White House correspondent Jonathan Karl reporting from Hanoi told Powerhouse Politics podcast that the White House is furious with the split-screen drama of Trump’s Vietnam summit competing with his former lawyer testifying in front of Congress.
“The White House team is genuinely hopping mad about the Cohen situation. They are infuriated with Michael Cohen of course reflecting on the president. They are also furious, frankly, with us with the 'news media' for paying so much attention to Michael Cohen at a time when they say the president is out trying to resolve one of the most important national security crises - the challenges the world faces. And we're here talking about a somebody who is an admitted liar and felon,” Karl said.
And Karl added that Trump will be watching the Cohen testimony on the Hill possibly after the dessert course at the Metropole Hotel.
Co-podcast host and ABC Political Director Rick Klein asked if Trump was trying to downplay expectations from the summit. Karl agreed.
“It's been absolutely explicit the president has said that as long as Kim Jong Un as long as North Korea is no longer testing its nuclear weapons in its long-range missiles, he's fine. He's going to be patient. He's in no rush to see them do away with their nuclear program," Karl said. "That is a 180 from the U.S. side but he [Trump] has a point...before this process started before the first summit, it felt like the world might have been on the on the brink of a nuclear showdown between the United States and North Korea. That right now anyway is no longer the case."
Klein pointed out that the stakes were higher than last time.
“It's no longer about visuals that has to be at some point about actual deliverables...the White House knows that," Klein said. "But you can't just keep having these meetings and keep kicking the ball down, kicking the can down the road. You have to actually find a framework that says this is how we get to denuclearization. It's not just about tweets at this point, or about handshakes and photo ops. It has to be something real.”
Karl agreed and also described the “strange situation” of staying at the same hotel as the North Korean leader.
“I am actually staying at Kim Jong Un's hotel. We had no idea this was going to happen,” Karl said.
Karl described all the North Korean security in the lobby of his hotel.
“They've got these pins that have a photo of an image of Kim Jong Un and his grandfather the founder of the DPRK," Karl said. "The top five floors of the hotel of the Melia hotel are set aside for the North Korean delegation. They have taken full floors of this very large hotel, and what the hotel workers have told me - I mean they're all like amazed by what's happening is that it is like a hermit kingdom on the top of the hotel. They have brought in the North Koreans all of their own food, their own cooks. It's all self-contained but I have to tell you that there was a moment where I found myself in an elevator with what I believe was Kim Jong Un's sister. It's a strange experience.”
And to sum up his reporter observations from Hanoi, Karl described what he thought Trump wanted to accomplish.
"There's no question that the president is looking for a big moment on the world stage so that he can say 'look at these people look at look at look at my critics'," Karl said, suggesting Trump's inner monologue. " 'They're talking about this - you know sleazy lawyer Michael Cohen they're talking about Russia, Russia, Russia'."
Karl suggested Trump might be frustrated at the ongoing suggestions about potential collusion between his campaign and the Russians even as seeks a resolution with North Korea. This type of ongoing storyline didn't plague his predecessors and nor did they accomplish what Trump hopes to do with North Korea.
Ahead of a planned press conference "what the president wants is... to be able to project this image of he's here, dealing with a pressing intractable national security - world security problem - and his carping critics are talking about trivial matters. That's the image."
Headliner interviews and in-depth looks at the people and events shaping U.S. politics. Powerhouse Politics is hosted by ABC News' Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl and ABC News Political Director Rick Klein.