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Soon V.P. Pence to Lay Wreath at Tomb of Unknown Soldier; Trump Says North Korea's Missile Tests Don't Bother Him but Japanese P.M. Concerned; Wreath-Laying Ceremony at Tomb of the Unknown Solder; Rep. Adam Kinzinger Slams Trump for Agreeing with Kim Jong-Un on Joe Biden Critique; Trump Says Not Seeking Regime Change in Iran, Can Make New Deal; Nine Climbers Have Died on Mount Everest This Year. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired May 27, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:08] RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, from Washington, D.C. I'm Ryan Nobles, in today for Kate Bolduan. Welcome to a special holiday edition of AT THIS HOUR.

At any moment, Vice President Mike Pence will mark this Memorial Day with a somber and time-honored tradition at Arlington National Cemetery. He will honor the nation's fallen servicemembers and their families by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

President Trump, of course, not in attendance this year because he is in Japan for a state visit. We'll have much more on that in just a moment.

Let's begin this morning with CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, live at Arlington National Cemetery.

Barbara, tell me what you're seeing there.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Ryan, we're just down the hill from where these ceremonies will get under way shortly. We're at Section 60, where so many of the servicemembers who fell on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have been laid to rest.

And earlier, we met two Gold Star mothers. This is just an extraordinary moment here. Leesa lost her son, Lawrence, May 8, 2005. Beth lost her son, Nicholas, May 8, 2005. Both young men had been laid to rest next to each other. And the mothers, the Gold Star mothers, over the last 14 years, have become very close.


BETH BELLA (ph), GOLD STAR MOTHER: When I see the pictures of Larry's burial, I see the flowers that were left the day before, when we buried our son. So we reached out to each other and got to know each other right away.


BELLA (ph): And we're soul sisters, that's what we've said, about each other. We dearly love each other.

PHILIPSON (ph): Beth is Larry's Arlington mother, because we live from afar. And when she comes, she always gives him a hug for me.


STARR: Fourteen years of these two Gold Star mothers literally holding on to each other.

This is a place, people talking about it as being the saddest acre in America. When you come here, you see this is a place of love and respect for all of those who serve on this Memorial Day, 2019 -- Ryan?

NOBLES: Barbara Starr, thank you for that reminder of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and those they left behind. We appreciate that report.

Let's turn now to President Trump's state visit to Japan. The president and his host, the Japanese prime minister, apparently not on the same page when it comes to North Korea's recent missile tests. Shinzo Abe says that North Korea violated U.N. Security Council resolutions with the tests. But President Trump says the tests don't bother him.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My people think it could have been a violation, as you know. I view it differently. I view it as a man, perhaps he wants to get attention, and perhaps not. Who knows? It doesn't matter.


NOBLES: Among the "my people," the president referring to, well, his own national security adviser, John Bolton, who said there's, quote, "no doubt that North Korea violated international agreements."

CNN's Boris Sanchez traveling with the president in Tokyo.

Boris, what are you learning about this back and forth between the president, the prime minister, and his own staff?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Ryan. This is really an instance that encapsulates just how much President Trump trusts Kim Jong-Un and how much he's staking in their personal relationship.

He's essentially ignoring the outlook of his national security adviser, Ambassador John Bolton, who was attacked in North Korean press earlier today. They put out a statement saying that he was a war maniac and that many of his ideas weren't logical.

The president also clearly ignoring Shinzo Abe's take on this, even as Abe was standing just a few feet away. And he said that the missile launches by North Korea, the short-range ballistic missile tests carried out last month, were regretful. The president here is clearly not on the same page. Abe has to walk a fine line, though, with President Trump. He wants

to engage in bilateral trade talks with Kim Jong-Un one on one, and he needs President Trump's support to do that, so he was very polite and measured in his response. Nevertheless, the president's remarks are raising eyebrows.

We should point out, this evening, he did engage in a banquet held by the new emperor, Emperor Naruhito. Both of them had glowing terms for each other, talking about not just the leadership of President Trump and the new emperor here installed in Japan but also the importance of the alliance between these two nations.

The president turned in for the evening. He is set to tour a joint U.S. and Japanese naval base alongside Shinzo Abe tomorrow and give remarks there to troops before departing for Washington in the afternoon -- Ryan?

NOBLES: Of course, Boris, the president may be thousands of miles away but never that far away from the 2020 race for president. And in kind of an odd way, siding with Kim Jong-Un on slamming former Vice President Joe Biden. What are you learning about that?

[11:05:18] SANCHEZ: This is something that, I mean, appears to be unprecedented in American history, the American president siding with effectively a murderous dictator because that dictator taunted his potential 2020 rival.

Last week, North Korean authorities put out a statement about Joe Biden, calling him a low-I.Q. individual. President Trump was asked about it during a press conference today. Listen to what he said.


TRUMP: Kim Jong-Un made a statement that Joe Biden is a low-I.Q. individual. He probably is, based on his record. I think I agree with him on that.


SANCHEZ: Yes, this is really remarkable. Yet another instance of foreign leaders sort of parroting Trump campaign talking points.

Let's not forget that today at that press conference, Shinzo Abe brought up the Trump tax cuts from 2017. Abe said they've spurred renewed Japanese investment in American countries. And he specifically mentioned some important states for Trump to win in 2020 to try to get reelection, by naming Ohio and Michigan -- Ryan?

NOBLES: Boris Sanchez, live from Tokyo traveling with the president. Boris, thank you very much.

Let's quickly go to Arlington National Cemetery where the wreath- laying ceremony is set to begin. That's Vice President Mike Pence with the military leaders there. Let's just listen in to this ceremony.













NOBLES: And you are watching live coverage of the wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. We saw the vice president, Mike Pence, the acting secretary of defense, Patrick Shanahan, there joining the soldiers that take part in this ceremony every year.

I want to bring in CNN military analyst, retired Major General "Spider" Marks, and CNN presidential historian, Tim Naftali, the former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, to talk a little bit about this ceremony we see every year.

General, let's start with you.

Obviously, this means a lot to you, given your military service.


NOBLES: I'm sure you have friends and family that have been lost in service to this country.

MARKS: Very much so.

NOBLES: How does this affect you, to see this every year?

MARKS: First of all, this is a recognition of amazing young men and women that, every generation, comes forward. I mean, it's your brothers and sisters, it's our children from every corner of this nation who step up and surprise us all the time. And they say, I want to serve. Whatever your motivations are, I really don't care, but they step forward and say, I want to do my part.

This is a specific recognition of those who have served and those who have given the ultimate sacrifice and have lost their lives in service to the nation.

So incredible meaningful on a personal level. My entire family served. A married into a family that served. My father-in-law is on the Vietnam wall, was killed in Vietnam on his fourth tour.

So every day I wake up, I mean, every day, I wake up and I want to make sure I show up. I want to make sure I meet those standards that were set by those who came before me.

Before my kids went off to college, my kids went off to do what they were going to do in life. Our conversation before they left home was, remember who had your last name first. A lot of great folks have gone forward. Don't besmirch, don't embarrass, don't put at risk their sacrifices. So it's very, very personal.

NOBLES: Tim, let's bring you in now.

Obviously, this ceremony, a little bit different because President Trump is in Japan right now, so instead, we have Vice President Mike Pence in charge. Is it rare for a president not to be partaking in this particular ceremony and to really be overseas on Memorial Day?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I'm not sure how many times that's happened. But the fact that the vice president is there means that the federal government is represented.

I just wanted to point out, to add to General Marks' eloquent words, and heartfelt words, that this is a tradition that we have had in this country for now 151 years.

The Memorial Day was first called Decoration Day. And it was called Decoration Day because it was a day when members of families and their friends and those who understood and loved these men would put flowers or flags on their graves. And that was something to be done throughout the United States.

But in 1868, Arlington National Cemetery became the center of the recognition of the sacrifice that, initially, the Union soldiers, and ultimately, this came to encompass also Confederate shoulders who died in the Civil War. So this is a tradition that goes back a long time. It's a very solemn and very important one for our country.

[11:15:14] NOBLES: Major General "Spider" Marks, Tim Naftali, thank you both for your insight on this.

We're going to continue to keep an eye on the Memorial Day ceremonies in our nation's capital. But we'll take a quick break and be right back.


[11:20:27] NOBLES: President Trump siding with North Korea over an American ally, saying recent North Korean missile tests don't bother him. But Japan's Shinzo Abe says North Korea has violated U.N. Security Council resolutions with the tests. Joining me now to discuss this, Samantha Vinograd. She was a senior

advisor to the national security advisor under President Obama. And "Politico's" White House reporter, Eliana Johnson.

Sam, let's start with you.

I remember, not too long ago, President Trump describing Kim Jong-Un as Rocket Man. Now, all of a sudden, he's downplaying these missile tests. What do you make of the president's posture?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Ryan, to use a bad pun here, it's not rocket science, whether Kim Jong-Un did or did not violate Security Council resolutions.

Kim Jong-Un, according to John Bolton and to the Japanese, fired short-range ballistic missiles. That means the Japanese and John Bolton ostensibly have intelligence that shows what these projectiles were. If they were, in fact, short-range missiles, that violates a U.N. Security Council resolution.

President Trump either doesn't believe the intelligence or just doesn't care that the North Koreans have violated international law because he is convinced that staying with Kim is the best course of action personally because he doesn't want to admit that Kim Jong-Un is breaking the law and is a global menace. At this point, the question is, what else is President Trump going to let Kim Jong-Un get away with.

And there's a juxtaposition. Here, Mike Pence, Vice President Pence was just laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, marking fallen soldiers, while President Trump is in Japan saying that these short-range missile launches don't bother him, that he's not disturbed by them. These short-range missiles threaten American soldiers that are currently stationed in Japan, 54,000 of them.

But again, he doesn't seem to care because he's so thirsty to stay with Kim and to win a Nobel Prize.

NOBLES: Eliana, let's talk about some Republican reaction to this, Congressman Adam Kinzinger slamming President Trump for agreeing with Kim Jong-Un's critique of Joe Biden.

This is what Kinzinger said, quote, "It's Memorial Day weekend and you're taking a shot at Biden while praising a dictator. This is just plain wrong."

Now Kinzinger can be somewhat of an outlier among Republicans. He's not afraid to criticize President Trump. But could this be a sign of Republicans becoming tired of the president's outrageous statements and comments?

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think what you're seeing is, just as it's a custom for the opposing party not to criticize the president when he's overseas, I think you could extend that and say it's also unseemly for the president not to criticize other Americans, including the former vice president, while he's overseas as well. There's a sort of tradition that Americans stick together.

And whether or not Republicans are saying it, as Adam Kinzinger is, I think you can assume most of them feel that way.

NOBLES: Sam, President Trump also talking about Iran, saying he's not seeking regime change there, and that he can make a new deal with Iran. How likely is that after the U.S. pulled out of the nuclear deal?

VINOGRAD: I don't think anyone believes President Trump when he says he doesn't want regime change in Iran, most importantly, perhaps, the Iranians. I think they believe that he's pursuing regime change, despite the fact the administration says -- there's an enormous P.R. campaign against the regime is to effect a change in regime behavior.

President Trump also said in Japan today that all he wants is to address Iranian nuclear weapons. And he was the one who withdrew from an Iranian nuclear deal because he said it was too narrow, that it did not address the full range of Iranian malign activities.

We had a nuclear deal with Iran, President Trump broke it, and he has personally spent Twitter time, Instagram time and more, attacking specific members of the Iranian regime. So it's unlikely that they're going to come back to the negotiating table at this juncture.

NOBLES: This trip to Japan was supposed to be mainly a social outing for President Trump. It turned out a lot news came out of this trip. Unfortunately, we don't have time to get to all it.

Samantha, Eliana, thank you both so much for being here.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

[11:24:41] Coming up, overcrowding at the top of Mount Everest. Nine climbers have died just this year. Are pack trails making this already dangerous trek more lethal?


NOBLES: A series of deaths on Mount Everest is raising concerns that overcrowding is responsible. Nine people are dead or presumed dead on Everest so far just this season.

Difficult weather led to long lines of climbers and worries about climbing conditions. Look at that picture, unbelievable. But Nepalese tourism authorities are pushing back on the idea that the crowded trail has anything to do with the deaths.

Joining me now with the details is CNN senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon.

Arwa, what are you learning about this increase in deaths?

[11:30:06] ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ryan, that photograph, those photographers that you're referring to.