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Michael Cohen Defends Himself; Thai Soccer Team Found; North Korea Denuclearization; Trump Interviews Supreme Court Candidates. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 2, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:23] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

The Trump trade war escalates, global markets struggle, as Canada launches its retaliatory tariffs and the president suggests he's ready to expand the fight with China and with Europe.

Plus, it is interview time for the president's Supreme Court finalists. He promises a pick one week from today and is trying to navigate election year pressures in an evenly divided Senate.

And a giant North Korea credibility gap. The president says the crisis is over and a top aide says the nukes could be dismantled within a year. But new satellite images and a new U.S. intelligence findings suggest Kim Jong-un is telling the president one thing and doing another.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If it is true, they're saying one thing and doing another, nobody should be surprised. But here's what I would tell North Korea, there's no place for Donald Trump to kick the can down the road. You met with him in person. He's offering you a deal of a lifetime. I would take it.


KING: We begin the hour, though, with intriguing new comments from the president's longtime personal attorney and fixer. Michael Cohen now making clear that his past, I would take a bullet for Mr. Trump bravado is no longer offered. And Cohen is under investigation by the feds in New York. And one of the many questions is whether laws were broken when Cohen made that payment to buy the silence of adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

In an interview aired this morning on ABC News, Cohen says when it comes to loyalty, family comes first. Quote, to be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter and my son and this country have my first loyalty. Once I understand what charges might be filed against me, if any at all, I will defer to my new counsel, Gay Potrillo, for guidance. Cohen went on to say, and this is important, I will not be a punching

bag as part of anyone's defense strategy. I am not a villain of this story. I will not allow others to try to depict me that way.

That blunt talk is without a doubt a message to the president. But not a peep so far from the president's Twitter feed or from his legal team.

Kaitlan Collins is live at the White House.

Kaitlan, it is remarkable, the president, quiet. Why?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is remarkable, John. And the White House isn't saying if they've discussed this interview with the president yet. And we know the president's legal team isn't commenting either. But if you know this president at all, it does not seem as if it will be long before he does comment on this remarkable interview with Michael Cohen.

You'll recall back in April when it was reported that Cohen could flip on the president if it came down to that, the president spoke out saying he didn't think Michael would do something like that. But, if you read these comments from Michael Cohen this morning, he does not seem to be trying to appeal to the president here. He is saying that his family comes first. He didn't repeat his past praises and defenses of President Trump. And he also said two very important things where he would not comment here, John, one on Stormy Daniels and that payment made to her before and in the past he has said he acted on his own. He would not repeat that same statement during this interview with George Stephanopoulos. And also he would not comment either way on whether the president was aware of that meeting at Trump Tower in June with Donald Trump Jr. and those Russian officials beforehand, saying he simply couldn't comment.

He also broke with the president on several key things as far as the credibility of the FBI. He said that they were polite when they raided his home, his office, his hotel room. He condemned Russia for meddling in the election. And he also said that he did not believe Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling and whether there was any collusion with Trump officials was a witch hunt. So those very stunning comments from Michael Cohen there. Someone who, in the past, John, has said he would jump out of a building before he turned on President Trump. Now that seems to be called into question here.

KING: Yes, it sure looks like, Kaitlan, his own personal survival instinct kicking in.

Kaitlan Collins live at the White House, appreciate that.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Catherine Lucey with "The Associated Press," CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Michael Warren with "The Weekly Standard," and CNN's Sara Murray.

It is striking to hear, again, if you know the history of Michael Cohen, the loyalty to the president and to businessman Donald Trump, before he was a candidate. I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone's defense strategy. I am not a villain of this story and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way.

Now, Michael Cohen knows more than we know. The president knows some of the things Michael Cohen knows. You don't do this interview unless you're trying to send a message to the president, right?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He seems to be doing that. And the strange thing is, it's noon here in the east on Monday and the president has not said a word about this. That's five hours after it first aired and even more after it appeared online. So that, to me, is the unusual thing. The president, obviously, processing this, watching it very carefully.

There's no one, we should point out, in the president's orbit who has been around as long, who's not a member of the family, than Michael Cohen. So this is very intriguing on every level. You get the sense that something much more is happening with Michael Cohen's case this week.

[12:05:14] KING: And were banking laws violated? Were campaign finance laws violated? In just one piece of the Cohen investigation, his business dealings broadly are under investigation. But he's the one who paid Stormy Daniels $130,000. He has consistently said it was his idea. He just looks for potential trouble spots, saw this as a potential trouble spot, thought, I have to help my friend, the presidential candidate, and pay her off to buy her silence. He knew nothing about it.

George Stephanopoulos asked him if he stood by that. He said, I want to answer. One day I will answer. But for now, I can't comment further on the advice of my counsel.

Sara, that is a shot at the president. I know the details of what happened here.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it absolutely is. You know, he -- the way that he is holding back in these interviews, that he refuses to answer all of these questions on the advice of counsel, I mean I do think it is a warning to the president. The question is, what is he trying to say? What does he want out of this? I mean is he really sending a message to prosecutors that he's going to cooperate with them? Or is he sending a message to the president, hey, I need help with my legal fees, hey, I need you to promise me a pardon, hey, I need some kind of protection. Because if you are serious about negotiating a plea deal, this isn't the way to do it. It's not to go out there before you're even facing charges, before you've had substantial conversations with prosecutors and just put everything in -- on the table and say, I'm willing to cooperate.

Now, maybe there's a lot more going on behind the scenes that we're not aware of. Certainly there is when it comes to the investigation. But it is a confusing way to go out there and try to begin a plea deal negotiation.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": But certainly the thing that we've been watching all along is, will Cohen cooperate? And the big question mark on that is just how much he knows because, as you said, he has worked with Donald Trump for a very long time. He was the fixer. So he knows all about all aspects of the business, not just this payment to Stormy Daniels.

And that, I think, is the big thing now is, if he does cooperate, what does that mean for the president? We know that at points in time the president has been more concerned about this investigation and the Cohen implications than the Russian probe.

KING: Right. The president gets heated talking about this without a doubt. So --

MICHAEL WARREN, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": And I think it's important to note that one thing that we did learn in this interview with George Stephanopoulos is that apparently at the end of the week Michael Cohen's going to be getting a new lawyer and that joint defense agreement with him and the president on this is going to be over. That was a real important sign that Michael Flynn was willing to flip. We might be seeing that happening as well with Michael Cohen. Which, for all the reasons we've discussed here, would be really extraordinary.

KING: Right. And, again, to come back to what he said, I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone's defense strategy. That's Michael Cohen now to George Stephanopoulos. This is Michael Cohen in September 2017 to "Vanity Fair," I'm the guy who stops the leaks. I'm the guy who protects the president and the family. I'm the guy who would take a bullet for the president.

MURRAY: It's a very different change in tone when you're staring down, you know, the barrel of a possible indictment, you know? He hasn't been charged yet. He hasn't been indicted yet. We're waiting to see what happens next.

But I think it's impossible to ignore what's going on with Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman. And, obviously this is a Mueller investigation, whereas what Michael Cohen is facing is in the Southern District of New York. But Paul Manafort is facing 300 years in prison if he is convicted in two different trials, in two different courthouses. And so if you're Michael Cohen and you're saying, this is what this guy is facing for all of this work he did completely separate from the presidential campaign, how could you not be worried about what could potentially be coming your way?

The one caveat that I would add is that we don't know what prosecutors want from him, if anything.

KING: Right.

MURRAY: We don't know if they believe that he has information that they don't already have. They could say our case against you is airtight. They may be getting information from other means that we're not aware of. And so it is a little bit of a roll of the dice to say, I'm willing to cooperate, I'm willing to provide information, when you don't necessarily know what investigators want. KING: And, to me, that's the great mystery because Michael Cohen knows

a lot more than we do. And even though he says he hasn't been told yet, he knows. His lawyers are telling him where the investigators are pushing on and where he thinks his jeopardy is, assuming there jeopardy, if the investigation's still going on. The president knows about -- he has acknowledged belatedly, though Rudy Giuliani, reimbursing Michael Cohen for the Stormy Daniels' payment. He knows how that was done. He knows the tick-tock. He knows if there were other payments.

So is Michael Cohen here essentially saying, as some people think, Mr. President, here's your once last chance to pardon me?

ZELENY: He certainly could be. It's one of the options. I mean it's -- it's difficult to know what message he's sending, but he certainly did that interview. A very unusual interview, we should also point out, with George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America," not on camera, not live, the two of them essentially sitting down in a hotel room over the weekend and having a conversation on the record, obviously.

So Michael Cohen is doing this for a reason.

KING: Right.

ZELENY: We don't know exactly what the reason is. But, again, as I said before, I'm surprised the president, at least publicly, has not responded. Has he privately? We have no idea. But that is something that's fascinating that's going on behind the scenes at the White House because I have very little doubt the president was not watching that today.

[12:10:01] KING: We're going to keep an eye on this story.

Want to turn now to some breaking news. Some very positive breaking news out of Thailand. Against some extremely slim odds, a group of 12 boys and their soccer team coach have been found after going missing some nine days ago in a complex cave system in the mountains of northern Thailand. This according to a high ranking official involved in the exhaustive search and rescue operation. The boys, age 11 to 16, their health is being evaluated now.

CNN's Mark Philipps joins us on the phone. He's on his way now to this site where the boys have been found.

Mark, I've been following this story over the past week or so. And people have been talking about the rains and the flooding and the increasingly unlikely odds here. This is in some ways a miracle.

MARK PHILIPPS, CNN PHOTOJOURNALIST (via telephone): It is a miracle, John. It's been nine days, as you said. And the Thai authorities never gave up hope on these boys.

Now, at the moment, all 12 boys and the coach have been found alive in a section of the cave called Pasio Beach (ph). And at the moment they're too weak to move. So they're going to assess what they can do with them before taking them back out of the cave. But it could -- they may not come out of the cave for another 12 hours depending on how -- what their health condition is and how weak they are.

They've been pushing for this for nine days and finally they made it to Pasio Cave (ph). And I think there's a relief, not only from the authorities, but from the whole nation as well that have been following this story for this period.


KING: I know you're rushing to the scene, Mark. Any indication of where the breakthrough came? How it came? I was hearing reports about the several different ways they were trying to, you know, get into -- get access, or at least to get some sort of audio equipment in through different places. Any indication of what brought this about?

PHILIPPS: It's just relentless. They just kept on going at it and at it and at it. They -- initially they pushed into the cave earlier on, but then, because of the -- it is the monsoon season here and the rains came through -- they were actually pushed back. And then they had all the national community come in and we had the Americans here, the Australians, the Swedes, the Chinese, all came in to give a helping hand.

And today they got up to a section called the t-section (Ph). Now, the t-section was around about 100 -- about 500 meters from Pasio Beach, where they were going to push to, and they got caught there for a while because the water was actually moving quite quickly through the place. And they were figuring out how to get down here because also the cave system was quite narrow. It was only good enough for one person to slide down there. And with all the equipment and the tanks, the divers, they actually had to make that cave wider so people could actually move down the cave.

Now, you've got to remember, a lot of these cave systems, they are still under water. The water hasn't subsided. And they've been desperately trying to pump this water out over the last couple of days to the tune of around about 1.5 million liters an hour at one stage there. And still the water wasn't moving that much.

But today they seemed to have -- they got through to Pasio Beach and they found the boys.


KING: A remarkable story. Mark Philipps from CNN, appreciate your reporting on this breaking news.

Again, 12 boys and their coach found alive. The question now, what kind of condition are they in? We'll continue to keep up on that one. Appreciate the live report from Mark there.

Up next for us here, the president said the North Korea nuclear threat is over. But the latest evidence from his own defense intelligence agency suggests that's not the case at all.


[12:17:22] KING: Welcome back.

A major finding from a U.S. intelligence agency challenges President Trump's optimistic talk about the North Korean nuclear threat. The president says Kim Jong-un promised to give up his nukes and so the treat is over. The president's national security adviser, just yesterday, said North Korea could denuke within a year.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: And we have developed a program, I'm sure that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be discussing this with the North Koreans in the near future, about really how to dismantle all of their WMD and ballistic missile programs in a year. If they have the strategic decision already made to do that and they're cooperative, we can move very quickly.


KING: The "if" there though is pretty important. CNN has learned the Defense Intelligence Agency believes North Korea has no intention of fully surrendering its nuclear program, at least for now. That's according to an administration official familiar with the agency's findings. A second U.S. official says Kim's true intentions will soon best tested. The administration now preparing a detailed list of tasks to begin that denuclearization process.

Let's bring in CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Barbara, the DIA seems to have a very different take than the commander in chief.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: They do at the moment, John. You bet they do. You know, you'll remember that Mr. Trump said before the summit, before he sat down with Kim, that he would know within a minute if Kim Jong-un was serious about all of this. Well, not so fast. The DIA, the military intelligence agency, says their latest assessment is that Kim won't give up his nuclear weapons, and instead, at least for now, will try and hide what he has. And that is absolutely critical. If he can hide missiles, if he can hide warheads, if he can hide his ability to make nuclear fuel, this makes it very difficult for the U.S. under any circumstances, to know what is going on inside North Korea.

They think he's likely to sign some sort of document to sit and talk to the U.S. as long as possible. You know, why wouldn't he? He can string it out for months. But to actually give up his nukes, to let inspectors in, to verify what is there, to make an honest and candid declaration of what he has, the Pentagon is very skeptical about all of that right now.

I think they believe that the key would be, is Kim really feeling the pain of sanctions. It's that sanctions pain, if you will, making his economy very tough on him, that the U.S. believes originally brought him to the table. Well, maybe the pain isn't so hard right now and he wants to see if he can power through all of it. The Pentagon Defense Secretary, James Mattis, very much in a show me, wait and see attitude. They want to see Kim give up the goods.


[12:20:06] KING: Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon. Maybe don't trust but absolutely verify. Maybe we should twist the old words of the past and bring them into this scenario here.

Barbara, appreciate the live reporting there. A big story.

President Trump has been told he can build a generational legacy with his next nominee to the Supreme Court, but one lone Republican senator could stand in his way.


KING: Welcome back.

It is interview week at the White House as President Trump promises to settle on a new Supreme Court pick by next Monday, one week from today. A source telling CNN, President Trump and his White House counsel, Don McGahn, working the phone over the weekend seeking the advice of advisers, supporters and key members of Congress. No matter who the president picks, that nominee's chances hinge on just a handful of key senators. One of those, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine says her test, crystal clear.

[12:25:02] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade, because that would mean to me that their judicial philosophy did not include a respect for established decisions, established law.


KING: You might remember during his campaign, Donald Trump said he would only appoint judges who oppose abortion rights. Vice President Pence promised the Roe decision would be tossed onto the ash heap of history. He said that during the campaign. But now, with a better sense of how the confirmation dance works, the president says he won't ask candidates to get specific about abortion rights.


REPORTER: Are you looking for somebody who would overturn Roe v. Wade?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, you know, it's a -- it's a great group of intellectual talent, but we really, you know, they are generally conservative. I'm not going to ask them that question, by the way. That's not a question I'll be asking. But it is a group of very highly talented, very brilliant, mostly conservative judges.


KING: "BuzzFeed's" Tarini Parti joins our panel. It is interesting. The president, a, he's learned from the campaign, don't talk loose about this, especially now the Senate's even more closely divided when Neil Gorsuch was confirmed, 51-49 now, you really can't afford to lose anybody on the Republican side, although, if you do, one or two, you got to get to the Democrats.

Disciplined process. There are interviews this week. The president likes this and he likes to sort of play with us and play with the media about how he's going about this.

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "BUZZFEED NEWS": Right. This is, again, like the -- we were talking about it earlier, like "The Bachelor" playing out, who will get the rose at the end kind of suspense that the president likes to drive. But it's played out pretty much how we would expect. This is how the Gorsuch process played out. We saw that, you know, similar concerns came up with Roe v. Wade. But, in the end, both Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins voted for Gorsuch. So that's the expectation at this point. But it will depend on how much message discipline the president can keep in the next week.

KING: Right. And if you look at the polling, this is a Kaiser poll, Kaiser Family Foundation, 67 percent of Americans say, no, the Supreme Court should not overturn Roe v. Wade. Only 29 percent say, yes. Among Republicans, it's 53, yes, 43 percent, no. Democrats and independents and overwhelmingly against opposing Roe v. Wade.

Most people, most legal scholars will tell you, they don't think the court would ever overturn Roe v. Wade. But the likelihood is a more conservative court, you replace Kennedy with somebody more conservative, and they will green like more state restrictions, maybe on the 20 week question, other viability questions, maybe on parental notification, other restrictions, if you will.

But there's a way to go through this. As we focus on this issue and as we should, because it's a very important issue, let's go back to Neil Gorsuch. Susan Collins had the same concerns then. Maybe not as magnified because you were replacing Scalia with a Gorsuch, not Kennedy, the swing vote. But Gorsuch was asked the question and he knew just how to answer it.


JUSTICE NEIL GORSUCH, SUPREME COURT (March 27, 2017): Senator, as the book explains, the Supreme Court of the United States has held, Roe versus Wade, that a fetus is not a purposes for purposes of the 14th Amendment. And the book explains that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you accept that?

GORSUCH: That's the law of the land. I accept the law of the land, senator, yes.


KING: A dozen years earlier, the same question for the man who is now Chief Justice John Roberts. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT (September 13, 2005): I do think that it is a jolt to the legal system when you overrule a precedent. A precedent plays an important role in promoting stability and even handedness. It is not enough, and the court has emphasized this on several occasions, it is not enough that you think the prior decision was wrongly decided.


KING: Is there any reason to think, no matter who the president picks, that that's the answer you're going to get, that, I'm not going to talk about specific cases. Of course I will respect precedent. And then, I'll call them as I see them.

ZELENY: That is the road map there. And the president saying on Friday on Air Force One that he's not going to ask them directly. Well, what he didn't say is, he doesn't have to. All that work has been done already.

The list of 25 people here, it is a list that has put forward basically very acceptable alternatives, options, you know, an array of choices that the Federalist Society has come up with. So there's -- you know, unless something happens out of left field, the president said he's going to pick someone from that list. So he does not have to have that conversation directly with them.

One thing I am being told, the president increasingly, over the weekend, is intrigued by the idea of a woman conservative Supreme Court justice. He likes the optics of that. He likes the politics of that. And would that help persuade Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski over? Who knows? We don't know. But there are some very qualified women on that list. So that is something that he is thinking about, I'm told.

But, look, we've seen this play out before. The question is, would Senator Collins vote the same way because it's the Kennedy seat?

KING: Right.

ZELENY: We don't know the answer to that. But think of those Democrats, like you said. I mean it's not just these Republicans.

[12:29:55] KING: Right. Joe Manchin in West Virginia. Joe Donnelly in Indiana. Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota. I could give you a couple more. But just those three under intense pressure, up for re-election, in states the president won by 40 something points in West Virginia, 20 something points in Indiana, 20 or 30 points in North Dakota. Tough for them to break with the president, but the liberal base of the Democratic Party is going to be demanding no votes.