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AT THIS HOUR

Trump Takes Credit For Sanford's Loss In South Carolina GOP Primary; Defender Of Confederate Symbols Wins GOP Nomination in VA Senate Race; Pompeo: "Confident" North Korea Vows There Will Be "In Depth Verification"; Corker: "Cult-Like Situation" Between GOP Leaders, Trump. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired June 13, 2018 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- cat food and there's your moment of Zen. Thank you all for being with us today. I'm Poppy Harlow. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Break from the president and do so at your own political risk. Is that the most important message before the midterm election?

Congressman Mark Sanford is former governor of South Carolina may have learned that the hard way. The incumbent losing in the Republican primary last night. His challenger, Katie Arrington, won following the last-minute endorsement from President Trump, a tweet just three hours before the polls closed.

This morning, the president then taking some credit, at least for Sanford's defeat with this tweet, "My political representatives didn't want me to get involved in the Mark Sanford primary thinking that Sanford would easily win. With a few hours left I felt that Katie was such a good candidate and Sanford was so bad, I had to give it a shot. Congrats to Katie Arrington."

What are the ripple effects after all of this? What's the lesson now for every Republican in Congress? Joining me now is CNN political reporter, Rebecca Berg. Rebecca, ripple effect or is more like a shockwave?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, absolutely, Kate. The clear message that Republicans are receiving today after Mark Sanford's loss is that any Republican who wants to challenge the president is risking political suicide if they do so.

Now, we have already seen that in some races with Jeff Flake challenging the president. He, of course, decided not to run for reelection because his polling looked pretty bad.

And then we saw, of course, Martha Roby running for reelection in Alabama, her race is going to a runoff in a few weeks largely because she was a critic of the president and so we have seen other test cases for this theory. But mark Sanford showing us once again just how perilous it is if you are a Republican candidate to challenge the president. He is, as you know, extremely conservative. He has a sterling voting record when it comes to conservative votes, the American conservative support saying it supports him.

All of these mainstay conservative groups supported him, Kate, but because he didn't support the president, none of that mattered and it's extremely unusual and ideologically and there's no getting to the right of Mark Sanford, but he decided not to support the president.

BOLDUAN: That seems to be the case and a very big factor in what we are looking at today. Rebecca, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

BERG: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Joining me right now, CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, and CNN political director, David Chalian. David, try this one on for size as we were reading up this morning, one of the leads for the "Associated Press."

"Over more than two decades the South Carolina voters forgave U.S. Representative Mark Sanford for his quirkiness, his infidelity, and his lies, but they could not forgive him for his criticism of President Donald Trump."

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Certainly, I would just add the word Republican before voters in that lead. But yes, inside the Republican Party, that is an unforgivable sin to take on the president in the way Mark Sanford has on multiple occasions. His opponent made a total issue of this, Kate.

This was front and center on the campaign for her and Mark Sanford was a little late in the game in taking this primary threat seriously, but what comes out of this is that this is yet another data point.

This is Donald Trump's Republican Party, and more than any issue test that voters may be applying to Republicans on immigration or other areas of concern, fiscal responsibility because here is a true red conservative and what is clear here is that the purity testing applied by Republican voters is loyalty to Donald Trump.

BOLDUAN: Dana, exactly what David is saying, Mark Sanford was not a never Trumper. Mark Sanford just spoke up when he saw a difference or didn't like the language that Donald Trump would use on certain issues, speak up on issues that he cared about.

He's a member of the Freedom Caucus and so now it's moderate members don't have a place with the Republican Party and now members of the Freedom Caucus don't have a place either? Who's left?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, yes, he's a member of the Freedom Caucus, but I think, you know, that sort of -- it suggests that he is somebody who is in line with the other members in that most of the other members of the Freedom Caucus don't criticize the president on conservative issues. Maybe they were, you know, they spoke up when they thought -- from their point of view they would sell them out on immigration and other things that weren't conservative enough.

But I think what's interesting about Mark Sanford is that he is actually -- he has been doing exactly what Bob Corker was literally screaming about on the Senate floor yesterday and will continue to do so today.

Speaking out when he sees things that he disagrees with that the president of the United States does and look what happened. What happened is it you have has hurt him potentially fatally with the Republicans and his seat in South Carolina.

[11:05:08] And the other thing is that David mentioned this, Mark Sanford is no moderate. I mean, he was I remember, I'm old enough to remember, covering Mark Sanford the first time he was in Congress before he went on to be governor, he was the gadfly.

He was the one who was tormenting his party leadership because he was so conservative mostly on fiscal issues because they weren't doing enough to lower the deficit and debt and so forth, and now the party is so realigned to be, as David said, the party of Donald Trump that it scrambled.

BOLDUAN: David, speaking up against Trump, though, this is clearly -- this clearly is one of the factors and maybe the factor that sank Mark Sanford, but it didn't sink everyone. You have Scott Taylor out of Virginia, he's spoken out when he disagrees. Barbara Comstock, she's also in Virginia, has spoken up when she disagrees. Is this the difference between South Carolina and Virginia?

CHALIAN: In part. Some different geographic differences there in makeup of the primary electorate, but Kate, Barbara Comstock did not become the Republican nominee last night for a district in Virginia with some outsized proportion of the vote. I think she got 60- something percent of the vote.

That's pretty low for an incumbent running and she's in a heavily Democratic district and is not likely to return to Congress after November's election. That's a real, targeted district.

And you know, Scott Taylor, I think, probably took his lesser competition than Sanford was facing all the more seriously this year. So, yes, not all things are equal. It's not a guarantee you will lose your job from the voters if you speak up against the president.

But I think if it's part of your identity, which I think it was for Sanford in the district and certainly his opponent made it that way, it proved really problematic.

BOLDUAN: Yes, if it's branded or reality, it's still reality when it comes to the election. Dana, sticking on Virginia, the Republican nominee for Senate has made headlines for a different reason. Corey Stewart, I mean, someone who very firmly stood with Donald Trump's position that there were good people on both sides of the issue when we talk about Charlottesville, saying there's blame to go around.

He made that case over and over again after Charlottesville and just to remind our viewers. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COREY STEWART, PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS CHAIR: The left is doing a very good job of trying to conflate neo-Nazis with conservatives. It's wrong and the Republicans are refusing to stand up against it.

BOLDUAN: Because someone died.

STEWART: They're being labeled by CNN as racist bigots --

BOLDUAN: Is it possible that it's because someone died who is counterprotesting -- who was counterprotesting --

STEWART: You're trying to conflate.

BOLDUAN: They were sympathizing --

STEWART: You are trying to use this poor woman's death to say the confederate monuments should be taken down. There's no --

BOLDUAN: I'm sorry, is that what I said at all? I'm sorry, is that what I said at all?

STEWART: That's exactly what --

BOLDUAN: No. It stopped being about statues when people showed up with swastikas.

STEWART: It stopped being about statues when the left came and started the violence and the violence occurred by both sides including the left. Where is the condemnation of antifa?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Of all the things to agree with President Trump on, this is a guy who appeared at public events with a well-known white nationalist leading up to the protest in Charlottesville. If the Republican Party is the party of Trump, is this part of the trend?

BASH: Yes, it is. Now Virginia might be a little bit different because the national Republican Party -- they didn't seem to be working as hard as they have been in other places to find a candidate that could beat the incumbent Democrat, who happened to be the guy on the Democratic ticket in 2016, Tim Kaine.

So, when it comes to kind of the internal fight, there was less of one among Republicans in Virginia. Having said that, yes, as you played, Corey Stewart is an absolute supporter of Donald Trump, unfailingly so and works for him very, very hard, and that helped Donald Trump back in the 2016 Republican primary. But now it's a different story and Virginia is also a -- a state that has been trending Democrat, and that also helps the incumbent Democrat Tim Kaine and probably makes Corey Stewart appear more of an outlier than he would be in other states that would be more competitive between a Democrat and a Republican.

BOLDUAN: David?

CHALIAN: Yes. Look, Donald Trump tweeted his support this morning for Corey Stewart, and I'm sure Corey Stewart will wear that with pride throughout this whole campaign.

[11:10:09] That's different than how we saw Ed Gillespie, who Corey Stewart just fell short to in the Republican primary for governor a year ago, Kate. Ed Gillespie chose a different path and that didn't work out so well for him in the governor's race last year.

And so, Corey Stewart will try and prove that the Donald Trump path to the presidency that you can keep your rhetoric as red meat for your base through the primary season as you can for the general election season and be successful.

That's a tall order in Virginia this year, what is likely to be a Democratic year, but that's the test that Corey Stewart is going to employ.

BOLDUAN: I for some reason don't see Corey Stewart, though --

CHALIAN: Exactly --the same rhetoric and his appeal all of the way through November.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you. Thanks, guys. Really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, the biggest enemy of the United States is not Russia. It's not North Korea. Instead, it's the media. That's according to President Donald Trump. That's not President Donald Trump from the day after inauguration. That's from President Trump this morning lashing out again at the media just after he sat down with Kim Jong-un.

Plus, speaking of critics, Senator Bob Corker slamming Republican leadership for not standing up to President Trump on the issue of trade. His new comments, you'll want to hear them. That's next.

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[11:15:38]

BOLDUAN: One day, one sit down, mission accomplished? That's what President Trump seems to suggest after his historic summit with Kim Jong-un. He landed back in the United States early this morning and tweeted this.

"Just landed a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. No longer a nuclear threat. Again, I ask, is this mission accomplished?"

So far there's no hard proof that the threat is gone unless you consider a private meeting and the vague statement and promise that came out and the handshake as all of the proof you need. That might not be enough for some of America's closest allies. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Seoul right now trying to straighten everything out.

CNN's Nic Robertson is there as well. Nic, what are they saying in Seoul? No longer a nuclear threat from North Korea, do they think so?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: We haven't heard that from the government here. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo doesn't get into those meetings with the president and the foreign minister until tomorrow, but what he has done in the last few minutes is briefed journalists.

He's pushed back very heavily on criticisms of this document that President Trump and Kim Jong-un signed didn't have the words verifiable and irreversible in it. He said, look, the word in there complete denuclearization. The word that's in there twice, he says absolutely Kim Jong-un understands that the word complete also means verifiable and irreversible.

He said it was insulting, ridiculous and ludicrous that anyone should think otherwise. He was asked about the time line that he and President Trump have in time to see this denuclearization. He said that absolutely, they want major steps in the next two years.

Those were his words. He said that he hoped -- hoped, that word again, hoped that there would be denuclearization in two and a half years. He said that as long as the negotiations with North Korea continue to be productive, that was how he framed this stopping of the joint military exercises with South Korea.

So, he said the talks are going along fine than these joint military exercises with South Korea would be put on hold. So, this is some of the first details in addition to what we heard yesterday coming from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating. Nic, thank you so much. Some important elements here.

Let's discuss. Joining me right now, former CIA deputy division chief for Korea, Bruce Klingner. He's now a Korea affairs specialist for the Heritage Foundation, and also with me, CNN Politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza.

Bruce, what do you think of what Mike Pompeo, what Nic Robertson is reporting there from Mike Pompeo that the United States wants North Korea to take major steps to nuclear disarmament in the next two years?

BRUCE KLINGNER, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW FOR NORTHEAST ASIA, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Well, certainly, we want North Korea to fulfill not only its recent pledge in the Singapore communique, but also what it's required to do under the U.N. resolutions which is to abandon its nuclear missile and chemical and warfare programs in a complete, verifiable, irreversible manner.

So, certainly, we are hoping that the recent negotiations will lead to that. On the military exercises, North Korea has long been calling for the U.S. and South Korea to abandon those. In some cases as part of a freeze for freeze proposal where they freeze their nuke and missile test in return for us stopping our exercises.

The U.S. has always correctly rejected that initiative or proposal from the North in the past because any kind of pause could lead to a degradation and ally deterrence and defense capabilities.

BOLDUAN: Well, that seems to be the route that things are going right now, though, Bruce. I mean, what do you then also make of what President Trump tweeted, that there's no longer a nuclear threat coming from north Korea. That's coming from the president just this morning.

KLINGNER: Well, certainly, there's been no change in North Korea's nuclear and conventional force threat to America and our allies. The best estimates are North Korea has 30 or more nuclear weapons and we assess that they already have nuclear-capable missiles that can hit all of South Korea and all of Japan.

They're working on or nearing completion of nuclear-tipped IRBM, Intermediate-Range missiles that can hit Guam and Secretary, well then CIA Director Pompeo, said within a handful of months North Korea would have the capability of threatening the American homeland with nuclear weapons. We've seen no stand down or certainly reduction in the nuclear force.

[11:20:11] BOLDUAN: Absolutely not at this point. Chris, then two days after sitting down with Kim Jong-un and also saying that he trusts Kim Jong-un, the president then tweeted out this, "Our country's biggest enemy is the fake news." He namechecks NBC, he namechecks CNN. I don't care how partisan of times we live in right now. That is bananas.

CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: That's a good word for it. It's also dangerous and deeply irresponsible. I mean, you know, I don't want to sound too much like a scold here, but if you like democracy, you should like a free and independent media.

Look at countries that don't have democracies and one of the hallmarks of them is they don't have free and independent media. I don't even think that candidly Donald Trump means this, Kate. I think he knows that the media is a good scapegoat for him.

The media doesn't tend to fight back. His base hates the media. Donald Trump -- I urge people, go read the transcript or watch some of his press conferences before leaving Singapore. He is overly solicitous of the media.

He tells David Sanger, who is a "New York Times" reporter also a CNN contributor, I love that piece you wrote about me way back when. He talks with another reporter about a piece he wrote about the Statin Island ferry in Donald Trump decades ago.

This is someone who does not view the media in the way that he portrays viewing the media. This is a political gambit, but that doesn't mean that the people who follow and believe in Donald Trump understand that and that is where I think is you get into the danger.

BOLDUAN: I mean, it gets back to again, it's amazing how far we've come and how not far we've come, which is taking his word seriously and literally. I mean, at some point, and I'm sure I'm wrong now, I'm officially wrong.

At some point words matter and apparently, they don't and that's where we land on this. Bruce, I see you smiling because I know you agree. Kate's words never matter. Great to see you, guys. I appreciate it. I really appreciate it. Much more to come on that.

But we also have this just in to CNN, Republican Senator Bob Corker who is not running for reelection, remember, he is standing up and been a chief critic of President Trump recently and he very much is now a chief critic of his own party over their loyalty to the president.

Let's get over to Capitol Hill, CNN's Manu Raju is joining me right now. Manu, what happened?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, Bob Corker, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman has been sharply critical about his party's leadership for refusing to confront President Trump on that issue about the president's tariffs on aluminum and steel products, on Canada, Mexico, and the European Union.

Corker has a bill that would rein in the president's move on that issue, but the Republican conference is split on this in large part because the president is sharply opposed to what Bob Corker is pushing.

Yesterday on the floor, he attacked his colleagues for not wanting to, quote, "poke the bear," referring to the president saying they didn't want to confront the president.

And today just moments ago, he went after his party again saying that the administration sort of makes things up as it goes and this party in some ways is quote, cod-like referring to the Republican leadership.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: We have a broad array of Republican senators that are more than willing to deal with the tariff issue and I thank them. As a matter of fact, we have a broad array of Democratic senators, but obviously, we have some that are like the person you just spoke to that's concerned about midterm elections and doesn't want to upset the president in any way, and it's kind of not our job.

Our job is to represent the people of our states, and you know, do things that we think are good for the country and the interim. There is a definite fear there. I think you know that.

RAJU: Your party, you speak out and you're retiring. Mark Sanford got heat last night.

CORKER: Pat Toomey is on the bill, Donny Isakson is on the bill, and who are some of the other gentlemen? Mike Lee, Sasse, so we have several people that are on the bill, but there's no question that leadership in general is wary of doing anything that might upset the president.

I mean, we're going to be here during recess generally speaking which is fine with me, but look, it's more about Trump being upset than it is anything else. So, look, it's just there. It's, you know, not a place that I wish we were, but especially on something like tariffs that.

Look, I think 95 percent of the people in our caucus, at least, you know, people that feel we should be able to weigh in on the tariff issue, but some of them are not willing to take on the president.

[11:25:14] RAJU: What do you think the ramifications are for your party if you are not willing to stand up to the president on some of these key issues?

CORKER: I think it's -- again, I want to say we have a lot of people who are willing to do the things that they feel are like for our country and we have some that are fearful of upsetting the president and it would mostly be around the --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: And he went on to say that in a lot of ways this is a cult-like this party, the cultish behavior for following a president who purportedly is of the same party, and that is in the words of Senator Bob Corker.

He didn't say everybody in his party, but in particular, he directed his concern at Republican leadership and not naming them by name, but clearly, he's talking about Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn.

People he believes that should be going after on this issue that they all agree on about trade and concerns about tariffs but something they're not willing to do at this moment. Some strong words from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman just moments ago -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, he seems straight-up angry right now. Thank you, Manu. Really appreciate it. Thanks so much, great interview.

Coming up for us, criticism of the president is nothing new, of course, but when it comes from the husband of one of his closest and most trusted advisers and that husband is defending the Russia probe? It raises more than a few eyebrows. That's next.

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