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Biden Pushes to Win Back Pennsylvania after Firefighters' Union Endorsement; NYT Faces Backlash after Publishing Anti-Semitic Cartoon; U.S. Former N.K. Envoy Joseph Yun Says He Believes Trump Approved Decision to Sign Pledge to Pay North Korea for Warmbier Care. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired April 29, 2019 - 11:30   ET



[11:32:07] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Call it the first big test for Joe Biden. The newest entry into the 2020 presidential race is holding his first campaign rally. He's doing it in his birth place and a critical prize for 2020, Pennsylvania. Donald Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016, the first time in a long time for Republicans in presidential politics. A big part of the victory was his appeal to blue-collar voters.

Today, Biden begins his push to win it back for Democrats. He's doing it on the heels of the endorsement from the International Association of Firefighters.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is standing by in Pittsburgh where Biden will take to the stage in a few hours. She's joining me.

Arlette, what will we be hearing from Joe Biden today?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, in just a short while, Biden will be kicking off his official first campaign event here in Pittsburgh at a union hall, where the campaign head said he'll be talking about strengthening the middle class, one of the pillars of his presidential campaign.

This comes as the International Association of Firefighters endorsed Joe Biden for president in a video. This morning, becoming the first major labor group to wade into the presidential contest this year.

But we're here in Pennsylvania, which as you mentioned, is one of those states that Donald Trump won back in 2016, that typically had gone Democrat in the years previous. And Biden and his team are really banking on the fact that he can appeal to the working-class voters who may have voted for Trump last time around but might typically vote for a Democrat. This is a state that is late in the primary process, but it's a critical battleground state in the general election.

Already today, it's clear Joe Biden is on President Donald Trump's mind. He's been tweeting about him this morning. I'm also told, later today, Biden will mention the shooting at the synagogue in California, which could offer him an opportunity to make that argument about this being a battle for the soul of the nation -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Arlette, thanks so much. Great to see you.

Let's talk more about this. Let me bring in CNN political analyst and national political reporter for the "New York Times," Lisa Lerer.

Good to see you.

LISA LERER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi. Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: As Arlette is there in Pittsburgh and talking about the focus there for Joe Biden, we get a clear indication President Trump is very focused on Joe Biden as well, and that he's very interested in his campaign strategy of starting in Pennsylvania because he tweets about him, saying he's very aware of his travel schedule, saying his first rally is in Pennsylvania. And then says, "He obviously doesn't know that Pennsylvania is having one of the best economic years in its history. Lowest unemployment ever. Now a thriving steel industry that was dead. Great future."

You don't need to look too far to see how important Pennsylvania is not only for Joe Biden's strategy, but maybe for President Trump's strategy, too.

[11:34:53] LERER: Right. President Trump has been fairly transparent he views Joe Biden as one of the biggest threats in his re-election battle. And you know, the concern that the president has, which is obviously, as Arlette pointed out, a key part of Joe Biden's strategy, is that the former vice president could flip some of those rust belt voters that really gave President Trump his winning margin in the key states that helped him win the White House. But look, the reality is that before you are the party's nominee, you have to get through a primary. And so that may be a tougher fight, in some ways, for Joe Biden, at least at the beginning. The party, there's a sense from some areas in the party they would like to see generational change. That's certainly not the former vice president, who would be 82 by the end of his first term if he were to be elected. And there's also this push where it feels like a lot of the energy in the Democratic Party is on the left. That's really not where Joe Biden is placing his candidacy. So it's very early. We just have to see how this all shakes out. It feels like President Trump is jumping ahead, I don't know, a year, more than a year.

BOLDUAN: It does look like that for sure.

I was fascinated by this new ABC/"Washington Post" poll, and how they asked the question, who are you supporting on the Democratic side. Instead of reading off the list of candidates to voters, they were polling them and asking who they would support in this list if the election were today, this time. They asked kind of an open-ended question to the voters of name a candidate they currently support. Joe Biden tops the list, but it's at 13 percent. But the big takeaway is clear, as you see there, majority of Democratic voters and Democratic leaning independents right now, they're not naming a candidate. What do you think the Democrats running are taking away from that? LERER: I was struck by that question, too, because Joe Biden is the

front-runner, the definite front-runner, at 13 percent.


BOLDUAN: Totally.

LERER: This is not the kind of front-runner status most candidates dream of and crave. What we see in that poll is a majority of voters are undecided. This is a wide-open race and a race. It's a wide-open race with 20 candidates. So this is Joe Biden's moment. This is his first event. He came in the race strong. There's no doubt about that. He raised the most money in the first 24 hours. But primaries are not won or lost in first 24 hours of your campaign. This is a long road, and I think a lot of candidates, Elizabeth Warren, in particular, comes to mind, see themselves as charting a more slow and steady path. If they can just keep chugging along, building support, building volunteers, they will have their moment, and ideally, you want that moment to come when people are actually voting in primaries.

BOLDUAN: Very important lesson. At least it plays out for all political watchers. Campaigns are not won and lost in the first 24 hours after announcing.

Good to see you, Lisa.

LERER: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Thanks for coming on.

Coming up for us, we're covering this. Outrage after the "New York Times" publishes an anti-Semitic cartoon. This is way beyond being a cartoon. How did it get into the paper in the first place? And what is the times saying about it now?

We'll be right back.


[11:42:39] BOLDUAN: The "New York Times" is now apologizing and promising, quote, "significant changes" after it published an anti- Semitic cartoon last week in its international edition. The cartoon depicts Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog -- as you see there -- with the Star of David on his collar, leading a blind President Trump. We'll show it to you this one time so you know the context of what we're talking about, but we're not going to put it up again.

Initially, the paper released a statement saying it was an error in judgment. Then, they came out the next day to actually apologize.

Back with me, Jonathan Greenblatt, of the Anti-Defamation League, along with CNN's chief media correspondent, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter.

Brian, first off, the "New York Times" put the blame on one editor of the opinion section to make the decision for publishing this. At first, they did not apologize. Backlash set in. They apologized then yesterday. How did this happen in the first place?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": And that's really still not explained. The "New York Times" is a great paper, I used to work there.


STELTER: But this is inexcusable. This is something straight out of Nazi propaganda. The idea that the editor there, even some obscure editor in some far-flung office, would see this and think it's appropriate is shocking. And I'm glad there has been this level of concern and condemnation, from the president on down, around the world. Because the "New York Times" needs to be held accountable.

Here's part of the statement they came out with. They said, "Such imagery is dangerous. Always dangerous. And in a time when anti- Semitism is on the rise worldwide, it's all the more unacceptable." I'm glad they recognize that. They said, "We're evaluating our internal processes and training. We're anticipate significant changes."

The indication is something more will happen, whether disciplinary action or other accountability. Hopefully, we'll hear what it is.

BOLDUAN: Let's be really clear, Jonathan, for everyone. Can you spell out why this is not just an anti-Semitic cartoon? It goes beyond that.

JONATHAN GREENBLATT, NATIONAL DIRECTOR & CEO, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: Let's stop dignifying it as a cartoon. Kate, like you said, it is propaganda. It wouldn't surprise me if this was published out of Tehran or Damascus, but it does not belong in the "New York Times" or any credible media outlet. As we were talking about earlier, there was a shooting this weekend, the second in six months, at a synagogue. And the shooter, in his manifesto, talked about myths of Jewish control and Jewish manipulation, and then they print this propaganda that literally exhibits stereotypes that suggest Jewish control and Jewish propaganda. Look, sometimes anti-Semitism is overt, like white men screaming in Charlottesville, "Jews will not replace us." Sometimes it's thinly veiled, like this in the pages of the "New York Times." But it's unacceptable anywhere.

[11:45:22] BOLDUAN: And it all does damage.

President Trump is weighing in on this. We just call it a Trumpian reaction to it.

STELTER: I think he's equivocating anti-Semitism and his own presidency and how it's covered. He says here, "The 'New York Times; has apologized for the terrible cartoon, but they haven't apologized to me."

Look, if resentment were fuel, we would be able to power the planet forever. The president's resentments go very deep, especially against the "New York Times." But it's interesting how they're making it about him again. The story needs to be about how it was published, how it happened. And regards to the shooting, this online hate, this radicalization of people --


STELTER: -- how is it happening online and what can be done?

GREENBLATT: Right. We need accountability and action. An apology is not enough. Just today, in the international edition of the "New York Times," there's another cartoon depicting Benjamin Netanyahu in sunglasses, while maybe not obviously anti-Semitic, is insensitive, is unnecessary, and is offensive, two days after the murder of Lori Kaye in San Diego County. This is enough. Like, I don't understand why we are still dealing with this at the "New York Times." At the number one newspaper in this country and the one that shapes public opinion around the world. Like, if they are publishing this screed, why should they be surprised when people are then committing violence against Jews?

BOLDUAN: We'll continue talking about it, that's for sure. We're not going to forget about this.

Jonathan, thank you for being here today.

GREENBLATT: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Brian, thanks. Really appreciate it.


BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, did the Trump administration agree to pay ransom to North Korea? President Trump claims he didn't pay a dime to get Otto Warmbier released, but now we're hearing the U.S. negotiator was involved in the talks, and he says, he confirms to CNN he signed an agreement to pay $2 million to get Otto Warmbier out. What does this mean now? That's next.


[11:51:45] BOLDUAN: Did the United States pay a ransom to secure the release of American college student, Otto Warmbier, from North Korea? Just last week, President Trump said no.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We did not pay money for our great Otto. There was no money paid. There was a fake news report that money was paid. I haven't paid money for any hostages.


BOLDUAN: But this morning, Joseph Yun, the former special representative for North Korean policy, the man who was negotiating with the North Koreans for Warmbier's release, tells CNN's Jim Sciutto, at the very least, he did sign an agreement to pay that money, and he thinks that directive came from President Trump.


JOSEPH YUN, FORMER U.S. NORTH KOREA ENVOY, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I can confirm that when I went there almost two years ago, I did sign a letter of assurance that the United States government would pay, in medical expenses, some $2 million.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR & CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: And were you under instructions there to do anything, instructions from the secretary of state or the president or both to do whatever is necessary to secure his release?

YUN: As soon as the North Korean side told me that his bill of $2 million would have to be paid, of course, I contacted my boss, then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to ask him, and he got back to me very quickly thereafter to say, yes, go ahead and sign.

SCIUTTO: Was it your understanding that Secretary Tillerson had the president's approval for that?

YUN: That was my understanding. I never asked him, but that was my understanding.

SCIUTTO: This was coming directly from the president who says he never paid such ransoms he called them.

Now, Bolton says the U.S. has not paid this money yet. Will the U.S. pay this money? Is that your understanding? Should the U.S. pay this money?

YUN: Jim, I don't know. I left the government about a year ago, and I know, until I had left, U.S. government had not paid the money.


BOLDUAN: All right. Joining me now to discuss, CNN national security analyst, Sam Vinograd.

Sam, you've been in the room with the National Security Council when some of these discussions happen under other people, with regard to other people being held. What is your reaction when you hear that from Joseph Yun?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Two reactions, Kate. Typically, hostage negotiations unfold over several years, several months and involve very careful preparatory work to make sure there's no last-minute surprises when someone like Ambassador Yun shows up in North Korea and the North Koreans do something like ask for $2 million because they tortured Otto Warmbier. That means that the National Security Council often meets repeatedly to make sure that what the other side is saying can be trusted and that there will be no surprises. Because you don't want to put someone in a position where there hasn't been a discussion on the pros and cons of doing something that the other side is asking. I want to be very clear on this invoice. Even if no money has been paid yet, Kate, it's a recurring cost for the U.S. government.

BOLDUAN: That's what I was going to ask you. It hasn't been paid, if it hasn't been paid, is it no harm no foul, if you've -- if you now -- if now the United States says that they signed an agreement to pay something, that they had no intention of paying going forward?

[11:55:06] VINOGRAD: Well, President Trump saying something that he has no intention of actually doing is nothing new, nor is the North Koreans making ridiculous requests anything novel.


VINOGRAD: But this is a recurring cost in at least two ways. First of it all, it signals that American citizens are cash cows. If you can kidnap an American, torture them and keep them alive, that could result in an IOU from the U.S. government that really exposed more Americans to more risks abroad. And second, President Trump kicked this can down the road, but that doesn't get rid of the can. This is invoice becomes something the North Koreans can use as bargaining chip in negotiations on any other issue. This is something that they say the U.S. government owes them in any negotiation that we have with them going forward.

BOLDUAN: Quickly, do you make anything of the fact that John Bolton is out there talking about this public? This seems something that, yes, great reporting may have brought this to light but, I don't know, that they are talking about this so publicly.

VINOGRAD: They have to talk about it because it came out in the book, as you mentioned. What this shows is the disconnect between Ambassador Bolton, President Trump and our colleague, Ambassador Yun. Ambassador Bolton was not in the White House when this happened. He went on television yesterday and acknowledged that this invoice was paid. But the president's tweet is so discordant with what Ambassador Bolton said on television. It's very clear there's no White House advisor and there's not a clear message on what instruments of national power the administration is or is not willing to use to get hostages back.

BOLDUAN: One question has been answered, was something agreed to. Joseph Yun, yes. Will the administration pay it? I guess that remains still an open-ended question, what the administration -- as Sam says, it's not going away, the can just gets kicked.

Good to see you, Sam. Thank you so much.

VINOGRAD: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Really appreciate it.

Coming up, a new standoff on Capitol Hill. Attorney General Barr threatening to skip this week's high-profile hearings in responding to the Mueller report. Why? Will he show? How far are Democrats willing to go to get him to appear and to answer questions?