Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump Effective in Attacks on Mueller Probe?; Trump Meets With Rod Rosenstein and Christopher Wray; Interview With California Congressman Ted Lieu; Hawaii Residents Told Be Prepared to Leave "With Little to No Notice"; North Korean Man Says Seoul Tricked Him Into Defecting. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 21, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Obstruction deadline. Rudy Giuliani claims he knows when the special counsel will likely wrap up a key piece of his investigation. Is the president's talkative lawyer revealing new information or blowing smoke?
And lava overflow. The images are scary and spectacular, as red hot volcanic eruptions in Hawaii spew dangerous toxins into the air and into the ocean. CNN is live on the Big Island as life-threatening lava bombs explode.
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, the White House says there's new high- level action responding to the president's latest fixation, unproven claims that a secret FBI source may have tried to infiltrate his 2016 campaign.
The president holding a late meeting with top Justice, FBI and intelligence officials amid fears of a potential constitutional crisis. Mr. Trump publicly demanding the fed look into this matter, using language that sounded more like a royal ruler than a U.S. president.
I will get reaction from the former CIA and NSA director retired General Michael Hayden and from House Judiciary Committee member Ted Lieu. And our correspondents and analysts, they're all standing by.
First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, how is the Trump administration handling all of this tonight?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president demanded and it sounds like he's getting what he wants.
The president just wrapped up a meeting with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who called for an internal Justice Department investigation into Mr. Trump's unproven suspicion, as you said, that he was spied on during the 2016 campaign.
Coming out of that meeting -- very important -- the White House says the Justice Department has agreed to expand that probe, but, more critically, the administration will set up a classified briefing for congressional leaders to review highly classified information, some of this information they have been requesting for weeks.
It sounds like it could be a win for the Russia probe critics, who want the investigators under investigation.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein arrived at the White House for what officials insist was a pre-scheduled meeting, but it's clear what's on the president's mind.
While he's not answering reporters' questions about it, the president is complaining that he was spied on before the 2016 election, ranting about the presence of a confidential source working inside the Trump campaign, tweeting: "I hereby demand that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI or DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump campaign for political purposes and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama administration."
While the confidential source did speak with Trump campaign advisers, U.S. officials have told CNN the confidential source was not spying on the campaign.
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think that is actually a very disturbing assault on the independence of the Department of Justice. And I think when the president, this president or any president tries to use the Department of Justice as kind of a private investigatory body, that is not good for the country.
ACOSTA: Before his meeting at the White House, Rosenstein relented, announcing the Justice Department's inspector general will investigate the president's accusations, saying in a statement: "If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action."
That came as a disappointment to Democrats.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I am concerned with some of the comments of the deputy attorney general, suggesting, well, we will look into find out whether there's any legitimate concern about a politically embedded spy.
They know that's nonsense. And I hate to see them say anything to give it credence.
ACOSTA: The president's conservative allies have been hammering the Justice Department's oversight of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation for months. Even Attorney General Jeff Sessions was labeled a danger to Americans over the weekend on FOX News. JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS: The single most dangerous person to the
agenda of President Trump, the Republican Party and ultimately to all Americans, is the attorney general of the United States himself, Jeff Sessions.
ACOSTA: And the president's continuing his attacks on the Obama administration, taking jabs at former CIA Director John Brennan, tweeting comments from a conservative commentator: "John Brennan is panicking. He has disgraced himself. He has disgraced the country. He has disgraced the entire intelligence community."
That was before the president traveled to the CIA to welcome the agency's new director, Gina Haspel.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Most especially, I want to thank you, the dedicated men and women of the Central Intelligence Agency. It is a true honor to stand here today before the most elite intelligence professionals on the planet Earth. Nobody even close.
ACOSTA: But the president took time to give a shout-out to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, who has led the GOP charge in Congress to investigate the Russian investigation.
TRUMP: A very courageous man. He's courageous, Congressman Devin Nunes. Thank you very much, Devin, for being here. Appreciate it.
ACOSTA: The White House says Chief of Staff John Kelly will set up this meeting where congressional leaders will have the chance to review some of this classified information.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, we're told, was invited to the Justice Department to look at some of this material last week, but did not respond to the invitation, we're told.
This latest meeting that was announced today is expected to happen later on this week, Wolf. And even though a lot of people in the city recoiled when the president issued that tweet that said "I hereby demand," it sounds like he got what he wanted -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly does.
Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
Tonight, critics are warning that the president is getting more brazen in his attempts to undermine the Russia investigation, this as Mr. Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani is claiming that a very serious piece of the special counsel's probe could be over within months, or maybe not.
Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
Jim, you're following several new developments in the Russia probe. JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf,
you may have to go back to Watergate to see a U.S. president interfering so boldly in an ongoing investigation in which he is a party to that investigation, exerting this kind of pressure on the Department of Justice.
At the same time, you have a public campaign to influence the public's expectations of this investigation, led now by the president's latest personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): The president's lawyers have predicted the end of the special counsel's investigation before and been repeatedly wrong.
Now Mr. Trump's newest attorney, Rudy Giuliani, says that Robert Mueller told him the obstruction of justice piece of the probe could be done by September, before the midterm elections, although even Giuliani hedged, saying it sounded more like the investigation could wrap up if the president agreed to an interview with Mueller.
Giuliani says he's strongly advising against an interview, arguing that the special counsel is simply hoping to catch the president in a so-called perjury trap.
RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: A perjury trap is when you get somebody to lie about what you're telling the truth, which is -- the president would testify tomorrow if it was about the truth. The truth is, he had nothing to do with Russia. I was on that campaign. He didn't talk to Russians. He had nothing to do with Russia.
SCIUTTO: And now coming to light, the president's son Donald Trump Jr. met with representatives of two own foreign governments during the campaign, governments offering to help his father's election.
"The New York Times" is reporting that Erik Prince set up a meeting at Trump Tower between Trump Jr. and George Nader, an emissary for two Gulf princes, as well as an Israeli social media expert, Joel Zamel, all this just three months before Election Day.
According to "The New York Times," Nader told Trump Jr. -- quote -- "that the princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president."
In a statement to CNN, an attorney for Trump Jr. denied any wrongdoing, saying -- quote -- "Prior to the 2016 election, Donald Trump Jr. recalls a meeting with Erik Prince, George Nader and another individual who may be Joel Zamel. They pitched Mr. Trump Jr. on a social media platform or marketing strategy. He was not interested, and that was the end of it."
The president himself dismissed the meeting over the weekend, tweeting -- quote -- "The witch-hunt finds no collusion with Russia, so now they're looking at the rest of the world. Oh, great." The ranking Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, however, called news of the meeting disturbing.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: If "The Times" story is true, we now have at least a second and maybe a third nation that was trying to lean in to this campaign, and I don't understand what the president doesn't get about the law that says, if you have a foreign nation interfere in an American election, that's illegal.
SCHIFF: You also have to be concerned, why are so many foreign powers of the opinion during the campaign and perhaps thereafter that the Trump family is willing to play ball?
SCIUTTO: The president's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort lost a battle is his ongoing legal troubles.
He tried to get one of those charges dismissed, charges for failing to report a foreign bank account. The judge rejected that motion. You now have two trials coming ahead in July and September, both on bank fraud charges, as well as charges related the Mueller investigation -- Wolf. .
BLITZER: Lots going on.
Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.
And joining us now, the former director of the CIA and the NSA, the National Security Agency, retired General Michael Hayden. He is a CNN national security analyst. He is also the author of an important brand-new book, a "New York Times" bestseller, "The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies."
General, thanks so much for joining us.
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Congratulations on the new book.
What are the consequences of the president making all of these demands publicly of the Justice Department and the FBI?
HAYDEN: So, when I saw the events over the weekend, it was a little scary.
Look, I'm a child of the executive branch. I spent my entire government career in the executive branch. I know the power of Article II of the Constitution.
And our president is more limited by norms than he is Constitution or law. And it's the traditions of the office that keep the president, I think, in his lane. And one of those norms is the independence of the judiciary. And here we have a president -- look, Wolf, I know he is the chief law enforcement officer in the country. He does have tremendous strength. What he asked for is probably technically legal and constitutional.
But it steps so far beyond these norms that make people lose confidence in the independence of the judiciary, which, frankly, is our only off-ramp from this overhang currently over the entire nation.
BLITZER: Based on what you have read about this so-called confidential source and the contacts he established with three Trump campaign officials, do you think anything improper happened here?
HAYDEN: So, look, I understand the discomfort of the people in the campaign. No one likes to be under surveillance or have an informant approaching people that you know.
But on its face, I don't see anything that jumps out at me that suggests the bureau was doing anything inappropriate or improper. And, remember, Wolf, this began as a counterintelligence investigation.
They're following leads about which they had from the Russians talking to Papadopoulos, and that he had some connection with the Russian security services.
BLITZER: So, you don't see anything wrong necessarily in having...
HAYDEN: On the surface, no.
BLITZER: ... this FBI confidential source approach these three Trump campaign officials seeking to get some information?
HAYDEN: Well, look, you have got a whole bevy of Trump administration appointees running the Justice Department now. They certainly would have been aware had there been any untoward activity.
And I think they would have been the first to throw a flag, and they didn't. And so you have got the deputy attorney general now, I think rather elegantly, trying to handle the president's tweet. We will turn it over to the I.G. And, of course, if there were anything wrong, we will let you know.
BLITZER: CNN has not revealed the identity of this confidential source, but other news organizations have.
Do you believe this confidential source is in any danger right now?
HAYDEN: Look, what you have done is erode the whole process.
Look, we used to do this all the time at CIA. Like your profession, journalism, like ours, intelligence, sources are everything. And so you protect sources. And so although there might be something with regard to the danger of this particular source, what you have told all sources and all potential sources, that you have lost the ability to protect their identity. And that's really degrading, not just to the safety of one man, but to the entire process of intelligence or law enforcement.
BLITZER: Do you think that this confidential source should be getting U.S. government security right now?
HAYDEN: I think he should be getting whatever it is he says he believes he needs for his own protection.
BLITZER: But are you concerned that other confidential sources now will shut up?
HAYDEN: Oh, I'm very concerned.
I mean, look, we used to recruit people. And one of the things we would guarantee them is that we can protect you. And now we see the erosion of that in this particular episode.
BLITZER: But you think this confidential source could be vulnerable?
HAYDEN: I don't know the fine print, all right? Certainly, that's a possibility.
But, again, I come back to the general point. You have eroded our ability to use sources.
BLITZER: The president in this tweet that he posted, he's really going after the former CIA Director John Brennan for orchestrating supposedly a political hit job. He's quoting Dan Bongino, a conservative former Secret Service agent, that is saying that Brennan -- quote -- "has disgraced himself. He has disgraced the country. He has disgraced the entire intelligence community."
Those are quotes from Dan Bongino. But the president's tweeting those quotes from this guy. What do you make of this?
HAYDEN: So, number one, that's an endorsement of the commentary. You can't -- you can't dodge that reality.
And, frankly, when I saw that this morning on my phone, the emotion that overwhelmed me was sadness, all right? Where have we gone? What have we become? Back to what limits the president or the norms of the office, and how far beyond those norms would we have to go for anyone to think that was an OK thing to say?
No what is it John may have said publicly, all right, the words of a president are, I disagree with Mr. Brennan, but honor his three-plus decades of service, and leave it at that.
BLITZER: Because he served in the CIA, not just for Democratic presidents, but for Republican presidents as well.
BLITZER: He was a career intelligence officer.
HAYDEN: That's right.
BLITZER: So, you know -- and you know him well.
HAYDEN: I do.
BLITZER: Are you going to -- where do you see this heading?
HAYDEN: We are eroding the reality and the appearance of the independence of the judiciary of the Department of Justice, of the FBI, and of the special counsel. That just can't lead to a good place.
BLITZER: So, what's your message to those who are pushing for this kind of assault on elements of the FBI or the intelligence community or the Justice Department?
HAYDEN: Whatever you might think it does for your short-term personal or political needs, it's doing great danger to the fabric of our government.
BLITZER: Michael Hayden is, once again, the author of "The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies."
Thanks for writing this book.
HAYDEN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.
Much more news coming up.
Is the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, following orders tonight from the president, who's routinely blasted him and the Russia investigation?
And is Donald Trump Jr. telling the truth when he says nothing came out of his talks with a representative for two Arab nations? I will ask the House Judiciary Committee member Ted Lieu. There you see him. He's standing by live.
We will be right back.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the Trump administration's response to the president's demand for an investigation into claims that an FBI source infiltrated his presidential campaign.
The White House says it has asked the Justice Department inspector general to expand his current investigation into -- quote -- "any irregularities."
Joining us now, Congressman Ted Lieu. He's a Democrat from California who serves on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees.
Congressman, thanks so much up for joining us.
Let's get to some of these specific issues.
What are your concerns, first of all, about the president's demands from the Justice Department?
REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf, for your question.
The continued assault on the rule of law by Donald Trump, as well as the independence of the Department of Justice, is highly disturbing.
But it's also very telling. I'm a former prosecutor, and these are not the actions of an innocent person. This shows consciousness of guilt. If Donald Trump was truly innocent, he would let the investigation conclude without trying to interfere with it at every single step.
And I think it's time for the president to stop smearing the Department of Justice and FBI. And to quote Sarah Huckabee Sanders, when you're attacking the FBI because you're under criminal investigation, you're losing.
BLITZER: The deputy attorney general who oversees this Russia probe, Rod Rosenstein, he says the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, will look into the president's accusations.
You tweeted this. And I will quote your tweet: "Perfect response from Republican Rod Rosenstein to Trump. Rosenstein knows FBI counterintelligence agents were doing their duty and is not afraid of any inquiry."
But by agreeing to have the inspector general expand his investigation into the president's claims, is Rosenstein following the president's order?
LIEU: Well, yes, Wolf, Rosenstein is.
But I think that was a very perfect response to the president's demands. I have no problem with the inspector general expanding his investigation, because it's going to show that this was a counterintelligence investigation. And informants are a routine and necessary part of all counterintelligence investigations.
It's going to show the FBI did nothing wrong. And I think this now puts to rest any issue the president may have, which means the president now has to let this investigation against him proceed to its conclusion.
BLITZER: Are you confident that the House Judiciary Committee -- and you're a member -- has the proper oversight on how confidential sources gather information and how the FBI handled the investigation into the Trump campaign?
LIEU: No, not at all.
The Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee has completely fallen down on its oversight responsibilities. Unlike other committees of jurisdiction, the House Judiciary Committee has done nothing to look at any of the very important allegations surrounding Russia's influence into or meddling in our elections.
And it's very sad to see the House Judiciary Committee really lose its oversight responsibilities.
BLITZER: What are the possible consequences now, Congressman, of this confidential source? We have not named the source, but other news organizations have.
LIEU: So, when a defendant doesn't have information or fears information, what the defendant does is, they put law enforcement on trial.
And now you're watching the Trump campaign printing the source and the FBI and DOJ on trial. But what they're not talking about is, well, what did the source find out? What was the information that was revealed?
Because, again, if we believe the president, that he and his campaign did nothing wrong, they should not be so freaked out about the fact that there was a source in a counterintelligence operation, because this operation at its beginning was to protect the Trump campaign and to prevent Russian influence.
BLITZER: I will ask you what I asked General Hayden just a little while ago.
Is this source in any danger right now?
LIEU: I would not know that.
But it's my expectation that, if there was any danger, the Department of Justice would do everything possible to protect that source.
I also have no problem with members of Congress knowing who that source is, as long as those members of Congress are able to keep the highly classified information confidential.
BLITZER: Let me turn to that meeting that Donald Trump Jr. had in August the 2016, three months before the election, with a representative of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, along with an Israeli social media strategist.
They supposedly offered to help for the Trump campaign in the election. The -- Donald Trump Jr., through a spokesperson, a lawyer, says nothing came of the meeting.
Are you sure of that? LIEU: Well, now we know at least two things. If reports are true, there's been at least two meetings at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. involving foreign powers who wanted to help the Trump campaign. That's illegal.
Under federal law, foreign powers cannot participate in American elections.
Second thing we know is that Erik Prince is in a lot of trouble, because he testified to Congress under oath that basically his interactions with the Trump campaign consisted of donations and fund- raising.
This meeting he set up was none of those two things.
BLITZER: Well, could this meeting be potentially fund-raising?
That would be a high stretch. And, again, he also said that he had no formal relationship with the campaign. But here, he is setting up this meeting with foreign powers with Donald Trump Jr.
BLITZER: Congressman Ted Lieu, thanks so much for joining us.
LIEU: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, more on the president vs. the Justice Department. Is he hereby getting exactly what he demanded?
And how effective is a new attempt to rally supporters behind Mr. Trump and against the FBI by warning of the greatest political scandal in American history? Our analysts, they are standing by.
1830 (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To the breaking news tonight, President Trump meeting with top justice, FBI and intelligence officials after demanding an investigation into Mr. Trump's own claim that his 2016 presidential campaign was spied on.
[18:30:58] Let's dig deeper with our specialists and analysts. The president, Jeffrey Toobin, had tweeted this: "I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump campaign for political purposes and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama administration."
What does this say to you about the way the president views the Justice Department?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Let's be clear about what's going on here. This has never happened before in American history that we have a president of the United States who is viewing the Department of Justice as a private investigative agency to exonerate him.
He's the head of the executive branch. Under the Constitution, he can do this. But all the norms, all the rules, all the procedures that other presidents have followed are out the window.
And, you know, the Congress is completely asleep, because they don't -- the Republican majority doesn't care. And we'll see if the public cares. But let's just be clear about how unprecedented this is.
BLITZER: What do you make, Gloria, of the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein's, response to what the president is demanding?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think he -- you know, the president threw a grenade into the middle of the room, and he tried to kind of defuse it to a great degree, which I think he did by throwing it over to the -- to the --
BORGER: -- inspector general. And, you know, the problem -- I talked to one conservative today who said to me, look, that's all well and good, but it's not going to keep conservatives happy who would disagree with Jeffrey because -- because the inspector general has no subpoena power. And so they wanted something much tougher.
Now, the president was clearly placated, I think. The vice president was clearly placated by this. We'll have to see how long that lasts. So it didn't become the sort of constitutional crisis that it -- that it could have become, but it doesn't mean it won't become it, you know, at some point in the future. And it's clear that Rosenstein wanted to move on this pretty quickly to get the president sort of calmed down here. And not lose his job.
BLITZER: The president's -- you know, David Swerdlick, the president's 2020 reelection campaign put out an e-mail must a little while ago, urging supporters to sign a petition to investigate the Department of Justice and the FBI. It says, quote, "This could be the greatest political scandal in American history," closed quote.
How effective is that strategy?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, to the extent that he has an approval rating above 80 percent with Republicans, I think there is a certain effect to it.
The mismatch here, Wolf, in my view is between what is legally permissible and possible and the rhetoric the president's using. Like Jeffrey said, the president has the right to do this. As Gloria said, the inspector general is sort of the place where everybody is comfortable with this investigation proceeding.
But when you tweet out, "I hereby demand" something that you, as the executive, can just do in a memo or a simple statement, what you're trying to do is gin up this sense of outrage among your supporters as if to say, "I'm besieged by the very agency that I'm supposed to be the boss off."
It's like someone calling the -- you know, telling the waiter, "I want to see the manager." He is the manager. Just make it happen. Proceed with justice, and then let's find out what happens at the end of this.
BLITZER: All this is happening, Sabrina Siddiqui, as we're learning a lot more about this August 2016 Trump Tower meeting in New York that Donald Trump Jr. had with a representative, someone claiming to represent the United Arab Emirates and the Saudis, as well as an Israeli social media expert. What red flags does that raise?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, it's significant, because it marks the first indication that it was not just Russia but perhaps other foreign governments who approached the Trump campaign with offers to try and swing the election in his favor. It is, of course, illegal for any foreign government or individual to contribute to any campaign or be involved with any U.S. campaign.
Now, we don't yet know what came of this meeting. It's not immediately clear. But reports do suggest that Trump Jr. responded approvingly during that discussion. And it's also worth noting some of the actions that this president has taken since assuming office, and that includes pulling back from the Iran nuclear deal. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE were big advocates of that move. He has also, of course, aligned himself very closely with Israel, as well.
[18:35:19] BLITZER: He certainly has.
You know, Jeffrey Toobin, you've got a very important article in the issue of "The New Yorker" magazine on the divide that has emerged among Democrats over whether or not to push for impeachment of the president.
TOOBIN: I mean, it really is sort of a weird echo of things that have gone on in the Republican Party. Because the leadership of the Democratic Party, Nancy Pelosi, Jerry Nadler, who will be the chairman of the Judiciary Committee if the Democrats retake the House, they're all saying, "Let's back off. Let's not do this. This will just energize the Republican base."
But when you go out, as I did with Tom Steyer, the billionaire who's conducting rallies, you see that the base of the Democratic Party loves this idea. They're -- you know, by one poll, more than 70 percent of Democrats support the idea of impeachment.
So what will be interesting is to see as the campaign developments and, certainly, if the Democrats retake the House, whether the pressure from the base will move the establishment towards an impeachment.
BLITZER: But what does concern some Democrats -- and I think it's fair to say this, Gloria -- is that that push for impeachment by some of these Democrats could be a rallying cry for Republicans.
BORGER: Right. BLITZER: "Don't let the Democrats become the majority in the House of Representatives."
BORGER: Right. You know, their point is, why do you want to motivate Republicans to go to the polls? And it could become an issue. It could become an issue for Republicans, who will say the Democrats who want to delegitimize this president and have done it through the Russia investigation are actually proving that point by saying that they want to impeach him, and you could then motivate Republicans, who we know by looking at the polls right now, are much less motivated to go out and vote and get them all fired up.
So like the leadership of the parties are saying, "We don't want to get them fired up. Let's keep our side fired up." And though impeachment may fire up liberals, they're already fired up. They're already going to go out and vote. So you don't -- you know, you don't need to do that to them now.
BLITZER: How do you see it, David?
SWERDLICK: I think this is -- I agree with everything that Jeffrey and Gloria said. I would just add that this is part of the problem when Democrats internally don't agree on what issues you push. The one thing that unites them is that they want to get rid of Trump. Either by impeachment or an election, and then the fight is over how to do it.
BLITZER: All right.
TOOBIN: Today they have the big event saying they want to focus on corruption, which is a way of kind of narrowing the differences, because corruption is both a possible ground for impeachment and also something that Democrats might really do something about if they -- if they retake the House.
BLITZER: We're getting some new information coming into CNN right now about the prospects of that meeting next month between the president and Kim Jong-un. We'll update you right after this.
[18:42:39] BLITZER: There's more breaking news tonight, sources now telling CNN that administration aides are growing increasingly skeptical that the summit between President Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong-un will come to fruition.
Our White House reporter, Jeremy Diamond, is working the story for us. Jeremy, what have you got?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Well, sources are telling us that administration officials -- Trump administration officials are growing increasingly skeptical that this summit between President Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong- un, that is scheduled for next month could possibly not take place.
This comes in the wake of these North Korean statements last week that struck very much a harsher tone than in the past. And those statements have led to administration officials questioning now how committed North Korean truly is to these questions of denuclearization. That is, of course, what is at stake here for this summit.
And all of this is going to come to a head tomorrow as President Trump is set to meet with the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, who has already arrived in Washington. And they're expected to coordinate on these possible talks.
But the president will be looking for some assurances from the South Korean president. He is the one, of course, who helped broker this diplomatic opening between the White House and North Korea. It was his envoy who came to the White House to offer these assurances that North Korea was committed to denuclearizing, understood that the military exercises could go forward and should go forward from the U.S. and South Korea.
But now North Korea has put out a statement threatening to cancel the summit amidst those military exercises. So the South Korea president very much coming to the White House tomorrow with the mission of calming some of this anxiety at the White House about how serious North Korea is committed to denuclearizing. And so that will certainly be his goal.
We know from this administration, from the president's comments last week, that really, the only alternative that this administration sees to these talks is possible military action. The president signaled as much last week when he said that he did not view the Libyan model, as in denuclearizing Libya and then the subsequent military intervention years later as the model.
But he did if the talks do not happen, if there is no deal to be struck, that North Korea could face a similar fate to Libya and to Iraq, as well, as far as military intervention and the removal of power of Kim Jong-un -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good reporting, Jeremy. Thanks very much.
You know, Sabrina, the president tweeted earlier this morning, "China must continue to be strong and tight on the border of North Korea until a deal is made.
[18:45:07] The word is that recently the border has become much more porous and more has been filtering in. I want this to be successful but only after signing.
So, he wants to have the meeting but he's getting nervous about it.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, THE GUARDIAN: Certainly. I think he seems to shift some blame toward China. But a lot of experts I have spoken with had said that U.S. demands that North Korea dismantle its nuclear problem were always going to be a nonstarter and somewhere, the president seems to have misinterpreted Kim Jong-un's overtures, to signify more than they perhaps have. It's also worth noting that pulling back from the Iran nuclear deal
some believe sent a signal perhaps to Pyongyang that the U.S. cannot be relied upon as a negotiating partner and to keep up its end of a prospective deal. So, that may have also undermined some of these talks.
BLITZER: As you know, Gloria, the president's supporters, at least some of them, are already pushing for a Nobel Peace Prize for the president but that may turned out to be premature.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, look, a little over -- getting a little over their skis, as we say. I think the president has been talking the summit up and it's a little naive to believe that you just can talk the summit up and make it miraculously occur unless you have the preconditions or the set going in.
Normally, summits like this are done beforehand and then the president and Kim Jong-un would meet and was kind of shake hands, and they're -- but the deal would be done. At this point it's very clear there is no deal done and the clock is ticking here. And so, how can you predict that he's going to denuclearize. I mean, how could you verify it, how -- all of this stuff has not been done yet. So, it seems to me, the ground work hasn't been laid.
BLITZER: And, Jeffrey, what's so worrisome, if it doesn't happen, maybe the only other operation is a military operation, which would be so, so devastating.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's why I think any sane person has been rooting for this rapprochement to take place, because, you know, in the period leading up to the summit, there really did seem to be the possibility of war. And, you know, the people who live in Seoul, just a few miles from the border where there's all this artillery pointed, I mean, they are in tremendous jeopardy, the North Koreans are in tremendous jeopardy, and if the missiles really work as advertised, the United States might be in jeopardy.
So, I think everyone is rooting for this to succeed. But as we're pointing out, it is difficult to see how Kim Jong-un is going to denuclearize when he says he's not going to.
BLITZER: Yes. Go ahead, David.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICALCOMMENTATOR: No, look, I think credit where credit is due. Three hostages came back from North Korea, if that's all that comes out of it and if there's no war, that's a win for President Trump. But in the bigger picture, this idea that he was going to broker piece by sort of charming Kim Jong-un and President Xi, was just a misunderstanding of foreign policies. Countries have interests, it's not about personalities and I think that's the reality that we're coming --
BORGER: Well, then you have John Bolton talk about the Libya model --
BLITZER: Yes. BORGER: -- which is, of course, not the right thing to say to Kim Jong-un, because Moammar Gadhafi is no longer --
BLITZER: Moammar Gadhafi not doing so well right now.
BORGER: Not doing so well.
BLITZER: All right, guys, stick around. There's more breaking news.
Take a look at his -- live pictures, dramatic new pictures of lava flowing on the island of Hawaii. The big island. We're going to go there live for the latest on the volcano alert as well.
And did they defect from North Korea or were they abducted by South Korea? Tonight, the man at the center of an international drama now speaking out.
[18:53:17] BLITZER: There's breaking news on the island of Hawaii. Tonight, some residents in the volcano eruption zone are being told to be prepared to leave with little or no notice.
CNN's Stephanie Elam is on the scene for us.
Stephanie, what's the latest?
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There you go. This is something I was just going to warn you about. I'm going to show you a shot of the lava, and explain what that sound was. Believe it or not, that was volcanic gas escaping from the earth from one of the fissures that were maybe I guess probably about a mile away from. I've seen it when it gets launched out of that fissure, they are launched with so much force, the rocks are being launched at about 200, 300 feet, maybe more.
And coming down, we know, one man was hit with a lava bomb that shattered his leg from that. So, they're asking people to be vigilant because of that.
But then, also, take a look at what you're looking at here. This lava fountain, we've been keeping our eyes. Yesterday, it was smaller than it is now. It is shooing up.
And notice the color changes inside, how deep orange it is in the middle. As it comes up, hits the sky, comes down darker and begins that cooling process. Then behind it, that big white plume of volcanic gas, that is a huge concern for the people who live in this section of the big island, because that volcanic gas there is very difficult, it is very irritating to the eyes, to the throat. And it causes respiratory problems.
And then you see the sea of black lava that is cascading down here towards the ocean. We do know that this lava did finally make its way across a highway that runs along the ocean and as a major evacuation route. So, that's been a concern. But it also, when it crossed over into the ocean, it created something
called laze, that is when the lava hits the ocean and with the reaction with the salt water, creates hydrochloric acid, as well as steam, and little pieces was glass that, of course, are dangerous to your skin, to your breathing, to your eyes.
[18:55:06] So, the U.S. Coast Guard has set up a perimeter of about a thousand feet to keep people from getting too close of that plume. We were in a helicopter earlier today. You could see how large that plume was coming there from where that lava is hitting the water.
And you could also see that this fountain that we're looking at right now is much larger than it was yesterday. It's very much an alive situation, this eruption not over, Wolf. As some fissures that were active, slowed down, and then other fissures come back to life. So, still a precarious situation for people living in the Leilani Estates area of the big island -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Be careful over there. Stephanie Elam on the scene for us on the Big Island. We'll have much more on this coming up throughout the night.
Meanwhile, a North Korean man at the center of an international drama is speaking about how he was allegedly tricked into defecting to South Korea. He spoke to CNN's Paula Hancocks in his only interview with any international news media.
Paula is here in Washington.
So, Paula, good reporting. What did he tell you?
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this was a very sensational defection when it happened. Twelve waitresses from a North Korean restaurant with this one manager who says that he did tricked them into coming into South Korea. Now, that is what North Korea has been saying all along. So, it raises the question, what is South Korea is saying.
HANCOCKS (voice-over): Mass defection or mass abduction. Twelve North Korean waitresses from the North Korean state-run restaurants in China and their manager arrived in South Korea April 2016. The North claimed they had been tricked. The South said they had escaped freely.
Now, the restaurant manager is speaking out and says Pyongyang is right. (INAUDIBLE) wants his face hidden for fear of retribution, a former member of the elite, he tells me, he was an informant for South Korea's spy agency the NIS, while running this North Korean restaurant in China. He became disillusioned with the Kim Jong-un regime.
He says he was blackmailed by one of his customers who knew he was working with the intelligence agency and decided to defect to South Korea with NIS help. The NIS told me to bring everyone with me, he says, I told them it was impossible. Their attitude suddenly changed, telling me if I didn't bring the workers with me, they would report me to the North Korean embassy and have me killed. They called back and said this is President Park Geun-hye's order, she has a big plan.
Ho (ph) claims the defection was arranged to give conservatives a boost just days before a parliamentary election. In a highly unusual move the South Korean unification ministry publicized the mass defection, releasing a photo of the North Koreans, saying 13 defectors voluntarily decided to leave and pushed ahead with the escape without any help from the outside. The ministry, now part of a new liberal government, says they are looking into the fresh allegations, but there's no change in the government's stance that the women defected of their own free will.
Three of the waitress's family were brought to a CNN team in Pyongyang in May 2016 for interviews. They all said the women were kidnapped.
The emotional interviews organized by the North Korean government. Officials also brought other waitresses they say were working at the same restaurant in China but left before Ho took the women to Malaysia. They too insisted their colleagues would never have abandoned their families and were tricked into going to South Korea.
(on camera): What did you say to the women who convince them to go with you? Where did they think they were going?
(voice-over): I told the workers, we are moving accommodation to a better place, he says. In North Korea, there's a very strict hierarchy, like the military. Lower rankings cannot question my orders.
CNN affiliate JTBC who first spoke to the manager also spoke to three women who say they are the waitresses and were tricked by their manager. Others did not want to talk or could not be tracked down, JTBC says.
We were put into cars, they say, a few in each car. That's when we saw the South Korean flag and the embassy. When we were going to the South Korean embassy in Malaysia, I thought, something is horribly wrong here. Ho said the women were given South Korean passports with false names and flown to South Korea, a normally treacherous journey that takes effect just months, took these North Koreans just two days.
(on camera): Did the NIS pay for the flights?
(voice-over): The NIS paid for the plane fares, says Ho, it was about $10,000.
CNN has asked the NIS about these accusations. They have yet to respond.
(on camera): Why have you decided to talk about this now?
(voice-over): I realized the government was manipulating, he says. I was trapped and felt that North Korean propaganda against the South was right, but I regret it so much.
HANCOCKS: Now, this happened under the previous administration, but certainly it's the current administration that has to deal with the fall-out. The president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, who is in D.C. tonight about to meet the U.S. president tomorrow, Wolf. And, certainly, it's a tricky situation for him to be in.
BLITZER: Very tricky indeed. I'm sure it's causing a lot of awkwardness in this relationship between North and South Korea right now.
Paula Hancocks, good reporting. Thanks and welcome to Washington.
HANCOCKS: Thank you.
BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much watching.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.