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Trump Declares North Korea No Longer a Nuclear Threat; Mike Pompeo in South Korea After Trump Halts War Games; Trump Critic Mark Sanford Loses in South Carolina Primary; EPA's Scott Pruitt Used Aide to Help Wife Get Hired; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired June 13, 2018 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00] JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: And one of the things that they're certainly disjointed about is the difference between goals, on the one hand, and what's actually happened.

The president indicating things have already been done. The White House message machine trying more to indicate what the president wants. An example of that, Kellyanne Conway, the presidential adviser, out here on the driveway speaking to reporters just a little while ago. I asked her if the president had jumped the gun by declaring that the nuclear threat from North Korea was already over and what she did was essentially re-stated what the president's goals are, that he wants North Korea to denuclearize, that he wants it to be verifiable.

And there's also this issue of war games versus military exercises. The president indicating that he is canceling, if you will, war games on the peninsula. We have the tweet, and I can show it to you in just a minute that that tweet essentially says, "We save a fortune by not doing war games as long as we are negotiating in good faith, which both sides are."

Of course that's a loaded term. The North Koreans refer to military exercises between and among the United States and its allies there including South Korea as war games. The North Koreans believe it's a precursor to war or at least that's what they say. The United States uses the term military exercises.

So what does it all mean? The vice president of the United States speaking last night indicated that military exercises would continue or military training, I should say, would continue while war games would not. What does that mean? Perhaps the no more live fire exercises, but we still haven't gotten clarification from the White House and the president has nothing on his schedule today.

Poppy, back to you.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It's a good and important question, one that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is likely tackling right now in South Korea.

Thank you very much.

And as I said that is where the secretary of State is, trying to smooth over worries about President Trump, sort of unexpectedly announcing that these joint military exercises with South Korea are at least on hold.

Nic Robertson joins us from Seoul with more. What can you tell us?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. Poppy, this is where the kind of hard work begins often. You would have expected ahead of a summit that this kind of level of detail with allies explaining what you're thinking, what you're planning to do, what your strategy is, that this would have been worked out in advance. But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived here a few hours ago, met with General Vincent Brooks who is the commander of U.S. forces here in South Korea, so undoubtedly the opportunity there to share with him some enlightenment about the picture, about military training, these military training exercises the U.S. forces do with South Korean forces.

Hugely important for the preparedness and the level of readiness, to be ready to fight tonight is what they -- is the level that they're at because of the potential, immediate threat from North Korea. So tomorrow for Secretary Pompeo, perhaps the tougher meetings, meeting with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea. After that, he's expected to meet with South Korean foreign minister and Japan's foreign minister, as well because not forgetting, you know, Japan has a stake in all of this, as well.

They're concerned about the regional security, they're concerned about North Korea. They're concerned about the potential for a change in the longer term U.S. strategy here, so the sort of diplomatic leg work that might have gone on before such an event like the summit yesterday. That's going to get perhaps some more meat on the bones and the concern in South Korea very simply. They've said this from the president's office, they want to understand the intent, the accurate intent of what President Trump means by this -- Poppy.

ROBERTSON: And also, you have a message that is radically different from Western media's message on the summit within North Korea. North Korean state television really downplaying denuclearization as part of the summit, right?

ROBERTSON: Sure. What you're seeing in North Korea is the sort of flip side, you know. President Trump has raised the potential and the possibilities and the hopes and the aspirations of what he thinks that the deal has delivered, but what they're hearing in North Korea is how well their leader Kim Jong-un has done. They're saying that the -- they're praising the summit and they're praising President Trump as well, but not as much is there -- not as much praise as they're putting on their leader.

They're hyping what they see as the gains out of this, the sort of strategy going forward that they are no longer under threat. Of course, this is sort of inconceivable even a few days ago. You know, the United States for North Korea has been the great demon. So to hear them praise President Trump is something new.

[10:05:04] Not so new, of course, hearing them -- HARLOW: Right.

ROBERTSON: Hearing them hype their leader's position over and above the U.S.'s position on this -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Nic Robertson, I appreciate the reporting tonight from Seoul. Thank you.

I'm joined now by CNN global affairs analyst Kimberly Dozier and our national security analyst Samantha Vinograd.

Nice to have you here, ladies. And Kim, let me begin with you.

It is such a bold remarks from the president. I know he thinks the summit went well and I think everyone hopes that it did. But to say that there is not a nuclear threat now from North Korea, what do you make of that?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think everyone, diplomats included, are getting used to this president throwing these optimistic predictions out there, seeing his actions in the best possible light. I mean, this is somebody who was talking about possibly getting a Nobel Peace Prize when he had simply arranged a meeting.

What they are relieved by the people that I've spoken to is that he actually didn't give too much away and now the diplomats, the technocrats can get to work on the nitty-gritty details.

HARLOW: Do you think, Sam, sitting here today we are safer as a country, the United States is safer now post-summit than it was pre- summit on Monday?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think it depends what time parameter we're looking at. National security is not just a short-term gain. We have long-term strategic needs that we need to address and the fact of the matter is that the president is systematically dismantling the global architecture that keeps us safe such as nuclear nonproliferation regime.

If you look at his tweet from this morning where he said the nuclear threat from North Korea is gone. We have nonproliferation regime under the IAEA, under the nuclear nonproliferation treaty that are the bedrock of nonproliferation over the long term around the world and he's dismantling all of that.

HARLOW: The devil's advocate here. OK. North Korea was going ahead with its nuclear program regardless. Full steam ahead. You even have James Clapper, the former director of the National Intelligence, who has been very critical of President Trump, saying, look, we are in a better place now than we were six or eight months ago post-summit. Now. Six or eight months ago we're still under President Trump and it was fire and fury rhetoric time, but looking at where North Korea was going, Sam, are we better off than that trajectory?

VINOGRAD: Missiles aren't flying. So again, in the short term we have a de-escalation, but Poppy, we have no idea if North Korea has actually frozen its program. We know that they're not testing, but again, they're not testing because they've said they've achieved their nuclear capability so we have no idea of knowing whether they've stopped research and development, and whether they've turned their centrifuges off so they could re-start their maligned behavior really at the flip of a switch.

HARLOW: Defining denuclearization, Kim Dozier, it is perhaps the most important part of any signed, actual, you know, agreement that is iron clad. Do you see a scenario where the U.S. and the Kim regime's interpretation of what the denuclearization of the peninsula actually means, gets on the same page?

DOZIER: I think what we might see is the replay of -- remember that warm summit that President Trump had early on with President Xi of China and then the details came afterwards and now we're looking over the trade negotiation table with China and facing a possible trade war. So you might see -- you will probably likely see the same sort of tough negotiating behind closed doors.

The Pentagon, for instance, military exercises -- overt military exercises may have been cancelled, but the planning for the kind of operations that they do, the cooperation behind closed doors, that's still going forward. Officials that I've spoken to say they're still staying ready for a possible necessary military response to North Korean provocation no matter what the president says.

HARLOW: Sam, talk about the fact that these joint military exercises have been halted at least for now. I mean, the Vice President Mike Pence trying to clean it up a little bit yesterday, said no war games, but some military exercises. I don't really know what that would look like, but clearly South Korea was shocked by this, not happy by this, but China likes this, right?

VINOGRAD: China likes it and Russia likes it. And one person we haven't talked a lot about has been Vladimir Putin.

HARLOW: Right.

VINOGRAD: What came out of the summit in Singapore is a win for China and for Putin. Any rollback in our military presence in the region is something that Vladimir Putin wants. His greatest fear is some kind of destabilization whereby more U.S. troops are in the region. There are more joint military exercises and so what does he have now? He has us announcing that we're not proceeding with joint military exercises and we have the president of the United States, and this is a massive point, using North Korea, our adversary's lexicon to describe these military exercises.

[10:10:04] HARLOW: Calling it war games.

VINOGRAD: Exactly.

HARLOW: Provocative.

VINOGRAD: He's not using his own general, his own military's language to describe a defensive operation. He's mimicking Kim Jong-un and that's really worrisome.

HARLOW: But could that be -- Kimberly, before we go strategic, I mean, this is a president whether you like him or you don't who want, you know, everyone wants the same outcome here in the United States, right? A safer world.

So do you see something strategic perhaps at the flowery language the president is using with Kim Jong-un, et cetera?

DOZIER: Look, this is a method that we've seen him use multiple times, being very effusive in his praise. But I think that the North Koreans also were smart in that they studied him, they studied what he was pushing for in his campaign. What he messages to his base about saving money. And they found a way to sell something that they wanted to him in terms that he had used and could understand. And I think they rolled him on this issue. I think they got him.

HARLOW: Kim Dozier, Sam Vinograd, thank you both, ladies, very, very much.

A lot ahead for us this hour. A lawmaker who's been very critical of the president loses in his state's Republican primary. So what message does this send to those who want to break with the president ahead of the midterms? Also Republican leaders breathing a bit of a sigh of relief after dodging a battle royale over immigration.

We'll talk to one of those Republican lawmakers behind the semi-revolt that was going to be ahead and united bid leads to a united win for North America. The World Cup coming to the States.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:15:38] HARLOW: Welcome back. Another Republican Trump critic goes down in the primaries. This time in South Carolina. Congressman Mark Sanford defeated hours after the president took to Twitter to attack him saying he was nothing but trouble and bringing up an affair the congressman had.

So is Sanford's loss an ominous sign for Republicans who might want to break with Trump ahead of the midterms?

Let's discuss with our political commentators, Symone Sanders and Alice Stewart.

Nice to have you both here, ladies. And Alice, let me begin with you. Let's just listen to Mark Sanford saying he doesn't regret anything he said about the president despite the loss. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It may have cost me an election in this case, but I stand by every one of those decisions to disagree with the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: Might cost him his seat. I don't know. We'll see what happens in November, but a warning sign to Republicans who may be thinking of calling out the president a little more and may think twice now?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: More than likely. Sure, Poppy. Especially when you're in a state or in a district that is very red and people are very supportive of Trump. We saw that Martha Robbie in Alabama learned the same thing when she was critical of Trump after the "Access Hollywood" tape. She's no longer there. And we have others who have been critical of Trump that just decided enough is enough. We're speaking, you know, certainly of Jeff Flake and Bob Corker.

And clearly, the lesson learned here is that if you want to speak your mind against Trump make sure that you are in a district that it doesn't think very highly of Trump and that's getting more and more difficult these days because at least with regard to his base and Republicans, Trump is doing very well.

HARLOW: Yes.

STEWART: And you have to be very careful how you're going to voice your opposition to the president when he is more than happy to come out and endorse your challenger even in the primary.

HARLOW: Even with hours to go which is what he did yesterday.

STEWART: Right.

HARLOW: Symone, exactly to Alice's point about the popularity of the president within the party, if you look at this new polling on the president's 500th day in office, 87 percent -- 87 percent of Republicans supporting the president. That is the second highest of any Republican president at this point in their presidency since World War II, only second to George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks. What's the lesson politically?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think the lesson here politically for Republicans is that folks have yet to break with the president. The Republican Party base, bewildering me, has stuck with this president, and that means that Republicans are either going to have to fully embrace Donald Trump and his disastrous policies, his health care bill that is trying to undermine and rip away health care from folks. His tax bill, the salacious things that have come out of this White House. They're going to have to embrace all of that if they want to keep their seats.

HARLOW: So why is he bewildering, Symone? Because put the president's rhetoric aside for a moment which is nearly impossible to do, I understand that, but the way that he has put -- the legislation that he's been supportive of, the pushes that he's made on policy are exactly in line with what he promised on the campaign trail.

SANDERS: So it's bewildering to me because for years conservatives have come out and said we are the party of family values, we are the party of conservative Christian values, so on and so forth, and Donald Trump is the antithesis of everything that conservatives have told us that they stand for, for the last, you know, 20, 30, longer than I've been alive years, and so what this says to me is that Republicans and the Republican Party are actually willing to put their values to the side, to push through policy.

And that, Poppy, that is bewildering to me because Republicans told us for a very long time that's not, in fact, who they are and I think what the win in Corey Stewart in Virginia yesterday, the besting of Mark Sanford and so many other folks across the country, Dennis Hoff, who won a state legislative seat, who won a Republican primary for a competitive state legislative seat in Nevada. That let me know that the family values side is turning.

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART: Poppy, if I can just say real quickly.

HARLOW: Yes.

STEWART: It is the very policies and the very issues that the president has been successful on is the very reason why the base and the GOP establishment is still behind him. He has been true to his word on life, true to his word on the Supreme Court, on tax cuts and working hard on immigration, and these, the success in these areas is the very reason why base is behind him.

HARLOW: The tariffs. All right.

STEWART: They might not like his tone and tenor, but they do like his policy.

HARLOW: Well, and a lot of them don't like what he's doing with tariffs on our allies.

[10:20:02] More outspoken than others on that case in point, Senator Bob Corker, listen to him on the floor of the Senate yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: We might poke the bear is the language I've been hearing in the hallways. We might poke the bear. The president might get upset with us as United States senators if we vote on the Corker amendment. So we're going to do everything we can to block it. My gosh. If the president gets upset with us then we might not be in the majority.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Alice, he is free to say whatever he wants. He's not running again, I get that, but you know, why is he such a lone, vocal voice on something that so many Republicans hate?

STEWART: There -- I speak to a lot of people who share his views, but they understand that certainly if they're in a primary, they're not going to, as he says, poke the bear. They simply can't afford it and what they're going to do is they're going to continue to support the policies that their constituents back home wants and what they were elected to do. They're going to run in their district but it's not a big secret if you hit the president he's going to hit you back 10 times harder. So it's just politically expedient and the wise thing to do is just to try and keep your powder dry at least until after you --

HARLOW: Look, if you're only doing your job to get re-elected again, sure, but if you're doing your job for the reasons you're supposed to be doing your job which is executing the wishes of your constituents, then it's a different equation, right?

Symone, before you go, South Carolina congressional candidate Archie Parnell won overnight in the primaries. This is a Democrat who admitted a month ago that he attacked and beat his wife, his ex-wife 45 years ago. She said it caused her to fear for her life, she got a restraining order. What does it tell us about what is disqualifying and what is not disqualifying about someone who wants to hold public office right now in this Me Too moment.

SANDERS: Well, I want to know, Poppy, that these revelations came to light mere weeks before the primary. Archie Parnell's staff didn't know, many of his staff left him, he lost support from the local and national party folks supporting him, and so I think it's disconcerting. Many folks asked Archie Parnell to step down. He knew, though, that he could, in fact, win his primary but there is no place for, in my opinion, domestic abusers, sexual assaulters or predators regardless of what party you are in.

HARLOW: Symone Sanders, Alice Stewart, thank you, very, very much.

STEWART: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: So coming up, the scandals keep piling up for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. The new report on how the EPA chief allegedly used a top aide to try to help his wife land a job.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:27:04] HARLOW: EPA chief Scott Pruitt tangled up in yet another scandal, if you can believe it. According to the "Washington Post," Pruitt had a top aide reached out to Republican donors to see if they might have a job for his wife. Well, she eventually got a position with a conservative political group that supported Pruitt.

Let's talk about it with one of the reporters who broke this story, the "Washington Post" Josh Dawsey.

Yet another one. Walk us through this one.

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: So Scott Pruitt had one of his top EPA aides along with a donor work for several months to try and find his wife a paid position in Washington. Eventually she was given a job at the Conservative Judicial Crisis Network which is a right-wing group that pushes for conservative judges and really excoriates judges they don't deem conservative enough. But what's interesting to us about the story is that, you know, he relied on people who have business in front of the agency and a senior EPA aide for this extensive search to make sure his wife was getting a paycheck every month.

HARLOW: You also report that there was one of these people who they went to, approached to hire her, one of these donors said they couldn't hire her because of a conflict of interest.

DAWSEY: Right.

HARLOW: That's the right answer, but then what did the Pruitt team do?

DAWSEY: So that part of the story essentially derived from him reaching out to Doug Deason, who's a Texas donor who has oil and gas interests. Essentially when they asked Mr. Deason to consider hiring Marilyn Pruitt, Scott Pruitt's wife, Mr. Deason said that he could not because he has business in front of the EPA.

It was a bit interesting to us that the donor was the one who disclosed I have a conflict and this was not realized by the EPA immediately. But then Mr. Deason spent several months brainstorming other potential jobs for Marilyn Pruitt, Scott Pruitt's wife. He was ultimately unsuccessful so the Pruitts eventually relied on Leonard Leo who is kind of a conservative kingmaker in town, you know, runs the Supreme Court process for the administration.

HARLOW: Right.

DAWSEY: Took a lot of judges to get this other paid job.

HARLOW: Also held on that trip to Italy, the $100,000 trip to Italy.

DAWSEY: Correct.

HARLOW: Right? That Pruitt took that raised so many questions.

DAWSEY: Correct.

HARLOW: What is the EPA saying about this? What's Pruitt saying?

DAWSEY: The EPA saying they're referring this to their outside lawyers and they're not commenting at all, but it's, you know, the repeated stories of his effort to get her a Chick-Fil-a franchise.

HARLOW: Right.

DAWSEY: Using an EPA employee that we reported last week. You know, efforts to basically from months and months to find work for his life because Scott Pruitt was telling his aides that he needed more money and could not live in Washington on the salary of being an administrator alone.

HARLOW: But the president, you know, continues at least publicly to voice his support of Scott Pruitt.

DAWSEY: Correct.

HARLOW: Because he's executing the president's wishes inside of the EPA, right? Rolling back a lot of these regulations. The president just last week said, and I quote, "People are really impressed with the job that's being done at the EPA. Thank you very, very much, Scott," meaning Scott Pruitt. But yet even Republican Senator Joni Ernst said this is as swampy as swampy gets. So for these sort of anti-drain the swamp president, why is he willing to stick with Pruitt?