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Pompeo to Meet with North Korea Spy Chief; Trump Stumps for Blackburn; Lava Flows into Ocean; Supreme Court Rejects Abortion Law. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 29, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Talk to me about the air, that steam you're seeing behind you and how dangerous it is.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so there's a couple of different dangers here, Kate. One of them is this lava haze. This really deadly -- potentially deadly mixture, I should say. Obviously it's safer in -- when it's diluted in lesser concentrations. But then also there is the -- the sulfur dioxide. That really rotten egg smell. That's what you get when -- you know, that's what you get coming out of these fissures on land.

They're also dealing with ash plumes at the summit of Kilauea as it continues to erupt. Just a couple of hours ago there was another big explosion there, sending ash some 13,000 feet into the sky. That is a real serious air quality issue for people up there.

And then there's one more just to compound things, Kate, but this one is only potential. There could be potentially a release of hydrogen sulfide from the geothermal power plant that's actually right now being covered up by this lava. Two of the wells there on that geothermal power site -- power plant site, they're actually covered up. And the risk there, in addition to just losing the power that that plant supplies, which has been down for the last couple weeks, if there is a breach of those wells, you could (INAUDIBLE) hydrogen (INAUDIBLE). In lower concentrations it is irritating. At higher concentrations, it could be potentially very dangerous, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Scott, thank you so much.

And all the while navigating some very rough waters to bring us this new vantage point. Thank you so much to you and your crew. We really appreciate it.

Wow, thank you so much also for joining me AT THIS HOUR. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate. Amazing images there. We'll keep in touch with Scott McLean, get back there when necessary.

Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing this busy day with us.

The president slapping new tariffs on Beijing, just as a top North Korean official heads to the United States. Yes, diplomacy is complicated. And the president's mix of national security and America first economics tests his friendship with China's president.

Plus, rich, reckless, call it what you will, the president who refuses to acknowledge the depth of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, now somehow accuses Democrats and the special counsel of meddling in the 2018 midterms.

And a big presidential road test. A Tennessee rally today for Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn, whose full embrace of President Trump risks vital support in the suburbs.


REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE SENATE CANDIDATE: They're pleased with President Trump's agenda. And got to tell you, we are so pleased to have him with us in Nashville today. Big crowds are already forming at Municipal Auditorium. People have been camped out since late yesterday and it's going to be a great day today in Tennessee.


KING: Again, we're going to keep our eye on those dramatic images you were just seeing there from the coast of Hawaii. We'll get back to Scott McLean as developments warrant.

We begin the hour, though, with a dramatic, new effort to bring about a historic U.S./North Korea summit and a second dramatic move that could complicate the already delicate diplomacy. This suggests progress in bringing about that face-to-face meeting between President Trump and North Korea's Kim Jung-un. The president confirming earlier today in a tweet that a high ranking North Korean official now heading to New York. A solid response to my letter, thank you, the president added. Update there.

But this makes you wonder if China will have President Trump's back when any talks with North Korea inevitably hit a snag. The White House this morning announcing plans to impose a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports. And the Trump administration also vowing to pursue litigation against China at the World Trade Organization and to impose new restrictions on Chinese investment in U.S. technology. Complicated diplomacy and big days ahead.

With me here to share their reporting and their insights, Jackie Kucinich for "The Daily Beast," CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Sahil Kapur with "Bloomberg," and "Politico's" Rachael Bade.

Two separate issues and yet two very connected issues.

Let's start with the coming to Washington of Kim Yong Chol. Now, most Americans won't know this name. He's potentially the right-hand man of Kim Jong-un. He's the former spy chief in North Korea. You see his resume here up on the -- he is on the way to New York. The White House now says that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to New York to meet with Kim Yong Chol. This is the guy, who if there is going to be progress on the substance, not just let's have a meeting, if there is going to be progress on the substance, they need Kim Jong-un onboard. The White House needs to know that Kim Yong Chol and the military advisers, those who are most invested in the nuclear program, are onboard.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. And after being stood up in Singapore a couple of weeks ago, U.S. officials, this was a sign. The White House was looking for a sign of seriousness. Is Kim Jung-un serious about this meeting? So he's sending his personal envoy. It does not get any -- he knows everything about Kim Jung-un, everything about the nuclear program. So that the fact that he is, as we speak, flying to New York to meet with the secretary of state is certainly, I would say, the biggest sign so far that we've seen, at least politically, that North Korea is serious about this meeting.

[12:05:01] Now, all of this is happening as some White House officials, Joe Hagan, who's the deputy chief of staff, who's in charge of the logistics, he's in Singapore with a group handling that. But this is the first substantive matter sign that this meeting in fact happened. Is it going to be in a couple weeks on the 12th? We're not sure. Who knows? But it does look like substantively at least this is happening.

The reason he's going to New York, not here, the -- there is a diplomatic immunity, if you will, a couple miles from the U.N., I believe. I think it's three miles or so. North Koreans can go. He doesn't have a visa to come here. So we do not believe he'll be meeting with the president, but certainly meeting with Secretary of State Pompeo is significant.

KING: And, again, there's been a conversation, are they just going to have a meeting and then leave all the hard stuff for later.

ZELENY: Right.

KING: Most people think that's not the way to go about it, that you at least have to have some big deliverable, some commitment from Kim Jong-un, even though it would take years and years and years if you verifiably completely denuclearize. Some sort of a commitment. If you want some at the table to buy in, it is Kim Yong Chol.

Listen here to Michael Hayden, once America's top spy. He says, this is the guy. If you're going to cut this deal, Kim Jong-un is important. This guy too.


MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: You have to greet him, sit down and talk with him because he is both knowledgeable and authoritative. He comes here with the writ of the president of North Korea. And so this is the person, the individual, that is worth talking to, to try to hammer out some common ground if it exists.


KING: Doesn't guarantee the summit happens. Doesn't guarantee they're going to make progress on the substance. But it seems to put front and center that everybody involved is pretty serious about trying to make that happen.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": And these meetings are potentially the most important part leading up to the potential summit between Trump and Kim because that will determine whether that meeting between the principles leads to anything. There are an awful lot of substantive issues that have yet to be resolved. The administration needs to get on the same page on, how do they get North Korea to relinquish all of its weapons, how do they make them believe they're getting something out of it? And, beyond that, what kind of, you know, uranium they can enrich, how much they can, how many centrifuges they can operation. You know, all the very difficult questions. And what kind of inspections regime can be there to verify that they don't cheat. Because North Korea cannot unlearn these skills. If there's not an indication yet that the Trump administration has decided what they're willing to concede on these issues, let alone is on the same page when you hear what John Bolton, the national security adviser, and Vice President Mike Pence have been saying, you know, there kind of hard line rhetoric, these threats, this substantive meeting, these kinds of meetings between Pompeo and Kim are going to determine whether that (INAUDIBLE) - --


KING: And is there -- is there space between Kim Jung-un and his own top military? That has been a fascinating question. Will the generals let him, let Kim give it up, if that's really Kim's intent, which most people doubt.

KUCINICH: Well, that's -- and well that's also an interesting parallel with this administration what the president says versus what is actually going to happen. That said, the president does want this to happen. He does want to meet with Kim Jung-un. He does want to get this done. So the fact that he did walk away from this, of course, but both politically and he likes being the first person do things. He likes being a groundbreaker, if you will. So I think that also is driving this. Even though he walked away, there is a great desire for this to happen.

KING: And yet -- and yet, if you so want it, one instinct might be, let's not get in China's face right now because at some point these talks are going to hit a snag. At some point you're going to need China to pick up the phone to Kim Jung-un or to be at the table to say, we're on board with President Trump on this one. Sign the deal or keep your commit or keep the deal.

And the president today imposing, or announcing the intent to impose anyway, $50 billion in new tariffs to go to the WTO. So a tougher trade posture with the president of the United States at a moment where he's going to need Xi Jinping's help. What does that tell you?

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": I mean obviously slapping additional tariffs on China, 25 percent, whether it's -- you know, they're talking about slapping tariffs on cars too. That is not, you know, necessarily going to make China want to help the United States. But clearly the president thinks that this sort of hard ball tactic might actually work in his favor. And perhaps that is because he has seen it work in his favor with North Korea. You know, North Korean's stood up the United States in terms of planning just two weeks ago for this huge summit. And the president said, we're not even going to do this summit. And then, you know, a couple days later, they came out and said, no, we really want to do this. Now they're sending an envoy here.

So the president has seen this hardball tactic work. He thinks it's going to work for China. I -- it's just going to be interesting to see because throughout all of this we haven't seen -- North Korea has never once came out and said, yes, we are going to -- we are open to getting rid of our nuclear weapons. They said, we're not going to -- we're going to close nuclear sites. We're not going to continue to enrich. But they already have these weapons. And so the big question is, are they willing to give that up? I don't see them sending any signals so far that they are willing to.

KING: Right. Right. They -- South Korea's president says that Kim Jung-un has conveyed that to him. Mike Pompeo is going to have to hear it across the table with essentially the number two.

If you look at the bottom right of your screen there, you see the financial markets. The Dow down more than 400 points right now. Some of that is these new trade sanctions. Is the market going to like that? Some of that is uncertainty in Italy, political uncertainty in Italy that has people thinking the euro is again at risk. So this is not all related to U.S. developments, but at least part of the turmoil in the markets.

And, again, Chuck Schumer praising the president right now, saying, good, get tougher on China trade.

[12:10:04] If you listen to the president, here's his own voice. There was a lot of talk that Kim Jong-un went to see Xi Jinping and it was after that that North Korea had that temporary period, that short period where they were issuing more belligerent statements and the president wasn't happy.


REPORTER: Do you think China maybe discouraged Kim from meeting (ph)?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, but I think that President Xi is a world class poker player. And I'd probably maybe be doing the same thing that he would do. But I will say this, there was a somewhat different attitude after that meeting. And I'm a little surprised. Now, maybe nothing happened. I'm not blaming anybody.


KING: He's kind of blaming.

ZELENY: Kind of blaming. KING: Kind of blaming. So -- but, again, but, again, the president sometimes can treat you like with a chain saw, delicate there. And people always say this president doesn't have nuance. Sometimes he does. So here -- there it is, President Xi. I don't like what you're doing. Here's a new set of sanctions. I'm getting tough with you. Now my commerce secretary is on the way. I suspect the goal here is to deescalate this almost as quickly as it was escalated.

ZELENY: I think that's right. And also the president is very conscious of what's happening on his base. He's tweeting about midterm elections as well. He does not want to be viewed as not being tough on Xi Jinping and China. That is not good for his base. So all of this is mixed up here. The substance, of course, the most important. The domestic politics, never far behind.

KAPUR: North Korea doesn't trade a lot. It only has about $3 billion in imports and experts, most of it with China. So China's crucial to this process. And they're going to apply the pressure and they have to want to do it.

KING: Right, China's crucial today, tomorrow, a month from now, two years from now, five years from now. That's the issue. If you actually do make progress here, China has to be on board from the get-go.

Up next for us here, does the president help or hurt. That's a big question for the midterm elections. And, today, it gets a big test in Tennessee.


[12:15:48] KING: Welcome back.

Today a presidential road trip and an up close look at Marsha Blackburn's risky bet. The conservative congresswoman is the GOP candidate for the Senate seat now held by Bob Corker. And President Trump is visiting Nashville for a rally and a fundraiser. It's a very close race. And close races are almost always settled in the suburbs, where President Trump struggles, especially among women. But while some GOP candidates think it's best to keep some distance from the president, listen here, Blackburn, all in.


REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE SENATE CANDIDATE: When that blue wave comes to Tennessee this year, if there is a blue wave, then it is going to run into what I call the great red wall. They know that their lives are getting better every single day under the policies of Donald Trump. Tax cuts are working. More jobs are out there.

They know that President Trump is committed to building a wall, securing that southern border, ending sanctuary city policies and getting gangs out of our communities and off our streets. That is things that they support.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Republicans, this is an understatement, need to hold this seat. But expect Tennessee to be close right to the end. The former Democratic governor, Phil Bredesen, is making his fourth statewide run and has a reputation as a centrist, as a pragmatist and he knows navigating the Trump effect is a challenge for him too.


PHIL BREDESEN (D), TENNESSEE SENATE CANDIDATE: Look, I'm not running against Donald Trump, I'm running for a Senate seat to represent the people of Tennessee. But he's the president of the United States. And if he has an idea and is pushing something that I think are good for the people of Tennessee, I'm going to be for it. It doesn't matter where it came from.


KING: This is in the top two or three or four races in the country this year in the sense that a state the president carried quite handily. Marsha Blackburn trying to win a state where part of her problem is a good old boy network in her own party. Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker don't like her. Don't like her politics. Two Republican senators. Bob Corker, though, is going to be there to greet the president. He's going to go to this rally. He's good friends with the Democratic candidate, Phil Bredesen. This one has everything.

BADE: Oh, yes, Tennessee is --

KAPUR: Go ahead.

BADE: Is particularly interesting because, you know, the president has something like a 50 percent approval rating. Of course it's -- it's a red state.

But the people that Marsha Blackburn needs to win are not the people who are going to be showing up at this rally that the president is holding to help her. There is a group of -- and I've heard this from both people who love Marsha Blackburn and people who don't, that between 5 percent and 10 percent of the Republican Party down there doesn't like her and will vote for Bredesen, a Democrat, over her because they think she is too conservative and won't work across the aisle to get things done. These are -- they call them the country club Republicans. They're business types, are more pragmatic minded. And these are not people that President Trump can particularly win over when he comes to this state to help Blackburn. So we'll just have to see. Who knows?

KING: Right. And that's the Corker/Alexander base, if you will.

BADE: Right.

KING: The suburbs around Chattanooga, where Corker's from, the suburbs around Nashville, that's Lamar Alexander's big base. And just travel to Tennessee, if it's been a while, Tennessee is a growing state. It's an amazing place. And the president is toxic among a lot of even suburban Republican woman. The question is, can Marsha Blackburn -- she's made the decision. And go back to 2010 when a lot of Democrats ran from Obama. That's hard too. She's made the decision, yes, there are going to be some issues here, but I'm hugging.

KUCINICH: Well, and she's been a personal friend of Trump's even before this - this campaign. But -- and -- but he also brings some x factors. Senator Corker is one of the angriest members of the Senate last week when the president announced foreign -- taxes on foreign imports because these things are manufactured in southern states. Another x factor, I think it's 61 percent of Tennesseans favor a way for undocumented immigrants to have a pathway to citizenship. That's another issue that's rising in Republican circles.

So depending on what the president's done between now -- does between now and Election Day, really it could -- it could directly impact someone like Marsha Blackburn.

ZELENY: She has doubled down obviously with the lessons of 2016. And there are Republican senators who -- former Republican senators who tried to -- New Hampshire perhaps, exactly, the one --


ZELENY: Perhaps, you know, tried to kind of thread the needle, you know, being with Trump at some point. She's making the only decision I think she can as an incumbent, double down with him. But, boy, the progressives in Nashville have come alive. So it's going to be a fascinating test. A, every campaign is about how the country is changing as well.

KING: Right.

[12:20:04] ZELENY: And this is about the changing face of Tennessee. So it's not the only time that the president will be there. We'll see if she keeps holding him tightly. I bet she will.

KING: And you see the flip side of the argument. Phil Bredesen, again, more of a centrist governor, understands his state, does not want to be associated with say a Nancy Pelosi. He told CNN this a couple weeks ago, I don't want to come across as somebody who is the toy of the national Democratic Party.

Sometimes people use kind of cute language to try to get around it. I'm going to vote for my state. I'm going to do this. No, I don't want to come across as the toy of the national Democratic Party.

KAPUR: There's a little bit of triangulation that both candidates have to do with President Trump. I think you just talked about that with Blackburn.

The -- Tennessee has a long history, I think dating back a few decades, of electing institutionalists to the Senate. It's not just Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. It's also Bill Frist, Howard Baker, Al Gore. By the way, the last Democrat to win a Senate seat in Tennessee. I think it was the 1990.

Having said all of that, Trump won Tennessee by 26 points. And Bredesen does have to combat the fact that he has not, you know, he has not been in politics for a long time. There's a bit of a Rip Van Winkle effect to a lot of these people who are in politics for a while, served in high office, tried to come back. It didn't work for Russ Feingold, Tommy Thompson, George Allen, Evan Bayh, Ted Strickland. My two favorite examples, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. How he navigates that will make all the difference. And right now he's trying to follow the kind of Conor Lamb, Doug Jones model of distancing himself from the national party.

ZELENY: Certainly he is running against an incumbent though.

KING: Yes, she's a House Republican, so he's -- there's a flip side to that. That's why this has everything. This has just about everything. You've got to look at base turnout. You've got to look at the suburban vote. Republicans. This race has just about everything you look at, national dynamics in both parties. A lot of fun. The president's there this afternoon.

We're going to pause from politics for a minute to check in on Hawaii.

New evacuation orders in effect where flowing lava destroyed 41 homes and is now posing new dangers as it spills into the ocean.

You see right here our correspondent Scott McLean live near the lava flow right out there on the water.

Scott, dramatic images. What are you seeing?


Well, first off you'll forgive the shaky shot. We are in the Pacific Ocean and the surf here is absolutely massive.

But check out the view that we have. It is absolutely stunning. So all the dark rock that you see there, that is fresh lava that has come down in just the past couple of weeks. And then you can see through the smoke there, that lava stream coming down. You'll also notice there's a boat in our way. This is actually just a fishing boat. It actually does not have the proper permit to be in that close. There are, as you can imagine, Coast Guard restrictions of about 300 yards around this.

We have a special permit to be within about 100 yards of this. And for good reason. See that white plume of smoke that you can see there. That is something called lava haze or laze. It is this potentially deadly mixture of hydrochloric acid, tiny bits of glass and, of course, steam that's created when the lava actually hits the ocean. And it is really a serious hazard in this area. You do not want to get close to it. Obviously we are ready to hit the gas if the wind shifts.

Now, the wind, you'll notice, it's sort of going a little bit on land. That's not normal. That's not going with the normal trade wind that usually goes off to the southwest. Why is this potentially a problem? Well, because it means that all of these toxic gases are being sent on to land. And the other fissures that have opened up, which are really the big story here, John, they're also sending their gases more into populated areas than they have been before. And that is a really big issue.

The people here, they're really sort of playing this odd game of volcanic whack-a-mole. Just when one area seems to calm down, another seems to flares up. In fact, geologists said -- told us yesterday that the flows into the ocean have actually slowed down somewhat over the past couple of days. It's hard to tell that from our vantage point. It looks like it's still going very much strong.

But some of the other fissures that we've been watching, they've also died down. I think we have a live picture as well of some of the other ones that we're watching that are really new. They are older fissures that have just flared up in the last couple of days and they're sending lava really in all directions.

There are two potential issues on the mainland, John. One of them is that the lava will cross Highway 132. That is a main access point for people who live in this part of lower Puna. That means that people will have one less escape route.

The other potential danger is that the lava has now gotten on to the property of a geothermal plant and actually covered the top of two different wells. That is not an issue at this moment according to officials, but it could be if those wells were to breach, it would release a -- potentially a toxic gas, John.

KING: Scott McLean for us. Scott, keep in touch and stay safe. We'll stay in touch with you as this plays out. Amazing images to watch and a remarkable threat to the people in the state of Hawaii.

Scott, thank you.

When we come back, the Supreme Court winding down its term. A number of big legal decisions we're waiting for and also everyone's wondering, will there be any big personnel news.


[12:28:46] KING: Welcome back.

The Supreme Court today declined to hear a challenge to a controversial Arkansas abortion law. The justices gave no reason. But the decision leaves it to lower courts now to settle a question that could close two of Arkansas' three abortion clinics. There's less than a month now left in this year's court calendar. And an unusual number of significant cases still waiting on the table, like immigration. Is the president's travel ban constitutional? Religious freedom. Did a baker discriminate against a gay couple when he refused to make their wedding cake? Those are just a couple of the examples.

CNN legal analyst Joan Biskupic joins us now.

What are you waiting for? What is the biggest potential change to American law that we're waiting on in the next several days to a week?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I'm waiting for so much. But, for you all at INSIDE POLITICS, you know, are they going to get into the partisan gerrymandering question? Also a terrific test between religious rights and gay rights. The Colorado baker who refused to make the case for a guy couple for -- to celebrate their wedding. We've got that.

You know there are -- and the travel ban. You know, will the Supreme Court be the first major court, actually the biggest court, to uphold Donald Trump's travel ban, rejecting the rhetoric of those lower courts that all said perhaps we can use his words against him.

KING: And on a closely divided court, we expect those decisions, the most contentious decisions. You see some of the cases there on your screen.


[12:30:04] KING: Mostly of them likely to be 5-4, or a good majority of them are likely to be 5-4, when you always look in that -- to Justice Kennedy, who has a history of being the swing vote.