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THE SITUATION ROOM
Michael Cohen Ditches Lawyers, Seeks New Representation; Trump Declares North Korea 'No Longer a Threat'; GOP's Corker: Republicans in 'Cult-Like Situation' with Trum; North Korea No Longer a Nuclear Threat; Upset in Republican Primary in South Carolina; Interview With Sen. James Langford. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired June 13, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Looking for a lawyer. President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is seeking new representation as he splits with his own lawyers in the middle of a federal criminal probe. Is Cohen ready to flip and cooperate with the feds?
[17:00:20] Playing to their bases. President Trump is back home, declaring victory in the summit with Kim Jong-un, saying there's no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. But Kim is also claiming a win with his state-run media, saying President Trump promised to lift sanctions.
Uncorked. Senator Bob Corker unloads on fellow Republicans, saying they're in a cult-like situation with President Trump. What's behind the criticism? And why were tempers high during a private GOP luncheon?
And tweeting "punchy." President Trump unleashes a Twitter barrage praising Kim Jong-un while attacking his critics. But why is he calling the actor Robert de Niro punchy?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news. President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is splitting with his own legal team. As prosecutors focus on his financial dealings, including the payment to the porn star Stormy Daniels, there's now growing pressure on Cohen, who's said to be looking for lawyers experienced with the fed's Southern District of New York.
A source says Cohen has not yet met with prosecutors to discuss a deal, but Trump allies say they're worried he could flip at any moment.
I'll speak with Senator James Langford of the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and specialists are standing by with full coverage.
Our top story, the president's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is breaking with his legal team as he faces a federal investigation in New York.
Our national correspondent, Brynn Gingras, is joining us from New York with the very latest. Brynn, what is the latest?
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we know is that this is a legal team that has been by the side of Michael Cohen ever since early April after that raid by the FBI of his home and his hotel room and his office.
And we know they've also been by his side through the legal proceedings. We know that there have been several court proceedings where lawyers have fought for Cohen to conceal some of those documents that were taken during that raid, claiming attorney/client privilege.
So this is significant, this news that he will be likely be splitting, is set to split with these attorneys, some based here in New York and some based in D.C.
Now for the reasons -- those are not one 100 percent clear. However, there's a lot of speculation, and there's a lot of, you know, things out there right now that could possibly be the reasons.
For one, we're hearing from a source that Michael Cohen wants a legal team that has more experience with the Southern District. Now remember, that's the one who's -- that's the Southern District is the one doing the criminal investigation right now. Criminal charges haven't been filed as of yet, but that's possible that those are coming, and he wants more experience with that.
What we do know is what you already said, Wolf, is that pressure is really mounting for Michael Cohen at this point. We know that, again, there's been several legal proceedings going on. We know that lawyers have said in court that they have lawyers working around the clock, sleeping on couches as they continue to sift through 3 million-plus documents that were taken during that raid, trying to determine what they believe was attorney/client privilege.
And in the last court proceedings that happened just a few weeks ago, they said they only had gotten through a third of those documents, and the deadline for that coming is this Friday. So we know that, certainly, cost could be an issue here, as well.
But certainly, this is a big development for Michael Cohen, wondering what his next strategy is and who his new attorneys are -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Brynn, thank you. Brynn Gingras in New York.
Let's bring in our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, who's been doing a lot of reporting on this.
Evan, Michael Cohen has not met with prosecutors, at least not yet. But what would they want to ask him? What do we know about that?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we know, Wolf, is that this is an investigation right now that's focusing on Michael Cohen's business past, the -- certainly the -- his ownership of taxi medallions, which used to be a lucrative business in New York.
But don't -- let's not forget that this is the president's fixer. This is the person who has been so close to the president. He's known a lot of intimate details about the president's business over the past few years. So there's a lot of information that he has.
And this is why you see, as Brynn just mentioned, people close to the president have been, frankly, a little freaked out. They're wondering what exactly is on Cohen's mind. They want to know whether or not there's something here that could bring danger to the president, frankly.
BLITZER: He's been, actually, with the president for a decade.
BLITZER: That I know. The -- what would it mean for the president if Michael Cohen were to flip and cooperate with the feds?
PEREZ: Well, look, I think right now people have -- at Justice Department have made it -- tried to make it clear to the president that this is not an investigation about him, at least not yet.
[17:05:00] And so what information he possesses, again he knows a lot about what the president and his businesses have been up to in the last few years. Don't forget that, even during the time of the campaign, Michael Cohen was the one that was pitching the idea of a -- of a Trump Tower in Moscow. These are business plans that are now, of course, at the center of the Mueller investigation.
So there's a lot of things that Michael Cohen knows that could be very valuable to investigators going down the line.
BLITZER: What leverage -- what kind of leverage do the federal prosecutors have on Cohen right now?
PEREZ: Tremendous amount of leverage. If you look at the court papers and what you -- what you -- following the proceedings in the courthouse there in New York, they've made it clear that they believe that they are crimes that they could bring charges on. That certainly, they believe that charges are very likely in this case, and we don't know when exactly.
But they've made it clear that they believe that there are financial crimes, that there are things that they can prove right now, even though they haven't gone through what is it -- three million items -- documents that are in -- the items that were seized by the FBI in that raid just a few weeks ago.
So the FBI and the prosecutors in Manhattan seem to think that they have enough evidence to bring charges against Michael Cohen even without seeing all of that.
BLITZER: Evan Perez, thanks very much for that report.
The president, he's back from his summit with Kim Jong-un, proclaiming that the nuclear threat has now passed. Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.
Pamela, isn't it awfully early for the president to be declaring victory? What's the latest?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, if the history is any indication, Wolf, it does appear premature. I've been speaking to White House officials today who, while they are cautiously optimistic, they realize that the U.S. has been in this position before, and there is the possibility that North Korea is once again jerking the U.S. around.
So time will tell if the president was premature in sort of making this victory lap, making this bold claim that he tweeted shortly after landing back in the United States, when he said, "Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea."
He also tweeted, "Before taking office people were assuring -- assuming that we were going to war with North Korea. President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer. Sleep well."
So the president, Wolf, is putting a lot of trust in a regime that is known to cheat the system, that is known to draw out negotiations, try to buy time while building up its nuclear arsenal.
But it's clear the president is convinced that Kim Jong-un will make good on his pledge to make progress toward denuclearization. And I spoke to one administration official today who said this is a president who puts a lot of trust in personal relationships, and it is clear he feels like he has one with Kim Jong-un following the summit in Singapore, Wolf.
BLITZER: Pamela, the suspension of U.S.-South Korean military exercises, can you give us some more on the back story, how it came that the president came to make this public offer to Kim Jong-un?
BROWN: Well the suspension of the military exercises is something that President Xi of China has been pushing for quite some time on President Trump in direct conversations. So it has been something the president has contemplated. In fact, the term "war games" that you've heard the president adopt is a term coined by China and North Korea, as well.
So an administration official I spoke with said the president had been weighing this. He had been talking to his top advisers in the days leading up to the summit, including John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, as well as John Kelly. And it was one tool in the tool box, this official said, that the president walked into the meeting with Kim Jong-un with.
But the president had told those around him that he wanted to size Kim up first before making any decision, any concessions. So it was really a game-time decision, Wolf, when the president made this big concession of halting these joints exercises on the Korean Peninsula. That really caught allies off guard, including some military officials, as well as some lawmakers.
Now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed back on any criticism saying that if North Korea doesn't follow through on its pledge, on its promises, that those joint exercises could be reimplemented, Wolf.
BLITZER: Pamela Brown at the White House. Thank you very much.
Joining us now, Republican Senator James Langford of Oklahoma. He's a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. JAMES LANGFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. I want to get your thoughts on North Korea in just a moment, but first the breaking news we have at the top of the hour, President Trump's longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, splitting now with his legal team in a critical moment, and that's fueling, as you know, lots of speculation that he may be preparing to cooperate with federal prosecutors.
Do you believe Cohen possesses specific information that may be of value to the special counsel, Robert Mueller?
LANGFORD: Wolf, there's really no way for me to be able to know that or be able to tell. I'm obviously not an attorney. I don't talk with Michael Cohen. But I would say everyone should cooperate with the special counsel so we can get this over and done with. The best thing that we can do is to be able to get the facts out, get the facts on the table, make a good decision on it and be able to move on. It's best for the president and the presidency if we get that resolved.
[17:10:11] BLITZER: It's interesting that both Michael Flynn, the president's former national security advisor, and Rick Gates, they both changed their lawyers just before flipping and cooperating with Robert Mueller. We'll see what happens with Cohen.
Let's turn to North Korea, a subject you know well. The president says the North Korean nuclear threat is now over. His words. But Kim Jong-un still has all those weapons. He has missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles, maybe as many as 60 nuclear bombs.
Is the president handing the North Koreans some leverage by making that kind of unfounded claim while negotiations are clearly only just beginning?
LANGFORD: I think the president is being optimistic, and I think it's just his nature that he walks in, has a negotiation and expects everyone is going to live up to their part of the deal. He's been pretty clear in previous negotiations, whether it be trade or other things, he walks in optimistic. He assumes everyone keeps their word. If they change, then he responds pretty rapidly to say, "Hey, you broke the deal," and flips everything back over.
So my assumption is the president is being consistent in this, that he's going to assume Kim Jong-un is going to keep up his part of the deal. If he doesn't, then we certainly will respond to that.
BLITZER: Do you believe the nuclear threat from North Korea is over?
LANGFORD: I don't believe it's over, because we've not seen denuclearization. We've not seen dismantlement of weapons. We've not seen a change in posture yet. We've seen words, and words are a good first step, but that's by far not the last step.
BLITZER: The administration, certainly, as you point out correctly, needs still to design a specific system to ensure that the North Koreans get rid of their nukes, their intercontinental and short- range, medium-range ballistic missiles, their production capabilities. This process is only just beginning, right?
LANGFORD: It is only beginning. Now the technology they have -- and so you can't take that part away from them -- but the production, whether it be uranium, plutonium, that is something that can be limited. We could also provide them the nuclear materials for nuclear reactors. There's no reason for them to be able to have their own centrifuges and do their own production.
Their testing facilities, their underground facility, they have stated that they have imploded that facility, that it's now destroyed. We need to be able to verify that.
So there are key aspects of both their import, what they're actually producing locally, and the production itself of all the nuclear material. Those are things that we can verify and we have to be able to move in and verify on the ground.
BLITZER: Is there a system as far as you know, Senator, already in place to do that?
LANGFORD: We know how to do that, obviously. We worked with Iran on that with the JCPOA. We worked with other countries on that. We know how to be able to do verification. There's not a structure in place to be able to do that with North Korea.
But that's a major part of our negotiation, not only that they do that but then we have the ability to be able to verify that on the ground.
BLITZER: They clearly have a long way to go. As I said, this process only just beginning.
President Trump also says the United States, in his words, could save a fortune by suspending those joint military exercises with South Korea or what he calls war games. Are those joint exercises necessary for maintaining readiness? Or is it possible to maintain an American military presence on the Korean Peninsula without them? In other words, do you support what the president has announced?
LANGFORD: So I would support a delay of the next military exercises where we work with the South Koreans and be able to find cooperation. We do two major exercises a year that we work together. Obviously, we've already had the first one. That's already happened this year. There's another one scheduled for later this year. There are smaller exercises that will also happen fairly consistently
throughout the year, even between the two major exercises.
Saying that we're going to change the time period for when we do that, I think is a reasonable thing to be able to do. But to continue to prepare for it as if it's going to be delayed, I think, is also a reasonable thing to do.
If North Korea doesn't live up to their end of the bargain, then we assume they're walking away from it, and the status quo is still the same. Sanctions in place. Our preparations have to be consistent and in place, and all of the diplomatic pressure has to remain until we know things have changed.
BLITZER: As you know, earlier today your colleague, Republican Senator Corker, described Republicans who won't disagree with the president publicly as being -- and he used this word -- in a cult right now. Cult, C-U-L-T. Is he right?
LANGFORD: I would disagree with that. There are areas that you can agree or disagree with any person. There were areas I agreed with President Obama. There were many areas that I disagreed with him.
There are areas where I agree with President Trump. There are a lot of areas that I disagree, and that's fine. We should be able to have that ongoing dialogue. Where we agree we should be able to work together. But I don't -- I don't see it as a cult-like focus. I definitely wouldn't use that term.
BLITZER: But the whole notion, and Ronald Reagan used to say, "Thou shalt not attack a fellow Republican." That doctrine, that statement, that assertion clearly isn't something the president believes in. He attacks Republicans all the time, like Mark Sanford, who was running for re-election in South Carolina, the congressman.
LANGFORD: Sure. Right. And I think the president can take it as well as dish it out. In areas where we disagree, we should be able to verbalize that and be able to work it out. Obviously, as many of those in private as possible. That's the best place to resolve differences. Whether you're in politics or whether you're in a family or you're in a business. You should be able to work that out privately rather than publicly.
[17:15:11] But I think, especially in this role, my first responsibility is to represent the four million people of the state of Oklahoma. That's my first responsibility. I don't work for the president. I work alongside the president. And in areas where we agree, and there are many areas we agree, we should be able to work on those areas and to be able to be clear also in areas where we disagree.
BLITZER: One final question before I let you go, Senator. He's very upset at the news media right now. Let me put up on the screen a tweet that he posted this morning. Look at this.
"So funny to watch the fake news, especially NBC and CNN. They are fighting hard to downplay the deal with North Korea. Five hundred days ago they would have begged for this deal. Looked like war would break out. Our country's biggest enemy is the fake news, so easily promulgated by fools."
Is the news media or what the president calls the "fake news media" the biggest enemy of the United States right now, bigger than North Korea or Russia or China or Iran?
LANGFORD: So I would only change one statement that you made earlier on, when you said the president is upset with the media right now. I would just say the president has been upset with the media for two- plus years through the process. Sometimes rightfully so, as he's not always received fair coverage or it does seem to be a double standard at times for his coverage. But I don't see them as being the biggest enemy.
Quite frankly, the free press is one of the greatest allies that we have in the rest of the world. We need to export our freedom, not try to be able to limit our freedom in any way. Free speech, free press, freedom of religion to be able to live out your faith, those are things that other countries wish they had and other individuals wish they have. We have it, and we have a lot of it, and we need to be able to maintain it.
Where the president disagrees with me, yes, he should be able to articulate that freely, as both the president and a private citizen. But where the media disagrees, they should be able to voice that as well.
BLITZER: Yes. You make an excellent point. All the presidents I've covered, including Bill Clinton or President Bush or President Obama, they've all criticized the press from time to time, but they've never said that the biggest threat -- the biggest enemy of the United States was the news media, and that's a significant difference.
You make an excellent point senator. Senator Langford of Oklahoma, thanks so much for joining us.
LANGFORD: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll have more on Michael Cohen's legal troubles coming up. As pressure goes on the president's personal attorney, will he flip?
[17:21:52] BLITZER: Republican Senator Bob Corker has unleashed a blast at his own party. The Foreign Relations chairman says fellow Republicans are in a, quote, "cult-like situation" with President Trump.
Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju. He's up on Capitol Hill.
Manu, so what's Corker saying about his party's leaders and why?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is -- the heart of this issue are President Trump's tariffs that he announced on the European Union, on Mexico and on Canada. And Republicans are by and large opposed to those tariffs, but they are badly divided about whether or not to confront the president on this issue in this election year.
Now at issue is a bill that Senator Corker has proposed to rein in the president on this issue, giving the president of Congress a check on the president's authority on this area. Corker has been demanding a vote on his -- on this bill, offering it as an amendment to a different measure dealing with defense policy.
But the Republican leaders are, by and large, opposed to moving this because of -- for various reasons and one, expressed that they don't want to confront the president on this issue, because they think it's bad politics heading into the midterms.
Now that has produced some scathing response from Bob Corker over the last couple of days, including today when he accused the Republican leaders of acting like they're in a cult.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: To have an administration that wakes up every day on an ad hoc basis, just making stuff up as they go along, with no coherency to it, I think us having to weigh in on that would actually cause them to have to think about what they're doing, versus, "Well, I'm upset with 'X' today, so I'll do this."
Look, we're in a strange place. I mean, it's almost -- you know, it's becoming a cult-ish thing, isn't it? And it's -- it's not a good place for any party to end up with a cult-like situation as it relates to -- to a president that happens to be of, purportedly, of the same party. So --
RAJU: Do you feel like this is a cult-like situation with your party right now?
CORKER: Well, again, I don't want to -- please, we have so many people on our side of the aisle that are independent, that do express themselves, that do follow what they believe. So I don't -- it would be unfair to try to say this about every member. That's not appropriate.
His leadership in general, not wishing to poke the bear, absolutely. I mean, because, you know, it's all about the next election, right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now this issue over the Corker amendment was debated in a very contentious private closed-door lunch today, Wolf. I'm told Republicans traded charges over blocking various amendments that can't get votes on the floor. It just really shows you how the president's tariffs has really divided this party here on Capitol Hill, Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly has. All right, Manu, thank you. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill. Coming up, a rare close-up look at Kim Jong-un. For a time, CNN's Jim
Acosta was the only U.S. television correspondent in the room with the North Korean dictator. He'll join us.
[17:25:06] And the president's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, breaking with his legal team as he faces a federal investigation. Does that signal he could soon flip and cooperate with prosecutors?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Breaking news. CNN has learned President Trump's long-time personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, is splitting with his legal team. Cohen has not been charged with any crime, but the change is raising serious questions about Cohen's legal strategy, whether he could face criminal charges or turn against the president.
[17:30:16] Let's bring in our political and legal experts. And Joey Jackson, you're our legal analyst. Give us your analysis of these late-breaking developments.
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Let me say this initially. I think that charges are imminent. I believe that the Southern District -- it's not an exercise in futility. They have some of the most talented lawyers in the country. I've litigated against them; I know that. And I think that ultimately, he will be charged with significant charges. I believe that.
No. 2, with regard to changing lawyers, putting it in context, I should tell you that it is not uncommon. I have been replaced in various cases. I have replaced lawyers in various cases.
What is the basis for that? Multiple reasons. No. 1, sometimes there are fee disputes, right? And that happens amongst attorneys and clients. No. 2, there are personality and bedside manner issues. That happens, as well. No. 3, there are strategic differences with regard to how we're moving forward in cases. So there are a multitude of reasons as to why they change.
Now the last point and most significant is what I believe it means for Cohen. I'm not one who believes that this means he's flipping at all. In fact, if looking at this in context and all the pardons the president has done and the things he's sent out and signed he sent out, and the relationship that he has with Michael Cohen, I don't believe that he will flip.
I believe in the alternative: this shows that he may be dug in. Why? Because I think it demonstrates that he's looking for -- different lawyers have different skillsets. There are lawyers who write briefs. There are lawyers who can convince and persuade jurors. And I believe that he's looking for people in the Southern District who have a significant amount of knowledge with the district, who have significant trial skill and ability, so if it comes to that, his interests are protected. And that's how I see the case. Not that he's flipping today or tomorrow but that he's changing
lawyers to be consistent with his strategy, which is to dig in, to protect the president and to be ready in the event that this has to go to trial. Not there yet, but I think it may come to that.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I love the notion of bedside manner related to Michael Cohen. It might be an issue. Something not known for his bedside manner at all.
BLITZER: Let's talk about North Korea. You saw some of the president's tweets, David, earlier today. "There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. No longer. Sleep well tonight." Sort of -- maybe a bit premature.
CHALIAN: Certainly a bit premature. There's no doubt about that. Obviously, the threat still exists. They have not denuclearized the Korean Peninsula in some verifiable way.
What I think we have to do with that tweet -- obviously, the president is feeling good about the historic nature of the pictures that he sent back home from his big meeting, as he should. They were unique and historic.
But that now hangs in suspended animation, because we -- there's a long road to go here. And I know that the president wants to act like he's already at the end of the road. I'm told by some folks that have spoken to him in the last 24 hours, he is aware of how much work needs to occur between now and this actually completing in some way, in a verifiable manner. That is not what he's touting publicly, because he wants to score the big "W" on the scoreboard.
BLITZER: Because all of us remember the "mission accomplished" moment with President George W. Bush in 2003, when the U.S. went in to get rid of Saddam Hussein. He was on that aircraft carrier with the big banner, "Mission Accomplished," which obviously turned out to be not mission accomplished.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL WRITER: Yes, not mission accomplished. Obviously, very premature, as well.
I think -- Trump says that he essentially trusts Kim Jong-un here. And I think this -- these -- the statements that he has put out suggest that. Suggest that he feels good about this relationship. I mean, it also is very -- I think representative of how Trump is just generally. He's very much somebody who overpromises but doesn't always deliver on those promises, often underdelivers on those promises.
But listen, it's a long road that's ahead, and Pompeo talked about maybe two and a half to three years in terms of complete denuclearization. There's so much work still to be done that doesn't necessarily lend itself to bumper-stick slogans or even, you know, tweets.
But it is interesting to see, I think, the United States essentially go back to the status quo in some ways, even with this meeting. Before -- before this administration came to office, there was this kind of process of strategic patience, and that seems in some ways, where they are right now. Mike Pence talked about not being in the era of strategic patience and being beyond that, but that's, in some ways, where they are right now.
BLITZER: Rebecca Berg, you're our political reporter. You watched closely those primaries, those elections yesterday. What's your bottom line?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, Wolf, a really interesting primary result in South Carolina, the 1st District, where Congressman Mark Sanford, who we all remember, of course, from the scandal that rocks him, as when he was governor of South Carolina, hiking the Appalachian Trail. He came back, won the seat in Congress, but he lost last night to a primary challenger who said he was not supportive enough of the president, who attacked him for being a critic of President Trump, and Sanford lost as a result.
[18:35:14] The president also tweeted in the final hours of the race, said he endorsed Sanford's opponent and that Sanford had been very unhelpful to his agenda. So we're seeing here the result of Republicans who go out, criticize the president. It's at their only political peril.
BLITZER: What's your analysis, David?
CHALIAN: Well, Rebecca is absolutely right. This is -- this is Donald Trump's Republican Party. It is not the Republican Party of the pre-Trump era. It is a reshaped party in his image, where issue purity is not what's on the mind of Republican primary voters. The purity test being applied inside the party is about loyalty to Donald Trump.
And Wolf, we've asked around this table many times. Every tweet, every new development where it looks like the president is crossing a line, is this the thing that's going to break the dam of Republican support for him up on Capitol Hill? This Mark Sanford loss is a key answer to that question: no and never. And nothing is likely to do so, because you pay a political price when you take on the president from inside the Republican Party.
BLITZER: And I just want to point out, tomorrow Congressman Mark Sanford will be joining us here, live in THE SITUATION ROOM. We've got a lot of questions for him.
Coming up, what Kim Jong-un is like close up. I'll be joined by our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. At times, he was the only U.S. television reporter in the room with President Trump and the North Korean dictator.
[17:40:07] BLITZER: Tonight in the wake of their summit, both President Trump and Kim Jong-un essentially are declaring victory. And North Korean news reports say the president agreed to lift sanctions. During the summit, CNN's chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta,
was the network pool reporter, making him one of the very few westerners to get an up-close look at the North Korean dictator and sometimes the only U.S. television correspondent in the room with both President Trump and Kim.
Jim Acosta is back in Washington. A lengthy flight. Just got back earlier this morning, flew with the president back on Air Force One.
So walk us through. What was it like?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was interesting, Wolf, because the day started with the White House having a lot of jitters about us being around Kim Jong-un. In the beginning in those pools, pool sprays with Kim Jong-un and President Trump, I was excluded from the first couple of pool sprays. And the reason I was given is because they were concerned that Kim Jong-un had not been around American reporters yelling questions, shouting questions and so on. And so I was excluded from those first couple of pool sprays.
I registered my objections, and then we were allowed into a couple of opportunities. And when you heard me ask the president, you know, "How are things going?" And Kim Jong-un, "Will you give up your nuclear weapons?" that was when they were heading into one of those pool opportunities where I was excluded.
But later on when Kim Jong-un was just a few feet away from me, you know, Wolf, he looked just as plump and baby-faced as he looks on TV on all those state media pictures. And my sense of it was -- and when we were shouting questions at him or asking him and the president questions, he wasn't rattled at all and seemed fine with it. I'm not sure how much English he understands, but we at least had to attempt the question.
BLITZER: We had that moment when you shouted out a question, which is your job, of course, to shout out --
ACOSTA: Of course.
BLITZER: -- questions, especially when you're a pool reporter.
BLITZER: And people don't know a pool reporter, you're not just representing CNN. You're representing all the U.S. television networks: ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and CNN. Let me play that clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Mr. President, how's it going so far, sir? What do you think?
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Very, very good. Excellent relationship. Thank you. Thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chairman Kim, will you denuclearize? ACOSTA: Mr. Kim, will you give up your nuclear weapons, sir?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The print reporter's there, as well, but you're the only U.S. television reporter. So what was he like, Kim?
ACOSTA: You know, he didn't answer our questions, and I'm not sure how much English he understands. But one thing that we noticed, Wolf, is that the -- the North Koreans were very sensitive to us being around him. He had a tight group of security officials around him at all times. He had state media representatives around him at all times.
And there was one moment -- obviously, I got into the signing ceremony when they signed that agreement, and you know, I tried to ask the president a couple of questions there. There were some jostling that went on between the U.S. press and the North Korean press.
We got in position, perfect position to take pictures of the occasion when they signed that agreement and then, at the very last minute, the North Koreans tried to storm into the room right in front of us. And they were pushing and shoving me, my other colleagues and some of the U.S. camera people who were in position to take these pictures. And so they were not only sensitive to his security, but his image, as well.
BLITZER: Tell us about that moment when the president was showing him -- the presidential limousine.
ACOSTA: Well, that was fascinating. That was another one of those opportunities that, you know, it was a host TV spray. Now people don't understand the difference between us and host TV. This was the Singapore government camera people, who were allowed to witness this moment.
But obviously, what we heard from -- from talking to officials there is that Kim Jong-un was very curious about the presidential limousine, The Beast. And so the president there taking him on a tour of it.
It's interesting to hear, you know, some of the -- the talk about how close Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un were during this entire experience. It seemed like almost a bromance to me, almost like what he had with Emmanuel Macron a few weeks ago during that state visit. They seemed to get along really well. And it's no surprise to me that afterwards the president said that he feels that Kim Jong-un is a very talented man. He was talking about how they have this excellent relationship, and I think that was on display.
BLITZER: Even though Kim is in his 30s, the president is probably at least twice as old. The body language that you saw, that you eye- witnessed was pretty good.
ACOSTA: It absolutely was. And Wolf, I was just a few feet away from Kim Jong-un. And what was most astonishing to me was, here you have this young man. He's a younger man than you or I. And at the same time you had to keep in mind as a reporter in that situation, this is somebody who has killed his own family members, somebody who runs a system of gulags in North Korea where tens of thousands of North Koreans are held captive. This is the man who is responsible for the death of Otto Warmbier.
In that pool spray opportunity with the signing ceremony, I asked the president, "Did you have a chance to ask Kim Jong-un about Otto Warmbier, talked about Otto Warmbier?" The president didn't answer that question.
But I thought, in light of everything that Kim Jong-un has been accused of, what we know he's done, the fact that he has an arsenal of nuclear weapons and this expanding nuclear program, I thought we were totally justified in asking all of those questions. And I thought, Wolf Blitzer and my colleagues at CNN, the other networks, they would have been pretty disappointed, had I not attempted to ask those questions.
[17:45:14] BLITZER: You're the representative of all the television networks. As a former White House correspondent myself, I spent seven years in those respective pools. Every fifth day was CNN's turn.
BLITZER: Your job is to ask the questions. They don't have to answer them if they don't want, but if you don't ask the questions, you're going to have five networks who are going to be pretty upset at you. That's your responsibility. It's a free press. And I'm glad that Kim began to see a little bit of that, because certainly, he doesn't see that back in North Korea.
ACOSTA: No, that's right. And he seemed to open up towards the end of this. You saw that statement that he gave next to the president. And you know, while he did not want to answer our questions, I thought it was important from a U.S. press perspective that we make it very clear.
In these situations, you could be standing there with a dictator. You could be standing with whoever you want, President Trump, we're going to ask these questions, and the White House should give us those opportunities.
BLITZER: Good work. Excellent work, as usual. Jim Acosta, thanks very much. And then you flew back with the president on Air Force One.
BLITZER: Coming up, who won? It depends on whom you ask, and in North Korea there's no doubt about who's the biggest winner after this week's summit.
[17:50:54] BLITZER: Once again our breaking news, North Korean news reports that Kim Jong-un "understood from President Trump that sanctions against North Korea will be lifted as progress is made from dialogue and negotiations," closed quote. It's part of a much different story North Koreans are telling about the summit.
Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.
They're declaring Kim is the real winner, aren't they?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The North Koreans are saying that, Wolf, and some experts agree with them. One analyst, a former American diplomat who negotiated with the North Koreans, just told me, quote, "Kim Jong-un stole Trump's watch, wallet and shoes. It was awful."
Tonight while President Trump spins it a different way, there's still no hitch in Kim's swagger.
TODD (voice-over): Projected on large screens in downtown Pyongyang, North Korea's iconic anchorwoman Ri Chun-hee, nicknamed the Pink Lady, proclaims Kim Jong-un's summit with Donald Trump a resounding success.
RI CHUN-HEE, NORTH KOREAN ANCHORWOMAN (through translator): Kim Jong- un says that today both sides came together to sign the historic joint statement, heralding a new start.
TODD: Splashed on the pages of North Korea's state-run newspaper, photos of what it calls a meeting of the century. From Kim Jong-un's official wire service, more glowing rhetoric, saying, President Trump appreciated that an atmosphere of peace had been created, quote, "thanks to the proactive peace-loving measures taken by the respected Supreme Leader from the outset of this year."
TRUMP: Very good. Very good.
TODD: Among the highlights, a huge win for Kim that President Trump has agreed to end the military exercises with South Korea that the North has seen as a provocation.
ABRAHAM DENMARK, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think it's predictable that they did spin it this way. This was a tremendous political victory for Kim Jong-un.
TODD: Aside from individual concessions, Kim's most important win from the summit meeting, experts say, could be his larger domestic victory with North Korea's people and inside the halls of influence in Pyongyang against anyone who might challenge his power.
DENMARK: He was able to show his people that he's respected as a world leader, that the North Korean flag sat alongside the American flag as an equal country. He can use this propaganda for years, really.
TODD: North Korea's news agency even spun the summit to say that President Trump expressed his intent to lift sanctions against Kim's regime. The president and his team actually say sanctions will remain in place for now. But analysts say Kim could still claim partial victory there.
BRUCE KLINGNER, FORMER CIA ANALYST ON NORTH KOREA: Certainly, he's getting a, it looks like, a reduction in the international pressure. China and South Korea, who are always looking to go soft on enforcing required U.N. sanctions, are already calling for removing some of the sanctions, as well as offering economic benefits to the North.
TODD: Tonight, experts warn of how the calculating, brutal young dictator might turn these victories into a threat.
DENMARK: North Korea for years has been already a threat to regional stability by attacking South Korea, by conducting these tests. It's more than likely that over time, North Korea may feel emboldened to do even more of that, to feel safe behind a nuclear deterrent and feel that it can lash out at South Korea and Japan, basically, with impunity.
TODD: And while Kim's propaganda machine does mention denuclearization, it sells it as an agreement that both sides will give up nuclear capabilities on the Korean Peninsula, not just that North Korea will give up its arsenal.
KLINGNER: As a self-professed member of the nuclear club, they will go to zero when the rest of the world goes down to zero.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Brian, thank you very much.
Coming up, breaking news: President Trump's longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is splitting with his own legal team.
BLITZER: Happening now: breaking news, close to flipping? There's more legal turmoil tonight for President Trump's longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, as CNN learns he's splitting from his team of lawyers. With sources saying he's likely to face charges, could the president's lawyer flip and tell prosecutors what he knows about President Trump?
Consulting with counsel. CNN has learned that on his way home from Singapore, the president called his lawyers to talk about what he faces next in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.