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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; President Trump Flip-Flopping on North Korea Summit Decision?; Interview With Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger; Trump Keeps Tweeting about 'Spy' Conspiracy Theory; Harvey Weinstein Charged With Rape: Bond Set at $10 Million. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 25, 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 HOST: Tonight, as his accusers seek justice, Weinstein's lawyer is offering a stunning defense of the -- quote -- "casting couch."
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're following head-spinning twists and turns surrounding the on- again/off-again summit between two of the world's most unpredictable leaders. Tonight, we're getting no indication that President Trump and Kim Jong-un just -- just might be able to pull off a June 12 meeting in Singapore after all.
The president apparently having some second thoughts about canceling only hours after the North Korean dictator responded with warm words and lots of flattery.
I will get reaction from Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's a Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee. And from former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.
Pamela, so, where does this summit stand right now?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in a stunning reversal, President Trump says the summit may now be back on for June 12 within 24 hours of canceling it.
And a senior administration official I just spoke says the White House is way more optimistic today than expected now that communications with North Korea have reopened.
BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump indicating the summit he already canceled with North Korean leader Kim Jong may in fact still happen.
QUESTION: Mr. President, is the summit still on?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to see what happens. We're talking to them now. It was a very nice statement they put out. It could even be the 12th. We're talking to them now. They very much want to do it. We'd like to do it. We're going to see what happens.
BROWN: Just one day ago, citing North Korea's open hostility toward the U.S., President Trump declared the meeting was off, but did leave the door wide open.
TRUMP: If and when Kim Jong-un on chooses to engage in constructive dialogue and actions, I am waiting.
BROWN: He didn't need to wait long. The president's apparent 180 on the meeting comes after what Trump called a -- quote -- "warm and productive" statement from North Korea in a tweet, that statement praising the president, saying: "President Trump made a brave decision in his efforts to make the summit happened and the summit is desperately needed for the improvement of the relationship. We reiterate to the U.S. that we are willing to sit face to face at any time and in any way."
When asked today if you was worried the North Koreans are playing games, the president said:
TRUMP: Everybody plays games. You know that.
BROWN: And Secretary of Defense James Mattis is expressing optimism.
JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think that's the usual give and take of trying to put together big summits and stuff. So, diplomats are still at work. And our point of view here at the Defense Department, that's a fine thing.
BROWN: Tonight, the White House is reiterating that the president is serious about the meeting.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is not just looking to have a meeting. He is not looking for just a cheap political stunt. He wants to get something that is a long- lasting and actual real solution. And if that the meeting takes place on June 10, we will be ready. If it takes place on July 12, we will be ready.
And we're going to do whatever is necessary to prepare for that on that front.
BROWN: As uncertainty looms over that potentially historic summit, the president is sowing more confusion over the FBI's use of a confidential human resource to better monitor Russian activities, a source who made contact with several Trump campaign advisers.
Trump is once again alleging a massive conspiracy, with zero evidence, tweeting: "Can anyone even imagine having spies placed in a competing campaign by the people and party in absolute power for the sole purpose of political advantage and gain?"
But Republican lawmakers confidentially briefed Thursday on the use of that confidential source aren't yet coming to the president's defense or saying much at all.
QUESTION: Were you surprised with what you learned?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Nothing particularly surprising. But, again, it was classified, so there's no real -- no real report I can give to you.
BROWN: Now, as for North Korea, it's still unclear, Wolf, whether the U.S. advance team will continue on to Singapore, as originally planned before the summit was canceled.
They were supposed to leave tonight. Today, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders left the door open that they would still go. Last time they were there, recently, they were stood up by the North Koreans. So we will have to wait and see what happens on that front -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, as soon as you find out, let us know.
Pamela Brown reporting from the White House.
Now to CNN's new reporting on the Russia investigation, the focus once again on a meeting at Trump Tower, this one involving a Russian oligarch with Kremlin ties and the president's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Let's bring in our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.
Shimon, tell our viewers what you are learning.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf.
So this is yet another meeting with a Russian at Trump Tower. This time, it was the president's personal attorney during the transition met with the oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, a multibillionaire ally of Vladimir Putin.
He was there, according to some of the folks we talked to, because they wanted to discuss the better relations between the United States and Russia.
What's really not clear is why anyone would choose to go to Michael Cohen to have those discussions, since he really didn't have anything to do with the transition.
Also at this meeting was the oligarch's cousin, Andrew Intrater. Now, he's been in the news before because he's the guy who hired Michael Cohen to do some work for him. He offered him about a half-a-million dollar contract. Andrew Intrater also donated $250,000 to the president's inauguration committee.
And then also one of the things that's interesting here is that Viktor Vekselberg also was at the inauguration. And so all of this obviously caught the eye of FBI investigators, the special counsel, which is why Viktor Vekselberg was questioned.
Remember, he was the guy who was -- came to New York and was stopped at an airport by FBI agents. They retrieved his electronics. So, clearly, there is a concern here from the special counsel. Andrew Intrater, the cousin, was also questioned by the FBI.
There's a look here perhaps at some of the money that went into the inauguration and whether or not there was -- this was guided by the Russians, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, they often say follow the money. And Viktor Vekselberg, he's since been sanctioned, put on a sanctions list by the U.S. Treasury Department.
Very interestingly -- and I want to show our viewers this video -- our Matthew Chance in Russia, he caught up with Viktor Vekselberg and tried to ask him a few questions. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Vekselberg, quick question from CNN.
VIKTOR VEKSELBERG, BUSINESSMAN: Thank you. Thank you. Not now.
CHANCE: Mr. Vekselberg, why did you your company pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to President Trump's lawyer?
VEKSELBERG: Not now.
Really appreciate. Just later, OK? Yes. Really appreciate.
VEKSELBERG: I understand. I understand. You're so aggressive.
CHANCE: No, I'm not at all.
VEKSELBERG: No, no, no.
CHANCE: Was it to buy access to the president?
VEKSELBERG: Please, later. CHANCE: Do you know that -- what did you get for the money?
VEKSELBERG: Please, later.
CHANCE: These are important questions, sir. Please answer them.
VEKSELBERG: I understand.
CHANCE: What did the FBI question you about?
VEKSELBERG: Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Matthew Chance at least tried to get some answers.
Is Robert Mueller and his investigative team, are they done with Viktor Vekselberg right now? Or they more questions for him and his cousin, Mr. Intrater?
PROKUPECZ: Well, certainly for Viktor Vekselberg.
I was -- been told that Vekselberg has not been cooperative with the special counsel. Look, all the questions there that Matthew Chance asked were questions that the FBI agents had for the oligarch. He was not cooperative with them. He really had nothing really to gain by being cooperative with the investigators.
And when they tried to question him about some of the stuff, we're told he just wasn't cooperative.
I mean, I think there is a big focus -- and I think this is -- we forget that sometimes because we concentrate a lot on the political aspect of this investigation -- but there's an ongoing effort here by the special counsel, by FBI agents to really find out what the Russians were doing here and to bring Russians responsible for the interference in the election.
And one of those aspects is money and whether or not money went from Russians into straw donors here in the United States, which should be illegal, that was then somehow funneled into the campaign, into the inauguration.
That investigation, Wolf, is very much still alive.
BLITZER: Yes. Once again, as we say, follow the money. That's, I'm sure, what Mueller and his team are trying to do.
Thanks very much for that.
Shimon has got good sources.
Meanwhile, let's go to Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's a key member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: You bet, Wolf.
BLITZER: We got a lot to discuss.
I want to talk about North Korea in just a moment, but first are you concerned at all by this pattern of connections between people in President Trump's orbit and these Russians, including oligarchs directly linked to Vladimir Putin?
I mean, I don't really know what to make of any of this stuff, partially because, as I have said from the very beginning, I -- Mueller knows what he's doing. He's the investigatory aspect here. I want him to complete his report. And then I will make a determination based on what he says.
There's a lot of day-to-day stuff that comes out. Some of it's debunked later. Some of it's accurate. Who knows? I want to see all this stuff when it's brought together in the report, and then we will know how this comes together.
But the day to day, I mean, to be honest with you, I just really don't even pay attention to every story on this. I don't know what to make of it, but I'm sure we will find out when the Mueller investigation is completed.
BLITZER: So, just to be precise, Congressman, none of these developments bother you at all?
KINZINGER: Well, I mean, I'm not saying they do or don't bother me. What I'm saying is, we hear something new every day, some of which are debunked, some, they say may be accurate.
All I know is, I'm going to get a complete picture when Mueller complete his investigation. And what I said at the very beginning, when I actually supported the idea of a special counsel, is that let's sit back. Let's let him do his work. Let's see what the ultimate response is.
And what I can't do is, on the day to day, have an opinion on it, because I just don't know until we see the complete picture. And I think Mr. Mueller's going to give that to us, whatever that is.
BLITZER: As you know, the president ran on a campaign in which he promised he was going to drain the swamp here in Washington, but, as we now see, his longtime friend, his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was pitching himself for access to the president, very, very lucrative contracts. Does that bother you?
KINZINGER: Yes, that bothers me.
I don't know much about his personal lawyer. I have never met him. But if somebody goes around and says, I can -- basically, you can buy access to the president, if in fact that's true, that would be very concerning.
And, again, that's going to be something where he may end up having to pay a massive penalty, whether it's criminal or civil, for that. We will see when this all comes out. That doesn't necessarily mean, though, that the president was part of it.
And I think to make the leap that somehow this would involve President Trump, I don't think is true, because what I can see is a guy like Michael Cohen basically saying, look, I'm Trump's personal lawyer. I can get you in front of Trump, without Trump having any idea of it.
BLITZER: The president is also arguing that the confidential FBI source who was investigating Russian ties of the Trump campaign is actually a spy and he was actually directed by the Obama administration to undermine President Trump.
Does that make sense to you?
KINZINGER: I don't know. Again, I mean, all I have seen is what I have seen on TV about that.
And then I have seen my colleagues who have been briefed on this. They came out and said they weren't overly concerned about it, as you played a sound bite from Mitch McConnell. I have not been briefed on it, so I just don't know.
BLITZER: The president's allies, at least some of them, are clearly ramping up their attacks on the special counsel, Robert Mueller, was for a long time the FBI director.
I want you to listen to what your Republican congressman -- your Republican colleague Congressman Louie Gohmert told Judicial Watch. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: This is consistent with Mueller. He has protected radical Islamists for his whole career with the FBI and even as special counsel.
But 9/11, we knew who -- we found out who the perpetrators were. There were no questions -- no question that was radical Islam. And immediately after, the anthrax scare occurred. And he was looking for something to take the attention away from the concern about radical Islam.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: When you hear that, what's your reaction?
KINZINGER: I know Louie, obviously. I like Louie. He's a good guy.
But I disagree with him in this case. I don't know what case he's referring to, but I can tell you with pretty good confidence that Mr. Mueller's not sympathetic to radical Islam. So I think, if there's any connection that was made, it's not because of any kind of sympathy by Mr. Mueller.
I trust his investigations. I trust this techniques. And I think at the end of the day, we're going to see -- we're going to see what this report is. And there might be a lot of people surprised when the president is exonerated. We will see. We will find out in the summer, as what I heard from Giuliani, or whenever.
BLITZER: Whenever we find out. But the fact that this Republican congressman says that Robert Mueller protected radical Islamists his whole career with the FBI, even as special counsel, pretty shocking to hear that kind of accusation.
But let me get you to react to other Republican nominees for the Congress. They're running to join you in the Congress. And they want to represent the state of Illinois in the House of Representatives.
There's a guy named Bill Falwell who is running in the Illinois 17th Congressional District. He's a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. He says there wasn't a terror attack, says your party's -- he says it was coordinated.
And your party's nominee in Illinois' first 3rd Congressional District, a guy by the name of Arthur Jones, he's clearly a Nazi Holocaust denier. These are two guys running for Republican seats in the House of Representatives.
Are you embarrassed by these kinds of men who are officially now Republican Party candidates for the House?
KINZINGER: Sure. I don't know much about the 17th guy, if he is truly a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. That's nuts, obviously.
BLITZER: He says basically that -- he says one of the buildings next to the World Trade Center was blown up deliberately by the CIA, because it had secret information in there. He's made these kinds of accusations.
KINZINGER: Yes, that's silly.
Anybody who -- truthfully, anybody who believes in 9/11 theories, I don't regard them in very high standards whatsoever, and especially Arthur Jones, who is a Nazi.
Now, here's the real issue, though. It's one thing to say, because they're running as Republicans, that somehow -- to try to make the distinction that the Republican Party supports them is wrong, because in Illinois all you have to do is get a sufficient number of signatures on the ballot.
And all it means is somebody else didn't get the sufficient number of signatures to also get on the ballot to run against him in a primary. And then, when they get those numbers, people may not know they're gathering these signatures. They file on the last day of filing.
And the party cannot -- there is no mechanism for the party to come in and remove that person or put somebody else on the ballot unless that person resigns.
So we 1000 percent -- and I have signed letters -- repudiate Arthur Jones. That doesn't mean he reflects Republican principles. He could've, frankly, run as a Democrat too had he gotten the sufficient number of signatures and nobody else challenged him.
Our party 1000 percent rejects him.
BLITZER: Reject both -- I assume they reject both of these Republican nominees who are running for the House of Representatives.
KINZINGER: Yes, sure.
I don't know those -- I don't know the 17th District guy. I do know Arthur Jones. I know what his background is. And I 1000 percent repudiate it.
KINZINGER: And of course I'm not a 9/11 conspiracy theorist.
BLITZER: Of course not. No, you're actually a war hero. You served in the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we're grateful to you, Congressman, for your service to our country.
But let's talk about North Korea right now, a subject that's clearly, clearly in the news.
Two days ago, the president said there was a good chance his June 12 summit in Singapore with Kim Jong-un would happen. Yesterday, it was suddenly called off. Today, he said, we would like to do it. It could even happen on the 12th of next month.
So, from your vantage point -- and I know you have studied this very closely -- what is the president's policy on North Korea right now?
KINZINGER: I think it's been pretty consistent.
And I have been kind of amazed at some my friends on the other side of the aisle trying to blame President Trump for what's going on over the last few weeks.
Let's look at this first off. President Trump said, I want to meet with Kim Jong-un. Kim Jong-un does this happy step across the border publicity tour with South Korea. We have agreed to a meeting with them, to a summit.
Then, all the sudden, we start getting rhetoric from North Korea. North Korea says they're not going to denuclearize. And then they don't return the phone call of Pompeo and his people.
So the right thing to do is to say, obviously, the summit is not going to happen. We stepped away. And then Kim Jong-un seems to have reversed himself and say, no, we want to meet. And now there's communication going on again.
The president would be wrong not to reengage in this. So there's a lot of my friends on the other side of the other that are really quick to blame President Trump for this. I actually give him a lot of credit for the situation we're in. And it may even be messier between now and the next few months. But we're dealing with a really crazy man in North Korea.
BLITZER: You think this can be solved diplomatically? Do you think are the president can work some sort of deal out, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, with Kim Jong-un, because, on both sides, even as they're talking about some sort of diplomacy, they're obviously still considering military options?
KINZINGER: Well, I certainly hope so.
And I certainly think we need to try. If we were trying not, we have people that would be yelling right now that President Trump's not trying enough to talk to Kim Jong-un. And now that he's talking to him, yes, we have to have a military threat and a military option. That's what makes diplomacy against an adversary actually work.
And then, look, the other thing is, we're a pretty big military with a pretty big economy. We have a lot more tools in our toolkit to continue to compel pressure. So I hope to God, I pray to God that this works. I think the president is doing right in giving him an opportunity.
But I think, as you saw yesterday, he is willing to walk away if it's not right. Kim Jong-un needs to know this, because this as high as diplomacy gets. And if this fails, God help us all.
BLITZER: Yes, good point. Let's hope it does work and there is denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.
Congressman Kinzinger, thanks so much for joining us.
KINZINGER: You bet, Wolf. Any time.
BLITZER: All right, let's go live to North Korea right now.
CNN's Will Ripley is one of the very few Western journalists still inside the country. He actually broke the news to some North Korean officials that the summit was canceled.
Will, first of all, what are you hearing from the North Koreans about the summit right now? WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was really interesting to hear that measured response out of Pyongyang, because, yesterday, I told you, Wolf, given the North Korean rhetoric that we have seen in recent days, the attacks on the vice president, for example, we expected an angry response, a defiant response when President Trump unilaterally canceled the summit.
But the exact opposite happened. They praised the president for his bravery for taking steps to do something that previous U.S. presidents would have never done. And they said that they're willing to talk with the United States at any time.
So I can tell you here on the ground in Wonsan, there is a cautious optimism. There is still some mistrust about what the United States really means when President Trump says the summit may happen, it may not.
Obviously, the messaging isn't necessarily consistent from the North Korean side either. You have these fiery statements coming from a lower-level official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but then a very measured, almost conciliatory statement from a higher-level official.
Arguably, the same thing is happening at the White House as well, some really harsh rhetoric from National Security Adviser John Bolton and the vice president comparing North Korea to Libya, and then President Trump responding with a letter that was courteous and respectful, praising North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and saying that he's open to a phone call at any time.
So we're seeing diplomacy play out in real time on the ground here, but, of course, the stakes with North Korea's nuclear arsenal and the United States' military presence in the region really couldn't be higher, Wolf.
BLITZER: Will, you witnessed what the North Koreans are calling the complete dismantling of a nuclear testing site in North Korea.
We're showing our viewers some video of those explosions. You were there. You watched it all unfold.
What more can you tell us about that?
RIPLEY: So, we know the diplomats in Pyongyang, foreign diplomats posted there, were briefed about this yesterday. And the North Koreans are sticking to their talking points that what we saw at Punggye-ri permanently rendered that site unusable.
They say the explosions that we witnessed went deep inside those tunnels. They say the tunnels could never be reopened, even two tunnels the North Koreans say were ready to conduct high-powered nuclear tests at any time.
We also saw them blow up all of the buildings on site. But, again, the point that I keep coming back to here is that it was only journalists in the group. There were no nuclear weapons experts. And so actually what the North Koreans are hoping is that perhaps experts will look at some of this video and help us to ascertain if what we saw was in fact a legitimate dismantlement of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
And the other thing that we don't know, though, frankly, are there other sites in other parts of North Korea? This is a country that's never going to completely give up its leverage entering into a high- stakes negotiation with the United States.
But here in Wonsan, North Korean officials insist that what we saw was legitimate, that they say they're being transparent, that this was a good-faith step to give up their nuclear weapons, or at least start to reduce the nuclear capacity ahead of this summit, this possible summit in Singapore with President Trump.
BLITZER: Yes. And we know the North Koreans also released three American detainees. And President Trump was really appreciative of that gesture as well.
So, based on all your reporting -- and I know you have been to North Korea many times, Will -- where do you see this unfolding in the immediate future?
RIPLEY: Well, I have to say I'm far more optimistic today than I was at this time yesterday, when we were all in a bit of a state of shock about the cancellation of the summit, and it seemed like things could really go back to square one.
That said, the situation could again turn very quickly. I think what the United States needs to realize when they're dealing with North Korea is you have to be very careful about the messaging. When you threaten them, when you compare their country to Libya, a country that gave up nuclear weapons, only to have their dictator overthrown a few years later and killed by U.S.-backed forces, that is the wrong approach.
That's going to get North Koreans back up. They already have a lot of trust issues with the United States. But when you approach them the way that President Trump did with that letter, with respect, trying to open the door, you saw the positive response out of Pyongyang.
And so moving forward, I think the messaging here is going to be very sensitive and the U.S. and North Korea both have to be very careful about how they talk to each other, because there is real potential for historic change here, but there's also the potential for things to reverse course and go horribly wrong.
BLITZER: Excellent point.
Will Ripley in North Korea for us, thanks for your really terrific reporting. We are grateful to you. Thanks so much.
Let's go right to the former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta right now. He also served as the CIA director during the Obama administration. Mr. Secretary, when you look at the back and forth over the past 24, 48 hours, on what's going on, will there be a summit, won't there be a summit, who is benefiting from all of this, the U.S. or North Korea?
LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, we're obviously going through a lot of a summit backlash right now in terms of whether it's on or off.
I think -- I think, right now, the concern I have is that there is a larger focus on whether or not there's going to be a summit, rather than the question of whether that summit is going to be a success or a failure.
And, at this point in time, I just think there are so many issues that have to be dealt with in that summit, that I don't see any possibility that the President Trump and Kim can actually come to agreement on the myriad of issues that have to be decided on.
I think there is going to have to be serious work here as to just exactly what's going to take place at the summit and whether serious negotiations can then follow that hopefully can provide some kind of successful resolution.
I don't see that happening right now. And, very frankly, I'm not sure that either the United States or North Korea has gained very much from these last few weeks of punch and counterpunch.
BLITZER: But, as you know, Mike Pompeo, now the secretary of state, formally the CIA director, he's visited Pyongyang twice over the past couple of months or so. He's had face-to-face meetings with Kim Jong- un.
What are you suggesting? You want more talks at this level before there's a full-scale summit? You think more-lower level talks are needed? Or why not just have a summit, and then delegate your aides on both sides to work out specific details?
PANETTA: I think the best scenario right now and, very frankly, the only one that I think is practical, would be, if they want to proceed with the summit, fine.
Have the summit. Meet in Singapore. They both can go eye to eye and kind of size up each other. But, hopefully, what they could agree on is a framework of the issues that need to be discussed in order to arrive at a comprehensive agreement between the two -- between the countries involved here, and then allow the professional negotiators, people like Mike Pompeo and others at the State Department, as well as other senior individuals who have experience, do the negotiations that ultimately have to produce the final agreement.
That's the best scenario that I could see taking place right now.
BLITZER: Do you believe that destroying what the North Koreans said was that nuclear site -- and we had a reporter and camera crew there and we have pictures of it -- do you believe that was a serious gesture on the part of the North Koreans.
PANETTA: Wolf, I think North Korea's following the old playbook here. There's nothing new.
They have basically done this in the past. His father blew up a cooling tower and then, within a few weeks, replaced it. And they have engaged in the same kind of rhetoric and counterpunch that we have seen in the past.
So I don't -- I don't think anybody ought to be surprised by how North Korea is behaving here. What I do think needs to take place is much more preparation for what that summit is going to be like, rather than this kind of constant speculation that's been taking place.
They're not going to have a successful summit if people here in the United States are basically negotiating with themselves. And that's what's been going on. We have had the national security adviser talking about Libya. We have had Vice President Pence talking about Libya. We have had the president tweeting all kinds of speculation about denuclearization.
Very frankly, you are not going to succeed if you constantly are speculating about what could or could not happen. They need to have one strategy. Everybody needs to be on the same talking points. That's the only way you're going to be able to succeed with this kind of high-level some.
BLITZER: Regionally, Mr. Secretary, what does all this do to the U.S. relationships with South Korea, with Japan and with China, for that matter?
PANETTA: Well, I was very worried about the fact that the president sent out this letter without in any way a consulting with South Korea or Japan, our allies.
The only way the president is going to have leverage at that kind of meeting if it looks like we are unified in terms of our position, that we're unified with South Korea, that we're unified with Japan, and that we're unified with our other allies when the president sits down, and that everybody has the same strategy and we're all working off the same talking points.
That's the only way you can succeed in any kind of high-level negotiation with an enemy like North Korea.
BLITZER: Let me ask you about the president's a spin on the FBI's confidential source, who was investigating Russian contacts among Trump campaign officials.
The president is saying this was a -- this man was a spy planted in his campaign for political purposes by the Obama administration, that the White House orchestrated -- the White House, as you know, yesterday orchestrated a briefing for some of the president's main defenders in Congress on this, including the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes.
Put your hat on as a former CIA director. How concerning is all of this to you?
PANETTA: Well, I am very concerned that, in dealing with highly classified information, that the administration and those involved on the Republican side in the Intelligence Committee did not follow the procedures that should be followed when it comes to whether or not classified, highly classified information is going to be presented.
The key to that has always been that the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee operate on a bipartisan basis and that members from both Democrat and Republican side are sitting down, usually in a briefing room that is highly protected in terms of the information.
[18:30:30] These kind of meetings should not take place at the White House. They should take place on Capitol Hill in a bipartisan fashion. And I think the fact that, at least on the House side, it's becoming much more partisan, I think it's going to undermine the ability of that committee to do the job of oversight that it has a responsibility to do.
BLITZER: Let me get your reaction to this. The president's allies, clearly, they're ramping up their attacks on Robert Mueller, the special counsel. And I want you to listen to what Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert told "Judiciary Watch" about Robert Mueller.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: This is consistent with Mueller. He has protected radical Islamists for his whole career with the FBI and even the special counsel.
But 9/11, we knew -- we found out who the perpetrators were. There was no question. That was radical Islam. And immediately after that, the anthrax scare occurred; and he was looking for something to take the attention away from the concern about radical Islam.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Can you believe that? That he's saying Robert Mueller, who was the FBI director for a dozen years; he's now the special counselor, he has protected radical Islamists his whole career with the FBI? I want to get your reaction. This is a United States congressman.
PANETTA: Wolf, as a former congressman, I would say, with great respect to that particular congressman, he has no idea what the hell he's talking about.
Bob Mueller was FBI director when I was director of the CIA. He committed himself to going after terrorists, to going after extreme -- extremist Islam in order to protect this country. And whatever he's implying is absolutely not only wrong but, in many ways, it reflects the kind of unfounded attacks that people are resorting to here in order to undermine what Bob Mueller is doing in this investigation. I think Republicans, frankly, ought to stand up and denounce what this guy said. BLITZER: Yes. I mean, it is pretty shocking. Anybody who knows Bob
Mueller, this accusation that he has protected radical Islamists his whole career with the FBI, I mean, it's so outrageous it's hard to believe that a sitting member of the House of Representatives would say that.
So let me just button it up, and then I'll let you go. What do you want other members of the House of Representatives, including Republicans, to do about this, if anything?
PANETTA: Well, if -- if Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives care about the credibility of that institution, they're not going to allow members who say the kinds of things this congressman said to get away with that and just stand back and ignore it.
It's really important for the leadership to stand up and say that -- that this is wrong, this is totally unfounded in terms of the facts, and that we all ought to, frankly, stand back and support Bob Mueller in a very tough job that he's in.
But very frankly, he is a credible prosecutor who's trying to do the right job here. Let's -- let's give him the support he needs in order to complete his job.
BLITZER: And you speak as a member -- a former member of the House of representatives, and I know you love that institution very, very much. Mr. Secretary, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.
PANETTA: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Just ahead, we're going to talk more about this unproven claim about an FBI spy inside the Trump campaign. Why can't the president simply let go of this conspiracy theory?
And Harvey Weinstein's accusers are calling it a step toward justice. We're going to have the latest on his surrender and arraignment on rape charges.
[18:39:23] BLITZER: As President Trump tries to revive his cancelled summit with Kim Jong-un, he's also taking some time to keep promoting his favorite new favorite conspiracy theory, that the FBI spied on his presidential campaign.
Let's bring in our political, legal and national security analysts.
And Susan Hennessey, the president tweeted this this morning: "Can anyone even imagine having spies placed in a competing campaign by the people and party in absolute power for the sole purpose of political advantage and gain? And to think that the party in question, even with the expenditure of far more money lost."
The president seems to really want this story to take off, but clearly, the facts don't back up his allegations. SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, they
really don't back up his allegations. There's not a spy. There's a confidential informant. That's an ordinary law enforcement technique.
It's also not political. Right? There was every evidence here, indicated that the federal investigators were trying to prevent it from harming Trump's campaign. The evidence for that is that we're only just finding out about it now.
So I think what we're really seeing is President Trump is trying to distract here. He's trying to distract from the fact that a foreign adversary was trying to help his campaign and that they found a willing partner, sort of, at every turn.
You know, the one thing that President Trump hasn't said yet is what he thought the FBI should have done with this information. So if they had the information that his campaign was being targeted, should they just have sat - should they just have sat on their hands and done nothing?
The other thing President Trump hasn't said is why he thinks that his conduct and the conduct of his -- his political allies was appropriate or lawful or acceptable.
BLITZER: You used to work over there at the National Security Agency. So you're very familiar with U.S. intelligence capabilities.
Sabrina Siddiqui, this follows a long list of allegations put forward by the president and his supporters to try to discredit this entire Russia investigation. I'll put some of them on the screen, including the current one, that the FBI embedded a spy in his presidential campaign.
Earlier, that the Trump Tower was wiretapped during the campaign. That there was improper unmasking of Trump aides. That the Oval Office -- there were Oval Office tapes of James Comey. No such tapes existed. That there was a secret society working against him inside the FBI. That that unsubstantiated dossier actually triggered the whole Russia probe, whereas, we know that one of his foreign policy aides, a young guy, George Papadopoulos, was bragging about Russian interference in a conversation with an Australian diplomat that got back to the FBI that actually triggered this investigation.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Yes. It's a very long list of allegations, Wolf, and they're clearly designed to not just discredit the work of the special counsel but really, to persuade the court of public opinion.
And the president's attacks on the FBI and the DOJ, they could pose more legal problems for him, particularly if he takes any steps to intervene with the special counsel's work, as he is already under investigation for obstruction of justice.
But it's important to note that his strategies, in some ways, are working. A slim majority of the American public does support the special counsel. But increasingly, we are seeing across several polls, including those done by CNN, that a majority of Republicans now believe that this investigation is unfair or biased against the president.
That's why it's also important that Republicans in Congress have been pretty muted in their criticism of the president's attacks, because ultimately, if Robert Mueller were to recommend any charges against the president, in some ways, the battle lines have already been drawn.
BLITZER: So Jeffrey Toobin, what do you think? Because you just heard that, among that base of his, those conspiracy theories seem to be working.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, we're going to be looking back at this for a long time. And I think people are going to be asking what side were you on?
Because we have a president of the United States, even by the low standards of American politics, who has been lying repeatedly about this investigation and many other things. And we have an entire political party in this country that is not only complicit but is encouraging this sort of behavior.
It's a polarized moment. The Republicans are, by and large, united behind him. And they are supporting someone who has been lying about this investigation from day one.
You know, we can do our part as journalists, but people are going to believe what they're going to believe.
BLITZER: You know, Ron, there were some high-level briefings, classified briefings for senior congressional leaders yesterday on these allegations. And you know, what's very interesting over the past 24 hours, there's basically been silence from the Republicans who were there.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Well, first of all, it really goes to Jeffrey's point, which is that -- we talked about this many times. When the administration started, I think there was a sense among Republicans on Capitol Hill that they needed to keep their distance from President Trump, that he was so unpredictable, so volatile they should not be all in. That has gone. And they have completely eliminated any willingness to impose any constraint or oversight and, more often than not, are supporting and enabling these kind of efforts to open a second front against the special counsel investigation.
And the striking thing to me, you know, as someone who comes at this thinking about kind of the political implications of all of this, is that by in large, when you look at the doubts that voters in the Republican coalition still hold about Trump personally, still question whether he is racially biased, for good reason, after many of the things that he has said just in the past week, or doubt his temperament, as you can imagine, after the last week of on again, off again North Korea, nonetheless, they are somewhat -- the voters, like the members of Congress, are locking arms and basically drifting back to Republican candidates in 2018, because they want to hold power. They see the rewards of lining up behind President Trump in term of judges and regulatory policy and taxes.
[18:45:01] And that really puts a lot of pressure on Democrats, not so much to expect massive cracks in the Republican coalition, but to turn out their own voters much more successfully, these young voters and minorities, than they have usually done in midterm elections. And I think that is what we are heading for, a kind of Battle of the Bulge moment in which both sides may be energized much more than we usually see in a midterm election.
BLITZER: And very quickly, Susan, what are you hearing from your former colleagues in the intelligence community about all of this?
HENNESSEY: Look, it's unbelievably demoralizing. But I think the American public should know that U.S. intelligence community is staffed by good and decent people that are committed to doing our jobs and they are working to keep the world safe for people and it's incredibly unfortunate and I think tragic to hear these kinds of statements from the president of the United States. You know, but I don't think that this is going to change their behavior one bit.
BLITZER: All right. You know, Jeffrey Toobin, I don't know if you saw it, but there was really a very impressive article in "The Washington Post" today about an other instance where the White House wanted to put aside the facts to advance President Trump's narrative.
And the story in "The Washington Post", one of the president senior advisors Steven Miller wanted a report to come out from the Department of Homeland Security to say that children of foreign born nationalists were more likely to commit acts of terrorism. Secretary of homeland security had to put her foot down and said that wasn't factual. She wouldn't put out a report with that kind of language and there were other pretty outrageous elements in that story as well.
What do you make of this?
TOOBIN: Well, it's of a piece. I mean, remember, when Donald Trump declared his candidacy, what did he say? Mexicans are rapists. I mean, the demonization of people who come into the country without documentation has been a core part of his repeal. He understood the Republican Party would unite behind this.
A lot of people thought, Reince Priebus wrote a whole report saying, oh, the Republican Party has to said they have to get behind immigration reform. Not true. They are united around this demonization of people from Mexico, people from Central America, and it has worked politically at least within the Republican Party.
BROWNSTEIN: Can I just add real quick, Wolf? I mean, there's still a slice of the Republican Party as you see in the effort to create a force of floor vote on DACA that's uneasy with this. But, Jeffrey is right that the bulk of the Republican Party has been supported.
It's not just immigrants. I mean, just think about what he said this week about the African-American NFL players who are protesting on the national anthem. Maybe they don't belong in the country. It's not like voters haven't noticed. I mean, the polling is now
consistent, Quinnipiac, A.P., and RSC, a majority of Americans say they believe Donald Trump is biased against people of color. But that is not, again, as on the ethical questions, it is not driving away as many ordinarily Republican voters as you might have expected 18 months ago, as they look at the other things on the ledger.
And that puts a real -- kind of puts the ball really in the court of the Americans who view both of these lines of behavior, the kind of overt appeals to white racial resentment and the attacks on law enforcement. The voters who see that as a threat to American ideals -- they can't expect Republicans to do the job. They're going to have to show up and kind of defend that vision of America, because I think all the evidence is that with the other stuff on the ledger, the taxes, the judges, the regulatory, a lot of those traditional Republican voters are going to show up and they're going to stick with their traditional inclinations and affinities.
BLITZER: Sabrina, very quickly.
SIDDIQUI: Very quickly, studies have shown that immigrants are less likely to commit crime than the native one population, that has remained true even as the immigrant population has gone up with this administration. Ultimately, it continues to elevate crimes committed by immigrants in the service of what is a very restrictive agenda on immigration.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stick around.
There's more news we're following, including Harvey Weinstein formally charged with rape and other sex crimes more than seven months after some of his accusers went public, giving rise to the Me Too movement. The disgraced movie mogul in handcuffs today as he surrender to New York City. His bond now set at a whopping $10 million.
Let's go to our national correspondent Brynn Gingras. She's outside the court house in New York.
Brynn, these charges stem from the allegations of two other women who say they were actually assaulted and abused by Weinstein.
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. Two women for now, but this was an investigation that took detectives seven months. It brought them to several countries around the world to meet accusers. And we know right now, grand jury is hearing testimony from at least four accusers, according to a source. So, that is signaling that possibly more charges from other women could be coming.
GINGRAS (voice-over): Hollywood mega producer Harvey Weinstein in handcuffs walking into court today facing rape charges. They stem from the accounts of two women, including an aspiring actress who first spoke out in a 2017 "New Yorker" article, alleging Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex on him at his office in 2004. [18:50:01] Tonight, Weinstein is out of jail after posting a $1
million cash bail, but not before surrendering his passport, being forced to wear a monitoring device 24/7, and traveling only between New York and Connecticut.
The criminal charges are the first to be filed against Weinstein after dozens of women, including several A-list actresses made various sexual misconduct accusations against the media mogul last year. Among them, Gwyneth Paltrow --
GWYNETH PALTROW, ACCUSED WEINSTEIN OF MISCONDUCT: We had one instance in a hotel room where he tried to -- where he made a pass at me and then I really kind of stood up to him.
GINGRAS: -- Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Lupita Nyong'o, Ashley Judd --
ASHLEY JUDD, ACTRESS: I fought with this volley of nos which he ignored.
GINGRAS: And actress Rose McGowan, one of the first women, to publicly accuse Weinstein of rape.
ROSE MCGOWAN, ACCUSED WEINSTEIN OF RAPE: We got you. Yes.
To see him in cuffs on the way out, whether he smiled or not, that is a very good feeling.
GINGRAS: Weinstein denies having nonconsensual sex with any of his accusers and his attorney insisted today his client is innocent.
BENJAMIN BRAFMAN, ATTORNEY FOR HARVEY WEINSTEIN: My job is not to defect behavior, my job is to defend something that is criminal behavior. Bad behavior, Mr. Weinstein did not invent the casting couch in Hollywood and to the extent that there is bad behavior in that industry, that is not what this is about.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you stay positive, you have a shot --
GINGRAS: It's a stunning fall for the man behind several major movies like "Silver Linings Playbook", "The Kings Speech" --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My heart belongs to you, but I will marry Wessex a week from Saturday.
GINGRAS: -- and "Shakespeare in Love", just to name a few. Some of which earned Weinstein dozens of awards for his work behind the camera.
But now, he's the focus of investigations for alleged sex crimes not just in New York but also in Los Angeles and London.
GINGRAS: And before the judge today, Weinstein appeared a little pale, even a little dazed. He left this courthouse and it's believed he returned to a Connecticut home. He'll be back in court on these charges in July -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Brynn, thank you. Brynn Gingras in New York.
We're joined once again by our chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN entertainment reporter Chloe Melas.
Jeffrey, is this going to trial, you think?
TOOBIN: I do actually. I think the magnitude of accusations against him and the D.A. is by no means finished with this investigation. More victims could be added.
It's very hard for me to imagine how a plea bargain that could work out, that that would be satisfactory to both sides. So I do think this case is going to trial.
BLITZER: Chloe, what message does it send for Weinstein's attorney to suggest that Weinstein didn't invent what he called the casting couch?
CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: It's an interesting choice of words, Wolf. First of all, nobody said that Harvey Weinstein invented the casting couch, which has been something that's a term thrown around in Hollywood, since Hollywood began. But you have 80 women that have come forward with accusations against Harvey Weinstein. This is not about, you know, old Hollywood tales. These are some pretty serious accusations.
And to make a claim like that doesn't really seem smart to me because it almost just emboldened more women who have stories that maybe didn't feel empowered to come forward to feel empowered now.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, as you know, so many women have come forward as Chloe points out in order for this to happen. How can the testimony of his other victims potentially factor in if, in fact, there is a trial? And do you believe more charges are coming?
TOOBIN: Well, certainly, there is a possibility of more charges.
In terms of the casting couch, you know, you have to remember defense lawyers don't invent the evidence. They have to deal with what, you know, what the facts are.
I think the only defense really available to Harvey Weinstein here is that these encounters were perhaps, you know, not romantic in nature but both sides got something out of it. This was a consensual -- this was consensual sex that both sides got advantages from.
I'm not saying that's true. Certainly, the evidence that we know about does not suggest that that's the case. I think the defense here is going to have to be, look, these were consensual acts that both sides -- that both sides agreed to, even if they weren't our idea of what male/female relationships should be like.
BLITZER: And as you know, Jeffrey, he's got a pretty prominent legal team, right? TOOBIN: Look, I've said this before, Ben Brafman is the best trial
lawyer I've ever seen in action. That's who was speaking there. He is -- I mean, he really is the best in the business. He's ethical, he follows the rules. But he's very tough and he's very good and he has his work cut out for him in this case.
[18:55:01] BLITZER: He certainly does.
Chloe, what does all of this mean, everything that has happened today, for the Me Too movement?
MELAS: It's an incredible moment for this Me Too movement that has swept Hollywood. I was on the phone earlier today with Tarana Burke, who really is credited to starting the Me Too movement. She said not only should this serve as a cautionary tale for others, but that this is a moment of catharsis for the woman who had the strength to speak out, for the women that have felt silenced, that is a moment for all of those women that stood together.
And it's justice for many women right now. Just to see Harvey Weinstein in cuffs like that on that perp walk that so many of them wanted, even though he is smiling in that. For many women, it's a big, big day.
BLITZER: Yes, certainly.
TOOBIN: If I can just add one thing to that. You know, yes, it is very important that this criminal case has been brought. But one thing we have learned since these disclosures began is that there is a lot of sexual harassment that is not criminal, but is deeply offensive and dangerous to women.
So, the fact that this criminal case has gone forward, there are a lot of examples of sexual harassment that will never end in a criminal courtroom. But have been desperately, desperately harmful to women as well.
BLITZER: You make a good point. As you know, women have found it incredibly difficult to get justice through the legal system. Just take a look at the former New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman who's now accused of physical, of sexual abuse.
So what needs to change from your perspective and how cases like this should be handled?
TOOBIN: Well, I think most -- you know, most cases will never wind up in court. What has to change is employment relations, I think what has to change is the way bosses behave towards women and the expectations about those relationships and how companies review accusations of sexual harassment. I mean, one of the things we have learned is that, you know, human relations departments often function as defense agencies for the people in charge in a company.
And one thing, you know, that both the laws and, more importantly, the customs of how people behave in workplaces has to change. And, you know, maybe I'm unduly optimistic, but I think things actually have changed somewhat and in a better direction over these very few months.
BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, thanks so much. Chloe Melas, thanks to you as well.
In the midst of a volatile time in American politics, CNN is now looking back at a rather tumultuous year that really changed this country forever, we're talking about 1968. The event begins this Sunday on CNN.
CNN's Tom Foreman takes a closer look at one focus of the series, the fights for civil rights in 1968 and how the struggle continues today.
DEMONSTRATORS: Hands up, don't shoot!
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Outrage over deaths, violent clashes between police and the African-American community.
DEMONSTRATORS: All black men don't have to die!
FOREMAN: And the demands for fair equal treatment, all part of a struggle for social justice now. But that modern movement owes much to the 1960s, when a great many similar scenes unfolded. Throughout that decade, friction had been building over integrations, voter rights and disparities in education, work and housing opportunities.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freedom comes to us either by ballots or by bullets.
FOREMAN: The slaying of Malcolm X, the appearance of the Black Panthers, and the rising sense of African-American identity saw in 1968 the landmark book "Soul on Ice" appeared. U.S. Olympic sprinters raised their fists against racial inequality. And it all came to a head --
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: Somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights!
FOREMAN: When the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis triggered an outpouring of grief.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The persons have been treated for injuries. Among them, several policemen and firemen.
FOREMAN: Protests ripped through dozens of cities, the nation's capital Washington, D.C. exploded into four days of fury.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At one point early in the evening, more than 100 fires were burning, some of them in an area just 20 blocks from the White House.
FOREMAN: Today, a monument to the slain civil rights leader stands near the very spot where he led marches and prayed for nonviolent change, not far from the Smithsonian's new African-American history museum.
(on camera): They are both tributes to the past but also for many civil rights advocates, they are reminders too, of the passionate calls for change in 1968 are echoing still.
Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.
BLITZER: CNN's two-night original series event "1968," starts this Sunday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
That's it for me.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.