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Denuclearization Questions Looms Ahead of Trump-Kim Summit in Hanoi; Michael Cohen on the Hill for Public and Private Hearings This Week. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired February 24, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[16:00:00]

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's been no nuclear testing, no missiles, no rockets.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, STATE OF THE UNION: Do you think North Korea remains a nuclear threat?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Yes.

WHITFIELD: Plus --

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Here we are on the bridge which was supposed to be a scene of humanitarian aid passing in to Venezuela. It's an acute crisis.

WHITFIELD: Crisis in Venezuela swells as the protests turn deadly and soldiers abandon their posts. The desperate need for aid grows.

"Tools of Satan." The words Pope Francis used today to describe priests who abuse children.

CNN NEWSROOM starts now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Hello again, everyone. And thank you so much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un are gearing up for round two. The two men will have their second one-on- one summit this week in Vietnam, and denuclearization is still the big topic on the table.

President Trump already setting up his pitch to Kim Jong-un on Twitter, saying this, "Chairman Kim realizes perhaps better than anyone else that without nuclear weapons his country could fast become one of the great economic powers anywhere in the world," end quote.

After the first summit, Trump claimed there's, I'm quoting him now, "no longer a nuclear threat," end quote, from North Korea and that he had a, quoting, "special bond" with Kim Jong-un. But a senior administration official says the U.S. does not know if North Korea has made the decision to denuclearize. And thus, there is no commitment to any timeline.

This morning Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN what the U.S. needs from this summit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POMPEO: You have to go back to where we entered this in the Trump administration to think about the path forward. We've always known this would take time and it would be a step forward and slower than the world has demanded. Right? This is a U.N. Security Council resolution that we're attempting to achieve by getting North Korea fully denuclearized.

We started when the Obama administration had a policy which was essentially test, pray, and cower. Right? Let them test missiles, let them test nuclear weapons, pray they stop, and cower when the North Koreans made a threat.

TAPPER: Well, they did have sanction also.

POMPEO: Not remotely what this administration has done. And they didn't built out a coalition, an enormous global coalition we built out through the United Nations to put that pressure in place to allow us to begin to have what have been real negotiations over the past now six or seven months.

I am hopeful that when President Trump and Chairman Kim get together, they'll make a big step towards realizing what Chairman Kim promised. He promised he'd denuclearize. We hope he'll make a big step towards that in the week ahead.

We've got work to do on the denuclearization. We've got remains back. We've had testings stopped. Those are all good things. Tension along the border is reduced. If you ask the military leaders frankly on both sides, from South Korea and North Korea, tensions are reduced.

There are many things he could do to demonstrate his commitment to denuclearization. Our negotiating team was on the ground the last three days. And they'll be on the ground again today. I'll be there tomorrow to continue these discussions.

There are -- I don't want to get into the details of what's being proposed or what the offers and counteroffers may be. But a real step, a demonstrable, verifiable step is something that I know President Trump is very focused on achieving.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: CNN's Sarah Westwood joins me live now from the White House.

So the president, you know, is getting ready to make this trip to Vietnam tomorrow morning. What more can we expect about this trip? SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, we can

expect to see the administration try to re-create some of the excitement and the anticipation that surrounded President Trump's first summit with Chairman Kim Jong-un in Singapore last year despite the fact that in the times since North Korea has retained its nuclear arsenal.

Now officials say the main goal of the second summit is to gauge North Korea's willingness to denuclearize. Now as we just heard Secretary of State Mike Pompeo say the administration hopes to see a clear, verifiable step toward that goal emerge from these meetings.

Now Trump leaves Washington, heads to Vietnam tomorrow. On Wednesday, the 27th, he'll kick off talks by having a face-to-face, one-on-one meeting with Chairman Kim followed by expanded bilateral meetings with members of each country's delegation. On Thursday the 28th, officials will wrap up those talks, and President Trump will head back to the U.S.

Now the White House is hoping to use the backdrop of Vietnam, which was once hostile toward the U.S., as an example of the kind of economic revival, the kind of relative prosperity that could be possible for the North Koreans if they were to soften their stance toward the U.S. Trump acknowledged that in a tweet, where he claimed that North Korea could be a great economic power without its nuclear arsenal.

But, Fred, for now North Korea does remain heavily sanctioned by the U.S., and there are no signs that that will be changing in the near future.

WHITFIELD: All right. Sarah Westwood, thank you so much, at the White House.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is taking a rather cautiously optimistic approach to this next sit-down between Trump and Kim.

[16:05:02] Here's more of that interview with Jake Tapper on "STATE OF THE UNION."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POMPEO: We know the history of the North Koreans making promises and making commitments, lying, taking American money, when President Clinton said we've got this resolved back in 1994.

This administration is not going to do that. We -- we have charted a different path. Frankly, we've been criticized for taking that path, where we work, we negotiate, and then the two people who can actually effectuate the denuclearization of North Korea and a brighter future for the North Korean people will gather for a second time.

We have economic sanctions in place. We know the standard for relieving those sanctions. And I am very hopeful that we'll make a substantial step towards achieving the full denuclearization in a verifiable way in North Korea. The South Koreans, the Japanese have been great partners in this, and we're very hopeful we can get a good outcome.

TAPPER: Has the Trump administration changed the conditions for sanction relief from complete denuclearization, as you said in that clip, to substantial reduction of risk?

POMPEO: No, Jake. There's no change. Remember, these sanctions cover a broad array of activities. The core economic sanctions, the sanctions that prevent countries from conducting trade, creating wealth for North Korea, those sanctions are definitely going to remain in place. There are other things we could do. Exchanges of people, lots of other ways that North Korea is sanctioned today that if we get a substantial step and move forward, we could certainly provide an outlet which would demonstrate our commitment to the process as well.

We've made it very plain to Chairman Kim. The alternative to giving up his nuclear weapons is remaining a pariah state, remaining a nation that is unable to trade, unable to grow, unable to take care of its own people. We've made the argument that it would be far better, far better for Chairman Kim himself, his senior leadership, all of the people of North Korea.

We've also shared with him that we are happy to make sure that North Korea's security assurances -- they're worried about China. That the security assurances that they need can be provided in a way that is reasonable. And we have also told them there will be real opportunities, that countries from around the world will come, make his economy one that looks more like South Korea's economy than the one that exists in North Korea today.

Those are the kind of things -- I've had these conversations. I've been with Chairman Kim I think more hours now than anybody, including Dennis Rodman. We've had these conversations now over an extended period. And what Senator Coats -- what Director Coats said is the history. And we're hoping to move forward and change that history fundamentally.

TAPPER: North Korea wants the United States to end the declaration of war, of the Korean War. Is that on the table for the summit?

POMPEO: Talked about a lot of things, Jake. I'd just prefer not to get into where the negotiations may stand today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me right now, Max Boot. He is on the Council of Foreign Relations and a columnist for "The Washington Post."

Good to see you.

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Good to see you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: So how high are your expectations? Or do you feel like this second summit will be very much like the first one?

BOOT: My expectation, Fredricka, are firmly in check. I don't think this will be an exact replay of the first summit because there was a general feeling that very little happened there beyond the fact of the summit itself, that North Korea has not delivered on denuclearization. And President Trump is desperate for a foreign policy success. He really, really wants to lock away from Hanoi and proclaim that he has a great deal. So I would expect that there would be more action, at least cosmetically. I think there's a good chance that you will see a peace declaration ostensibly ending the Korean War.

I think you may see some stated concessions from North Korea such as a willingness to disable parts of the Yongbyon nuclear facility. You may well see President Trump relaxing sanctions. For example, allowing South Korea to embark on economic projects with North Korea, but none of that is going to change the bottom line, which is that, as the U.S. intelligence community assesses, North Korea is not going to give up their nuclear weapons, which they see as a guarantor of regime survival.

WHITFIELD: Well, do you think it's a clever approach that the president is taking, that being able to convince North Korea that there is economic growth on the horizon if only you'd cooperate with this right now?

BOOT: Well, I think that North Korea is actually proving more clever here than the United States. I think Kim Jong-un is actually running circles around President Trump because listen to what Mike Pompeo just said. He said that North Korea knows that it will remain a pariah state as long as it continues to develop nuclear weapons, but it knows no such thing.

It is not a pariah state. Its leader is having his second summit with the president of the United States. And the president of the United States just said, he has -- I have a great relationship with Chairman Kim. That is not the sign of a pariah state. What Kim Jong-un is doing very cleverly is he is getting a relaxation of sanctions while getting to keep his nuclear weapons.

Sanctions have already been de facto relaxed since the Singapore summit because China is not enforcing the sanctions in the way that they were previously. I expect to see sanctions relaxed even more. And so what Kim Jong-un is actually achieving is he is getting de facto international recognition of North Korea as a nuclear weapons state.

[16:10:06] And so I see the concessions coming mainly here from President Trump rather than from Kim Jong-un.

WHITFIELD: So you mentioned the gains from the North Korean perspective. What have been or what are the gains for the U.S. here?

BOOT: Well, there's no question that North Korea is acting less provocatively than it once was. It hasn't been testing nuclear or missiles -- nuclear weapons or missiles, but that occurred actually before the Singapore summit. They apparently made a decision at the beginning of last year that they were going to end their tests for the time being. There's certainly fewer provocations, less risk of war. I think those are all good things. But you have to wonder if the

concessions that were going -- or likely, that President Trump is likely to make will be reciprocated. I mean, I think what you're seeing already is that the goalposts are moving, and President Trump has said that he will be in no hurry to see North Korea denuclearize, which is very different from the message we had before the Singapore summit, which was that we would settle for nothing less than the complete verifiable denuclearization of North Korea. That's not really on the table right now.

WHITFIELD: And, you know, President Trump recently tweeted, you know, this to all of his critics. You know, so funny to watch people who have failed for years. They got nothing. Telling me how to negotiate with North Korea. But thanks anyway. So he is going into this rather confidently, thinking -- or at least that tweet portrays that he feels like he could get another win in his column.

BOOT: Well, we know what happens when you have a leader who's overly hubristic. I mean, there is no doubt that whatever happens in Hanoi, President Trump is going to claim it's the greatest deal ever and nobody else could have possibly got this. But a lot of that is going to be spin. I mean, for example, if there is a peace declaration, which I think is something that's likely to occur, President Trump will claim this is a huge victory, that he's a peacemaker, he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize because he's ending the Korean War.

But in fact, a peace declaration is something that North Korea has sought because they see that as being a prelude to the pull-out of U.S. forces from South Korea. So I would be careful about believing a lot of the spin you're going to hear from the White House before and after the summit.

WHITFIELD: All right. Max Boot, we'll leave it there for now. Thank you so much.

President Trump's former right-hand man, Michael Cohen, heading to Capitol Hill this week to testify before three committees, but can they trust anything he has to say? And what do they hope to learn?

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[16:16:42] WHITFIELD: President Trump's former attorney and long-time fixer Michael Cohen is set to testify before three congressional committees this week. Two of those hearings will be behind closed doors. But on Wednesday, Cohen will testify publicly before the House Oversight Committee. Lawmakers expect to ask Cohen about Trump's business plans for a tower in Moscow as well as other financial activities tied to Trump's business and his presidential campaign. Cohen will also be confronted about his previous false testimony.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM HINES (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The question is, OK, now that we know the truth, what are the follow-ups? It's going to be an interesting week in that regard because of course he'll appear in my committee. CHUCK TODD, NBC'S "MEET THE PRESS": Right.

HINES: After he appears publicly in the Oversight Committee. So we'll also have an opportunity to ask follow-up questions. And remember, there's always some question here about whether Michael Cohen feared retribution for his testimony.

TODD: Yes.

HINES: I don't think he's going to say a lot that is classified, but he may have some things that he doesn't feel comfortable saying publicly that he then wants to say either to the Senate or to the House Intelligence Committees in closed session.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. With me now, Ryan Lizza, chief political correspondent for "Esquire" and a CNN political analyst, and Shan Wu, a former federal prosecutor and a CNN legal analyst.

Good to see both of you.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to see you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And Shan, first off, I know you recently lost your dad. Our condolences to you and your family. Our thoughts are with you.

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Thanks, Fred. I appreciate that.

WHITFIELD: So, Shan, let me ask you then first, you know, is it likely that Michael Cohen, you know, will provide this new and credible testimony to, you know, help shed light on some of the questions surrounding the Russia investigation and President Trump?

WU: I think he will provide more credible testimony this time around because he knows what he can be confronted with. Just how much new light it'll shed, I think, is really questionable. I don't think that much, certainly not in the public testimony.

I think even in the private testimony he's going to be constrained by any ongoing investigations or any ongoing prosecutions. So I think it will provide some satisfaction and some corroboration, but I don't think it's going to shed too much new light on those issues. I think it could shed a lot of light on potentially damaging other kinds of issues with regard to the Trump organization and even the Trump family.

WHITFIELD: Financial dealings. So, Ryan, you know, his credibility, Cohen's credibility is constantly being challenged.

LIZZA: Yes.

WHITFIELD: But he also reportedly knows more than just about anybody, having been in Trump's, you know, orbit, his financial dealings for at least the last 10 years. Will credibility still be an issue for him? LIZZA: Yes, I think that's a great point. Whenever you have a

witness like this whose main crimes have been that he lied, you're going to have that issue. So I think it's going to be important for him, whatever he says, especially anything that is a dramatic accusation or dramatic revelation about the president or the Trump Organization, that he show his work, right. That he either through documentation or he has some way of backing up what he's saying.

On the other hand, you know, he lied in those other situations because he had -- he believed he had some incentive to lie, I suppose. He is going to jail now. He certainly does not want to lie to Congress again.

[16:20:07] So, you know, so far what we've seen from him is someone who is frankly chastened. And I think to a certain degree he's trying to turn things around and restore his credibility. But you're right. You know, looks like a trust but verify situation.

WHITFIELD: Right. Because it seems, you know, Shan, if any of those who were trying to play psychologists on TV or anywhere, you know, the lying was more testament to the loyalty, right, of the two.

LIZZA: Right.

WHITFIELD: But then now there doesn't seem to be any loyalty. You know, and if there was, it's a one-way street now. And so there is very little incentive, right, Shan, for, you know, Michael Cohen, I guess, to lie again.

WU: That's absolutely right. If anything, the incentive has really gone the other way now. I mean, by coming forth and looking very credible, he's in a better position to help himself even potentially down the road with the motion to reduce his sentence. And no matter what, this is just going to be terribly negative for the president. I mean, even in the best of light, even the most restrictive testimony is just going to be very negative for him.

And really, you know, we speculate a lot about the Mueller probe winding down, it's the end of the beginning for Mueller. I mean, this is really -- this is really the start of a lot of beginnings of troubles for the Trump administration.

WHITFIELD: Today Congressman Adam Schiff, you know, who chairs the House Intel Committee, says he will sue the Trump administration and use whatever legal options he has to make sure the Mueller, the Robert Mueller, report is made public after it goes to the U.S. attorney general Bob Barr. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: We will obviously subpoena the report. We will bring Bob Mueller in to testify before Congress. We will take it to court if necessary. And in the end, I think the department understands they're going to have to make this public. I think Barr will ultimately understand that as well. Barr comes into this job with two strikes against him. He applied for

the job by demonstrating a bias against the Mueller investigation. Indeed, that's part of the reason he was hired. He's also not been willing to commit to following the advice of ethics lawyers. Indeed, that was part of the reason he was hired.

If he were to try to withhold, to try to bury any part of this report, that will be his legacy, and it will be a tarnished legacy. So I think there'll be immense pressure not only on the department but on the attorney general to be forthcoming.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. So the Attorney General Bill Barr.

So, Shan, you know, can the Democrats use, you know, a subpoena to make the special counsel report public and force Robert Mueller, you know, to testify?

WU: I think they can certainly force Mueller to testify. And then there'll be a lot of fights about what he can testify to, just as there will be fights over any other witnesses they subpoena. I think on the pure legal question of can they somehow compel the full report to be disclosed, I think that's a tough one. And I also think that Barr has a lot of shields that he can use to stand behind to not release it fully.

Basically this notion he doesn't want to pull a Comey, that he wants to make sure that negative information doesn't come out if there's no actual criminal charging. So I think that's going to be a tough road to hoe. But I think they can produce a lot of information through investigation.

WHITFIELD: So, Ryan, you know, what are the political consequences for Republican, and the Trump administration, if indeed the attorney general decides not to make the Mueller report public? You know, not being transparent with the American people.

LIZZA: Yes.

WHITFIELD: The American voters leading up to another election.

LIZZA: Yes, well, first of all, it depends on what the report says. If for any reason it is not that incriminating, especially of the president and Trump himself believes that it's in his interest to have this report out, you better believe that it will become public. Right? And so I think that will determine part of the administration's response is how damning is the report?

But secondly, I think, you know, the Comey precedent is one that a lot of Democrats will be citing, right, is that, normally, the Justice Department -- say if it doesn't indict someone, they don't want to get too deep into the weeds publicly of the investigative work that went into it. But we saw with Hillary Clinton, everything was eventually given over to Congress. And even though she wasn't indicted, there's lots of information from the investigation that was bad for her and created a lot of negative news stories in her run.

So the Democrats will cite that and demand that the same standard apply to the Mueller investigation. So even if there aren't bombshell pieces to this report, the Democrats are going to want everything, and they're going to cite the Comey precedent.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll leave it there.

Ryan Lizza, Shan Wu, good to see you both. Thank you so much.

LIZZA: Thanks, Fred.

WU: Thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. The Bush family no stranger to the inner workings in Washington. Follow their rise to power in a CNN Original Series "THE BUSH YEARS" narrated by Ed Harris. It premieres next Sunday night, March 3rd, 9:00 Eastern only on CNN.

[16:25:03]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft could be charged with soliciting prostitution as early as tomorrow after getting caught up in a disturbing sex-trafficking sting in south Florida. Police say Kraft, one of the most successful team owners in NFL history, was soliciting sex at a $79 an hour day spa in Jupiter, Florida.

The 77-year-old billionaire is among more than 100 people whose names have been released by police. The massage parlor first raised suspicions when a health inspector discovered suitcases, unusual stashes of clothing, food, and bedding at the spa. And they say the women who worked there seemed particularly nervous, according to investigators. But in the months that followed, the investigation revealed that women were all but being held hostage, their passports taken away, and forced to eat off hot plates and sleep on the massage tables. Here's CNN's Polo Sandoval.

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POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Today, this Jupiter, Florida day spa is drawing a steady stream of smiling picture-takers. It's a spa, police say. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and dozens more men went to solicit sex. A spokesman for Kraft denies he engaged in any illegal activity. And CNN has been unable to reach the owners for comment. But police say what really happened inside this other area massage parlor is deeply disturbing.

On Tuesday, Martin County Sheriff William Snyder painted a sobering picture of women forced into sexual labor.

WILLIAM SNYDER, MARTIN COUNTY FLORIDA SHERIFF: It was clear that multiple women were working and living inside the spas. They were cooking on the back steps of the business. They were sleeping in the massage parlor on the massage tables. SANDOVAL: Sheriff Snyder's agency, one of many involved in the

massive human trafficking takedown that went public last week. The investigation uncovered a multimillion dollar international scheme that allegedly went from China to New York, and eventually Florida's popular treasure coast. At least seven suspected parlor operators have been named along with about 200 accused Johns, some more notable than others.

SNYDER: I would contend today that the men in the shadows are the monsters in this equation. And without moralizing, none of this would happen if those men were not availing themselves and participating in this human misery.

SANDOVAL: Police say this case is only the latest example of what they call a pervasive human trafficking problem plaguing the country, as experts have told CNN trafficking victims often suffer in silence, entering the U.S. legitimately.

MARTINA VANDERBERG, HUMAN TRAFFICKING LEGAL CENTER PRESIDENT: Most of the people who arrive at U.S. airports who are destined to be trafficking victims have no idea that they're going to be trafficked. They're coming to the United States for a much better life, and they think that they have hit the jackpot by coming to the United States. They don't know that they're going to be trafficked.

SANDOVAL: It's what happened in this case, according to investigators. They say most of the adult-aged women working in the parlors came from China, lured here with promises of legitimate work in spas. According to police records, the initial red flag came from a health inspector in July after she saw signs of people living in a local spa.

That tip led to the complex investigation that later resulted in the rescue of modern day sex slaves.

SNYDER: I think it's very safe to say without any hyperbole that this is the tip of the tip of the iceberg.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANDOVAL: And then there's the evidence. According to police, they have video footage showing not just Kraft but at least 24 other men actually visiting this spa in Jupiter, Florida, showing these men inside. Now, as far as what can potentially come next in the next 24 hours, Fred, I can tell you that state attorney general's office is going to be revealing all of the evidence that's been gathered by state, local, and federal authorities.

Come tomorrow, they could proceed with arrest warrants for potentially some of those roughly 200 men. And that includes, of course, Robert Kraft.

WHITFIELD: All right, Polo Sandoval. Thanks so much from Jupiter, Florida. I am joined now by Molly Ball, National Political Correspondent for Time, and Lynn Sweet, Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun Times, good to see both of you. And, you know, this is interesting because, you know, the president of the United States has decided to kind of weigh in, you know, in defense of Robert Kraft, you know, soon after he was charged.

But, you know, it's not the first time that we've heard from the president, you know, defending powerful men accused of sexual misconduct. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, it's very sad. I was very surprised to see it. He's proclaimed his innocence totally, and -- but I am very surprised to see it. Roger Ailes is a special guy. He's a good friend of mine. And we just spoke two minutes ago. I mean Roger Ailes is a great guy. And no, I have no problem.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You think he's being unfairly treated?

TRUMP: I think he's a person I know well. He's a good person. I think he may -- you know, I think he shouldn't have settled, personally. I think he shouldn't have settled.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, is an accused child molester better than a Democrat?

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Well, he denies it. He denies it. I mean if you look at what is really going on and you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it. He says it didn't happen. And, you know, you have to listen to him also. Well, we wish him well. He worked very hard. I found out about it recently, and I was surprised by it. But we certainly wish him well. It's obviously a tough time for him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:35:16] WHITFIELD: All right. Well, Molly, you know, why? Why does the president handle these matters like this? You know, using, you know, words like, you know, he strongly denies it. He said he's innocent. Why does he feel like this makes it better?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think there's just a clear pattern, as we heard and saw on those tapes of who President Trump tends to give the benefit of the doubt to in these situations. And it's very, very consistent. You know it goes all the way back to the campaign. And I think you can just see where his sympathies lie. And he hasn't seem fit to necessarily question those or try to feel empathy for the alleged victims in these cases.

Going back to when women accused him of things, and he said they were all lying. That's just repeatedly been the way he sees the world. And I think it is part of -- you know it dovetails with or perhaps even as the trigger for the politics of the Trump era where we've seen the electorate increasingly polarized along gender lines.

We've seen women rise up, particularly in defiance of the Trump administration. And so I think you see where he stands and what it's caused.

WHITFIELD: And so Lynn, you know, the common threads are, you know, these are, you know, mostly powerful men that he's speaking of, either people that he knows or he feels -- you know, that he's familiar with. You know, you talk about Roy Moore, Rob Porter, you know, Robert Kraft, all that he was commenting about. Why, you know -- I guess why does he feel, especially in this time of the, you know, the MeToo movement, that his defense with these allegations, that he would be supported in doing so?

LYNN SWEET, CHICAGO SUN TIMES COLUMNIST AND WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, let me play a little bit of political analyzer/psychologist, political psychology here. And that is that the president still hasn't grasped that he is commenting as a president, not as a buddy. And what makes this Florida situation more troublesome is we're not talking about prostitution with a woman who is a willing prostitute.

And we could have a debate another day on whether or not prostitution is legal. But the president did not understand in this situation is we're talking about women who were trafficked, sexual slaves. Trafficking, which is something his own administration is trying to work against.

WHITFIELD: Right, with the whole southern border. He's been very -- you know -- yeah, he's talked a lot about that.

SWEET: Right. So now, he is dealing with immigrants who are forced into sexual slavery. And -- forget about Robert Kraft. He could have talked about that. He could have shown some grasp of the whole situation. No matter how the question was tossed at him, he could have said, well, he's a friend, and I wish him the best. If he wanted to say that, then OK. Buddy to buddy thing.

WHITFIELD: He's had a few chances in which to kind of, you know, evolve in the way in which he's handled it, because there have been a volume but he is very consistent.

(CROSSTALK)

SWEET: Except he seemed oblivious to the bigger picture here. And that is its sexual slavery. That seems pretty close case that law enforcement authorities had there. And he seemed just absolutely oblivious that he talks about this himself with immigrants at other times, just not when he was asked about his buddy being involved.

WHITFIELD: Yeah. And Molly, he could avoid it by either -- by not saying anything. I mean, you know, you want the moral leader of this country to say something, to weigh in. But if it's not going to, you know, allay the concerns then he could refrain from saying anything at all.

BALL: I -- could he? I've never known a situation in which President Trump was able to refrain from saying whatever was on his mind. You know that's part of why some people like him, is he doesn't hesitate to sort of say whatever he feels rather than, you know, sort of doing the prudent no comment, which I suppose is technically a possibility but not something he ever really does.

I mean he was asked this question. It wasn't something he chose to bring up. And frankly, I don't know what people expect when they ask Trump this type of question since his responses do fit a consistent pattern. I think if it were a different president, he -- this might have just been seen as prudent reticence to say, well, let's not make any judgments. We don't know, you know, what his defense is going to be.

[16:39:53] But in this case, I think because there's such a clear pattern, because he has over and over expressed sympathy, I think it comes through as more than that. And as Lynn said, he doesn't seem -- the place that his mind goes is, oh, this poor guy tangled up in this mess. The place his mind goes isn't what's the larger issue here, how does this reflect on our immigration system, you know, what were these women being forced to do. His mind immediately goes to the powerful man who is now in trouble.

SWEET: And one other quick point here. If we could tie -- you know, all stories are one sometimes. These women came to the country legally through a legal point of entry.

WHITFIELD: Lynn Sweet, Molly Ball, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

SWEET: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: And we'll be right back.

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WHITFIELD: North Carolina calls for a new congressional election after possible voter fraud that was allegedly coordinated by a political operative working for the GOP candidate. When asked specifically about this case, President Trump said he condemns voter fraud on "both sides."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:45:02] TRUMP: I condemn any voter fraud of any kind, whether it's Democrat or Republican. But when you look at some of the things that happened in California in particular, when you look at what's happened in Texas with all of those votes that they recently found were not exactly properly done, I condemn all of it. And that includes North Carolina.

If anything, you know, I guess they're going to be doing a final report. But I would like to see the final report. But any form of election fraud I condemn.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So what happens now in North Carolina? Here's CNN's Diane Gallagher.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DIANE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The country's last undecided congressional race is, well, still undecided. The State Board of Elections voted unanimously to redo the 2018 election in North Carolina's Ninth Congressional District after the candidate at the center of election fraud allegations shocked everyone with a stunning reversal.

MARK HARRIS (R), CONTESTED 9th DISTRICT CONGRESSIONAL RACE: It's become clear to me that the public's confidence in the Ninth District seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted.

GALLAGHER: Republican Mark Harris, the candidate seeking to have his unofficial 905 vote win certified, abruptly called for a new election just moments after admitting that he had not been entirely truthful under oath. Now, Harris, who recently suffered from two strokes, blamed that on his health.

HARRIS: Though I thought I was ready to undergo the rigors of this hearing. I am getting stronger. I clearly am not. And I struggled this morning with both recall and confusion.

GALLAGHER: State investigators spent four days outlining what they called an unlawful coordinated absentee ballot scheme. In the middle of the alleged scheme, Lesley (Inaudible) a political operative handpicked by Harris to get out the vote, a witness has testified that Dallas paid them to illegally collect witness and sometimes even fill in blank races on absentee ballots.

And then they say he told them to lie or plead the fifth at the hearing this week. Now, Harris has consistently denied ever being warned about Dallas in the past, but a surprise witness cast serious doubt on those claims, his own son.

JOHN HARRIS, MARK HARRIS' SON: I expressed my concerns based on everything that I did know up to that point, namely my belief that McCray had engaged in collecting ballots in 2016.

GALLAGHER: Mark Harris cried as his son John, Assistant U.S. Attorney himself, read e-mails from over the past two years where he repeatedly warned his parents that he believed Dallas was involved in illegal ballot collection, even presenting what he thought was evidence from past elections, but said his dad did not listen.

HARRIS: I love my dad, and I love my mom, OK? I certainly have no vendetta against them, no family scores to settle, OK? I think they made mistakes in this process, and they certainly did things differently than I would have done them.

GALLAGHER: Harris now credits his son's emotional testimony with changing his mind on fraud in the election. Now, the man everyone wanted to hear from, McCray Dallas, he refused to testify, but he has denied any wrongdoing. There is still an ongoing criminal investigation into the (Inaudible) election. The attorney who represents Harris' opponent, Democrat Dan McCready, hopes people were paying attention. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ultimate takeaway for Ninth District voters is

that there was a massive election fraud scheme that deprived them of an honest and fair election.

GALLAGHER: The board plans to set new primary and general election dates in the coming weeks. McCready has already said that he plans to run again. Harris' campaign manager told CNN that the Republican needs to assess his health situation but would make a decision soon, Diane Gallagher, CNN, Raleigh, North Carolina.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Quite the turn now. Let's go to the glitz and glamour in LA. It's on full display tonight. The Oscar's are just a few hours away, and the red carpet is already buzzing. We'll take you there live next.

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WHITFIELD: All right, in just a few hours, Hollywood's biggest stars come together for the 91st annual Academy Awards. The festivities get underway from LA at 8:00 Eastern time. But for the first time in 30 years, there will be no host. CNN's Stephanie Elam is live outside the historic Dolby Theatre. And it sounds like people are excited either way, host or not, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are excited, Fredricka. And I want to introduce you to my new friend. We're friends now. This is (Inaudible). You may recognize him from Atlanta, not your city but from the show. And also his voice is in Spiderman into the Spider Verse. There you go, and also he's in if (Inaudible) talk. Are you living your best acting life right now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel like I am, but I feel like there's way more to go, you know, more stories to tell, more people to (Inaudible) and more parties to go to. So I am having a great time.

ELAM: I feel like your characters have been allowing you to show this other side. It's not just comedy. It's more pain in some of these (Inaudible) coming through. Lately, even at the end of Atlantis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. Well, the thing is, is like, you know, as black people, we have different sides. We have all of emotions that everyone else has and we have a platform to tell the stories, so I just want to go out and represent these characters the best way I can.

ELAM: Have you come to the Oscar's before?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my first.

ELAM: How does it feel?

[16:49:58] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am like frozen in this spot right now, because I am not sure if this is really happening. Like, I am looking at you but I know there's an Oscar thing going on there. But yeah, I mean I am presenting the night with Melissa McCarthy, a great friend of mine. We just filmed a movie together this year. And it's going to be great, (Inaudible) so many great nominees.

ELAM: Well, you look fantastic yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.

ELAM: And it's great to meet you and good luck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks so much.

ELAM: All right. Take care. So yeah, if you see, stars are making their way in, looking forward enjoying the moment just like rest of us are, Fred. Let's meet friends and see friends and see everybody all gussied up.

WHITFIELD: Oh, that's so fun to see. Well, good luck to Brian. I know he's already walked off, but, you know, shout out to him. Good luck on that one. There is a lot going on. All right, Stephanie, we will check back with you throughout the evening. And thank you, everybody, for joining me today on this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The Newsroom continues with Ryan Nobles right after this.

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