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Trump Pardons Right-Wing Writer Dinesh D'Souza; Pompeo: 'Real Progress' in Advance Work for North Korean Summit; Trump Pressured Attorney General Sessions On Multiple Occasions To Reverse Recusal In Russia Probe; Pompeo Real Progress With North Korea In Last 72 Hours; Kim Jong-un's Ex-Spy Chief To Deliver Letter To Trump; ISIS Supporter Plotted To Kidnap Britain's Prince George. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 31, 2018 - 17:00   ET


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR: You turn over every document, and if he doesn't turn it over, you give him 24 hours. If he doesn't turn it over, I would fire him. And that's not obstruction of justice. That's giving a law enforcement officer a direct order to turn over documents to Capitol Hill. And if he doesn't do it, I would fire him.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You can see the rest of the interview tomorrow at 9 p.m. Eastern. That is it for "THE LEAD." I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:27] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Pardon spree. President Trump pardons a right-wing pundit found guilty of campaign fraud and may pardon a pair of "Apprentice" stars. Is it a defiant message to federal prosecutors who convicted them, or a signal to witnesses in the Mueller investigation?

Fired over Russia. The special counsel now has a secret memo which could reveal a lot about President Trump's firing of former FBI director James Comey and its connection to the Russia probe.

Special delivery. North Korea's former spy chief, accused of an attack against the United States, will be allowed to come to Washington to personally deliver a letter to President Trump at the White House. Will that pave the way for a summit with Kim Jong-un?

And plot against the prince. An ISIS supporter pleads guilty after encouraging jihadists to target Britain's 4-year-old Prince George, third in line to be king. How vulnerable are Britain's young royals?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, President Trump bypasses his Justice Department and pardons right-wing pundit Dinesh D'Souza, who was convicted of campaign finance fraud. And the president says he may pardon former "Apprentice" stars Martha Stewart and former Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, who's still in prison for corruption.

I'll speak with Senator Ben Cardin of the Foreign Relations Committee. And our correspondents and specialists, they are standing by with full coverage.

But first, let's get right to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president pardons a high-profile conservative, and more may be on the way. What's behind this latest move?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Sounds like it, Wolf. It's a new episode of President Trump's White House version of "The Apprentice." This time, it's the presidential pardon edition. The president not only announced he is pardoning a darling of the far- right, Dinesh D'Souza, as you said. Mr. Trump added he's also considering leniency for two stars of his former TV show, making this White House once again seem detached from reality.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to Dallas. We're going to Houston. And we're going to have a little fun today.

ACOSTA: As President Trump left Washington for Texas, it sounded like he was contemplating a new reality TV catch phrase, not "You're fired," but "You're pardoned."

The president started his day with pardon for far-right commentator Dinesh D'Souza, who was convicted of violating campaign finance laws during the Obama administration. D'Souza tweeted, "Obama and his stooges tried to extinguish my American dream and destroy my faith in America. Thank you, Mr. Trump, for fully restoring both."

D'Souza then went after former federal prosecutor and CNN contributor Preet Bharara, tweeting, "Karma is a bitch."

Well-known on conservative circles for his racially-loaded cultural commentary --

DINESH D'SOUZA, CONSERVATIVE WRITER: Somehow, the white guy is not welcome at the multicultural picnic. If they show up at the multicultural picnic, they're Satan.

ACOSTA: D'Souza once tweeted this attack on Barack and Michelle Obama.


ACOSTA: Asked why he pardoned D'Souza, the president told reporters, "I never met him. I called him last night, first time I've ever spoken to him. I said, 'I'm pardoning you.' Nobody asked me to do it."

And "I read the newspapers. I see him on television."

But the president hinted he may show more leniency for former stars of his TV show "The Apprentice," including commuting the sentence of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich --

TRUMP: Governor, I have great respect for you. I have great respect for your tenacity, for the fact that you just don't give up. But Rod, you're fired.

ACOSTA: -- who was convicted of corruption charges for attempting to sell Obama's former Senate seat. And domestic style icon, Martha Stewart, who was convicted of lying to federal prosecutors.

MARTHA STEWART, FOUNDER, MARTHA STEWART LIVING: We're going to make a scrumptious meatloaf sandwich, which is Donald's favorite sandwich.

TRUMP: I've never had meatloaf this good.

ACOSTA: Stewart has demonstrated she's no fan of the president, once giving him the middle finger in this Instagram photo, but she once hosted her own version of "The Apprentice."

STEWART: It really, really bothered me that you talked about quitting. I don't think I've ever quit a job. I mean, I've gone through -- I've gone through jail.

ACOSTA: The president's made it clear, he's willing to issue pardons to controversial figures, starting with former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Democrats believe the president is sending a message to his own former aides in legal jeopardy.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: I they Manafort knows it. I think Michael Cohen knows it. I think others know it. I think Robert Mueller probably knows it. And it has the potential to be an obstruction of justice case.

ACOSTA: The White House, which just welcomed reality TV star Kim Kardashian to meet with the president to talk pardons, denies that.

[17:05:05] RAJ SHAH, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Each of the president's actions on pardons or on other things should be judged on the merits, looking at the facts and the circumstances surrounding that case.

ACOSTA: The president is still refusing to deal with some of the realities of the Russia probe, tweeting, "Not that it matters, but I never fired James Comey because of Russia. The corrupt mainstream media loves to keep pushing that narrative, but they know it's not true."

But that's not what the president said to NBC last year.

TRUMP: And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, "You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won." (END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now the president is setting up this debate over his pardons just as he's announcing new tariffs against Mexico, Canada and the European Union. Those countries and the European Union are all talking about retaliating against the U.S. by imposing their own tariffs on American products, actions that could drive up costs for American consumers. Wolf, that may be the real price of the Trump reality show this week.

But getting back to those presidential pardons, a White House official just told reporters on Air Force One that the celebrity status of some of the people that the president is considering is not a factor in his deliberations on who he's going to pardon. That's the official word from the White House in just the last several minutes, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim. Jim Acosta with the very latest for us. Thank you.

The president has ignored the regular process for issuing pardons, which normally includes advice and recommendations from a unit within the U.S. Justice Department.

Let's go to our justice reporter Laura Jarrett for us. So Laura, how unusual is all of this?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, both the process and the timing here are quite unusual.

In the typical case, someone who wants a pardon makes a petition to the Justice Department explaining their case. The Justice Department then reviews the file and makes a recommendation to the White House.

Obviously, none of that has happened in some of these most controversial pardons that we have seen from President Trump. And legal experts say part of the reason for having the Justice Department involvement is to not only help him vet the merits of the cases, but also to give him a little political distance, if you will.

Obviously, he hasn't followed through on that. There's nothing in the Constitution that says that he has to use the Justice Department process. And I should mention that President Bill Clinton did it over 40 times, Wolf.

BLITZER: You cover the Justice Department for us, Laura. When the president says a prosecution was unfair, do prosecutors over there feel like their work is being undermined and denigrated?

JARRETT: Well, I think you definitely see from U.S. attorneys across the country who are working hard on public corruption cases, that this is a little bit of a disturbing move. You saw tweets from some, like Preet Bharara today, the former U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, saying this was a fair prosecution. And especially in cases where someone has pled guilty, admitted guilt to the court. I think the U.S. attorneys feel like this is a little bit of a slap in the face, Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Laura. Thank you. Laura Jarrett reporting for


Joining us now, legal scholar Jed Sugarman. He's a former law school professor. And CNN national security and legal analyst Susan Hennessey, a former National Security Agency attorney.

Professor Sugarman, do you believe that these pardons were made with the intent of sending some sort of message to potential witnesses in the Russia probe?

JED SUGARMAN, LEGAL SCHOLAR: Well, I think you have to look at the pattern here with each of the pardons that Trump has given. First, with Sheriff Joe Arpaio. That happened in August. And we know behind the scenes that Trump was talking about firing Mueller at around that time. And that's when the Trump Tower meeting was being exposed. It was a time of high pressure.

And then, look at when he pardoned Scooter Libby. You can look at the charges. Scooter Libby was convicted of obstruction of justice. So that's one connection. And that happened four days after the Cohen raid, the raid of Michael Cohen's office and hotel and home.

So the timing is dramatic here, because this comes also after some revelations about Michael Cohen's search. That the shredded documents might be unshredded and put back together, and how many -- how much pressure Michael Cohen's investigation puts on Trump. So it's hard not to see the connections here.

BLITZER: You know, Susan, let's remind our viewers what the U.S. Constitution has to say about the president's ability to issue pardons. This is what the Constitution says: "The president shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment." So is that power absolute and unreviewable?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: This is clearly within the president's constitutional power, and it is an unreviewable power at that.

But this still is an abusive use of that power. So just because it falls within what the president is able to do constitutionally, that doesn't mean that he isn't wielding it improperly. What it means is that there's no -- the only accountability here is a political one. And that's one of the reasons why it's so disturbing that we aren't seeing any pushback, or nearly enough pushback, from congressional Republicans.

BLITZER: How do you see it, Professor? Is the president dangling pardons in order to impede an investigation into himself, for all practical purposes? Are there limits to his authority to go ahead and issue these kinds of pardons?

[17:10:11] SUGARMAN: Well, there are two points.

One, I would agree with Susan that, first, if -- you can use pardons, but you can't use them for corrupt purposes like obstruction of justice. So this could be evidence of obstruction.

But I will slightly disagree. The Constitution does set limits itself on the pardon power. There's a 1974 Supreme Court case that indicates that, within the Constitution, that sets limits on the pardon power.

So keep in mind, the Constitution says that the president shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed. My co-author, Ethan Leib, and I have historical research that suggests that that was a limit on presidential abuse of power, that a president couldn't use those powers to benefit himself to the detriment of the country.

We suggest that a president cannot pardon himself or co-conspirators, because that would be unfaithful execution and violate his fiduciary duties. So that argument could potentially apply if he's using pardons to set up precedents for pardoning himself or for saving himself from an investigation.

BLITZER: Susan, what do you think of that argument?

HENNESSEY: No, so I think that the issue is not whether or not the power is absolute. The issue is if he does it. And I agree that this would be a violation of the take care clause in his oath of office. The issue is if he does actually violate it, there -- I don't see any mechanism for reviewing or remedying that, that isn't ultimately a political remedy.

BLITZER: What does it say to you, Professor, that the president is also now publicly considering pardons to Martha Stewart and Governor Rod Blagojevich?

SUGARMAN: Again, you can see the connections to obstruction of justice and bribery. Blagojevich was selling off a nomination. The Russia investigation is also involving bribery. So there's that connection.

And Martha Stewart was convicted of obstruction of justice and false statement.

It's almost like President Trump went through a list of potential crimes that he and his White House could be charged with and found pardons for other people to lay the groundwork. The connection -- the timing and the underlying crimes just are too coincidental that line up with the Russia investigation.

BLITZER: You know it's interesting. Preet Bharara, who was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who prosecuted the case against D'Souza, he had this to say on Twitter. And Preet is now a CNN contributor, as you know.

Quote, "The president has the right to pardon, but the facts are these. D'Souza intentionally broke the law, voluntarily pled guilty, apologized for his conduct, and the judge found no unfairness. The career prosecutors and agents did their job, period."

D'Souza responded with a tweet of his own. Quote, "Bharara and his goons bludgeoned me into the plea by threatening to add a second, redundant charge carrying a prison term of five years. Karma is a bitch department. Preet Bharara wanted to destroy a fellow Indian- American to advance his career. Then he got fired, and I got pardoned."

Does it strike you, Susan, as unusual to see an exchange like this following a presidential pardon?

HENNESSEY: Sure. It's sort of astonishing. Right? I think what we are seeing Preet do is stand up for the rule of law, stand up for the integrity of his institution.

Now, he's acknowledging that the president has the right to nullify that decision. I do think he's hinting at the ways in which the president's use of this power, you know, does undermine his own Department of Justice.

BLITZER: What do you think, Professor?

SUGARMAN: Yes, it's remarkable. Usually, when people have pardons like this, they show more appreciation, rather than anger. So it's pretty remarkable.

There's also the vengeance aspect of going after Preet Bharara. Notice Comey was also one of the prosecutors involved with another one of these prosecutions, of Martha Stewart. So there's that angle.

I do want to suggest that these could be challenged. If one of these potential defendants, like let's say, Donald Trump Jr. or Manafort or Michael Cohen goes into court and says, "I have a pardon," I think that there is standing for a prosecutor to say, "These pardons are not valid." To make this constitutional argument to a judge and for a judge to agree that those pardons are not valid.

So there is -- there is a potential step by step constitutional argument to watch for, if Trump is playing this out to use these pardons unfaithfully.

BLITZER: That could wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court, as we all know, ass well.

Professor Sugarman, thanks so much for joining us.

Susan, you'll be back. Thanks to you, as well.

Up next, more breaking news. North Korea's former spy chief, right- hand man to Kim Jong-un, will deliver a letter from the dictator to President Trump. Are the two sides moving closer to a summit? I'll talk with Senator Ben Cardin of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Much more right after this.


[17:19:33] BLITZER: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says real progress has been made in talks aimed at setting up a summit between President Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong-un. And he confirms that North Korea's former spy chief will be coming to Washington tomorrow to hand deliver a letter to the president from the dictator.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He's a key member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

So what do you think, Senator? What do you think of President Trump's decision to allow Kim Yong Chol to come to the White House tomorrow for a formal meeting?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Wolf, I think these preparatory meetings are extremely important. As we've said before on your show, there's only one path forward to resolve the crisis in North Korea that can work, and that's diplomacy.

So I think North Korea understands that. I hope America understands that. We really need to make diplomacy work. And I'm hoping that these meetings will lead to a constructive diplomatic path.

BLITZER: Are you worried the North Koreans will spin this, though, into some sort of propaganda win for them, for their domestic consumption? He's being allowed outside that 25-mile radius of the United Nations, first time in almost two decades, coming to Washington, actually going for a meeting with President Trump at the White House.

CARDIN: Well, you know, it's clear that North Korea has created this crisis by violating international norms on their nuclear program. We need to find a peaceful way to end that.

And clearly, North Korea will spin this in a way that meets their propaganda needs.

Our interest is to end the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula. And I think that we have to focus on solving that problem. Recognizing there are other issues concerning North Korea, including their horrible human rights record against its own citizens, its violation of so many other issues. And it's important that we don't lose sight of these other issues.

But let's use diplomacy now to end this nuclear confrontation.

BLITZER: But you've heard all the reports that this individual, the former spy chief of North Korea, was responsible for that Sony hack a few years ago, which targeted a U.S. Hollywood studio.

Also responsible, we're told, for the sinking of a South Korean warship back in 2010 that killed almost 50 South Korean sailors. You've heard all those reports.

CARDIN: Absolutely. And with this administration, with the Trump administration, we don't follow the normal diplomatic path. I think that's unfortunate. I think there's risk factors. There could be miscalculations. But I am anxious to move forward so that diplomacy has a chance.

Clearly, the president of the United States, Mr. Trump, needs to make it clear that these issues will be brought out. The United States will not be silent in regards to what they've done in the hacking issues, what they've done on the human rights front. And that yes, we're prepared to meet for a diplomatic answer to end the nuclear program on the Korean Peninsula, but it does not mean we're going to ignore the other issues.

BLITZER: The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, sounded rather optimistic about the direction of all these negotiations. When all is said and done, Senator, do you believe the North Koreans will, in fact, give up their nuclear capability, their nuclear weapons program?

CARDIN: I don't trust Kim Jong-un. I don't trust the North Koreans. Whatever agreements are reached, we need to have inspections; we need to have enforcement; we need to see what happens on the ground. I think we've got to be realistic to recognize that we're not going to end the nuclear program overnight. It's going to take some time.

So I think we need to stage this in a way that we can inspect and be sure that the commitments are, in fact, carried out by North Korea. No, I don't trust the North Koreans.

BLITZER: But at the same time, it sounds like you're with the president on these diplomatic overtures.

CARDIN: I am certainly for diplomacy. I think a military option could be catastrophic. A miscalculation could occur. We need to pursue diplomacy. We need a surge in diplomacy. So I do support the Trump administration's efforts to resolve this issue through diplomacy.

I certainly have not agreed with Mr. Trump on the strategies that he's deployed, the language that he's used and the on/off type of bold statements that he's made. I think it is important to follow diplomacy, but it's got to be done in the proper manner. But we need to pursue diplomacy.

BLITZER: Senator Cardin, thanks so much for joining us.

CARDIN: It's good to be with you, Wolf. Thanks.

BLITZER: Coming up, more breaking news. President Trump pardons a conservative pundit, may offer leniency to a pair of "Apprentice" stars. Is he signaling witnesses in the special counsel's investigation?

And a plot to kidnap or kill a young royal. An ISIS supporter pleads guilty to encouraging an attack on Britain's 4-year-old Prince George.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


[17:29:14] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, has now learned that President Trump pressured the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, multiple times -- multiple times -- over the past 14 months to reverse his decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe. According to a source familiar with the president's demand, Sessions

refused to take back his decision to recuse himself.

Let's bring in our political, legal and national security experts.

Susan Hennessey, what's your reaction to that? Because there are -- some have suggested the president is engaging in what could be called obstruction of justice by pressuring the attorney general to change his mind.

HENNESSEY: So I think it goes to the question about a course of conduct.

You know, it's important to note that Sessions was obligated, under mandatory DOJ regulations, to recuse himself. And even if President Trump disagreed with that decision, it is deeply inappropriate for him to then attempt to get the attorney general to reverse his decision.

So this is yet another data point about Trump really overstepping the line and in a way that Robert Mueller is going to be interested in.

BLITZER: Let me get our legal analyst, Joey Jackson, to weigh in, as well. How do you see it?


JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, Department of Justice regulations could be rescinded, they could be overturned, but they provide long standing guidance, Wolf, in terms of what the protocol should be. And if you want to make the argument, a credible argument can certainly be made that if you're talking about someone who is close to you as, of course, Sessions is or, I was -- I can't say is, I should say was, because we know how he's treated him -- that is Trump. In the press, right, he's tweeted about him, he's demeaned him. You know, Sessions has offered to resign, he hasn't. But the bottom line here is that if you have someone who you believe you can control, someone who is a loyalist, if you want them, you clearly want to manage the process. You want to control the process. You want to guide and direct the process. And if you're doing that as President, how can a credible argument not be made that you're not impeding with an intent that could be deemed to be corrupt an investigation and a proceeding.

So, yes, I think it can be said. At the same time, Wolf, briefly, you are going to hear Republicans push back and anyone on the defense side push back. President has article to ability, to hire, and maintain anyone he wants. And if he believes he wants a person in control, the constitution permits him to do that. However, if you look at the essence and the facts here, I think you can make an argument that a corrupt intent was there to keep the guy who does what you tell them to do.

HENNESSEY: I think it's important to note here, though, I take that point. The DOJ regulations, the ethics guidelines, there is a statute that requires that some guidelines exists. It is inconceivable what guidelines might be promulgated pursuant to an active congress that would not have Jeff Sessions recused under these circumstances.


BLITZER: You know, and Bianna -- go ahead. Finish your thought, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: I was going to say, you could argue that Sessions in this point has leverage in the upper hand in the sense that there was only so far that Republicans will go in supporting the President if, in fact, he does decide to fire him. He'd been warned time and time again that that would be overstepping the line and that is something that Republicans in the Congress would not approve of. They would not go through the process of reconfirming somebody else. So, Sessions, at least, has the sense that he has job security with the President now, feeling that he's boxed in without being able to fire him, hence the constant tweets. I mean, I don't know how else to interpret them other than hoping to shame Sessions enough to step down, which he has not done. BLITZER: Well, let me put up on the screen, some of the things, Chris

Cillizza, you -- I have discussed this from time to time. Look at some of the words the President has used over these -- more than a year now about his own Attorney General of the United States. And Kaitlan Collins is reporting that he -- that at the same time, he was calling him an idiot, very weak, beleaguered, very disappointed, he did a terrible thing, disgraceful, wish I had picked somebody else. Those are pretty strong words from a President about a member of his own cabinet. Same time over a several occasions, to no avail, he asked the attorney general to reverse his decision about recusing himself going back to when he brought him down to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I mean, it's remarkable. I know he said and tweeted all of those things, but to see them -- reminder, we're not talking about the attorney general from the democratic administration. This is his handpicked guy. Jeff Sessions was the first senator to endorse Donald Trump's candidacy. They had a huge rally in Alabama. He's the Attorney General. This is one of the top, premier cabinet jobs. You know, I think -- there's no conclusion other than the one Bianna made, which is, because Donald Trump knows how difficult it would be, I think, at some level, to get rid of Jeff Sessions, to fire Jeff Sessions, he's trying to force Jeff Sessions' hand to quit. But I think if Jeff Sessions hasn't quit by now, I don't see how he would.

The other point I want to make, and this is to what Suzanne was talking about, Donald Trump sees everything through his lens. I always come back to the quote about Jeff Sessions. The New York Times asked about Jeff Sessions' recusal, why are you so unhappy about it, and he said, it was very unfair to the President. And this is the point, he just doesn't understand whether it's willful or not, whether he chooses not to understand or he just doesn't. He doesn't understand that there are processes in place here. This isn't about you. Jeff Sessions didn't recuse himself because he wanted to mess with Donald Trump. He recused himself because of -- because of procedures that are in place. He never has grasped that and he continues to not do so. BLITZER: If he were, Joey Jackson, to fire the attorney general, which he clearly has not done, no indication he's about to do it other than uttering these words about his attorney general, but if he were to do so, would that be additional evidence potentially of obstruction of justice?

[17:34:51] JACKSON: You know, you can always make the argument, Wolf, that it would be evidence of obstruction. But let's remember that the attorney general has recused himself from the investigation, and so, per se, how are you going to make a credible argument that you are obstructing an investigation against me? You have nothing to do with that investigation. Clearly, there's the President who marches to his own beat, doesn't care about protocols and policies. We can talk about that as it relates to pardons. Forget about waiting five years, forgetting about going to the (INAUDIBLE). I'll pardon you if I want. Martha Stewart, she's my favorite person who cooks, I'm going to pardon her, too.

So, he's a person who doesn't follow protocol. And that, I mention that because it goes to intent. It's not someone who automatically or just based on a response. He did something, this President does what he wants, when he wants, attacks who he wants. The President is bad, Department of Justice is bad, the FBI is bad, anyone who supports me is bad. And by the way, if it's a fact, I don't like, it comes from fake news. So, it's hard to make that argument in light of who's in the White House.

BLITZER: You know, Bianna, the President tweeted this morning, and I'll put it up on the screen, "Not that it matters, but I never fired James Comey because of Russia. The corrupt mainstream media loves to keep pushing that narrative, but they know it is not true." We know, though, what he publicly said in that interview with Lester Holt.

GOLODRYGA: Yes -- no. He said it, not only to Lester Holt, but he said it to Sergey Lavrov and Kislyak as well in the Oval Office. I mean, one has to wonder is this some sort of mind game that he's playing with us, because we have it on tape, we have the video, we have the reporting. And it's not just what the President has said. We have follow through over the last year since he had been fired from sources close to the President. That that had been what had been bothering him and that he thought that, in fact, by firing Comey, that Russia would be off the table. Little did he know that he would actually be making the situation 10 times worse, and especially, the rational that he would give Lester Holt. It would be something that would be haunting him to this day.

BLITZER: Does he not remember the interview that he had with Lester Holt?

CILLIZZA: OK. So, I think there's a possibility he doesn't. Though, you would think that if someone -- if he vetted his tweets in any way, shape or form, someone would have pointed it out. I don't think he does vet them, by the way, but if he did, someone might say, Mr. President, you directly contradicted yourself. I just -- I always return back to that cartoon image of the guy in the railroad car and he's putting down a track right in front of himself as the train is rushing down the track that he is building. That's Donald Trump's presidency. There is not -- every day, he starts with a chalk board totally erased. He views it as whatever he has said in the past is in the past. He's going to put down a new piece of track. They -- he's not really sure how it's going to work, where it's going to get him, but he's just going to put it down and he's going to say, I knew I was going to put down that piece of track. So, these inconsistencies which are just totally irrational, to him, or just, sort of, yes, I said that in the past, I believe it then but it's different now.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stick around. There's more breaking news we're following as the U.S. and North Korea work toward a possible summit, as talks between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Kim Jong-un's right-hand man wrap up in New York City. President Trump makes a rather dramatic announcement.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A letter is going to be delivered to me from Kim Jong-un. So, I look forward to seeing what's in the letter.



BLITZER: We have breaking news in negotiations over the proposed summit between President Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong- un. This afternoon, after talks with the top North Korean official in New York, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, "Real progress has been made over the last 72 hours." That same North Korean official will be at the White House tomorrow.

Let's go to our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto. He's following all the negotiations for us. So, we still don't know, Jim, if there will be a summit, but what is happening at least so far seems to be extraordinary.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question, and remember, it's just a week ago that the summit was off. The President releasing that letter saying it was inappropriate to hold the summit at this time. Now, a week later, you have an unprecedented meeting between the U.S. Secretary of State, a Senior North Korean official here on U.S. soil. And now, tomorrow, another unprecedented move, a North Korean official visiting the White House to hand deliver a letter from the North Korean leader. That said, on the two key questions, will there be a summit on June 12th and does the U.S. believe that North Korea is ready to give up its nuclear weapons to those two key questions? There's still not a hard answer.


SCIUTTO: One week after it was off, Secretary of State Pompeo set a historic summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un could be back on.

MIKE POMPEO, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: We've made real progress towards that in the last 72 hours.

SCIUTTO: The talks in New York were, by themselves, a remarkable first in a string of remarkable firsts. The U.S. Secretary of State meeting face to face with a Senior North Korean Official on U.S. soil, laying the groundwork for a ground-breaking summit between the country's leaders.

POMPEO: This is going to be a process that will take days and weeks to work our way through. There will be tough moments. There will be difficult times. I've had some difficult conversations with them as well. They've given it right back to me, too.

SCIUTTO: Pompeo emphasized that Pyongyang must make a historic gesture to prove that the North Koreans are serious about denuclearizing. And he left no wiggle room as to what denuclearization means to the U.S.

POMPEO: I have been very clear that President Trump and the United States' objective is very consistent and well known. The complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

[17:45:02] SCIUTTO: In exchange, the U.S. is promising North Korea a "brighter future." However, after several meetings now with his North Korean counter parts, Secretary Pompeo granted it is not yet clear if North Korea will give up its weapons.

POMPEO: I believe they are contemplating a path forward. They can make a strategic shift, one that their country has not been prepared to make before. This will obviously be their decision.

SCIUTTO: The North Korean delegation will take one more unprecedented step on Friday, traveling to the White House to hand deliver a message from Kim Jong-un to President Trump.

TRUMP: A letter is going to be delivered to me from Kim Jong-un. So, I look forward to seeing what's in the letter. But it's very important to them.

SCIUTTO: Trump, himself, acknowledged that a June 12th summit in Singapore might only be a starting point.

TRUMP: Hopefully, we'll have a meeting on the 12th. It's going along very well but I want it to be meaningful. It doesn't mean it gets all done at one meeting. Maybe you have to have a second or a third, and maybe we'll have none.


SCIUTTO: Well, we just learned that the North Korean leader might very well have a busy year meeting world leaders in addition to a U.S. summit, if it does come off. North Korean state media that Russia, the Russian and North Korean leaders will meet sometime this year. Russia certainly wants to be involved in any negotiation. You may forget they've got a border on the north of North Korea, very invested in this. China, of course, Wolf, as you know, they've wanted to be involved in these talks. The North Korean leader has already visited Beijing. They want to be involved in any final outcome to this. But I'll tell you, Wolf, just drawing your attention and our attention again to the wording that Mike Pompeo used on that key question, as to whether North Korea has communicated to the U.S. side and it is ready to denuclearize by the definition that the U.S. defines denuclearizing, and he said that they are contemplating, he says, he believes a path forward. Still thinking about it. If that issue is not resolved raises real questions of as to what the summit will accomplish, if it does come off. Wolf?

BLITZER: In the meantime, the North Koreans are getting international respect. The fact that this North Korean official is now been invited not only to Washington but to the White House, where a meeting with the President as precisely what the North Koreans want.


BLITZER: They want to be recognized as an international power.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, good reporting. Thank you.

Coming up, a frightening terror plot is revealed. An ISIS supporter wanted to target Prince George, one of the heiress to the British throne. He's only 4 years old.

Plus, President Trump touches off a new political firestorm by pardoning a conservative pundit. Will Martha Stewart and Rod Blagojevich -- will they be next?


BLITZER: Tonight, we're learning frightening new details about the hidden life of an ISIS supporter. Among other things, he plotted to target Britain's young prince, George.

Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this ISIS sympathizer directed terrorists to the young prince, who's third in line to the throne, by publishing the address of Prince George's school. We've been speaking to terrorism and security experts who are warning tonight that this glamorous family generating so much attention right now may have to deal with many more of these kinds of threats in the future.


TODD: An adorable 4-year-old, one of Britain's most loved royals. He's third in line to be king. And tonight, there's increasing concern that he could be a terror target. Prince George, according to British authorities, recently attracted the interest of an ISIS sympathizer in Britain, whose name Rashid just pleaded guilty to terrorism charges. British officials say Rashid, in an online campaign, encouraged jihadist to target the young prince.

AKI PERITZ, FORMER CIA ANALYST: When a terrorist says target, oftentimes, in this case, to mean to kill. It could also mean to kidnap.

TODD: British officials say Rashid tried to offer terrorists a road map, publishing the address of Prince George's school.

The royals are no strangers to high profile terror threats. In 1979, Lord Mountbatten, Prince Charles' grand uncle and mentor, was assassinated by the IRA, a bomb destroying his yacht off the coast of Ireland.

PERITZ: The fact that a high-level royal was killed by a terrorist organization really upped the game for the IRA. It showed that they are a lethal, potent force. The fact that the IRA, in subsequent years, tried to kill Queen Elizabeth shows that they are a force to be reckoned with.

TODD: The royals have rarely if ever been more visible and valuable to Britain than they are right now. According to the business valuation firm, Brand Finance, the British royal family generates over $2 billion for the U.K. economy every year. Analysts say this spring's royal wedding will only add to that.

PATRICIA YATES, DIRECTOR STRATEGY AND COMMUNICATIONS, VISITBRITAIN.ORG: We're already seeing strong growth. So, 15 percent, you know, over the last year, and we would like to use this occasion really to cement that growth. We can see good indications and forward looking, our American staff tell us that they can see that confidence in the market.

TODD: So, for terrorists, especially a decimated group like ISIS, desperately in need of a propaganda score, the royals are an appealing target, even if the attack doesn't succeed.

[17:54:53] PERITZ: The royal couples are some of the most telegenic, well-known British citizens in history right now. If you target this 4-year-old boy and you're ISIS, you can cause all kinds of mayhem in British society. You can cause folks to generate incredible amount of sympathy for your cause, and that's something that ISIS and their ISIS wannabes really want to do. They want to bring sympathy and they want to bring more recruits and more media splash to their cause.


TODD: Terrorism experts say there's an added security risk with these younger generations of the royal family. Meghan Markle, Kate Middleton, and the princes they say are much more inclined to mingle with big crowds, to shake hands, and hug people in large public gatherings. That risk will likely only grow in the future, so British security services have to be on top of all of that. Wolf?

BLITZER: They certainly do. Brian Todd, thank you.

Coming up, breaking news, President Trump pardons a conservative pundit convicted of campaign finance fraud and may offer clemency to former apprentice stars who ran (INAUDIBLE) of the law. He's signaling witnesses in the Mueller investigation?


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Absolute power. The President grants a new politically charged pardon and he reveals that he may also offer a reprieve to celebrity ex-con Martha Stewart. Is he sending a signal to Robert Mueller's star witnesses?

Bitter old man. The President's former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon is blasting intelligence insiders as he weighs in on Mr. Trump's debunked spy conspiracies. Standby here for Bannon in a new CNN interview.