Return to Transcripts main page


North Korea Announces Halt to Nuclear Program; Interview With California Congressman John Garamendi. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 20, 2018 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Trump's obsession. We're learning more about the president's fixation on the infamous Russian dossier and its most salacious claim, now that James Comey's memos are public. This hour, the top takeaways from the memos and the president's reaction.

And being John Barron. A reporter accuses the president of deceiving him about his wealth back in the 1980s by passing himself off as a fake Trump Organization executive. Stand by to hear the conversation for yourself.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking tonight, Michael Cohen's own lawyer suggesting in court that his client could be hit with a criminal indictment soon, arguing that it's reason to delay the lawsuit by the porn star Stormy Daniels.

This as the Trump team is hit with a surprising new lawsuit alleging in great detail that the president's 2016 campaign conspired with Russia to win the election. The suit by the Democratic Party targeting Mr. Trump's son, his son-in-law, among others, including the Russian government.

This hour, I will talk to the DNC chairman, Tom Perez, in his first interview on the lawsuit. And congressman John Garamendi is also standing by, along with our correspondents and analysts.

First, let's go to our national correspondent, Miguel Marquez.

Miguel, tell us more about the new hearing in Los Angeles in the Stormy Daniels case.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: yes, another very dramatic day in court, as lawyers for the president, Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels go at it.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): The bicoastal legal drama pitting the porn star against the president has its first hearing in a California federal court.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: The court recognized, to quote the court, that there are gaping holes in the application by Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump to delay this matter.

MARQUEZ: Stormy Daniels' aggressive button-pushing lawyer, Michael Avenatti, wants his case to move forward as quickly as possible.

AVENATTI: It has always been our intention to make sure that this case proceeded expeditiously.

MARQUEZ: The stakes enormous. If the case moves forward, the president himself could be deposed about a $130,000 payment to the adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, AKA, Stormy Daniels, which he denies knowing about.

QUESTION: did you know about the $130,000 payment to storm?


MARQUEZ: The question, but did he buy her silence about an alleged affair through his trusted and loyal fixer, Michael Cohen?

QUESTION: Will you file to protect the Fifth Amendment?

MARQUEZ: Much of the day's hearing centered on whether Michael Cohen would assert his Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer questions in this California civil case while Cohen is also a target of a federal criminal investigation in New York.

AVENATTI: I believe the indictment will be issued within the next 90 days.

MARQUEZ: In court, Michael Cohen's lawyer Brent Blakely used Avenatti's public claims against him, arguing a delay in this case is imperative until he can sort through what the federal government has on his client in New York.

And if his client is charged, as Avenatti says, then the civil case would have to wait. Avenatti says not true. There may be a middle ground.

AVENATTI: They can very easily coexist. And I through the court indicated that the court may ultimately find that when his honor discussed less intrusive means relating to allowing this case to proceed on a parallel track.

MARQUEZ: Citing security concerns, Stormy Daniels did not appear in court today after a chaotic appearance earlier in the week in New York for a hearing regarding the FBI raid of Michael Cohen's New York office, home and hotel room.

Lawyers on both sides admitting in court they don't know exactly what was seized and what the focus was in New York last week as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into Cohen's business dealings. According to a source, investigators were seeking information about a

range of issues, including Cohen's 2016 hush agreement with Daniels. Investigators are reportedly also seeking records related to a deal between former playmate Karen McDougal and America Media, Inc., which prevented her from publicly discussing her alleged 10-month affair with Trump. He denies the affair.


MARQUEZ: Now, the judge in this case says that he wants to see that declaration from Michael Cohen by next Wednesday that he intends to take the Fifth here.

But Michael Cohen, talking to CNN lawyers, is in terrible position with this, because in a civil case, like we have here in Los Angeles, if you take the Fifth, a jury is allowed to infer something negative out of that, unlike a criminal case. And if he speaks on the record, then it could do damage to his criminal case, possible criminal case in New York.


Terrible place to be -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Miguel, thanks very much, Miguel Marquez in L.A. for us.

As Michael Cohen's legal troubles escalate, the Trump team is growing increasingly worried that the president's longtime fixer potentially could turn on him.

Tonight, "The New York Times" reports that Mr. Trump's lawyers and advisers are resigned to the very strong possibility that Cohen will wind up eventually cooperating with federal investigators if he faces serious criminal charges.

Our White House reporter Kaitlan Collins is with the president down in Florida right now.

Kaitlan, what are you hearing about the Trump team's concerns about Michael Cohen?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Michael Cohen is someone who said he would take a bullet for Donald Trump and that he would never turn on him, but now even the president's legal team and his advisers are calling into question that claim, wondering just how true it is.

Of course, Michael Cohen here has a wife, he has two kids. He's facing a serious amount of legal fees, potentially criminal charges in this investigation into his business dealings, a lot that have to do with President Trump.

So now they are wondering how much it would take for him to turn on President Trump in this "New York Times" reporting. But there are two other details I want to draw your attention to in this reporting, Wolf. One is that in the few days after the raid, we reported that the president called Michael Cohen to check in, but "The New York Times" says they have not spoken since, and that Cohen is telling his allies that he feels isolated from the president.

And the second detail is that, according to "The New York Times," Michael Cohen approached Melania Trump during a Republican fund-raiser here at the club in Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, to apologize for that payment that he made to Stormy Daniels to the tune of $130,000.

"The New York Times" doesn't note how Melania Trump responded to that attempted apology. But of course Michael Cohen is certainly someone who has been a very loyal surrogate of the president, often an attack dog of his.

Of course, that loyalty is proven by the fact that he paid a porn actress $130,000 to keep quiet about her claim. But now that the question that the president's legal team and his advisers and allies have here, Wolf, is just how long is the loyalty going to last?

BLITZER: Good question. Kaitlan, thank you very much, Kaitlan Collins in Florida.

Now to James Comey's memos available for all the world to see and prompting a new attack by President Trump on his fired FBI director.

The memos corroborating Comey's public claims about his dealings with the president. And they also offer new insights into the president's views on Russia, Michael Flynn and a lot more.

Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, you have going through the memos and the new tweets by the president as well.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Reading these memos, you have to wonder if the president and his GOP supporters who pushed for their release still believe that it was to the president's advantage to see these, because, as you have said, it shows that James Comey's accounts of his interactions with the president have been consistent and also provides more details on the interactions, some of the comments by the president, including about Russia, which could be of interest to investigators.

That did not stop the president today, either in spite of or perhaps because of those memos, going on the attack against Comey again.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): President Trump attempting to discredit the just-released Comey memos tweeting that they show -- quote -- "clearly that there was no collusion and no obstruction. Also, he leaked classified information. Wow, will the witch-hunt continue?"

Former FBI Director James Comey says he drafted the memos which are not classified documenting seven meetings and phone calls with the president because he feared that Mr. Trump would lie about them, telling CNN:

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I have try to be transparent throughout this. And I think what folks will see if they get to see the memos is, I have been consistent since the very beginning right after my encounters with President Trump.

SCIUTTO: Comey's memos reveal that, as FBI director, he informed then Chief of Staff Reince Priebus that parts of the so-called Steele dossier have been corroborated by U.S. intelligence.

Comey wrote -- quote -- "I explained that the analysts from all three agencies agreed it was relevant and that portions of the material were corroborated by other intelligence."

The memos highlight the president's apparent obsession with the Steele dossier, which Mr. Trump brought up with Comey unprompted several times, including during one meeting at the White House.

Comey wrote -- quote -- "The president brought up the golden showers thing and said it really bothered him if his wife had any doubt about it. He then explained, as he did at our dinner, that he hadn't stayed overnight in Russia during the Miss Universe trip. The president said the hookers thing is nonsense, but that Putin had told him, we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world. He did not say when Putin had told him this."

QUESTION: Did you believe him or did you think he was speaking hyperbolically?

COMEY: Didn't seem to be speaking hyperbolically.

SCIUTTO: A spokesperson for the Kremlin said today Putin could not have made that remark to Trump, saying they had never communicated before Trump became president.


In another encounter, Trump expressed anger at then National Security adviser Michael Flynn for delaying a phone call to Trump from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Flynn said that the return call was scheduled for Saturday," Comey wrote, which prompted a heated reply from the president that six days was not an appropriate period of time to return a call. "In telling the story, the president pointed his fingers at his head and said, 'The guy has serious judgment issues.'"

Yet Trump defended Flynn today, tweeting: "So, General Michael Flynn's life can be totally destroyed while shady James Comey can leak and lie and make lots of money from a third-rate book." The word shady misspelled in the tweet.

Trump was not the only official interested in Flynn's legal fate. Comey wrote of an exchange with Priebus, saying -- quote -- "He wanted to ask me a question and I could decide whether it was appropriate to answer. He then asked, 'Do you have a FISA order on Mike Flynn?'" I paused for a second and then said that I would answer here, but that this illustrated the kind of question that had to be asked and answered through established channels."

COMEY: I was confident that if the president's chief of staff, White House counsel, asked the Justice Department, they would get the answer, and so I could give the answer in the moment, then use it to illustrate the way it should work going forward.

TRUMP: We're going to find the leakers. They're going to pay a big price for leaking.

SCIUTTO: Some of the president's greatest ire was directed at the media and stopping leaks from White House.

"I said something about it being difficult," Comey wrote, "and he replied that we need to go after the reporters and refer to the fact that 10 to 15 years ago we put them in jail to out what they know, and it worked. They spend a couple days in jail, make a new friend, and they are ready to talk."


SCIUTTO: Now, regarding Comey's recounting of the president's comments about Michael Flynn's judgment, a person close to Flynn noted that that comment seemed to be based on Flynn's delay in returning a phone call from Vladimir Putin.

And you can make the argument there, Wolf, that it shows or it's at least is outside the narrative that we have heard so far with Michael Flynn about him coming to Putin's defense, as it were, or showing himself to be perhaps compromised or interested in doing his best to improve the relationship with Russia. On that issue at least, he delayed the president having contact with the Russian president.

BLITZER: If you read those Comey memos, they are fascinating and, as you point out, very consistent with what he put in the book and what he's been saying in all these TV interviews.

Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, for that report.

Joining me us now, Congressman John Garamendi. He's a Democrat. He serves on the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, let me get your reaction. We now have 15 pages of Director Comey's memos about his interactions with President Trump, with several redactions, areas that are blocked out, blacked out because of security concerns, classified information.

Do these documents lend credibility, in your opinion, to Comey's account?

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Absolutely. They are consistent from what he's written, what he said in the committee hearings and what he said on every television show in which he's been interviewed.

There's consistency all the way through. And I think it lays a heavy, heavy burden on the president, because of the detail, even the descriptions of what was going on in the room at the time. All of those things lend significant credibility to his story, to his narrative of what this president was up to.

BLITZER: Comey's account of the president's remarks about Michael Flynn, the fired national security adviser, clearly touched a nerve. In the memo, Comey says the president expressed serious reservations about Flynn's -- quote -- "judgment issues."

And just this morning, the president tweeted this. "So, General Michael Flynn's life can be totally destroyed while shady James Comey can leak and lie and make lots of money from a third-rate book that should never have been written. Is that really the way life in America is supposed to work? I don't think so."

What is your reaction?

GARAMENDI: Well, Mr. President, you are the way life in America should not happen. You ought not be lying. You ought not be telling -- you should be telling the truth, and you ought not be tweeting nasty things about people young and old.

And, by the way, in your campaign, it was just plain disgusting the way in which you treated your opponents. Life in America should not be the way you're doing it, Mr. President. You have a very, very important position in this nation. You're supposed to establish a high standard of deportment and you're not.

BLITZER: Some think the president could be signaling his willingness to pardon Michael Flynn, who has already pled guilty to the charges against him. If the president were, for example, to offer a pardon, could that be considered more evidence, from your perspective, Congressman, of obstruction of justice?

GARAMENDI: Well, it could be. It could be, particularly if there are other ways of communicating to the various people that have been indicted, some of whom have already pled guilty, communicating to them that if -- from the president in various ways, including the Scooter Libby pardon, that he's out there ready to take care of them.


Is that obstruction of justice? It certainly could be.

BLITZER: According to these memos, and we have gone through them, I'm sure you have as well, the president was also fixated on what Comey calls the golden showers thing, the most salacious part of that Steele dossier regarding allegations of Donald Trump and Russian prostitutes in Moscow back in 2013.

Comey says the president claims Vladimir Putin had told him -- and I'm quoting now from the memo -- "We have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world."

That is an alleged quote from Putin. But it is unclear when Putin and Trump had that conversation, because there was no mention of hookers in that first official phone call between these two men after the inauguration.

And the Russians say the two men never had a conversation before Donald Trump became president. What do you make of that?

GARAMENDI: Well, what I make of it is, I don't think there's ever been a readout, that is, a description in a narrative of what actually happened and what was said between these two men.

And that's most unusual. So we really don't know. I guess we will have to depend upon Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin, both of whom have a very strong tendency to not tell the truth.

BLITZER: According to "The Wall Street Journal," Congressman, at least two of the memos that he handed over last year to a friend in New York City, memos which were then leaked to the news media, are now considered to have contained at least some classified information.

And now the inspector general over at the Justice Department, according to "The Wall Street Journal," is investigating. Do you believe Comey was careless in the way he leased these memos?

GARAMENDI: Well, I have no idea about that one memo. I think it went to a professor. Was it at Princeton or one of the universities? And apparently at that time, that was not -- that memo was not classified. So I don't know. The rest of them, I don't believe he did release them.

Certainly, what we have now is that the Republicans on the Intelligence Committee, on the Judiciary Committee and on the Oversight Committee in the House of Representatives did release them. And so you might ask the Republicans that question. Did they release classified information?

They certainly have come very close to it in the past.

BLITZER: Congressman, I need you to stand by for a few moments. I want to talk to you, but listen to this.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: There's breaking news coming in from North Korea right now about the country's nuclear program.

I quickly want to go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He's working for the story here.

But first I want to go to CNN's Will Ripley. He's joining us on the phone from Hong Kong.

Will, tell our viewer what you're learning and what you're hearing.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I just got off the phone with a North Korea official who confirms news that is breaking right now in North Korea state media. Kim Jong-un has announced to his country and his own people that he's

completed his nuclear program and, therefore, there is no need to continue developing nuclear weapons. Kim Jong-un saying North Korea no longer needs any nuclear tests, midrange and intercontinental ballistic missile tests. And he's saying the nuclear test site in the northern area near the Chinese border at Punggye-ri has completed its mission.

Therefore, it will likely be closed. This is an extraordinarily significant development and, frankly, a huge win for President Trump going into these discussions, this potential summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

I want to read to you a quote from a North Korean force I just spoke to on the phone minutes ago. He told me -- quote -- "Finally, Kim Jong-un has decided to open up. This is a new chapter for the DPRK. He's committed himself to the task of denuclearization and will now focus solely on economic growth and improving the national economy. Finally, he has realized the best path forward is to open up the country and normalize relations.

"He is finally being recognized by the international community and this is an historic, timely opportunity."

Wolf, I have to say, I am really almost speechless here at the pace at which North Korea has done this U-turn. And this all started with Donald Trump agreeing to sit down for a summit with Kim Jong-un. Kim Jong-un has gone from being cast aside as the ruler of a global pariah to now he has a meeting with the president of South Korea next week.

Xi Jinping reportedly making plans to visit him in Pyongyang, something that the Chinese president would have never considered before. You have Japan and Russia reaching out, trying to scheduled their own summit with Kim Jong-un.

And the U.S. and North Korea are still working, we believe, to finalize a date and location for this historic sit-down with President Trump.


I have been speaking with diplomatic sources over the last week who were optimistic, believing that President Trump might be the one U.S. president who could figure out a way to break through to North Korea.

And this announcement from the North Korea state media does confirm a dramatic shift in North Korean policy, a commitment apparently to engage ahead of these historic talks. It is really an extraordinary development.

BLITZER: It truly is, Will Ripley. And I know you have been to North Korea several times over these past few years.

If, in fact, the North Korean regime lives up to this, this would be extremely, extremely significant. It also follows that meeting a couple weeks ago that the outgoing CIA Director Mike Pompeo had with Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang.

Talk a little bit about that, because potentially that meeting could have also set the stage for these historic statements made on the part of the North Korean regime.

RIPLEY: That's right. And from what we heard, sources familiar with those discussions in Pyongyang said that it was a very cordial meeting. That Mike Pompeo got along well with Kim Jong-un, who came into the room and was very well-prepared.

He sat at the table. He had a number of pages of notes in front of him. They got along and they discussed -- again, the main sticking point being the location for the meeting. We don't know what other details they discussed. We know there are still three Americans being detained, being held prisoner in North Korea right now.

We don't know if perhaps the deal is being worked out for their release to coincide with this summit. Now, as we look at history here, think about the agreed framework that was agreed upon in 1994 or the leap year -- the Leap Day deal back in 2012.

There have been instances in the past where the United States and North Korea have come to an agreement to dismantle the nuclear agreement. And, as we know, those agreements have fallen apart.

So any deal that is made obviously needs to be verified, there need to be inspections. North Korea needs to agree to dismantle its nuclear facilities and to allow international inspectors into the country. And, frankly, we don't know if North Korea is hiding nuclear weapons and the material to make nuclear weapons in areas across the country.

We don't know the size of North Korea's arsenal. So while this is significant, and the fact that Kim Jong-un is telling the people this is highly significant, the key here in any deal that is worked out with the United States is going to be verification. The world needs to be able to know that North Korea is not secretly developing nuclear weapons, while at the same time engaging and opening up.

But we have never heard this kind of language from the North Korean leader before. And what you're seeing now is, this is a strategy on the part of the North Korea government to now sell this new idea to the North Korean people, because they live in a city, I have been to Pyongyang many times, and you are surrounded by propaganda celebrating the nuclear program.

There are images of missiles striking the United States. The nuclear program has given Kim Jong-un in a sense legitimacy in the eyes of his own people. But now he's telling his people that the nuclear program has completed and that things are going to change. And this has never happened before.

Is the change really going to happen? Now there's so much more riding on this summit, the meeting between President Trump. What can the United States offer North Korea now that North Korea is saying they're willing to make these dramatic concessions, stopping missile testing and shutting down potentially the nuclear testing site at Punggye-ri? BLITZER: Very, very significant, potentially historic statements

coming from North Korea right now, including a statement attributed to Kim Jong-un himself from the North Korean news agency.

Kim Jong-un saying -- and I'm quoting now -- "Under the proven condition of complete nuclear weapons, we no longer need any nuclear tests, midrange and intercontinental ballistic rocket tests and that the nuclear test site and northern area has also completed its mission."

That statement from Kim Jong-un, according to KCNA news agency, the state-run news agency.

Jim Sciutto, you have been watching North Korea for a long time. Will, I'm going to get back to you in a moment

But this potentially very significant. Now, actions speak louder than words, but these are very positive statements from Kim Jong-un coming on the eve of the summit with the South Korean president, President Moon, and potentially with the president of the United States.

SCIUTTO: Let's remember where we were just a few months ago. In August of 2017, the president famously warned of fire and fury against North Korea.

You had an increase in frequency of missile tests and, frankly, increasing success by North Korean missile tests, great concern here. And open talk from the American president of a military strike on North Korea. In that short time since then, you now have the statement from North Korea, missile and nuclear tests stopped in advance of the summit.

You have the summit coming up, at least plans within the next month or so, and you have North Korea putting denuclearization on the table, a remarkable step. Again, as you say, it's all going to be in action, rather than words.


But just to have that on the negotiating table is an enormous step and, frankly, an unexpected step, as we were talking about this just a few weeks ago, let alone a few months ago.

And when I into speak to both Democrats and Republicans on the Hill who follow this issue -- they will express, first of all, they will note the marked progress on the issue and they will express some cautious optimism that we are certainly in a better place, the U.S. and North Korea in a better place, and that's enormous, unexpected progress.

Now, some caveats here. One, why can North Korea suspend nuclear and missile tests? In that statement, the North Korean leader is saying that North Korea has completed its nuclear program, in effect saying, we no longer need to test, that have established a level of expertise and success here that doesn't require tests anymore. Some of that, of course, meant for the domestic population. Another issue, too, is just as you look going forward, you have a big summit coming up. Victor Cha, who was until recently President Trump's choice to be ambassador to South Korea, who would have of course been very involved in these negotiations, he has, while also citing the progress, said that a danger for summits like these is the danger of inflated expectations.

Right? You go there now with enormous expectations about what each side is going to give each other and what you're going to walk away with. That said, this is not a place we expected to be even a few weeks ago. It is remarkable, remarkable progress.

BLITZER: It does -- it is very significant, indeed.

we have been showing, Brian Todd, who is with us -- he has been covering North Korea for a long time as well -- the images we have been seeing of the ballistic missile tests, the nuclear -- the major ballistic missile test was last November. It's been several months that the North Korea have been silent, at least in this area of testing.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is significant, Wolf.

And as everybody's been mentioning, it is extraordinary that Kim Jong- un tonight is even talking about this. But let's put some of this in perspective.

Look at the graphic we're showing. The nuclear -- the missile tests, the missile launches by each leader comparatively between him, his father, and grandfather. His grandfather launched 15 missile tests, his father launched 16. Look at how many Kim Jong-un has launched, 89.

Extremely aggressive in just a little over six years of power. Jim and Will are mentioning the caveats here. One really important caveat to mention, when Kim Jong-un says denuclearization, every analyst we talk to says it means something different to him than it means to the United States.

To the United States, it means him getting rid of his nuclear weapons. To him, it means the U.S. and its allies ending their nuclear umbrella of protection in Asia and also the U.S. possibly withdrawing troops from South Korea.

It means something completely different to him than it does to the United States. So everybody should just keep in mind, when Kim says denuclearization, it means something else. Another very important thing to remember here, again, Jim and Will talking about verification, that's really the proof here.

Kim Jong-un -- well, actually, North Korea under his father and grandfather, they have basically cheated on every agreement they have ever made with the United States since 1994. Everybody has to remember that tonight, even in light of this extraordinary announcement.

BLITZER: Important statements. Actions, though, as they say, speak louder than words. We will see if they are followed up with specific actions indeed. We will see what happens at the summit in the coming days with the South Korean leader and followed presumably by the summit with President Trump as well and Kim Jong-un.

Will Ripley is in the region. He's in Hong Kong. He's monitoring these developments.

I understand, Will, you're getting more information.

RIPLEY: Hey. That's right.

In fact, just yesterday here, we learned, according to South Korea's President Moon Jae-in, that North Korea no longer expects American troops to withdraw from the Korean Peninsula. That was something that we learned yesterday. That's another dramatic shift from the North Korea's longstanding position that Brian was talking about, that in order for denuclearization to happen, that American troops would need to leave the peninsula.

That's no longer a North Korean requirement, according to South Korea's president. The American nuclear umbrella, though, continues to be an issue, perhaps, for North Korea, because the nuclear umbrella protects South Korea and Japan.

And that's one reason that North Korea has used to justify its own nuclear development. So that may be a request of the North Koreans moving forward. We will have to see what President Trump is willing to give here. Another point that diplomatic sources have told me is that the price here is going to go up considerably from what was agreed upon back in 1994.

Back then, North Korea's nuclear program was in its infancy and still at the time the government was asking for significant compensation in exchange for dismantling their nuclear facility.

Will North Korea expect significant financial compensation this time around? Obviously, what President Trump can offer if North Korea follows through with this is relief from sanctions, the normalization of relations with the United States, which could open up potential traditional opportunities.

If this all comes together, this could change North Korea as we know it. This is a country that, you know, there's a handful of flights in and out of Pyongyang every few weeks. When I walk through that airport, it's a shiny, new airport built to accommodate lots of planes. And there's just one flight in and one flight out. It's nearly empty.

[18:30:23] We could see that -- we could see change. You could see more international influence in North Korea. And that could fundamentally change the country. Economic growth, look what has happened in China, a country that was once isolated and now is a booming economic powerhouse. And we know that the North Korean leaders, in fact, Kim Jong-un just recently visited Beijing. You know, I'm sure he went to that capital city. He saw the skyscrapers and realized the economic opportunities and, frankly, the political opportunities for him, you know, now being recognized by the international community. If he were to change his country, to open up his country, and allow for the kind of economic growth that we've seen in China.

A lot of people thought that might never be possible in North Korea, but there are -- there are elements in that country who have been hoping for quite some time to see a better economic living condition for the people there. And this is the country where it's a rural area, so it is extraordinary impoverished. There's very little infrastructure. But that's also a tremendous opportunity, potentially, for people to go in there and start to build and develop.

We could be seeing this could be the dawn of a new era in North Korea. And the once isolated, closed-off country that I'm familiar with could change, and it frankly could change very quickly depending on how things go.

BLITZER: Right. The key words, depending on how things go right now. Barbara Starr is over at the Pentagon here. You're working your sources over there. The U.S. military, clearly, the intelligence community watching these developments very, very closely.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Minute-by-minute, Wolf. Let me start at the beginning.

From the U.S. military intelligence point of view, what we know tonight is that the U.S. military posture remains the same on the peninsula. And any aircraft, missiles or assets that would be watching the peninsula from their positions are in place. Satellites remain overhead. The U.S. military does not change its view that it must stay on high alert, watching any developments out of North Korea.

Why do they believe U.S. military, the U.S. intelligence community, that Kim is doing this? They believe very strongly that the economic sanctions are hurting him.

But the question on the table is, how far will Kim go, they say, to make these accommodations, perhaps make accommodations on reducing his nuclear weapons, getting rid of his nuclear weapons, but still preserve his own position to be in power.

U.S. military intelligence will tell you that he is still very much driven by his own survival, ensuring he's in power and ensuring the people around him remain in power. And I think many will tell you that China agrees they do not want to see implosion of North Korea on their border. They want to see stability, and Kim is very much driven by staying in power.

So, he offers these things up. We've talked about it. Will he declare everything he has? Will he declare all his missiles, all his warheads, all his nuclear material, his production capability, his factories? He hasn't done -- the North Koreans have not done that in the past. Will they allow in international inspections? That is very much a question that still remains to be seen.

But here's the interesting calculation. 2018, this year, U.S. intelligence estimated this would be the year that Kim could put a warhead on a long-range missile that would be capable, capable of striking the United States. That intelligence estimate is very central to what has begun this whole cycle. Because President Trump correctly feels that North Korea could threaten the U.S.

They haven't tested since November. The calculation right now behind the scenes is, since they haven't tested since November, where does that really leave their test program? This announcement perhaps is not a huge surprise. There was always worry that the North would simply come out to say, "Oh, we're done."

Could they still threaten the U.S.? Or, since they have not moved on their program visibly since November, has this put them far behind schedule on what the U.S. thought would be the year that they would be capable of having a weapon that could hit the U.S.? That's the real calculation right now.

As we go into this summit, as we go into the talks, how far along is North Korea? What does it mean they haven't tested since November? What do they have hidden away that they may not want the U.S. and international inspectors to see-- Wolf.

BLITZER: Just to recap for our viewers here in the United States and around the world, we're following the breaking news. The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has announced that North Korea will suspend all of its nuclear and ballistic missile tests, will shut down a nuclear test site in the northern part of the country, as well.

[18:35:14] Quote, "From April 21, North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles." That according to the central news agency of North Korea. It added the North will shut down a nuclear test site on the country's northern side to prove the vow to suspend nuclear tests. John Kirby is joining us, retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, our CNN military and diplomatic analyst.

What's your reaction to this potentially very historic, significant news?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST (via phone): Yes, Wolf, very historic, very important. My consensus is what you're seeing is a confidence-building measure that is being -- that is being played out publicly in advance of the summit.

We have long wanted to see them free, their program and their testing, in return, or you know, lifting the sanctions or a return to some sort of sense of normalcy. This sounds to me like that's what that is.

And I would be surprised if you don't see us offering some sort of, you know, confidence-building measures as a result of this. So we have to see where this goes. And I also am going to be looking to see what happened to those detained Americans. And whether we could maybe be seeing their potential release as a part of all this build-up for the summit, as well. But to me, this sounds very much like what we call a CBM, confidence

building measure, to prove to Trump and to the United States, if you're serious about sitting down and that they really do want to see the summit happen.

BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins is with us now down in Florida. She's covering the president in Mar-a-Lago at his resort down in Palm Beach. Kaitlan, what are you hearing down there? Is this a surprise to administration officials?

COLLINS: Well, Wolf, there's been no official comment from the White House so far, but this certainly does seem to be a surprise. The president is tweeting just a few seconds ago about the Democratic National Committee's decision to sue Trump campaign, not tweeting about North Korea. It even seemed to catch some of his officials off- guard, too.

I just have been making calls since this decision, since this news broke a few minutes ago. And officials had seemed surprised by the news. And I was telling them, essentially, that -- what had happened with North Korea and these latest developments.

But what we do know, Wolf, is that this will be a welcome thing for this White House. This President Trump has long been very optimistic about sitting down with Kim Jong-un. He caught a lot of people off- guard when he said he had accepted his invitation to meet at a summit. Something he says he hopes could happen by early June.

And just to give you a sense of how optimistic the president is about this, of course, the news broke recently that he sent his CIA director and secretary of state nominee Mike Pompeo to North Korea over Easter weekend to meet with Kim Jong-un and really lay out the ground rules for that potential meeting between the president and Kim Jong-un.

So certainly something to be welcomed by the White House. They haven't officially commented on this yet, but we can expect that the president will be glad to hear this news, Wolf.

BLITZER: I want to bring it back. Congressman John Garamendi. He's a Democrat. He's a member of the House Armed Services Committee. You've been very patient, Congressman.

What's your reaction to this potentially very significant news? It could -- it could be, potentially at least, a breakthrough.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, it certainly is. And it falls on several other things that have also happened. First of all, the facts on the ground are that, for the last 70 years, there's been two countries -- 60-some years, two countries on the Korean Peninsula.

Recognized most recently by a very courageous president, new president in South Korea, who has basically said there are really two countries. We need to recognize that and move away from what both countries had previously held as a primary and unchangeable fact. And that is reunification. We now seem to be moving away from that.

President Moon, very courageously, very -- in a very difficult political environment, has taken that step.

The work that has gone on from the United States is also important. We do need to keep in mind that the United States has consistently said that they wanted a freeze on the nuclear weapon development, as well as on the missile development. That's now been in place. I think we have an opportunity here. If we can find a way to guarantee the security of both North and South Korea, we can find an eventual and probably over the next several months and years, a reduction of all of this tension and a reduction of the military standoff that's existed now since 1953.

BLITZER: It looks like there must have been very, very positive conversations between Mike Pompeo, the outgoing CIA director, the secretary of state nominee with Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang about two weeks ago. The president himself described those meetings as very excellent, very positive meetings. We don't know the substance of what happened.

[18:40:05] We do know that the North Koreans now have issued a very significant statement. And let's see if they follow up with action.

But are you ready at this point, Congressman, to give the president some credit for this potential breakthrough?

GARAMENDI: Well, certainly. And also, Kim Jong-un went to Beijing. What came of that meeting? I suspect some very good things to have come out of that. So all of these things are coming together, and that's good for everybody involved and certainly for the men and women in the United States military that are in harm's way in South Korea. And certainly, for the Koreans themselves, both North and South.

This war, all of this build-up, if we can back it down, if we can get two countries and create a situation where their future is secure, I think we can see some real good progress here. Certainly, all of the words and the back-and-forth between these two presidents, Kim Jong-un and Mr. Trump, heated up. Perhaps they both came to their senses and said, "Maybe it's time for negotiations." If that's the case, it's good for everybody.

BLITZER: Yes. If you take a look at some of the developments over these past few months, the suspension of the North Korean nuclear testing, the ballistic missile testing, the last time they did it was back in November. Since then, of course, there were the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea. Kim Jong-un sent his sister there, very positive, at least rhetoric that emerged from that.

Then Kim Jong-un took the train ride from Pyongyang to Beijing and met with the Chinese leadership, as you correctly point out. Then Mike Pompeo heads over to Pyongyang for the secret talks that took place. He's only the second American ever to meet with Kim Jong-un. Dennis Rodman, the NBA star, the first several years ago.

And now this sets the stage for the summit with the South Korean president, President Moon next week, followed by a summit with President Trump. These are all pretty significant developments, Congressman. GARAMENDI: No doubt about it. And your rendition of the various

activities that have taken place, keep in mind the election of a new president in South Korea, who parted from more than 60 years of what was the mantra of South Korea: "We're going to reunify." President moon said something quite different. He said that the reality is there's two nations here. Some day, some day off in the future, perhaps there will be reunification, but not now. That is a very, very important part of this whole equation as it's being played out.

Good for everybody. Good for all of the participants in it, Pompeo, the president's bluster, perhaps, as well as Kim Jong-un's bluster. Bluster they decided to, well, maybe that's not going to get us anywhere; maybe it's time to sit down and recognize it.

One fact to keep in mind is that, at this moment, South Korea -- excuse me, North Korea still has its ballistic missiles, intercontinental missiles and bombs. They have not given those up yet. Certainly, we want to see that these negotiations would result in all of that disappearing, not being there, and, of course, the verifications that it actually happened.

BLITZER: I know you were not that long ago, a few months ago, you were in South Korea and went up to the Demilitarized Zone, as well.

Congressman Garamendi, thanks so much for joining us.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, you know, some of us remember the optimism back in the '90s during the Bill Clinton administration, when there were similar hopes of denuclearization. Madeline Albright, then the secretary of state for Bill Clinton, she actually went to Pyongyang. She brought a basketball of -- that was signed by Michael Jordan, which is a treasure in North Korea. Everybody was hopeful that was the breakthrough. Unfortunately, there was grave disappointment.

SCIUTTO: Each administration has tried. Democrat and Republican, each administration has made an agreement, and each time North Korea has cheated on that agreement.

You have to remember that history. What has changed now? You can argue North Korea has a nuclear program that it had been striving for for all these years. Has it reached a level of security that it believes that it can negotiate with the west and with the U.S.? That's a question here.

Look back to the Olympics two months ago as a positive turning point. Very important for North Korea to have the face, as it were, to have the respect, the profile to be -- to visit those games there. Not a straight line entirely, because you remember Mike Pence went there. There was some talk of a direct meeting between him and North Korean leaders which they canceled last minute. People wondered why did they cancel? Did we misinterpret their signals? But here we are. Now you have a summit planned between the two leaders themselves.

But still some unanswered questions. So North Korea has talked about denuclearization. They've talked about stopping their missile tests, nuclear tests. What are the U.S. and South Korea going to give up? It's not clear. Will it involve ending military exercises there? What kind of guarantees will be given to North Korea? You know, for a deal, both sides have to make a concession. What is the U.S. prepared to do? And what assurances would they give? That's a major question as we head into these talks.

[18:45:02] BLITZER: Yes, Brian Todd, those of us who have covered the Korean peninsula for a while know that in recent weeks, there were major U.S./South Korean military exercises in South Korea, enormous military exercises. And pointedly for the first time in a long time, there were no major complaints from the North Korean regime.

TODD: One of many extraordinary markers in the last few months, Wolf, right. Kim Jong-un has also viewed those exercises as a threat to him. He has always viewed it as a practice for an assassination attempt on him essentially.

This time, he says we don't have much of a problem with those exercises. Again, an extraordinary marker that has taken place over the past few months.

A couple others we can look to, the New Year's address by Kim Jong-un to talk about the opening by South Korea. Jim mentioned the Olympic thaw. That was a huge moment. Kim Yo-jong, the sister, going to the Olympics, inviting the South Korean delegation to Pyongyang. You have the South Korean delegation going to Pyongyang.

I think you can argue this goes back even further. There were a couple extraordinary developments that if they had not taken place, we wouldn't be here. Think of the previous South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, she's involved in this massive scandal that gets her tossed from office.

One of her friends took some improper financing, gets her tossed out of office. She had been very hawkish toward North Korea, had no interest in an opening with Pyongyang. She gets tossed out.

If Moon Jae-in doesn't come in as president, we many not here. Moon Jae-in, much more conciliatory toward the North, much more apt to make a deal with the North. Again, if the South Korean scandal had not happened, we may not be where we are right now.

BLITZER: Let me go back to Will Ripley, who's joining us from Hong Kong.

Will, you have been to North Korea in recent years 17 times. You know the country and they have given you access to travel around the country. This -- as all of us know, though, this whole nuclear program that the North Korean regime has, that has been so instilled as part of their pride. If they were to walk away from it, that would be very significant, clearly, but obviously very difficult as well.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): It would be a huge cultural shift. And one of the things I've been thinking a lot about is how is North Korea going to sell this to their own people? And what we saw in this KCNA news alert is the official message that is now going to be handed down.

Don't forget, there was a significant political meeting in Pyongyang yesterday. Kim Jong-un and his top officials met. And these were the talking points that were issued, that are now going to be distributed throughout the ruling workers party of Korea and down at mandatory party meetings throughout the country, people in their schools, in their offices and their factories are going to get this message.

And the official line is now, the nuclear program is complete. We no longer need to test missiles. We're shutting down the nuclear test site. By the way, North Korea also saying they will not sell their nuclear technology.

All of this clearly messaging aimed at President Trump. But this is also going to have to be messaging aimed at the North Korean people who walk around in their cities surrounded by propaganda celebrating the nuclear program that Kim Jong-un spent most of his six years in power building. And now, he's going to have to tell them that the nuclear program is finished. Now, he's taking the country on a different path.

And even in a country like North Korea where really only one person calls the shots, and that is their leader, Kim Jong-un, obviously, you have top party officials that need to be on board with this. And they do need to find an effective way to deliver this message to their own people. You think about the agreed framework back in 1994, that the last time there was a significant deal for North Korea to denuclearize and it fell apart.

And part of reason why it fell apart is, yes, North Korea was secretly developing the material, uranium to make nuclear weapons, but also, you know, in exchange to denuclearize weapons, the United States and its allies agreed to building light water reactors in North Korea. That never happened. The United States was late on delivering shipments of heavy fuel to the country.

And so the key here is that there is a lot of mistrust between the United States and North Korea. And they're going to have to work to rebuild that, because from the North Korean viewpoint, they feel the U.S. didn't live up to its obligations the last time that a deal was done. So, they are going to have to go under the table here knowing each side doesn't trust each other.

The United States is going to know that North Korea probably has hidden stockpiles of nuclear weapons somewhere. North Korea is going in to know that the U.S. is in political -- certainly political disarray at times, and they have to trust that any agreement made with President Trump, and diplomats are saying the best case scenario is the two leaders sit down, they come to an agreement on principle, and then the diplomats afterwards start to hammer out the details.

But, both sides are going to have to fulfill their commitments. They're going to have to be able to verify that those commitments are being fulfilled in order for this to work, because just as quickly as this could all come together, we have seen in the past that it can all fall apart. [18:50:02] And I guarantee you that the North Koreans are not going to

find themselves in a situation where they don't have leverage or the ability to rebuild their nuclear arsenal if they feel that that's in their best national interest.

This is something they've been fighting for for decades. They know nuclear policy and gamesmanship on the Korean peninsula. Kim Jong-un is surrounded by experts who are counseling him right now, going into these negotiations. And we can only hope given this potentially once in a lifetime opportunity that President Trump is also receiving similar counsel and that he can go in there and really be ready to actually hammer out a deal that could change the world if he can pull it off.

That's big if because there's been a lot of cases in history where things have fallen apart, even as recently as 2012, shortly after Kim Jong-un took power, the Obama administration negotiated what was known as the late day deal where North Korea essentially agreed to stop its nuclear development. That deal only lasted a matter of weeks because North Korea launched the satellite into orbit using what many outside observers believe as ballistic missile technology. So, President Trump needs to talk to Kim Jong-un and say, OK, you're saying you're not going to test missiles, but are you still going to launch satellites. Because if you're still launching satellites, as North Korea claims as peaceful activities, those satellites use to take on delivery systems that can deliver a warhead to the United States.

Those are the kinds of details that we can hope President Trump is being briefed on very closely by his advisers because Kim Jong-un certainly is going into this extraordinarily well prepared.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, I'm sure he's been briefed by Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, who was just there a couple of weeks ago on Pyongyang and actually had this face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong-un.

Let's go to our White House reporter Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, I understand you're getting some reaction, at least initial word from the administration officials?

COLLINS: That's right. We're actually hearing from the president himself now, Wolf. He just tweeted about the situation in North Korea. I'm going to read it to you now. He said, North Korea has agreed to suspend all nuclear tests and close up a major test site. The president says this is very good news for North Korea and the world. Big progress.

But he ends with look forward to our summit. So it sounds like he still says the meeting with Kim Jong-un, the meeting he surprised the world when he said he had accepted Kim Jong-un's invitation to meet is still on. Something that he said just this week when he was meeting with his Japanese counterpart here in Palm Beach, he hoped it would happen by early June.

But the president is aware of this new development out of North Korea and he seems optimistic, maybe even eager, Wolf. BLITZER: Very significant statement and we put up on the screen one

more time from the president of the United States just tweeting this.

North Korea has agreed to suspend all nuclear tests and close up a major test site. This is very good news for North Korea and the world. Big progress. Look forward to our summit.

The president says he hopes to meet with him, with Kim Jong-un either in May or by early June at the latest.

Gloria Borger, you're working your sources as well. This is potentially an enormous and historic moment.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think this is very important for the president and I think it may be a direct result of Mike Pompeo's visit and I'm sure he laid out preconditions for any kind of a summit that need to take place. And we know that the administration has been talking about denuclearization and this is effectively what they're saying, because they want this summit to occur.

So, obviously, as Reagan used to say, trust but verify. They're going to have to verify this. But this was a prerequisite for any kind of a sit-down with the president of the United States. And so, I think Trump does have something here to brag about quite honestly because they have managed to get the North Koreans to do something that they have not done before.

Again, you have to verify it, but it is an important first step if there is going to be any kind of a meeting that is going to produce any serious result.

BLITZER: Christian Whiton is joining us on the phone right now. He served in the Obama administration and the Trump administration as an adviser and national security aide on North Korea.

What do you make of the timing of this very dramatic announcement by the North Korean government? Christian?

I think we may have lost him. We'll try to reconnect.

But, Brian Todd, you've been working your sources as well.

TODD: I think what you have to keep in mind here, Wolf, we're told by many people who watched the situation that as Admiral Kirby said, yes, this is a confidence building measure, it's also kind of covering your rear plank measure by Kim Jong-un. He can say now after he's come out with this announcement later on if things go south or if some of the agreements break down, hey, we did everything we could to prompt an agreement here.

It was the Americans who compromised things.

[18:55:01] It was the Americans who mishandled this. This is kind of posturing for Kim for down the line as well, possibly. So, something else to think about tonight. BLITZER: And what is really extraordinary is you and I know, we've

covered these kinds of stories for so long, usually, there are a lot of lower level meetings before the top officials actually sit down and meet. President Trump for his part said, you know what, I'm ready to meet with him. Let's go and have a meeting.

SCIUTTO: And there's a reason for that because the fact is, you want to know what the agreement is going to be before the principals walk in to that room, right? So, there's a risk here and the president communicated some of that risk when he said at the press conference the other day that listen, if I don't get what I want or I sense there's no progress here, I may walk out of the room.

Another point about timing. We were about three weeks away from a deadline on the Iran nuclear agreement, another agreement with a hostile state, with a nuclear program, which involves verification, et cetera. Many signs point to the U.S. decertifying that agreement with intentions of withdrawing from that agreement to perhaps a couple of weeks before the president sits down with North Korea about another possible nuclear agreement, the timing of that really remarkable. If the U.S. were to pull out of that agreement just before it goes, with the intention of establishing another nuclear agreement with another North Korea.

BLITZER: We may have reestablished communications with Christian Whiton, who served in the Obama administration and the Trump administration, an adviser on North Korea.

What's your reaction to the timing of this dramatic announcement from the North Korean regime?

CHRISTIAN WHITON, FORMER TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ADVISOR: Wolf, I think it's interesting because he could have waited until he got into negotiations then offered this up as a concession. Now, wouldn't be huge because as they point out in their statement, they already have a nuclear capability, they may be boasting it's a little more than comprehensive than actually it is.

But, you know, typically, when you start negotiations as has happened in the Clinton and Bush administration, you know, we got into serious negotiations and this could be a confidence-building measure, something that would offer. So it's unusual that it come this early. I think it also raises the question of whether when Mike Pompeo visited Pyongyang, if he requested this before talks begin as a signal of seriousness.

But the timing is interesting and also, I think it's a sign of confidence on the part of Kim Jong-un that he's willing to do this as a symbol that their nuclear arsenal is actually fairly significant and capable.

BLITZER: Christian, thank you very much. Mr. Whiton knows this subject very well. You know, Jim Sciutto, what's fascinating to me is that Mike Pompeo, the outgoing CIA director, actually made this secret mission to Pyongyang and sat down with Kim Jong-un. They spent hours presumably talking. And he must have emerged with some new insight in who this North Korean leader is.

SCIUTTO: And we've heard from the White House that the meeting went well. Apparently, they made some progress there. We don't know what markers, what parameters they use to say that it went well. Mike Pompeo, he's the person, your senior official is the person who wants to go sit across the table because he knows the intelligence that the U.S. has about North Korea's program.

He's seen all the classified data from satellites, et cetera. He has the goods as it were on North Korea's nuclear program. He was -- he was the kind of person you wanted sitting across from North Korea officials during --

BLITZER: And if you speak to intelligence official, analyst, as all of us have, they will acknowledge that they had some idea who Kim Jong-un is. But they really didn't have an in-depth sense of what motivates him on these sensitive national security issues.

TODD: Absolutely and that's why Pompeo's meeting with Kim Jong-un is so crucial. He's not only going to tell the president about the negotiating positions. He's going to talk about how he speaks, what his body language is like. When he says one thing, what do you take it to mean?

I mean, these things are crucial in going into a negotiation, especially with someone who's had such little contact with outside leaders. Kim Jong-un's negotiating style, who knows anything about it because he hasn't really done it. I mean, this is what Pompeo is going to be able, has related to the president.

BLITZER: Yes, a very positive statement from Kim Jong-un, saying they're suspending their nuclear tests, suspending all ballistic tests. They're going to shut down a key nuclear facility in the northern part of Korea.

And that's followed very quickly by a tweet from the president of the United States, who just tweeted: North Korea has agreed to suspend all nuclear test, close up a major test site. This is very good news for North Korea and the world. Big progress. Look forward to our summit.

Jim Sciutto, it looks like that summit is going to take place. We don't know where, but it looks like it's going to take place.

SCIUTTO: Big progress, exclamation point. What a turn from fire and fury. This just a few weeks, a remarkable change in the way these two nations are communicating with each other.

BLITZER: And the president seemed to signal a very upbeat assessment the other day at that news conference with Prime Minister Abe of Japan when he said this is an historic moment. Not just for the U.S. and North Korea, but for the world.

We're going to stay obviously on top of this.

In the meantime, our special coverage continues right here on CNN.