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Morning News Brief

Jun 1, 2018
Originally published on June 1, 2018 7:48 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So much talk about the talks, you'd think the U.S.-North Korea summit was already underway.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah, really. We don't normally talk so much about something that may never actually happen. OK. So Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been plugging away with these meetings with senior North Korean officials. And also - then in North Korea, you have a U.S. delegation working to revive these talks that were originally scheduled to happen on June 12. Addressing reporters yesterday, Pompeo suggested that it might actually be a while before any decision is made on if or when the summit's going to happen.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

MIKE POMPEO: There will be tough moments. There will be difficult times. I've had some difficult conversations with them as well. They've given it right back to me, too. There is - we're decades into this challenge. And so one not ought to be either surprised or frightened or deterred by moments where it looks like there are challenges and difficulties, things that can't be bridged. Our mission is to bridge them so that we can achieve this historic outcome.

MARTIN: All right, we are joined now by NPR's Elise Hu in Seoul and Ayesha Rascoe, who covers the White House, in D.C.

Hey, ladies. Good morning.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Hey, there.

MARTIN: All right, Ayesha, I want to start with you because President Trump, today, is going to get an unusual piece of mail. Well, it's actually not coming in the postal system - right?

RASCOE: No. So a top official from North Korea is going to deliver a letter from Kim Jong Un today. And President Trump has said that he's looking forward to this letter. We don't know what it will say. We know that there have been talks going on with Pompeo and a North Korean official and that the White House is saying these were substantive talks. So we'll see what comes out of this letter.

MARTIN: Although, Elise, we remember when President Trump broke up with Kim Jong Un last week, saying that the meeting was off, he ended it by saying - but, you know, call me or write me. And so maybe this letter means it's back on?

HU: Well, all signs point to an interest on both sides to keep some sort of summit on schedule. KCNA, North Korean state media, again declared its, quote, "fixed will" toward denuclearization, which is something that the U.S. side is certainly looking for. North Korea, for its part, has also been taking part in a flurry of diplomacy, not just with the United States and South Korea this week but also Russia's foreign minister visited Pyongyang and met Kim Jong Un just yesterday. And Kim Jong Un himself has now met twice with Chinese President Xi Jinping. This is a dramatic shift after Kim hadn't really met with any other heads of state from the time he took leadership of the country in 2011 to this year. So a lot of diplomacy we're seeing from North Korea.

MARTIN: Right. So Ayesha, Elise mentioned denuclearization. This is something the U.S. has demanded as a precondition for the summit, that the North has to pledge to get rid of all its nuclear weapons and nuclear materials. But the North, at this point, doesn't appear to want to budge on this at all. So is this something the administration is going to have to scale back on?

RASCOE: So far, the administration is not showing any signs that they are going to step back on that. The White House has said that this is something that has to be on the table for the meetings to go forward. It's not clear how they get on the same page about this. Pompeo, yesterday, did acknowledge that this won't be resolved overnight. And president Trump said in an interview with Reuters yesterday that the differences between the U.S. and North Korea, they likely won't be fixed in one meeting or two or even three. So it seems like the administration is saying that this will likely take time because they have to get on the same page.

MARTIN: Which is really interesting because administration officials we've talked with have said, we want something big happen; we're tired of the incremental nature of negotiations that have happened with North Korea, you know, over a generation. And this has to be something big. But now we're hearing the president and administration officials seem to be recalibrating, Elise. What would change that? I mean, what would move the North? What could the U.S. promise the North that would get them to give up the nuclear weapons?

HU: Well even the CIA, in a recent report, believes that there is not anything that would really move North Korea to completely give up its nuclear program. But North Korea has signaled a willingness for a phased or a stage-by-stage denuclearization that happens while significant dialogue goes on. So the question is whether the United States side is willing to do that because nuclear researchers believe that the process of denuclearizing in a phased way could take something like 15 years. So U.S. administrations - plural - would have to be OK with that. And so far, as Ayesha mentioned, the Trump administration has been pushing a swift denuclearization that North Korea is unlikely to agree to.

MARTIN: All right, before we let you go, Ayesha, we've got to talk about trade, another big story today. The Trump administration has imposed these tariffs on EU allies. The EU and Canada have been slapped with these tariffs on steel and aluminum. This comes after the Trump administration put similar tariffs on China. And now the U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is going to go to Beijing this weekend. What is the message that he's going to be taking with him?

RASCOE: So far, the message to China from this administration has kind of been all over the place. And there have been differences even within the administration. So I think part of this from Ross is going to be trying to show that the administration is now united and this is the direction that they want to take.

You know, the trade war with China was supposed to be on hold according to Secretary of Treasury Mnuchin. But then it was back on this week with the 25 percent tariff on Chinese goods in addition to the steel tariffs that went into effect on some of our allies. I think right now what the administration is saying is - we're not going to be taking advantage of anymore, it's a new day and that these countries are going to have to make changes or they're going to have to deal with these tariffs.

MARTIN: All right, NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe. We also heard from NPR's Elise Hu reporting from Seoul this morning.

Thanks to both of you.

RASCOE: Thank you.

HU: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE NATIONAL SONG, "THIS IS THE LAST TIME")

MARTIN: All right, President Trump has many loyal defenders, but few have been as devoted as Michael Cohen.

GREENE: That is very true. Cohen has, of course, served Trump for many years as his personal lawyer. And in that role, he has often applied legal pressure. I mean, it's actually more than pressure. He's applied legal threats to try and stop people from causing Trump any trouble. This actually happened to a former reporter for The Daily Beast who now works with us at NPR. Our own Tim Mak was writing a story in 2015 that Cohen thought would be unflattering to then-candidate Trump. And so Cohen unleashed on Tim.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL COHEN: So I'm warning you, tread very [expletive] lightly because what I'm going to do to you is going to be [expletive] disgusting. Do you understand me? Don't think you're going to hide behind your pen because it's not going to happen.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Look, I'm...

COHEN: And if you have any (inaudible) - I'm more than happy to discuss it with your attorney and with your legal counsel because [expletive], you're going to need it.

MARTIN: All right, Tim Mak joins us now for more on this story.

Hey, Tim.

MAK: Hey. Good morning.

MARTIN: All right, so how did you end up on this phone call with Michael Cohen that turned into a Michael Cohen rant?

MAK: Well, let's set the scene. This was in 2015, right at the very beginning of the Trump campaign. I was reporting on a story on accusations made in a 1993 book. And according to that book, Trump's first wife, Ivana, had said in a sworn deposition during their divorce proceedings that Trump had raped her. She later said she didn't mean this in a legal or criminal sense. And she now praises Trump, and he denies this ever happened.

MARTIN: Right.

MAK: But when I reached out to the campaign to get some sort of response on the claim which had been reported in the book, I got an angry phone call from Michael Cohen in return. And it wasn't just that he started out immediately with threats. He first said, hey, don't write the story because spousal rape is not a crime, which of course is not true.

MARTIN: Right.

MAK: Now, he's a lawyer in the state of New York. He should have known better than that.

MARTIN: Right.

MAK: And the conversation really escalated from there.

MARTIN: I think we've got tape of this. This is a point where Michael Cohen is basically goading you. Let's listen to this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COHEN: I think you should go ahead, and you should write the story that you plan on writing. I think you should do it because I think you're an idiot. All right? And I think your paper is a joke. And it's going to be my absolute pleasure to serve you with a $500 million lawsuit like I told - I did to Univision.

MARTIN: I mean, this kind of behavior from Michael Cohen fits into a pattern. Right?

MAK: Right. And it's not - you know, the incident that occurred with me in 2015 while I was working for The Daily Beast is hardly the last time he would do it. He sounds like someone who's familiar with a history of such threats. And there is a long-reported history of him doing so. You know, he threatened Megyn Kelly after that contentious Republican primary debate by retweeting someone who said, quote, "we can gut her." We reported out a lot of other threats, such as one that he made to a Harvard student who pranked Mr. Trump. And Stormy Daniels' attorney told us that when he was trying to get Stormy Daniels to sign that now-infamous NDA, he tried to use some legal threats in that process.

MARTIN: Has he responded to this revelation, this statement?

MAK: We gave him time and his lawyers time to respond, and he has not.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Tim Mak for us this morning. Thanks so much, Tim.

MAK: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "SAID (INSTRUMENTAL)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.