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Trump Receives Letter From Kim Jong-un Seeking Second Meeting; Defamation Case Against President Trump; Interview With Washington Congressman Denny Heck; Trump Approval Numbers Dropping. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 10, 2018 - 18:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Trust deficit. Nearly two-thirds of Americans view President Trump as dishonest in CNN's exclusive new poll, his worst rating yet. Stand by for more on our first survey since the back-to-back bombshells of Bob Woodward's book and the anonymous op-ed.

Gag order. A judge orders accused Russian spy Maria Butina to remain in jail and tries to muzzle her lawyer. We will have the latest on the case as prosecutors admit to making a mistake.

And role reversal. After Stormy Daniels fought to get out of her hush money deal, the president now concedes it wasn't valid, but tonight the porn star's attorney says Mr. Trump just can't walk away from his bullying of Daniels and his attempt to buy her silence.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta, and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ACOSTA: And we are following breaking news on what could become a catastrophic hurricane disaster along the East Coast. We are monitoring Florence as the Category 4 storm approaches and forces more than a million people from their homes.

Also breaking, CNN's exclusive new poll shows Americans are more distrustful of President Trump than ever. Only 32 percent now see him as honest and trustworthy, this as a top White House adviser admits Mr. Trump made a false claim about the economy on Twitter.

The president, undaunted, keeps attacking the credibility of others with author Bob Woodward and an anonymous op-ed writer in his crosshairs tonight.

I will get reaction from House Intelligence member Dennis Heck. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First to CNN's senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, we had the first White House briefing in nearly three weeks. What happened?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, it has been since October 22 that there had been a White House press briefing. Of course, so much has happened since then, particularly those two anonymous and blistering accounts of dysfunction here inside the White House.

But, today, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked directly if the White House is trying to determine the identity of that op-ed writer in "The New York Times."

She said this: "We're certainly focused on things that actually matter," trying to downplay all of it. But one thing is clear. It matters to the president. He's been venting about it all weekend long.


ZELENY (voice-over): The White House tonight trying to move beyond a war within its own walls.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It is, frankly, I think sad and pathetic that a gutless, anonymous source could receive so much attention.

ZELENY: It's been 19 days since White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders had appeared at the podium. Aides even cleaning it before she took questions in the Briefing Room for the first time since August 22. She wasted little time blasting Bob Woodward and his new book, "Fear," that chronicles deep dysfunction inside the West Wing.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: To not even take the time to get a $10 fact-checker to call around and verify that some of these quotes were happened, when no effort was made, it seems like a very careless and reckless way to write a book.

ZELENY: Yet, even as she tried to downplay the book, it is the one- two punch from Woodward and the anonymous op-ed in "The New York Times" that is enraging the president, who called the book "a joke, just another assault against me."

A parade of top officials have come forward to say it wasn't them, with the vice president taking the extraordinary step of volunteering to submit to a lie-detector test.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would agree to take it in the heartbeat.

ZELENY (on camera): Do you know if the president believes the denials that have been coming in from some of his top advisers or does he believe that it is someone from within, and does he believe that lie- detector tests should be issued, as the vice president volunteered to do on Sunday?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: No lie detectors are being used or talked about or looked at as a possibility. Frankly, the White House and the staff here are focused on doing our jobs.

ZELENY (voice-over): On the eve of the book's official release, Woodward defended his findings.

BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": There's a war on truth by him, and he says, oh, these are unnamed sources. But these are not unnamed incidents. Specific people on specific dates

ZELENY: As for the top officials who have denied specific critiques of the president, from Chief of Staff John Kelly to Defense Secretary James Mattis, Woodward said this:

WOODWARD: They are not telling the truth.

ZELENY: Tonight, a new CNN poll finds the president's approval rating has fallen six points in the last month and now stands at a new low among independent voters.

Overall, just 36 percent approve of the way the president is handling his job, down from 42 percent in August. Among independents, the drop has been sharper, from 47 percent approval last month to 31 percent now. Only 32 percent find the president trustworthy, yet nearly seven in 10 Americans give the economy high marks, a ray of optimism for Republicans two months before the midterm elections.

The president crowed about the economy in a series of tweets today, declaring it "so good, perhaps the best in our country's history." Yet he incorrectly stated its exact strength, writing: "The GDP rate, 4.2 percent, is higher than the unemployment rate, 3.9 percent, for the first time in over 100 years."


But Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said that wasn't true.

KEVIN HASSETT, CHAIRMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: What is true is that it is the highest in 10 years. And, at some point, somebody probably conveyed it to him adding a zero to that, and they shouldn't have done that.

And, again, I'm not the chairman of the council of Twitter advisers.


ZELENY: Now, the White House is trying to keep the focus on all of this, on the great mystery behind it, the real Washington whodunit, if you will, who wrote that anonymous op-ed in "The New York Times."

But the president is still talking specifically about asking the Department of Justice to investigate. So, again, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked exactly what crime would they be investigating? Isn't this protected under the First Amendment?

She said this. She said: "Someone actively trying to undermine the duly elected president and the entire executive branch of government, that seems quite problematic to me and something they should take a look at."

But, again, no specific mention of a crime he's asking the DOJ to investigate -- Jim.

ACOSTA: They can't say who done it and they can't say which laws were broken. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

We will have more on CNN's exclusive new numbers, poll numbers on the president just ahead.

But, first, let's turned to the alleged Russian spy accused of trying to influence American politics.

Maria Butina was back in court today.

Let's bring in CNN's political correspondent, Sara Murray.

Sara, tell us what happened in the courtroom. This was interesting.


Well, first of all, she's not getting out of jail. The judge says she needs to stay incarcerated awaiting trial. They believe she is a flight risk, but the judge decided to slap her defense lawyers with a gag order. The judge said she believes in specific that Butina's attorney, Robert Driscoll, has overstepped with all of his television appearances.

And this is after Driscoll has been on TV vigorously defending his client, especially about one thing, this allegation that she traded sex for access. Now, on late Friday night government prosecutors acknowledged that they made a mistake, that the basis of this very salacious claim that she was willing to trade sex in exchange for a position in a special interest group was reliant on a text message exchange that turned out to be a joke.

Let's look at those text messages because the judge brought them up in court today. This is her talking to a friend who is helping her out with her car insurance. The friend says, "I don't know what you owe me for this insurance, they put me through the wringer," and Butina says: "Sex. Thank you so much. I have nothing else at all, not a nickel to my name."

The judge in court said, you know, it took me less than five minutes to realize this was a joking exchange. She said she was dismayed, concerned that the Justice Department officials, that somehow these government prosecutors were using this as a way to make these salacious claims that Maria Butina was trying to trade sex for access.

She even acknowledged, Jim, how this must have been have been hurtful to Butina, must have been have been hurtful to her family to see these claims. And yet still at the end of all of that, even while acknowledging the government screwed up, even acknowledging, yes, of course her attorney wants to be out there vigorously defending her in the face of claims he believed to be wrong at the outset, still a gag order.


And a former Roger Stone aide may be facing jail time. That also could be a pretty significant development.

MURRAY: Yes. This is the case of Andrew Miller, who is of course challenging Robert Mueller's authority, who decided to not appear before the grand jury, even though he was summoned, even though he lost his first challenge, to take it to an appeals court.

Now the judge is saying, look, you could face 18 months in jail if you lose your appeal and you still don't cooperate with prosecutors after that. I think it is unlikely he ends up going to jail. His lawyers have basically said, look, if he loses on this appeal, he's going to cooperate, you know, he's going to go and testify before the grand jury.

This is not someone who wants to end up in jail, but he does want to take the shot and try to challenge Mueller's authority.

ACOSTA: Not the first client or attorney to try to drag things out.

Sara Murray, thank you very much.

Joining me, Representative Denny Heck, a Democrat who serves on the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

Let me get your reaction to that report in a moment, but first the White House, because this was really driving the news today over at the White House. The White House says the Justice Department should still investigate who wrote the anonymous op-ed because that person might be involved -- and this was speculation on their part -- in national security.

Would that concern you if the author of that article was handling national -- sensitive national security issues? And should that person be investigated?

REP. DENNY HECK (D), WASHINGTON: It concerns me to my very bone that the president would suggest that we need to mobilize federal law enforcement in order to stop somebody from exercising their First Amendment right.

That's what deeply disturbs me. But, look, Jim, I don't give two sticks and a fiddle as to who wrote that anonymous guest editorial, nor do I care why "The New York Times" decided to publish an anonymous guest editorial.


It is much more relevant, especially when taken with all of the other information about the state of dysfunction in the White House in Washington, D.C. Look, I have been a chief of staff to a governor. I have a little bit

of a feel for what goes on in the corridors of power akin to the White House, on a much smaller scale, obviously

And chief executives, leaders have a couple of choices. They can either decide to lead by instilling fear in their team or they can decide to lead by inspiring respect. Weak leaders instill fear. Strong leaders inspire respect, and we know what this White House represents.

ZELENY: And how incredible is it to you that the vice president over the weekend offered to take a lie-detector test to prove that he didn't write the op-ed? How did that strike you?

HECK: Oh, I was pretty confident to begin with that Vice President Pence was not the author of the anonymous guest editorial, but, again, I don't give two sticks and a fiddle as to who wrote it.

ZELENY: And what does it tell you that the president wants this op-ed investigated , but not the two Republican congressmen who have been indicted? Remember, he talked about that, tweeted about that about a week ago, Congressman Chris Collins and Congressman Duncan Hunter.

Is this an abuse of power?

HECK: Jim, it suggests to me the most deeply disturbing thing about this administration, which is a continuing and at times abject lack of respect for the rule of law.

ACOSTA: And if President Trump tries to use the Justice Department to advance his own political agenda, in your view, is that an impeachable offense?

HECK: So, Jim, earlier, you had indicated in the program that there are new public opinion surveys indicating the president is at a new all-time low.

The fact of the matter is judgment day is coming. That's 57 days from now. And the Article 1 branch of the United States government, namely the Congress, will be given a fresh opportunity to assert its constitutional responsibility to provide a check and balance on this president.

ACOSTA: And so you're saying if the Democrats were the take control of the House or even the Senate come January, there should be a reasonable expectation that we're going the see more hearings, more investigations, subpoenas, and so on to try to get to the facts of all of this?

HECK: The I-word that I'm most attracted to isn't impeachment; it is investigation.

There are an awful lot of loose ends associated with the prematurely truncated or terminated investigation into Russian interference on the committee I have the honor to sit upon. I think it is fairly predictable that, if Democrats are able to get

the majority, that there will be information brought to light that heretofore has been kept secret by this administration and agents on his behalf.

ACOSTA: And like what? What do you mean? What has been kept hidden that you want to get to the bottom of?

HECK: Tax returns.

ACOSTA: And so if the Democrats come into power in January in the House, you're going to support an effort to subpoena the president's tax returns?

HECK: I would encourage my colleagues to do just that.

But insofar as it relates to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, there were a lot of loose ends associated with our non- investigation, because I think at the end of the day it would be hard to legitimately characterize the exercise we went through for over a year as an investigation, per se.

For example, we never had the opportunity to interview George Papadopoulos, as most people know. I think the ranking member, Congressman Adam Schiff, has also suggested that there's some background information associated with financial entanglements with Russians and people and agents on behalf of Russians that were not pursued.

But above and beyond that, I would say, as I have so many times, Jim, in Bob Mueller, I trust. Can anybody ever cite a single example in his sterling career when he gave up, whether it was fighting as a United States Marine in the jungles of Vietnam or pursuing organized crime in this country or fulfilling his responsibility as special counsel in this investigation?

ACOSTA: And let's turn to the latest on Maria Butina. Does this screw-up in her case with respect to the -- what the federal prosecutors admitted over the weekend, does that hurt the credibility of the ongoing investigations into Russian influence in American politics in your view?

HECK: She is still in jail, Jim. She is still in jail for being indicted for being an unregistered agent on behalf of a foreign government, and this salacious sideshow was not material to the case that they presented for that.


Congressman Denny Heck, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it. Good talking to you, sir.

HECK: You too, Jim. Thank you, sir.

ACOSTA: All right, thank you. Just ahead, we will have an up-to-the-minute forecast on Hurricane

Florence, as the Category 4 storm that threatens the East Coast, and forces more than a million people to evacuate.


And as the president is set to be deposed in a lawsuit by a former "Apprentice" contestant, he is trying to walk away from the lawsuit by porn star Stormy Daniels. But Daniels' lawyer says, not so fast.


ACOSTA: Tonight, Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, tells me he is not letting the president off the hook for his treatment of his client, even as Mr. Trump said he's ready to walk away from his legal battle with the porn star.

Let's bring in CNN's national correspondent, Athena Jones.

Athena, you are following new developments in two lawsuits, not just one, but two lawsuits against the president. Tell us about that.



In the Daniels case, President Trump and Michael Cohen now say they agree with her that the hush agreement she signed is not valid. But Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, sees that move as just a ploy to avoid being questioned under oath in this case. And that is something the president is already facing in the Summer Zervos defamation case in New York, where he could soon be asked a number of uncomfortable questions that he will have to answer honestly, or face potential perjury charges down the road.


JONES (voice-over): Tonight, Stormy Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, fighting back against Donald Trump and his former personal attorney Michael Cohen, after both moved in filings to rescind the $130,000 nondisclosure agreement reached with porn star Stormy Daniels just days before the 2016 election.


JONES: Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, had sued to be released from the contract in which she agreed to keep quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. Trump denies the allegations.

Now Essential Consultants, the shell company Cohen set up to make the payment, is demanding the money be returned. Avenatti filed a response today opposing the dismissal arguing the NDA case should not be dismissed because a meaningful inquiry into the truth is in the public interest. Avenatti told Jim in "THE SITUATION ROOM" last hour he still wants to

depose the president.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: Our goal has been the same all along, Jim. And that is, this is a search for the truth, and we want all of the facts and the evidence to be laid out before the American people, so they know exactly what happened in connection with this $130,000 payment, the cover-up, the flow of the money and all of the lies that took place surrounding it.

JONES: Daniels is also suing both men for defamation, and in New York, an important development in the defamation suit brought by former apprentice contestant Summer Zervos, the president now agreeing to answer questions under oath for the first time.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know what? Summer, you're fired.

JONES: Zervos is suing the president for saying she lied when she accused him in October 2016 of sexually assaulting her in 2007.

SUMMER ZERVOS, PLAINTIFF: He then grabbed my shoulder and began kissing me again very aggressively and placed his hand on my breast. He put me in an embrace, and I tried to push him away. I pushed his chest to put space between us. And I said, "Come on, man, get real."

JONES: Then candidate Trump pushed back on Twitter and on the campaign trail.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These allegations are 100 percent false.

JONES: Under the agreement, the president will provide -- quote -- "written answers and objections to questions" submitted by Zervos' lawyers by September 28.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: I expect a lot of very embarrassing questions for the president of the United States.

JONES: For his part, Trump is appealing the ruling that allowed this case to proceed, arguing he should immune from prosecution in state court and that the case would conflict with his official duties.


Meanwhile, in California, Trump and his former attorney, Michael Cohen, both moved over the weekend to rescind the now infamous $130,000 hush agreement reached with porn star Stormy Daniels just days before the 2016 election, now claiming the deal wasn't valid. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, sued to be released from the contract, in which she agreed to keep quiet about an alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.

Daniels is also suing both men for defamation. Her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, filed a response today, opposing the potential dismissal of the hush money lawsuit and blasting the latest moves by Trump and Cohen, telling CNN after Cohen's filing:

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: The bottom line here is, is that this man, Donald Trump, does not want to sit down and have to answer any questions under oath. And if I was in his shoes, I probably wouldn't want to do that either, in light of the facts and the evidence.


JONES: And one more note on the Zervos case.

While it is significant that President Trump has agreed to answer questions under oath, it is important to note that he reserves the right to object to the questions he's asked. So we could still see more litigation over whether the questions are proper and relevant, so there's still a long way to go in this case -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Athena Jones, thank you very much.

Now let's turn to the breaking news on the emergency along the East Coast. Tonight, Hurricane Florence is growing in size and strength. It is a powerful Category 4 storm. At least one million people are being evacuated in South Carolina alone.



ACOSTA: Just ahead: the stunning offer by Vice President Pence to take a lie-detector test to prove he's not behind the op-ed portraying the president as unfit.

And should the Justice Department be involved in the search for the anonymous author of that piece? Tonight, the White House is saying, maybe.



KEVIN HASSETT, CHAIR, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: So I can tell you what is true, and the history of thought -- no, but let me just say that the history of thought of how errors happen is not something that, you know, I can engage in because -- like from the initial fact to what the president said, I don't know the whole chain of command.

[18:45:08] But what is true is that it is the highest in ten years, and at some point somebody probably conveyed it to him, adding a zero to that, and they shouldn't have done that. You'd have to talk to the president about where the number came from, but the correct number is ten years.


ACOSTA: Kevin was smiling there, Phil Mudd, but he seemed to be in some physical pain, acknowledging that they had gotten something wrong with one of the president's tweets.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, finally a sense of humor in Washington, D.C.


MUDD: But, you know, there's a rule in this town whether you work at State Department, the Defense Department, the White House doesn't make mistakes. Whether they actually do or not, you're supposed to say in the agencies, we did it wrong, I'm sorry, the president is right. For somebody, whether it is this administration or others, some get out there and say the president got it wrong, the facts have to hit you like a 2x4, and the difference between ten years and 100 years is a 2x4.

So, I don't know what you do other than getting out and saying, we kind of got that one factually wrong because you can't escape the facts in this one, Jim.

ACOSTA: And, Susan, I mean, could they have handled that any better do you think? Or do you think Kevin just had basically say, listen, you know, we screwed this one up?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN ANALYST: I mean, I think it was remarkable how rare a scene that actually was. We have seen over and over, literally from the first press briefing, Sean Spicer getting out there and saying, no, it was a larger inauguration crowd all the way to now. We have seen staffer after staffer essentially sublimate, offer up their own credibility, lying to the American people, where they know, you know they're lying. They know you know you're lying.

This is actually one of the first times we have seen a White House staffer stand up and say, no, I'm going to tell the truth. I'm going to give you the actual fact. The fact it is such an unusual occurrence really isn't --

ACOSTA: They're saying the president got it wrong. I can't imagine Sean Spicer saying, you know what, we were wrong about that, we had a smaller crowd size at the inauguration than Barack Obama.

SWERDLICK: I mean, let me just add, though, I think, though, this does happen in part, and I agree that it was handled better today than we've seen almost ever. But just a few weeks ago, you remember when Sarah Huckabee Sanders was on the podium, talked about the African- American employment numbers, got those wrong. The White House did correct that too, not in the same way.

And I think part of the problem is they're in such a hurry to inflate the president's record and deflate the record of his predecessors that they rush into this and get it wrong when they could just present the facts as they are.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Although as, you know, when we walked on the set at least, I believe this tweet is still up. The tweet has not been deleted. It has been retweeted hundreds, maybe thousands of times by the president's supporters. The president doesn't seem particularly eager to correct the record on this. I think it says a lot as well.

ACOSTA: That's true. It would be interesting to ask him if he got it wrong, because I was thinking about that during the briefing today. Should somebody ask Sarah Sanders, do you agree with Kevin Hassett that the president got that wrong earlier today? It would have been interesting to see what she would have said.

HENNESSEY: Look, there's a presidential administration and the president's Twitter feed and they have nothing to do with one another. You know, you would expect the president to be careful, to be well- staffed, to care about not making a mistake because he would be embarrassed about having to correct it. But instead, we have a White House that appears to at least try to develop factual information and a president at every turn who throws things out there on the Internet, you know, wherever he got the numbers and let's everybody else clean up the mess.

SWERDLICK: Right, let's see what sticks.

ACOSTA: Rebecca, I want to turn to the midterms. "The New York Times" obtaining this audio of Mick Mulvaney, the OMB director, over the weekend saying it's a very real possibility Ted Cruz could lose that Senate race down in Texas. Now, if you would ask people months ago if that was even remotely possible, people -- maybe Ben O'Rourke would have said it was possible, but not many people in Texas would have taken it seriously.

BERG: Right, and Mick Mulvaney is exactly right, Jim. Ted Cruz could lose this race, and you are hearing other Republicans as well beginning to sound the alarm on this. John Cornyn, of course, Texas Cruz's colleague from Texas in the Senate, of course.

There are two things that are at play her. One, of course, is the broader political landscape that we are seeing in this election cycle. The president is deeply unpopular, Republicans in Congress are deeply unpopular. There's amazing energy on the Democratic side.

So, that's definitely one component of this. But the other is that Ted Cruz is just a deeply unpopular candidate and Beto, on the other hand, has overperformed in an extraordinary way, not just for Texas but anywhere, getting so much attention and money for a Senate race. It's really astounding.

ACOSTA: And, David Swerdlick, quickly, "The Washington Post" reporting on Ron DeSantis down in Florida, appearing at a far right conference that's been a platform for racist views, white nationalist views. I guess today he announced he is leaving Congress to focus on that gubernatorial race. We already know the situation with Andrew Gillum, where he said, you know, he doesn't want Andrew Gillum to monkey things up in Florida with respect to the economy.

How big of a problem is this going to be for the Republicans in a very high profile gubernatorial race down in Florida?

[18:50:04] One problem after another. SWERDLICK: Yes, Jim, people of color and religious minority groups don't vote for Republicans, they vote for Democrats. If you're a Republican and you want to dispel that deception, you don't go do this kind of conference. With Milo Yiannopoulos or Katie Hopkins, or, you know, some of the racially provocative things that David Horowitz, I guess, one of the main organizers has said.

That doesn't make DeSantis a racist, but it does suggest to voters that you're not afraid to be seen with people who make their living being racial --


ACOSTA: And it sounds like -- I mean, the Republican Party could have a problem on their hands with this candidate if there's more information like this.

SWERDLICK: Not doing well since the primaries, no.

ACOSTA: All right. Thanks very much, guys. Appreciate it.

Just ahead, message received, a new letter from Kim Jong-un arrives on the president's desk as Mr. Trump praises the North Korean dictator again. We will go live to Pyongyang, and we'll see how Kim has been putting his cozier relations with the U.S. and his promise of denuclearization on parade.


[18:55:41] ACOSTA: Tonight, the White House says the president has received a warm letter from Kim Jong-un seeking a second face to face meeting with Mr. Trump.

CNN's Will Ripley is inside North Korea. His 19th assignment inside the country.

Will, you were the first to report that Kim wanted that second summit. That was last month here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and you know, the question is going to be where? Could Kim Jong-un possibly travel to the United States, to New York for the United Nations General Assembly? That is the open question right now.

It had been -- it had seemed very unlikely, especially after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's trip here to Pyongyang was cancelled by President Trump. But now, word of this exchange of letters, things appear to be back on track. And All Kim had to do was keep his nuclear missiles which he still has and hasn't dismantled out of his parade over the weekend.


RIPLEY (voice-over): North Korean leader Kim Jong-un scoring political points with two superpowers this weekend, restoring diplomatic momentum with the U.S. and further strengthening ties with China. Kim staged an enormous military parade through Pyongyang's Kim Il-sung Square, marking North Korea's 78th anniversary. In a stunning reversal, the North Korean leader chose not to display his intercontinental ballistic missiles. A dramatic change from the parade I saw just last year when North Korea ruled out brand new ICBMs they said could easily hit Los Angeles, New York and even Washington.

Analysts called this weekend's tone down military display a clear signal to President Donald Trump. The president responding on Twitter, thank you to chairman Kim, we will both prove everyone wrong, there is nothing like good dialogue from two people that like each other. At the same time, Kim appeared to send a clear signal he will not be beholden to the United States.

His honor guest, a special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping saying, quoted by Chinese media saying: We highly value the positive efforts made by the DPRK.

This weekend's celebrations clearly designed to send a message to the world -- a supersized socialist propaganda blitz focusing on economic and diplomatic progress, with no mention of its nuclear program. It's a dramatic about-face from less than a year ago, when North Korea and the U.S. seemed on a collision course for conflict with public statements like this from President Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

RIPLEY: In his new book "Fear", journalist Bob Woodward says, behind the scenes, the situation was even worse.

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "FEAR: TRUMP IN THE WHITE HOUSE": He drafts a tweet saying we're going to pull out dependents from South Korea, family members of the 28,000 people there.

RIPLEY: Woodward told CBS on Sunday Trump nearly set off a war with North Korea in a single tweet.

WOODWARD: In that moment, there was a sense of profound alarm in the Pentagon leadership that my god, one tweet and we have reliable information that the North Koreans are going to read this as an attack is imminent.

RIPLEY: Just because North Korea is not parading nuclear weapons doesn't mean it's getting rid of them. Denuclearization talks with the U.S. have stalled. North Korea says they won't disarm unless the U.S. takes simultaneous steps, including a peace treaty ending the Korean War.

(on camera): What kind of a message is this parade sending to the United States? And is that message changed from last year and previous years?

(voice-over): We just want peace, says Zhu Zang-jin (ph), echoing the message in state media.

The North Koreans say peace will only come on their own terms. And right now, Kim Jong-un seems to be the one calling the shots.


RIPLEY: And at least for now, it doesn't seem that he has -- according to U.S. intelligence -- any intention to denuclearize any time soon. National security adviser John Bolton told the South Koreans that he thinks North Korea could give up their nukes within a year, but that the United States is still waiting, Korea watchers would probably tell you, Jim, that the United States could be waiting for quite some time.

ACOSTA: All right. Will Ripley on his 19th visit to North Korea, try to top that one. Will Ripley, we appreciate that reporting. Thank you very much.

I'm Jim Acosta. Thanks very much for watching.

And to all those celebrating, happy new year.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.