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Inside Politics

U.S. Holds First Trilateral Summit With Japan, South Korea; One-On-One With 2024 GOP Hopeful Asa Hutchinson; Report: Hunter Spent Two Weeks At White House After His Plea Deal Was Made Public By Prosecutors; Atty. On Hunter Using Biden Name To Get Ahead: "That's What Happens". Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 18, 2023 - 12:30   ET




PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST: At this very moment, President Biden is holding the first ever trilateral summit with Japan and South Korea's leaders at the historic Camp David, hoping the countries can put aside a tense past amid rising security concerns in the Indo-Pacific from a rising China to an increasingly trigger happy North Korea.

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez joins me now. Priscilla, what's the administration hoping to achieve by bringing these two leaders together at Camp David?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they want to see some level of unity and partnership against shared interests, especially against that backdrop of mounting security concerns with North Korea and China. And just moments ago, we heard from President Biden before he went behind closed doors where he called this, quote, a new chapter and said that they would be, quote, safer. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our countries are stronger and the world will be safer as we stand together. And I know this is a belief we all three share. And I want to thank you both for your political courage that brought you here. You stepped up to do the hard work, I would argue historic work, to forge a foundation from which we can face the future together, the three of us together.


ALVAREZ: Now, that work is underway now, but senior administration officials have outlined some of what we may expect from this. That includes annual military exercises, discussing intelligence sharing agreements, setting up a three way hotline, and having this be an annual trilateral summit.

Now, of course, President Biden has been fostering individual relationships with this country, but he now has them at Camp David, the first convening of foreign leaders under President Biden, where they will be able to have a more robust discussion on these commitments, which, we should also note will not include a formal alliance commitment or a collective defense agreement.

So this is all sort of under discussion, and the question coming out of this is how does it stay or sort of how is it maintained in the near term as well as in the long term in this administration and for administrations to come? But what's clear here and what the President is underscoring is that they do have a shared interest, and it is in their interest to work together.

MATTINGLY: That's right. A huge focus for the President over the course of the last two plus years now coming to fruition.

Priscilla Alvarez, for us at the White House, thank you.

The trilateral summit, it's meant to serve as a show of force in the face of persistent missile threats from North Korea. Obviously China's military maneuvering in the region as well.

CNN's Oren Liebermann joins me now live from the Pentagon. Oren, Priscilla outlines some of the top line details. When you look at it from the Pentagon's perspective, what is this going to tangibly mean with this trilateral relationship going forward between the militaries?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a big advancement in some of what we've seen over the course of the past several months and years with North Korea's frequent and repeated missile launches. After some of those, we have seen trilateral U.S., South Korea, Japan exercises meant to show that the three stand in unity there and that they will act when necessary together.

But this isn't so much intended to be sort of an ad hoc, responsive effort. This goes a step, or more than one step beyond that to make this a proactive, regular scheduled exercise. And this is part of what Priscilla mentioned there, annual military exercises, ballistic missile drills. This requires a level of coordination and certainly a level of diplomatic engagement between the countries that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

As you rightly pointed out, these are countries with decades of mistrust and suspicion going back quite a ways now. So they've come quite a ways beyond that to be able to say, look, these are our shared concerns. We're putting some of that behind us at least, so we can cooperate here and we're going to move forward to work together diplomatically and militarily.

Here is National Security Council's John Kirby speaking about this earlier today.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESPERSON: What we are talking about is ways to better codify and institutionalize trilateral cooperation across a wide range of issues, not just in the security realm. And so, again, you'll see these leaders come together today and announce a set of initiatives that we hope will be sustainable for the long term.

And part of the way we're going to try to do that is make these meetings on an annual basis, announce some annual obligations and commitments that we're willing to make to one another. But nobody's talking about the need for an Asian NATO.


LIEBERMANN: That last point there from Kirby is important. This isn't supposed to be a defensive alliance, but it certainly looks like it's moving, or at least hints of that direction, right? NATO's bedrock principle is an attack on one is an attack on all. This doesn't go that far, but because of the concerns over North Korea and China, this does seem to say a threat to one is a threat to all.


And there might be a coordinated response or some communication there as you get towards a response. And that, Phil, in and of itself, is a foreign policy accomplishment for the White House.

MATTINGLY: Yes. It's easy, particularly on a Friday afternoon, to kind of look at this as just a regular part of the diplomatic process. This doesn't have precedent. A trilateral meeting, particularly between South Korea and Japan and its leaders. It's a big deal and certainly something to be watching going forward.

Oren, great reporting. Thanks.

And making the cut, former Arkansas Governor and presidential hopeful Asa Hutchinson says he's inching closer to meeting the requirements to make that debate stage next week. We're going to talk to him. That's next.



MATTINGLY: Well, it just might be a game time decision for 2024 hopeful Asa Hutchinson, struggling to gain support and donors in a very crowded field of GOP presidential hopefuls. But the former Arkansas governor remains confident he'll qualify for the debate stage next week.

He joins me now. Asa Hutchinson, former governor of Arkansas. Appreciate your time. I want to start with the most obvious one. You haven't said yet if you've met the fundraising threshold to qualify for the first debate. How close are you at this point?

ASA HUTCHINSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're getting very close. We have until Monday evening in order to qualify for the 40,000 individual donors, and it's up to all the viewers. You can go to, $1 helps us get on that debate stage, and I think my voice is very important. This is the first debate that will really be showcasing a future Republican Party without Donald Trump.

Whether he's there or not, he will be a topic of it. We'll state our positions on him. I'll tell the truth. But it's important debate because it's going to be a future Republican Party without Donald Trump.

MATTINGLY: And do you believe you're still confident, though, that you'll get there by Monday based on the numbers you're currently looking at?

HUTCHINSON: I do, I do. You know, we're gaining a couple of thousand new donors, which is extraordinary, new donors every day. People have gone to, and they've said, we want you on the debate stage. So that momentum is there. We've got until Monday again at 05:00 in order to get those donors there.

I'll be there on the debate, and my voice is very important to tell the truth on Donald Trump, but also to feature my positive solutions for the future of America.

MATTINGLY: You know, you make that point, and you have been one of the few candidates that has been willing to take on the former president directly. I was struck Republican bolster Whit Ayres said that basically a Republican can't call Trump unfit for office and still have a chance in a primary that, quote, "That's basically requiring half of the party to admit they screwed up and put someone unfit for office in the Oval Office".

Do you think it's your direct criticism of Donald Trump, which is why you aren't yet on the debate stage?

HUTCHINSON: No. Whenever you look at the fact that I supported Donald Trump in 2020 and the last election cycle and he didn't win, but I supported him and many others felt the same way, but what happened on January 6, what happened in his post-presidency and actually turning bitter and saying if his second term, it's going to be about getting even? So that's what tells people we need to move a different direction.

So you've got to embrace the fact that he did some good things. I supported him. Many others supported him. But we have to go a different direction for our future if we want to win. Donald Trump has not won the popular vote in the United States.

And so, let's forget the past. Let's look to the future, and there's different directions that the candidate is going to present that's going to attract independent voters in. It's going to bring the young people in. That's the message that I want to have on the debate stage.

MATTINGLY: You know, another -- one of your fellow candidates Will Hurd, the former Texas congressman says, candidates who don't make the first debate should drop out of the race. Is that your view as well if you don't make the first debate, given the fact you're trying to defeat former President Donald Trump, that candidates should start to drop out and try and consolidate? HUTCHINSON: Well, I think you got to measure it every day and be fair about it. But if you got a reasonable chance to make the goals on the second debate, then you'll be a part of the discussion. So you've got to measure the level of support, both in terms of donor support, but also the response to your ideas and your polling numbers. So we'll measure that.

But we're going to get on that debate stage Monday with everybody's help. We will be there on the debate Wednesday, and I think that will be a critically important turning point for our party and for the candidates on that stage, including myself.

MATTINGLY: To that point, though, I mean, I do think that has -- and I'm sure you've heard it plenty of times -- the concern that there are so many candidates, you know, Donald Trump's support of 30 percent to 35 percent is rock solid. Nobody questions that, that leaves 65 percent. What happened in 2016 is too many people stayed in for too long is the theory. You don't think that that's a problem right now?

HUTCHINSON: Well, obviously, those numbers have to change, and I'm not understating the challenge that's ahead of us. But I'm in Iowa right now, and I've talked to hundreds, if not thousands, of voters here in Iowa at the state fair.


And the overwhelming sense I get is they haven't made up their mind what direction they're going, but they're ready to move away from Donald Trump. And so Iowa, I believe, will be the first date. It'll probably be late breaking, it'll be October, it'll be this winter, because they want to look at all the candidates. So I think you're going to see those numbers change very slowly and they want to wait for the debate and they want to measure the candidate, study them and make a decision.

MATTINGLY: All right, well, we will have to wait and see. The deadline on Monday, the debate on Wednesday. Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, thanks for your time, sir.

HUTCHINSON: Hey, great to be with you today. Thank you.

MATTINGLY: Now, the CNN Original Series, "Giuliani: What Happened to America's Mayor?" provides a revealing look at the epic rise and epic fall of this iconic American politician. You can catch it tomorrow at 08:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN. Here's a preview.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: What happened to Rudy Giuliani?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A theme that runs through his life is that he's got to be at the center of the action. Rudy, he's got to be the star.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rudy really wanted to make big cases.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We sure that can deliver a message which is, you're going to go to prison.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: New York has five organized crime families and they have been permitted to grow and grow and grow and grow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Giuliani was taking on the Mafia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers.

RUDY GIULIANI, MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: There's a terrible tragedy. The best way we're going to get through this is if we remain calm.

The number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear ultimately. Those of us who are here have to defend freedom by going about our lives unafraid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He stepped forward to be a leader.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was a man meeting the moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fast forward to Giuliani becomes the story of rise and fall.

GIULIANI: And we're going to fight to the very end to make sure they don't take away our free and fair vote.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rudy Giuliani arguing that he wasn't literally advocating for insurrection.

TAPPER: To understand the arc of Rudy Giuliani, one has to appreciate how intoxicating fame and power are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was always this tension between genuine public service and the pursuit of the glory of Giuliani.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rudy is not a guy who backs down. Rudy is a guy who doubles down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stand up and be defiant. In America, that's what they love.

GIULIANI: America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Giuliani: What Happened to America's Mayor?, tomorrow at 8:00 on CNN.




MATTINGLY: When life happens, you turn to your family. It's a little more complicated, though, when you're the president's son under investigation by the President's Justice Department. So consider this very complicated.

The Washington Post reporting Hunter Biden went to the White House immediately following the public disclosure of his now torn up plea deal and stayed for the next two weeks. Kaitlan is back with me right now, and I want to talk about this with you as to, you know, old and washed up White House correspondents.

But I think that it is hard, given the political back and forth and the heat and light tied to this to understand the family dynamic with the Bidens inside this White House and why this makes this such a complicated situation for some of his top advisers.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR, THE SOURCE: You know, I was having a conversation recently with someone who was a top official at one point in the Trump administration about this very issue and the politics of it, and they were surprisingly sympathetic about it given the sense of the family aspect of this and that complicated relationship.

That being said, though, I mean, this is a very difficult issue for the White House because it is sensitive. People don't want to talk about it, but it is something that is going to complicate things on the campaign trail. I mean, we've already seen how Republicans are using that and how they're talking about it.

And, I mean, we were talking to Cedric Richmond last night, who obviously used to work at the White House and now is a co-chair for Biden's campaign. And we were just kind of asking how they're preparing to deal with these questions on the campaign trail because they're inevitable. I mean, especially if it's Donald Trump. He brought up Hunter Biden during his last debates with President Biden.

And so they kind of said that they were focusing on, you know, just other issues, kitchen table issues that are actually affecting people. But there is going to have to be an answer on this because it is something that is going to get brought up.

MATTINGLY: Right. And they continue to point to polling that shows this doesn't come anywhere near the top five or 10 issues that resonate. They get furious when anybody tries to even act like this is an apples to apples comparative --


MATTINGLY: -- to the former president. But it's complicated, not just because the family issues, but also the issues itself and the idea of trading on access or trading on names. This was something that one of Hunter Biden's lawyers, Abbe Lowell, was asked about earlier today. This is what he said.


ABBE LOWELL, HUNTER BIDEN ATTORNEY: Hunter Biden went to Georgetown University, went to Yale Law School, was on the board of directors of a bank, was on the board of directors of Amtrak, is somebody who went and worked in an international law firm. People seem to forget that this is not the person who's simply out there having people write checks for no reason.

People have been doing this for millennia. Maybe it's not fair to us who don't have the name, but that's what happens. And the most important point is that it's not improper and it's not illegal.


MATTINGLY: It is very Washington, though, and we should make clear there has been no direct tie to the current president at this point. No investigation has shown that. But the idea of you have the last name and therefore you do X, Y or Z or you're retained for X, Y and Z amount of money, how do people perceive that?

COLLINS: And obviously Abbe Lowell is Hunter Biden's attorney --


COLLINS: -- and he's going on air because what they are concerned about now is that this is still an ongoing issue in the U.S. legal system.


I mean, this is something that I think Lowell is the most frustrating part for them. What we've heard from them is that they thought this was about to be resolved.


COLLINS: Hunter Biden walked into court that day to have his plea deal signed off by the judge and he had prepared a written statement. He was going to come out after, speak to reporters on camera, talk about the difficult chapter and move moving on.

It's very much not moving on because it's very much going to be this major issue going forward. I mean, and Abbe Lowell is defending it because their concern now is that it's going to trial. There could be other crimes potentially brought.

MATTINGLY: Yes, special counsel -- special prosecutor, you can't control that necessarily. Thought they were almost done. It's not.

I have great news for all of you. You can catch Kaitlan tonight on CNN and every weeknight on our new show "THE SOURCE". It airs right here at CNN, 09:00 p.m. Eastern.

Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. "CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts right after the break. Have a great weekend, guys.