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Trump Sending Pardon Message to Allies Under Criminal Probe?; Interview With Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly; North Korea Summit to Go Ahead; Roger Stone: Pardons are Signal to Players in Russia Probe; CNN: Thousands of Criminals Found Driving for Uber. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 1, 2018 - 18:00   ET




ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on President Trump and Kim Jong-un pushing the restart button on their historic summit in Singapore a little over a week from now.

Mr. Trump playing up the drama, as he met with the North Korean dictator's right-hand man over at the White House, while downplaying expectations for any major summit breakthrough.

This as CNN is learning that North Korea's public show of blowing up its nuclear test tunnels appears to have been mostly propaganda, causing only superficial damage.

I will get reaction from House Foreign Affairs Member Gerry Connolly. And our correspondents and analyst are also standing by.

First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, this is a huge step forward on North Korea, but there's some reason also at the same time to be skeptical.


It was on. It was off. But President Trump was all smiles this afternoon as he announced this summit is back on with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The question is whether the president now is giving away too much, giving the North Koreans exactly what they want, a big showy summit with the president, without delivering much of anything in return.

Even fellow Republicans are voicing that concern. Top Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is worried the president could be snookered in Singapore.


ACOSTA (voice-over): After meeting more than an hour with the North Korean envoy carrying a letter from dictator Kim Jong-un, President Trump emerged from the Oval Office and declared the Singapore summit he canceled last week back on.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a getting-to-know- you leading, plus. We will see where it leads, but we're going to be June 12. Will be in Singapore. It will be a beginning.

I don't say and I have never said it happens in one meeting. You're talking about years of hostility.

ACOSTA: The president is already making it clear he's not expecting to sign on to an agreement in Singapore that will guarantee North Korea gives up its nuclear arsenal.

Still, the president signaled he is taking the pressure off the regime.

TRUMP: I don't want to even use the term maximum pressure anymore, because I want to use that term, because we're getting along. You see the relationship. We're getting along. So, it's not a question of maximum pressure. Why would I do that when we're talking so nicely?

ACOSTA: There were some conflicting comments from the president, who described the letter from Kim Jong-un as nice and interesting.

TRUMP: A letter was given to me by Kim Jong-un. And that letter was -- it was a very nice letter. Oh, would you like to see what was in that letter? Would you like to? How much? How much? How much?

It was a very interesting letter.

ACOSTA: Then he revealed he hadn't read it.

TRUMP: I haven't opened it. I didn't open it in front of the director. I said, would you want me to open it? He said, you can read it later.

I may be in for a big surprise, folks.


ACOSTA: Fellow Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are urging caution.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: If you fall in love with the deal, and it's too important for you to get it, and the details become less significant, you could get snookered.

And I think the president's fully aware of that as he goes into it, assuming this meeting occurs.

ACOSTA: Still, the upcoming summit has lower tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, at least rhetorically. TRUMP: They will be met with fire and fury, like the world has never seen.

ACOSTA: For the moment, the name-calling has stopped.

TRUMP: Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.

ACOSTA: But reaching an actual agreement that leads to a breakthrough will take more than talk. Former President Bill Clinton chased a deal with North Korea through the '90s, but it didn't last.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This agreement represents the first step on the road to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. It does not rely on trust.

ACOSTA: Mr. Trump left for Camp David for the weekend without the first lady, but with his children, Don Jr., Tiffany, and Ivanka, who came under attack this week from comedian Samantha Bee.

SAMANTHA BEE, HOST, "FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE": Do something about your dad's immigration practices, you feckless (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

ACOSTA: The president turned his fury on the late-night host, tweeting: "Why aren't they firing no-talent Samantha Bee for the horrible language used on her low-rated show? A total double standard, but that's OK. We are winning and will be doing so for a long time to come."

The president has used his own share of offensive language, posting a tweet that included the word hurled at Ivanka back in 2013.

Before leaving for the weekend, the president offered to continue talking with the leaders of Canada and Mexico, after slapping tariffs on steel and aluminum imports coming in from those countries.

TRUMP: I love Canada. I love Mexico. I love them.

ACOSTA: Canada's prime minister all but described the tariffs as a betrayal.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: These tariffs are an affront to the longstanding security partnership between Canada and the United States, and in particular an affront to the thousands of Canadians who have fought and died alongside their American brothers in arms.



ACOSTA: Now, the White House did not offer an explanation for why the first lady was not traveling to Camp David with the president this weekend.

Since her medical procedure last month, she has largely been out of the public eye. That has been almost three weeks, more than three weeks, actually, as of today.

And as for that letter that the president told reporters he had not read, the White House did say later on this afternoon that Mr. Trump did read the letter after talking to the press, but before leaving the White House for the weekend, Wolf.

We don't know whether or not the president was surprised by what he read in the letter, as he said earlier this afternoon. But the key question tonight obviously is whether the president is going to get snookered, as Mitch McConnell was worried about earlier today, what exactly he is going to get out of this Singapore summit.

Could it just be another reality TV moment, Wolf?

BLITZER: We will find out soon enough.

Jim Acosta, thank you.

Let's bring in our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.

Let's bring in our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott. She's been following efforts to pull together the summit very, very closely.

What are you hearing from behind the scenes, Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, clearly the president and his aides realized that a deal was not going to be possible on June 12, the kind of nuclear deal that the president wanted.

But he obviously thought that there was enough good will, enough willingness, by the North Koreans to try and develop some relationship and keep going.

I mean, look, it doesn't mean that there won't be anything coming out of the summit, but I think they have clearly walked back their expectations, and now I guess they're hoping for some kind of small deliverables, such as what's already been agreed to, such as a moratorium on testing, maybe from access for inspectors into some of these sites.

But clearly that deal that the president hopes for is not in the offing, because the North Koreans still have not agreed to a timeline for denuclearization. It's just now like an in theory type of agreement.

BLITZER: Kim Jong-un has been on the world stage largely over all these years as a reclusive leader, but all of a sudden now he's out there, he's meeting with world leaders.

Does this put new pressure on President Trump?

LABOTT: I think it definitely does. You see he's being embraced as this world leader by the Chinese. He met once with President Xi, twice with President Moon. He is going to be going to Russia for a summit with President Putin. And already the Russians are talking like the North Koreans in terms of what they would like to see in a nuclear deal step by step. And so I think it's going to be very hard to put the genie back in the bottle, because now Kim Jong-un is not a recluse anymore. He's not the pariah.

He's actually the world leader and acting at least like the statesman that everyone had hoped he would when he took over for his father.

The one problem, Wolf, is that the North Koreans, you know better than anyone now, masters of brinksmanship. And the question is, has Kim Jong-un really made this -- what they say is a strategic choice to denuclearize, or is he just stringing the president along?

The president thinks he can get him in a room, got to know him, start this process, but it will has to be -- remain to be seen.

BLITZER: Yes. We will be finding out in the few days how this meeting in Singapore goes.

Elise, thanks very much.

Also, there's even more reason to question Kim Jong-un and whether or not he can be trusted to do what he says he will do.

We're getting new information about North Korea's claim that it destroyed nuclear test tunnels with international journalists watching.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara Starr, you're getting new information. What are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you will remember the video of several days ago showing that these tunnels supposedly being blown up by North Korea -- this was their big confidence- building measure, showing the world that they were serious about denuclearizing.

Well, can you trust that video? Not so fast maybe. What we're learning from both U.S. officials and international arms control experts, there are several indicators on this video it's not what it seems.

First, seismic sensors in the region did not record significant underground geologic activity, the kind of shifting of rock, collapsing of tunnels, that you would expect to see if there had been massive underground explosions of these tunnels.

Second, look at the dust that is shown on this video. Experts are telling us that that dust indicates that the explosions were essentially very superficial, perhaps only at the entrances.

Reporters, media were only about 500 meters away. If this had been massive explosions, they would have been much further away for their safety. The North Koreans knew they could have them close by, and they would not get hurt.

And, finally, U.S. intelligence has determined that the North Koreans most likely removed instrumentation from these tunnels before these explosions, technical equipment that's very valuable to them that they can hold on to if they want to restart this site or start digging a new underground test site for nuclear weapons in the future.

So what this is telling us is, denuclearization, it's a great word, but it's very technical, it's very nuts and bolts. And the first indications from international intelligence agencies are not so fast, this video does not apparently show what the North Koreans want the world to think it shows -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Yes, they allowed international journalists, including our own Will Ripley, to observe this -- these explosions, but they didn't allow international arms experts, inspectors to go and see .

That was a clue from the beginning as well.

All right, Barbara, good reporting. Thank you.

Joining us now, Congressman Gerry Connolly. He is a Democrat. He serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: Great to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's begin with your reaction to the really incredible video we have been saying all day.

Kim Yong-chol, the North Korean adviser, the emissary from Kim Jong- un, meeting with President Trump, shaking hands on the White House lawn. Obviously, this could have been done in a much more private matter.

Did President Trump send the right message by making this meeting so public?

CONNOLLY: I'm bothered by the energy, Wolf, because this man, Kim Yong-chol, the head of intelligence in North Korea, is a sanctioned individual because of his involvement in what can only be called terrorist activity with respect to South Korea, such that he needed a waiver, special permission, to come to Washington at all, let alone be welcomed into the Oval Office.

And it's kind of a jarring and disturbing image one day after our allies have had tariffs slapped on them, allies who have stayed with us through thick and thin. So I think the juxtaposition is very jarring in terms of those images.

BLITZER: The images will almost certainly play heavily on North Korean state television. Is it worth handing a regime a propaganda victory of this sort if it means getting a summit back on track and trying to achieve denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula through diplomacy?

CONNOLLY: You know, I want to wish for the very best.

But I think all of what we have seen and heard today suggests that the naivete of the president, the ignorance of the president with respect to the issues at hand, are being exploited by North Korea.

All of a sudden, we're no longer seeking in the summit speedy denuclearization. We are now seeking a get-to-know-each other session. That's alarming, in and of itself, because it would suggest the United States is backing way off its original set of goals.

And that isn't lost on North Korea. So I would say, from a P.R. point of view, from a stature point of view, from even a policy point of view, North Korea had a big victory today, and Donald Trump had a big loss.

BLITZER: Is the president setting the right expectations? He's lowering expectations -- you heard his remarks today -- for what can be achieved at this initial first summit with the North Korean leader?

CONNOLLY: Well, he's backing off the expectations he himself set and his new secretary of state, Pompeo, set.

So, what do you mean all of a sudden the June 12 summit is really going to be a get-to-know-you session? And what do you mean you didn't read the letter in the envelope you're characterizing as very interesting?

That -- all of that suggests lack of preparation, lack of focus. And you're dealing with one of the world's most dangerous dictators who has a brutal and repressive regime and is not afraid to use force on an individual basis against his own relatives or on a collective basis against his neighbor in the South.

So I think there can be no illusions here. And we can't afford the naivete and ignorance that President Trump has so far exhibited with respect to the North.

We have also seen enormous vacillation in his policies. We have gone from him saying there will be fire and fury the likes of which no one has ever seen to characterizing Kim Jong-un as an honorable man.

Well, that would come as news to most North and South Koreans, that this an honorable man with whom we're dealing.

BLITZER: But do you give the president some credit for his tough talk, the fire and fury talk, the Little Rocket Man talk, the top U.S. sanctions that were imposed on North Korea, for at least bringing the North Koreans to the table?

Since last November, they have had no nuclear tests, no ballistic missile tests. As you know, that's pretty significant. They released three American prisoners, as you know. And even though U.S. military experts are skeptical about these demolitions at these North Korean nuclear tunnels, they did have at least a demonstration, a show of destroying these kinds of capabilities.

Those are -- from your perspective, Congressman, are those positive steps?

CONNOLLY: I think they're all P.R. image-building more than they are positive steps.

Again, I wish I could say they were positive steps. But we can't have amnesia about the past. There were three denuclearization agreements reached with North Korea, all of which North Korea breached, in 1994, in 2005 and 2012.


Releasing hostages? They shouldn't be taking hostages to begin with, but they have done that many times in the past. They did it under President Obama's tenure. They did it under Bill Clinton's tenure. They did it under George Bush's tenure. So this is not a new phenomenon.

As to blowing up the test site or allowing the press in to watch that, Barbara's report just before our interview I think makes it very clear that there are serious doubts about the legitimacy of that video.

If they're willing to lie about that, what confidence we can we have possibly have in any assurance he gives in the June 12 summit?

BLITZER: And the fact that they've suspended their nuclear tests and their ballistic missile tests, is that a positive move?

CONNOLLY: I think they're suspending the nuclear tests because I think they have got what they want.

The missile tests, I call that a positive move, as long as we can make it permanent. But maybe they have the missile development technology they already need. We don't know that without inspections, such as we had in the Iran agreement.

BLITZER: Congressman Gerry Connolly, thanks so much for joining us.

CONNOLLY: My pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, only 11 days ago. Are U.S. North Korean officials ready to make the summit happen? We're going live to the summit site, Singapore.

And why is Trump ally Roger Stone ultimately confirming that the president's latest pardon was meant to send a message to key figures in the Robert Mueller investigation?


[18:21:09] BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news.

President Trump's summit with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, is now back on track for June 12, the president making the announcement after unprecedented talks over at the White House with Kim's powerful right-hand man.

Let's go live to the summit location, Singapore.

That's where CNN's Will Ripley is joining us.

Will, you have covered North Korea extensively over these past several years, so what are you learning about right now? How did this summit get back on track?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it started with the letter that President Trump wrote Kim Jong-un canceling the summit. Ironically, that's where revived talks between the U.S. and North Korea, because, remember, the North Koreans never showed up here.

They were not returning phone calls. They were not talking the United States. They were angry about comments made by the vice president and National Security Adviser John Bolton.

But when President Trump wrote that carefully crafted, polite, respectful letter canceling the summit, but also praising Kim Jong-un, the North Koreans responded in a matter of hours. And now they have a team on the ground here in Singapore right now working with the United States trying to sort out logistics for the summit, security, the venue, finalizing the timing and everything that they have to do over the next 11 days to make this happen, Wolf.

BLITZER: We just got some pictures from the White House. Dan Scavino, the social media director over there, posted these pictures.

There you can see Kim Yong-chol, the emissary for Kim Jong-un, delivering that letter from the North Korean leader to the president of the United States. They are in the Oval Office. You can see the pictures that have just been posted that.

Will, the U.S. clearly was looking for a big gesture. Did North Korea tell the U.S. what it needed to hear right now in order to get this summit back on track?

RIPLEY: Well, apparently, President Trump had not actually read the letter when he made the announcement that the summit was back.

But it sounds as if he had very positive conversations with Kim Yong- chol in the Oval Office. I was chatting with some lawmakers here in Singapore who are going to be listening to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speak in about two hours here for a major regional security summit happening here in Singapore.

And they actually told me that the discussions between Secretary Pompeo and Kim Yong-chol went very well, just as the meetings in Pyongyang between the secretary and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong- un, also went very well.

So U.S. officials, at least in these face-to-face meetings, have had positive reports back. But when you get down to the nitty gritty of talking about denuclearization here in Singapore, well, that's going to be an entirely different and far more complex matter.

And, obviously, the president was alluding to that earlier today, Wolf.

BLITZER: Kim Yong-chol hand-delivered this letter from the North Korean leader to the president, Will.

And I don't know if you can see it -- but we're showing our viewers right now -- it's obviously a very large envelope over there in which it was delivered, a very fancy package.

Is that the normal way an international letter of this sort would be delivered by the North Korean regime?


In North Korean culture, I mean, e-mails don't cut it. When it comes to actually wanting to send a message straight to the top, you do it in a letter form. We have delivered letters in the past to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un or to his representatives. Even to hand over a letter in Pyongyang, I have to put on a suit.

The letter is in a formal binder, often a leather binder, or something that's very decorative. You hand it over in a very ceremonial way. So for the North Koreans, there's no higher form of communication than a letter.

There have been a lot of letters exchanged back and forth between the North Koreans. February 2018, Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un's sister, delivered a letter to President Moon Jae-in, and South Korea President Moon delivered a letter to Kim Jong-un in March.

And then, of course, President Trump wrote that open letter. And now you have this letter that's just been received at the White House. So in terms of the level of communication, it doesn't get any higher in terms of sending a message to someone than sending a letter for the North Koreans.

But, of course, the big -- the big deal is the face-to-face meeting that's going to be happening here in Singapore in about a week-and-a- half.


BLITZER: Yes, about 11 days from now.

And you're there in Singapore, Will. How are the preparations going right now? I know a U.S. advance team has been there. A North Korean advance team has been there. They need to find a venue and they need to work out security, logistics. Lots need to be done. What are you hearing?

RIPLEY: Yes. I mean, it's fascinating walking around here, because you hear maybe the North Koreans are staying at this hotel or that hotel.

And so we have been kind of trying to scout and see where everybody is. And you just have to sometimes spot faces in the crowd. But we know that they are -- they are trying to finalize the location at this point.

That's very important for security reasons. Obviously, Singapore is used to holding tricky summits. They had a meeting between the Chinese president and the Taiwanese leader back in 2015, the first time that those two countries had had a meeting like that since the civil war in 1949 in China.

And so Singapore, also, they control demonstrations. They don't allow large protests, which is obviously attractive to President Trump and to Kim Jong-un.

But in terms of actually hammering out where this is going to be held, how it's going to work in terms of security clearance, we're still waiting to learn those details on the ground here.

BLITZER: All right, when you get those details, you will let us know.

Will Ripley, thanks so much for joining us.

Will is in Singapore right now. On June 12, that's where the summit will now take place.

Just ahead, more news. Trump ally Roger Stone says the president's latest pardon is a timely reminder to Robert Mueller about Mr. Trump's -- quote -- "awesome power." We're going to talk about that.

And even as President Trump confirms he will meet with Kim Jong-un, as planned, in Singapore, he's eager to keep the suspense going, especially when it comes to the mysterious message he received from the dictator.


TRUMP: It was a very nice letter. Oh, would you like to see what was in that letter? Would you like to? How much? How much? How much?



BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the Trump/Kim summit that's officially on once again tonight. The president uncanceling the June 12 talks in Singapore. It happened after the president met with a top North Korean official over at the White House today who hand-delivered a rather large letter from Kim Jong-un himself. Listen to this.


[18:31:52] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll be meeting on June 12 in Singapore. It went very well. It's really a get to know you kind of a situation. A letter was given to me by Kim Jong-un, and that letter was a very nice letter. Oh, would you like to see what was in the letter. Would you like?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell us what was in the letter?

TRUMP: How much? How much? How much?

It was a very interesting letter. At some point that may be -- it may be appropriate. I'll be able to give it to you maybe. You'll be able to see it. And maybe clearly (ph), too.

I haven't seen the letter yet. I purposely didn't open the letter. I haven't opened it. I didn't open it in front of the director. I said, "Would you want me to open it?"

He said, "You can read it later." I may be in for a big surprise, folks.

I don't even want to use the term "maximum pressure" anymore, because I don't want to use that term. Because we're getting along. You see the relationship. We're getting along. So it's not a question of maximum pressure. It's staying the way it is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe Kim is committed to denuclearization?

TRUMP: Yes, I do think so. He'd like to see it happen. He wants to be careful. He wants to be -- you know, he's not going to run and do things.

But I told him, to be honest with you, look, we have sanctions on. They're very powerful sanctions. We would not take sanctions off unless they do that. But the sanctions are very powerful. You've seen how powerful in other ways. You're going to see how powerful sanctions are when it comes to Iran. You'll see what that's doing to Iran.

So we have sanctions on. And at a certain point -- I'll tell you what, I look forward to the day when I can take the sanctions off of North Korea. I have a lot of good relations with, as you know, Chairman XI, he's a great -- he's really a wonderful guy. He's a man that loves China, however. He wants to do what's best for China.

I think China and President Xi would like to see something happen here. I didn't like the Russian meeting yesterday. I said what's the purpose of that? But it could be a positive meeting. If it's a positive meeting, I love it. If it's a negative meeting, I'm not happy.

Remember what I say: we will see what we will see.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Let's bring in our political and national security experts. Samantha Vinograd, what stood out to you from what we just heard from the president?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND POLITICAL ANALYST: I wish we could turn back time because what the president said today, the expectations that he set for the meeting on June 12, I wish that would have been what he said back in March when he accepted the meeting. He right-sized expectations today.

But I was struck by what he didn't say in that lengthy presser, and that is that there would be some time limits on these negotiations. I don't want to be Debbie Downer, but we have seen this before. We have kicked off processes with the North Koreans several times.

And Donald Trump has criticized his predecessors for the agreed framework, for the six-party talks. And this time, he's saying basically he's going to do the same thing. He's going to start negotiations and that, today at least, they're open-ended.

BLITZER: He had a very, very public demonstration of comradery, receiving this North Korean emissary, Rebecca, so openly at the White House, giving him an hour, maybe an hour in a half in the Oval Office, saying very nice things, not even raising the issue of human rights. What stood out to you?

[18:35:04] REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, this is definitely the carrot in the president's carrot and stick approach, Wolf. We saw the stick with his letter recently, canceling the meeting, or at least postponing it.

Now he seems to be feeling that the relationship is going better, that the talks are proceeding you would like to see. And so this is the carrot. This is giving the North Koreans the welcome that they would like at the White House, the credibility that you get by being welcomed at the White House by the president. And trying not to be too harsh on them on issues that might cause them withdraw, like human rights.

And of course, the United States has been a leader on these issues. And there are certainly going to be critics of the president who say that he should be taking moral leadership on that issue, even as he is negotiating on this with North Korea.

But he seems to think that he doesn't want to scare them away right now; things are going well.

BLITZER: Very warm welcome for the North Korean emissary. How did you see it, Ron Brownstein?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first to Rebecca's point. You know, in essence on North Korea, he is doing what he complained about from the Obama administration on Iran. He is, in essence, saying look, here's this core problem that we have to deal with, and I am not going to put everything else on the cart at the risk of, you know, driving it off the road. Which is what, in essence, now he's saying Iran -- the Iran deal should be torn up to become this kind of global all-encompassing agreement.

I guess I was much struck by the change in tone here, because it seems to me it shows us that the controlling dynamic of the president's approach to diplomacy is volatility. I mean, just think about the arc or the roller coaster we've been on here, from Rocket Man to euphoria, to the deal is off, to the meeting is off, to here we are, back meeting but with more chastened (Ph) expectations.

And I think the real lesson of the runup to this meeting is that it's a real guide to what is likely to follow out of the meeting. And the idea that they are going to walk out of a room in Singapore and we are going to have a smooth path toward denuclearization and better relations over the next few years without the same kinds of ups and downs, given the two kind of main protagonists, I think is very misguided.

And I think the past is probably a very good prologue of what we can expect over the next many months in this relationship: moments of euphoria and moments where everything seems to be coming apart again.

BLITZER: You know, Samantha, the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, had some advice for the president. Listen to this.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I think you can anticipate the North Koreans making every effort they can to get sanctions and other relief and give up as little as possible. It's going to be quite a challenge.

And I think for these situations to work, you have to not want the deal too much. If you fall in love with the deal, and it's too important for you to get it and the details become less significant, you could get snookered. I think the president is fully aware of that as he goes into it.


BLITZER: Does that sound like good advice?

VINOGRAD: It does. Frankly, Wolf, I think the president looks way too thirsty here. I think accepting this invitation so quickly back in March made him look snookered from the get-go.

But the interesting point is, we doubt and are questioning, rightly, whether the North Koreans are going to come to the table in good faith. Remember the North Koreans are thinking the same thing about us. Kim Yong Chol and Kim Jong-un are wondering whether Donald Trump can be taken seriously. Kim Yong Chol has been in North Korea under three different leaders. He's seem a lot of U.S. presidents come in and say various things. So we have a credibility gap on both sides here, which is really interesting to think about.

BLITZER: Do you think the president is listening to the advice he received from Mitch McConnell?

BERG: Well, he hasn't always in the past, Wolf, and I don't think he necessarily would in this case.

The president fancies himself a very capable negotiator and probably much more so than he thinks Mitch McConnell is a good, capable negotiator. Because the president would look at his business record and say, "Well, I've made millions of dollars, and Mitch McConnell is just the leader of the Senate." So that comparison, I think, would give the president a little bit of pause when he's listening to Mitch McConnell's advice.

However, I think to Sam's comment that the president is thirsty, he definitely is thirsty, because this is essential that he reach a deal that there not be nuclear capabilities on the Korean Peninsula. And furthermore, he feels he has a political imperative to bring home a win heading into 2020.

BLITZER: You know, when they emerge from their summit in Singapore, Ron Brownstein, and the president lowering expectations today, as you know, but they emerge and they say, "You know what? We're going to establish diplomatic relations. The United States and North Korea. The U.S. will have maybe a diplomatic interest section in Pyongyang. The North Koreans will have something in Washington." Or full diplomatic relations, embassies. Would that be seen as a significant development?

BROWNSTEIN: Sure. I think it will be. And look, in any -- I believe, you know, any president conducting these negotiations with North Korea, we would be heading into a volatile period of one step toward, two steps back. I mean, there is no simple path toward untangling these knots that, you know, extend back six decades.

[18:40:06] But I think especially with this president, who views unpredictability and volatility, really, as an aim, as an asset, as part of his arsenal of how he advances his goals on a wide variety of fronts, I think all the evidence suggests that whatever happens in June is really just page, you know, 7 of a Tolstoy-length novel. There are going to be many twists back and forth here.

And it's unrealistic, I think, to expect that it will proceed smoothly. And you will have, I think, a lot of questioning of the kind that Mitch McConnell made about whether we are getting as much as we are promised as we go through each step of those -- of a serpentine road.

BLITZER: There's a lot more, guys, we need to discuss. Stick around. Don't go too far away.

Trump ally Roger Stone says that by pardoning a right-wing pundit, the president was, indeed, sending a signal to key figures in the special counsel's Russia investigation. Did Robert Mueller and those he's prosecuting get the president's message?


[18:45:44] BLITZER: We're also following the breaking news on the newly revived Trump/Kim summit, as well as new developments in the Russia investigation. Tonight, a key Trump ally is openly confirming suspicions about a pardon by President Trump.

Let's go back to our experts and our analysts.

And, Joey Jackson, I want you to -- bring you in to this conversation as well. Listen to what Roger Stone, a long-time friend and ally of the president said involving these pardons.

It has to be a signal to Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort and even Robert S. Mueller III, indict people for crimes that don't pertain to Russian collusion and this is what could happen. The special counsel has awesome powers as you know, but the president has even more awesome powers.

What's your analysis?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Listen, I cannot disagree with that at all. I believe the president's pardoning is a signal as much to his enemies as it is his friends. So, let's look at the last pardon, for example.

What you're doing in that pardon is you're looking at a Southern District prosecution. Who's being evaluated by the Southern District right now? One, Michael Cohen, a person close to the president. Sending a signal to the Southern District. And look at -- in the nature of the prosecution, who was the FBI director, the former prosecutor of the southern district, James Comey.

And so, clearly, there's a parallel. What was the crime? Illegal campaign donation. What in Stormy Daniels, as it relates to Michael Cohen -- certainly, there are other things they're looking at, but that's one of them.

And so, it's a signal, yes, you have -- you can do what you do, Southern District or any other district, but I'm the president. It also signals a disdain for institutions. He completely in doing his pardons, Wolf, he's violating the process that's there. Why is there a process?

You wait five years. You get recommendations from the Department of Justice -- no, no I will pardon who I went, when I want, in the conditions of which I want. And so, it's clear that he's showing that he's the president and punishing his enemies. And also telling his friends, you stay the course, you do what you need to do.

And there's no question about it, I control the cards, I'm the president, the Constitution gives me the authority to pardon you.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Ron.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I'll say it's not only a legal signal being sent here, there's a political signal. Look, Dinesh D'Souza, like Joe Arpaio have a record of actions that are racially divisive. You know, comments by Dinesh D'Souza, obviously, an entire legacy by Arpaio, the former sheriff in Maricopa County, who he also pardoned, coming at the same time that he chose this week to not criticize Roseanne Barr but to, in essence, criticize ABC for a double standard in getting rid of her.

All of this, you know, continues the drum beat of signaling that he is sending to portions of American associate that are most uneasy about the demographic change that we are living through. And I think it is -- that is no coincidence as well as he kind of unilaterally, as Joey says, goes around the process -- in a way, it's more personal, even more revealing, because he is doing this solely on his own.

BLITZER: Joey, how does Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign chairman, who's facing potentially years and years in prison see all this unfolding?

JACKSON: You know, you have to believe, and, obviously, it's hard to get in anyone's head and knowing what they're thinking, but you have to believe the federal government in charging you with federal crimes can do whatever they want, charge me with more, but guess what? I have a very close friend, he lives at Pennsylvania Avenue, I used to manage his campaign no matter how many times they say.

I was only there for a day, I was there for two days, oh, he was only my manager for a week, and at the end of the day, come at me with all your might and your fury, but the president can pardon me. So, Mr. Manafort, be quiet, I got your back.

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's more we're watching, including an Uber driver who's now in jail and being investigated for murder after the shooting death of a passenger. This as we have exclusive new reporting on thousand of convicted criminals who were cleared to be Uber drivers.

Stand by. There's a new CNN investigation. This is information you need to know.


[18:54:28] BLITZER: Breaking tonight, an Uber driver is jailed in Denver, under investigation for first-degree murder. Michael Hancock is accused of fatally shooting a passenger while he was driving for the company.

The arrest comes as questions are being raised about background checks conducted by Uber after a CNN investigation found scores of drivers accused of sexually assaulting and abusing passengers.

CNN's senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin broke that story for us and he's continuing to look at Uber's practices and whether your ride home is safe.

Drew, what more are you learning?

[18:55:01] DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are learning that Uber's background check system is failing and in thousands of cases, criminals are behind the wheel driving for Uber.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GRIFFIN (voice-over): When Colorado's public safety commissioner heard about a man who was allegedly assaulted by an Uber driver, he demanded a list from Uber of all its drivers with disqualifying records.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Frankly, we were shocked by what we found.

GRIFFIN: The list Dough Dean got from Uber included 12 Uber drivers convicted of felonies and others with DUIs or driving on suspended licenses.

(on camera): What does that tell you about the background process?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It tells me that the background process as it is in law right now doesn't work.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): According to Uber, the company's policy disqualifies drivers convicted of felonies, violent crimes and sexual offenses, as well as major driving violations, yet in case after case, convicted felons have been approved to drive anyway.

In Maryland, California and Massachusetts, government agencies did additional screening and found what add up to thousands of drivers with disqualifying criminal records, even sexual offenders, approved to work for Uber.

In Texas, approved Uber drivers included a murderer on parole and a convicted felon once accused, though not convicted of seeking to smuggle rocket launchers into the Middle East. He is now sentenced to 25 years for sexually assaulting a passenger.

Uber's sexual assault victims like this woman say Uber must improve how it screens drivers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If they really want to put themselves out there as the safe ride home, they should really make sure that they are putting these people out there that are going to get you home safely.

GRIFFIN: Uber's response to the problems and its background checks is that the company has made significant investments and improvements and will continue to work with state and local governments to get it right in the future.

To conduct its background checks, Uber and Lyft both use a company called checker, which uses a potential driver's name and Social Security number to search federal, state and local courts and other databases for disqualifying records.

Regulators tell CNN that is not enough. And that government-run background checks that include fingerprinting potential drivers would go further in discovering histories of violence. But Uber says fingerprints don't offer a complete picture of arrests and convictions. And Uber has gone to great lengths to fight any government-run background checks.

MATT DAUS, FORMER CHAIRMAN, NEW YORK CITY TAXI AND LIMOUSINE COMMISSION: That's their game plan in every single city, every single state, we're going to get a law passed that's just for us. It's their own special law for Uber and Lyft.

GRIFFIN: A CNN investigation tallied more than 400 lobbyists across the country hired by Uber, mostly to fight stricter oversight in many states, even writing the laws. CNN's investigation reviewed all 43 states that have laws or rules on driver background checks, and they are strikingly similar.

All but Massachusetts leave background checks up to Uber. And in 31 states, the laws passed reflect Uber's recommended wording on driver screening in some cases almost word for word.

This e-mail from an Uber lobbyist to a Wyoming lawmaker shows how influential Uber can be. The Uber lobbyist writes they have two major issues with a draft of the bill, including the criminal background check provision. The lobbyist tells the lawmaker: change it back to the model language. It was, three former Uber employees who worked on policy tell CNN Uber wants to control its screening process to get drivers on the road as soon as possible.

Georgia legislator Alan Powell says Uber's attitude is states have no business screening its drivers.

ALAN POWELL, GEORGIA STATE HOUSE: It's -- we're above the government. We run our own background checks.

GRIFFIN: In response to its lobbying efforts, Uber says everybody lobbies and we're proud to work with elected officials to develop common sense regulations for a new industry.


GRIFFIN: Wolf, what Uber has yet to explain is why so many of its drivers whose criminal backgrounds should disqualify them from driving are still on the road -- Wolf.

BILTZER: Excellent reporting once again, Drew. Thank you so much for that report.

And finally tonight, a bittersweet farewell to one of our fabulous producers, Elizabeth Hartfield. After four years with our team, she's moving to New York City to be with her new wife Megan. Luckily for us and for CNN, she's staying with the network working out of our New York bureau.

Elizabeth has been an MVP in THE SITUATION ROOM, taking on all sorts of jobs and doing them extremely well. She certainly will be sorely missed, but she will always be part of our SITUATION ROOM family.

Elizabeth, we want to wish you nothing but the very, very best. Thanks for all your terrific work. Glad you're going to be back with Megan very, very soon.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.