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Trump Announces Release of American Prisoner in Venezuela; North and South Korean Leaders Hold Surprise Second Meeting; Hero Teacher Disarms Student Shooter; Russian Oligarch Met with Michael Cohen at Trump Tower. Aired 11-12n ET
Aired May 26, 2018 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
All right. It's 11:00 on the East Coast right now. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
NEWSROOM starts right now. >
Let's start with breaking news.
President Trump announcing moments ago an American prisoner, Josh Holt, will return to Washington tonight from Venezuela and be reunited with his family. For the past two years, the former Mormon missionary from Utah has been jailed in Venezuela, making pleas to the American government to come save him.
The President tweeting just moments ago, "Looking forward to seeing Joshua Holt this evening in the White House; the great people of Utah are celebrating."
CNN's Sarah Westwood joins us now from the White House to tell us more about Holt's story and how his release came about.
SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN REPORTER: That's right -- Fredricka.
This morning President Trump celebrating the release of an American, Joshua Holt, from a Venezuelan prison where he's been since 2016. President Trump, as you mentioned, tweeted twice, confirming the news that Holt has been released.
The Holt family has also confirmed Josh was released, saying in a statement via their lawyer just moments ago, "We are grateful for the joint efforts made during this time of anguish that we have lived. We ask that we be allowed to reunite with our son and his wife prior to any interviews or statements."
Now just days ago, Fredricka, Joshua posted a video message to social media where he pleaded with the U.S. government for help securing his release and expressed fears for his safety.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSHUA HOLT, AMERICAN HELD IN VENEZUELAN PRISON: I just want to ask and plead once again to my government, to my people, to my senators, to everyone in the United States to please not leave me alone here. Please come and save my wife, myself, and the rest of the people that need help here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WESTWOOD: Now Holt's release comes against the backdrop of a tense relationship between the Trump administration and the Maduro regime. As we understand it now, he is at the U.S. embassy in Caracas and is expected to leave soon for the airport in Caracas to take off and come back to the United States -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Sarah Westwood -- thank you so much. And now to the diplomatic drama playing out on the world stage -- the highly anticipated historic sit down between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, still in limbo. It has been quite the whirlwind of back and forth -- on again, off again, and now possibly back on.
In the latest twist, the North Korean and South Korean leaders holding a surprise second meeting in hopes of saving that U.S. summit -- Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in sharing a warm welcome at the DMZ overnight.
So how could this potentially all play out? We have our reporters standing by across the region. CNN's Matt Rivers live from Seoul, and Will Ripley who was just inside North Korea.
So first, let's start with Matt Rivers on this new overnight meeting between the North and South Koreas. So what are the details? What's going on?
MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this came as quite a surprise here. This was not announced, not planned well in advance as the first meeting between the leaders was back in April. We got a statement from the office of the president here in South Korea after the meeting took place saying that the South Korean President had met with Kim Jong-un at the demilitarized zone.
Both men spoke with each other for about two hours -- from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. local time. They met in a building on the North Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone, speaking for about two hours.
In terms of what they spoke about, not a lot of substantive details have been released quite yet. All the information we're getting coming from the South Korean side. We know both sides spoke about the joint declaration that both of them signed on to at that first meeting back in late April.
But frankly, the more important topic, of course, would be that both sides say they had a frank discussion about a potential summit between North Korea and the United States. Of course, President Trump canceling that summit at least tentatively given what we've seen over the past 36 hours or so.
And what you're seeing is a diplomatic push not only from the South Koreans but also from the North Koreans, apparently trying to get on the same page and make this summit happen.
[11:04:58] What we saw is the South Korean president, more than just about any other leader, has been the go-between between the North Koreans and the Americans really pushing to make this summit happen.
It was a huge disappointment here in South Korea when the President canceled that summit. But as we've seen, both from the North Koreans and the American side, the door remains open for a potential summit.
And Fred -- this meeting between the North and the South Korean leader is really just the latest sign that this summit and its potential for happening isn't dead yet. WHITFIELD: All right. Matt Rivers -- some are hoping that is a
CNN's Will Ripley is one of the journalists invited to witness the apparent destruction of North Korea's nuclear test site this week when the tunnels at that facility, just as you see right here, were blown up. Will Ripley joining me right now.
So Will -- you were just there. What do you make of these developments -- the meetings of North Korean and South Korean leaders after you were actually instrumental in helping to inform the North Koreans that you were with about Trump's letter earlier in the week that had called off the summit?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we were on the train ride back from the nuclear test site, Fred, when the phone call came and that was the first that the North Koreans and the journalists on the train had heard of it because we obviously didn't have Internet or television.
And you know, that was a shocking moment. It was a moment that felt like an insurmountable roadblock that, you know, that the test site demolition and destruction that we had just witnessed was for nothing.
And yet the next morning, North Korea's foreign ministry instead of responding with a defiant, angry, bombastic statement as I certainly expected, they instead had a conciliatory tone and they actually offered praise to President Trump for his courage, they said, in taking steps to meet with the North Korean leader, steps that previous U.S. presidents had not been willing to do. And they said that they still wanted to talk with the United States.
That tone apparently changed the President's minds. And now it does seem, when I left the country, that there was cautious optimism that the talks with the U.S. could still happen, possibly still on June 12th in Singapore.
And of course, at that point we had no idea that the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would go back to the Demilitarized Zone after just meeting recently with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. And this time the South Korean president crossed to the north side of the DMZ.
That is really significant that they were able to have those talks in the North Korean equivalent of Peace House. The Peace House is where they held the inter-Korean summit earlier this year.
And so it shows that the leaders of the two Koreas really want this work. They want a dialogue with the United States -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Will Ripley -- thank you so much.
All right. Let's talk about this even further with my panel now. Elise Labott is a CNN global affairs correspondent; Julian Zelizer is a CNN political analyst and historian at Princeton University. Good to see you both. All right. So Elise -- you know, two days ago, the summit looked like it was dead in the water, kaput, finished especially with the letter coming from the White House even though he said he still would be open to something along the lines.
So now that the North and South Korean leaders have met, how hopeful does that, you know, make this entire scenario?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka -- I think it shows that the North Koreans are serious about meeting. They were obviously, you know, scrambling after President Trump sent that letter. And it seems like an attempt by President Trump to kind of gain control of the situation because the North Koreans weren't answering the calls of Secretary of State Pompeo and his team to set up the summit.
So we talked a lot about the rhetoric that caused President Trump to cancel the summit. But I think it was less about the rhetoric itself and more about the concern that the -- that North Korea was not serious.
So I think the fact that Kim Jong-un is meeting with President Moon of South Korea shows he's trying to get back on track. I think the problems though remain that they did before which is what is Kim Jong- un willing to put on the table, what are these two leaders going to discuss because it wasn't shaping up to be a very successful summit up till now. So unless he's coming with some, you know, real specificity about what he's willing to put on the table, I think the U.S. is still flying a little bit blind here.
WHITFIELD: And then Julian -- you know, this picture of the two Korean leaders hugging is a stunning image. How do you interpret this? This as we also just learned, there's a recent tweet coming from the President, when we get that up, about this hopefulness of the scenario, being able to articulate it for you?
JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's very significant symbolically. It matters a lot just to see them together, to move beyond the place where we started back in 1950. It also indicates that there is a genuine desire to broker some kind of agreement between North and South Korea.
And in the end, that's going to be more important to driving this than what President Trump does. So I think on both levels -- the meeting, the picture -- these are important to try to move diplomacy forward after the fits and starts that we saw this week.
[11:10:03] WHITFIELD: And then, you know, Elise -- you had mentioned that there are problems that remain, you know, despite the meeting between the North and South Korean leaders, despite the fact the President had that letter early in the week saying the meeting was off.
And now more on that tweet coming from the President just moments ago saying, there is zero disagreement within the Trump administration as to how to deal with North Korea. What might that mean? LABOTT: I think there's been a lot of discussion as to whether
national security advisor John Bolton was trying to torpedo the talks -- all this stuff about the so-called Libya model. Well, the Libya is really a very successful model of giving up one's weapons of mass destruction. Libya gave up its chemical weapons in 2003 and then relations really improved with the United States but --
WHITFIELD: Except that the interpretation might be from Kim Jong-un that he ended up dead --
LABOTT: Exactly. Exactly.
WHITFIELD: Not right away --
LABOTT: Exactly --
WHITFIELD: That was his demise.
LABOTT: And some people thought that that's exactly what John Bolton was trying to do in terms of that. I think, you know, there's an agreement by the Trump administration that they want the summit to happen at some point.
I don't think there's full agreement that this summit should happen on June 12th. In fact, I think President Trump is probably the only person that thinks that there's enough substance there to meet on the 12th. But I think what the President was trying to do is disavow anybody of thinking that there's in-fighting in the administration about whether he should meet with Kim Jong-un.
WHITFIELD: So Julian -- was that the big interrupter, you know, that moment? You have the national security advisor saying one thing. You've got the Vice President and then the President, you know, also saying something, all as it relates to the intent of the meeting?
ZELIZER: I mean my take on this is historically all these moments of diplomacy that actually work like the U.S. and the Soviets in 1987 or even the SALT agreements a decade plus earlier, there are many moments of these breakups where things look like they're going wrong, where one side walks away from the table.
So what we saw this week doesn't mean it won't work. And in fact, if it works, if there's agreement we won't remember the stories that we're talking about now. But it does --
WHITFIELD: Except Julian -- usually in diplomacy when those things happen, there is a veil so to speak. The public doesn't see all of it. In this case --
WHITFIELD: -- it appears as though the transparency of everyone seeing how diplomacy is working or not working, you know, all that. And that perhaps is skewing opinion as to whether this is normal, abnormal, successful or not. ZELIZER: I think that's a good point. I mean this is the age where
we watch diplomacy or we watch American politics in real-time. And so it's the same story when we say Congress can't negotiate; leaders of different countries can't negotiate without us scrutinizing it.
And so the question is, are the effects of these kind of fights and open, hostile interaction between leaders, are they more debilitating?
ZELIZER: Let's remember there were many moments when Reagan said he was going to walk away from Gorbachev. And that was covered. And in the end, there was recovery. So I don't know if that's going to happen now.
LABOTT: This is all true. And I think that if you have this kind of normal negotiation process, you know, we would think that's part of the normal negotiating. And certainly Trump, you know, you've heard officials say, well, this is the art of the deal.
But I think the problem remains is that right now we're focused on, you know, this -- these kind of (INAUDIBLE) for the leaders because that's all there is right now. There is not -- you know, we forget that these summits come from the bottom up. And negotiators meet for a week, a couple of weeks or a couple of months even or possibly in the case of the nuclear deal over a year to then the leaders come and they sign an agreement and they shake hands.
There's not that foundation right now. So even if the two leaders meet on June 12th or wherever they, you know, in the near future, we're not looking at a deal, an agreement -- we're looking at the best I think we could hope for, they could call it an agreement. But what it's really going to be is a commitment to negotiate.
ZELIZER: That's right.
LABOTT: So right now we're focused on the theatrics because that's all there is.
WHITFIELD: All right. Elise Labott, Julian Zelizer -- thanks so much. We'll leave it there for now.
ZELIZER: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, an amazing story of heroism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And everybody started screaming and freaking out. And Mr. Seaman ran up and tackled him and secured him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then he started screaming to call 9-1-1 and get out and we realized that he'd gotten him to the ground and the gun was out of his hands. (END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: You'll hear what happened next after that teacher took down a gunman at an Indiana middle school when we come right back.
[11:14:54] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
WHITFIELD: Welcome back.
We now know the name of the young victim shot in a classroom in Indiana. The family of 13-year-old Ella Whistler says she is in critical but stable condition. She was shot by a fellow student yesterday at Noblesville West Middle School. The girl's teacher is being hailed a hero by police. Investigators say Jason Seaman was wounded as he tackled the shooter.
President Trump tweeting moments ago, "Thanks to a very brave teacher and hero Jason Seaman of Noblesville, Indiana, for his heroic act in saving so many precious, young lives. His quick and automatic action is being talked about all over the world."
CNN correspondent Dianne Gallagher is here. So Dianne -- police say this teacher saved lives.
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And not just police. The students, Fred -- have said that they feel like he may have saved 1,300 lives because that's how many kids go to that school.
[11:19:58] When you hear the students talk about those moments when one of their classmates asked to be excused during a science test in Jason Seaman's class, came back in armed with two handguns and started shooting, they say that their teacher immediately acted.
He picked up a basketball that was next to him, threw it at the gunman's head trying to disarm him that way. When it didn't work, he used his own body to protect his students.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He walked in, and he just had the gun in his hands and he started waving it around. And he took about like four to five, maybe six shots.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He started shooting at Mr. Seaman. And everybody started screaming and freaking out, and Mr. Seaman ran up and tackled him and secured him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then he started screaming to call 9-1-1 and get out. And we realized that he had got him to the ground. The gun was out of his hands.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GALLAGHER: Now, Mr. Seaman was shot. According to a Facebook post from his mother he was shot three times -- once in the abdomen, once in the hip, and once in the forearm. He did release a statement, Fred, last night. He apparently is well enough to release a statement on this. And in it, he thanked first responders, of course. He confirmed that he had been injured.
And then I just want to read this last line. He said, "To all the students, you are wonderful and I thank you for your support. You are the reason I teach."
Everybody who knows him -- he was a college football player, as well -- four-year letterman at Southern Illinois University. Big guy -- so, you know, he used that body. He used those skills. He's a football coach --
WHITFIELD: And just that instinct of grab something that's nearby --
WHITFIELD: -- like a ball, boom.
GALLAGHER: Yes. And you know, some of the students, of course, you know, they were afraid this could have been even worse.
But we do have that 13-year-old girl, Ella Whistler, who does still remain in the hospital with this.
GALLAGHER: The gunman is a seventh grade student, a boy. That's really all the police have released at this time.
WHITFIELD: Sad at the same time -- yes.
GALLAGHER: Middle schooler.
WHITFIELD: At the same heroic efforts of helping others, helping these kids -- that's pretty amazing.
All right. Dianne -- thank you so much for bringing that to us. Appreciate it.
All right. Still ahead, new details about the Russian oligarch who met with the President's lawyer in Trump Tower as CNN's Matthew Chance tracks him down and then asks him about that meeting.
[11:22:10] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
WHITFIELD: All right. We're following another twist in the investigation of Trump attorney Michael Cohen. CNN has learned that Cohen met with Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg at Trump Tower in January of 2017; that meeting happening just days before Trump's inauguration.
A person familiar with the meeting tells CNN that Vekselberg and the head of the company called Columbus Nova used the conversation to discuss improving U.S.-Russia relations. Columbus Nova paid Cohen $580,000 for a consulting contract last year.
Vekselberg had few words for CNN's Matthew Chance when asked him -- when he asked him about the ongoing Russia investigation.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Vekselberg -- quick question from CNN.
VIKTOR VEKSELBERG, RUSSIAN BUSINESSMAN: No, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Not now.
CHANCE: Mr. Vekselberg, why did your company pay hundreds of thousands of dollars --
VEKSELBERG: Not now.
CHANCE: -- to President Trump's lawyer.
He is yet another media-shy Russian billionaire linked with the Kremlin and mired in allegations of collusion with the Trump team. The FBI questioned Viktor Vekselberg about payments to Trump attorney Michael Cohen by his company's U.S. affiliate. They say it was for consulting work.
We asked about the payments, too.
VEKSELBERG: We really appreciate it -- just later, ok? Yes. Really appreciate --
CHANCE: Did you buy access to the President?
VEKSELBERG: I understand. You are so aggressive.
CHANCE: No, I'm not at all.
VEKSELBERG: No, no, no. Please.
CHANCE: Did you buy access to the President?
VEKSELBERG: Please, later.
CHANCE: We now know that Vekselberg met Cohen even before President Trump was inaugurated. These recently unearthed January, 2017 images from the lobby of Trump Tower in New York show the Russian billionaire wearing a hat and coat, checking in at the security desk, lingering for several minutes then entering an elevator with his business partner.
Cohen hasn't responded for comment but a person familiar with the meeting tells CNN the two went up to Cohen's office on the 26th floor although they did not meet the then-president elect himself. They left the building just 27 minutes later.
A person familiar with the meeting told CNN that Vekselberg and Cohen discussed improving U.S.-Russia relations. But what exactly this now sanctioned Russian billionaire expected remains unclear.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN -- St. Petersburg, Russia.
WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me right now CNN analysts, Michael Zeldin and Sean Wu. Michael was also Robert Mueller's special assistant at the DOJ.
All right. So Michael -- this is another, you know, meeting involving a Russia connection this time just days before inauguration. What's the matter with that?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, nothing necessarily. But it is something that has to be inquired of. We have a time line of June 9th, Donald Trump Jr. meeting with Russians; August 3rd, Donald Trump Jr. meeting with the Saudis; December 29th, Michael Flynn speaking to the Russians. Now we have this January meeting with Cohen speaking to a Russian, Vekselberg and his --
WHITFIELD: About improving U.S.-Russia relations. What does that mean?
[11:29:53] ZELDIN: According to them. So we have to see. What it is, is so you see these things in isolation and you might say well, they're all innocent. Vekselberg we know gave money to the Clinton Foundation as well as to Trump inauguration and RNC and Trump victory fund. So it maybe just be business as usual. But if you're Robert Mueller and trying to figure out whether there is a follow-the-money trend that leads to the finding of corrupt intent, these are the types of things you inquire of.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: So, Shan, who is this most interesting to, Robert Mueller's team or the New York Southern District team, which has its own investigation going of Michael Cohen?
SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I think it's probably interesting to both of them. And as Michael said, I mean, it could be innocuous. But when you look at the overall picture, it's really an extraordinary chain of events going on.
Here you have a Russian oligarch, who is actually under sanction by the United States, who meddled in the election, was barred from entering it, and yet here he is going in to meet with the president's personal lawyer during a time that that company insisted Cohen was not yet on board. But in fact, this contradicts that.
WHITFIELD: At the same time, Michael, who should have disclosed this before now and that it wasn't disclosed, how problematic was that?
ZELDIN: Well, again, it depends on what they are underlying the meeting is. If the meeting is to influence foreign policy before they are inaugurated, potentially that's problematic. If it is just normality meet-and-greet activity, then what's there to report?
That you had a meeting with somebody who wants to, quote/unquote, "improve" U.S.-Russia relations. Well, you know, during a transition, you would think that's normal stuff. So, what you do have to figure out is, is the real purpose of this just improved leadership, or is this part of the pattern of behavior that Mueller is into looking into with respect to -- you know, if you will, corruption and collusion.
WHITFIELD: And how do investigators get to the bottom of whether this meeting was problematic especially since the Trump team has argued that especially during transition, it should be expected that there would be meetings with other country leadership so that they could essentially know what's ahead, how to plan ahead in their foreign policy.
ZELDIN: Right. And so, what did we learn about Robert Mueller? He stopped Vekselberg at the airport when he arrived with his private plane not too along ago. Seized his telephones, talked to him, talked to in trader his cousin twice now.
So, what they're doing is not taking the word of these, you know, subjects, if you will, about what the purpose of all this was. But they are themselves making third-party inquiry and saying, all right, tell us what this is about because if you lie to us, it will be a felony. And that usually sits people up straighter in their chairs.
WHITFIELD: And then Shan, what might this say about Michael Cohen and his importance to Donald Trump personally since this is yet another meeting taking place in Michael Cohen's office but in Trump Tower?
WU: I think it's the proximity that's very troubling. I think, first of all, I think Mueller is kind of working in conjunction with the Southern District, putting the squeeze on Michael Cohen.
But that proximity is very troubling. I mean, his office at that time was on the same floor as the president-elect so really, they are steps away from the transition team. And it kind of adds to these massive contradictions that forces Mueller to continue in looking for evidence of the possible collusion and the contacts with the Russian people.
ZELDIN: And Fred, one last thing in follow-up to that is I believe on January 9th, the date of this meeting, Cohen had not yet left the Trump Organization. So, as with respect to other payments like AT&T, the drug company, when he was already hanging his shingle out as a private consultant, he was at this point, I believe, working for the Trump Organization, which maybe makes it a little bit more dicey from a Mueller investigative standpoint.
WHITFIELD: Interesting. All right. Michael Zeldin, Shan Wu, thanks to all of you. Appreciate it.
All right. Still ahead --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said you know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you. I said that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Journalist Lesley Stahl revealing that Trump told her the reason behind his continual attacks on the press.
WHITFIELD: All right. One of the president's favorite targets -- the press.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The press honestly is out of control. Those cameras are going off, oh, wow! Why don't you fold them up? It's frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write. Their ratings are lousy, by the way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: But Journalist Lesley Stahl is revealing he once told her why he attacks the media.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LESLEY STAHL, JOURNALIST: At one point, he started to attack the press. It's just me and my boss and him. He has a huge office. He's attacking the press. There were no cameras, there was nothing going on. I said, you know, that is getting tired. Why are you doing this?
You're doing it over and over, it's boring, it's time to end that. You've won the nomination. And why do you keep hammering at this? And he said, you know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me right now to discuss, CNN senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter. And so, Lesley Stahl was there with Judy Woodriff. So, in that forum, it seemed like it was very casual. Is there a real impetus as to why Lesley Stahl decided to reveal that moment as she said, you know, the cameras were not rolling, et cetera, reveal that moment to everybody?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a little bit intriguing why she's sharing it now and not 18 or so month ago when she said it happened. Better late than never. It's still valuable insight into how the president thinks about the press. I think she has not elaborated on what transpired.
She hasn't followed up with requests for comment further. But it sounds credible. It certainly is very believable, her account, and there are journalists with a lot of credibility. She's recounting this private conversation, and it comes at a time when the president ramped up his fake news rhetoric.
Every time you think he turned up the volume, he finds a way to rise it higher. Even on Twitter attacking "The New York Times" and outlets saying they make up sources when, in fact, they do not. I don't think it's a sign of strength.
I think it's a sign of weakness, desperation, that he's always trying to the messenger and in new ways. It's person to keep our eyes on the goal. We're not out to get Trump, we're out to get the truth. Yes, he makes it harder to do that.
This insight from Lesley Stahl reminds us that he's in on it. When he's attacking the media, saying the stories are made up, he's doing that take away credibility from the press and tell supporters not to believe real news.
WHITFIELD: Right. In this administration, it's not just discrediting the media, but it's denying access. We saw that at least twice now as it pertains to the EPA just this week alone. How is it that that's allowed? That can happen?
STELTER: This was a specific event to talk about contaminants in water supplies. Pretty important topic. Journalists from CNN and others were not allowed to attend a speech by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. They said they were out of chairs in the room. There were plenty of chairs left in the room.
What was really going is outlets were being punished for reporting aggressively on the EPA. There are Democratic congressmen asking for what happened here. There's a broader thing going on with government agencies shutting the door on the press and the public. This is not new to the Trump administration.
Every government, every administration has a tug-of-war, push and pull of the press. The Trump administration agencies are pushing harder, making it harder to get information from some government agencies. It's a theme we're seeing throughout the government.
And we also see it at the White House, by the way, Sarah Sanders has been reducing the frequency of her briefings and shortening the lengths when she does have briefings to limit the number of questions that can be asked. I don't think it's something journalist should whine about.
We just have to work harder to get information for the public. After all, we're only there for the viewers at home. Hopefully, we're doing what the viewers at home want us to be doing, trying to get information from those government agencies.
Tomorrow on "RELIABLE SOURCES," we'll be getting into the EPA issue because I think it's a great example of how certain agencies are turning the lights off when I think a lot of us would like the lights back on. WHITFIELD: Right. And Brian, you talk about the theme, the president taking "The New York Times" to task a lot. Apparently, he just tweeted moments ago saying the failing "New York Times" quotes a senior White House official who doesn't exist as saying, quote, "even if the meeting," talking about North Korea's summit, "were reinstated, holding it on June 12th would be impossible given the lack of the time and the amount of planning needed. Wrong again. Use real people, not phony sources."
[11:45:13] So, again, undermining, you know, a tool of sending information by using sources, whether unnamed or not. "The New York Times", organizations such as ourselves, it's not just one check on a source, but multiple checks to verifiy information.
STELTER: And the funny thing about that particular tweet, our own Kevin Liptack pointed out that this administration official who was speaking to senior official who was anonymous, it happened at a briefing for a bunch of reporters. These are normal. They happen all the time.
Reporters are brought in for background briefings with sources, so they have a sense of what's going on, coming up, in the works. In this case, the source that Trump says was made up spoke with a room full of reporters and did so anonymously. Maybe president Trump needs to have a better sense of how his own White House operates because lots of his aides are useful as anonymous sources.
Not always leaking against negatively, but just giving us basic information about how the White House works. This was actually one of those cases. Now, I guess, he's off to golf for the day. Maybe the tweets will stop for a few hours.
But we are frequently seeing from the president he pretends not to know how journalism works. As Lesley Stahl indicated, he has a very good sense of how it works. He's just attacking the press to try to get people not to pay attention.
I think our audience can just refuse to be confused by that. Good advice no matter who's in power, but especially now. Refuse to fall for that kind of nonsense.
WHITFIELD: All right. Brian Stelter, thank you so much. Of course, we'll be watching tomorrow, "RELIABLE SOURCES," 11:00 a.m. right here on CNN. We'll be right back.
WHITFIELD: President Trump's fiery rhetoric has been known to raise a few eyebrows. But some say his attacks could also be hurting the rights of some Americans. Just this week, the president said NFL players who don't stand for the national anthem, quoting now, "shouldn't be in the country," end quote.
He has also in the past attacked the FBI for raids on his personal lawyer, questioned due process in the case against White House aide, Rob Porter, said a terror suspect should get the death penalty, and said a U.S. judge shouldn't rule on a Trump University case because of his Mexican heritage.
All right. Joining me right now, CNN legal analyst, Joan Biskupic. Joan, you write in your op-ed for CNN and I'm quoting now, "Over the past 24 months Trump has scorned judges, derided the American court system and trampled on all manner of constitutional systems. Trump has especially ridiculed due process of law, the bedrock against government's arbitrary denial of a person's life, liberty, or property."
So, elaborate on what you mean and how he is potentially eroding American's rights in general?
JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Thank you. I think there are a couple of different reasons that these remarks continue to get attention and criticism. First, this notion he has put forward in many of these criticisms that it depends on who you are, where you're from, the kind of due process you might get.
If you're someone at the border who potentially isn't an American citizen, maybe you should just be sent back right away without any kind of hearing about whether you have a valid claim of asylum or maybe you might even have been apprehended mistakenly.
The emphasis on people's nationalities, ethnicities I think has been seeping into the American psyche. So, it's one thing that kind (inaudible) that he has that way. The other issue that I think troubles a lot of legal analysts, law professors, and people who are part of the criminal justice system is this notion that there isn't a standard due process out there for everyone, there isn't standard citizenship for everyone.
The idea that -- let's take the NFL situation. You know, right now that's a dispute between the league and its players over what the league would do if a player doesn't stand for the national anthem. And President Trump has inserted himself in there saying maybe those people should be kicked out of if they don't. That all of a sudden takes it into different realm of government sanction for speech, for what is actually --
WHITFIELD: Kicked out, and you're saying kicked out for -- it's freedom of speech being exercised by these players.
BISKUPIC: Right. And typically, just so you know, your freedom of speech rights can't be denied for government. It's OK for a private employer to want to fine -- I mean, people would have all sorts of other gripes that have nothing to do with constitutional principles there.
But once President Trump interjects himself into that, it becomes much more of a public statement. Think of the prominent post he has. He has the biggest bully pulpit, soapbox, whatever you want to call it, to send a message to people about what our constitutional values are and who deserves due process. WHITFIELD: And do you believe it is challenging or impacting the American psyche or even challenging or impacting culture in America?
BISKUPIC: Well, you know, I think that these repeated attacks do tend to infiltrate the psyche and have some repercussions in other situations.
[11:55:06] I quote in the story, Michael Gerson, "Washington Post" op- ed columnist, who points to several examples of crude, derisive comments based on people's ethnicity and said this is part of the Trump way.
He pointed to Republican Senate candidate of West Virginia Don Blankenship's Senate campaign, referencing Chinese people because Mitch McConnell's wife was born in Taiwan. I'm just saying that many people are listening to what he's saying and fearing that it could become normalized. Critics say, never make this normal.
WHITFIELD: All right. Joan Biskupic, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.
And of course, you can read Joan's op-ed in its entirety on cnn.com. We'll be right back.