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Did White House Embarrass Nikki Haley?; Trump Contradicts Himself on Comey Firing; President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Hold Press Conference; Trump Holds News Conference Amid Questions About Russia, North Korea. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 18, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01]

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The Trump administration did inform the Russian Embassy on Sunday that there would not be another round of sanctions against Russia that would be tied to Russia's support for Syria's dictator, Bashar al-Assad, and those suspected chemical weapons attack -- attacks in Douma earlier this month.

Those sanctions are apparently off for now. That call was made to the Russian Embassy on Sunday, we're told, in part because of the confusion that was created by U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley when she spoke on "Face the Nation" on Sunday and said that these sanctions would be coming down on Monday, possibly announced by the treasury secretary on Monday.

Apparently, because of some that confusion, the call was made by the Trump administration to the Russian Embassy on Sunday to try to clear that up. There's some very pressing news on the subject of North Korea. The president saying earlier today that, yes, his CIA director and potentially his new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, did make the trip to North Korea over Easter weekend to sit down with Kim Jong-un to try to broker some kind of arrangement to set up this meeting, this high-level, high-stakes face-to-face meeting between President Trump and the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un.

As we have been hearing over the last couple of days, Wolf, U.S. officials have been looking at five separate sites for this potential summit between the president and Kim Jong-un.

Now, we should also mention at the same time the president has sort of gone back and forth as to whether or not this going to be a sure thing. He's been saying, well, if these talks setting up this summit don't work out with that we just won't have a summit and we will go back to having a tough posture when it comes to North Korea.

Now, obviously, there but other subjects for these two leaders to talk about. They've been talking about trade. The president really kind of surprising much of the world. Just in the last several days, the administration had been saying, well, the president may be willing to take a second look at that Trans-Pacific trade deal that came out of the Obama administration. As you know, the president got rid of that as soon as he came into office. And then the president saying as Shinzo Abe was arriving here at Mar-a-Lago that, no, he doesn't like the TPP after all. So that obviously has been a subject of conversation as well. It's a cause of irritation between the U.S. and Japan.

And, of course, at this press conference, all bets are off in terms of predictions in terms of what the president might be asked. He could potentially be asked about his ongoing complaints about this new book put out by the former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by the president.

The president put out a tweet earlier this morning, as you know, Wolf, saying that he did not fire Jim Comey because of the Russian investigation. That is obviously contradicted by the president himself, who told NBC News last year that in fact he did fire the FBI director because of the Russia investigation.

So all of those things could come up during this news conference. The likelihood, though, Wolf, is that this will be focused on Russia sanctions and North Korean and those high-stakes, high-level talks between the president and Kim Jong-un.

As you can probably imagine as you have been watching the president on display here Mar-a-Lago, he seems to really want to make that meeting happen. And so we will have to gauge his comments to see if he makes that point here at this news conference here in a few moments, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it should be starting soon, although we see that first row of seats there still empty. And that's the seats reserved for top officials from the Japanese delegation and from the Trump White House.

And we will see. Once that row is filled up, then we will get the Japanese prime minister and the president of the United States, who will presumably be introduced. And they will walk in.

Jim Sciutto, the Russia story has developed in a rather awkward way for this administration. One of the stars of this administration, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, undermined by the White House.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: And apparently a clear warning given to Russia then to a member of his administration on what the policy was regarding additional sanctions for the chemical weapons program and Russia's involvement in it.

I think, if the president asked question about this -- and I expect him to be -- perhaps he can answer the question, what is the U.S. policy towards Russia? Because there appears to be a division on many key steps within his own administration.

Sanctions, additional economic sanctions for the chemical weapons attack, or not? Did the president what the largest number of Russian diplomats expelled from the U.S. that had never happened before or did he not? The reporting afterwards in "The Washington Post" and elsewhere was that he -- that he was upset to hear that, and yet his administration carried it out.

So what is the policy? Is it to get tougher? Do they feel they have been tough enough? Are they really keeping an open door to better relations? Really not clear, and certainly no clarity added in the last 48, 72 hours.

BLITZER: On this issue, Gloria, Russian sanctions, so sensitive for the president, because, as we know, the special counsel's investigation involves alleged cooperation, if you will, between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Everything he does on Russia is seen through that lens.

And the question that everybody is asking -- and I think James Comey even said this in one of his interviews -- that the president doesn't even criticize Putin in private, much less -- much less in public.

So you have to ask a question here. Does this administration have one voice on this on this and one policy, as Jim is saying? Or did they have one voice and one policy until the president decided to change it?

[18:05:12]

And Nikki Haley who was out on the Sunday show talking about it, was she not informed as the U.N. ambassador? I mean, I think you can understand that maybe this was the treasury secretary's announcement to make, perhaps. That might be protocol

But for her not to be involved in this loop, and then for somebody in the administration to say maybe she was confused, which was insulting, at the very least, leads you to believe that this an administration that is confused about what its own policy is, because the only person making the policy is the president of the United States, who seems to be changing his mind.

BLITZER: She told Larry Kudlow, the top economic adviser to the president, I am confused. I don't get confused. She was very, very blunt in that area.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Sabrina, this is all an extremely sensitive issue, especially right now with these various investigations, not just the special counsel, Robert Mueller, but also what's going on in New York City.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Absolutely.

And I think that the competing messages from Nikki Haley and the White House reinforces the split between the president and his national security team. And it also underscores that this president has been reluctant to take any punitive action against Russia

And we have seen this recurring theme time and again, where last month it was after more than a month-and-a-half delay that he implemented the sanctions against Russia that were overwhelmingly passed by Congress last year. As Jim mentioned, now he is seething over the expulsion of more than 60 Russian officials and comparing the number here in the U.S. with other countries out.

You have had his intelligence chief testify that he's not doing enough to curtail further meddling in the U.S. election by Moscow. So I think this adds another piece of the puzzle to the very real question of what is his Russia policy and is he serious about taking the threat of Russian, its meddling in elections and retaliating against them and curtailing it?

BLITZER: He tweeted earlier today, David Swerdlick, the president denying that the firing of almost a year ago of James Comey had anything to do with Russia.

He tweeted this: "Slippery James Comey, the worst FBI director in history, was not fired because of the phony Russia investigation, where, by the way, there no collusion, except by the Dems."

But listen to what he told Lester Holt of NBC News last year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it.

And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He admitted it in that interview, didn't he?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes.

In that interview, he tipped to the beans on himself, Wolf, but he also did in his May 9 letter that he sent to Jim Comey firing him, where he said that I appreciate you telling me more than three times -- excuse me -- three times that I wasn't under investigation, but I'm going to let you go anyway.

It's hard to read that any other way as that was at least one of the major factors in the firing.

BLITZER: Certainly right.

Though the other big issue that may come up -- I expect it will come up at this news conference -- North Korea.

Elise Labott is with us, our global affairs correspondent.

Elise, we learned that the outgoing CIA Director Mike Pompeo actually flew to Pyongyang, met with Kim Jong-un about two weeks or so ago. The president said it was a great meeting, they really got along well, setting the stage potentially for a summit between the North Korean leader and the president of United States.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

Apparently, he was very well-received and the talks went well, Wolf. And it gave the U.S. a lot of confidence, the Trump administration, that the North Koreans are serious about these talks and this upcoming summit with President Trump and Kim Jong-un.

And the one issue that the U.S. wanted to make sure was going to be on the table was denuclearization. The North Koreans had kind of signaled to the South, and the South told -- the South Korean envoy told the U.S. that, yes, it would be on the table.

But they wanted to hear it from the horse's mouth. And when Mike Pompeo went to North Korea, Kim Jong-un told him directly that he would be willing to discuss the issue of denuclearization, giving up his nuclear weapons program.

Now, will he be willing to ultimately make a deal on that? We don't know. But I think got it did give the U.S. confidence that the North Koreans are serious. Now they're just hung on the venue, Wolf.

The North Koreans wanted to have the talks in Pyongyang. I don't think the White House is really keen on that. The North Koreans don't want Kim Jong-un to go travel very far. You know he doesn't leave the country, only went to China recently that one time.

[18:10:00]

And so they're about five locations, President Trump just said today, that are being kicked around. We understand some are in Europe, some are in Asia. Clearly, the DMZ, denuclearized military zone between South Korea North Korea is also there.

But we will just have to see if this is the one issue. It seems they're being more hung up on logistics than the actual substance of the talks.

BLITZER: We see our senior members of the Trump administration and the Japanese delegation. They're beginning to walk into the ballroom there.

This is the grand ballroom at Mar-a-Lago, the president's resort down in Palm Beach, Florida. And they're going to be coming in and then once they are all seated, the president United States, the prime minister of Japan will be introduced. They will both make opening statements and then they will respond to questions.

Two American journalists will have a chance to ask questions. Two Japanese journalists will have a chance to ask questions. At least that's the game plan right now.

This North Korea story, Jim Sciutto, is a very significant development. All of a sudden, Mike Pompeo is in Pyongyang, North Korea.

SCIUTTO: No question.

And North Korea experts, China experts I speak with -- and this of both parties, Democrats and Republicans -- expressed some cautious optimism here, I mean, certainly relief not to be where we were a couple of months ago, with open talk of war on the peninsula, but some cautious optimism that there may be room for negotiation.

But they have this warning. And it's this. If these talks fail, if they don't go anywhere, what happens next is a real question, because if diplomacy fails the two sides really at loggerheads. Victor Cha, who was until recently the president's choice to be ambassador to South Korea, in his words, he said then you go off a cliff.

So, there's an enormous amount of importance, gravity and expectations on these talks and what comes out of it.

BORGER: And I think Japan wants to make sure that they're not kind of left out of this in the cold, because what they want to do is curtail nuclear ballistic weapons from North Korea. And they want the return of Japanese citizens who were abducted by North Korea back in the 70s and the 80s.

And I think these are discussions that Abe clearly is going to have, with the president saying, wait a minute here, you should not be doing this and acting independently of us.

BLITZER: The president and the prime minister, they seem to have -- seem to getting along quite well.

Sabrina, they spent at least part of the day today out on the golf course, one of the president's golf clubs down near Palm Beach, over in West Palm Beach. But they clearly like hanging out together in Florida.

SIDDIQUI: He certainly appears to have a good working relationship, but I think, as Gloria mentioned, there is a real concern in Tokyo about being sidelined as the president and the U.S. engage in these very serious talks with North Korea, as well as on the issue of trade.

I know that Shinzo Abe was very hopeful that he could come to Mar-a- Lago and discuss with the president the prospect of the U.S. renegotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Now, as the president seemed to have already reversed course from his interest in doing so, the yen has already seen a decline compared with the other group of 10 members of that pact.

And so I think a lot of his emphasis going to be both on North Korea and on U.S. trade policy.

BLITZER: Yes, we're going to hear a lot about trade policy.

Expect the president and the prime minister be introduced very, very soon. And, David, they're going to try to -- the president at least will try to underscore his irritation with Japan, that Japan still has some problems allowing U.S. exports into Japan.

SWERDLICK: Right.

The president has trade a little bit reversed Wolf, right? We at one point were in the TPP and we had the opportunity both to strengthen our ties with Japan and other Pacific countries and put strategic pressure on China economically that would have helped us in the economic realm and the political realm.

We gave that up. Now he's trying to start from scratch with Prime Minister Abe. But I think at the end of the day this is about results.

BLITZER: The first lady is now walking in. There's Melania Trump.

She's walking in and taking her seat. There she is. And she's down in Mar-a-Lago as well receiving -- she's being received by the U.S. delegation. The vice president is down there as well.

The president has been having meetings with his top national security leaders while he's down in Palm Beach, Florida, at his resort there at Mar-a-Lago. And he clearly likes being there. He is about to be introduced.

But this -- this is a moment that we're going to be watching to see what the questions are going to be, Jim Sciutto, because reporters -- he calls on the reporters, but they can ask presumably whatever they want.

SCIUTTO: That's right.

You have to expect discussions with North Korea, because that goes right to Japan, Japan's involvement. They're a key player on that issue. But with the news today on Russia, he is going to be asked about his Russia policy and frankly will have some uncomfortable questions to answer if he chooses the answer them as to why he hung his U.N. ambassador out to dry on that issue.

BLITZER: That's a serious, serious issue, and very embarrassing.

[18:15:00]

And, clearly, Gloria, a lot of people thought the response from Larry Kudlow, the head of the National Economic Council, was inappropriate for...

BORGER: Sexist?

BLITZER: Well, that's what the accusation is?

What do you think?

(CROSSTALK) BORGER: Yes. I think he was mansplaining her and saying, well, she was a little confused. And, by the way, she shot right back and said, I wasn't.

And I think this is clear evidence of miscommunication inside the administration. And what was interesting to me was that she made it public.

BLITZER: All right, and here they come, the president of the United States and the prime minister of Japan.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

I want to begin today by expressing my deep condolences to the entire Bush family on the passing of former first lady Barbara Bush, a wonderful, wonderful person.

For decades,Barbara was a titan in American life. Her presence and character were engraved into America's identity. Her strength and toughness really embodied the spirit of our country.

And her warmth and devotion earned the admiration of an entire nation and indeed the entire world. She was a tireless champion for literacy. She was a fierce advocate for the American family and she was a woman of proud patriotism and profound faith.

Our hearts are saddened by her passing, but our spirits are lifted by the memories of her goodness and her grace. She was a good person.

Melania and I send our prayers to Barbara's husband of 73 years -- I will never beat that record -- President George H.W. Bush, to the surviving children, Jeb and Neil and Marvin, Dorothy, and former President George W. Bush, and to their many wonderful grandchildren and great grandchildren.

This evening, I also want to send a message to all of the brave service members from the United States, France and the United Kingdom who were involved in the very successful strikes on targets associated with the Syrian chemical weapons program last week.

Once again, the unmatched skill of the United States military and our great partners and allies was demonstrated to the entire world. Missiles were shot. They tried to knock them down. They weren't in the least successful. They hit none. The purpose of our strike was to establish a strong deterrent against the use of banned chemical weapons.

Civilized nations must join together to prevent the horrors of chemical warfare and in fact warfare. And I think our allies really were absolutely world class wonderful. We thank them for their support.

Today I'm thrilled to be joined by my good friend Prime Minister Abe of Japan, highly respected gentleman.

Prime Minister, Melania and I are honored to host you and Mrs. Abe once again at Mar-a-Lago. We're grateful for the tremendous hospitality you showed us during our visit to your country last fall.

It was a true privilege to be welcomed to the magnificent land of Japan or, as I have heard all my life, the land of the rising sun. It's true. It's so great.

During our visit to Asia in November, we had tremendous success in listing support for our campaign of maximum pressure on the North Korean regime.

As you know, I will be meeting with Kim Jong-un in the coming weeks to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Hopefully, that meeting will be a great success, and we're looking forward to it. It would be a tremendous for North Korean and a tremendous thing for the world.

So, we will be doing everything possible to make it a worldwide success, not just for the United States or South Korea or North Korea or Japan, but for the entire world.

We hope to see the day when the whole Korean Peninsula can live together in safety, prosperity, and peace. This is the destiny of the Korean people, who deserve and have gone through so much over the years. We hope it all works it. And we'll be trying very hard.

[18:20:18]

I want to thank the prime minister for his insight and support, over the past year as we have pursued the dream of a peaceful, nuclear-free Korea.

Shinzo, you have worked very hard, along with us and all of our people, and we thank you very much. And we're with you. And you're a lot closer than we are, but we're working on this together, OK?

Thank you very much.

Your support has been critical to getting us to this important moment in time. It's a historic moment and possibly beyond that, if it works out properly.

Our discussions today reaffirm the close cooperation between the United States and Japan on the issue of North Korea and our common defense.

We will not repeat the mistakes of previous administration. Our campaign of maximum pressure will continue until North Korea denuclearizes. We have great respect for many aspects of what they're doing, but we have to get it together. We have to end nuclear weapons, ideally in all parts of the world. That would be a goal for all us to hope for and to cherish.

As I have said before, there is a bright path available to North Korea, when it achieves denuclearization, in a complete and verifiable and irreversible way. It will be a great day for them, will be a great day for the world. During the visit to Japan last fall, I met with Japanese families who

endured the terrible heartbreak of having their loved ones abducted by the North Korean regime. We want to see these families reunited as soon as possible. And I know for a fact that it's one of the, truly, most important things on Shinzo's mind. We talk about it often.

It's so important to you, and we're going to everything possible to have them brought back and bring them back to Japan. I gave you that promise.

The United States also supports Japan's efforts to improve its defense capabilities, and we're exploring ways to expedite the sale of American military equipment to Japan through the foreign military sales program.

We've stepped up our effort, not only with respect to Japan, but other allies, that, when they order military equipment from us, we will get it taken care of and they will get their equipment rapidly.

It would be, in some cases, years before orders would take place because of bureaucracy with Department of Defense, State Department. We are short-circuiting that. It's now going to be a matter of days. If they're our allies, we are going to help them get this very important, great military equipment.

And nobody, nobody makes it like the United States. It's the best in the world by far.

We're also working to improve our economic partnership by reducing our trade and balance and removing barriers to U.S. exports. The United States is committed to free, fair and reciprocal -- very important word -- trade.

And we're committed to pursuing a bilateral trading relationship that benefits both of our great countries. Prime Minister Abe and I have agreed to intensify our trade and investment consultations. Ambassador Lighthizer, who is with us today, will take the lead for the United States.

These past two days have been extremely productive. The friendship between Japan and the United States has never been closer. I truly believe it's never been closer than it is today. And the bonds between our people have never been stronger.

In the months ahead, we'll rely on this great friendship as we face an array of old challenges and new opportunities. And we will face them together. We will work closely on trade. We will do something having to do with the imbalance that frankly should have been done for years and years.

[18:25:00]

Mr. Prime Minister, I want to thank you again for traveling to Mar-a- Lago for these important discussions and meetings. It's been a true honor to welcome you here and to work with you toward greater security, prosperity and peace for our two truly great and wonderful nations.

And thank you for being here, Shinzo. Thank you. Thank you very much.

SHINZO ABE, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Mrs. Barbara Bush, the former first lady, she has passed away.

On representing the Japanese people, I would like to express my condolences to former President Bush and to all the family members. We express our heartfelt condolences.

The infinitely blue sky, refreshing and asserting sea breeze, it was a great pleasure to be invited once again to this beautiful Mar-a-Lago and in a relaxed atmosphere to spend significant length of time with President Trump to engage in fruitful discussion in a frank and straightforward manner.

About a year ago at this place, at the very moment I was at dinner with President Trump, North Korea dared to launch ballistic missiles. It is absolutely intolerable.

Immediately after I said so, President Trump stepped forward in front of the camera, though it was not planned, and made one (INAUDIBLE) comment. The U.S. is with our ally Japan 100 percent. The president sent out a message of powerful commitment to the world.

Donald, your words on that occasion is still deeply etched in my mind, together with my wonderful memory of my stay here in Mar-a-Lago. With one single comment, you demonstrated that a superbly strong Japan-U.S. alliance, which has a history of longer than half-a-century, and I want to express my deepest respect for your remarkable leadership.

A year also has passed (INAUDIBLE) the situation surrounding North Korea, due to the decisive decision by President Trump on the first ever U.S.-North Korea summit, is at a historical turning point.

But the past mistakes should never be repeated. On this point, President Trump and I were in full agreement. On location of the 1994 framework agreement for the 2005 six-party talks agreement, North Korea committed to abandon nuclear weapons development.

But those promises were broken. And the effort of the international community to engage in dialogue were all entirely exploited to buy time to develop nuclear weapons and missiles.

Based on such lessons learned, both the U.S. and Japan, together with the international community, will demand that for all weapons of mass destruction of ballistic missiles, complete verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles to North Korea.

By envisioning multiple scenarios, we carefully thought out our policies and directions at a concrete and detailed level. Just because North Korea is responding to dialogue, there should be no reward.

Maximum pressure should be maintained, and actual implementation of concrete actions toward denuclearization will be demanded.

This firm policy has once again been completely shared, that, between us, on this occasion, we also agree to continue our effort towards the early resolution toward of the top priority matter of abduction.

Just now, President Trump, on this spot here, has mentioned that towards the return of the abductees, maximum effort will be made, the clear promise just made here.

We are deeply encouraged, Donald. Half-a-year ago, when you visited our country, you listened intently to each and every family members of the abductees. You listened carefully, and kindly said you would like to help.

Your image on that occasion is indelibly etched in the eyes and minds of many of the Japanese people. Going forward, we wish to work closely with the United States and towards the immediate return of all abductees.

[18:30:24] We are determined to strengthen our approach, vis-a-vis North Korea. North Korea has diligent work force and is blessed with resources. If North Korea advances in the right direction, they can make their populations richer. If North Korea takes the right path under the Japan-North Korea Pyongyang declaration there could be possible path to settle the unfortunate past and to normalize diplomatic relationship. For that to happen, a comprehensive resolution of multiple concerns, including abduction, nuclear and missiles, will be the fundamental peace condition through the upcoming historic U.S.-North Korea summit. We strongly hope for a breakthrough in the situation.

The Japan-U.S. alliance is not just limited to the theater of security, but it also contributes to the peace and prosperity of the world, as well as the region. On the economic front Japan and the U.S. will take a lead and develop

a free and fair market in the Indo-Pacific region. I spent some time with President Trump to discuss ways to make that happen in a candid manner.

First of all, we must further strengthen the economic ties between the two countries. Under President Trump, exports from the U.S., including energy, aircraft amongst others, have already been increasing significantly. Further, following the bold tax reform by President Trump, Japanese companies' investments in the U.S. have been gaining momentum, which is creating a large number of jobs in the U.S. and contributing to the expansion of the exports from the U.S.

In order to benefit both Japan and the U.S., we'll further expand trade and investment between the two countries. Building upon that foundation, we'll aim to realize economic development in the free and open Indo-Pacific region, based on fair rules. To make that happen, at this time, President Trump and I agree to start talks for free, fair and reciprocal trade deals. And Minister Montegi (ph) will be responsible for these talks on the side of Japan. Minister Montegi (ph) and a U.S. trade representative I hope will have very fruitful discussions. Over the last two days, President Trump and I have spent more than

seven hours together over meals and playing golf, while at the same time, we were able to hold extremely fulfilling talks in a relaxing atmosphere. The last few days were the time when I was able to further deepen my friendship and relationship of trust with President Trump.

Lastly, I'd like to express my sincere appreciation to Donald and first lady Melania for their wonderful hospitality, as well as the continued warm-hearted welcome of the people of the United States. Thank you.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Questions. Mark Landler. Mark.

MARK LANDLER, REPORTER, "NEW YORK TIMES": Thank you very much, Mr. President.

Mr. Prime Minister, nice to see you again.

Mr. President, you sent your CIA director to Pyongyang a couple of weeks ago, and he returned without three Americans who were being detained there. And also, without any other visible signs of concessions the North Koreans had made to the United States in advance of your meeting with Mr. Kim.

My question is, do you intend or are you willing to sit down with Kim Jong-un if Americans are still being held in North Korea? And will you insist on other tangible concessions from the North Koreans in return for gestures like sending a potential future secretary of state to North Korea?

And from the prime minister, if I may, you a moment ago alluded to new trade talks between your minister and Mr. Lighthizer. Should we interpret that to mean that you are now open to negotiating a bilateral trade deal between the United States and Japan? And then a second question. Japan is the only major American ally not exempted from the steel tariffs. Did you ask the president to exempt Japan and how did he reply?

[18:35:25] TRUMP: Thank you, Mark, very much.

The fact is that they do have three prisoners. We have been talking about them. We're negotiating now. We are doing our very best. As you know, they've been there a long time. And it's harsh treatment.

We fought very hard to get Otto Warmbier back. And when we came back, he was in very, very bad condition. It was a very sad event. We are likewise fighting very diligently to get the three American citizens back. I think there's a good chance of doing it. We're having very good dialogue. We will keep you informed. But we are in there, and we are working very hard on that.

We have come a long way with North Korea. We were, as you know, and when I say "we," for many years, they've been talking North Korea, and nothing has happened. This should have been taken care of by past administrations when they were not nearly so far along.

But we put unbelievably powerful sanctions on and many other things. I want to thank publicly President Xi of China, who has done for more us than he's done for any other administration or any other leader of China has done for my president or administration. He has clogged up the border, as you know. And he's done it very, very powerfully. He would tell you himself that he never thought he would go to this extent, and I appreciate that very much.

But it's put a lot of pressure on. As you know, 93 percent of the goods coming into North Korea come in from China. And President Xi understands that this is a very important set of months that are lying ahead. He doesn't want to see a Korea, North Korea or any Korea that has nuclear weapons either. So he's also fighting for China when it comes this.

But he has been terrific. Can he be better? I always say yes. He can be better. I said, "President you've great. Can you be better? Yes." But he's been very good. And it's had a big impact. And what we've done has had a big impact.

So we've never been in a position like this with that regime, whether it's father, grandfather or son. And I hope to have a very successful meeting. If we don't think it's going to be successful, Mark, we won't have it. We won't have it. If I think that it's a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we're not going to go. If the meeting, when I'm there, is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting. And we'll continue what we're doing or whatever it is that we'll continue. But something will happen.

So I like always remaining flexible and will remain flexible here. I've gotten it to this point. President Moon of South Korea was very generous when he said if it weren't for Donald Trump, the Olympics would have been a total failure. It was my involvement and the involvement of our great country that made the Olympics a very successful Olympics.

If you look at ticket sales prior to what took place with respect to North Korea, it was going to be a big problem, and it turned out to be a very successful Olympics.

So we've gotten us here. And I think we're going to be successful. But if for any reason, I feel we're not, we end. Thank you, Mark.

ABE (through translator): Between President Trump and myself, for benefitting both Japan and the U.S., we are -- have expanded the investment and trade. Based on that foundation, open and fair economic development in the Indo-Pacific region, we have agreed to start talks for free, fair and reciprocal trade deals.

As for Section 232, Japanese steel and aluminum would not exert any negative influence on the U.S. security. Rather its opposition that the quality of Japanese product is high. Many of those products are difficult to be replaced with and they are greatly contributing to the U.S. industries and employment. So recognizing that, we'd like to continue to respond to this matter going forward. [18:40:14] TRUMP: I will add that the 232 having to do with aluminum

and steel tariffs, 30 percent in one case, 25 percent and 10 percent, that it's got us to the bargaining table with many nations and in other cases, they're paying. And it's billions of dollars coming into the coffers of the United States. So they've been actually very important.

If you look at what we did with solar panels, where we put 30 percent tariffs on, we had 32 companies opened with pretty new plants, because it's a relatively new industry. Of the 32 plants, 30 were closed, and two were not doing well. Since putting the tariffs on, the two are doing very well. Seven or eight are going to be opening and a lot more will open. Same thing with washing machines. We were, believe it or not, having washing machines dumped all over the country. We put tariffs on. And we're now opening up and expanding companies that create and make, which is actually a very big business, washing machines and dryers.

So the workers of our country know what's happening. We have companies moving up from Mexico, automobile companies; and they're building new plants in Michigan and Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and Kentucky and expanding their plants. A lot of things are happening. Our country is doing very, very well. So -- and it's going to continue. It's going to continue. A lot of great momentum.

If you look at any chart, the enthusiasm for business in our country is at an all-time high. And unemployment for African-American workers, for Hispanic workers, unemployment is at an all-time low. In history, in the history of our country, it's at the lowest point. If you look at unemployment for women, it's at an 18-year low. So we're very proud of our achievements. And starting now, as you see, over the last few weeks, the tax cuts are kicking in, and it's a beautiful thing to see. And people are spending money where they didn't have the money to spend previously. So we're very happy with that.

Shinzo, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I'm from NHK. I would like to ask questions about how to handle North Korean issues. Prime Minister Abe, the coordination for holding summits between South Korea and North Korea, as well as between the U.S. is under way. There's a concern in Japan that Japan may be left behind. How are we going to proceed with dialogue with North Korea?

President Trump, you talked about the abduction issue. Are you going to consider the nuclear weapons disarmament the same -- the same level as abduction issue?

TRUMP: Well, maybe I'll go first. Abduction is a very important issue for me, because it's very important to your prime minister. I will tell you that we were having dinner last night, and he started talking about abduction and how horrible it was. And his level of enthusiasm was unbelievable. And I said to him right then and there last night at the table, I said we will work very hard on that issue. And we will try and bring those folks back home, very, very hard. ABE (through translator): Whether Japan will be left behind, that is

not at all the case. In the last two days together with President Trump, we have spoken about North Korea. There will be the inter- Korean talks and a U.S.-North Korea summit is planned. We have gone into really in-depth discussion about policy and direction. We have reached agreement.

Regarding the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit, we hope that it will lead to the resolution of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear missile and, of course, more than anything else, we hope it will be historic summit that will lead to the resolution of abduction and for that purpose, I was discussed with President Trump and we have fully agreed about our direction going forward in particular regarding abduction as Donald has explained.

[18:45:05] In our (INAUDIBLE), we have thoroughly discussed about this matter the last year. The president met with victims of the abduction as well as the family. The family's feelings have been strongly felt and understood by the president, that he has given very encourage comment he would appeal toward the resolution. I highly appreciate this encouraging comment. This gives us huge courage. Very encouraging comment and for the families of the abductees, again, this is massively, powerfully encouraging comment and going toward between Japan and U.S. or between the trilateral of Japan, U.S. and South Korea, we'll do our utmost to resolve the issues including abduction and nuclear missile.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we will be very loyal to Japan. Thank you.

Jennifer Jacobs?

REPORTER: Thank you, Mr. President.

On the Mueller probe, have you concluded that it's not worth the political fallout to remover either special counsel Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein?

And, Prime Minister Abe, did the president ask you to provide more funding for U.S. troops in Japan? And what agreement did you reach here in Florida on buying more military equipment from the U.S.?

TRUMP: Jennifer, I can say this, that there was no collusion, and that's been so found as you know by the House Intelligence Committee. There's no collusion. There was no collusion with Russia other than by the Democrats or the obstructionists because they truly are obstructionists.

So, we are giving tremendous amounts of paper. This was a really hoax created largely by the Democrats as way of softening the blow of a loss which is a loss that frankly they shouldn't have had from the standpoint that it's very easy for them. They have a tremendous advantage in the Electoral College and this is what it is and this is where it came from.

You look at the kind of money that was paid, probably some went to Russia. You look at Podesta having a company in Russia, where nothing happened and people don't talk about it.

You look at the fact they're server was never gotten by the FBI. Why did the FBI take it? The FBI takes what they want. They go in, they wouldn't get the server.

This is a hoax. As far as the investigation, nobody has ever been more transparent than I have instructed our lawyers to be totally transparent. I believe we have given them 1.4 million pages of documents if you can believe this, and haven't used, that I know of or for the most part presidential powers or privilege.

So, we are hopefully coming to the end. It is a bad thing for our country, very, very bad thing for our country.

But there has been no collusion. They won't find any collusion. It doesn't exist.

As far as the two gentlemen you told me about, they've been saying I'm going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months and they are still here.

So, we want to get the investigation over with, done with, put it behind us. And we have to get back to business with negotiating with this gentleman and plenty of others. But this gentleman is a very tough negotiator and we have to focus on that.

Thank you very much.

ABE (through translator): Regarding the U.S. forces expenses, the U.S. forces in Japan at the safety and security of Japan and peace and stability of the far east is being maintained and for the forward deployment strategy of the United States in the Asia Pacific in terms of the president -- their presence in Japan is very meaningful and significant. Across the world in terms of paying for the expenses Japan accounts for the largest percentage of stationing compared to the country and the president understands it very well.

REPORTER: I have a question for President Trump. This is the follow up question for 232. So, you don't have any intention to exempt Japan at this point in time, and President Trump and Prime Minister Abe. In regard to trade, you're going to establish new talks for trade, is it going to be in the direction of FTA or TPP?

[18:50:12] So, I'd like to hear the views from both of you.

ABE: So between President Trump, the talks for free, fair and reciprocal trade deals to initiate debt has been agreed. As for this talk, Minister Motegi and Ambassador Lighthizer, USTR, will be the representative and Mr. Aso and Vice President Pence, U.S. Japan economic dialogue will be receiving the report.

As for the talks, this will be in the best of both countries, the trade between the two will be expended and Asia Pacific economic growth.

So, under U.S. side, that they are interested in a bilateral deal, we are aware of that, but at any rate, country's position is that TPP is the best for both of the countries and based on that position, we shall be dealing with the talks.

TRUMP: Thank you very much. The United States has a massive trade deficit with Japan. It's anywhere from $69 billion to $100 billion a year. That's massive by any standpoint. We are doing 232 on steel and aluminum, and if we can come to an arrangement on a new deal between the United States and Japan, that would certainly be something we would discuss, aluminum tariffs and steel tariffs.

I would look forward to being able to at some point in the future, take them off, but right now, we have a deficit, that's a minimum of $69 billion a year. Japan sends us millions and millions of cars and we tax them virtually not at all. And we don't send so much product because we have trade barriers and lots of other things.

So, these are the things that the prime minister and I are going to be discussing over at the next short period of time. The media has not covered the TPP correctly.

I don't want to go back into TPP, but if they offered us a deal that I can't refuse on behalf of the United States, I would do it.

But I like bilateral better. I think it's better for our country. I think it's better for our workers and I much would prefer a bilateral deal, a deal directly with Japan.

We already have a deal with six of the 11 nations in the TPP. So, we already have trade deals and the others we can make easily. They're all calling wanting to make a deal. But we think that's much better for us.

So, unless they offer us a deal they cannot refuse, I would not go back into TPP. We'll see what happens. But in the meantime, we're negotiating and what I really prefer is negotiating a one-on-one deal with Japan and that's where we are right now.

And I will say that the representatives who are sitting right here are extraordinarily competent and very tough. Those representing Japan and we will hopefully in the not-too-distant future, have a very good deal. Good for Japan and good for the United States.

OK? Thank you all very much. We appreciate it. Thank you. Thank you very much.

(INAUDIBLE)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Reporters are shouting some questions. President ignoring those questions. We'll continue to monitor it.

In fact, let's listen in.

TRUMP: That is a question -- there's been nobody tougher on Russia than President Donald Trump. Between building up the military, between creating tremendous, vast amounts of oil, we raised billions and billions of dollars extra in NATO. We had a very, very severe -- we were talking about it a little while -- fight in Syria recently, a month ago, between our troops and Russian troops and it's very sad. But many people died in that fight.

There has been nobody tougher than me. With the media, no matter what I did, it's never tough enough because that's their narrative. But Russia will tell you, there has been nobody tougher than Donald Trump. And then the other night, we had a strike in Syria, which was absolute precision.

I leave it with this. With all of that said, if we can get along with China and if we can get along with Russia and if we can get along with Japan and other nations, that's a good thing.

[18:55:10] Not a bad thing. Just remember that. If we got along with other nations, that's good. Not bad. Thank you very much.

BLITZER: All right, so there you have it. The prime minister of Japan, the president of the United States. The president making news on three major fronts including the Mueller investigation, the special counsel investigation. We'll assess that.

North Korea and now that last final shouted question involving Russia. The president says nobody has been tougher on Russia than he has been.

Gloria, let me ask you first of all, the president says Mueller and Rosenstein, they're still there. Clearly, he also said, we're coming to, we're hopefully coming to an end of this Russia probe.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean, he didn't offer I must say, any direct signals. He was asked about whether he would fire one or both of those people. He said they've been there. They've been saying I'm going to get rid of them for three to four months and they're still there. But he didn't say that he wouldn't fire them eventually.

And then went on to what we've heard time and time again that this is a hoax. He said they've handed over 1.4 million pages of documents to the special counsel, didn't talk about testifying. We know from our own reporting that the president now after the raid of Michael Cohen's office, hotel room, et cetera, that he is, much less interested in testifying and less likely to do that. But went on with what we've heard about no collusion with Russia and then at the very end of the press conference, we heard him talk about nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have been.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta asked that question, he shouted that question. He's joining us now, chief White House correspondent.

So, finally, the president is insisting that no one has been tougher, no American leader has been tougher on Russia than he's been.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I think Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy would probably disagree with that assessment, Wolf, but at the same time, we did try to ask the question as the president and Shinzo Abe were leaving, what happened to sanctions on Russia. He essentially said, well, we may do sanctions on Russia if we feel the events warrant such an action, but he went on to say, as you mentioned that nobody has been tougher on Russia than he has. That is just not really born out by the facts.

Now, we should also point out a lot of other new us made at this. One of the things we're going to be turning back from this news conference, Wolf, is the president saying if this upcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un is not fruitful, he's going to pull out of it. He said at one point, he'll leave the room if necessary if he feels those discussions are not going to be fruitful.

He sort of added a new sort of response on what he thinks about the Trans Pacific Trade deal. At one point saying during this news conference and this was after he said he's not really interested in doing the Trans Pacific Trade deal. He's given an offer he can't refuse, he may look at it once again. So, it's another new incarnation of that response on that issue.

But, Wolf, I think it's very interesting that the president essentially confirming what we reported today that for now, there will not be new sanctions on Russia. That he's not really entertaining that, but they may come at another time. But, Wolf, this continues to be something that's gotten under his skin. This notion he's not tough enough on Russia. You could see that exasperation there.

And also, one other quick piece of news out of this. He did not give a definitive answer as to the fate of Rosenstein and Mueller. He didn't say I'm not going to fire those individuals. He only said, well, we've been talking about this for four or five months and they're still here, that is not closing the door on taking some kind of action against them in the future, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, your thoughts?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: He laid a marker down on the Russia investigation. He said it's very bad, it's a very bad thing for our country and he said that we'd like to get the investigation over with. Making no promises either way, whether I'm going to fire him or keep him his job, but made clear his view of this is that there's a time limit in effect set on this, you know, leaving the door open for that going forward.

And it is interesting. On the point he made regarding sanctions, the president is standing on firm ground there. At least not comparing himself to past president, but on the steps that his administration is taken. Military build up, deployment of forces in the NATO zone, and he cited again as Mike Pompeo did, last month, U.S. and Russian mercenaries deployed by the Russian government came into a shooting fight and hundreds of them were killed. A remarkable moment.

BLITZER: On North Korea, he also said, we've come along way as far as North Korea is concerned. Let's see what happens. He did say that meeting was going to take place with Kim Jong-un.

That's it. We're going to stay on top of all the breaking news, of course, here on CNN. But for me, that's it. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.