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INSIDE POLITICS

North Korea Negotiations; Cohen Hearing; Tariff Hike Delayed; Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 25, 2019 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: I knew I wanted to talk to you about it today.

OK, Brian, we have decided it. It's all done.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: You've got it.

BOLDUAN: Great to see.

Thanks so much for joining me today, everybody. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

President Trump heading to Vietnam this hour for a second summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un. The president predicts it will be, his word, tremendous.

And, brace yourself for a big week. While the president is on the world stage, Washington's big dramas include long-time Trump fixer Michael Cohen's first public testimony about hush money payments to women, Russia business dealings, and more.

And the 2020 campaign is off to an early and crowded start. Ten candidates on the tail this weekend. Bernie Sanders preparing for a big CNN town hall tonight. For the lesser knowns trying to break through, the search is on for this campaign's version of hope and change.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CONSIDERING PRESIDENTIAL RUN: The best way to bring that promise of America to all Americans is to go big on the issues we take on, on education, on health care, on infrastructure and gun violence, to be bold in the solutions that we execute and to do good in the way that we govern.

Go big, be bold, do good.

Go big, be bold, do good.

Go big, be bold, do good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Did you get that?

Back to politics in a moment.

We begin with the big split screen test that poses high drama and high stakes this week for the president. In just moments, the president leaves for Hanoi and a second meeting with the North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un. But expect a hallmark hearing Wednesday here in Washington. Testimony from Michael Cohen about pre-election hush money payments to women who say they had affairs with then businessman Trump.

The Cohen hearing and the television coverage of it threatened to overshadow the events in Vietnam. A sequel to the president's first made for TV summit in Singapore. We know the president grades such things differently than they do at the think tank. He loves the images. And said Sunday he's in no rush for progress dismantling the North Korean nuclear arsenal as long as Kim refrains from testing bombs and missiles. Today, though, the president said he's poised for a tremendous summit but didn't exactly define what progress would look like.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right after this meeting I leave for Vietnam, where I meet with Chairman Kim and we talk about something that, frankly, he never spoke to anybody about, but we're speaking and we're speaking loud and I think we can have a very good -- a very good summit. I think we'll have a very tremendous summit. We want denuclearization.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, remember, after the Singapore summit, the president said the nuclear problem was solved. Just yesterday his own secretary of state made clear, no, it most certainly was not.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, HOST, CNN'S "STATE OF THE UNION": Do you think North Korea remains a nuclear threat?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Yes.

TAPPER: But the president said he doesn't.

POMPEO: That's not what he said. I mean I -- I know -- I know precisely what he said.

TAPPER: He tweeted, there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.

POMPEO: What he said is that the -- what he said was that the efforts that had been made in Singapore, this commitment that Chairman Kim made, have substantially takes down the risk to the American people. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: For the record, Mr. Tapper was correct in what the president said, not the secretary of state.

CNN's Sarah Westwood is at the White House.

Sarah, we heard the president this morning. What's the White House goal for this big summit?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, John, officials say one of the main goals of these meetings will be to gauge North Korea's willingness to denuclearize and to try to secure some kind of clear, verifiable step toward that goal. There's been disagreements between intelligence officials and President Trump about just how committed North Korea is to its nuclear arsenal. And we expect to see these talks be more substantive, perhaps more intensive than what came out of that inaugural summit in Singapore, which was ultimately little more than a meet and greet. The White House wants to put more meat on the bones of the president's diplomatic efforts towards North Korea.

And the primary message from the U.S. is likely to be focused on prosperity. They hope to use the backdrop of Vietnam, which was once hostile toward the U.S., as an example of the kind of economic revival that Kim Jong-un could secure for his country if he were to soften his stance toward the U.S.

But we don't know what specific concessions President Trump is going to seek from North Korea, although he's been striking a very optimistic tone about the likelihood of progress. That's not an attitude that's shared throughout the administration, though. There are concerns among adviser close to the president that perhaps he could concede too much in pursuit of some kind of a breakthrough, and it's not at all clear, John, that North Korea will be receptive to that kind of message of economic prosperity from the Americans in Vietnam.

KING: Be fascinating to watch in the days ahead. Appreciate it. Sarah Westwood, live at the White House.

Again, the president's going to leave momentarily. We don't expect to hear from him as he leaves, but we'll keep an eye on that one.

With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Rachael Bade with "The Washington Post," Julie Pace with "The Associated Press," CNN's MJ Lee, Jackie Kucinich with "The Daily Beast," and CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero.

So the president's going to be on the world stage. He loved the pageantry of Singapore. And to, you know, you -- for those who say, what did you get, he's right, the president's right when he says North Korea has not tested, they're not firing missiles in the neighborhood. The question is, can he get more. And the question is, what impact, what's happening back here, have on him.

[12:05:14] Michael Cohen is going to be up before Congress. A House committee asking him publicly for the first time about everything from Stormy Daniels to Trump Tower Moscow to a whole bunch of other issues. My question is, will the president keep his focus on Chairman Kim or will he be furious about what's happening here in D.C.?

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": I think there's no doubt he'll be watching what's happening in D.C. It will be in the middle of the night in Hanoi. We expect that he'll have a full day with Kim on Thursday, but perhaps something on Wednesday as well. So this could be right in the middle of two really delicate meetings.

You know, certainly Michael Cohen's situation has really infuriated the president because this is someone, who, despite what he says publicly about Cohen being fairly low-level and off to the side, this is someone who was really central to his business.

KING: For decades.

PACE: For decades.

KING: About as close to Trump as we are right now all the time.

PACE: He was around for everything and what he has particular insight into is the Trump businesses. And those are really central to Trump's own identity and also his children are tied up in the businesses currently. So this gets to all of the pressure points around the president. It's hard to imagine that he'll be not paying attention to what's happening back here.

KING: And so listen here. This is Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee now. Chairman. Remember, that's the most important part, the Democrats are in charge in the House now, laying out some -- some of what the Democrats hope to ask Mr. Cohen about.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Did they go beyond what he told us about Moscow Trump Tower into other areas as well? Who would have been aware of the false testimony that he was giving? What other light can he shed now that he's cooperating on issues of obstruction of justice or collusion? What more could he tell us about the Trump Tower New York meeting or any other issues relevant to our investigation? We think he has a lot to offer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's a lot of ground the president would prefer not be uncovered.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I think this would be a high stakes meeting under normal circumstances. But considering the fact that the president is going into this summit with this happening back home, you know, having covered Cohen, the ins and outs of Michael Cohen and everything that's going on with him for a while, I've always thought that what is going to be sort of most newsworthy about his first public testimony is not just the news that Michael Cohen potentially makes in that hearing room, but the effect that it has on the president's sort of mental state, right? He is going to look up and see potentially Michael Cohen, while he is in Vietnam, say things about him that he's going to either disagree with or that, as Julie was saying, will simply infuriate him.

And we know that the president is unpredictable in a lot of ways. He can be volatile in the decisions that he makes. But I think especially when he sees -- he feels like he is under siege back home with these negative headlines, we have no idea what to -- what to expect for him to do in a -- in a setting like this.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DAILY BEAST": I think it will be directly proportional to how Michael -- how credible Michael Cohen appears at this hearings to how infuriated the president will be. If he comes off like someone who isn't trustworthy or who is foolish, because you know that's what House Republicans in particularly during -- because that's going to be the open hearing, that's going to be -- and everyone can see - the president can see on TV -- if they're able to tear him down in a way, I'm sure the president will delight in that instead of be worried.

And also how it is taken in Fox News land, frankly.

KING: Right. Right.

KUCINICH: Because that's who the president listens to and how he kind of -- how it reflects back to him.

KING: And the Cohen testimony publicly, again, he says the president was aware he was breaking campaign finance laws when they paid Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels. He said the president lied to the American people repeatedly and the campaign lied to the American people about how long the Trump Tower Moscow deals went on. And there's more. That's going to infuriate the president.

All that's in the ramp-up to the resale of the -- of the -- the filing of the Mueller report. I shouldn't say release. I'll correct myself there. We are expected, maybe not this week, but within days Mueller will give a report to the attorney general.

Schiff said on ABC the Democrats are prepared to subpoena Mueller, to get the documents, to get Mueller in the chair answer questions.

I was in Iowa this week and I talked to Kamala Harris. Listen to her here. She says she hopes that most of it is made public, but that if parts are not made public, she believes that the Democratic committees -- the Intelligence Committees and other committees can get the classified materials.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that given in particular all the misinformation that we can, I think rightly, believe we've heard, that it is important that the American public receive as much information and that we be as transparent as possible. So I am an advocate for transparency. I'm an advocate for a public report. And certainly that we in the United States Congress would receive all of the supporting information, be it in a classified hearing or not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Carrie, help me with this one. And I asked her the question in the context, she's a former local D.A., former state attorney general. The prosecutors pursue cases all the time and they might believe in their bones somebody's guilty. But if they can't prove it, they take the file, they put it away and they bite their tongue. She is saying that Congress should have access to the work product. And if you have to do that in a classified setting, so be it. Can they demand that?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think they're going to fight over it. Whether or not they end up getting it is one thing.

[12:10:01] So there's a lot of different things to unpack here.

First of all, there's different congressional committees that Michael Cohen is going before this week. He's going in a public hearing in front of the House Oversight Committee. And that's the one where they're going to get into the Stormy Daniels payments and the campaign finance violations and what Donald Trump's role was in all of that, and then into Trump campaign related -- or, excuse me, Trump Organization related financial issues.

Separate from that is what Adam Schiff is talking about, Chairman Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. And what he's talking about is the closed hearing that's going to be before his committee, as well as the closed appearance that Michael Cohen is going to make in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. That's where they're going to get into the potential classified information where Michael Cohen might be providing information about the Trump Moscow project or other things related to involvement that pertains to those committees' classified inquiries into Russian influence on the 2016 election and going forward.

Whether or not Congress will end up getting all of the information that Special Counsel Mueller files with the attorney general will probably be discussed, fighted about and potentially litigated.

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, just to add on that. I mean House Democrats right now are really ramping up this pressure on William Barr before the release is -- the report is finished so sort of say, look, if there's a precedent at the DOJ, which clearly there is, if you're not going to prosecute someone, you don't release this information. That's exactly what Barr said in his confirmation fight.

But they're saying impeachment is not a legal matter, it's a political matter. And so if the president did something that was untoward or misconduct of some sort but it's not a legal issue, we still need to know because we are the people who hold him accountable, Congress is. And so they're sort of laying out this case.

And you heard Schiff talk about a little this weekend that if DOJ doesn't turn this information over, it's a, quote, effective cover-up. And that's pretty much the letter that the chairman sent to the DOJ (INAUDIBLE).

KING: And part of their argument is that the president undermined himself by pressuring the Justice Department to hand over the Clinton investigation files. In the Clinton investigation -- she was not -- she was never charged and the president said, turn over some of your work product to Congress so they can look at this. Now the Democrats say, well, OK, if that's -- you know, if you did it for her, now you've got to do it for him.

BADE: Right.

KING: I want you to listen here. This is Donald Trump Junior. He was on Fox News this morning. He says there's nothing here. The way he says it, the energy with which he says it leads you to believe even the Trump family's watching Mr. Cohen and all these other developments as they play out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you feel that pressure? Is he right?

DONALD TRUMP JUNIOR, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: You know, I'm not worried about because, you know, we function the way we function. We always have. We always will.

They're not investigating actual crimes anymore. They're literally just trying to find something that they can make a big deal of.

I've been hearing this for two years where everyone's getting -- everyone's going to jail. Meanwhile, they haven't actually found anything as it relates to this. What they did was, they put incredible pressure on regular guys that couldn't afford million dollars in legal fees and got them to slip up and say something incorrectly. You know, they pretended they were their friends. They go them in that -- that's all that happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: There are no actual crimes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The national security adviser lied. Paul Manafort was convicted and then cut a plea deal. Gates was -- cut a plea deal. I could go on. Michael Cohen cut a plea deal. I guess they -- call them regular guys if you want.

PACE: Even if you look at just what we know already from what Mueller has put out publically in his indictments, there are real crimes. They involve people who work close to the president. And then there's a whole host of unknowns, including Don Junior's own involvement in a Trump Tower meeting. And there may be no more crimes here, but already there's a tremendous amount that people around the president have done.

CORDERO: Well, and just this Saturday the special counsel's office and the court released the redacted version of a special counsel sentencing memorandum against Paul Manafort, who was the campaign chairman, and who the prosecutors say was committing crimes while he was the campaign chairman and after all the way through his plea agreement.

KING: Yes, they -- they didn't use the term regular -- regular guy, but they said he was really good at lying. That's what they said in that document, regular -- regularly, let's put it that way.

Up next, President Trump agrees to delay a big tariff hike on China, but it comes with a little dig about how much he loves the tariffs already in place.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, China's paying us right now billions and billions of dollars of tariffs a month. Every month, billions of dollars. I love it, personally. I love it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:18:17] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tell you how -- how well we did with our trade talks in China. And it looks like they'll be coming back quickly again. And we're going to have another summit. We're going to have a signing summit, which is even better. So hopefully we can get that completed. But we're getting very, very close.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: President Trump, just this morning, sounding optimistic about finalizing a trade deal he hopes to sign with China's president. And because of that optimism, a big shift from the White House. The president deciding now to delay a planned increase in tariffs on Chinese goods. The increase was supposed to kick in Friday, raising from 10 percent to 25 percent the tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese exports.

CNN's Alison Kosik joins us live from the New York Stock Exchange.

Alison, the markets in China liked this overnight. How about here?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Oh, they're certainly liking it here in the U.S. as well. As you can see, the Dow up 181 points. You know, that optimism tone from the president now this morning and then the optimistic tone he took over the weekend on Twitter, it's kind of music to investor's ears. That's as the expectation for a deal, a trade deal between the U.S. and China, becomes more and more of a reality and as the president delays that additional tariff on Chinese goods. The big worry there was that the Chinese could always retaliate against tariffs here on U.S. goods and hurt U.S. companies. If you look at the overall picture, though, here in the market, over the past nine weeks or so I have seen fear kind of subside. We know this because we watch an index called the VICs (ph). It's actually at its lowest level since August. And this was way before any of those big headlines came out about trade, and even about the Feds came out and briefly pushed all the major indices into bare market territory. So today you're especially seeing a lot of relief in the market on this -- on these optimistic words from the president and his tone.

[12:20:03] But one thing to keep in mind, the stability, at least, in this market really hinges on whether or not there's going to be an actual deal signed and whether or not it can be enforced. That is key here. One trader telling me this market is really one negative headline about trade away from a reversal and from President Trump possibly changing his mind, which is a possibility.

John.

KING: Just make sure none of them read Twitter. Alison Kosik live at the markets for us.

Alison, we'll check in.

Greg Ip with "The Wall Street Journal" joins our conversation.

Greg, appreciate you being here.

So the markets like this. Markets don't like trade wars. We've seen the volatility in the ups and downs of the negotiations. They're not to the finish line, but from what we know, where they are, who got what and did the president get -- he said he was going to be the president who finally stood up to China on intellectual property, on state subsidies, on other Chinese behavior that has been an issue for decades.

Did he move them?

GREG IP, CHIEF ECONOMICS COMMENTATOR, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": If you are somebody who thought that China's behavior needed to really change in a fundamental way, you're probably not that excited or pleased so far by what we're learning China has agreed to.

So it looks like they're going to agree to buy more natural gas and soybeans from the United States, that they will take a tougher line in terms of protecting intellectual property, that they might open some sectors, like finance, up to American companies. But these are all things China was probably going to do anyway.

So if the test of an agreement is, did you force them to do things they didn't -- weren't inclined to do, we haven't seen them make fundamental movement in terms of stopping -- no more forcing American companies to transfer their technology to Chinese companies. No more subsidies for state-owned enterprises.

And, obviously, we don't have an agreement yet and so we don't know how it will be enforced. And what we're hearing is that the Chinese are being very resistant to the sort of tough enforcement mechanisms that are typically necessary to make sure that they play by the letter and spirit of the agreement.

KING: Well, so that gets to the point, is it going to get to the finish line, which gets you, if you read "Bloomberg," the point Alison was making there, the markets have been through this, you know, the ups and downs of it. Americans farmers have been through it. Other American businesses have been through it. And "Bloomberg" today, the president always seems to change his mind. Who knows if he'll take back his decision when he wakes up the next day. Anything could happen in the next 60 to 90, 100 days depending on the discussions. We just don't know. It's great news but that market still doesn't trust Trump's words. Those all words from business leaders quoted by "Bloomberg."

This has been a volatile time. But that confidence there from the president, he thinks President Xi's coming soon to Mar-a-Lago and they're going to sign something.

LEE: I mean nothing is official right now. And Beijing has not agreed to anything. Officially there's nothing in writing. There's not some official readout that we've gotten.

And this idea that there might be a summit at Mar-a-Lago I think significantly raises the stakes, the possibility that Xi could actually be a guest at Trump's club in Florida and then talks potentially fall through, because that's certainly a possibility at this point. A lot of people saying nothing is for granted or for certain right now.

I will say the one thing that I think we can count on in this situation is that when it comes to policy, we talk a lot about how the president actually doesn't care to get into the details of a lot of policy issues that are complicated. We talked about this a lot during the health care debate, that he never actually learned the issue.

Trade, I do think, is the one issue that falls in a different category. He cared about it from the beginning. He cares about it a lot right now. And it is a personal goal for him to get trade right. And it is fundamental to how he sees the United States' role in the world.

KING: It's also a personal goal for him to get re-elected.

LEE: Right.

KING: And so let me ask this question, and we can put up the map, is this about if -- if President Trump was going to be the president who broke China, who got China to be a more responsible player in the world stage, is this more conventional? Is that a fair word for it, a more conventional deal that you might see under any other president, negotiate, get the best deal you can, don't disturb the markets. Is it about this? If you look at the map, Gallup put out the state by state this past week. The president's numbers are down, especially if you look at some of those Midwestern states. It doesn't mean he can't pull off another Electoral College victory, but he has his work cut out for him. This is not a happy map if you look at Wisconsin there, if you look at Iowa there, if you look at Michigan there, three states the president won last time. He's got some work to do.

How much 2020 calculations go into the idea that maybe the president decided we've pushed, we've pushed, we've pushed, now it's time to cut a deal.

IP: So, John, I would say that this is actually the first president who approached China through the lens of the re-election possibility. Look, American presidents have a history of wanting a lot from China and not getting it. And the problem is they didn't want it enough.

George Bush tried to press China on things like intellectual property theft, but North Korea was more important. Iran was more important.

Obama wanted changes in behavior from the Chinese, but climate change was more important.

And so, with this president, what the Chinese have sensed as just like his predecessors, there were things that he wanted more than fundamental change. He wants a higher Dow. He wants farmers selling more soybeans. He wants to get re-elected and he wants those Electoral College votes in those states that matter to him.

And this means that in some sense the Chinese, who began from a point of very little leverage, now have a lot more leverage than they thought. The very fact, I think, that the president is pushing hard towards a summit in some sense boxes him into having to have something to show for all this (INAUDIBLE) negotiated.

KUCINICH: Well, and he's blunting --

KING: That's a great point. The Chinese know the art of the deal.

[12:25:06] KUCINICH: They read the book. But he's -- but he's blunted the impact in a way, too, because, what is it, $7.7 billion has been paid out to farmers in order to --

KING: Right.

KUCINICH: While the -- so while they're -- while this is being tied up, while they're not selling soybeans and crops to China. So what happens when these subsidies stop? I mean are they just going to be indefinite?

KING: Right.

PACE: Well, and that's why the re-election calculous for Trump is actually a little complicated because, on the one hand, you have those states and you pointed to the map, those are states with big agricultural industries where they -- either saw or feared seeing a real negative impact.

But then Trump has another part of his base that just wants him to be tough on China.

KING: Right.

PACE: I mean this is actually something that is pretty politically popular to show that you're being tough on China, but those people may be different than the voters in the states that he actually needs to win.

BADE: And there are people in the base who, you know, if he claims victory, even if it's perhaps not as good of a deal as he could have gotten, they're going to listen to him.

PACE: Right.

BADE: And that all -- that's all that matters.

And not only this deal here, but, you know, you have to look at what he did with NAFTA, too.

KING: Right.

BADE: And so Republicans, a lot of them were cautioning him against this sort of hard line in tariffs saying, this is going to blow up in our face. It will be interesting to see how the party sort of reorients itself if he's able to land another deal after renegotiating NAFTA.

IP: And I think what we've seen so far is the people in his party that are more hawkish on China are not so -- are not getting their way. So a lot of China hawks were happy that Bob Lighthizer, the trade ambassador, was put in charge of this because he is probably the most hawkish negotiator on their team. But the news reports of the last week suggest that the president actually has been a little less sympathetic to that hawkish point view.

Similarly, on the -- on the Hill, people like Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, these are the senators who want a tougher -- tougher line on China. You saw that with ZTE. But in the end, the president did not listen to them.

KING: Well, we'll watch this one play out. It's a fascinating moment. The market's happy today. We'll wait for some details.

We're moments away from the president getting on Air Force One. He's heading to Hanoi for the big summit with Kim Jong-un.

Up next for us here, Bernie Sanders pleading for everyone to play nice as Elizabeth Warren issues a challenge to the crowded, very crowded, 2020 Democratic field.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)