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Report: Trump Pardons Conservative Pundit; Trump May Be Sending A Message to Mueller Witnesses About Being Pardoned; Kim's Top Spy to Deliver Letter to Trump. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 31, 2018 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I will be back 5 PM Eastern in THE SITUATION ROOM. "NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Wolf, thank you so much, hi everyone, I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me. It is day number 496 of the Trump presidency and today episode turning out to be quite the stunner.

The president who won't forgive those who kneel during the anthem or his attorney general for recusing himself from the Russia probe showing that he is in a merciful mood today in an unprecedented way. President Trump declared via Twitter he will pardon conservative commentator and filmmaker, Dinesh D'Souza, and he then told reporters he is considering commuting the sentences of both former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich and pardoning media mogul Martha Stewart.

And take note of some of the crimes these people are guilty of for D'Souza it's federal campaign finance violations, for Stewart gets lying to federal investigators, and for Blagojevich it is 18 felony corruption charges. Trump has already issued 4 pardons and his critics have said most of them have been political maneuvers. So what kind of message might the president be trying to send with this and more importantly, who do see hope he is listening?

Let's discuss. With me now former federal prosecutors, Renato Mariotti and Jennifer Rodgers. And Kara Scannell is with us, CNN's correspondent.

So, Kara, let's begin with you. Let's start with Dinesh D'Souza. Remind us who he is and tell me about his partner.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Dinesh D'Souza is a political commentator, he was a very vocal critic of President Obama. He was convicted in 2014 of violating campaign finance laws. And he pled guilty in that matter, it wasn't a jury trial he admitted guilt in that case.

BALDWIN: Yes.

SCANNELL: Trump says he is pardoning him because of select prosecution. That's also the same words that Dinesh D'Souza used at the time. His lawyer argued he was singled out because of his criticism of Obama. So, there is an echoing of those

words there. The U.S. attorney at the time was Preet Bharara.

He tweeted at the time that the president can pardon whoever he wants. But also noted that a judge who oversaw the case found that there was no select prosecution. And D'Souza is now the fourth person that the president has pardoned where most presidents wait until the end of their terms to start issuing pardons.

BALDWIN: There is a lot sort of rare and unprecedented about what's happening here. Renato, to you, a lot of people are saying it's not about the who but

it's the what message, what signal this is sending. It's what the signal, you know, who's listening. Could it be a message to the Paul Manaforts and the Michael Cohens and the Mike Flynns of the world?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think no question. I also think the president is trying to start a narrative suggesting that the Justice Department is unfair. If you look at the D'Souza prosecution, the judge said that the complaints by D'Souza were all hat, no cattle. Literally the words the judge used in the ruling.

There was nothing to them. But it's a prosecution by the southern district of New York, the same unit of the Justice Department that is investigating Michael Cohen. And as to Rod Blagojevich, I watched both trials, there is overwhelming evidence of his guilt. He was certainly involved in corruption trying to sell the Senate seats, the former Senate seat of President Obama. But ultimately sending a message he is claiming that prosecutions are politically motivated and he's trying to use that as a way of sending a signal to people don't flip and frankly that this prosecution by Robert Mueller and by the Justice Department is somehow politically motivated.

BALDWIN: It is noteworthy the confluence of coincidences or perhaps not. I want to get to we've been talking about Blagojevich And Martha Stewart. Just remind everyone, actually Rod Blagojevich had a moment on "The Apprentice" years ago. Remember this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROD BLAGOJEVICH, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ILLINOIS: I know we lost, we did not win. But if you were looking at this like a baseball team, we're making progress. I believe some --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, FORMER HOST OF "THE APPRENTICE": But you're making progress and you're running out of people.

BLAGOJEVICH: Understand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So, he sat in the hot seat. And by the way if you remember I was reading back to 2005, Martha Stewart had her own apprentice-like show, so there's that. But what I am really fascinated by and Jennifer I'm going to come to you in a second, on these two, the connections if you really start digging between also the fired FBI Director James Comey and the current Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: What's very fascinating here is that James Comey was the U.S. Attorney for the southern district of New York at the time that they prosecuted Martha Stewart for lying to investigators looking into her stock sale.

[14:05:00] His best friend was a U.S. attorney in Chicago who prosecuted Blagojevich. And he's also currently one of Comey's lawyers in the investigation that the special counsel has ongoing right now. The other interesting thing is that Pat Fitzgerald was also appointed a special investigator who looked into the leak of Valerie Plame's claims and that led to the prosecution of Scooter Libby. Scooter Libby is someone at President Trump pardoned earlier this year.

BALDWIN: Is this a plot to a TV show? OK. It's a little bizarre. Or is this -- is there more to it?

RODGERS: I agree with Renato. It is kind of crazy that the same people are popping up again and again, Jim Comey and Pat Fitzgerald. But what it really is, It's an attack on the investigations, the prosecutions of D.O.J., especially southern district of New York. The crimes are just so key, corruption crimes, lying to campaign officials, campaign finance violations, this is exactly what all of the people in the Trump world have already been found guilty of or are being investigated for.

It's just such a clear message. You also know that because he's doing that outside of the regular pardon process. There's a whole office at the Department of Justice vets these things. They talk to the prosecutors who did the cases, they assemble all the facts. They go back and forth and then make a decision. He's completely short circuiting all of that.

BALDWIN: And let's not forget, it was SDNY who green lit the raid on Cohen. It all kind of seems in a sense connected. Renato, Trump is in his second year of his presidency. This is something that Kara alluded to a second ago the fact that he's in the middle of this investigation, it's entirely rare to be doing this, not to mention the fact that he's not going through the D.O.J. Do you also see this as the president ignoring the rule of law, disrespecting the justice system? Because you have the president saying the government has treated them unfairly and now he's pardoning someone who he thinks was treated unfairly by the government?

MARIOTTI: I think it's more than ignoring the rule of law, he's undermining the rule of law. He's sending the message if you're an ally of his, if you were someone who's going to be speaking out in support of him like D'Souza or Arpaio that the laws do not apply to you. That even if you are someone who flouts court orders like Arpaio did. If you are someone like D'Souza whose made claims even after the judge said there's nothing to them, he continues to repeat false claims about the prosecution in this case. What the president is saying I don't care. This a really a departure of where the Republican party has been. James Comey was a Republican, Pat Fitzgerald, my former boss, was a Republican. Typically, Republicans have been supportive of law enforcement. This is very much the president going against law enforcement and trying to turn his base against law enforcement, against the rule of law.

BALDWIN: I wanted to just read a tweet from Asha Rangappa we have on all of the time, formally with the FBI. She had tweeted, pardoning convictions for bribery and public corruption, Blagojevich, and making false statements to the FBI, Stewart, someone gave him a list of all the possible charges he's going to face and he's finding celebrities convicted of them to pardon #consciousness of guilt.

RODGERS: It seems pretty clear what's going on here, the problem is there's not much to be done about it. I mean the president has the pardon power. Unless you can spin this as obstruction of justice evidence, which I think is very, very hard to do, there's nothing to be done about the fact that he's pardoning all these people and getting this message across.

BALDWIN: Thank you all so much. Let's now go live to Michelle Kosinski, who is standing by for the big moment involving this potential upcoming North Korea summit. Michelle?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENCE: We're expecting Secretary of State Pompeo to be here in just a few minutes. We expect him to announce that Kim Jong-Un's right-hand man Kim Yong- Chol we expect to be heading to the White House we think tomorrow to hand a letter to President Trump. Apparently, these meetings have been going so well --

BALDWIN: Michelle, sorry about that. Not the best audio. I think what she's about to say, what we're reporting is that the meetings with Kim Yong-Chol, this top spy and top member of this North Korea delegation, who by the way has not come to United States in 18 years, has gotten the green light to go to deliver, hand deliver this letter from Kim Jong-Un to hand deliver this letter to President Trump at the White House tomorrow.

[14:10:00] Any moment Secretary of State Pompeo she was saying holding this news conference on this historic meeting upcoming. These are pictures from the two of them last night before this man here heads to Washington for this big meeting at the White House tomorrow. Also, ahead, Roseanne's ex-husband speaking out as the cancelled TV star keeps tweeting and suggest she is going to fight. And Samantha Bee making an outrageous remark about Ivanka Trump on TV in a scripted line. We'll talk about the double standard. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

[14:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Any moment now, live pictures in New York. We'll hear the most up-to-day details on the once-cancelled summit between president Trump and Kim Jong-Un. We'll hear from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holding this news conference. It's happening as we're now learning of a remarkable handoff set for the near future. We've learned that North Korea's former spy chief is heading to Washington, D.C. to meet President Trump in order to personally hand over this letter from his boss, Kim Jong-Un. Let's listen to the secretary of state.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: As you know, in addition to my meeting with vice chairman Kim Yong-Chol, we have people in Singapore to prepare for president Trump's and chairman Kim's summit in Singapore. I'm confident we're moving in the right direction. Vice chairman Kim and I discussed how our countries could come together and create their visions of the future that they have so clearly articulated. Vice chairman Kim Yong-Chol is planning to go to Washington to deliver a personal letter from Kim Jong-Un. It opens a front to lead to a new era of peace, prosperity and security.

Our two countries face a pivotal moment in our relationship in which it would be nothing short of tragic to let this opportunity go to waste. In my opportunity, I believe have been very clear that President Trump's and the U.S.'s objection is well known, the complete denuclearization of the peninsula. President Trump made it clear it Kim Jong-Un denuclearizes, it will lead to a brighter future for Kim Jong-Un. We think the United States and North Korea can define a relationship by friendship and collaboration, not mistrust, fear and threats.

We expect both leaders to enter the summit in Singapore with their eyes wide open and with clear understanding of the possibilities for the future. If these talks are successful, it will truly be historic. It will take bold leadership from Kim Jong-Un, if we are to seize this once in a lifetime opportunity to change the course of the world. We believe chairman Kim is the kind of leader who can make those decisions and in the upcoming weeks and month, we can test whether this is the case. I can take a couple of questions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our first question goes to Nick Wadhams from Bloomberg.

NICK WADHAMS, REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: thanks, Mr. Secretary, last night State Department told the U.S. would be looking for an historic commitment from North Korea before the summit would go ahead. Today you ended talks with Kim Jong-Chol early. Can you talk about why you did that? Did you get the commitment you sought and do the U.S. and North Korea agree now on what denuclearization would mean?

POMPEO: We didn't end the talks early. We had a set series of items we wanted to make sure we covered, topics we made sure we were clear on in terms of what our expectations were and their expectations in return of us. We achieved that. This is a difficult challenge. Make no mistake about it. There remains a great deal of work to do and we made progress here as well at the same time made progress in the other venues that conversations were taking place. We had all the time we needed today to make the progress achievable during our time here in New York City.

[00:20:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our next question goes to Michael Gordon from "The Wall Street Journal."

MICHAEL GORDON, REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Sir, following up on that, a senior state department official, same person that spoke to us last night, also indicated that the United States hopes to persuade North Korea that its security doesn't depend on nuclear weapons. You've now had three meetings with them and spent some hours with him. Do you feel that you've been successful yet in doing that? Or is the difficult and settling of this issue why President Trump is talking about having the possibility of two or three summits and not trying to break the back of these issues in a single meeting?

POMPEO: Make no mistake about it. President Trump, this administration understands how hard this problem is. There is a long history where North Korea has viewed his nuclear program is providing the security that are needed for the regime. The effort now is to come to a set of understandings to convince of North Koreans of what President Trump has said. If we're able to achieve it, if the North Koreans are prepared to denuclearize, if we can convince them there their security is greater, and the real threat of their security is the continuing hold on to that nuclear weapons program and not the converse. We've had lots of conversations around that. The true test comes when we actually achieve this, but many conversations have been had about how we might proceed what the path might be forward, so we can achieve the denuclearization of what the world demands and the security that would be allowed to achieve that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Next one, Martha Raddatz from ABC news.

MARTHA RADDATZ, REPORTER, ABC NEWS: You call it a proposed summit. Will we find out whether it's a go tomorrow? You looked the vice chairman in the eyes. You've been with him in the room. What accounted for the progress? This has been such a roller coaster ride. The summit was off. We've gone from fire and fury to this. Talk about what accounted for the change and do you worry that you could still change back?

POMPEO: So, Martha, I've had a chairman to meet chairman Kim Jong-Un twice and now Kim Yong-Chol three times. I've spent a great deal of time with each of them. I believe they are contemplating a path forward where they can make a strategic shift, one that their country has not been prepared to make before. This will obviously be their decision. As I spoke about, they'll have to choose that is fundamentally different than the one their country has proceeded on for decades. It should not be to anyone's surprise that there will be moments along the way that this won't be straight forward, that there will be things that look hard and times it appears there's a roadblock and sometimes perhaps even perceived at insurmountable. Our mission is incredibly clear. It to continue to push forward.

The president will to push forward to test the proposition. This is going to be a process that will take days and weeks to work our way through. There will be tough moments, there will be difficult times. I've had some difficult conversations with them as well. They've given it right back to me, too. We're decades into this challenge. So, one not ought to be either surprised or frightened or deterred by moments where it looks like there are challenges and difficulties, things that can't be bridged. Our mission is to bridge them, so we can achieve this historic outcome.

RADDATZ: And on the summit, will we know tomorrow whether there will actually be a summit?

POMPEO: Don't know the answer to that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our final question goes to Adam Shapiro from Fox News.

POMPEO: While we may not know tomorrow, we've made real progress in the last 72 hours toward setting the conditions. Your question goes to what are the conditions. The conditions are putting president Trump and chairman Kim Jong-Un in a place where we think there can be real progress made by the to of them meeting. It does no good putting them in a place where they can't get together.

[14:25:00] ADAM SHAPIRO, REPORTER, FOX NEWS: My question is about the impact on our allies. What concerns does the United States have about exposing South Korea and our Asian allies like Japan to greater perhaps Chinese influence if there is as part of a deal in the future a drawdown of U.S. military presence in South Korea?

POMPEO: I'm not going to talk about today nor at any time during the negotiations about the elements of what the shape of the agreement looks like. Those are things that ought to be held so that the leaders have all the freedom they need to make the right decision. So with respect to the drawdown, it's obviously a D.O.D. issue. I'm not going to speak to that today. What I can say is this -- I've been the secretary of state now for 30-odd days, I think, there is no daylight between the South Koreans, the Japanese and the United States with how we revolve this issue. I've spoken to my counterparts there, I've spoken to President Moon. We understand their concerns, we understand the risks that can be posed to them and an agreement that we reach will provide an outcome that each of those countries can sign on to as well.

SHAPIRO: But if there's a potential for the creation, for lack of a better term, that the vacuum that the Chinese put down --

POMPEO: The Chinese are moving all around the world today. Let's be clear. The risk of that is real, everywhere, not just in this particular space. We're keenly aware of it. I am confident that the things we're talking about with respect to North Korea will not enhance the risk of that to any significant degree. We wouldn't do that to the South Koreans or the Japanese, two of our most important allies in the region.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you so much.

BALDWIN: So here we have the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, standing there, having now spoken with the top member of the delegation, this top spy, who has been in New York and is going to hand deliver, who he kept referring to as chairman Kim, tomorrow to the president. Using words like the U.S. objective complete, verifiable complete denuclearization of the peninsula, that is a requirement by the U.S. I have Christiane Amanpour with me to look ahead to this momentous moment. Christiane, he wanted to put Kim Jong-Un and President Trump in a place where progress can be made. What does that mean? CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: That means they don't want the

president to go and have a meeting with the North Korean leader and coming out and achieving very little or going in with positions so far apart that they actually come out still so far apart. So he's absolutely correct. A secretary of state or the people around need to make sure there's enough meat on the bones that the leaders can actually go in and come out and say something substantial and achievable. I thought it was really very interesting. He's quite upbeat, he says he's had good meetings, that they have put down their red lines and their conditions and the North Koreans know exactly what the United States expects.

But he still says it's very difficult, there are a lot of challenges, it's going to take a lot of time. He says this has been a very difficult issue for decades, thus sort of confirming what other presidents have said. President Trump said how come no other American president has been able to deal with this? Now they're seeing firsthand this is extremely complicated. What is complicated? In the words of the South Korean president, the total lack of trust is the biggest hurdle to getting these sides together and getting anything meaningful down. The South Korean president said that after meeting with the North Korean leader just in the last couple of days.

The biggest issue is convincing them that denuclearization must take place and they'll be more secure, not less secure without nuclear weapons. And I'll throw into that what president Trump said today, we mean ballistic missile as well.

[14:30:00] So the whole kit and ka boodle is what the U.S. wants, though I think they know now it will take more than one meeting. You heard Pompeo say this is in their national security interest and not against it.

BALDWIN: What can be in this letter from Kim Jong-Un to President Trump?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: were told is a response to the letter last week. Remember how far we've come in a week. Because a week ago the summit was off.

BALDWIN: That was a week ago?

SCIUTTO: In very definitive terms from the president of the United States.

BALDWIN: That was a week ago?

SCIUTTO: It feels like a year ago. He said I believe it would be inappropriate at this time. It followed very incendiary comments from a senior North Korean official about the American vice president. Here we are a week later you have the secretary of state doing something that has never been done before meeting face to face with a North Korean senior official in New York City, on U.S. soil. And another in a string of remarkable events you have a North Korean official who will be allowed outside New York City to go to Washington. BALDWIN: There's a 25-mile radius.

SCIUTTO: There is. Because the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with North Korea. The North Koreans are here because the UN is here. They cannot go farther than 24 miles. The president has given them a waiver to travel to the White House. Hand deliver a letter from the North Koreans.

BALDWIN: I didn't know about that.

SCIUTTO: The most remarkable thing was to see Trump sitting across from Kim in Singapore if this goes forward. We heard Secretary Pompeo there saying things are moving in the right direction. What's interesting and the most revealing answer in that press conference is when Secretary Pompeo was asked in effect what changed? Not just what changed in the last week but what changed to lead the Trump administration to believe there's a chance --