Oops: CNN Fretted That Trump Would ‘Soften’ Demands to North Korea

February 28th, 2019 3:08 PM

Less than an hour before Michael Cohen was set to begin his testimony on Capitol Hill, the panel on CNN Newsroom appeared extremely worried that President Trump would make a bad deal with North Korea just to distract from the Cohen testimony. Leading the charge was “objective” CNN National Security Analyst and CNN Newsroom co-host Jim Sciutto, who worked in the Obama administration as a senior adviser to the United States Ambassador to China.

Sciutto claimed that he “was told by members of the President’s own national security team that they were concerned about a softening of U.S. positions, U.S. demands coming into these talks,” mentioning a “wider concern that the President may give up too much to get a win as it were from these talks.” According to Sciutto, “he has a greater incentive for a win with the concerns about what Michael Cohen is going to testify to today.”



CNN Senior Political Commentator David Axelrod, another Obama administration alumnus, echoed Sciutto’s concerns, asking “does the President feel the need to come up with something spectacular out of this meeting? Something that he can tout as a historic agreement in order to overshadow what we’re going to hear on Capitol Hill today.”

As it turns out, Sciutto and Axelrod were wrong. President Trump did not “soften” his demands in order to get a “win” that would distract from Cohen’s testimony. President Trump walked away from the table after refusing to submit to North Korea’s demands to lift sanctions without making meaningful attempts at denuclearization.

Based on the coverage on CNN Newsroom Wednesday morning, one would think that Sciutto and friends would view this development as fantastic news. After all, they were so worried that President Trump would sign a bad deal. Instead, the media moved the goalposts; gloating about President Trump’s “failure” to secure a deal with the hermit kingdom.

A transcript of the relevant portion of Wednesday’s edition of CNN Newsroom is below. Click “expand” to read more.

CNN Newsroom With Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto


09:17 AM


WOLF BLITZER: President Trump expected to be tuning into Michael Cohen’s explosive testimony even though it’s after 9:00 p.m. already in Hanoi, Vietnam.

JAKE TAPPER: The President’s back at his hotel after meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un this morning. Let’s get right to our CNN Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto, who is following the President in Hanoi, Vietnam, Good morning, Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO: Good morning, Jake. And what an extraordinary confluence of events here. The President here in Hanoi, meeting face-to-face with what is arguably the most immediate threat to U.S. national security, that is North Korea, its nuclear program. While at home, he faces a clear and present danger, possibly to, to his presidency with Michael Cohen’s testimony. It is certain that President Trump is aware of that as he is here. He was tweeting about it. His staff took the extraordinary step of, of attempting to exclude all reporters from asking any questions of him as he had dinner with the North Korean leader, only relenting in the end to allow one in. It’s also certain that the North Korean leader is aware of the problems at home for this President. This is a leader seeking any advantage in these negotiations. And I will tell you this, Jake and Wolf, that going into this, I was told by members of the President’s own national security team that they were concerned about a softening of U.S. positions, U.S. demands coming into these talks. And a wider concern that the President may give up too much to get a win as it were from these talks. And you can argue that he has a greater incentive for a win with the concerns about what Michael Cohen’s going to testify to today. I will say though that, that his advisors maintain hope that what has been this combination of a personal relationship with the North Korean leader and tough economic sanctions will win them something in these talks. We will see today, and the President will be attempting this while watching that testimony back in the U.S.

BLITZER: Is it your sense, Jim, over there that the Cohen testimony that’s about to begin up on Capitol Hill, and we already have his 20- page opening statement. Do they sense… the people in the President’s entourage over there that this is overshadowing this important meeting with Kim Jong-un?

SCIUTTO: Well, certainly, shadowing it, right? And again, you would only attempt to ban reporters from asking questions about it if you were concerned about that, and that banning and again only relenting to allow one in for that dinner happened because reporters, as you would expect them to do, asked the President questions, shouted questions to him at that moment we’re showing there in those pictures as he stood with the North Korean leader. They were upset with those questions. So wanted to shield the President, we don’t know if it’s at the President’s request, but they attempted that. So he’s certainly thinking about it, whether it overshadows it in the end may come down to what is agreed to, if anything, in these talks. There was a lot of expectations management coming in, a lot of placing of the burden on the North Korean leader saying that progress is up to him. But again, as I said, also concerns even internally in his own White House that President Trump will go rogue as it were and agree to concessions as he did in the last summit in June in Singapore. At that summit, giving up nuclear…giving up rather military exercises with the south without consulting even his allies. Does the President do something similar here in light of the challenges he faces at home? A genuine concern among some of his own advisors.

BLITZER: Yeah, certainly is. All right, Jim Sciutto in Hanoi, we’ll stay in close touch with you. Let’s bring in CNN Senior Political Commentator, David Axelrod who’s with us. How do you think the President is handling this truly extraordinary development meeting with Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, Vietnam, at the same time we’re about to hear this explosive testimony from his once…his once very close fixer…


BLITZER: And lawyer.

AXELROD: You have to say, this is a classic Trump era split-screen story, right? The President with this audacious meeting overseas with the dictator of North Vietnam and…

TAPPER: North Korea…

AXELROD: North Korea and, and, and his fixer, right? His former fixer testifying before Congress, calling him a racist and a cheat and a con-man. And there’s no doubt that this story is, is stepping on that story. And he is…I think what Jim Sciutto raised is the thing that people should be a little concerned about. Does the President feel the need to come up with something spectacular out of this meeting; something that he can tout as a historic agreement in order to overshadow what we’re going to hear on Capitol Hill today?

TAPPER: And previous Presidents have been, especially Bill Clinton, I would say, were praised or criticized for being able to compartmentalize. This scandal is going on, but I’m going to focus on this. This President, whatever you think of him, I don’t think a compartmentalization is one of his strengths. This morning from Vietnam, he tweeted, “Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately)… He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time. Using Crooked’s lawyer!” That’s a reference to Hillary Clinton. I know that there are people in the national security community who are, like Jim Sciutto just alluded to, concerned that the President has this on his mind instead of this audacious hope, we all hope that he succeeds to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

AXELROD: You know, in some ways, we should note that those discussions with Kim Jong-un are in the long-term more important in many ways than what we were going to see on Capitol Hill today. Because if he enters into an agreement that his national security advisers don’t believe is in the interest of the country, that could have long-term implications for the national security of, of all of our people and our allies in the regions. So it is a concerning thing, his mindset is a concerning thing. But I think the lesson here, Jake, is that if you have someone called a fixer because he wasn’t just one of the President’s lawyers…


AXELROD: And we know that. If you have someone in your, in your employ called your fixer or everyone knows as your fixer, do not antagonize them, do not piss them off, do not encourage them to become your enemy because the returns can be very bitter.

TAPPER: Or don’t have, don’t a fixer, that’s the other thing…

AXELROD: Well, that would be the other thing, yeah, that’s plan B.

BLITZER: He wasn’t just the fixer, he was a lawyer, a confidante for a decade plus that they worked very closely together. When you read that opening statement that Michael Cohen is about to deliver, what’s the most startling thing that jumped out at you?

AXELROD: You know, look, I think that the notion that he knew about the, the e-mails and that he knew about the conversations that Roger Stone was having was the thing that jumped out to me. I’m also eager to hear, because it wasn’t explained here, exactly what edits the President’s lawyer has made in his testimony for which he is now going to pay a price for perjury. Did they encourage him to change any of the timelines in his testimony? But you know, the other thing that struck me was, I thought that the piece was unduly gratuitous. I’m not sure I would have used phrases like “racist” and “con-man” and “cheat.” Because it throws it into the…into the area of the personal of the political and maybe reduces the power of the substantive things that Michael Cohen has to offer.

TAPPER: That’s what I was asking Congressman Raskin about earlier today. If it, if it seems like this is based on revenge, with all the references to really sore subjects for the President, the bone spur deferments to get out of Vietnam and the…

AXELROD: That’s completely gratuitous…

TAPPER: What his net worth actually is…

AXELROD: Yes, the stuff about his academics and not wanting his transcripts to be shared. I think it’s gratuitous and it does have the, the kind of thumbprint or the fingerprints of Lanny Davis here, his, his own television lawyer, who we know has a tension for being provocative. And I don’t think if he was behind this, I don’t think he served his client well here in the tone of this statement.

TAPPER: All right, David Axelrod, thanks so much, we’re just minutes away from Michael Cohen’s highly anticipated testimony to the House Oversight Committee. Stay with CNN for the very latest, we’ll be right back.