledge.

So the problem with this, Wolf, is that the plausible deniability can only go so far. When you have Michael Cohen saying things in an e- mail from a Trump.org account, and saying that he's special -- you know, he's counsel to Donald Trump and executive vice president, it doesn't extend very far -- it only extends as far as you'd like to believe it, and I think we're all done with the benefit of the doubt.

BLITZER: How unusual is it for someone's personal attorney to go to the personal attorney's home equity loan account, get $130,000, transfer it to someone to keep that person quiet and the client not knowing about it?

COATES: It's absolutely ludicrous. When I was in private practice, if I bought a coffee for a client, I got reimbursed for it, let alone bagels and cream cheese, let alone a home line of credit of $130,000. Not only is it odd, it's also unethical because that would mean that you're making a payment and actually tilting a settlement agreement for your client without that client's knowledge.

That's like you're a criminal defense attorney and you say, I'm not going to bother to extend the plea offer to you, just trust me, I'll sign it off, the offer is for about seven to 10 years. No one would think that's an ethical practice of law.

Here it's the same thing. It really, really, really makes everybody pause and raise your eyebrows about just how much you're willing to give up your license and your practice.

BLITZER: Chris, at issue is a legal question whether that $130,000 transfer of funds was in effect an in-kind campaign contribution.

CILLIZZA: Correct.

BLITZER: That wasn't formally disclosed to the Federal Election Commission or whoever. CILLIZZA: Right. Right, so, I can't just give -- you can use my

house as a campaign headquarters. Let's just say, you can't make those sorts of -- you can donate about $$2700 now. Right? So you can donate that but you can't just also do things that aid and benefit the campaign, which you can certainly argue this did, without reporting it.

I still feel like there is more meat on the bone, there's more for us to know out of this. Now do I think it will change anything? No. I find it hard to believe that a lot of people who voted for Donald Trump did so not knowing the allegations against him from more than a dozen women or having heard of it, but I do think it is important that we still get to the bottom of this.

People say people voted for him, it's not going to matter. It does matter. I mean, how did this $130,000, was the president involved in any way, shape or form? We're talking about the highest elected official in the country. You can't -- just because it might not change voters' minds doesn't mean we shouldn't get to the bottom of it. And I feel like that's the argument for -- well, nobody's going to care. It still matters.

BLITZER: The president, Kirsten, did mention the first lady in his speech last night. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Take Melania. Great, great first lady. We take -- she's great.

(CHEERS)

TRUMP: She's great. She is great. You think her life is so easy, folks? Not so easy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think he was talking about?

POWERS: Well, I mean --

(LAUGHTER)

CILLIZZA: Go ahead, Kirsten.

POWERS: All the things that are going on right now. And look, I mean, Melania is a smart lady. She can figure this out. I mean, she can figure out what Laura just said, I mean, that this doesn't really make sense and that in fact how would Michael Cohen even have known that -- I mean, he just was taking it at face value, there was an affair and it needed to be -- you know, he needed to shut this down.

How did he know that Donald Trump would have said, I've never even met this woman and I don't -- I mean, there was a conversation that took place here, right? So, you know, I'd imagine it's a pretty rough time for her right now. BLITZER: What do you think?

BALL: And to Chris's point, all of the other allegations, this is a different sort of allegation. This is a consensual extra marital affair that's being alleged.

CILLIZZA: That's right.

BALL: And so the reason I think the payment is so important, not necessarily because of the campaign finance technicality, because previously the Federal Election Commission has not seen fit to penalize these kinds of things even if it appears in the letter of the law that they should. Because this kind of relationship -- this kind of financial relationship between, you know, Donald Trump's lawyer and this woman is a tacit acknowledgement that there was something there, that at the very least she needed to be silenced because the information that she had could be damaging.

Now I've spoken to voters who say he's denied all these things with these women, they're all lying, he says it, I believe it, and besides, he never cheated on his wife. Now you may think that that seems ridiculous but there are voters out there who see this as a line to be crossed. And I think the fact that, you know, the White House this week acknowledged that there's a legal matter going on keeps the story alive.

BLITZER: Here's what I'm sure worries the president's lawyers. If the FBI or the special counsel, Robert Mueller and his team decide, you know what, it's worth checking into this and asking some serious questions about the $130,000.

[18:25:10] COATES: That's very, very worrisome. And here's why. The underlying premise of the Russia collusion investigation is about the requirement that we all have in our Democratic system for transparency. We want to know if there's a foreign agency or nation that's trying to interfere in not allowing the American people to have clear and clarity about who is financing, who is holding the strings of a policy maker, of a lawmaker.

And so if you have campaign contributions that are somehow indicating that there is a loyalty premise or a loyalty clause that makes transparency impossible, Mueller is going to want to know about it. And we already know from your reporting that Mueller is already interested in Michael Cohen because of Ukrainian ties, et cetera. So this seems to dovetail with the underlying premise of the Mueller Russia criminal probe.

BLITZER: All right, guys. There's a lot more that's certainly coming up on this story. We're not going to go too far away from it. But thanks to all of you for coming in, Kirsten Powers, Molly Ball, Chris Cillizza, Laura Coates.

President Trump is talking up his plan for tariffs on steel and aluminum, but how is it affecting markets?

CNN's Christine Romans has your bell report right now. CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Is a

trade war on the horizon? America's allies are threatening to retaliate against President Trump's steel and aluminum import tariffs. Investors will be watching.

Wall Street reacted pretty calmly to the tariff announcement. It wasn't as harsh as initially feared and really important here, it included exemptions for Canada and Mexico and other countries can also apply for exclusions. South Korea already says it will.

On Friday investor attention turned to the jobs report. The economy created a strong 313,000 jobs in February. That's the best month since July 2016. The jobless rate held steady at 4.1 percent, a 17- year low.

The number Wall Street was really watching for, wages grew at an annual pace of 2.6 percent, not as strong as expected, and that calmed inflation fears.

This week investors will have more inflation data to scour. Reports on consumer prices and producer prices are due.

In New York, I'm Christine Romans.

BLITZER: Coming up, the president stops the crowd from booing a North Korean dictator.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: No, it's very positive. No. After the meeting you may do that but now we have to be very nice because let's see what happens. Let's see what happens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[18:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump says he might make the greatest deal for the world or he might not. We'll just have to wait and see.

He was talking about his plans for an unprecedented meeting with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Here he is speaking at a rally in Pennsylvania last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to have a meeting. And there's no more missiles going off and they want to denuclearize. Nobody heard that.

Nobody thought, but they said they want to. They are thinking about that. Who knows what's going to happen.

Hey, who knows if it happens, if it doesn't happen? I may leave fast, or we may sit down and make the greatest deal for the world and for all of these countries, including, frankly, North Korea. And that's what I hope happens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Joining us now, the former Secretary of Defense under President William Clinton, his William Cohen. William Jefferson Clinton. That would be Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Yes.

BLITZER: Mr. President, thanks so much for joining us. You were Secretary of Defense at a critical time, when things seemed to be improving in U.S./North Korean relations.

The Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, actually went to Pyongyang. No sitting president has ever done so. Is this president, President Trump, making the right decision, willing to sit down with the North Korean leader?

COHEN: Well, I think it's much like a riverboat gamble. It's impetuous, it's kind of reckless, but it might succeed. So it's one of those where you can't really tell at this point in time.

I always look at this in the fable between the frog and the scorpion, where the scorpion goes to the frog and said, will you carry me across the river? And the frog said, why would I do that? You're looking to -- you're going to sting me. He said back, if I stung you, we both die.

So the frog is persuaded, OK, I'll carry over the river. Halfway over, the scorpion stings the frog. He's dying and said, I thought -- why did you do this? And the scorpion said, it's in my nature.

And this is how you have to approach the North Koreans. It's in their nature to deceive and cheat as they have done in the past.

So with that in mind, you say, all right, the President has laid the card now. He said, I'm willing to meet with him. What are the circumstances under which you're going to have an agreement?

Number one, are they going to, quote, get rid of their missiles and their nuclear warheads? How would you count them? How would you verify --

BLITZER: Well, right now, in the next two months this meeting is supposed to take place, the only commitment is the North Koreans will suspend testing of nuclear weapons or intercontinental ballistic missiles during that period, won't oppose the scheduled U.S./South Korea joint military exercises next month.

[18:34:55] COHEN: So they really haven't given up anything. Basically, they haven't given up the production of missiles. They haven't given up the production of warheads. And so those can continue all the while we're -- while we're waiting to see what they're going to do.

Listen, I'm very skeptical but I'm open to persuasion. I'm willing to sit back and say, OK, let's see how you put this deal together now.

The President by giving -- he's given something away. He's given away the very notion that he's going to legitimatize the North Korean dictator, and that's something they've wanted for a long, long time.

So you have to sit back and say, I know what we want. We want to get rid of all the nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver them in North Korea.

What do they want? They want us out. They want to have the United States away, with no agreement to help defend the South Koreans.

So where is the meeting of the minds under these circumstances? And what are we willing to give up? And that's why others are concerned about it.

BLITZER: What's the risk of having this meeting within the next two months?

COHEN: Well, the risk is that they can't agree. Fundamentally, on this meeting, it's going to be, let's set forth a framework. And then we'll -- here are the two -- three big issues, and we're going to have our experts now negotiate those details.

If they come to a point where each says, hey, this is not going to work, we're back to square one where President Trump is now threatening to unfurl fire and fury on top of North Korea and destroy them as a country.

So the danger is, once you start down the path, you have to have, what are the steps that are coming, steps two, three, and four? I don't think he's thought that through.

I do give credit, certainly, to president moon because of his --

BLITZER: Of South Korea.

COHEN: Of South Korea, the man that President Trump called an appeaser. He ridiculed him, tried to undermine him. And now thanks to President Moon, there is at least a prospect that maybe a deal could be made.

But this is an opening of a door. It's not the closing of a deal. And that's where it's very different.

Usually, the presidents come in after all the negotiations and they close the deal. This is simply opening it. I don't know how you close it after opening it when you don't know what the details are going to be. So the details are --

BLITZER: And also, the previous diplomacy -- in fairness to this president, the argument goes, all that previous diplomacy, including the aggressive diplomacy during the Clinton administration when things seemed to be improving, all of that was a total failure.

North Korea right now has between 20 and 60 nuclear bombs and intercontinental missile capability -- ballistic missile capability to deliver those threats.

COHEN: The question is, again, what are you willing to give up? If you tell the North Koreans, we're out of South Korea, we are -- we have no agreement with them, then they may well say, OK, we'll give up our nuclear weapons, and we can dominate the Korean Peninsula under our conventional capability.

BLITZER: Which is enormous, their conventional capability.

COHEN: Which is enormous. And as a matter of fact, the South Koreans don't have to worry so much about the nuclear weapons. They'll direct it at Japan --

BLITZER: But the South Korean government of President Moon wants this improvement. They welcome the decision by the President to accept the invitation for a face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong-un.

COHEN: They do and they did. They're very optimistic about it. I've had a chance to talk to the delegation visiting here. They are encouraged by the meeting they had with Chairman Kim, saying he wants to move as quickly as possible. President Trump said he wants to move as quickly as possible.

Well, the danger here, until you know the details in terms of how would you go about sequencing this, how would you ever go about verifying this? So these are really important details that have to be analyzed by the experts. The President doesn't like experts but it has to happen.

So, you know, there is a poet, Wallace Stevens. He said, you know, after all of the nos, there's a yes. And on that yes depends the future of the world.

A bit overdramatic in terms of this particular case but much is going to depend upon how this evolves. And if it evolves in a positive way, President Trump will get great credit.

BLITZER: Well, I think what is critical right now, within next month, Kim Jong-un is scheduled to meet with President Moon of South Korea along the demilitarized zone. That will precede, presumably, any meeting with President Trump. Let's see how that goes, what the conditions are, and where we go from here.

COHEN: Actually, I think the North Koreans have proposed that you can have two-track negotiations, the North -- negotiations between the South and North and between the North and the United States. But I think you're right, it should be the South Koreans and North going first. That, I hope, will lay out the foundation to see where we go with that.

BLITZER: Well, let's see what goes on because, clearly, the stakes are enormous right now.

COHEN: Very much.

BLITZER: Secretary Cohen, thanks for joining us. COHEN: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Coming up, two days and counting until a special election that will test President Trump's influence -- political influence. Will President Trump's appearance hurt or help a GOP candidate locked in a very tight race?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The world is watching. This -- I hate to put this pressure on you, Rick. They're all watching because I won this district, like, by 22 points. That's a lot.

[18:39:59] That's why I'm here. Look at all those red hats, Rick. Look. Look at all those hats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: People who live near Pittsburgh go to the polls on Tuesday. It's a special election to fill a seat in Congress, a seat that has been held by a Republican so long it's practically painted red.

This time, though, it's not a given by any means. This race is tight. President Trump was in the 18th District last night trying to rev up the base for the Republican candidate, Rick Saccone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[18:45:03] TRUMP: Go out on Tuesday and just vote like -- you got to get out there. The world is watching. This -- I hate to put this pressure on you, Rick. They're all watching because I won this district, like, by 22 points. That's a lot.

That's why I'm here. Look at all those red hats, Rick. Look. Look at all those hats. That's a lot of hats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: CNN's Jason Carroll is on the scene for us in Pittsburgh.

Jason, so what are voters there telling you today?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, we were at that rally last night. It was very clear that a lot of folks there support the President, liked what he had to say, but it was also clear that a number of the people who showed up at that rally came from outside the district. Outside the state, in fact, coming in from West Virginia.

But it's also very evident that the President still has a lot of support here within the 18th district. The question is, will that translate? Will he be able to get some of those Trump Democrats to back Saccone? And some of the Trump Democrats we spoke to today, Wolf, say they

didn't very much like what the President had to say last night, and they're going to end up voting for the Democrat, Conor Lamb.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANIEL MILLER, VOTER IN PENNSYLVANIA'S 18TH DISTRICT: In 2016, I voted for President Trump.

CARROLL: And did you hear his speech last night?

MILLER: I heard bits and pieces on T.V. like most of the people did.

CARROLL: And it affect -- but I see you're wearing a Conor Lamb.

MILLER: That's right.

CARROLL: So you voted for President Trump but you're not going to vote for Rick Saccone.

MILLER: No, I'm not.

CARROLL: Why not?

MILLER: Because he's not the right man for the job.

ELKY MILLER, VOTER IN PENNSYLVANIA'S 18TH DISTRICT: We never -- never felt that just because you're a Democrat or a Republican, you have to vote straight party the rest of your life. So, therefore, the Trump vote, and now the Lamb vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: Saccone has run on a platform of being more Trump than Trump. And as you know, Wolf, Trump carried the 18th District by more than 20 points. But right now, this race is just too close to call, Wolf.

BLITZER: It was held, that seat, by Tim Murphy, a Republican, for some 15 years. What do the polls show now? How close is it?

CARROLL: Well, there's one Monmouth University poll that shows Saccone up by just three points. Saccone at 49 percent, Conor Lamb at 46 percent. But there are other polls that show that Conor Lamb might be edging out Saccone in this race, too.

So the bottom line, what this is going to come down to, Wolf -- and we keep saying this. It's really going to come down to which party is more energized. Is it the Republicans, or is it the Democrats?

Waiting to see what happens on Tuesday, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jason, thanks very much. Jason Carroll is on the scene in western Pennsylvania.

From one apostle to 1.2 billion followers, witness the evolution of a global icon who means so much to so many. A preview of the brand new CNN series, "POPE: THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN HISTORY." That's next.

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[18:52:19] BLITZER: Tonight, CNN's new original series, "POPE: THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN HISTORY" explores how popes throughout the ages have shaped not only religious but also political, military, and cultural events.

CNN's Bill Weir travels to Vatican City for an inside look at Pope Francis, the reformer, and to many, the anti-Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Since Michelangelo helped build it, the most obvious change inside St. Peters is that pilgrims now take selfies. The Vatican Library may have gone digital but only to preserve ancient wisdom.

And in the Pope's art factory, mosaics are still handmade. Yet to millions, this ancient church seems radically different, thanks to the Pope in the newest mosaic.

Francis the Reformer was an obscure Jesuit from Argentina just five years ago, but he made it very clear, very fast that he would be one of the most liberal holy fathers in history.

WEIR (on camera): He was asked about homosexuality and said five words that shook the Catholic Church, who am I to judge?

WEIR (voice-over): He then embraced Muslim refugees and said, God redeems the atheists. Allowing priests to marry, divorced Catholics take communion, all open for discussion under this global pope who also stands as the anti-Trump.

WEIR (on camera): When he says those who build walls instead of bridges are not Christians, does he know what he's doing?

THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, ROME BUREAU CHIEF, BREITBART: Oh, he knows what he is doing. He is really a great political figure of our time.

WEIR (voice-over): And while his fans love that, the resistance here includes those who worry Francis is either a heretic or a socialist or both.

WILLIAMS: Right now, among conservatives, there is kind of an agglomeration of people with different concerns that are joined in the fact that they think that the Pope might be a danger or might be a problem.

WEIR (on camera): And what percentage of the church do you think they are?

WILLIAMS: Certainly not half.

WEIR (on camera): Yes.

WILLIAMS: Well below half. I would --

WEIR (on camera): But a passionate minority.

WILLIAMS: It's a passionate minority.

WEIR (voice-over): When he defended a Chilean bishop accused of covering up the crimes of a pedophile priest, the backlash was fierce. So the Pope sent a Vatican sex crimes expert to investigate it.

PALOMA GARCIA OVEJERO, VICE DIRECTOR, HOLY SEE PRESS OFFICE: We need to know the truth to prosecute. Zero tolerance. He will never stop until he finishes with this shame.

WEIR (voice-over): But through it all, he is obviously most happy like this. Blessing the hopeful and the desperate. A pastor who wishes the church was more like a field hospital. Above all, here to treat the wounded.

[18:55:04] Bill Weir, CNN, Vatican City.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And be sure to tune in to the new CNN original series, "POPE: THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN HISTORY." That's tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. It's one powerful night coming up here on CNN. I didn't want to miss it.

[19:00:00] Van Jones will speak with Oprah Winfrey, followed by the premiere of "AMERICAN DYNASTIES: THE KENNEDYS," and then the premiere of "POPE: THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN HISTORY."