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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Russian Oligarch Met With Cohen 11 Days Before Inauguration; Another Hectic Week At White House As N. Korea Summit Teeters; President Waffles On Canceling North Korea Summit; Lava Light Show; Man Hit By Lava Bomb While Trying To Protect Homes; Summit Whiplash. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired May 25, 2018 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:05] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Good evening, I'm Jim Sciutto, Anderson is off tonight.
The National Security Council confirmed that lines of communications with North Korea are back open again, and even the Trump-Kim Jong-un summit now seems at least back in play.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, is the summit still on?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to see what happens. We're talking to them now. It was a very nice statement they put up. We'll see what happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: So just one day after axing the June 12th meeting in Singapore, in a letter mixing nuclear bluster and "call me maybe" the president today reversed course.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We will see what happens. It could even be the 12th. We're talking to them now. They very much want to do it, we'd like to do it. We're going to see what happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: We'd like to do it, he says. And again late today we learned that conversations between Washington and Pyongyang are back underway.
So what's Korean for whiplash? We asked one of our guests tonight, Sue Mi Terry who I'll apologize in advance for what I know is going to be a brutal pronunciation but she says it is called -- and from little rocket man to future peace partner to jilted ex to we'll see what happens, it's been -- all the way.
Even line by line and the president's "Dear Kim" letter yesterday, quote, "You talk about nuclear capabilities but," he writes, "ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to god they will never have to be used." And later, in that same letter, "If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write."
And there was more whiplash. CNN's Barbara Starr reports that the Pentagon is on alert for some kind of North Korean nuclear or missile testing. At the same time Defense Secretary Mattis he's signaling optimism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We are not changing anything right now. Steady as she goes. The diplomats are in the lead and in charge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: So serious questions remain about just what those diplomats are being asked to accomplish now, what the president really wants to get out of this summit, and the role for good or ill that China might play.
Also, perhaps most importantly, how each side understands the very notion of denuclearization, which is after all the central issue on all this. And what the unpredictable and intractable Kim might do next, that is forever unclear, which may also apply you might say to President Trump. He has, remember, touted the value of unpredictability and the nearly boundless virtues of his own deal- making.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We need somebody with great energy, with great passion, with great deal-making skills.
I am going to make the great deals. I am going to make great deals for our country. I mean what I do is I do deals. I deal. I negotiate by creating leverage. So I can extract a good deal for the United States. For the people.
I makes deals. I negotiate. Everybody wants me to negotiate. That's what I'm known as, as a negotiator. I'm so anxious to negotiate. Nobody can out-negotiate these deals. I will make a great deal and lots of great deals for the American people. I am a deal-maker, and that's what the country needs, is a deal-maker.
We don't make great deals anymore. But we will once I become president. I'm a closer. We're going to close. We're going to start winning so much just like the video. We're going to win, and win and win.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Well, we'll see.
More now on all this from CNN's Pamela Brown, she joins us now from the White House. So, Pamela, do we know what changed? Yesterday the president said it
was inappropriate to continue with this summit, even made what appeared to be a nuclear threat. Now 24 hours later optimism from the White House. Do we know what changed?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you what changed here, Jim, is the line of communication has re-opened with the North Koreans, according to officials. One official says the North Koreans hasn't been sending the right signals. That has changed ever since the president sent that letter yesterday morning to Kim Jong-un saying that the summit was off the table, boasting about the military prowess, but also inviting him to call or write.
And then there was that conciliatory statement from a senior North Korean official last night praising the president for having the confidence to do the summit and showing an eagerness to continue to hold talks, saying that the North Koreans are prepared to sit face-to- face anywhere, anyhow, anytime. And so that certainly added to this optimism from the White House.
You saw that from the president today. Clearly he liked the statement saying that it was warm, productive, it was a nice statement and really leaving that door open that not only could the summit happen but it could still happen on June 12th within the 24-hour window of him cancelling this. So it's clear this is what the president wants.
I spoke to one senior administration official who said that the White House is more optimistic than expected today in the wake of that statement from North Korea and the fact that communications have reopened, so we'll have to wait and see what happens, Jim.
[20:05:09] SCIUTTO: One thing you could often read is what level of planning the White House is doing. Is an advanced team still planning on going to Singapore as was planned before the summit to get the ball rolling for that June 12th date?
BROWN: That is the big question because that would certainly be telling, Jim, Sarah Sanders, the press secretary basically said, we'll see. She certainly didn't say that they weren't going to go anymore. They were supposed to leave this evening, Jim, to go to Singapore to get ready and meet with the North Koreans. The White House has yet to definitely say whether they're still going to go just as a contingency for the June 12th summit.
As you'll recall officials had said that last time they were just recently they were snubbed by the North Koreans, so it certainly could be telling if they're going to proceed as planned to go to Singapore to prepare for the summit on June 12th. We'll have to wait and see on that front as well -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: You can be forgiven for being confused by all this.
Pam Brown, at the White House, thanks very much.
Well, when we last seen Will Ripley had literally just broken the news on the North Koreans about Trump. President Trump calling off the summit. He'd just come back from the destruction earlier that same day on the nuclear test site by North Koreans. Safe to say the North Koreans were surprised by the president's letter. Will remains in North Korea and he joins us now from Wonsan.
So, Will Ripley, you are in North Korea. What are North Koreans officials saying about the summit? Do they believe there is hope it still comes off?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think they're cautiously optimistic, Jim. I mean, there was a lot of shock on the train ride from the Punggye-ri nuclear test site when we learned that President Trump had cancelled the summit, and yet the next morning instead of the angry response we were expecting from North Korea especially after their heated rhetoric, the insult hurled with Vice President Pence calling him a political dummy after he compared North Korea to Libya, of course a country that gave up its nuclear weapons only to have its dictatorship overthrown a few years later.
The North Koreans now, it does seem as if they think that they can work with the United States. And that's why you saw that statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a much more conciliatory tone. They offered praise for President Trump, they said he was brave for taking steps, that no other U.S. president has taken before, and they said they're willing to sit down and talk with the United States at any time.
So we know that North Korean diplomats have now re-opened lines of communication with the United States. It had been closed. They're now returning phone calls and whatnot, trying to see if they can work out and make something happen to make this summit in Singapore occur on June 12th as was originally scheduled. We'll see.
SCIUTTO: So what happens now? What are the next steps? Because they can agree to have the summit but is there any indication that North Korea is willing to move towards the key issue here which is actual denuclearization by the U.S. definition which is to say no nukes whatsoever?
RIPLEY: Well, I can tell you over many visits to this country over the last several years on every trip, North Korean officials told me they would never give up their nuclear weapons. It's written to their constitution that they're a nuclear power. And yet what we've seen in recent months has been an abrupt U-turn and that has largely at the direction of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
He has now said that he is willing to discuss denuclearization with the United States in exchange for the end of what North Korea considers a hostile policy by the U.S. towards North Korea. They don't want to see as many U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula. Eventually that would be like to see them all withdrawn. They're not happy about the American nuclear umbrella that protects South Korea and Japan.
And so they want the United States to take steps along with the North Koreans which means that they don't think of denuclearization as a process that would take a matter of months, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has suggested, but a longer term process. Something that also -- China also shares that view that it's not going to be something that happens overnight.
SCIUTTO: A lot of distance between the two sides.
Will Ripley in North Korea. Thanks very much.
Perspective now from two people with long experience on the Korean peninsula and in pulling off summits. Former CIA North Korea analyst, Sue Mi Terry, she is Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Also with us, CNN diplomatic and military affairs analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby.
Dr. Terry, if I could begin with you, does this drama, this back and forth in the span of 24 hours, the friendly note, the "our nuclear arsenal is bigger than yours," the "please call me now," you know, everything is warm and productive. Does that lay -- does that credibly lay the groundwork for a incredible summit between the U.S. president and the North Korean leader?
SUE MI TERRY, FORMER CIA NORTH KOREA ANALYST: Well, this whiplash, and you said -- I'm sure caught North Koreans by surprise. They're completely floored by this. There's certainly no U.S. president -- they expect no U.S. president would act this way. But North Koreans never wanted to cancel this meeting. Their signals were not understood correctly.
The two previous statements that they were making was a protest against this Libyan deal and all this rhetoric coming out of Washington on Libya, because Libya is a nightmare scenario for North Koreans. But they never wanted to cancel the meeting. Kim Jong-un actually really wants this meeting.
[20:10:03] So I do think this meeting is going to happen now that Trump wants it and Kim Jong-un wants it. And their last statement that came out seven hours after Trump cancelling the meeting, I have never seen such a statement before. It was very conciliatory for North Korean standard. Personally praising Trump. So I do think there is an incentive for these two leaders to meet. And I think it's going to happen.
SCIUTTO: Admiral Kirby, I can practically hear the president's orders, perhaps the president himself saying this is Trump the deal- maker. He threatens to walk away from the table. He brings them back to the table. In your experience, you dealt it with the State Department, you were a rear admiral in the United States Navy and the Pentagon, do those kinds of tactics apply in a sensitive international discussion about nuclear weapons?
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I don't know if those tactics will necessarily work well once the summit happens and they're sitting down across from one another. There is nothing more difficult or complicated or nuanced in arms control discussions. You really got to know your detail.
But in getting ready for a summit, in -- for a meeting particularly in that part of the world, yes, I think this tactic could work. I think it actually has worked. I mean, he pulled a Kim on Kim. If you might remember in the run-up to the Olympics Kim was threatening hey, I'm not going to go, I'm not getting all the infrastructure support and the resources he wanted, he threatened to pull out, of course they made accommodations in, and he came.
I was involved with sensitive discussions for a senior Pentagon official to go visit China many years ago, we weren't getting the kind of schedule that we wanted so we pulled the rug out from under the ship, said we're not going to come, all of a sudden, things that we needed to get on the schedule started getting on the schedule and the trip happens. So it could work in terms of getting the summit in place. But in terms of a successful summit, that's a whole different matter.
SCIUTTO: Dr. Terry, that's really the issue here because you can make the summit happen, I imagine, if both leaders want it. That's what you need. But on the issues that they're going to negotiate here, the key one being, will North Korea denuclearize by the definition that the U.S. has of denuclearizing, no nukes. Particularly for a regime that views nuclear weapons as really its means of survival.
Do you see the two sides getting closer on that clear -- that key issue?
TERRY: Well, that's a key question. As Will talked about, denuclearization for North Korea means something entirely different. They always meant denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is the regime's security is guaranteed and if U.S. (INAUDIBLE), which has all kinds of implications for U.S. alliance relationship with South Korea, our true presence in South Korea, our extended nuclear umbrella we have over South Korea.
So we have a very big gap here of what we think of denuclearization and what North Korea thinks of denuclearization. So we don't -- I don't know how we're going to bridge that gap, and to get to complete verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons, I mean, I really don't know how we're going to bridge this gap but it's up to the two leaders. We'll find out soon once they sit down.
SCIUTTO: Sure. And better for them to sit down than be threatening and shooting at each other.
Admiral Kirby, one senior administration official told CNN today June 12th, quote, "is in 10 minutes." So if this does happen, it certainly doesn't give diplomats a lot of time to work out if not agreement on those key issues at least a path to agreement on those key issues.
KIRBY: Yes. Look, summit preparations for any head of state meeting is a huge undertaking and takes a lot of detailed planning. Even in the best of circumstances, Jim, when the two heads of states are friendly and we know the meeting is going to happen. It's really difficult right now. And I would argue that June 12th was 10 minutes away back when Trump agreed to actually have that meeting because it was on a fast track back then. Now I'm heartened to hear from Pam's reporting that the backchannels
in communications are back in place and there's talking. I suspect that there wasn't that much of a gap in terms of time of planning, given their little kerfuffle over the last day so I suspect they're going to be able to get back on track pretty quickly, but still it's a lot to get done in a very short of period of time.
SCIUTTO: Sue Mi Terry, Admiral Kirby, thanks very much.
Well, next we're learning more about the chief White House defense lawyer's presence at a meeting that many believe he had no business whatsoever getting near.
We're also learning that the White House's initial story about it might not have been -- listen to this, might not have been true.
Later, the man hit by a lava bomb. We're learning now that he is more than just a survivor. He is being called a hero and we're going to show you why.
[20:18:00] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. We are learning about the national security briefings on a source in the Russia investigation that drew such controversy yesterday because of two surprise guests. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Emmett Flood, the president's handpicked defense lawyer handling -- that's right -- the Russia investigation and the president's involvement.
Justice Department officials briefing lawmakers on what were sensitive details of that case and at least at the outset the main lawyer for a main subject of that probe was in that room. At first the White House explained it this way.
"Neither Chief Kelly nor flood actually attended the meetings but did make brief remarks before the meeting started to relay the president's desire for as much openness as possible under the law."
By yesterday afternoon a Republican congressional aide was telling "THE LEAD's" Jake Tapper that their presence was, quote, "The craziest stuff I ever heard." Only the staffer did not use the "stuff." But by late last night, a White House official was telling CNN's Jim Acosta that Flood and Kelly's presence likely did not help with concerns over the meetings being politicized. And by the today a congressional source familiar with what happened was telling Jim Acosta again that Kelly and Flood did not leave until some members spoke up and said that it was inappropriate for them to be there inside that room.
We should note that a separate administration source says it was always the plan for them to leave after Kelly's remarks.
Plenty to discuss now with our two next guests, they are CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and his own Harvard Law School professor and now professor emeritus, Alan Dershowitz. He is author of "Trumped Up: How Criminalization of Political Differences Endangers Democracy." Professor Dershowitz, why is it appropriate for Emmet Flood, he's the
lawyer hired specifically to represent this president in the Russia probe, for him to be at this meeting yesterday?
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Well, if I'm a defense lawyer I try to go to any meeting I'm not kicked out of. They want to talk to me I'm there to listen. It's their job to decide whether it's appropriate or not.
[20:20:02] They told him it wasn't appropriate he left. But the job of the defense lawyer is to find out anything he can in whatever way he can as long as it's legal and ethical, and the other side is prepared to let him listen. So I don't blame Flood for doing it. If there is anyone to blame it's the people who let him into the meeting.
SCIUTTO: Jeffrey Toobin, Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, told CNN that he assumes that Flood was at this meeting because the president wanted him to be there. Of course the defense lawyer will do whatever he can get away with, I imagine. But does this give the appearance that the White House was trying to abuse their authority to gain leverage in this case?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I don't know about abuse their authority, but I mean, I think Alan is right. This whole enterprise, this whole fake controversy about a spy is about one thing, it's about discrediting the Mueller investigation and potentially leading to his firing. It has nothing to do with civil liberties, it has nothing with fairness. It is a political attack on Robert Mueller that, you know, Flood was trying to gather information, as Giuliani acknowledged.
He was trying to gather information in a way that has traditionally not been allowed. He was thrown out. But, I mean, that's the moment we're in now. This was a political and it remains a political matter above all.
SCIUTTO: Professor Dershowitz, do you disagree?
DERSHOWITZ: Well, it's right out of the playbook that the Clinton people used to discredit Ken Starr, and of course that was part of the Clinton defense team, even I played a small role in consulting with Clinton's lawyers during that event. And obviously the Clinton's approach was twofold. One, to try to use legal means to prevent what happened from happening and second to discredit Starr. And if it ever went to impeachment, to make it into a blue-red issue. And I think we people on the other side here in the Trump administration are trying to do the same thing.
TOOBIN: Yes, but wait, there's one --
DERSHOWITZ: They're trying to discredit in case (INAUDIBLE).
SCIUTTO: One important difference.
TOOBIN: Yes, there's a one important difference. You're right, that they tried to, you know, fight back by legal means. You're right that they tried to make it a political controversy. What the Clinton people did not do is invent lies out of whole cloth. There is nothing comparable to the president -- President Trump saying that there was a spy and that this is worse than Watergate. I mean, the level of lies that Trump has used in this effort to attack Mueller is a quantum difference from what the Clinton people did. And I think it's important to preserve that distinction.
DERSHOWITZ: Let's start with the spy. Now spy is a characterization but all civil libertarians should be concerned any time the FBI puts an informer into a political event, a campaign, an anti-war movement, the Martin Luther King campaign. We all complained, civil libertarians, when the government put informers in.
SCIUTTO: Let's just remind people -- Professor Dershowitz, I cover intelligence and national security, so just for the sake of our viewers.
SCIUTTO: There was no person in the campaign, I've spoken to multiple intelligence officials about this. This was a confidential source who went to members of the campaign who had bragged about, in effect, George Papadopoulos, among them the Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton to them so an informant had a conversation with them. And then I can -- listen, I'm not a lawyer but I understand the civil libertarian concerns.
Jeffrey, to your knowledge, is that a fair equation that the professor is making here between past examples of the FBI, you know, putting spies inside antiwar movement, et cetera?
TOOBIN: Well, I mean, you know -- you know, Alan, it's wonderful to talk about, you know, the abuses of power of Martin Luther King and the anti-war movement, they have absolutely nothing to do with what happened here. You know, they tried to get Martin Luther King to kill himself. They put in (INAUDIBLE) provocateurs in the anti-war movement.
Let me finish. And here, there were a couple of conversations between George Papadopoulos and this confidential informer and Carter Page, and that's it. So, I mean, you know, I appreciate your effort to try to change the subject but to call this as the president has worse than Watergate is preposterous and it's our job to call it out.
DERSHOWITZ: No, I agree with you. This isn't anywhere close to Watergate. It is not the way the president characterized it but it's also not nothing. But I have no problem with at least inquiring. I agree with you. I think Trump overstates it when he says this is worse than Watergate, and it's the worst scandal ever, and that's what presidents and presidential campaigns and people who are being investigated do.
TOOBIN: No, no, it's not, Alan.
DERSHOWITZ: I'm talking about --
TOOBIN: I mean, you're normalizing Trump's behavior and it's not the same as what other presidents do.
DERSHOWITZ: I'm criticizing his behavior.
[20:25:01] What I'm saying is I as a civil libertarians and other civil libertarians have a right to be concerned every time an informer gets near a presidential campaign. We want to know why it happened --
SCIUTTO: Jeff, fair to have that public inquiry into that? At least ask the question?
TOOBIN: Absolutely not. There is a tradition and a rule within the Justice Department that they do not disclose the witnesses or investigative techniques about pending investigations. This is an active case and what the Justice -- what Rod Rosenstein has done to try to protect his job and in a way to try to protect Mueller's job is to bend the rules and give the House Republicans and give the president access to information that they have absolutely no right to. And this --
DERSHOWITZ: No, I don't agree with that.
TOOBIN: At this stage in the investigation, absolutely not. This is a -- well, I know you don't agree, but the -- but this is an example of how they're using their political power to get things they're not entitled to.
SCIUTTO: Guys, we're going to have to leave it there. It's a fantastic discussion between professor and student.
DERSHOWITZ: Happy holiday to everybody.
TOOBIN: You too.
DERSHOWITZ: Have a good holiday.
SCIUTTO: Professor Dershowitz, Jeff Toobin, thanks very much.
And one other quick note on all this, David Axelrod has got a great guest on "AXE FILES" this weekend who really has plenty to say on the Russia affair as well as the president's attack campaign targeting professional investigating him. Fired acting attorney general Sally Yates is going to be his guest and here is a preview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID AXELROD, CNN HOST, THE AXE FILES: What do you make of the president's demand of the Justice Department that they investigate -- essentially investigate the investigation of that involves his campaign and perhaps him?
SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes, well, this has really taken the assault on the rule of law to a new level. Really from the beginning of this presidency, President Trump has not observed the time honored norm that's been in place at least since Watergate that there should be a real division between the Department of Justice and the White House. And here it's even a step beyond a dangerous point because it's not just directing a criminal investigation or to stop one of anyone. It directly relates to his campaign. That's truly unprecedented.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: You can see the entire conversation on "THE AXE FILES," that is Saturday 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time right here on CNN.
And coming up new CNN reporting tonight about a Russian oligarch who met with President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen. This less than two weeks before the inauguration and just days after the president-elect was briefed on Russian interference in the election.
When we continue details of that meeting as well as its implications.
[20:31:41] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Sources tell CNN that a Russian oligarch who's recently been questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller as well as sanction by the United States, showed up at Trump Tower to meet with Michael Cohen 11 days before the inauguration. That meeting was just three days after then FBI director James Comey came also came to Trump Tower to brief President elect Trump on Russian interference in the election.
The oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg was accompanied by his cousin Andrew Intrater, whose company Columbus Nova then paid Cohen $580,000 for a consulting contract that began coincidentally or not in January, 2017. CNN Shimon Prokupecz, Kara Scanell and Jeremy Herb, they share the reporting on the story, Shimon joins me now.
Shimon, so yet another meeting in Trump Tower with Russian tied to the government in many cases. What are you learning about why this meeting took place?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Jim certainly, folks who are familiar with this meeting say this was about U.S. and Russia relations and weights perhaps to improve it. What's not clear is why Viktor Vekselberg would think meeting with Michael Cohen would somehow help those relations since really Michael Cohen at the time decides having access to the President, didn't really have any say as far as we know in the transition or in any policy that perhaps the President was going to institute.
What's interesting about this meeting is that it lasted about 30 minutes. We're told it was a quick sort of meeting. They came in and spoke, they spoke with Michael Cohen, they and went up to his office and then they left. And also, just days before this meeting, Andrew Intrater, the cousin of this oligarch donated money to Trump's inauguration and as you reported, it was sometime after this meeting that his company this Andrew Intrater's company went of hiring Michael Cohen for some work.
SCIUTTO: So, as you mentioned Michael Cohen, he didn't have a formal role in the Trump administration, was not part of the transition team. Despite that, are the people who took part in this meeting, these Russians, are they cooperating in the investigation?
PROKUPECZ: Well certainly, we know that both have been questioned. In fact Viktor Vekselberg was the man who was -- when he arrived in New York, came of his flight his private plane, he was met by FBI agents. But when they questioned him, they had subpoenas and search warrants for him, they took his electronics. So, there was some questioning of him. And I've been told that he hasn't been cooperating with the FBI, obviously he's been sanctioned. So, that the sanction came after the meeting with the FBI with the Robert Mueller's team.
Andrew Intrater, he's been also questioned by the FBI, by folks from the special counsel team and he's answered some of those questions. People close to him say, that he's been cooperative. But overall, I think the focus here really, what's important is that you yet have another Russian, another person of Viktor Vekselberg specifically, who live close ties to Vladimir Putin, who's at Trump Tower that Robert Mueller and his team is now scrutinizing.
SCIUTTO: Shimon Prokupecz, thanks very much.
Joining me now is more our Jennifer Rodgers, she's a former federal prosecutor, now Columbia Law School as well as former White House Ethic Czar for President Obama, Norm Eisen.
[20:35:04] Ambassador Eisen, as we look at the story, really another meeting with the Russian, with connections to the Kremlin took place in Trump Tower, during the transition in this case. Is this purely an optics problem? Or do you see legal issues here?
NORM EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Jim, we don't know yet what the answers to the questions are. But there are profound legal and ethical and national security questions that surround this extraordinary pattern. Over 70 contacts with those in and around Trump and his transition and his campaign. And now another one in Trump Tower, with Viktor Vekselberg. We know that an American company associated with Vekselberg, Columbus Nova paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Michael Cohen. So there could be serious issues. Foreign agent registration act issues. Possible quid pros. One thing we can be confident of federal prosecutors in the southern district of New York are on the case, they're looking into it. So we will get some answers. But very troubling.
SCIUTTO: And I think feel compelled to mention that whenever one of these meetings come up, we should remind people when there were first reports of biddings between Trump aides during the transition, during the campaign, they were denied, that there weren't any meetings whatsoever, of course that's been lied by the facts.
Now, Jen, on the points of payments, both Columbus Nova and Mr. Vekselberg, they deny that any payments came to Cohen directly from Vekselberg, if that's true, does that limit his exposure. Because I imagine there are other ways that payments could be funneled as if were to him, from a legal standpoint though, is that a protection, a buffer there?
JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, we will see. I mean, you know, originally when the news came out about Columbus Nova, they said that Vekselberg had absolutely nothing to do with that relationship with Cohen. Now, he learned about this meeting which was apparently just a few days before the deal was struck. So, there is still a lot to look into about whether Vekselberg was involved and to what extent. But it is a potential problem for them for sure.
SCIUTTO: Jen, something that comes up frequently in these cases, is something known as the Foreign Agents Registration Act, it's known as FARA basically, if you work for a foreign agency, you have to -- you know, volunteer that register that. So Cohen hired by Columbus Nova in this case, not by Vekselberg or the Russian government. How does that relate to the FARA laws?
RODGERS: Well, in order to be guilty of a FARA violation, it would have to be shown that Cohen actually is acting as a foreign agent, so if he really is just working with the Columbus Nova, which is an --
RODGERS: -- American company, you wouldn't get there. But if it actually is him lobbying on behalf of Vekselberg, and by the way it has to be doing something with the administration, lobbying as something like that. You can't just be him supposedly sharing his expertise --
SCIUTTO: Or proving violence expertise, et cetera.
SCIUTTO: He have to say let me represent your case directly to the administration or something else (ph).
RODGERS: And if he is lobbying on behalf of a foreign agent without registering then that is a potentially criminal offense of the FARA act.
SCIUTTO: Understood. Ambassador Eisen, so Cohen not working for the transition at the time. And is not actually worked for the U.S. government though of course he has a very close relationship with the sitting President of the United States. Does that all insulate the administration at least from this situation ethically and legally?
EISEN: Well, it depends on what context he had with the administration. What access he had to the President or those around him. What deals he did or did not strike with them. Whether there or any quid pro quos. It will depend on the evidence Jim. But, you know, there is some reason to ask hard questions. Why did this Vekselberg linked company, Vekselberg's entity is there, largest client of this American company Columbus Nova, suddenly in the Presidential transition agree to a million dollar contract with Michael Cohen? Was his expertise suddenly more valuable because of as they say investment advice? I don't think so. So it's fair to ask these hard questions.
SCIUTTO: Ambassador Eisen, Jen Rodgers, thanks very much for taking the time tonight.
It has been another hectic in Washington, I supposed one other kind of week, can there be in Washington. Just ahead, "New York Times" White House correspondent, Maggie Haberman on North Korea confidential sources, and the Trump White House.
[20:43:16] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. And we have this just in to CNN. The President has just tweeted about North Korea. I'm going to quote his tweet here, he says the following. "We are having very productive talks with North Korea about reinstating the summit which if it does happen we'll likely remain in Singapore on the same date, June 12th and if necessary will be extended beyond that date." There is that.
And this, President Trump and his allies continue to press their unproven accusations that there was a spy planted inside the Trump campaign. And both the White House chief of staff and President Trump's new in-house Russia investigation lawyer were turned away from a classified meeting on Capitol Hill, because some lawmakers thought understandably it was inappropriate, this according to a congressional source.
In other words a typical week in the White House, typical week at Washington. A typical week in America. I'm joined now by Maggie Haberman, covers the White House for the "New York Times" and knows a thing or two about President Trump.
Let's start with North Korea. Because, its whiplash in the last 24 hours. The meeting was off in a something of a dear -- a nuclear Dear John letter, Trump to Kim --
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a great phrase, you know.
SCIUTTI: It's -- have you -- but, you know, both saying, hey call me, if you want to talk again. But also, reminding him that we have a very big nuclear arsenal. And now 24 hours later, his saying, hey, you know, what, it may happen again. What's happening here.
HABERMAN: Look, number one, this is actually very similar to the approach that he has taken with a lot of world leaders. And a lot of people, who have been if not always adversarial toward the U.S. certainly not allies. There was something about that letter that was almost like what you would have seen real estate developer, Donald Trump sending the community board about issues with the zoning -- zoning issue on a project.
He does want this summit to happen. My understanding from a couple of people is he did indeed cancel because he was afraid, he would canceled on and he want to set the terms and debate. And then he started anew this morning, he was telling several people that he believed the North Koreans would give in ultimately.
[20:45:07] And that this would -- this meeting would still happen. He still sees this as an attainable goal and in his mind, it is the -- you know, the ultimate deal and, you know, in contrast to Mideast peace, which I think he is began to realize it less likely. And that it is something that will make his critics praise him which at the end of the day is the validation that he is seeking. We are not really anywhere different that we were yesterday. And that is often what happens with Trump in these negotiations, is it looks like a lot of activity but not much has changed, this meeting may still happen and it may not.
SCIUTTI: Does he want the summit or does he want a successful negotiation?
HABERMAN: He wants a successful negotiation. But whether the difference between U.S. diplomatic efforts and standards versus what he would like to see has happened repeatedly are going to get tested. And I'm not sure how he is going to defined a successful effort beyond as you were talking about before total denuclearization which is really unlikely.
SCIUTTO: And is it, I think a lot of folks at home might be wondering the same question, is this part of a strategy? Is there a plan right or is it reactive? Trump kind of playing Trump here to some degree?
HABERMAN: Right. There isn't usually a plan. It's a lot of tactics but not a grand map that he is going by. A lot of this is just playing off of whatever is n front of him in that given moment and he, you know, whenever he says we'll see what happens, it is often kind of filler. But it is actually how he sees it.
SCIUTTO: OK, that's a fact. We will see what happen.
HABERMAN: What it is. There is often with Trump what you see is actually what's there. And that is the case here.
SCIUTTO: So we had, on another issue, we had another case where the White House initial story turn out not to be accurate. Or is contracted by a leader story explanation, this dealt with chief of staff John Kelly, the President's lawyer, the White House counsel and Emmet Flood, dealing with the Russian investigation showing up on this classified briefing on the Hill which relates to an ongoing investigation. To which the President is a party, the White House said yesterday, listen, they were always going to leave after making an initial statement. It CNN's reporting today that actually they might have wanted to stay.
HABERMAN: Right, right. And I saw that reporting. I don't have that confirmed on my own, but it is not surprising. This is exactly the type of, you know, pushing of the lines that we have seen or trying to erase the lines that we have seen this White House do. Particularly when it relates, when investigation into this President or at least to this President or campaign. And this has been the latest in the series of these kinds of moves over the last two weeks. I heard from a lot of people yesterday on the Congress side and then just on the legal side that just how inappropriate it would be to have had Emmet Flood in particular there, where not good to have John Kelly there either. But Emmet Flood is there to defend the President in the Russia probe. That is the kind of intermingling that we saw the other day. When you saw the President pushing for DOJ to make information available to Congress in the first place. Again, with this President, he will constantly push to see how far he can reset the limit and if people don't stop him, he will go through.
SCIUTTIO: And we'll see, there will be a probation and it will happen again.
SCIUTTO: Maggie Haberman, thanks very much.
HABERMAN: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Well, coming up, the latest from Hawaii where the lava is still causing severe danger. We'll also going to hear more about the man who protected homes there with little more, if you can believe it than a garden hose. That until he got hit and your hearing this right, by a lava bomb.
[20:52:43] SCIUTTO: In Hawaii, small eruptions continuing at the summit of Kilauea. Ash plumes being thrown some 10,000 feet in the air, people, of course, being encouraged to stay away from areas where lava is now entering the Pacific Ocean. By now you probably heard about a man there who severely injured by what's called a lava bomb. Darryl Clinton lucky to be alive. CNN Scott McLean has the story.
SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a beautiful place, a place that feels very alive. it was two decades ago that Steve Hill found his slice of Hawaiian paradise and two weeks ago he came to grips with losing it.
(on-camera): You left this place fully expecting you wouldn't come home to it.
STEVE HILL, RESIDENT: Lost, lost, lost.
MCLEAN (voice-over): Hill and his wife packed up their furniture and left for the main land. He even left a shot of gin on the deck for Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, assuming both the gin and his home would be swallowed up.
HILL: We left feeling heartbroken, it's like our homes are gone.
MCLEAN (voice-over): But his contractor and close friend Darryl Clinton had other ideas.
DARRYL CLINTON, RESIDENT: Might want to step back on this one.
MCLEAN (voice-over): Just one week ago, CNN was with Clinton while he was defending Hill's homes against flying chunks of molten lava. Windows had already been destroyed, so had the water catchment tank. Some lava bombs even came crashing through the roof. Armed with little more than a garden hose, Clinton doused the playing rocks before they torch the entire house.
CLINTON: These ones, are the ones that catch the ceiling on fire.
MCLEAN (voice-over): The 24/7 task was difficult and even more dangerous. After almost a week, Hill told Clinton to leave and let the houses burn.
HILL: Can't do this. This is unsafe. It's time to stop. Valiant effort. I'm humbled by how hard you've tried.
MCLEAN (voice-over): But Clinton didn't leave until the next day, and it wasn't by choice. A line-drive lava bomb broke his leg, severed an artery and nearly took his foot off.
CLINTON: This took my leg out and threw me against the wall. It was the most extreme force I've ever felt in my life.
MCLEAN (voice-over): The extreme heat burned up the deck, the wall and almost an entire ding set. But thanks to a fast-acting neighbor with a water jug, the house survived and so did Darryl.
HILL: You're blessed with neighbors like that.
[20:55:01] MCLEAN (voice-over): Hill returned to Hawaii to find his homes and his friend who helped build them both badly in need of repairs.
HILL: When Darryl is done rebuilding himself, and we'll get on to rebuilding houses.
MCLEAN (voice-over): He is a journeyman?
HILL: He is a journeyman, he is a beautiful person.
MCLEAN (voice-over): In a place where lava insurance is far too costly to be common, Hill knows saying thank you isn't saying nearly enough.
HILL: This place stands because Darryl chose not to go home. It stands because he believed that he could save it. I mean that's it.
SCIUTTO: That is one survivor's story. Scott McLean joins me now from Hawaii. So Scott, I understand Darryl Clinton is still in the hospital, but how is he doing?
MCLEAN: Hey, Jim. So, Darryl Clinton has a rod in his leg. He has had at least three surgeries and right now he is in Honolulu for yet another one. He has a long road ahead of him but he has support. His friend Steve Hill says he will do whatever he can to get Darryl back on his feet. And there's also been a GoFundMe page that's already raised more than $3,000 towards Darryl's recovery.
SCIUTTO: Those pictures there, just other worldly. Scott McLean, from Hawaii, thanks very much.
And coming up tonight, every last zig and zag in the crazy, convoluted road perhaps to a North Korea/U.S. summit. The meeting it was canceled yesterday, and now it seems to be rising from the dead. The question remaining is what will it be and what if it doesn't happen?