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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
U.S.-North Korea Meeting Falling Apart?; Should WH Have Seen N. Korea Threats Coming? Tillerson Appers To Troll Trump On Truth And Facts. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired May 16, 2018 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: In the world lead: Even President Trump today says he is unsure whether his highly anticipated summit with North Korea's leader still on for June 12, this after North Korea threatened to cancel the upcoming talks, saying that the country will not be pushed into a corner to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
Today, President Trump insisted that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula must happen. It appears, as of now, that both sides are at something of an impasse.
Let's bring in Kaitlan Collins at the White House.
And, Kaitlan, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said today that the White House fully expected a move like this from North Korea. Is that what you were being told behind the scenes, that this really was fragile and could fall apart at any moment?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not exactly, Jake.
And last night White House officials were actually sent scrambling when North Korea made this threat to pull out of the summit, trying to figure out if it was a real threat or an empty one.
But, today, Jake, President Trump offering a restrained response to North Korea, no tweets, no off-the-cuff remarks, just two words, "We'll see."
COLLINS (voice-over): The big summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un now a big question mark, after the North Koreans threatened to scrap the meeting if the U.S. insisted on nuclear abandonment.
The president offering a measured response today.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will have to see. We haven't seen anything. We haven't heard anything.
COLLINS: Asked if he will insist on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Trump said: TRUMP: Yes. Yes.
COLLINS: The White House insisting that they fully expected something like this from the unpredictable regime.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We know this is kind of a -- I guess a standard function that can often happen. And we're not surprised by it. But we're going to continue moving forward.
COLLINS: Those sources say the surprise announcement sent White House officials scrambling.
HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: Let's not get ahead of ourselves. This news just came out. We need to verify it, get additional information on that.
COLLINS: The anticipation for the summit had been building for weeks.
TRUMP: I will be meeting with Kim Jong-un to pursue a future of peace and security for the world, for the whole world.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
COLLINS: A top North Korean official singling out Trump's new national security adviser, John Bolton, writing: "We shed light on the quality of Bolton already in the past, and we do not hide our feeling of repugnance towards him," after he said Libya could serve as a role model for disarming North Korea.
JOHN BOLTON, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We have very much in mind the Libya model from 2003-2004. There are obviously differences. The Libyan program was much smaller, but that was basically the agreement that we made.
COLLINS: In that case, after agreeing to disarm, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown and brutally killed several years later.
The North Koreans also protesting joint military exercises between South Korea and the U.S., complaining that they are ruining the diplomatic mood.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: If they want to meet, the president will certainly be ready, and we will be prepared, but, if not, that is OK.
COLLINS: Sarah Sanders said, if the meeting does get called off, the United States will continue its maximum pressure campaign.
But the bottom line here, Jake, is that North Korea does not like the U.S. insistence that they have to denuclearize. The president says he's not budging. Someone is going to have to give here. TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us, thank
you so much.
We have seen this playbook before. Is North Korea's threat to cancel the summit with President Trump really all that surprising?
Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our world lead: After North Korea threatened to withdraw from talks, President Trump is trying to manage expectations, saying of the potential summit, maybe it will happen, maybe it won't.
But North Korea experts say, based on prior actions, the White House should have seen this coming.
CNN's Barbara Starr reports.
BOLTON: I think we're looking at the Libya model of 2003-2004.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That statement from National Security Adviser John Bolton sent alarm bells to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who the CIA has long thought is only worried about his own survival, Kim knowing full well the fate of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who was killed by rebels after he gave up weapons of mass destruction for sanctions relief.
Pyongyang now quickly returning to the classic North Korean style of provocations and demands, threatening to walk away from the historic Trump-Kim summit. A top North Korean official called Bolton's comments "an awfully sinister move to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq."
JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: We shouldn't have been surprised. This is not an uncommon tactic for North Korea. It's something that Kim Jong-un's father would do, in the run-up to a major dialogue or an event, to all of a sudden to throw roadblocks or obstacles or even just to try to renegotiate a better lot for himself at the table or at the event.
STARR: The administration is playing a wait-and-see strategy.
TRUMP: We haven't seen anything. We haven't heard anything. We will see what happens.
STARR: Some experts questioning if Kim, trying to exert leverage over Trump, may have overplayed his hand.
GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD": I was a little bit surprised by it occurring this time, because it doesn't make sense from North Korea's point of view. They had created this euphoria in the South, this love of the North, and they turn around and I think they're going to lose a lot of support.
STARR: So the question now, is Kim Jong-un bluffing? Is he playing Donald Trump at his own game in trying to make the best deal he can, Jake?
TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks so much.
My panel is back with me.
You heard National Security Adviser John Bolton mention the Libya model, which apparently and perhaps understandably, rubbed North Korea the wrong way.
To that, North Korea responded, "It is essentially a manifestation of awfully sinister move to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya."
They went on to say -- quote -- "The world knows too well that our country is neither Libya nor Iraq, which have met a miserable fate."
A mistake, David, to invoke Libya, given the fact that Gadhafi was massacred and the country is now ripped apart by terrorism?
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Apparently, he didn't get the seriously, but not literally model. Right? He didn't get the memo, right...
TAPPER: Where is Salena Zito when North Korea needs him?
No, look, it's obviously I think there are some -- they are perhaps overly sensitive. And John Bolton was there, and the architect of the Libya model.
And I don't think that's -- that they're apropos. And he even admitted on the show there that they weren't exactly an apples-to- apples comparison. And so I think the North Koreans perhaps overreacting a bit on that.
TAPPER: Angela, take a listen to Sarah Sanders, the press secretary at the White House, asked about this Libya model from John Bolton. This is earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I haven't seen that as part of any discussions. So I'm not aware that that is -- that is a model that we're using.
QUESTION: That is not administration policy currently, the Libya model?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, again, this is the President Trump model. He is going to run this the way he sees fit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Trying to walk it back, but is that enough? Does the Trump administration need to do more to make it clear, look, we weren't talking about we want to see your country look like Libya when this is all over?
ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that is a tough sell
David, it's interesting, because you said it's -- they're being overly sensitive. I don't know a human being on this planet that wouldn't be being compared to what has happened in Libya. It is disruptive. It was horrible.
URBAN: Right. I think they're talking about denuclearization, right? They gave up their arms...
RYE: But I think the reality of it is, is we know that this is a sound bite culture, not just here in the United States. Globally, that's what they hear.
And the reality of it is, you are going to get defensive when you know that people were brutally killed.
TAPPER: And this -- and one of the issues here, of course, Amanda, is when you are Kim Jong-un -- I know it is tough for us to identify with Kim Jong-un.
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
TAPPER: But when you are Kim Jong-un and you look at Libya and Gadhafi and you think he gave away his arms, he gave away his nuclear weapons, and look what happened to him. He got ripped apart by his own people. His country is a hellhole now.
And then you could look at Iran, and say, well, they entered into a nuclear agreement. And then President Trump walked away from it.
Again, I'm not trying to identify with Kim Jong-un, but from their perspective, to try to be fair, maybe the United States, if they want the summit to happen, needs to be a little more careful.
CARPENTER: Yes, but don't we as Americans also need to know what we're getting into?
CARPENTER: Yes, the North Korean perspective is important. That is playing out.
But I also want to know what we're getting out of this deal. But what worries me is that I don't think the Trump administration is in control of events.
It seems to me that the North Koreans are dictating the terms of this agreement and this meeting right now. I'm not sure what Trump is asking for. I see that the North Koreans have got a meeting. I see they may humiliate the Americans by walking away from that meeting.
I have yet to see what the greatest deal-maker we've ever seen is going to produce for the USA.
URBAN: I'm not certain that anybody is getting humiliated if this doesn't take place.
[16:45:02] I mean, this is -- North Korea has played you know -- excuse me, Lucy moving the football on numerous occasions so I don't think anybody is getting humiliated. I think this President is looking out for Americans and American best interest. I think the best interest is a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. I think that the Chinese are being involved in this. There's going to be lots of parties involved and I think this President cut the deal with that. I think there's a lot of other moving parts you see with the ZTE comments and some other things so a lost things at play here.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: But Angela, listen to President Trump who has been boastful about how he has managed the North Korean threat as opposed to Obama, Bush, Clinton, et cetera.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I started a process and when I did, everybody thought I was doing it absolutely wrong. But in the meantime for 25 years people, people have been dealing and nothing happened and a lot is happening right now. I can tell you that, Jeff. A lot is happening. And I think it is going it be very positive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANGELA RYE, FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS: So a couple of things. I think -- I remember during the campaign when he was asked about leaders, world leaders he admired and respected, Kim Jong-un was one of them. You know, this is -- this is a problem. This is somebody that he admired for potential bullying behavior. He identified with this person. It's also interesting to note he hasn't taken him at his word. He's constantly moved the ball. It's very difficult to --
TAPPER: Who's moved the ball, Trump or --
RYE: Kim Jong-un, like he's -- yes, with other administrations. And so what I'm saying is why would you think that it would be different? He's so caught up in trying to differentiate himself from President Obama that he doesn't believe that an apple is a apple and a fact is a fact.
TAPPER: If the worst thing that happens is President Trump at the end of this doesn't get a summit but got these three hostages back. That's not such a horrible thing.
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right, without a doubt. I think we should rooting for President Trump but let's not forget Otto Warmbier who got a terrible condition. That said, the hostages are great but I wonder who wants this meeting more for the right reasons. And I'm happy the hostages came home but I question the judgment when he jumps in the camera shot at 3:00 a.m. I wonder if he's looking out to the United States or his own personal legacy.
URBAN: Listen, we have the Korea -- North Koreans that are talking, they're not lobbing missiles across the sea of Japan, across our allies. It's a huge win.
TAPPER: We're all hoping -- we're all hoping for the best. Coming up next, firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sharing how he really feels about the current political environment. Is he talking to anyone in particular? Stay with us.
[16:50:00] TAPPER: Some rather pointed comments at a commencement ceremony earlier today by fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who condemned leaders lying and a public starting to accept alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, FORMER UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: The responsibility of every American citizen to each other is to preserve and protect our freedom by recognizing what truth is and is not, what a fact is, and is not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Do you think he was specifically thinking about anybody in particular.
RYE: I think he might have. I think that now the CNN commercial should just sub in that moment --
TAPPER: An apple is an apple.
RYE: An apple is an apple. And I think what is frustrating to me is that it takes folks for them to leave to acknowledge the truth and I think real protectors of the democracy don't wait until they are free of the position or ties to the administration to tell the truth. If that was the truth then -- or that's the truth now, it's the truth then and you should have spoke up.
URBAN: So here's some truth about Rex Tillerson, right? He's talking about the truth. Rex Tillerson took the finest diplomatic core in the world and ground into obscurity during his 15 months as Secretary of State. You know, Mike Pompeo, my friend and classmate, and first -- his first day on the job put swagger back into the diplomatic core. It's going to -- it really yield a lot of fruit here for the United States moving forward I think in Korea, on the Korean Peninsula and Iran. And Secretary Tillerson, it sounds like sour grapes. I mean, as Angela said, you know, if you think it's the truth now, why wasn't it the truth before? Why don't speak the truth to power when you're in the job, why wait he leaves? It sounds like somebody got fired and is pretty unhappy about it.
TAPPER: But did you interpret this as a direct shot at President Trump, Amanda?
CARPENTER: Yes I did, but I'm sort of upset. Why did you pull the punch? I mean, I'd like to know specifically what are you talking about. You are former Secretary of State essentially accusing the President of lying.
URBAN: Not essentially.
TAPPER: He's doing it.
CARPENTER: I would like to know what are you sure he is lying about. Is it North Korea negotiations, is it Iran, is it Russia? What is it? So I would like him to do a follow-up interview especially because he's speaking to military graduates.
TAPPER: Yes, this was at VMI.
CARPENTER: These are people who are going to pursue likely have a career in the military and may not have a chance to question their Commander-in-Chief when they're in the order of duty, in their order to go out and perform a certain task. And so Rex, if there's life that you felt so compelled to speak about, come back and tell us what they were.
RYE: It would be amazing for the Judiciary Committee to say we have enough for you to come back and testify before the committee. That would be great to see.
TAPPER: But do you think that because he didn't call out President Trump when he was in office and because he didn't call out President Trump by name, that this is not as powerful?
RYE: Of course it is not as powerful. The reality of it is it's another example of a Presidential appointee lacking real courage and I'm saying this is not something that is a partisan witch hunt. There's a difference between there being a very complex, multi-layer investigation. I'm saying to Amanda's point, if there are some things you know, we need to know, and that's for the good of the whole, that's about --
URBAN: I'm sitting on this -- on this set of the "STATE OF THE UNION" and you asked him about --
TAPPER: When he called the President -- when he reportedly called President Trump a moron and he wouldn't -- he wouldn't confirm it or deny it. URBAN: Right. He wouldn't confirm or deny it and he asked him if
somebody had reported he'd been castrated or something to those effects and he said, no, I checked this morning, remember? So, you know, he's pretty you know, full of vigor and confidence back then, I'm wondering what happened.
[16:55:13] TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. What were Russians really hoping to get out of their Trump meeting -- out of their meeting at Trump Tower? That's ahead. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back. Well, that is all the time we have. I would like to invite you to follow me on Facebook or Twitter @JAKETAPPER is the handle or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. We actually read them. Don't forget to pick up a copy of my new book the Hellfire Club at your local bookstore or on Amazon.com. That's it for The LEAD today. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer, he's right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, ethics disclosure. President Trump acknowledges --