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Pompeo Heads to North Korea; Trump's Narrowed Supreme Court Candidates; Political Ads Aimed at Senators; Trump Heads to Montana. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 5, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:27] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Testing time in North Korea. The secretary of state arrives with one giant task, move from a vague promise to a detailed plan. That amid sights Kim Jong-un has no intention of giving up his nuclear arsenal.

Plus, the president says Congress needs to pass new immigration laws now. That's the same president who did nothing to help House Republicans who were trying to pass a bill just last week.

And Congressman Jim Jordan insists he was not aware of sexual abuse during his days as a wrestling coach. But some athletes insist he did know. The congressman suggests yet another deep state plot.


REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: The timing is kind of interesting. It's right after the big hearing with Mr. Rosenstein. It's right when there's all this talk about a speaker's race.


KING: Back to that story later.

But we begin today with the hard work ahead for the secretary of state. Right now Mike Pompeo headed to Pyongyang for a meeting with North Korean negotiators. His spokesman insisting to reporters last hour the United States is not backing away from full denuclearization. Pompeo's job now is to prove it and to take the vague promises of the president's Singapore summit and produce something concrete. Experts say an inventory, a timeline, access to the weapons, access for weapons inspectors would all count as clear concessions from Kim Jong- un.

But the smart money is on more stalling, not sudden North Korean transparency. Intelligence reports just this week indicated a buildup at North Korea's nuclear sites and provided visual proof, satellite images, President Trump's declaration that North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat is, at a minimum, wildly premature.

CNN's Will Ripley is live for us in Beijing.

Will, set the table, the stakes for the secretary of state.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what Secretary Pompeo has to do is to basically change the entire way that we view North Korea's nuclear program because all we have had to go on for so many years are satellite images, because North Korea keeps those facilities highly under wraps. It is one of their most secretive programs in one of the most secretive countries on earth. And now he's essentially going to sit down and ask for the North Koreans to be fully transparent with a nation that up until a couple of months ago was their sworn enemy for more than six decades.

And even though it does seem -- the good news here, that Secretary Pompeo and Kim Jong-un have a good rapport and obviously the meeting in Singapore seemed to go well between President Trump and Kim Jong- un. President Trump talked about how he trusted them. Well, gosh, that trust is really going to be put to the test now because what the United States wants, as you mentioned, no secrets, a full inventory, how many warheads, where are the missiles being manufactured, where are the nuclear materials being enriched.

And that is a huge ask for a country that has relied on its nuclear arsenal to get them to this point, arguably, that gives them leverage and that gives them, frankly, protection to make sure that they keep their government in place. That's how they have always justified this nuclear program. They say above any economic benefits of a better relationship with the United States, they want to make sure that their government and their leader, Kim Jong-un, stays in power.

So to convince them to allow outside inspectors to actually visit these sites that we've seen on satellite, John, well, to say that it's a large task facing Secretary Pompeo, that's an understatement.

KING: An understatement indeed.

Will Ripley for us in Beijing. We'll keep in touch in the important days ahead.

With me in studio here to share their reporting and their insights, Margaret Talev of "Bloomberg," Perry Bacon of FiveThirtyEight, our CNN analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, and Karoun Demirjian with "The Washington Post."

Admiral, let me start with you. You've been about this business. Set the expectations in the sense that, look, everybody's skepticism is real. Everybody's skepticism is deserved. History tells us --North Korea's history is it will stall, it will lie, it will cheat.

How does Secretary Pompeo push but not push too far?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, the expectations I think we need to keep them realistic for this meeting. And it's possible that it could -- there could be some breakthroughs. I rather doubt that. I think that the North has been stalling long enough that Pompeo felt

like he had to go. He was supposed to meet with the Indians with Defense Secretary Mattis tomorrow. They had to cancel that so that he could fly to Pyongyang. So that tells you there's a little bit of ad hoc nature to these discussions and negotiations.

The North Koreans know that under Pompeo, there's not a lot of staffing to support these talks and they -- that suits them just fine. So he has to go to try to bring something home, something tangible.

Now, I will say, North Korean watchers have told me that the North know they need -- they know that they need to produce something as a result of this meeting. Now, what it is, we don't know. And I agree with Will there, I think it's going to be exceedingly hard to think that we're going to come away from this with a solid inventory and some sort of verification regime on the back end. But I do think it's possible for him to come home with something tangible.

[12:05:09] KING: And the president has a point when he says things are better. Tensions are reduced. Certainly when North Korea was testing missiles almost on a weekly basis, threatening nuclear holocaust and the like (ph).

The president, though, tweeted this just the other day. Many good conversations with North Korea. It is going well. In the meantime, no rocket launches or nuclear testing in eight months. Again, that's good news. All of Asia is thrilled. Only the opposition party, which includes the fake news, is complaining. If not for me, we would now be at war with North Korea.

Again, it is better. Tensions are down. North Korea's not threatening nuclear war. The president's not saying locked and loaded, fire and fury. But the satellite images suggest that Kim Jong-un's verbal promise or vague declaration in Singapore to do something is not happening. How do you move the ball?

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "BLOOMBERG": Well, North Korea is a problem because of North Korea, obviously, not because of accurate news reporting or people with critical minds who want to raise normal and appropriate questions about the president's strategy. But I think Secretary Pompeo is trying to thread this needle between the president's obvious interests in keeping dialogue open and keeping sort of hostile gesture at bay with actually getting anything out of it.

And I think even though there are different scenarios, the way the president has handled Putin and Russia is somewhat instructive in terms of his philosophy that it doesn't make any sense to rattle their cage publicly, that it's better to praise them publicly and have the -- maybe have the intel agencies do the work they're doing.

But what we don't really yet know with Russia, and I think what we don't yet know with North Korea, is, what's the president really doing behind the scenes? What's he really supporting behind the scenes? And at what point with North Korea is the president actually absorbing what the intel community is telling him and saying, oh, that's a problem, we're going to have to get more serious about this.

KING: Right, a defensible strategy if you get results. You can call Kim Jong-un honorable. A lot of people can cringe, say look at the human rights record, look at the years of repression of their own people. If you get results, you say, OK, I guess.

But David Sanger wrote it this way in "The New York Times" the other day about the president's -- the way he approaches these things. He's complaining a good meeting with a good outcome essentially.

It also reveals that perhaps the most critical national security crisis Mr. Trump faces, his tendency to conflate a good meeting with a good outcome. It is as if President John F. Kennedy meeting with the Soviet Union's Nikita Khrushchev for the first time in Vienna in 1061 had declaring the Cold War solved.

The Cuban Missile Crisis broke open 16 months later.

Is that exaggerated or is that a fair question for the moment?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I mean, look, generally speaking, President Trump is his own PR factory, right, saying we might be at war with North Korea had it not been for me. Yes, it would have been his decision about whether or not to actually engage in that war, is now saying, you know, oh, well, it's the meetings that we've had that I've saved this situation. Again, that's his own selling of what has been transpiring.

Every North Korea expert has said, unless you get to the point where you actually have an itemization of what the nuclear facilities and resources are and actually -- you know, a plan to let in inspectors and actually -- to adjudicate what's still going on and what isn't, you don't actually have anything compared to the past rounds of trying to negotiate with North Korea.

Now, you're right, you don't start there at the outset in the first meeting or two. This is all building goodwill is an important thing. But the president is trying to play up what he has, which is not what matters at this point. And the question of if he can get to what matters really is maybe not dependent only on him, because as long as North Korea has leverage points and other sponsors and -- that are outside of Washington, it's a much more complex, multilayered game.

KING: And so which Mike Pompeo -- if this is a fair question -- is at the table, Congressman Mike Pompeo, who was a hawk when it came to North Korea, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who was very skeptical when it came to North Korea, or the secretary of state, who has to please his boss, part of his job is pleasing his boss, who wants this to go well and wants everybody to believe, as he has repeatedly said, the threat's gone?

PERRY BACON, SENIOR WRITER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: Probably the last one just because of the nature of this, the way trump has hyped it. They've got to find some kind of deal somewhere. And there is a need for that. I do think like looking at this moment by moment though, the Iran deal

process took something like three or four years. So I think we are in a long-term process. And I'd be curious if Trump sort of ratchets this down a little bit. He's -- actually he's raised the level because this happened really quickly, but in reality it's probably not going to happen. We're looking to have some kind of multiyear, very complicated agreement here, somewhat like what we had with Iran. And I think that's going to be very detailed and complicated and require a lot of meetings, not a few meetings, and that will not be solved over tweets.

KING: Requires a process. Requires patience. Requires the deep -- team that you spoke of. This is an administration that mocks the Iran process and yet you would argue they need something similar to the Iran process.

As we do that, again, some of the president's critics, sometimes, some people -- the president would say -- they go to hyperbole. But here's George Will writing in "The National Review" today, the most dangerous moment of the Trump presidency will arrive when he who is constantly gnawed by insecurities and the fear of not seeming what he is not, strong, realizes how weak and childish he seems to all who cast a cool eye on Singapore's aftermath. The danger is of his lashing out in wounded vanity.

Now, that -- that making the argument in George Will's way that if Pompeo has to walk away and say, Mr. President, they're not serious, that the president will lash out, as opposed to saying, look, they're not launching missiles anymore. The rhetoric has been turned down. Let's get into a process. We'll have to explain it to the American people it's not happening overnight, but at least a process of talking is better than a process of war.

[12:10:17] KIRBY: Absolutely. Look, now, John, is the time for the details. This is where the hard work begins. And I think we'll have a great sense when Pompeo comes back about exactly what that work looks like.

But I did use the Iran deal as an example a little bit ago because I mean I know it's not a perfect model, but the minutia of detail in the Iran deal shows you just how hard this is in terms of, you know, how do you get control of enriched uranium and eliminate the functionality of centrifuges. This is hard work. And the difference is, North Korea actually has a nuclear program. Iran didn't. So it's even harder now.

And as Will rightly pointed out, there was no incentive for them to get rid of it. So this is where the work begins. And it's important, as you rightly say, or George Will says, for the president to calm down a little bit and be patient.

KING: Well, we wish the secretary of state, regardless of political party, the best of luck. We'll keep on top of this one over the next few days.

Up next for us here, the interviews are done. The attack ads are on the air. And the president closing in on a giant decision.


[12:15:20] KING: Welcome back.

An official telling CNN the president has wrapped up his scheduled interviews for the Supreme Court vacancy after meeting, discuss -- talking at least with at least seven contenders. He's believed to have narrowed the list now down to two or three candidates. And he's expected to finalize his decision today or Friday. The announcement planned Monday. The top three contenders, at least at this hour, Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and Raymond Kethledge. All three are young. Unlike some of their competition, all three were Supreme Court clerks. Coney Barrett for Justice Scalia, Kavanaugh and Kethledge, both proteges or the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Judges Kavanaugh and Kethledge have far more experience on the federal bench than Judge Coney Barrett.

Now, the president, we know, and we're told, loves the idea of Ivy League educations. Kavanaugh, the only one of these three to have graduated law school from an Ivy League college.

Jackie Kucinich from "The Daily Beast" joins our panel now.

All right, judge Jackie.


KING: I like that. That's got a good ring to it. It's got a good ring.

Look, you see the competition now. You hear about phone calls to the White House staff. Senators trying to get through to the president.


KING: The attack ads out there in the state. These three finalists, the establishment pick would be Brett Kavanaugh.


This president likes to thrive himself on being anti-establishment. So why would it be Brett Kavanaugh?

KUCINICH: Brett Kavanaugh is -- he's a safe pick. He is someone -- his view of executive power, I think, is the biggest check mark in his category because he was involved in the Ken Starr investigation early in his career. And after the fact he wrote an opinion about how presidents shouldn't be subject to criminal or civil lawsuits when they're in office.

Now, Trump might be looking down the field and saying, hey, I'd like a guy -- if, in fact, something happens where the Supreme Court would be handling that, he might like a guy in there who has a -- that kind of view of executive power.

KING: That's a recusal in the making, perhaps. We'll see how that one goes.

The interesting -- one of the interesting thing is the ads already. We don't even know the pick yet.


KING: We don't even know the pick yet. Liberal groups going after Republicans for a key to this. Conservative groups going after Democrats for a key to this. Let's listen to this ad here. This is called "Demand Justice." It's a group founded by liberals. Brian Fallon (ph), who used to work for Hillary Clinton, used to work for Senate Democrats as well. This ad, this is targeting, in this case, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the two moderate Republican senators the Democrats hope will stand up and say no to the president.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator Susan Collins could be the deciding vote on Trump's pick for justice. She claims to support a woman's right to have an abortion, so why won't she rule out voting for Trump's anti- choice picks? Call Senator Collins and tell her to keep her word.


KING: This always fascinates me, even though it happens repeatedly now in today's politics. Why not save the money until you knew the pick? Are you actually trying to sway Senator Collins right now, or are you trying to tell your base, we're in the fight, even if you're not succeeding?

BACON: I would argue this actually makes a lot of sense. Once the nominee is -- the goals of the liberals should be, and I think is, to get Collins to say don't pick anyone from the list. Anyone on the list is going to have pretty similar conservative views. So the goal would have been to get Collins to say I don't want someone on the list. She's not willing to do that. So I think in some ways her -- yes, it's not clear to me Collins is going to go on the floor in a 49-49 vote and say no because the primary campaign against her will start the next day. So in reality they -- the liberals are trying to get her to push Trump to pick a more moderate person, which I don't think is going to happen.

KING: Right. And the flipside, let's listen to Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group, which got involved in the Gorsuch fight, has gotten involved in some other fights, in this case in favor of the president here, going after especially those Senate Democrats who are in states Trump won big who happen to be up for re-election come November.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tike they did before, extremists will lie and attack the nominee. But don't be fooled. President Trump's list includes the best of the best. And with your help, America will get another star on the Supreme Court.

(END VIDEO CLIP) DEMIRJIAN: Yes, I mean, look, whoever he picks cannot be Gorsuch part two. But the closer he gets to Gorsuch part two, the easier it's going to be for him to be able to win this argument going through the Senate. The Democratic groups have to come out early because the second that they wait for there to be a nominee, (INAUDIBLE) be able to point to Kavanaugh's resume, you know, from Ivy League schools or the fact that Amy Coney Barrett is a woman and why don't you want another woman on the Supreme Court, and then the stage is pretty much set for what that argument is.

KUCINICH: I think they also --

DEMIRJIAN: This is their one shot to kind of pre-empt that.

KUCINICH: And they need to get their base involved here because usually Democratic bases, traditionally, aren't involved in Supreme -- they're not as passionate about it as, you know, their conservative counterparts. So this also, looking down the field, this has to do with the midterms.


KING: Has a lot -- has a lot to do with the midterms.

TALEV: I think you have maybe even less than a handful of Republican senators who either because they believe in abortion rights or because they're not running for re-election and what the heck, have the potential to be like, you know, a stick in the wheel and slow this whole thing down past the elections. But it will be such a tremendously volatile, political statement to do that. But I'm not sure that any of those people that we have in mind have ever taken a step like that.

[12:20:25] And so if you are a strong supporter of abortion rights who's concerned that anyone on that list of 25 is -- probably leans in the other direction personally, ideologically, what you're looking for is a pick who has enough sort of respect or instinctive support for previous rulings, not to overturn previous rulings, that that would be what might outweigh whatever their personal beliefs are.

KING: And to your point about the wisdom perhaps of the ads targeting the Republicans. If you're Chuck Schumer and you're trying to get Joe Donnelly up for re-election in Indiana, you know, Joe Manchin up for re-election in West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp up for re-election in North Dakota, we could go on, Jon Tester, we're going to get to Montana in just a minute in the program. If you're trying to get them to come out and say, no, it's going to be hard anyway because of the politics of their state. But if a Susan Collins or a Lisa Murkowski comes out no, then it's easier.

BACON: Yes, if Collins and Murkowski are against then I think -- I think those Senate moderates really do matter here. If they come out for, which I think Manchin particularly might do, then Collins' vote becomes easier, one, and her vote doesn't matter, two. So she could -- you know, so I think that's a key (INAUDIBLE). I think you're going to see a lot of ads in those states by Democrats targeting their conservative members at some point too.

KING: I bet you're going to see a lot of Democrats waiting. Let the Republicans -- the Democrats, for whom this is a tough, risky choice, going to try to -- try to get the Republicans out there first and then make their decision.

All right, a lot of that ahead for the next weeks and months.

Next, though, as the president heads to Montana, as we just mentioned, a Democratic senator looking to hold on to a seat does something unpopular with progressives. He says thank you to the president.


[12:26:03] KING: Welcome back.

Thirty-six point five. A number to keep in mind as the president heads this hour to a big political rally in Montana, 36.5 percent is how often Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester votes in line with President Trump. That's according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight. Tester is up for re-election in a state President Trump carried by 20 points. So he has to worry a bit when the president comes to attack him. So, Tester's running this full-page ad in 14 newspapers across Montana, thanking the president for signing legislation pushed by the senator. It's a cooperative theme Tester also stresses in his campaign ads.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Washington's a mess, but Jon Tester's had so many bills signed into law by President Trump that only an auctioneer can tell you about them in one radio ad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're on the first bill, first bill now -- bipartisan legislation to reduce government waste, fraud, and abuse. Rounding out the list, bills fifteen and sixteen, even more for our veterans. Sold!


KING: And sold. It's clever.

BACON: It's pretty good.

KING: It's clever and it's smart. Again, in a state -- Tester won his last race by five points in the presidential year of 2012. This is, most people would argue, probably a better year for Democrats. However, the president carried your state by 20 points. When he's coming to talk about your opponent, you've got to be a little nervous, right?

TALEV: Yes. And don't forget that Jon Tester is the most public face of the senators who actively sought to block Ronnie Jackson's assent as head of the VA. And President Trump's still mad about it. Really mad. KING: Still mad about it. We have that, just because you mentioned

that, here's the president, this is back in April. Remember, Ronnie Jackson, the White House doctor, the president wanted him to lead the VA. Jon Tester called him candy man, saying that he was improperly too loose giving out prescription drugs, if you will. The president took note.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He took a gentleman who is a truly high-quality human being, and what they said about him.

Tester started throwing out things that he's heard. Well, I know things about Tester that I could say too. And if I said them, he'd never be elected again.


KING: The trademark, I would say, irresponsible innuendo by the president at the end there.


KING: But to your point, he got under the president's skin, which if you're Tester's opponent you like because that means the president's going to come a couple, two, three times between now and the election.

TALEV: Well, and it also means that if you're a voter in Montana who on balance likes the president, you're going to see Tester in particular as, you know, someone to vote against to protect the president. And President Trump is there trying to whip that sort of thing up. I think it's also safe to say that after running that ad, Jon Tester now cannot seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.

DEMIRJIAN: Probably.

BACON: You know, these people who are in the states that are opposite their politics, like Susan Collins in Maine is a good politician, whatever you think about her ideology. Jon Tester has won twice in a state like this. He is a very talented politician. The ad, I think, was very good. I think he's going to be able to figure out a way to, you know, hug Donald Trump in some ways and also distance himself in other ways. So I don't -- I think he's -- he's actually -- this is not -- he seems -- he's been preparing for this for a long time, you know, and I think he'll probably be fine within Trump attacks.

KUCINICH: He's also not unique. Joe Manchin has been doing the same thing -- the same thing.

KING: Right.

KUCINICH: It's really had -- I'd be hard pressed to think of something really negative Joe Manchin has said about President Trump. And there's a reason for that. Heidi Heitkamp as well. Now, she -- there's a few more examples, but she's also someone that the president reportedly likes.

KING: Right.

KUCINICH: So there are -- we're going see this in a couple different places, I think, where you have a Democrat snuggling up a little bit to the president, particularly -- and I would not be surprised if they use -- if they end up voting for the president's Supreme Court nominee. You've got -- they would have two, several of them, Gorsuch and T.K.

DEMIRJIAN: I think it's also just important to note the nuances that Tester was not saying in any of those ads that I like the president. He was saying the president likes me and what I do, right?

KING: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: And so that's undercutting the message of the president saying, well, he got under my skin. Nobody who is -- unless they were very, very dedicated to President Trump, is going to remember Ronnie Jackson when they go to the polls in November. There's too much else that's happened in the meantime.

KING: Right. And -- sorry.

DEMIRJIAN: Aligning himself close to the president but putting it all on the president really.

[12:30:08] KING: And to the point when you had this national dynamic that works against you, meaning you're a conservative