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Trump: Top Level Talks Laying Groundwork For Summit; Trump: North Korea's Former Spy Chief Coming To NYC; Trump (Without Proof) Claims Mueller Will Meddle In Midterms; Giuliani: "Public Opinion" Will Decide Impeachment; Pompeo To Meet With North Korea's Former Spy Chief In New York; White House Slaps China With Tariffs On $50B Worth Of Goods. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 29, 2018 - 11:00   ET




HARLOW: All right. Thank you all for being with us. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

KEILAR: And I'm Brianna Keilar. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. It seems today, my friends, you have your pick of relationship cliches. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Opposites abstract. And, of course, my favorite, it is not you, it is me or is today really about simply playing hard to get? And is it working for President Trump?

The on again, off again, summit between the U.S. and North Korea seems to be leaning slightly more toward on today with talks happening in three cities, the DMZ, Singapore and New York City. President Trump confirms that Kim Jong-un's right-hand man is heading to the United States.

The president tweeting just this morning this, "We have put a great team together for our talks with North Korea. Meetings are currently taking place concerning summit and more. Kim Yong Chol, the vice chairman of North Korea heading now to New York, solid response to my letter, thank you.

That letter, of course, was the out of the blue correspondence Trump sent to Kim Jong-un last week canceling the nuclear summit. Yes, that was just five days ago so let's add another cliche into the mix. Time flies when you're having fun, right?

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House, always having fun. Kaitlin, what are you hearing from the White House this morning on this because it's getting tough to keep score.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: It certainly is, but the president seems to be renewing optimism that this summit could actually happen in Singapore on June 12th especially by confirming that North Korea has dispatched that top aide to come to the United States for more talks on what that summit in Singapore could look like.

So, we know we have reported that several national security officials have expressed concern that this meeting could actually still happen in just two weeks from today as scheduled. But the president does not seem to be concerned about that at all.

And instead he is pressing his aides to get this meeting done, to get these talks back on track so they could happen in just two short weeks even though it has been five days since the president called all this off.

We also know that the White House is looking differently at what that meeting would achieve. Even National Security Adviser John Bolton has told the president just sitting down with Kim Jong-un face-to-face just that cursory talk could amount to a diplomatic achievement that could lead on to more serious talks between the United States and North Korea.

So, right now, this summit has not been officially called back on, Kate. But the president is acting as though it is and so are his aides, who have been essentially dispatched across Asia to really somehow smooth out the wrinkles ahead of any summit like this happening.

So, we do see some progress there. They are acting as if this meeting is going to take place. Even though I should repeat this has not been officially announced that this summit, that the president just canceled a few days ago, Kate, is back on.

BOLDUAN: But it is not over until it is over until it is over, Kaitlan. Great to see you, thank you so much.

The North Korean official coming to the U.S. is breaking new ground just by showing up it seems. He is the highest ranking North Korean official to come to the United States in 18 years. So, who is he and what is his job?

CNN's Matt Rivers is in Seoul, South Korea. Matt, what can you tell us about Kim Yong Chol?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate, this is a very high ranking North Korean official, who is known quite well by Kim Jong-un and who has a bit of a notorious past. Tell you a little bit more about him here. He is the former spymaster in North Korea, Kim Jong-un's right-hand man, often called the chief nuclear negotiator in North Korea.

He was present at the inter-Korean summit when Kim Jong-un met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. He was front and center there, but his past is a bit spotty. We're told by the South Koreans here that they blame him for the sinking, planning the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel in 2010 where 46 sailors died.

And also, something Americans may be more familiar with, he's the alleged mastermind behind the hacking of Sony Pictures in 2014 over the movie "The Interview" which, of course, featured a plot line that involved the assassination of Kim Jong-un.

Didn't sit well, of course, with the North Koreans. So, that is the North Korean official, that is currently on his way to the United States. We don't know who he's going to meet with at this point.

But this summit is basically in this man's hands at this point and despite his past, this is who the Americans are going to have to deal with, this is who North Korea is choosing to send to the United States for some -- what we can expect to be high level meetings -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Pretty amazing they're letting him into the United States if he's the mastermind behind that huge hack. Matt, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Joining me now, CNN national security analyst, Samantha Vinograd, a former adviser of President Obama's National Security Council, and Jean Lee, a former Pyongyang bureau chief for the "Associated Press," who opened the first U.S. news bureau in North Korea. She's now the director of Korea Studies at the Wilson Center. Great to see you both of you.

Jean, what does it mean that this high-ranking official is coming to the United States, do you think?

JEAN LEE, DIRECTOR, CENTER TO KOREAN HISTORY AND PUBLIC POLICY: As Matt pointed out, this is the most-high ranking official to visit the United States in quite some time. So, that indicates the seriousness of this. But we should look at him as Kim Jong-un's personal envoy.

Now, he has been at Kim Jong-un's side at all of the major summits that he's had this year with world leaders. He's the guy who is whispering in his ear about strategy.

[11:05:05] The fact that he was a former spy master and oversaw some of these operations both the possible sinking of a warship in 2010 off the Korean coast and also possibly that Sony cyberattack shows that he uses provocation as part of his strategy, and that is something that we need to keep in mind. He's a strategist, not a diplomat.

BOLDUAN: Samantha, five days ago, the president said this was all off with that letter that we discussed at length. Can they be ready in time for June 12th, do you think?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think they could be ready to achieve certain goals. They could be ready to have a discussion about what a process would look like for complete and verifiable denuclearization.

But the idea that these two leaders are going to show up in Singapore and sign a comprehensive agreement that lays out all the technicalities on how you achieve complete verifiable and irreversible denuclearization that doesn't seem likely to me.

But it is interesting that this individual is entering the United States. As was pointed out, he's under U.S. and South Korean sanctions, but we should think of this as a reciprocal visit. Remember, Secretary Pompeo went to Pyongyang, he met with Kim Jong-un. So, now we have the reciprocal visit by the vice chairman to the United States. My question right now is who is he going to meet with?

BOLDUAN: I was going to pose that to you. If you make a suggestion who would it be?

VINOGRAD: Well, Pompeo met with Kim Jong-un, so if we're following what -- how the North Koreans treated President Trump's personal envoy, I'm curious to see whether President Trump is going to meet with the individual, in New York, or is he going to meet with someone like John Bolton or Ambassador Haley to keep the discussions moving forward.

BOLDUAN: Jean, what do you think about that? Who would be the appropriate person, who do you think be tasked with meeting this spy master?

LEE: I think Sam is absolutely right in pointing out that this is a reciprocal visit. Remember, that so far, the U.S. has sent high level envoys to Pyongyang or to the DMZ on the North Korean side. It is possible that the White House has said it is your turn to send someone to show how committed you are.

You stood us up in Singapore. You need to send someone. He has greeted the secretary of state, so they do have a relationship, I do think it is quite possible that they will sit down and speak but you never know. Every day has brought surprises. Maybe it will go higher up the command.

BOLDUAN: Maybe he's just coming here on vacation. I mean, honestly, I'd like to entertain that thought as well. Sam, is it an achievement if nothing comes of the summit? Is it progress if they just sit down?

VINOGRAD: I think it is progress that we don't have missiles flying. In the short-term we have definitely made progress and we should all be happy about that. We have to remember that a face to face meeting is a carrot for Kim Jong-un. He will have achieved a breakthrough for himself in that he's being treated on equal footing.

BOLDUAN: It seems people moved past that.

VINOGRAD: Yes, and we to remember that. I mean, this is something that he wants. He wants to meet for the sake of meeting. The other thing that we have to remember, Donald Trump doesn't like to admit this, but he is not the first U.S. president that the North Koreans have asked for a face to face meeting. He's the first president who is accepted. So, to me, a meeting for the sake of meeting is not an achievement for anyone but Kim Jong-un.

BOLDUAN: Jean, what are the world's experts on the North Korean nuclear program just put out a report in the "New York Times," wrote at length about it, to say the process to denuclearize North Korea could take something like 15 years. Do you think -- do you see President Trump accepting that timeline? LEE: He may have no choice. To be honest, denuclearization is extremely complicated and being able to verify that North Korea has follow through on its promises has been a challenge that nuclear negotiators have dealt with for 25 years. They've had trouble doing that.

And so realistically, considering how advanced the program is, it will take some time to dismantle it and make sure that it is completely dismantled. So, he may have no choice but to accept that longer timeline.

BOLDUAN: Jean, if you had to guess then good luck with it, if they do sit down, what do you think is a realistic outcome of this first meeting?

LEE: I've been saying that I think the most realistic outcome here is a declaration or pledge of some sort. They may start by saying we work, we pledge to work toward an end to the Korean war, remember that they have been in a state of -- a cease-fire.

They signed an armistice 65 years ago. They could sit down and say it has been 65 years and on the 65th anniversary, let's pledge to work toward an end and in that process also work toward denuclearization.

But I don't think that there is much more that they can -- that they can do than that. But they will both find a way to spin that as a victory.

BOLDUAN: Everyone is going to come out of it. If they do sit down, everyone will come out saying we want something. Let's see what tomorrow brings. Thanks, Jean. Thanks, Samantha. It's great to see you.

Coming up for us, a bold allegation even by Trumpian standards, the president of the United States claiming that the Special Counsel Robert Mueller is getting ready to meddle in the midterm elections to help Democrats. Is there any proof? Probably can answer that question. Does it even matter if there is proof, though, to his supporters?

[11:10:07] Plus, more than a month after the arrest of two black men sparked nationwide outrage, Starbucks closes its stores -- thousands of stores today for anti-bias training. What are they going to learn? Is it enough?


BOLDUAN: This was Donald Trump in 2016.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I'm afraid the election is going to be rigged. I have to be honest. Folks, the system is rigged. It is rigged, OK. Remember, it is a rigged election.


BOLDUAN: Then he won and then he decided it wasn't so rigged, of course. Well, now what is old is new again. He says the midterm election is likely to be rigged, not by the Russians, but by Democrats working for Robert Mueller.

In a tweet this morning laying it out this way, the 13 angry Democrats plus people who worked eight years for Obama are working on the rigged Russia witch-hunt will be meddling with the midterm elections especially now that Republicans stay tough are taking the lead in the polls.

[11:15:08] There was no collusion except by the Democrats. Got it? A fresh take on an old conspiracy. The deck is stacked against him and they're all out to get him until they're not.

Joining me right now, CNN political contributor, former mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, and Doug Heye, CNN political commentator and former communications director for the RNC. Mayor Nutter, the president is questioning the legitimacy of the November elections coming up. It may not surprise you, but what impact does it have?

MICHAEL NUTTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Kate, this is just a continuation of his usual now paranoia about everything. You know, it was not rigged in 2016, but he keeps talking about that. He's got that loop tape going in his head. All he's doing is trying to cast doubt and fear in the court of public opinion.

Distract attention away from the self-inflicted wounds on his own having fired Mr. Comey, which then resulted in a special prosecutor, Mr. Mueller. It is absurd, and certainly an insult to his history of service to the country.

It is absurd that Donald Trump would even let words out of his mouth, suggesting that Mr. Mueller and his team will interfere with elections. They're investigating the Russians who interfered with our elections on behalf of Donald Trump. That's what that probe is all about.

BOLDUAN: The strategy of Trump versus Robert Mueller and trying to undermine the Russia investigation that's been playing out for a while now. But on that, Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, he made what I think is a pretty important admission when it comes to all of this over the weekend. Listen to this.


RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP ATTORNEY: It is for public opinion. Because eventually the decision here is going to be impeach, not impeach. Members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, are going to be informed a lot by their constituents. Our jury is the -- as it should be -- is the American people.


BOLDUAN: He's making no secret this is a political argument. He says it is public opinion.

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I worked in the House of Representatives back when Bill Clinton went through his impeachment. That was certainly a very political process. It's one I think one a lot of Republicans regret.

But we know that the Clinton White House also tried to and the president himself Peter Baker had a great story in "The New York Times" today kind of replaying everything that happened where Bill Clinton finally in his own words went after Ken Starr to discredit that investigation.

It is part of the same playbook obviously with more Trumpian language that casts aspersions everywhere. But ultimately goes back to that same central point to discredit this investigation because every time there is a new plea, every time there is a new indictment, he has to discredit it so that he can advance politically.

BOLDUAN: If that is the case, Mayor, how do you counter that?

NUTTER: Well, you know, as John Adams said, facts are just stubborn things and the number of people as Doug mentioned, number of people who have been indicted or other people who are cooperating with Mr. Mueller's probe, I don't know that Mr. Trump is going to be able to slip and slide out of this one as he has in the past.

This is a much more serious situation involving international espionage with the Russians attacking our election. Mr. Trump or his son having Russians into Trump Tower and a whole host of nefarious activities.

Somehow, he thinks he's going to poison, I guess, the jury pool, that being the people of the United States of America. Most folks are not going to buy that nonsense. People know what is going on.

They know what he's doing. American public is not stupid. And every day that he says something, tweets something, lies about something, just goes on to the pile that Mr. Mueller and his team will be looking at.

BOLDUAN: But Mayor, overall, if you're looking at -- there has been a lot of polling on this. Overall, the trend has become that more Americans are saying that the Mueller investigation should end, and more Americans are saying that it is unfair to President Trump that is definitely seems clear on partisan lines, and if he's convincing Republicans of it, is that already a win?

NUTTER: Well, he has, you know, he has whatever base he has. I don't necessarily know that it is growing by that much. We haven't heard -- we only heard one side of this. Mr. Trump is on a propaganda campaign, and Mr. Mueller is on a serious probe.

Let's see what the actual results are that come from a pretty wide- ranging series of events and activities. Let the American public hear the full story. At the moment, Mr. Mueller has both of his hands tied behind his back and just diligently goes about doing his work. [11:20:03] While the president goes on tweet storms every weekend seemingly having nothing else to do but attack people every weekend. You know, we have become used to this, and somewhere in the Sunday, Monday neighborhood can anticipate a series of wild accusations. This week's new theory, he's got more theories. Let this thing play out.

BOLDUAN: That we will. Doug, the president is heading to Nashville today to hold a rally for Republican Senate candidate, Marsha Blackburn. If he spends the whole time on stage railing about this, reading his tweet over and over again, against Bob Mueller, he might be helping himself, is that helping Marsha Blackburn.

HEYE: We don't know yet. What we know that is that Marsha Blackburn has campaigned very, very closely as a Trump ally. She did so in 2016, when she was running for re-election for the House and has not backed off him now.

I think tonight and the reaction to tonight will be perhaps the most important political event we'll have this summer. How the public reacts to this, talking about independent voters in Tennessee or the general population as a whole, how they react to that will tell every other Republican candidate how they campaigned with or without Trump, especially in red states and Tennessee this is a state that Republicans usually win. They have a centrist Democratic governor who is running.

BOLDUAN: That's why Democrats are looking at this so closely.

HEYE: It is probably going to be a tight race. But how Marsha Blackburn reacts, and the voters react to what Trump says tonight will be very telling, not just for her campaign but other Republican campaigns.

BOLDUAN: Yes, it was kind of the domino effect. Great to see you. Thanks so much, Doug. Great to see you, Mayor. Thank you.

Coming up for us, the White House now says you're wondering at the top of the segment, we now know. The White House says the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, will be the one to meet with North Korea's former spy chief, who has been dispatched to come to the United States, who is coming to New York. Much more on that what that meeting means coming up.



BOLDUAN: Some breaking news coming in, the White House just announced who will be meeting with Kim Jong-un's envoy, the former North Korean spy chief, when he arrives in New York. Let's get back to Kaitlan Collins at the White House. Kaitlan, everyone is wondering, and you have the answer.

COLLINS: Yes, Kate, several updates here regarding that canceled summit just five days ago, mainly that the North Korean official that has been dispatched to the United States is going to be meeting with the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, in New York later this week.

That is something we just learned from the Press Secretary Sarah Sanders who e-mailed out essentially an update on where this summit stands. Of course, we reported that President Trump canceled it five days ago, but lately the White House has been making preparations like this meeting is still happening in Singapore on June 12th.

One of the signals was that top North Korean official, someone who described essentially as Kim Jong-un's right-hand man going to New York to meet with the secretary of state to discuss more what that summit in Singapore would look like.

We're also learning several other things here, Kate, namely that President Trump is going to be meeting with the Japanese prime minister here at the White House on June 7th. Of course, North Korea will be the main topic to be discussed during that meeting between those two world leaders.

But Sarah Sanders also noting something else, that U.S. delegation that has been in the demilitarized zone for several days now, we know that they had some meetings with North Korean officials, what we reported on over the weekend.

The White House is now saying there will be additional meetings, they are going to remain in the demilitarized zone for a few more days here now. We know that is also going on. And namely one more thing, the National Security Adviser John Bolton has been having calls with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts nearly every day.

Sarah sanders notes this morning with South Korean counterpart discussing the talks, discussing what is going on. A flurry of diplomatic activity and one more thing I would like to note, from the e-mail from Sarah Sanders, she says at the top of it, since the president's May 24th letter to the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

That is the letter we got five days ago where the president said he did not think it was appropriate at this time to hold that potentially historic summit in Singapore, effectively canceling, she said the North Koreans have been engaging and the United States continues to actively prepare for President Trump's expected summit with the Leader Kim in Singapore.

So, really a development there, Kate, where the White House is effectively saying we haven't officially put this summit back on the books, but here we are preparing, moving forward, like it is going to happen in just two weeks from today.

BOLDUAN: It seems playing hard to get seems to be working for President Trump with regard to North Korea right now. A lot of updates. Kaitlan, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. We'll continue to follow that and what it means.

Also, we have some more breaking news this morning, the White House announced new tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods. Those tariffs are set to go into effect shortly after a full list of products is going to be released on June 15th. The announcement coming days before Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross arrives in Beijing to start trade talks there. What are those talks going to look like right now. For more on this, let me go to CNN business anchor, Maggie Lake. She's here with me now. Maggie, what do these tariffs really mean?

MAGGIE LAKE, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR: You know, it is interesting, Kate. If they follow through with them and I think we need to underscore if, given the way the talks have transpired, it means that the Trump administration is ratcheting up the tensions. We have to wait until June 15th to get the detailed list.

But very interesting language in the announcement, they say that the $50 billion worth of goods imported from China, contained industrial significant technology including those related to the made in China 2025 program.

This is the cornerstone of China's economic future. It is a huge priority for the Chinese administration, the Trump administration, by going after that, hitting them where it hurts, and maybe trying to counter some of the criticism coming from members of Congress, like Senator Marco Rubio, who said that the Trump administration was not being hard enough or tough enough on China when it --