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Michael Cohen's Prepared Testimony; Interview with Rep. Eric Swalwell (D), California; Cohen to Congress: Trump is a Racist, a Con Man and a Cheat; Trump to Meet with North Korean Leader Today; Cardinal Pell Taken Into Custody Ahead of Sentencing; Interview with Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Vietnamese Prime Minister. Aired 12:30-1a ET

Aired February 27, 2019 - 00:34   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello. Welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm John Vause.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Will Ripley, live in Hanoi, Vietnam.

As President Trump prepares for Michael Cohen's testimony in Washington, he's also preparing for his historic second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and somehow has to pull it together, focus and get ready for one of the most important diplomatic meetings of his life, here in Vietnam.

[00:35:07] He will be meeting with some of his closest advisers in the coming hours to prepare for a face-to-face sit-down with the North Korean leader. They'll have 20 minutes in the room, just their interpreters and them, similar to their first introduction in Singapore back in June.

We don't know what they're going to talk about. We know that they have a good relationship. They've exchanged letters, and they signed an agreement with some very vague promises back in Singapore. And since then, those promises, some of them have been fulfilled but most of them and, of course the big one, the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, well, it certainly hasn't happened. In fact, talks have really ground to a halt.

And President Trump now has to kind of figure out a way to convince Kim Jong-un that it's in his best interests to give up his nuclear weapons.

We know that Kim is very focused. He's bringing with him a large team, a team of people who have spent their entire lives and careers preparing for this moment. He's been studying not only the president but also the policies that he will be sitting across the table negotiating.

President Trump, on the other hand, has a lot of distractions back at home, and he is now here in Hanoi; and he's going to be sitting across the table with a team of shrewd negotiators. The big question that a lot of people are asking: Will Donald Trump be prepared? Will he give away too much without getting much in return?

And here, with probably one of the most knowledgeable perspectives on this entire situation of anyone I know, is Ambassador Joseph Yun, who worked, you know, under the Obama administration and the Trump administration as a special representative for North Korea policy. And now he's a CNN global affairs analyst.

Also, I will say you're the senior director. You tell me where you're working in Washington, because I'm -- don't have my papers teed up here.

JOSEPH YUN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes. I'm with the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington.

RIPLEY: U.S. Institute of Peace. And that's the whole goal here in Hanoi, isn't it? For President Trump and Kim Jong-un to build upon what they talked about in Singapore but actually deliver a substantive result.

But what you have happening is you have a U.S. president who has a lot on his mind. Tell us what the mindset is for Kim Jong-un, going into these discussions.

J. YUN: Kim Jong-un has been preparing this for days. We saw him arriving yesterday after three days of train ride. You know, I'm sure it's a great train, great chef, great wine and everything else.

RIPLEY: Lots of sleep.

J. YUN: Lots of sleep. And then we did see President Trump arriving quite late at night. I think it must have been over 20-plus hours, jetlagged and tired. So I worry about the young man and a little bit older president.

RIPLEY: Twice his age.

J. YUN: Twice his age.

Well, I do want to say that what is going on in Washington must be incredibly distracting for the president. And so here he is, trying to have a second, very meaningful summit meaning with Kim Jong-un, and this is happening in Washington.

You know, as we prepare for summits, it's all about people always advising you. It's about process. Is there a process whereby we get to the goals? And that makes policy.

I'm quite concerned there is a mismatch between the people that are advising President Trump, who are relatively inexperienced, to a president who really doesn't want to listen to that much advice. And Kim Jong-un's team, you have people like Ri Su Yong (ph) and Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, and the lady I used to deal with, Choe Son-hui, who have been doing this since early '90s. So they have tremendous experience. And on the other hand, I'm not

sure how much, with given the distractions in Washington, our president is taking it in.

RIPLEY: And we know that there's a disconnect. That President Trump doesn't always listen to those who are trying to advise him. He goes with his gut. Why is that dangerous? When you're walking into a meeting with someone who meticulous studies and prepares, and has been basically preparing for this moment for his entire career?

J. YUN: You know, you make a great point. In summits like for doctors, there is a Hippocratic Oath: do no harm. That's got to be the first line.

And so I was worried in Singapore, quite honestly, when the president, you know, gave away joint exercise without consulting his military, without consulting his allies. So he really -- you know, and then we got nothing in return.

So we really must avoid any kind of, I would say, you know, off-the- cuff move that's going to disserve our allies. We already have tremendous amount of credibility with our allies in the region, around the world, and so for example, talking about withdrawing troops or reducing troop numbers --

RIPLEY: That would be damaging.

J. YUN: -- from Korea, that would be incredibly damaging. So we've got to avoid that.

RIPLEY: And that is potentially something that President Trump could bring up, because the South Korean Blue House is hinting that an end- of-war declaration could be on the table, which most around the world would agree is a good thing, as long as the North Koreans don't perceive that as, then, a license to say, "Well, then get those 28,000 U.S. troops out of South Korea."

J. YUN: Yes, I get the same message from all the others. Certainly, end-of-war declaration is on the table. If you remember, the Korean War ended in 1953 with only a ceasefire arrangement. So really, it's still a state of war.

So while it is a good move to do an end-of-war declaration, we must protect the troop presence, because remember, U.S. troops got involved in South Korea or Korean Peninsula under the auspices of U.N. So if there is an end of war, well, there's no reason for U.N. to be there.

RIPLEY: right.

J. YUN: So that has to be protected.

Also, an end-of-war statement, I do believe, must mention denuclearization. You cannot really end the war, go to a peace treaty, without denuclearization. Those -- those two are critical elements.

RIPLEY: And at this stage, North Korea has yet to take a single step to get rid of the nuclear weapons.

Ambassador Yun, we're going to be checking back in with you as we continue our special coverage from here in Hanoi.

But clearly, there are a lot of questions, John, about whether President Trump is prepared for this moment. Obviously, there are lessons to be learned from what happened here in Vietnam. Good lessons but also potentially bad lessons about the danger of pulling U.S. troops out too early.

VAUSE: Yes, similar questions before the Singapore summit about Donald Trump and whether he was read up and whether he was actually ready for these negotiations. That summit kind of ended in a fizzle. So let's find out what happens in Hanoi, you know? Will, thank you.

Donald Trump, a man not exactly known for attention to detail, but details and specifics are precisely what's needed heading into the second summit with Kim Jong-un. The joint declaration after their first meeting in Singapore was so broad, so vague, so lacking in anything of substance, it was almost meaningless. The actual summit itself, for the most part, of little value beyond a photo op.

For this meeting in Hanoi to avoid a similar fate, the U.S. president and North Korean dictator will need to go deep into the weeds. A good place to start would be to simply agree on the definition of denuclearization.

But precisely what threat is being negotiated by Donald Trump? The North Korean nuclear threat, which according to U.S. intelligence continues to grow, or the assessment he heard from Russia's Vladimir Putin?


ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR OF THE FBI: And essentially, the president said he did not believe that the North Koreans have the capability to hit us here with ballistic missiles in the United States; and he did not believe that, because President Putin had told him they did not.


VAUSE: Philip Yun, executive director of the nuclear disarmament group Ploughshares Fund joins us now from San Francisco. Philip also served as an advisor on North Korea during the Clinton administration.

Good to have you with us, Philip. It's been a while.


VAUSE: OK, last month we heard from the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats. He was appearing before the U.S. Senate. He delivered this warning about the North Koreans.


assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities, because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.


VAUSE: So the president doesn't believe that, and he said as much publicly. What is he actually negotiating here to end?

P. YUN: Well, I think you have to parse out what Dan Coats was saying here. He says because they believe nuclear weapons are, you know, critical to their survival.

I think what Donald Trump here is doing is basically saying more the U.S. policy for the last 20 years has basically failed. And so doing more of the same is not going to get us a different result. So he's trying to do something a little bit different. Obviously, you have to have certain kinds of guardrails.

Dan Coats is basically saying that they believe that these weapons are critical for their survival. So I think what the people in the administration are thinking about is why don't we do something that addresses that specific concern?

You know, I think that we've been talking among ourselves, among experts, whether North Korea's really willing to give those up. I don't think they're going to do that over the short to medium term.

But here we have a circumstance where we can actually talk with the only person who matters in North Korea, and that's Kim Jong-un, and to test whether or not he actually wants to do this and under what circumstances. We're not talking about words. We're talking about concrete actions.

And that's where the details are really, really important. And that's where Donald Trump can get into real trouble if he doesn't do his homework.

VAUSE: And that's the question. Because we've got this sort of top- down diplomacy situation happening, where there can be no meaningful progress in this negotiations until you get these men, Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, into a room together. But then again, that then risks, you know, this -- Donald Trump giving away the farm, if you like and, in particular, maybe giving up, you know, if not all the U.S. presence in South Korea along the DMZ, at least some of it.

[00:45:04] P. YUN: Yes. No, no, that's absolutely right. I mean, what had been missing before, prior to this, was the top-down. We had a lot of bottom-up that was going at the working level, but that wasn't really getting anywhere. So the combination has to happen, in terms of top-down, bottom-up and taking a look at some of these details.

As I think Ambassador Yun was talking about a little bit earlier, process matters. And so you've got to have a process that looks at all of these specific details.

I mean, you know, we're talking about really possibly extending this moratorium, missile moratorium, and the nuclear test moratorium, which is really good. I hope that -- it's got to expand. Donald Trump has to have something concrete.

There's also talk about actually them, the North Koreans, willing to shut down Yongbyon. Yongbyon is a huge facility now, and it's the guts of the North Korean nuclear weapons program.

So if we can verifiable look and verifiably say that that thing has been shut down, that they're no longer doing any design, building and testing, that is another step. Again, that's one step as they move forward. That's what this whole process is about, is to continue talking but with verifiable steps and actions.

VAUSE: This is the thing about the talking, the talking, the talking. You know, you've actually been there. You've done it. You know, you're there, part of the negotiations with the North Koreans during Bill Clinton's time as president.

The North Koreans, they're old hands at this. Kim Jong-un, much like his father, Kim Jong-Il, he plays two cards, two pairs better than anybody else. And they're expert at dragging this out without actually giving anything up. But that's what's been happening so far.

Donald Trump says a deal is a deal is a deal, whether it's a real- estate deal in Manhattan or whether it's a nuclear deal. But given the consequences of what goes wrong, potentially, here and the consequences of it, there's a lot more at stake, which makes these two things fundamentally different.

P. YUN: So what we're talking about here is Kim Jong-un says he fundamentally wants a different kind of relationship with the United States, OK? And the former U.S. general, USFK in Korea, General Brooks, says he believes that that's the case.

So this is where we've got to test. OK? If he really wants a genuinely different kind of relationship, for whatever reason, whether it's to offset China or Russia or whatever; and he feels like the United States is going to be a better person to rely on to some degree, not a partner but someone to have a different kind of relationship, that's what we've got to test and offer him and see, in fact, if this is something that he's willing to do.

Again, no one knows what Kim Jong-un actually wants, but we have the ability to figure out and to test whether or not this is actually true. Again, not through words, because we're not talking -- it's got to be through actions.

So this is the thing about Yongbyon. It's about the missile moratorium. It's expanding that. Verifiable ways to test what he -- what he says he wants to do.

VAUSE: Philip, we're sort of a bit out of time because the Michael Cohen news blew us out of the water at the top of the hour. But we know you'll be back with us in the next hour. So we'll catch up there. A lot more to talk about. Thank you.

P. YUN: All right. Thank you, John.

VAUSE: The most senior Vatican official ever convicted of child sex abuse will be sentenced March 13 in Australia.

Cardinal George Pell was taken into custody a short time ago after his bail request was withdrawn. He also attended a presentencing hearing in Melbourne on Wednesday.

The 77-year-old was found guilty of abusing two choir boys in the 1990s and faces up to 50 years in prison. He served as Vatican treasurer and a senior adviser to Pope Francis.

CNN's Anna Coren is live for us in Melbourne.

So Anna, you know, there's a duty for a lawyer to defend his client as best he can, but it seems Pell's barrister has gone to some extreme lengths during this sentencing hearing. He argued the offenses were "no more than a plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating." Also tried to suggest that an incident when -- in which Pell grabbed one of the boys by the genitals is "an attack which lasted seconds." He said it was fleeting, not worthy of a jail sentence.

The judge disagreed, but what's been the reaction there to, is this an offensive, insensitive argument by the barrister which demeans the suffering of Pell's victims?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The comments made by Pell's defense, barrister Robert Richter, were absolutely offensive, and -- and that is -- is how it is being felt by survivor groups here in Melbourne. It was truly astonishing.

Robert Richter is probably the most notorious criminal barrister in the country. He's famous for defending gangsters and getting them off murder trials.

But when those words came out of his mouth, people were absolutely shocked. They were talking about the severity of the crime, which of course, is child sexual abuse; and the most severe charges, sexual penetration of a child. And as you say, he said this was a plain vanilla case of sexual penetration against a child.

Well, we put that to Chrissie Foster. Now, this is a woman who has just endured so much. Two of her three girls were raped by a priest in the '90s. They were only 5, 6 years old at the time. One of her girls has since committed suicide. This is what Chrissie had to say.


[00:50:07] CHRISSIE FOSTER, MOTHER OF CHILDREN ABUSED BY PRIESTS: It's insulting, because how can they say that, you know? These are children. They're children. Two of my children were treated to such rape, sexual assault. And to hear people speaking like that, defending someone who would do something like that, it's outrageous, insultive [SIC], and that's what victims have to put up with.


COREN: Well, the prosecution certainly argued the severity of this crime. They said that this was a breach of trust, that these two choir boys were in Pell's care.

He said the attack was humiliating and degrading, and that Pell showed no remorse. Remembering, however, that Pell maintains his innocence.

Now a short time ago, John, we believe that he left this court in a prison van. He is being taken to the remand center, just a few blocks from where we are standing. And he will stay there behind bars until his sentencing, which is set for the 13th of March, just two weeks away.

But it really is quite extraordinary. Judge Peter Kidd, he said he is not looking at the low end of sentencing. The indecent acts -- and there were four of them -- carry a maximum sentence of ten years. As for sexual penetration, that carries a maximum of 15 years.

So George Pell is looking at a lengthy prison sentence. Obviously, his age, his health, and the fact that he is a first-time offender will be taken into consideration. But tonight, George Pell is spending his first night behind bars.

VAUSE: Anna, thank you. Appreciate it.

A break here on CNN. We'll be live in Hanoi after the break.


RIPLEY: Welcome back to CNN live coverage of Trump-Kim 2.0 here in Hanoi. I'm Will Ripley.

And Vietnam really is rolling out the red carpet for Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. Work crews, they've been out sprucing up the streets of Hanoi for the past few weeks. They flew in flowers from the central part of the country. They have U.S.-North Korean flags on display throughout the city. We've seen the gardeners planting those fresh flowers in parks along the sidewalks.

The Vietnamese tourism industry really is hoping that this summit will bring curious travelers to the country and that they'll see a city that they would like to visit.

But we also see security out here in full force. Police, army vehicles patrolling the city. We've seen police out on motorcycles. A lot of the roads are blocked off, especially when those big caravans carrying Trump and Kim across the city are out.

And there's curious crowds lining the street, as well.

A lot are saying that Vietnam really could be a model of economic prosperity: a socialist country that retained its system but was able to make peace with the United States. A lesson that the U.S. is hoping North Korea will learn.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I very much appreciate the hospitality. It was a really -- something special. We got off Air Force One last night, and I drove down the boulevards. And I saw all of the buildings under construction and how Vietnam is thriving.

And very importantly, we have a very big dinner tonight, as you know, and meetings with North Korea and Chairman Kim. And we both felt very good about having this very important summit in Vietnam, because you really are an example as to what can happen with good thinking.


RIPLEY: The big reunion, Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un, will be happening in less than six hours at Hanoi's iconic hotel that has played host to Jane Fonda and George H.W. Bush. Of course, we're talking about the Metropol, and that is where CNN's Ivan Watson is live, kind of soaking it all in.

Ivan, you spoke exclusively with the Vietnamese prime minister, who told you he hopes that the North Koreans will learn a lesson from what they are observing on the ground here.

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And Will, let me just -- we are right down the road from the Metropol hotel. And I'll just give you a sense.

Behind the barriers here, you've got quite a bit of security in front of this hotel that was built in 1901 during the French colonial period, and that is where the two leaders will be dining this evening in that historic building.

When it comes to Vietnam, yes, it's very proud of, clearly, hosting this second summit between the U.S. and North Korean leaders, Will. And I had an exclusive interview with the prime minister of Vietnam, who has met with President Trump in the last couple of hours.

President Trump announcing new deals, where Vietnamese airlines, different companies are purchasing many Boeing planes: 100 Boeing 737s for Viet Jet; 10 Boeing 787s for Bamboo Airways.

And the Vietnamese are playing up the symbolism of them as the host of this summit, saying that their history -- going from enemy of the U.S. to close trading partner and friend -- that they offer some real lessons to both leaders as they go into the next round of negotiations.


NGUYEN XUAN PHUC, VIETNAMESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): For the peace of the world, for a connected and developed world, for citizens' rights, let's shake hands. WATSON: It must have been very difficult for Vietnam to make peace

with the U.S. after the terrible war. You lost very close relatives during that war with the U.S. What lessons can you bring from your personal experience to perhaps share with Chairman Kim?

NGUYEN (through translator): We don't forget our past, our history, but we need closure in order to look to the future. Millions of Vietnamese died throughout years of resistance wars to protect the country, our independence and freedom. More than ever we value peace, based on mutual respect for each other's independence and sovereignty. We don't interfere with each other's politics.

WATSON: How much of a role did making peace and improving relations with the U.S. -- how did that contribute to your economic growth? And do you think that North Korea could benefit similarly, if it improves relations with Washington?

NGUYEN (through translator): We can say that the U.S.-Vietnam relationship is a role model for comprehensive and collaborative development. From enemies we have become good friends and partners.


WATSON: So President Trump tweeted a couple of hours ago that Vietnam is thriving like few other countries. North Korea could have the same if it would denuclearize. The big question: Is that a scenario that Kim Jong-un will agree with -- Will?

RIPLEY: Absolutely. And that key meeting set to get underway less than six hours from now, just a short distance from where Ivan Watson is standing. Ivan, thanks for that exclusive report.

I am Will Ripley, live in Hanoi. That's it for this hour of the special edition of CNN NEWSROOM. We will be back after this short break. You're watching CNN.