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Israeli A.G. Intends to Charge Netanyahu with Bribery & Fraud; Trump Leaves North Korean Summit with No Deal; But Believes Kim Knew Nothing of Otto Warmbier's Dire Condition; Senate Panel Advances Controversial Nomination of Neomi Rao to D.C. Circuit; RNC Chief: GOP Opponents to Trump Will "Lose Horribly" in Primary. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired February 28, 2019 - 11:30   ET



[11:31:32] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, will be charged with bribery and fraud by the nation's attorney general. This is according to a source with direct knowledge. This is following a long corruption investigation into Netanyahu. And this is potentially a major blow for any leader, but for Netanyahu, as he is seeking a fifth term in office. What exactly is going on here?

CNN's Oren Liebermann is in Jerusalem with the latest.

Oren, what do you know right now?

OREN LIBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, we have learned from a source with direct knowledge of the attorney general's decision that the attorney general intends to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with breach of trust in two cases and, in a larger case, with bribery fraud and breach of trust. In that case, police investigators say Netanyahu gave regulatory benefits to one of his friends, a business owner, in exchange, investigators say, for favorable coverage in a news sight owned by that business owner. That has always been the biggest case facing the prime minister over the last couple of years and it is there we have learned from this source that we learned from a source that the attorney general intends to indict the prime minister with bribery, fraud and breach of trust pending a hearing. That hearing is still months away. Netanyahu's party fired back calling this political persecution, an attempt to topple Netanyahu's right-wing government, and calling it unfair because, though we know the attorney general's intent, Netanyahu's chance to defend himself, that hear is months away and will come after elections that just weeks away at this point -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Wow. What an amazing moment that this is all coming together and this is nowhere near the end of it. A major blow right now it sounds like for Benjamin Netanyahu.

Oren, thanks for bringing it to us. I really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, sometimes you have to walk. That, from President Trump after he leaves Vietnam without striking a deal with North Korea. What happens now after the summit's abrupt end?

We'll be right back.


[11:37:57] BOLDUAN: Forget North Korea's nuclear program for just a second. This was the most shocking development from the president's meeting with Dictator Kim Jong-Un. The president saying that he believes the brutal dictator when he says he knew nothing about the condition of American college student, Otto Warmbier. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't believe he would have allowed that to happen. Just wasn't to his advantage to allow that to happen. Those prisons are rough. They're rough places and bad things happen. But I really don't believe that he was -- I don't believe he knew about it. He tells me he didn't know about it and I will take at his word.


BOLDUAN: Warmbier was held in North Korean prison for a year and a half for removing a propaganda poster from of a hotel there. He was 22 years old. When he was released in 2017, he was in a coma and he died days later with no believable information coming from the North Koreans. His death being a symbol of the oppressive regime in North Korea. Otto's parents were guests of President Trump's at his 2018 State of the Union address where the president called them, quote, "powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world." And now President Trump says he believes Kim Jong-Un.

Joining me right now to talk about this and the state of the talks is former Democratic governor and former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Bill Richardson. He has negotiated with North Korea several times.

Ambassador, thank you for being here.


BOLDUAN: Your organization sent a mission to North Korea in 2016, I believe --

RICHARDSON: That's right.

BOLDUAN: -- to try to secure the release of Otto Warmbier.

RICHARDSON: That's right.

BOLDUAN: When you hear the president say that he believes Kim Jong- Un, what is your reaction?

RICHARDSON: Inconceivable that Kim Jong-Un wouldn't know and deeply disappointed that the president would take his word as he has with President Putin who claimed that there's no election interfering in the American election. The foreign ministry, we were negotiating with North Korea's foreign minister to try to get Otto back. We sent a mission. We spent a year, countless meetings with North Koreans in New York. They didn't know. They told me they didn't know Otto's brain damage. For the leader of North Korea, such a high-profile, highly publicized case, and it was the intelligence people that were holding -- that held him in prison after his trial. It's inconceivable that Kim Jong-Un wouldn't know. The biggest bargaining chip that North Korea had with the U.S.

[11:40:32] BOLDUAN: That's why it's so astonishing that the president would go that far in saying that. Inconceivable, you say. What does that mean? What is the president doing then?

RICHARDSON: I think the president -- the only thing that came out of this I think, very negative summit is the personal relationship between the president and Kim Jong-Un. That's good. That's good to maintain. So --


BOLDUAN: Even if it is based on, at least a small part, a lie?


RICHARDSON: It's unfortunate. It is almost a human rights violation. The family of Otto Warmbier, I know them. Good people. To let this hang out this way is not right. It's not right. And the president should know better. What needs to happen is a full accounting. Kim Jong-Un should say to his intelligence people, let's tell the truth on this. They're not going to do it. They are hiding.

BOLDUAN: Do you think with that statement coming from the president that any American in North Korea is in more danger now?

RICHARDSON: Any American hostage around the world, especially in a regime like Russia -- we have a man there that we are trying to get out, Paul Whelan, his family.


RICHARDSON: The president is going to -- Putin will say, I don't know anything about this case. We didn't do anything wrong. We, Russia -- they are holding him as a bargaining chip. It doesn't give the family of American hostages must strength and faith in their own government in trying to get a hostage out.

BOLDUAN: So unsettling to hear you say that because I know that you worked for a very long time trying to get Otto out. And you continue to try to negotiate and work with North Korea in order to get remains brought back from North Korea.

RICHARDSON: That's right.

BOLDUAN: You said over the weekend that you feared that the summit was going to be a dud. We wake up overnight to realize that that is what it seems to have been. What is your reaction to it? Were you surprised that it turned out this way?

RICHARDSON: I was surprised. I thought. when you do a summit, you wire some of the results. The gap between our negotiators that I think did a good job, but the president said no, no, I know there are problems, I can fix them.


RICHARDSON: Then I think also, with the North Koreans, I found that the foreign ministry people were not the negotiators from North Korea. They are usually more flexible. They're diplomats. The intelligence community, the spy chief, I think that was a problem. I don't think there was much chemistry in the spy chief and Secretary Pompeo and Stephen Began (ph), the special negotiator, who I think we're trying to hammer out a deal that said, OK, in exchange for some sanctions, you have to take a path on denuclearization. We didn't get anything on denuclearization, wide gap on sanctions and the peace treaty. My main issue remains that no movement forward on getting more of our remains of our soldiers.

BOLDUAN: After the fact, Secretary Mike Pompeo told reporters -- he said something I found -- I want you take on it. He said that they don't have another date set for another meeting. He said, "It will take a while. We will each need to regroup." I wonder if that is diplomatic speak that they are a step further back than a step forward after this.

RICHARDSON: Well, it is a step back. This is a setback. But it's also, when you're not getting what you want, the way to negotiate is you walk a bit. My worry --

BOLDUAN: Even though it was negative and this did not turn out well, it was smart for him to walk?

RICHARDSON: Yes. It was the right move. There has to be better preparatory work. There should be --


BOLDUAN: So you don't get faced with this?

RICHARDSON: There should be a cooling off period. Let things cool down. But let Mike Pompeo, let Begin (ph) be the ones that goes back. Don't plan another summit for now.


BOLDUAN: Was this a waste of time?

RICHARDSON: No, it wasn't a waste of time because, if Kim just keeps his word that no more missile tests and there's some improvements in North/South relations, less tension, that's OK. On the main issue of denuclearization, on missiles, on weapons of mass destruction, we got nothing. The North Koreans tried to pull a fast one. Now the talks have collapsed. We need to continue going forward. It's too dangerous a peninsula. BOLDUAN: Of course.

RICHARDSON: We have American troops there. We have our allies like Japan and South Korea. We have to deal with the China dimension, too. We have to keep going.

[11:45:13] BOLDUAN: I also think the fact that still lingering out there's no full accounting of the weapons system of what North Korea has.

RICHARDSON: That's right.

BOLDUAN: That has to be the first step to even take it seriously that there will be real talk about denuclearization.

RICHARDSON: And you is to verify that they are there. You have to inspect them. They have hundreds of sites. The North Koreans are so suspicious, Kate, they think that if they tell us where the sites are that we are going to bomb the sites. That's what they're thinking.

BOLDUAN: Thank you for being in here. You are one of the few people who have had the conversations with the North Koreans. We hope they are listening to your advice on how to un-collapse the collapsed talks.

Thank you so much for being here.

RICHARDSON: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: I really appreciate it.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, Michael Cohen's testimony raises new questions about who knew about the hush money payments and when to an adult film star. Will the president's oldest son and the Trump Organization's longtime CFO be called to testify before Congress? That's next.


[11:50:33] BOLDUAN: We have some new developments coming out of Capitol Hill at this hour. Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have advanced the controversial nomination of Neomi Rao. President Trump nominated her for the powerful D.C. circuit court to replace Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. That's only one reason she got attention. She now goes to the Senate dogged by some big concerns from both parties.

Let's get more now from CNN Supreme Court reporter, Ariane de Vogue, joining me with the latest.

Ariane, what are you learning?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Kate, she just got voted along party lines out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She'll move to the Senate. She's up for that powerful seat on the court of appeals in D.C., often a breeding ground for the Supreme Court. And it was the seat of Brett Kavanaugh.

What's interesting about this hearing, Kate, is she had a lot of fire directed at her from Republicans. First, there was Joni Ernst out of Iowa. She had taken a lot of -- she was really critical of Rao for some very early writings on date rape. She said, "I'm going to vote in her favor today, but I found that writing abhorrent. If Rao is ever up for Supreme Court, she may not get my vote."

Then there was Josh Hawley, a brand-new Republican on this committee. He's a freshman. And last week, he stunned Republicans by saying he had questions about her on abortion. And he took a lot of heat from this machine that has managed to push through a lot of Republicans, or a lot of judges, during the first year of the Trump administration. Today he said, "I've spoken with her. I'll vote in her favor for now." But he lashed out at people who criticized him.

So we really get to see how the Trump administration's machine to get judges through confirmation is fraying a little bit. And we're seeing some Senators pushing back and saying, we're going to take a hard look ourselves at some of these nominees. It was pretty unusual.

BOLDUAN: Pretty unusual is right. Let's see what happens next.

Good to see you, Arianne. Thanks for bringing that to us.

Also happening now, conservatives are gathering for the annual Conservative Action Conference, CPAC, as we call it. Their focus, the battle for 2020. The chairwoman of the Republican National Committee is already talking about primary challenges to Donald Trump.

Let's bring in CNN's Jessica Dean. She's there with more.

Jessica, what are you hearing from Ronna McDaniel now?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate. She came out to talk to a group today, and the men interviewing her asked about what she would say to any potential challengers, Larry Hogan. Bill Weld announced he wanted to be chairman of the committee. What was striking, we heard the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee say they had a right to jump in, that's fine, but they said she's going to lose horribly. They went on to talk about President Trump's accomplishments and talked about his approval rating in the party. Then they said, go ahead, waste your money, waste your money, go ahead and lose to any potential challengers to the president. All this happening while Larry Hogan told "Politico" just in the last week that he was really struck by the RNC shielding the president from any primary challengers. He said that he's been involved with the Republican Party for his entire life and that he had never seen anything like it. It was unprecedented. But the crowd here kind of nodding their heads in agreement with all of that.

Again, interesting to look back at 2016 when the Democrats faced similar critiques over kind of what they were doing behind the scenes in the primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. But here the chairwoman of the RNC coming out and saying, you're going to lose, there's no reason to even get in, essentially, actively discouraging anyone from running because she says there's just no way they're going to win -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: It doesn't get much more clear than that, Jessica. Waste your money, waste your time, you're going to lose. I think coming from the chairwoman of the RNC.

But Larry Hogan, when he had accused the RNC of shielding Trump and telling "Politico" he's never seen anything like it, is that confirmed?

DEAN: Well, listen, we are kind of in unprecedented times when it comes to a sitting president potentially having a primary challenge. Larry Hogan, who I interviewed not too long ago, told me he's leaving that door open. He's listening to people. He hasn't closed the door on the potential for running. He wants to know he's not on a fool's errand.

[11:55:10] But what is important to note is that the president does have very high approval ratings within the Republican Party. So getting out of a Republican primary not a problem, probably, for him with those approval ratings staying as they are. The question is, Kate, will they stay where they are, what's coming up for the president around the bend with the Mueller report, that sort of thing.

BOLDUAN: A lot to come.

Great to see you, Jessica, from CPAC for us. Thank you so much.

DEAN: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, no lunch, no signing ceremony and no deal. President Trump leaves his summit with Kim Jong-Un empty-handed after talks break down. So where do negotiations go now?