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Kim Jong-un Has Opened Up Some Parts Of Economy; Dennis Rodman Arrives In Singapore; NYT: Kelly Says White House "A Miserable Place To Work"; Obama Holding Secret Chats With 2020 Contenders; Staffer: We Taped Together Records Trump Tore Up. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired June 11, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:04] NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: -- his father's knee. This is a man who very clearly cannot be taken at his word. But what is his intent? We don't even know that still, John.

JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: Eight and a half hours we may begin to find out. Nic Robertson, appreciate the perspective there from Seoul. As Nic just noted, it's a very rare time, a rare in North Korea state television actually reporting that Kim Jong-un is at the Singapore summit. They often wait until he comes home before they report he's been abroad. They're also report he's hoping for a new chapter in relations with the United States.

For years North Korea has been told America is the enemy, not to be trusted. It is a dictatorship, food is scarce. Political dissent in North Korea harshly punished. So what are the summit stakes for the North Korean people?

Barbara Demick is the former Seoul Bureau Chief of the Los Angeles Times and the author of "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives In North Korea" and CNN International Correspondent Will Ripley has reported for North Korea more than a dozen times, including just last month.


KING: I want to get the perspective. We talk about the leaders, we talk about the security issues, what about everyday North Koreans? How might this impact their lives? How might this impact their country?

Let's start. Well, here's a snippet. You had the access to everyday people and a bit of their snapshot here of their views of what they think of America.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Who do you want to fight?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): We want to fight the sworn enemy, Americans.

RIPLEY (on camera): What if I told you I'm an American. Do you want to shoot me, too?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): Yes. Yes. RIPLEY (on camera): What do you think about Americans and the United States in general?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translation): Only hatred. It makes me shudder.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really curse the Americans. I want to destroy their land.

KING: Is there any indication, Will, heading into this summit that the regime is conditioning, preparing its people to have a different view?

RIPLEY: There is. And I will say, John, that when the cameras are turned off, all of the North Koreans have treated me with kindness and respect, even the woman who said she wanted to burn our land, then later invited us to her house at the end of the harvest. And there is a change, a notable change in the propaganda that we're seeing now in Pyongyang.

Last year, all over the capital and really all over North Korea were these posters that were red and black, the colors of war and aggression. And now you see popping up these posters that are blue and green, colors of peace, gold symbolizing prosperity with messages telling people to believe in a newfound peace on the Korean peninsula.

KING: And Barbara, your book paints a pretty horrible picture of life under Kim Jong-un. We've had almost a decade now of Kim Jong-un, the son (ph). Tell us, what is better inside North Korea and what if anything is worse?

BARBARA DEMICK, FORMER SEOUL BUREAU CHIEF, LOS ANGELES TIMES: What is better is food. Kim Jong-un, almost immediately after taking over, opened up the markets. You know, his father just hated market life at all, and you couldn't sell Chinese products, you couldn't sell grains. You know, it was really restrictive. He wanted to turn back the clock and bring back socialism. And Kim Jong-un really embraced the market economy.

What's worse, I think, is political control. People are as scared as ever, maybe more scared. It's like economic liberalization has gone, you know, hand in hand with political tightening. And they've, you know, tried to crack down on, you know, DVDs, now memory stick, you know, anything that brings outside information into North Korea. North Korea has been like this black hole. Or the -- I used to say sometimes like the biosphere as far as information is concerned. They want to keep it hermetically sealed.

And Under Kim Jong-il, people were listening to a lot of, you know, South Korean pop music, k-pop, watching soap operas. Now the penalties for all of that have gotten much stricter. So it's weird. You know, economic liberalism, political tightening.

KING: And to that point, well a little snippet more from your documentary here, the North Korean people, you just suggested this near earlier in to two, they seem to get it, that they're individuals, they're human beings, they have their own spirit. But when the camera is on them, they're loyal to the regime. Let's listen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your favorite kind of music?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): My favorite song is our eternal revolutionary song, the song praising our general, Kim Jong- un.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there any criticism, anything you would like to see your leader or your government do differently?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Nothing at all. I'm so satisfied.

KING: That is so striking. Again, it's conditioning. It is also fear?

RIPLEY: Well, you know, you have government minders that are standing right off camera, and after every interview, even though the questions are not, you know, approved in advance, they do take down the person's name and occupation and phone number and address, and there could be a follow-up if they were to say something that, you know, the government minders weren't pleased with. So obviously people know what to say and the answer is almost universally do echo what the official state line is. That said, obviously, there are people who have dissenting views just like in any country around the world, but those views would only be expressed around the dinner table with your closest family, maybe some friends.

[12:35:11] KING: And we have seen this in other examples, other global relationships where President Trump views raising human rights issues as almost a nuisance, a distraction to the agenda he wants to make.

But Barbara, amnesty international estimates 120,000 political prisoners inside North Korea in four known prison camps. They say there could be more than that. Do we have any indication at all that, a, the President cares about this, the President of the United States, and b, that Kim Jong-un is ready to budge at all?

DEMICK: We can't have relations with the country like that, without respect for human rights. And, you know, I just say that with the North Koreans, like a little bit goes a long way. You know, Trump merely needs to put out, you know, a tweet saying, like, what about human rights? Or, you know, I care about the North Korean people. And the leadership in Pyongyang will just be mindful of that.

And, you know, I've been dealing with North Koreans for years with defectors and they've all told me when there's been a human rights push, you know, there are some improvements. Very small improvements, but, you know, this is a regime that's very mindful of its external image. So they do pay attention.


KING: And before we go to break, a reminder, it's a high stakes summit but also a lot of summits bring a little bit of a circus. A late night celebrity sighting in Singapore, the former basketball star Dennis Rodman arriving at the airport moments ago. He, of course, has met several times with Kim Jong-un, said he wanted to be in Singapore for this moment. More about him and anything else. But there you go, Dennis Rodman is in Singapore. We'll be right back.


[12:41:17] KING: Topping our political radar today, Robert De Niro letting it fly once again when it comes to his strong dislike of President Trump. The actor opening his appearance at the Tony Awards with a two-word phrase CBS censors had to silent before it aired. But the crowd loved it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT DE NIRO, AMERICAN ACTOR: I'm going to say one thing -- Trump.


KING: Moving on, the New York Times shedding more light on the burnout being felt by the President's top aides at the White House. It says the Chief of Staff John Kelly described it as, quote. a miserable place to work when senators came calling on him last week. Part of Kelly's frustration is rather than trumping the people around him, the President is talking more and more frequently with outsiders, including foreign campaign aides Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie. President on the phone more often. Does that mean John Kelly is miserable about staying or miserable about leaving soon?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS; WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I mean, this is about to be the one year mark for Kelly. And I think, you know, by all accounts for the last several months he's really been really looking toward this as like he will have been here a year, it might be time to move on. But for months now, certainly since the beginning of this year, Kelly had felt like he is just kind of holding things together, and Trump in a lot of ways is kind of a skipping back to the comfort zone of the people who are with him before. Corey Lewandowski being one of them, David Bossie, and just keeping his own counsel. And I think that puts the Chief of Staff in a really tough position, so.

KING: Corey Lewandowski then but not exactly Kelly kind of people, just an observation there.

Up next, why a relatively obscure office might be the most important place in Washington for Democrats with 2020 aspirations.


[12:47:21] KING: Welcome back. If you're a Democrat with 2020 White House ambitions, chances are you're planning a visit to a certain third floor office at the World Wildlife building here in Washington. If you haven't, stop already.

That's where former President Barack Obama rent some space. As first reported by POLITICO, he's been meeting privately with perspective candidates, Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren. Just two, look, almost face there who've combined for lengthy visits in recent months. That it make sense if you want to experience. It's not easy, Carl Hulse, to be elected President. Barack Obama has done it twice. So you're asking him about the nuts and bolts of the Iowa caucuses or are you asking him for a message?

CARL HULSE, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think, you know, this is a fairly standard thing in history. You make the pilgrimage to the former president to seek his wisdom and counsel and kiss the ring a little bit. I think they're probably asking, why, if you did it, how do I do it, right? And, you know, trying to get some guidance and hopefully some support in the future.

I think that this is the proper thing for them to do. I mean, as you said, they're over there talking to a guy who pulled it off twice against odds. And, you know, but they also want to be seeing meeting with Obama, right? Among the Democratic base, these are the glory days of recent history, and to be associated with him is a good thing.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: And look, this 2020 field is so wide open. I mean, anyone -- all those people coming in right now, you know, any one of them could presumably be the Democratic nominee, we really don't know. And the party, too, is under -- there's a lot of question about what the identity is of the Democratic Party going forward heading into the elections.

And presumably the former President has some guidance that he can shed about how he views where the Democratic Party should be going. Whether he ultimately endorses one of those candidates, I'm pretty skeptical. He probably is going to stay out.

KING: To that point -- and Joe Biden would like an endorsement. He would be the one closest to the ring, if you will, but probably not. But people around President Obama say his plans to stay neutral. We have not seen Kirsten Gillibrand stop by it, Kamala Harris stop by it, former Virginia Governor Richard McDonnell stop by it. Interesting, all looking at 2020 as well. I'm sure they're making their appointments.

But we don't hear from Obama all that much. And to your bet, what would he tell these candidates? Well, listen to this in a recent speech. Remember, he was the first African-American President. Sounds here -- this is a global message here, but it sounds here like he thinks another barrier should be broken.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As I travel around the world and I reflect on the presidency, a lot of our problems are caused by old men. No offense, men, who are old, but, you know, we would benefit, I think, from reminding ourselves that the power is something that is given to you. It's a privilege to serve.


[12:50:22] KING: What's he trying to say there? No offense taken, by the way. JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: I mean, it does seem like he is maybe a little bit more persuadable to a woman candidate, but we've seen in the very recent past that the candidate matters. It can't just be a woman. And, you know, perhaps they're asking advice how to build their own coalition as strong as his was, because his certainly wasn't transferrable even to Hillary Clinton to anyone other than President Barack Obama.

KING: And here is the Senate's top Democrat talking about Obama in the context of 2018 as people come asking for help in 2020.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: I talk to him every so often, and he actually volunteered to help go do a couple of fundraisers for us, and I said, of course.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: That's all it is so far?

SCHUMER: So far.

CUOMO: Do you need more Obama?

SCHUMER: Well, it will be up to our -- you know, we are helping our candidates, but they are running autonomous races. That's why they're doing so well. You know, Heidi Heitkamp is North Dakota above all. Claire McCaskill is Missouri above all. If they think it will help them, they'll invite them. If they don't think it will help them, they won't invite them. There is not one overall match.


KING: There's not one overall match. We'll see how much the former President is out there in 2020. I don't think you'll see Barack Obama in North Dakota, just a guess.

Up next for us here, how a former White House official says scotch tape has protected the President from breaking the law.


[12:55:51] KING: Welcome back. We often say that President Trump is ripping up the old way of doing things. In at least one case, take that literally and share the pain of aides responsible for preserving presidential records. Instead of following the law and carefully preserving every document that reaches his desk, a former staffer tells CNN the President routinely tore them up after reading them.

POLITICO first brought this to our attention reporting in part, "White House aides realized early on that they were unable to stop Trump from ripping up paper after he was done with it and throwing it in the trash or on the floor. Instead, they chose to clean it up for him, in order to make sure that the President wasn't violating the law." Two records officials who were abruptly terminated this spring said they patched each document, even ones that looked like confetti, with scotch tape. It's funny but it's not in the sense that there is a law if it reaches the President's desk or gets into the process. It's supposed to be preserved under the records act. And their point is especially when he gets a letter one case from Chuck Schumer, a letter he doesn't like, the President of the United States is doing this, and then doing the David Letterman and off it goes, and they have to put it back together again.

DAVIS: I mean, it's an amazing piece of reporting, first of all, let's say from POLITICO, and I think we're all really jealous of. Really great reporting. But also speaks to just this President's lack of regard for, disdain for the laws that are there that constrain his office. And we've seen this with so many other things. We thought in the case of Jeff Sessions who recused himself from the Russia investigation. He is asking is there any way unrecuse yourself? But that's not a thing. He can actually do that.

He tried to get staffers at the White House to sign nondisclosure agreement. He's probably can't do that in the government. So the White House Counsel engineered a way so that they could have a document for them to sign so the President could feel better about it. He just does not like to be constrained by the limits of presidential power and this is an example of that. And, I mean, you know, I guess thank goodness these people are trying to clean up behind him, but it's an absurd thing to have to do --

KING: You're going to go to the Trump library and see a letter from Chuck Schumer held together by scotch tape in 20 years. Here is one of the staffers, Solomon Lartey, have told CNN a little bit early today. "We weren't supposed to tell anybody." Supervisors, "only wanted a few people to know and I guess they didn't want to get out." Yes. Well, how about telling the President to stop ripping up the paper.

RAJU: I think they did. I think they have informed the President that this is -- they need to preserve these records. And to Julie's point, he just disregards the advice of how to abide by federal law. I mean, my question is, how many of these documents were they not able to piece together and what were the contents of those documents? So this is why it's a humorous story, but it could be very serious for him, too, if there are significant records the President should be preserving but is not.

KING: If there are sensitive documents or anyway something that has to resolve a dispute, that's number one. But go back -- read the great histories about Hamilton, about Grant, about Reagan, about any president. They're based on historians taking the painstaking time to go to these presidential libraries and other record centers and just going through letters, incoming documents, meetings, notes to get a sense of it.

Reginald Young told POLITICO as a senior records management was, "I'm looking at my director and saying, are you guys serious? We're making more than $60,000 a year, we need to be doing far more important things than this. It felt like the lowest form of work you can take on without having to empty the trash cans." Essentially people were supposed to be making the notes, that came on this day, this is where it goes, this is how it's viewed in history, this is how it should be filed. Instead we're running around with scotch tape putting presidential records back together.

HULSE: It will still be interesting the grounds for terminating these people, because that wasn't really explained it wasn't be because they only spoke about this after they were terminated. And so, did they think that people were kind of knowing too much? But I presume this is a holdover from Trump's private business days where he wanted to kind of get rid of the paper trail and the record on some of these real estate deals. It's definitely an odd thing for the President to be doing.

KING: And we're not in the first month anymore. I mean, you might get it early on, new to the job, never been in politics, but --

KUCINICH: For a President that is so concerned about making history, they've never really been concerned about making sure things are preserved for historical purposes, and this is just another example of that.

KING: Thanks for joining in INSIDE POLITICS. Stay with CNN, a very big, big day ahead. We'll see you back here this time tomorrow. Wolf, though, starts right now. Have a great day.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 1:00 a.m. Tuesday in Singapore.