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U.S. May Settle for Nuclear Freeze by North Korea; Pete Buttigieg Raises $24.8 Million in Second Quarter; Democrats Defend Kamala Harris After Don Junior Tweet About Her Race; President Trump Back in Washington After a Headline-Making Trip to the G-20 Summit; NYT: U.S. May Settle for Nuclear Freeze By North Korea; Protesters Break into Hong Kong Legislature. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 1, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: -- the reversal by President Trump on North Korea. "The New York Times" reporting that the White House is now weighing a plan that would allow Kim Jong-un to keep his current and growing stockpile of nuclear weapons and missiles. Quoting here, "The concept would amount to a nuclear freeze, one that essentially enshrines the status quo and tacitly accepts the North as a nuclear power, something administration officials have often said they would never stand for."

The word denuclearization was never mentioned during the president's historic visit with Kim Jong-un at the DMZ on Sunday. Interesting considering it has been his rallying cry when it comes to talks with North Korea for months.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE: Well, I just like to see ultimately denuclearization of North Korea. The sanctions will stay in place until denuclearization occurs. The big thing is it will be a total denuclearization.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: On North Korea you said you believe in complete denuclearization. What does that mean exactly?

TRUMP: It means they get rid of their nukes.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, did he agree to denuclearize?

TRUMP: Starting that process very quickly. Very, very quickly.


SCIUTTO: We were at the DMZ yesterday. And the word denuclearization was one I did not hear once during the president's visit there, including his time with the North Korean leader.

Joining me now is David Sanger, he's national security correspondent from the "New York Times." He helped break this story. And CNN's Will Ripley who is live in Seoul, South Korea. So, David, first, let's begin with you. Does this amount to a

capitulation, a reversal? The original standard for success and the justification for these talks was that phrase complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization, that is not a freeze.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's right, Jim. And in fact, in 2017 when secretary -- then Secretary of State Tillerson went to Seoul, the -- he explicitly said that they would not agree to a freeze because it would, in fact, enshrine the nuclear state of North Korea. I think that if the administration turns this into a complete proposal and takes it to the North Koreans, what they are going to say is, as the story says, this is just a first step. We have to have a freeze to keep the problems from getting worse and then you have to agree to do the complete denuclearization.

So they will advertise it as something that does not actually change their ultimate goal. And I think their ultimate goal is to denuclearize. But what they recognize now is the North Koreans aren't going to do this, as John Bolton had first demanded, which is just take all their nuclear weapons and mail them in, Libya-style, as he once referred to it, because Libya turned over its massive nuclear program.

Instead, they are going to have to try to do it step by step, like every other administration has. And that means starting with not letting the problem get worse. And over the past year it has been getting worse because they've continued to do -- produce nuclear material. They continued to produce new missiles, even while the president said that they were moving toward denuclearization.

SCIUTTO: Right. Well, it's the U.S. intelligence community's assessment that North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons because it sees them as essential to the survival of the regime.

Will Ripley, you spent a lot of time in South Korea as well as the North, but I'm curious how South Koreans are reacting to this news? Is this a step that they would welcome as a positive move forward?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, no official comment yet from the South Korean government but if you look at President Moon Jae-in's priorities, which is to keep diplomacy alive, and he's been urging both the United States and North Korea to consider changing their positions because both sides have dug in their heels over the last more than a year of diplomacy and it's gotten to nowhere, other than escalating tensions and North Korea resuming short-range ballistic missile testing.

And so, from the South Korean point of view, this seems like perhaps a more realistic option even if this is one that the United States said it would never accept. And I can tell you from being in Pyongyang many times and having officials over the years many times tell me, A, they would never give up their nuclear weapons, and B, that the nuclear weapons are always meant to be a deterrent to get Kim to the negotiating table from a position of strength.

Well, it seems as if Kim would certainly be getting exactly what he wants if the United States is now willing to consider this pretty dramatic shift in policy.

SCIUTTO: David Sanger, I want to read a tweet from John Bolton just a short time ago, of course, the National Security adviser to the president, who notably was absent from the Trump-Kim meeting, the president's daughter, Ivanka was there, son-in-law, Tucker Carlson was a guest inside that room but not his National Security adviser.

John Bolton tweeted the following in reaction to your story. "I read this 'New York Times' story with curiosity. Neither the NSC staff nor I have discussed or heard of any desire to settle for a nuclear freeze by North Korea. This was a reprehensible attempt by someone to box in the president. There should be consequences."

Strikes me, what's interesting here is he did not, as administrations often do, say this story is wrong.

[09:05:03] He seemed to be saying that the story is coming from somewhere and I disagree with it, somewhere perhaps within the administration. How do you read it?

SANGER: That's exactly how I read it, Jim, that the administration has longed been divided on the tactic here. Mr. John Bolton has made no secret in public of his solution. His position is the only solution here for North Korea to mail in their nuclear weapons and then we'll move on from there. There have been others who have argued at various points, that no, we need to move step by step here. And that the first step would be let's keep the problem from getting worse.

And there are other administrations that had done versions of this. As we note in the story, the Clinton administration in 1994 reached an agreement that essentially shut down the Yongbyon reactors, worked for four or five years until they discovered the North Koreans were cheating. It was tried again in 2007 and fell apart later on.

So this would just be an effort to try to keep the arsenal from increasing and then move onto the next step of how do you go denuclearize. And to many in the administration, that makes sense. It doesn't make sense to Mr. Bolton.

SCIUTTO: Of course the difference is that those were freezes before North Korea got nuclear weapons. Now the estimate it has 20 to 60.

Will, before you go, and just briefly here, you spent a lot of time in North Korea. Would North Korea view this policy a freeze as a win?

RIPLEY: Absolutely. Because North Korea's last nuclear test in 2017 triggered a 6.3 magnitude earthquake and moved a mountain at their Punggye-ri nuclear test site. And this, if it does turn into a proposal, would allow North Korea to keep that warhead and the dozens of others and presumably the ballistic missiles that could deliver them.

So North Korea keeps its deterrent and gradually the world becomes more comfortable with them as a de facto nuclear state. It's exactly what Kim Jong-un has always wanted. SCIUTTO: Yes. And something the successive administrations from both

parties have said they would never allow.

Will Ripley in Seoul, David Sanger, helped break this story, thanks very much to both of you.

SANDER: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg can now put a lot more money where his mouth is after announcing that he has raised $24.8 million in just the second quarter. It is a massive haul for a candidate many have never even been heard of at the start of the year.

Joining me now live from Washington, CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

And, Jeff, I wonder with a money haul like this, and already poll numbers that seem to put him there in that tier, is he reliably now a top tier candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, good morning. There's no question that Pete Buttigieg now is in the top echelon of all these candidates. Every other Democratic rival would kill to raise this kind of money. The reality here is there simply is not enough Democratic money to go around for everyone to do that. But this is a pretty astonishing number, and he worked very hard to do it.

He has been holding fundraisers, more than 70 separate events over the last three months, big events, small events across the country. But $24.8 million that comes from 294,000 people. So the average donation is around like $47 or so. That means this, Jim. He's giving money on the larger side from people maxing out, if you will, giving some $2800. He's also getting money from the smaller side, people sending in $5 and $10.

But look at his money. Look at the comparisons to the first quarter here. He raised $24.8 million in the last three months. In the first three months $7.1 million, which was a lot of money from someone who is, you know, virtually entirely unknown here but raising three times as much, that is certainly significant.

This reminds me of Senator Barack Obama's second quarter fundraising numbers back 12 years or so ago when he did sort of send the message that he was going to compete on big dollars and small dollars.

But, Jim, the question here now is what does he do with this money. He is somewhat behind in terms of building an organization in Iowa, in New Hampshire, certainly in South Carolina. So now he has to take that and run with it. But these numbers certainly lock him in the top of the field. We'll see the other numbers coming in from some rivals.


ZELENY: But probably only Joe Biden may be in a position to beat him -- Jim. SCIUTTO: Yeah. Interesting comparison to Obama, of course, another

candidate who at the time no one thought was viable. And lo and behold, we know what happened.

ZELENY: Indeed.

SCIUTTO: Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.


SCIUTTO: Senator Kamala Harris picks up two more endorsements from the Congressional Black Caucus, this morning and get some major show of support from her Democratic rivals. This after the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., retweeted, then deleted, a false attack questioning her race.

Jessica Dean is in Washington with more. And, Jessica, if we thought this 2020 race was going to be any cleaner than 2016 or prior elections, of course, you know, we probably never should have thought that but this eliminates any thought. Really just a reprehensible attack here on Kamala Harris and people now rushing to back her up.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, she saw a lot of back-up from her own fellow candidates and of course her own campaign coming out and strongly condemning this as well.

[09:10:07] This all stemming, as you mentioned, from this tweet by Donald Trump Jr. He was retweeting a tweet that said, "Is this true? Wow." And the tweet below it claiming that Kamala Harris is, quote, "not an American black," going on and on there.

As you can imagine -- he then deleted that tweet. As you can imagine Harris's campaign came out very strongly against this, calling this the same kind of racist attack they've seen before. Joe Biden coming out also tweeting saying this is -- the same forces of hatred rooted in birtherism that they saw with Barack Obama. But virtually all of the Democratic candidates coming out against this.

And Kamala Harris doing this, having to endure this attack on -- questioning of her race when she gets two new endorsements from the Congressional Black Caucus. Big numbers for her there. That takes her up to six caucus members that have endorsed her. That's one more than Joe Biden there, Jim. So some good news for Kamala Harris's campaign on that front.

SCIUTTO: Well, you mentioned Joe Biden. And he's facing another campaign snag. This after a comment about LGTBQ rights fell flat. He attempted it as a joke. It didn't go down well.

DEAN: Yes. So this was -- he was out on the West Coast doing a fundraising swing this past weekend. He was talking with a group in Seattle. And he was talking about how important rights are for the LGTBQ community, how he has stood for those rights. And he was making this comparison, he was talking about public sentiment supporting rights for that community. And he said five years ago if someone made a homophobic comment about a waiter here in Seattle, you know, someone wouldn't have said anything.

And the crowd kind of fought back against that and said, wait a minute, wait a minute, not in Seattle, not in Seattle. So kind of pushed back on those comments. That was one of several fundraisers he had out west this weekend, Jim, as, of course, he's also looking toward that second quarter fundraising total that ended at midnight. And as Jeff Zeleny said, they're looking for a big number as well out of the Biden campaign comparable to Pete Buttigieg. We'll see if that happens.

SCIUTTO: Yeah. And you're right. He didn't mean it as a joke. He was trying to make it as a sign of progress but --

DEAN: Right.

SCIUTTO: It certainly fell flat.

DEAN: It fell flat. Right.

SCIUTTO: Jessica Dean, thanks. Thanks very much. Still to come, how will Republicans react if President Trump says essentially it's OK for North Korea to have nuclear weapons? Keep in mind the U.S. assesses they have 20 to 60 of those now. The political fallout of the proposed nuclear freeze.

Plus Democrats split over the border funding bill as questions linger over poor conditions at migrant facilities. I'm going to speak to a member of the Hispanic caucus who is leading a tour of one of those centers today.

And violent clashes between protesters and police in Hong Kong as demonstrators try to smash their way into a government building. We're going to be there live. These are really remarkable public protests.


[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, HOST, NEWSROOM: President Trump is back in Washington after a whirlwind trip to the G-20 in Japan and the Korean Peninsula, we were there with him, his historic meeting at the DMZ getting many of the headlines, but there were plenty more, particularly at one press conference that lasted more than an hour.

When asked if he agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin that western liberalism was on its way out, the president had this odd response.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And he sees what's going on, and I guess if you look at what's happening in Los Angeles where it's so sad to look and what's happening in San Francisco and a couple of other cities, which are run by an extraordinary group of liberal people. I don't know what they're thinking.


SCIUTTO: The president apparently doesn't know the difference between western democracy, that's how we generally use the phrase, western liberalism, that's what Putin was talking about, and just the idea of people who left a center here, political liberalism here in the U.S., big difference.

Joining me now, CNN political commentator Errol Louis; host of the "You Decide" podcast and CNN political analyst Lisa Lerer; she's national political reporter for the "New York Times". That was an interesting moment as -- and we were over there watching that press conference. The president doesn't know what western liberalism is, should we be concerned about that?

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: It seems slightly concerning. I think what was more notable to me, although that was definitely a notable moment, was who he was meeting with over there. He was not meeting with traditional allies --


LERER: He was meeting with the president of India, the head of Brazil, he was meeting with the Chinese Premier, he was -- he does seem to have this affinity based on what we've seen over the past --


LERER: Few years and who he spends time with, who he praises for autocrats. And that is --


LERER: Certainly a shift in American foreign policy and something that maybe should be a bit concerning.

SCIUTTO: All the smiles with MBS too, right? --

LERER: Right, of course --

SCIUTTO: And the specifics of the whole Khashoggi thing. Another one of his responses there, Errol was his response on the busing question, Joe Biden's comments on the busing question, his stance, have a listen and I want to get your sense of what he meant here. Play the tape.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Busing. Do you see it as a viable way of integrating schools? Does that relate to the policy that you're willing to unveil?

TRUMP: Well, it has been something that they've done for a long period of time. I mean, you know, there aren't that many ways you're going to get people to schools. So, this is something that's been done, in some cases it's been done with a hammer instead of a velvet glove, and you know, that's part of it. But this has been certainly a thing that's been used over there. I

think if Vice President Biden had answered the question somewhat differently, it would have been a lot -- it would have been a different result.


SCIUTTO: Errol, the question as to whether he knew what the busing question was about, but then he also raised this idea that they have a policy proposal coming up. Help us interpret what the president was saying --

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, well, I'll do the best I can. I'm not sure he knows exactly what he was talking about. Look, this is somebody who is clearly not familiar with the contours of the issue or its political relevance as it burst onto the scene --

[09:20:00] SCIUTTO: Yes --

LOUIS: During the Democratic debate. He, I guess saw enough of the debate to know that Joe Biden answered the question poorly, on that I think we can all agree. But as far as what he understands about how this will affect the country, what it actually means, look, it's a past debate to a certain extent.

It provides clues about where Joe Biden is going to land with a key part of the Democratic constituency, which is African-American voters principally, but also those who really never liked segregationist politics. Where Donald Trump fits into all of that, frankly, his role in sort of perpetuating some of the ugly impulses behind it, I'm not sure he fully understands it, I don't know if --

SCIUTTO: Right --

LOUIS: Grasped it. His political staff I'm sure will explain it to him at some point.

SCIUTTO: Maybe, he'll listen. Lisa, we've been talking about this North Korea proposal and we just returned from watching this Trump-Kim meeting at the border. This will be a remarkable reversal for this administration. Because for the phrase when these talks began, the justification for them and the goal was permanent, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.

I was up at the DMZ, President Trump did not mention the word denuclearization once up there, and now there's a discussion of a new focus on freezing. Politically what would the reaction be here? Would you see Republicans line up behind him as they often do even on positions that contradict their prior positions.

LERER: I mean, I think we have seen -- they do line up, but we have seen moments like, you know, the war in Yemen where Republicans have broken with the president and particularly on foreign policy issues. So, there's a possibility we could see that this year.

I do think you cannot understate the politics of this for the president. He's in a re-election cycle --


LERER: As we know he's acutely aware based on his comments about former Vice President Biden. And he is someone who loves the made- for-TV moment. We had the narrative everyone was talking about these Democratic debates. He comes up with a surprise, very flashy meeting, decides to shock everyone here by walking into North Korea. That is the kind of made-for-TV moment that the president crafts and lives for and believes has a big influence on his political --

SCIUTTO: Right --

LERER: Fortunes.

SCIUTTO: The moment over the substance, and forgive me --

LERER: Right --

SCIUTTO: Errol for suggesting that the political calendar in 2020 is really driving this policy and other sober appraisal of national security interest that he wants to --

LOUIS: But, you know, that's --

SCIUTTO: Claim a political win.

LOUIS: On some level that's OK, right? I mean, at the end of the last several political administrations, we suddenly see these initiatives for Middle East peace, right? I mean, if that's what the president attempts to do with the political capital that he has --

SCIUTTO: But could it be recognized in North Korea --

LOUIS: So be it --

SCIUTTO: North Korea a nuclear power, 2060 --

LOUIS: Well --

SCIUTTO: Nuclear weapons --

LOUIS: Yes --

SCIUTTO: And leaving it?

LOUIS: I mean, listen, the thing that I think is most missed by all of this is that the president acts as if bluff and bluster, you know, fire and fury sort of war mongering talk followed by some kind of personal relationship and a great photo-op is going to solve this problem. It absolutely will not.

And the one thing that he keeps overlooking is the great strength that the United States has always had, which is to build coalitions, to talk about human rights, to talk about sort of the moral questions that lie at the heart of international relations and the order that the United States has led for 70 users.

He's thrown all of that away in exchange for the photo-op. So, look, every president will try and get some political hay especially in a political season --

SCIUTTO: Sure, no question --

LOUIS: But the cost in this case really could be much greater than people realize.

SCIUTTO: All right, thanks to both of you, we're going to be talking about this for some time, Errol, Lisa Lerer. We want to move now to breaking news from Hong Kong. And this is a remarkable moment. Hundreds of protesters now smashing up the inside of a Hong Kong government building.

These protests timed to the anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China from British control there. Our Nic Robertson, he is live in Hong Kong in the very middle of this all. Nic, I think just for our viewers to understand, you know, Hong Kong is now part of China, China does not take kindly to public demonstrations here, and yet the Hong Kong people have persistently carried out demonstrations like this. Explain what's going on right now.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: For so many of the young people here, Jim, they feel that this is their moment. They feel that this legislation that the government here was going to pass, allowing for extradition of criminals to China was the tip of an iceberg, that was the Trojan horse, if you will, that would allow China to get stronger and stronger control here.

Though, they would lose the Democratic freedoms they have here that no one has in China. And I'm looking right now as protesters are taking apart metal barriers, taking them into this government building, the legislative council building. What they're telling us is they can get up to the third floor of the building, they're trying to get into the main chamber room in the building, it's a very symbolic, the heart of the government, if you will.

You know, imagine them trying to get into the West Wing of the White House, this would be the Hong Kong equivalent of that. I can taste some of the sort of tear gas -- pepper spray more accurately is being used on protesters inside by police. But what we're able to see from here, what they've been telling us from those coming out is they're not in a direct confrontation with the police inside.

[09:25:00] And this is what we've seen playing out through the day. The tensions rising, the ebb and flow, and I see a lot of people flowing out now. And I guess that has a lot to do possibly with that pepper spray that I think we can taste here. But the sheer force of numbers has forced the doors, the thick glass windows here, that have been steadily smashed down by barricades, metal bars, drapes of rocks through the day by sheer force of numbers and force of will.

They've managed to break into this government building, but now again, this is another moment in the day where they've gotten in, but what's the next moment? And when we ask them what their plan is, they say quite simply, Jim, they feel that this is the moment that they have to say something, show how they feel because if they don't, then they feel this is the moment where all could be lost for them.

Perhaps, that sounds an overly dramatic statement, but as you can see, so many of these protesters are young. And I think this night has a long way to go, yet, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Nic, I have to tell you, to see you right in the middle of that there is truly remarkable. And the way you framed it, the equivalent of protesters battering their way into the West Wing of the White House. Hong Kong police were criticized at protesting in recent weeks for a heavy hand.

There was tear gas, there were batons, there were arrests. Do you see their police reluctant to react too aggressively here in light of that?

ROBERTSON: I think there were two reasons potentially for that being the case. Clearly, the police brutality became the narrative of that massive protest on the 12th of June when the police suddenly turned on the protesters.

The narrative today, and I've been at the front of the protesters smashing the windows, the police on the inside have turned their own cameras on the protesters. So, I think what we're going to see over time -- no thank you, they're offering me a helmet, I'll just turn that down for now.

The narrative that we'll see emerge today is one where the protesters violence becomes the narrative as well as the police standing back. So, where the police were counter-productive to the political will of the chief executive here, Carrie Lam, to get that bill forced through government here.

She's been forced to suspend the bill for now. This seems to be an effort by the police to avoid that confrontation and avoid escalating the political tensions to give the government a chance ultimately to bring that bill back. Because this is a government that is in the favorable light with Beijing.

And it is ultimately Beijing's will and writ that would fall upon Hong Kong. What these people are protesting is that, that should never come to pass. That's what it's all about today, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, Nic, good to have you there, and we should remind our viewers, this is people standing up to Hong Kong, they're standing up to the Chinese government, that is a difficult, it is a dangerous thing to do and we're watching it unfold here right live on our air. Thanks to Nic Robertson for being in the middle of that for us.

In just hours, a group of lawmakers will set out to tour a handful of controversial migrant detention centers in Texas along the border. I'm going to speak with one of the lawmakers who is leading that effort and that's coming up.