Return to Transcripts main page


Summit With North Korea Will Go On As Planned Will Meet With Kim Jong-un In Singapore On June 12; Pardons Reminder To Mueller Of Trump's Awesome Power; Last Minute Pleas For Missouri Gov To Act On Death-Row Inmate; Trump Confirms June 12 Summit With Kim Jong-un; Unemployment Rate Hits 50-Year Low. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired June 1, 2018 - 17:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. The summit is on. After meeting in the Oval Office with a top aide to Kim Jong-un, President Trump says his summit with the North Korean dictator will take place as originally planned this month in Singapore.

Mr. Popularity. North Korea's ruthless dictator is known more for killing his foes than sitting down with them. Why are world leaders suddenly charmed by his charm offensive?

Record employment. Red-hot hiring brings the jobless rate down to 3.8 percent, matching a 50-year low. But President Trump publicly hints about the good numbers before the markets open, breaking decades of protocol and giving traders an edge.

And blame Canada. President Trump imposes steep tariffs on imports, causing a split with some of America's closest allies and with leaders of his own Republican Party. By claiming -- by blaming close friends like Canada for a trade imbalance, is he setting off a trade war?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. A blockbuster announcement from President Trump saying the June 12 summit with Kim Jong-un will take place as originally scheduled in Singapore. That follows an extraordinary White House meeting with a top aide to the North Korean dictator. The president calls the summit the start of a process which he hopes will be "very successful," his words.

I'll speak with Congressman David Cicilline of the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are standing by with full coverage.

Let's get straight to the breaking news. Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us.

Jim, a truly remarkable, rather risky turn of events. Take us through it all.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. They can go back to minting those summit coins. President Trump was all smiles as he announced his summit is back on with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

The question is whether the president now is giving the North Koreans exactly what they want, a big, showy summit with the president without delivering much of anything. Even fellow Republicans are voicing that concern tonight.


ACOSTA (voice-over): After meeting more than an hour with the North Korean envoy carrying a letter from dictator Kim Jong-un, President Trump emerged from the Oval Office and declared the Singapore summit he canceled last week back on.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's a getting to know you meeting plus. We'll see where it leads, but we're going to be -- June 12, we'll be in Singapore. It will be a beginning. I don't say and I've never said it happens in one meeting. You're talking about years of hostility.

ACOSTA: The president is already making it clear he's not expecting to sign onto an agreement in Singapore that will guarantee North Korea gives up its nuclear arsenal. Still, the president signaled he is taking the pressure off the regime.

TRUMP: I don't even want to use the term "maximum pressure" anymore, because I don't want to use that term, because we're getting along. You see the relationship. We're getting along. So it's not a question of maximum pressure. Why would I do that when we're talking so nicely?

ACOSTA: There were some conflicting comments from the president, who described the letter from Kim Jong-un as "nice" and "interesting."

TRUMP: A letter was given to me by Kim Jong-un, and that letter was a very nice letter. Oh, would you like to see what's in that letter? Would you like it? How much? How much? How much?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you just give us a flavor of the letter?

TRUMP: It was a very interesting letter.

ACOSTA: Then he revealed he hadn't read it.

TRUMP: I haven't opened it. I didn't open it in front of the director. I said, "Would you want me to open it?"

He said, "You can read it later." I may be in for a big surprise, folks.

ACOSTA: Fellow Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are urging caution. SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: If you fall in love

with a deal and it's too important for you to get it, and the details become less significant, you could get snookered. And I think the president is fully aware of that as he goes in, assuming this meeting occurs.

ACOSTA: Still, the upcoming summit has lowered tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, at least rhetorically.

TRUMP: They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

ACOSTA: For the moment, the name-calling has stopped.

TRUMP: Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.

ACOSTA: But reaching an actual agreement that leads to a breakthrough will take more than talk. Former President Bill Clinton chased a deal with North Korea through the '90s, but it didn't last.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This agreement represents the first step on the road to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. It does not rely on trust.

ACOSTA: Mr. Trump left for Camp David for the weekend without the first lady but with his children, Don Jr., Tiffany, and Ivanka. Before leaving for the weekend, the president offered to continue talking with the leaders of Canada and Mexico, after slapping tariffs on steel and aluminum imports coming in from those countries.

[17:05:06] TRUMP: I love Canada. I love Mexico. I love them.

Reporter: Canada's prime minister all but described the tariffs as a betrayal.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: These tariffs are an affront to the long-standing security partnership between Canada and the United States and, in particular, an affront to the thousands of Canadians who have fought and died alongside their American brothers in arms.


ACOSTA: And the White House did not offer an explanation for why the first lady was not traveling to Camp David this weekend. Since her medical procedure last month, she has largely been out of the public eye. That has lasted for about three weeks.

As for the letter the president told reporters he did not read, the White House did get back to us, Wolf, and say that Mr. Trump did read the letter after talking to the press and before leaving the White House. No word whether he was surprised when he read it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you. Jim Acosta at the White House. Let's dig deeper right now. Our senior diplomatic correspondent,

Michelle Kosinski, is joining us from the State Department. And CNN's Will Ripley is joining us from Singapore. That's where the summit will be taking place in just 11 days.

Michelle, first to you. Behind the scenes, what are you hearing? What happened? How is this summit now back on track?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the details of the meeting, of what went on in that, what, hour-and-a- half-long conversation, we don't know at this point. You have to assume that something made the president decide that a Trump-Kim summit was going to be successful, but it seems like the definition of what is successful has changed vastly between now and just two days ago.

I mean, now the president is talking about it being the very beginning of a long process. But two nights ago, it was Wednesday night when we sat down with a senior State Department official, who told us in order for a summit to be successful, the North Koreans have to do things that they have not done before. And this is a direct quote, Wolf. He said, "Between now and if we're going to have a summit, they're going to have to make clear what they're willing to do. We need action. Yes. We need a commitment. We're looking for something historic. We're looking for something that has never been done before."

So the question is did they get some kind of big commitment from North Korea at these meetings over the last couple of days? If they have, nobody is willing to say it. And if they haven't, why has the requirement now changed before that summit can take place?

And we asked the State Department that point-blank. Have you gotten a commitment, and why has your requirement possibly now changed? And so far, we've heard silence, Wolf.

BLITZER: Will, you've been to North Korea on several occasions. And you know there are ways. Do you think President Trump's VIP treatment of North Korea's No. 2 man really made an impression, and will it be lasting?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes. Certainly, you know, Kim Yong Chol getting a fancy dinner in New York, getting permission to travel to Washington to deliver that letter, a letter considered the highest form of communication, the most respectful way to communicate with another world leader, so a letter from Kim Jong-un to President Trump is a big deal for the North Koreans.

But as far as how this meeting is going to go here in Singapore, it's really an open question, Wolf, about what they're going to be able to achieve, given the fact that the North Korean definition of denuclearization is a much longer, more drawn-out process, similar to what the Chinese have proposed, sort of step-by-step actions taken with the United States and North Korea simultaneously over a period of years, as opposed to this drastic, you know, denuclearization in a period of months, shipping out all of North Korea's nuclear warheads that has been talked about and kind of thrown out there as one possibility.

BLITZER: You know, Will, you're there in Singapore right now. There's a lot of work that needs to be done over the next 11 days. They need a venue. They need security. What are you seeing on the ground?

RIPLEY: So we know that there is a North Korean delegation here along with an American delegation. They are handling logistics. They're trying to finalize things like where this summit is going to happen, how long is it going to take place, you know. Could it be over one day. Could it go a number of days. What are the optics going to be like?

And then of course, you know, they're still having discussions about how exactly the structure is going to be and what is going to be on the agenda.

We know from President Trump himself, human rights not going to be on the agenda. They're focusing on denuclearization here in Singapore, and perhaps the hope is among the administration officials that after they get over, you know, tackling that issue, which, of course, that's not going to be easy, then the other concerns that the world has about North Korea could gradually come to light.

But it's going to be certainly quite a busy 11 days here on the ground in Singapore. The eyes of the world turning on this very small city state, which is arguably going to be hosting probably the biggest political geopolitical summit of the century in just less than two weeks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Glad you're there for us, Will.

Michelle, what else are you hearing from your sources over there at the State Department and elsewhere?

KOSINSKI: Well, Nobody is hearing much as to what happened inside this meeting, but there are real doubts among our sources that the U.S. and North Korea are anywhere near on the same page as to what denuclearization is.

[17:10:08] We have seen some bending on the U.S. side as to what they're willing, obviously, to have North Korea present before a summit can take place.

Also, the U.S. has offered some security assurance. That's what we believe to be North Korea's demands are. They've even said, from President Trump himself, saying maybe it could be a phased-in approach.

So there's very little indication of how much of that gap was bridged before the president suddenly says today, "OK, we are having the summit." You know, does he want to have the summit, to have the summit, and to have that be a historic event? Or are they really getting some kind of gesture and commitment that shows that North Korea really is willing to denuclearize? I think that's going to be debated up until the very day of this summit, Wolf. BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski and Will Ripley, guys, thanks very much.

Both of you are going to be very busy over these next several days.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island. He's member of the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. Let me get right to North Korea. Did the president make the right call to not only invite Kim Yong Chol to the White House today to have a lengthy hour-long meeting in the Oval Office, but also make this a very public spectacle in front of all the TV cameras on the lawn for not only people in the United States but for the whole world to see?

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Well, I think we don't know the answer to that question until the summit takes place, if it does, in fact, take place.

There's no question this president is a master of the theater, and he's played this like a television show. In fact, "The New York Times" is describing it as cliffhanger. Everyone is kind of waiting for the next episode. The only problem is this has deadly serious consequences.

The president should be approaching this with a lot of somberness. We know the North Koreans have, on two prior occasions, done exactly the same thing, made promises that they intended to do, take certain actions. We relieve some of the sanctions, and while we were doing that, they were engaging in serious advancement of their program.

So when I just heard the president said, "Oh, you know, why should I keep the pressure on, they're being very nice," we should not take the North Koreans at their word. And the president, I'm concerned, wants this summit more than the North Koreans need it. And I think we can't allow that to be the case. It cannot be that the U.S. or the U.S. president wants this for the theater and because he promised a summit and likes the kind of spectacle of it without producing real results that will denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

There's no evidence to conclude that he will. I don't know what happened in that meeting. We'll have to wait and see. I think all of us hope it's a success, although it's hard to imagine, based on the past behavior of the North Koreans and the lack of preparation of this president, that it will be, but -- but, you know, we'll have to wait and see.

BLITZER: You did see, Congressman, those historic images of the two men on the South Lawn of the White House today. They seemed to be having a pretty warm exchange. If that's what it takes to get this summit on track, is that worth the cost of handing the North Koreans a propaganda victory, at least in the short term?

CICILLINE: Well, if in the end, it results in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the answer to that is, of course, yes. But we should never lose sight of what we're dealing with here. This is a brutal regime that, at least at this point, believes that having nuclear weapons and the ability to deliver them is essential to the maintenance of the regime. And that hasn't changed.

So I think the president cannot expect that, because he believes he's developed some kind of warm relationship with this brutal dictator that they're somehow going to make a different calculation about their own security.

So, you know, I hope it results in that, but I think we have to know the history of the Korean Peninsula, the behavior of the North Koreans and understand where the pressure points are with them. That requires lots of preparation, lots of expertise, lots of study. I get nervous, because I'm not sure the president has done all of that.

BLITZER: The president is scaling back expectations. He emphasized that this summit is likely to be a "getting to know you" kind of meeting, rather than final negotiations on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Is he setting the right expectations now?

CICILLINE: Well, I think he's actually explaining why every previous president has refused to give this propaganda victory to the North Koreans, that, in fact, before a U.S. president would meet, there'd have to be some understanding of what the outcome would be and some expectation that they would take actions that would resolve this -- this crisis.

The president is now saying, "Oh, no, no." We're just getting to know each other so he's already significantly changed the first expectation that there was going to be some kind of resolution.

But he's given them basically everything they want, a meeting with the president of the United States, which is a huge victory for them, with no expectation there is going to be a single bit of change in behavior by the North Koreans. That's not necessarily a good thing.

I guess it's better to be talking than not. There's clearly no military resolution that's possible without serious loss of life, so diplomatic solution is the only mechanism. But I think we shouldn't expect a lot out of this meeting, other than a bunch of photos and I'm not sure a lot of results.

[17:15:10] I hope I'm wrong. I hope the president is surprised and has the full resolution of it. But I think it's hard to believe that's likely to happen when you look at the history of the peninsula, what the current thinking is of the regime, of Kim Jong-un, and the necessity of protecting his regime and staying in power and, really, not saying anything that would suggest that he's willing to give up nuclear weapons in exchange even for financial assistance from the U.S.

BLITZER: Congressman David Cicilline, thanks so much for joining us.

CICILLINE: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Up next, more breaking news. As President Trump announces the summit with Kim Jong-un is back on. He also makes clear that he views it as just a start of a new get-acquainted process. Is that a formula for success? And President Trump celebrates very strong jobs numbers and low employment. But are his new tariffs sparking a trade war that could kill American jobs?


[17:20:22] BLITZER: We are following the breaking news. After meeting at the white House with a top aide to Kim Jong-un, President Trump announces his meeting with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is back on, June 12 in Singapore.

And there's more news we're following, stocks surging today following a sizzling jobs report which brought the unemployment rate here in the United States down to a stunning 3.8 percent, matching a 50-year low. But markets started spiking too soon, seconds after the president broke decades of strict protocol by tweeting a hint about the jobs report an hour before that sensitive information was officially released.

Let's go to our CNN global economic analyst, Rana Foroohar.

Rana, how extraordinary is this unemployment rate, and what does it say about the overall U.S. economy?

RANA FOROOHAR, CNN GLOBAL ECONOMIC ANALYST: Well, it's pretty extraordinary, Wolf. As you said, we have not seen these kinds of numbers in a really, really long time.

We should be in a good place. It has to be said we're at the end of a nine-year recovery cycle. It's been nine years since the financial crisis. We've been clawing our way back. And we have a great unemployment number.

It needs to be caveated, though, that we're still not seeing a lot of wage growth. And so that's why a lot of people are really concerned about what's going to happen next in terms of how companies might use that tax break, that big tax break they got through the Trump fiscal stimulus plan, what are they going to do with it? And is a possible trade war going to derail investment plans and really put the cap on this unemployment story?

BLITZER: How long, Rana, can all this last, this good economic news, and what should we worry about?

FOROOHAR: Well, like I said, you know, we are really at the late stages of a recovery cycle. Recovery cycles usually last between eight and ten years. We are in year nine. So all things being equal, we're actually due for a slowdown pretty soon.

Now of course, the Trump administration has wanted to keep the economy really turbocharged, probably to carry the Republicans through the midterm elections. I think that's clearly the game here. But we are at a natural tipping point where we probably are going to see slower growth as early as next year.

BLITZER: Before the numbers came out this morning at 8:30 a.m. Eastern, here's what President Trump tweeted, quote, "Looking forward to seeing the employment numbers at 8:30 this morning."

He's not supposed to do that. Did he move the markets, and does this break a long-standing rule about not commenting on these jobs numbers at least for one hour after the numbers are officially released at 8:30?

FOROOHAR: Right. You're referring to a rule that's been in place since 1985. It was started under the Reagan administration. No federal employee is supposed to talk about those numbers until an hour after they've been released.

Now of course, Larry Kudlow, the president's economic adviser, saying, "Well, he didn't talk about the numbers. He just said he was looking forward to them."

But, yes, the market absolutely moved. And I think, you know, what's going to happen next month if the numbers aren't great? Are we going to see no tweet? Are we going to see a different kind of tweet? You know, in a different era, this might have been the sort of thing that would prompt investigations, but frankly, folks in Washington have a lot else on their plate right now.

BLITZER: On the trade issue, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce now says that President Trump's trade policies are putting up to 2.6 -- 2.6 million American jobs at risk. Is the president jeopardizing this dramatic recovery we've seen all these recent years by threatening trade wars with Canada, Mexico, the European Union, China, and a whole bunch of other countries?

FOROOHAR: You know, I think so, Wolf. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find somebody on either side of the bench that isn't -- isn't worried about this.

You know, the president wanted to keep the economy growing: cut taxes, deregulated, has done a lot of things to create a lot of stimulus. And now he's coming in and offsetting a lot of that with this risk of a trade war. Which there is no historical example in which a trade war is actually good news for anybody. It's always a losing game.

And at the same time, we're actually fighting with our allies. You know, the E.U., countries like German that could actually help us win legitimate arguments with China around trade issues.

BLITZER: Rana Foroohar, thanks so much for the analysis.

FOROOHAR: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, more breaking news. After announcing that the North Korean summit is back on, President Trump says he got a hand- delivered letter from Kim Jong-un but tells reporters he still hasn't read that letter. Listen.


TRUMP: A very nice letter. Oh, would you like to see what was in that letter. Would you like? How much, how much? How much? (END VIDEO CLIP)


[17:29:22] BLITZER: Let's get to the breaking news. After today's unprecedented Oval Office meeting with a top North Korean official, President Trump told reporters he will, in fact, meet with Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12. Here's part of what the president said.


TRUMP: We'll be meeting on June 12 in Singapore. It went very well. It's really a getting to know you kind of a situation.

A letter was given to me by Kim Jong-un, and that letter was a very nice letter. Oh, would you like to see what was in that letter. Would you like? How much, how much, how much?

It was a very interesting letter. And at some point it may be appropriate, I'll be able to give it to you maybe; you'll be able to see it. And maybe clearly (ph), too.


I haven't seen the letter yet. I purposely didn't open the letter. I haven't opened it. I didn't open it in front of the director. I said, would you want me to open it? He said, you can read it later. I may be in for a big surprise, folks. I don't even want to use the term maximum pressure anymore because I don't want to use that term because we're getting along. You see the relationship. We're getting along. So, it's not a question of maximum pressure. It's staying essentially the way it is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe Kim is committed to denuclearization?

TRUMP: Yes, I do think so. He'd like to see it happen. He wants to be careful. He wants to be, you know, he's not going to run and do things. But I told him to be honest with you, look, we have sanctions on, they're very powerful sanctions. We would not take sanctions off unless they did. Bu the sanctions are very powerful. You've seen how powerful in other ways. You're going to see how powerful sanctions are when it comes to Iran.

You'll see what that's doing to Iran. So, we have sanctions on. And at a certain point -- I'll tell you what, I look forward to the day when I can take the sanctions off of North Korea. I have a lot of good relations with as you know Chairman Xi. He's a great -- he's really a very wonderful guy. He's a man that loves China, however. He wants to do what's best for China. I think China and President Xi would love to see something happen here. I didn't like the Russian meeting yesterday. I said what's the purpose of that? But, it could be a positive meeting. If it's a positive meeting, I love it. If it's a negative meeting, I'm not happy with it. Remember what I say. We will see what we will see.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And we will. Let's get some insights from our political and national security experts. Shawn Turner, what do you think? A lengthy statement from the president; lots of Q&A following that extraordinary meeting.

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, it was a lengthy statement, Wolf. I think that -- to the degree we've made progress here, the progress we've made is that there's a possibility that this meeting will actually happen. But that's the easy part. We have to remember that when we went into this, when we started this, what the president and what the administration wanted was clear, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization.

What I found really interesting about the president's language is that there's kind of this language of managing expectations. He's softening on his language, softening on his rhetoric, talking about maybe this is a -- maybe there'll be more meetings, maybe this is a process. Every single expert who's watched this from the beginning has said that in order to get anywhere with North Korea, we have to maintain maximum pressure. And the president's already saying that that's a term he doesn't even want to use anymore.

BLITZER: I'm told, Dana, that the president believes this potentially could be a Nixon goes to China kind of moment. What does that say to you about his mind-set?

DANA BASH, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He is so determined to get something done, to be the guy. You can see it in his body language. You can hear it in the way he talks -- talking about over and over, rightly so, that presidents of the past 2-1/2 decades have not been able to deal with this and they should have. Meaning, he's going to be the guy to do it. And that certainly is noble and noteworthy and it would be absolutely wonderful for the whole globe if he were successful. The concern among even people who are in the White House is that he's so eager that he might sort of kind of trip over himself to come up with a deal that is not good for United States. Now, he is certainly a deal maker, and that's how he ran for president, but this isn't a real estate deal. This is global, geopolitical, and nuclear.

BLITZER: You know, Gloria, talking a little about these amazing optics that we saw, all of us were watching all of this unfold.


BLITZER: Yes. He was in the oval office, we thought maybe for a few minutes -- lasted more than an hour.

BORGER: Right. 90 minutes. And then, not only -- when the meeting was over, the president comes out, he escorts Kim Jong-un's emissary, who, by the way, is not known to be a nice guy, OK? Escorts him to his car, chats with him a little bit, shakes his hand, which the Chief of Staff Kelly did not do when he was on his way in, shakes his hand, and then when he leaves, then holds a sort of an impromptu presser talking about how the process has begun. And, you know, the president is a producer. He's a producer of reality T.V. shows. He gets how this works. And the world is watching and he wants the world to be watching.

What's different about this, though, what was so striking to me is that: A. he changed his tune, because now he's talking about a process, he's not talking about getting things done, and; B. this is so different from any other summit we've ever seen because the people at the top are the ones laying the groundwork, it seems to me, rather than the people and the experts -- you know, the North Korea, South Korea experts -- from the ground up, for months and years. This is coming from the top-down, and it's a little tricky that way, particularly with these two men who are known to be combustible.

[17:35:10] BLITZER: Yes. Good point. By the way, we are told that when the president was speaking with the reporters he hadn't yet read the hand-delivered letter from Kim Jong-un, but since then he has sat down and read the letter.

BORGER: Although he said he read it.

BLITZER: Yes, but then he said he hadn't read it, and asked the director if he should read it, he said you can wait. So, he waited. He read the letter. So, that is over with. Presumably, we'll all find out about the letter sooner rather than later.

BORGER: Stay tuned.

BLITZER: Yes, so let's talk a little bit about pardons right now. As you know, the president has been issuing these pardons. And the suspicion is he's trying to send messages out there to some individual who may be implicated in the overall Robert Mueller Russia investigation. Roger Stone, a long-time confidant, adviser to the president, potentially could be a witness. He told The Washington Post this: "It has to be a signal to Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort, even Robert S. Mueller III, indict people for crimes that don't pertain to Russian collusion and this is what could happen. The special counsel has awesome powers, as you know, but the president has even more awesome powers." That from Roger Stone. Does it appear to you that the president is sending a very loud and clear message?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: I think this is a message, and I think Roger Stone's comments reflect that it's being received. You know, there have been prior reports about President Trump's lawyers previously having potentially directly discussed the issue of the pardon with Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort's lawyers. Now, the president's former lawyers deny that. But this really has been a long-standing concern.

It's only heightened by the fact that these pardons are for the kinds of crimes, campaign finance violation, contempt, lying to federal investigators that are likely to emerge in the Mueller probe. I think one thing you have to ask yourself, though, is that if you're in Paul Manafort's shoes, for example, would you risk potentially the rest of your life in prison, certainly many, many years on Donald Trump keeping his word? That's quite a gamble to make.

BLITZER: It's not an easy gamble at all. All right guys -- Dana, I know you're going to be hosting "STATE OF THE UNION" this Sunday. You have a very special guest, Kevin McCarthy, the Republican Majority Leader. This is going to come up, a lot of other subjects are going to come up, 9:00 a.m., 12:00 noon Eastern. We will all, of course, be watching.

Coming up, as the minutes tick down before his resignation takes effect, will Missouri's governor do anything about the sentence of many believe is wrong -- is wrongly. The sentence of a man many believe is wrongly on death row.


[17:42:05] BLITZER: High drama in Missouri right now. The embattled governor is getting ready to leave office in about 20 minutes or so, but before Eric Greitens' resignation takes effect, the NAACP and other groups are hoping for a last-minute act of mercy for a death row inmate. Our Political Reporter, Rebecca Berg, has spent a lot of time in Missouri in recent weeks. So, what are you hearing? Give us the background.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right, Wolf. Well, the background here is that Marcellus Williams was convicted in the 1998 killing, stabbing of Felicia Gayle -- a St. Louis post-dispatch reporter at the time. And CNN first reported last year that new DNA had come forward in this case by his lawyers. They found DNA on the murder weapon, the knife, that did not belong to Williams -- raising doubts about whether he was actually the killer because there was no DNA evidence linking him to the death of Ms. Gayle.

So, the Governor Eric Greitens, last year decided to stay this execution. It was set to move forward in August. He decided that a board would review the conviction, look at the evidence in the case, and make a decision. But the board has not met to make a decision yet, Wolf, and so there's some uncertainty. What happens if he doesn't commute the sentence tonight? Will the board's review move forward? And we're not really sure yet. But the NAACP, the national NAACP, has called for the governor to commute this sentence, and they say they're holding their breath this evening as the clock ticks down.

BLITZER: And he only has about what? About 15 or 16 minutes left. If he doesn't do so, what happens?

BERG: Well, we're not sure. The board could move forward, but there's some uncertainty because it's very unusual rule that the governor invoked to stay the execution in the first place. But, Wolf, there is an indicator that maybe he won't -- that Governor Greitens won't decide to say this execution, or to commute the sentence because he announced a few other commuted sentences earlier this evening, announced he was pardoning some individuals as well. Marcellus Williams was not on that list.

BLITZER: Who's 48-years-old, Marcellus Williams. What are you hearing, if anything, from his family?

BERG: You know, obviously, his allies, his family all advocating on his behalf and also the national causes like the NAACP, the Innocence Project have also advocated on his behalf. And as I said, the NAACP tonight saying they're holding their breath right now as the clock ticks down.

BLITZER: Yes, 15 minutes or so to go. All right. Thanks very much, Rebecca Berg. If you hear something in the next 15 minutes, let us know. We'll get that certainly on the air.

Coming up, he's gone from an isolated leader that only met with Dennis Rodman. The focus of international attention holding summits with world leaders. Will Kim Jong-un live up to his new image as a statesman?


[17:44:52] TRUMP: I told him today, take your time. We can go fast. We can go slowly.



[17:49:37] BLITZER: Breaking news, President Trump, after meeting with the top North Korean official in the oval office at the White House says his June 12th summit with Kim Jong-un is back on. Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, the president's praising the North Korean leader but he's also ignoring a lot of Kim's history.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf, and every player in this entire equation is ignoring Kim's history right now. The pace at which events have been moving with Kim being embraced by other world leaders is simply dizzying. All from a dictator, who just a few months ago, could only count Dennis Rodman among as anyone he's met with and never left his own country since taking power.


TODD: Kim Jong-un is on a roll. One of his top lieutenants, a man believed to have a lot of South Korean blood on his hands, and who led a major cyberattack on the U.S. met in the oval office today with President Trump, and in a remarkable moment, got a hand shake from the president.


TODD: All the more amazing considering that less than six months ago this violent impulsive dictator was considered an international pariah.

JEAN LEE, DIRECTOR OF KOREA PROGRAM, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: At the end of 2017, Kim Jong-un was a leader who hadn't even met the president of China and was very reclusive -- much like his grandfather and his father. And really lived up to the moniker: leader of a hermit kingdom.

TODD: At that time, CNN was even told: plans were being drawn up for a possible U.S. Military strike. Then came Kim's New Year's Day speech, expressing his desire to soften relations with his enemies. The so-called Olympic thaw with his sister, Kim Yo-jong, extending a warm hand to South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Two meetings between Kim and Moon, including the optics of a ground-breaking summit, even holding hands and the announcement of a planned summit with President Trump.

TRUMP: We'll be meeting on June 12th in Singapore. It went very well.

TODD: There were two meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, along with Secretary of State of Mike Pompeo. And now, the Russians want in, arranging their own meeting with Vladimir Putin. A crucial question tonight: what made Kim change?

GREG SCARLATOIU, COMMITTEE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTH AMERICA: The maximum pressure campaign, the sanctions regime against North Korea has taken a serious bite out of the regime. Kim Jong-un has been quite desperate.

YUN: Most important, he now has the weapons. He has the weapons. And he has the delivery system, so he feels more confident.

TODD: Fueling Kim's confidence, the fact that the U.S., South Korea, and China have been willing to look past his egregious human rights violations.

TRUMP: We did not talk about human rights.

SCARLATOIU: You're talking five to six political prison camps 120,000 men, women, and children held in political prison camps pursuant with a system of guilt by association. The induced malnutrition, torture, public execution, secret executions -- you're talking about a regime that's investing heavily in its tools of death.

TODD: A record that a veteran diplomat says Trump and his allies might have to look past to reach the ultimate objective.

YUN: If we are to lower the agenda to include denuclearization, human rights, then we'll have to include Japanese abductees would be another example, bio chem weapons, conventional weapons, it does get overcrowded. So, I don't blame them for prioritizing denuclearization and security at the highest.


TODD: So, what are the dangers of embracing Kim Jong-un as a statesman? Veteran security experts warn that President Trump, Moon Jae-in, and their allies could lose sight of Kim's ultimate objective, staying in power. And they worry that the leaders who Kim is dealing with, will look past the fact that he'll do anything to stay in power, including possibly cheat on a nuclear deal or maybe even start a conflict. Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, you're also hearing from human rights monitors that South Korea is sort of bending over backwards right now to even greater extents to try to bring some kind of peace deal, right? TODD: Absolutely they are, Wolf. South Korea has often, in the past,

allowed DVDs USBs and other media to be sent into North Korea with information on what life is like in South Korea, and information critical of the Kim regime. Well, the committee for human right in North Korea now tells us the South Korean government has recently been censoring those recordings to delete information critical of the Kim regime, those disks that are being sent into North Korean, Moon Jae-in is investing an enormous amount in this, and it's a gamble.

BLITZER: Good point. Brian Todd reporting for us. Thanks very much.

[17:54:18] Coming up, more on the breaking news. After meeting in the oval office with top aid to Kim Jong-un, President Trump says his summit with the North Korea dictator will take place after all. Is that already a big win for North Korea?


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, ready to deal. President Trump's face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong-un is back on after unprecedented talks at the White House with a powerful North Korean official. Did the personal touch and a letter from Kim seal the summit?

The top Senate Republican is warning about the dangers of dealing with Kim as CNN is learning that North Korea's big show of destroying a nuclear test tunnel was not what it seemed to be.

[17:59:25] Hardened signals. Trump ally Roger Stone says the president was sending a message to top figures in the Russia investigation when he granted a reprieve to a conservative pundit. Did Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn hear it loud and clear?

Alienating allies. America's closest trading partners are warning President Trump that the news tariffs he's imposing are absurd and leaving the U.S. alone against the world. Will Mr. Trump's trade war hurt the economy even if the job has fall to historic lows?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in "SITUATION ROOM".

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.