'This Week' Transcript 3-11-18: White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah

This is a rush transcript for "This Week" on March 11, 2018.

ByABC News
March 11, 2018, 10:05 AM


ANNOUNCER: This Week with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.

JONATHAN KARL, HOST: The president's biggest bet yet.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think they want to do something. I think they want to make peace. I think it's time. And I think we've shown great strength.

KARL: Agreeing to talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The maximum pressure campaign has clearly been effective.

KARL: Will these talks convince North Korea to give up its nukes? Can North Korea's eccentric tyrant be trusted? Does President Trump have what it takes to strike a deal?

And are we headed for a trade war?

TRUMP: Steel is back and aluminum is back. It's going to be back.

KARL: President Trump is imposing new tariffs on steel and aluminum.

TRUMP: Our industries have been targeted for years and years. This is not merely an economic disaster, but it's a security disaster.

KARL: But is this move an economic disaster? The president is defying our allies, his own top advisers and Republican leaders who say this will cost jobs. Who will pay the price?

Plus, hush money for a porn star. Another West Wing resignation, Mueller's Russia investigation expands. It's a wild week, even by the standards of the Trump era. We'll tackle it all. What's fact, what's fiction, what matters This Week.

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's This Week. Here now chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl.


KARL: Good morning. I hope you had a good week. And what a week it was here in Washington, what a week for President Donald Trump. I've covered the Trump presidency since day one. And this week, like so many before, featured a big resignation, controversy, infighting and chaos.

But there was also something else: Donald Trump, a president who likes to gamble, who plays to win, well, this week he's been winning.


TRUMP: I think we're doing a good job for you. I hope so. We're working hard.

KARL: President Trump riding high imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum two days after his chief economic adviser resigned.

TRUMP: He may be a globalist, but I still like him.

KARL: Defying the world and at the same time keeping his word.

TRUMP: I'm delivering on a promise I made during the campaign.

KARL: Some of the biggest critics of the move: leaders of his own party.

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) WISCONSIN: You have a lot of unintended consequences. You'll have a lot of collateral damage.

KARL: But despite those doom's day predictions, the markets bounced back by the end of the week.

And an even bolder move: President Trump again took matters into his own hands, this time on North Korea, agreeing to meet with Kim Jong-un. He alone made the decision.

TRUMP: Who else could do it? I mean, honestly when you think. They're not going to send missile up. Think of it.

KARL: And he took it upon himself to inform the media that a major announcement was coming. It's a big risk.

SARAH RICE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UN: It risks the president's credibility, the credibility of the United States and worse still I think it increases the risk of conflict.

KARL: But if the meeting happens, it just might be the kind of historic breakthrough this president craves.

And then there's Stormy Daniels. The adult film actress who says she was paid $130,000 just before the election to stay quiet about her relationship with Donald Trump.

SANDERS: Look, the president has addressed these directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true.

KARL: For any other president, a scandal like this could be devastating. But for Trump, it seems just another chance to prove nothing is embarrassing or shocking enough to bring him down. So, as far as the West Wing is concerned, the president is right on track.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What words would you describe the president's mood right now?

SANDERS: The president's in a great mood. The president has been in a great mood because we've had not just a successful couple of days, we've had a successful year, and we're very focused on making sure we have seven more.


KARL: Of course, any gambler knows big bets could lead to great losses. The tariffs he championed could trigger a trade war that tanks the economy. If the North Korea gambit fails, we could be pushed to the brink of war. And those scandals may eventually catch up with him.

Let's bring on Raj Shah, principle deputy press secretary in the Trump White House. Raj, welcome to this week.

RAJ SHAH, DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Jonathan, thanks for having me on.

KARL: Let's get right to the big news on North Korea. First of all, can you tell us anything more about when or where this meeting is going to happen?

SHAH: Let me step back and when it comes to North Korea it's important to understand how we got here. This president took office a little over a year ago, inherited a policy that wasn't working for the previous eight years. He adopted a policy of a maximum pressure on the North Korean regime. Over the last year, we've seen a lot of success. We've seen China dramatically reduce trade with North Korea. We've seen the United Nations impose some of the toughest sanctions on the North Korean regime. It's been increasingly isolated both diplomatically and economically, with dozens of countries chipping in.

And in this context, Kim Jong-un spoke with the South Koreans and made this overture, they’re going to end or -- or rather cease missile testing, cease nuclear testing, and they’ve agreed to not object publicly to the upcoming South Korea, United States joint military exercise.

KARL: OK, but where is this meeting going to happen and when?

SHAH: Well again, it’s going to be a time and a place to be decided. We don’t have an announcement right now, but we have accepted this offer and we hope that it can be the part of an important breakthrough.

KARL: Could it be here in the United States? Would President Trump be open to actually having Kim Jong-un at the White House?

SHAH: Again, I have no announcement. It’s at a (ph) time and a place to be determined.

KARL: But he wouldn’t rule that out?

SHAH: No, nothing’s being ruled out (inaudible).

KARL: Including going to Pyongyang, would -- would the president be open to going to North Korea, going to his turf on this (ph)?

SHAH: Well, I don’t think that that’s, you know, highly likely, but again, I’m not going to rule anything out.

KARL: And do we have any indications that Kim Jong-un is now open to denuclearization? This is something that he has -- this has been a point of pride, obviously, for North Korea.

Do we have any indication that he’s actually changed his view on this?

SHAH: He’s stated his commitment to denuclearization to South Korea’s delegation (inaudible).

KARL: Do you believe him? Do you think he can be trusted on this?

SHAH: Well I -- I think -- we think that Kim Jong-un is the only partner in North Korea that has any authority, that can make any decisions. So he’s the only voice, he is committed to -- or stated a commitment to denuclearization to South Korea, they’ve relayed that to us, and so we’re open to this invitation.

KARL: And -- and help me understand, when this announcement was made, the White House first just said the president has accepted the offer and then on Friday, Sarah Sanders press secretary said that there are concrete actions North Korea’s agreed to take before.

Are there preconditions or is this definitely happening, what are --

SHAH: No they -- they have to meet the promises that they relayed to the South Koreans, which is, again, ceasing missile testing, ceasing nuclear testing.

KARL: Okay, that -- that’s pausing (ph) something, but are there concrete actions that they’ve agreed to take?

SHAH: Again, this -- this meeting, this -- this potential meeting has been agreed to, there are no additional conditions being stipulated, but, again they -- they cannot engage in missile testing, they cannot engage in nuclear testing and they can’t publicly object to the U.S. South Korea planned military exercises.

KARL: Is there any chance this -- this blows up, doesn’t happen?

SHAH: There -- there’s the possibility. If it does, it’s the North Korean’s fault, they have not lived up to the promises that they made.

KARL: But the only thing that could stop this is if they resume their testing or they start --

SHAH: I’m telling you, if they object to the obligations that they made, the promises that they made to the South Koreas, then obviously we would -- we would potentially not (ph).

KARL: OK, so -- so help me understand, the president warns Rex Tillerson, his own Secretary of State via twitter in October that quote waste -- he was wasting his time trying to negotiate with little rocket man, he even said why would it work now.

So let me just ask you that question, why would it work now, what changed?

SHAH: Look, the president has not adopted some of the failed policies we’ve seen over the last several decades, which is negotiation and concessions out of the gate from the United States.

Our policy is pressure, is pressure from our partners and allies around the world, pressure to the United Nations, pressure through China, these have had an impact. It’s impacted Kim Jong-un’s behavior, it’s impacted his conduct.

So we’re -- we’re hoping that this pressure (inaudible) which is not going to relent in the coming months, is -- is changing North Korea’s behavior.

KARL: But the president told his own secretary of state just a few months ago that it was a waste of time talking to quote little rocket man.

SHAH: Again, Kim Jong-un is the one who has made this offer, made this invitation, we have accepted. We hope that there can be a breakthrough. Eventually a peaceful resolution is going to involve some level of negotiation.

We hope that this is the path toward that.

KARL: So the president in his state of the union address was very -- spoke very passionately about human rights violations, (inaudible), he had the dissident with his crutches.

There are now three Americans that are imprisoned in North Korea. Is he going to insist those Americans are released?

SHAH: Again, I’m not going to place any conditions on any ongoing or any upcoming talks but it (inaudible).

KARL: Is he going to bring up the issue of human rights, is that going to be part of this or is it just nukes or --

SHAH: It is an -- it is an important issue, but again our policy is one (ph) of maximum pressure to ensure denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

KARL: OK, let’s turn to tariffs, this was a move obviously that was condemned by most economists, by most republicans, by most of our allies, Jeff Flake, senator from -- republican senator from Arizona said these so called flexible tariffs are a marriage or two lethal position (ph) poisons to economic growth, protectionism, and uncertainty. Trade wars are not won, they are only lost.

Isn’t Senator Flake actually right about that?

SHAH: No he is not. Look, this president ran on trade policies that promote the interest of American companies, from (ph) the interest of American workers, and he’s doing just that.

He ran in a crowded republican field, remember, with 16 other candidates and then defeated Hillary Clinton with a platform that nobody else embraced on the issue of trade. The United States has some of the lowest tariff barriers in the world and, you know, we want our exports to have access to foreign markets just as foreign products have access to the United States.

And on the issue of steel and aluminum, those specific industries are critical to U.S. national security. We’ve seen the amount of steel factories, aluminum smelters decrease dramatically not just since the ‘70s and ‘80s but in the last five years. So to have these industries able to support our defense needs and critical and core infrastructure needs are important not just to our economy but to national security.

KARL: Well, you said national security but most of his national -- own national security team actually opposed these tariffs. And if you look at the estimates of what the economic impact is going to be -- we had one study by the Trade Partnership that says that it will save an estimated 33,000 jobs in steel and aluminum but it will cost 180,000 jobs in the first year alone lost in other industries.

SHAH: All right, well look, this action is very critical to national security and as you said at the out -- at the outset here, this is the president keeping a promise. His agenda --

KARL: Did the president’s national security advisor favor this? H.R. McMaster?

SHAH: I’m not going to get into internal deliberations. What I will say is that the president was offered the pros and cons of this action, he took it and it’s consistent what (ph) he’s been saying not just since the campaign, but actually going back decades. He’s been talking about how foreign countries have ripped off American businesses and American workers.

And access to foreign markets is exactly what he wants and what he’s going to be getting.

KARL: All right, it’s been a month since the Parkland shooting and the White House -- we understand, you guys are going to be announcing something today on the President’s approach to school safety and guns. What can you tell us?

SHAH: Well, the president and the White House is going to be laying out more specifics. There’s going to be a series of proposals.

KARL: What? (ph)

SHAH: Some will be legislative -- let me get into it -- some will be legislative, some will be administrative and some will be recommendations for states as well as a task force to study this issue in more depth and make more additional policy recommendations. So it’s going to be consistent with what the president has talked about, which is --

KARL: OK, well let’s get into the specifics. Because I was in the room when he was negotiating with congressional leaders. He made it very clear that he favors raising the age to buy assault weapons to 21. He also made it very clear that he favors universal background checks on all gun purchases. Are those two provisions part of this plan?

SHAH: Well, improving the background check system is going to be a big component of --

KARL: He didn’t say improving, he said making them universal.

SHAH: I understand, but I’m saying improving background checks from the FixNICS legislation that Senator Cornyn and -- and Senator Murphy have sponsored as well as other measures. Again, to make sure that the -- the flow of information that goes in the background system from local and state courts is more updated, real time information is made available at -- at --

KARL: And universal?

SHAH: Again, improving the check system that we have --

KARL: OK, that’s different than what he said. Now what about raising the age? Because he -- he -- he made it very clear on that.

SHAH: So -- so the -- yes, the president has been clear that he does support raising the age of -- to 21 --

KARL: As federal policy?

SHAH: -- for certain firearms. Again, there’s going to be recommendations to states, a task force. I don’t want to get ahead of what’s going to be announced but I will say that will be a component of it, raising the age, as well as mental health. And as I mentioned, improving background checks.

KARL: The Wall Street Journal’s reporting $50 million to go to help states -- to help schools improve security. Is that number right?

SHAH: Well, there’s going to be a provision about hardening schools, what the president is talking about --

KARL: $50 million?

SHAH: Again, I don’t want to get ahead of the specifics, but I will say that there’s going to be a component --


SHAH: -- around getting volunteered -- individuals who are trained professionals into schools who can help --

KARL: All right, well let’s get to another topic where you can give me specifics, the Russia investigation. The president has told me twice now, once last year and once this year, that he will meet and talk to the special counsel, answer questions under oath. I assume the president plans to keep his word on that?

SHAH: Well, look, he’s also said that that will be in consultation with his attorneys. They have been in touch with the special counsel and they are -- they’re going to be communicating back and forth --

KARL: But he said 100 percent to me, 100 percent yes. Is that -- is there any --

SHAH: I’m sure he intends to. But -- but what I’m saying is that his attorneys are communicating with the special counsel on the specifics regarding that.

KARL: And it was reported this week that President Trump asked White House Counsel Don McGahn to deny that the president had asked him to fire Special Counsel Mueller. And then -- so I’ve got two questions on it, (ph) two specific ones. Did the president ask McGahn to fire Mueller and did he subsequently ask him to deny that he had done that?

SHAH: Well again, matters pertaining to the special counsel, we are communicating, cooperating with the special counsel on. I can’t go any further than that. I will say the president has been very clear and consistent. There was no collusion in this matter, no obstruction in this matter, there’s not going to be any finding of wrongdoing. But the White House is cooperating with the special counsel’s office --

KARL: But I’m not asking about the special counsel, I’m asking you of what the -- of the president’s actions. Did the president ask his White House counsel to fire Mueller?

SHAH: Again, this is a matter that has been asked about with the special counsel.

KARL: So, you can't tell me if that's not true?

SHAH: What I'm saying is that matters pertaining to the special counsel are being dealt with with the special counsel and we're not litigating them in the press.

KARL: All right, I want to play something for you that Attorney General Jeff Sessions said when asked if he made a mistake by recusing himself from the Russia investigation.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE; Do you think it was a mistake to recuse yourself from the Russian investigation?

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: No, I don't. There is a specific regulation that says if you participate in a campaign it is -- it explicitly says you can't investigate the campaign you're a part of. Pretty reasonable.


KARL: Pretty reasonable. And he's right, isn't he? Or does the president think he's wrong?

SHAH: Well, the president has been pretty clear about what he thinks of Attorney General Sessions's decision.

Again, let's step back for a second. This investigation was about collusion with the Russian government between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. There's been zero evidence after a year of investigation that we've seen of actual collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. The president, who would be aware of any types of efforts, has been pretty clear, understands and knows that there is no collusion.

As so as he has said, this investigation is everything from a hoax to a witch hunt. It's not going to find any evidence of collusion.

KARL: OK, so are there any circumstances, then, back to a variation of the earlier question that the president would fire Robert Mueller? For instance, if Mueller were to began to look into the Stormy Daniels pay off, would that be a red line? Would the president fire him?

SHAH: Well, I'm not here to declare any red lines. There's no intention whatsoever to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel, right now. We've been fully cooperative. We respect their process. We're hoping it will come to a conclusion in the near future.

KARL: OK, when I asked you about Stormy Daniels -- speaking of Stormy Daniels -- this is what you said to me in the White House briefing room.


KARL: Is the president aware that his lawyer paid that kind of money to a porn star to buy her silence? Does he approve of that?

SHAH: I haven't asked him about it. But that matter has been asked and answered.

KARL: No, not since he acknowledged this last week. This was s the first time we've had a chance to ask about it. So, can you go back. Can we find out if the president approves of the fact...

SHAH: I haven't asked him about that.

KARL: Will you ask him about that?

SHAH: I haven't asked him about it yet.

KARL: But will you ask him about it, Raj?

SHAH: I'll get back to you.


KARL: OK, you got a chance to come back to me. Did the president approve the payment that his personal lawyer made to Stormy Daniels?

SHAH: Again, not that I'm aware of. But Michael Cohen, the attorney in question, has addressed this. The White House has addressed -- Sarah addressed it earlier this week. And I have nothing further to add.

KARL: Did the president reimburse Michael Cohen, his attorney, for making that payment?

SHAH: Not to my knowledge. Again, Michael Cohen has addressed this matter extensively. And the underlying...

KARL: Have you asked the president that question?

SHAH: I haven't asked the president about that question.

KARL: And does the president believe that Stormy Daniels has a right to speak on this issue, or does he -- is he demanding that she remain silent?

SHAH: Again, this is a private legal matter for which the president's attorney has spoken about. And actually there's some orders in court regarding that matter. And again, I refer you to Michael Cohen about the specifics regarding that. I have nothing further to add.

KARL: OK. We're almost out of time. I want to do a quick lightening round. There are a lot of questions that come up in the briefing room where we're told there will be answers to come like this.


SANDERS: In terms of specifics beyond that I would have to check and get back to you.

SHAH: But I could get back to you on the specifics.

SANDERS: So, I'd have to verify and get back to you.

SHAH: But I'd get back to you on that.

SANDERS: I will have to get back to you on that one.


KARL: OK, let's do a couple of quick ones.

SHAH: Sure.

KARL: One of the questions that came up did President Trump talk to his friend Carl Icahn before imposing those tariffs on steel and aluminum. As you know, Mr. Icahn sold $31 million worth of aluminum stocks just before the announcement. That question was asked on March 5. Do you have an answer for me today?

SHAH: Not that I'm aware of. I don't know of any call. But I do think that Mr. Icahn and any investor could have looked at what the president has been saying for not just months but years about this issue to understand where he was at.

KARL: OK. And then on February 27 there were a few. One, Sarah was asked has the president had a meeting with his National Security Council to discuss options to deal with Russia's cyber attacks? Has that meeting happened?

SHAH: There was a principals committee meeting between senior officials both in law enforcement, national security agencies, to discuss this issue specifically.


And there's another one. Does the president believe that someone who is on the no fly list should also be -- because of suspected terrorist activity -- should not be able to buy a gun? This was a position that he actually expressed during the campaign. He was asked about again. Sarah was asked again. Does he still hold that view?

No fly, no buy?

SHAH: If he supports that specific provision, I will say that individuals who are placed on that list are not given due process rights to -- to be able to get there.

All right, and one last one, Steve Bannon, he was asked -- Sarah was asked when was the last time the president spoke to Steve Bannon.

SHAH: Right, well I’m not aware of any phone calls that they’ve had, you know, recently, I think in the last several months.

KARL: Raj Shah, your debut on THIS WEEK, thank you for joining us.

SHAH: Thanks a lot for having me, appreciate it.

KARL: We’ll be back in a moment.

At his rally in Pennsylvania last night, President Trump claimed a big victory on North Korea, saying he’s already done what previous presidents could not do.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They announced that North Korea, Kim Jong-un would like to meet with President Trump.


No this isn’t -- this doesn’t happen, you know, they’re saying oh well Obama could have done that. Trust me, he couldn’t have done that.


He wouldn’t have done that. He would not have done it, and by the way, neither would Bush and neither would Clinton and they had their shot and all they did was nothing.


KARL: So let’s bring in Ben Rhodes, who was President Obama’s deputy national security advisor. Ben, big news obviously, thank you for joining us. Susan Rice was quite candid about the fact that North Korea policy’s been a failure, it was a failure under -- under President Obama, obviously we saw how North Korea has progressed.

Was President Trump right to try to change the calculus by agreeing to this meeting?

BEN RHODES, POLITICAL ADVISOR: Well look, I think we should all root for the success of diplomacy with North Korea. I think it is right to pursue the diplomatic track given that the cost of the work could (ph) be hundreds of thousands killed in minutes.

I think the questions that we have are about whether he’s equipped to succeed in that diplomacy and thus far, he’s declaring victory, nothing has really happened yet. I think we have to see how they approach this.

KARL: OK, so you’ve been studying this issue for a lot of years, you were intimately involved with it in the -- in the Obama White House. If President Trump were to call you and ask you -- now I don’t think this is going to happen, but just if he were to call you, maybe he’s watching right now, what would your advice be going into this meeting with Kim Jong-un?

RHODES: Well the concern I have is, look, this is not a real estate deal or -- or a reality show, when you’re in a negotiation with something as complex as the (ph) North Korean nuclear program and a situation that is volatile as the Korean peninsula, you need diplomats.

So advice one is don’t hollow out the State Department, they have no ambassador to Seoul. The person who was in charge of North Korea negotiations has left the State Department.

So one, get the professionals in the room to put together a strategy. Second, you need to value science, another thing that this administration has not valued. When we did the Iran negotiations, we had a nuclear physicist Ernie Moniz in the negotiation.

If you’re dealing with the complexity of how to put constraints on the nuclear program, you need those experts. So there needs to be a team of diplomats, of scientists, of sanctions experts whoa re all supporting this negotiation.

It cannot just be a mono a mono show with Kim Jong-un, that’s not going to yield results.

KARL: Well it sounds like he’s not going to have all that in place if this is going to happen by May.

RHODES: Well I don’t -- better to get it right, so right now --

KARL: Would you say delay this until he’s got a -- a team together to really get (ph) this on?

RHODES: Get a team together, get a strategy in place and know what you’re trying to accomplish. I mean, denuclearization is the maximalist objective and the notion that North Korea is going to agree to give up all of their nuclear weapons, all their missile capabilities in one meeting, I don’t think anybody who looks at this believes that that’s the case.

So better to take the time to get this right, again, I welcome diplomacy, but diplomacy has to be done right because if it’s not, if you put all your chips on one meeting and it fails, the conflict -- the risk of conflict actually goes up.

KARL: Was there ever an offer that came in from North Korea that (ph) are from Kim Jong-un or from his father who was there during the first Obama term to meet with President Obama?

RHODES: No, there -- there were offers -- the Chinese in particular tried to reinitiate diplomatic processes. I mean, contrary to how our policy is characterized, we pursued a pressure track on North Korea for eight years. There have been non-U.N. security council resolutions against North Korea, seven of those predated the Trump administration.

We did tighten sanctions. We had a situation where you know they had tested a nuclear device in 2006 before we came into office, and we just tightened the pressure for all eight years.

There never was a time when the diplomatic path emerged. I think a couple of things are different, John, one is you have a different leadership in South Korea, you have a leftist center president in South Korea, whereas we had conservative presidents.

It’s the South Korean president here who has really taken the initiative (inaudible).

KARL: (Inaudible) this.

RHODES: Yes, and the question is, again, what are Kim Jong-un’s intentions, because what we saw in the first year of the Trump administration was a rapid acceleration of nuclear missile tests.

I think they wanted to consolidate their nuclear capability and their missile capability. They have to feel like their coming into this from some position of strength.

KARL: So is that why you think Kim Jong-un has extended this offer?

RHODES: Yes, I -- I -- I mean I think he believes he wants to have the legitimacy that is conferred upon him by meeting with the president of the United States. And that is a very powerful thing.

KARL: And if he offers disarmament, if he -- if he agrees to it, do you think -- I mean, can it be trusted? He made this offer --

RHODES: Absolute --

KARL: -- he made this offer to two different presidents.

RHODES: Absolutely not. But it was Republicans who said trust but verify. And the fact of the matter is an empty commitment to denuclearization -- look, the United States is committed to disarmament under the NPT. Whether that’s just a hollow expression of words, that’s not success. Success is can we verify, are there inspections, is there a monitoring mechanism to ensure that they are getting rid of their nuclear weapons capabilities and they’re getting rid of their missile capabilities.

This is a very complicated piece of business. And just words on a paper about we’re offered (ph) denuclearization, that’s not what an agreement looks like. If you look at the Iran agreement, it mandates very strict international inspections over the life of that agreement and some that are permanent to ensure that Iran cannot achieve a nuclear weapons capability.

And we need to see the same type of approach to North Korea if we can be assured that we’re not just taking Kim Jong-un’s word for it.

KARL: So you spent probably more time with President Trump than maybe anybody -- I mean President Obama -- during his eight years in the White House. Have you talked to him since this? Has he reached out to you?

RHODES: Yes. Yes.

KARL: So what’s his take on this move?

RHODES: Well, look, all I’ll say is contrary to, frankly, how we were (ph) treated in office, we want a diplomatic track with North Korea to succeed. That’s in everybody’s interest here. So I think the nation should be rooting for diplomacy to work with North Korea and I think that’s certainly President Obama’s view.

Again, I think we have a lot of concerns with how they’ve handled the State Department, how they’ve handled science, how they’ve been erratic on this issue with North Korea, how their Secretary of State seemed to be cut out of the process, how, frankly, Japan, one of our closest allies in the world, seem to be surprised by it.

These are my views that I’m expressing, Jon -- that -- that I haven’t seen them -- you know, devaluing diplomacy, devaluing the (ph) sound decision-making process, devaluing science, these are all the -- the mechanisms you’re going to need to make diplomacy with North Korea to succeed. And while I want that to happen, I have not seen any evidence that they’re equipped for this negotiation.

KARL: But President Obama is rooting for President Trump to succeed in this effort?

RHODES: Yes. And I think all Americans should be. But again, we have to realize that there’s nothing more complex than nuclear negotiations. There’s no place in the world more volatile than the Korean Peninsula. You cannot just approach this like a reality show. This has to be something where you bring in the experts, you invest in the same type of capabilities in our government that we’ve seen this administration turn their back on, science and diplomacy.

KARL: All right. Ben Rhodes, thank you for joining us.

RHODES: Thanks, Jon.

KARL: Coming up, the firestorm over Stormy Daniels, the Mueller probe, the Cohn resignation. We’ll tackle the political fallout of this week’s White House chaos with one of President Trump’s closest advisors, Governor Chris Christie in our powerhouse round table, next.


KARL: Let's bring in our Powerhouse round table, former New Jersey Governor and ABC News contributor Chris Christie; Democratic Strategist Donna Brazile, the former interim chair of the DNC; Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for Axios; and ABC News senior congressional correspondent Mary Bruce. Thank you all for joining us.

So, Governor Christie, I seem to recall that Republicans screamed bloody murder when Obama shook hands, shook hands, with Raul Castro. If President Obama had agreed to meet one on one with Kim Jong-un without concessions, Republican heads would have been exploding all over.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY: Remember, Republican heads also exploded when I shook hands with Barack Obama. So, there's a lot of that reaction to.


CHRISTIE: But, listen, I think that the president is doing what I think he's being forced to do given the failure of policy over the last number of years. I think it's smart to now have the sit down.

I don't think we really have a choice. We've allowed three, really, administrations -- the Clinton administration, Bush administration, and the Obama administration, to pursue a policy where they didn't engage with North Korea, assuring that's what they would not allow them -- we heard all those presidents say they would not allow a nuclear North Korea.

KARL: Would you have jumped on this offer and accepted it within a few minutes, or would you have...

CHRSTIE: Well, listen, this is the president's style. I mean, I love when people are surprised. Oh, we're shocked that the president just decided to jump on something. This is the guy I've known for 16 years. This is the guy who started running for president in 2015. And he's acted exactly the same way. So, he's being consistent with his personality, Jon. And people can be disturbed by it or unnerved by it if they want, but this is who Donald Trump is. And this is the way the presidency is going to be run.

BRAZILE: But governor, once again, President Trump is betting on himself. He's not prepared, Jonathan. That's the problem. There's no one at the State Department to brief him. We have no ambassador to South Korea. The National Security Adviser, who focuses on this issue, has been on paternity leave. So, once again, the president is betting on himself.

Will he be prepared? Will the president understand what's at stake? You know, these are technical issues -- the sanctions, the nuclear nonproliferation, will he be prepared? We don't know.

KARL: But Donna, you have to admit, that the previous White House and the one before that, had some of the most well prepared brilliant foreign policy minds and it was failure.

BRAZILE: Look, we've had three generations of Kims. We're now on Kim Jong-un.

KARL: Yes, with Kim III.

BRAZIL: There's a lot of Kims here.

We've had three generations of Kims who have to tried to sit down with the American president to get legitimacy. Again, I go back to this notion, the president is betting on himself. Will he be prepared? That's it.

CHRISTIE: The legitimacy, by the way, has been earned already, Jon, unfortunately by the factthat he's now a nuclear power. And so we can't have a debate about legitimacy.

KARL: and he's got those missile.

But, Mary, I've been stunned. Any reaction on Capitol Hill? I keep waiting for something.

MARY BRUCE, ABC NEWS: I think most Republicans, at least, are still in a state of shock. They have yet to respond. I mean, look at who has and who has not commented. We still have not heard a peep from House Speaker Paul Ryan, from Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. The strongest Republican response so far has come from Lindsey Graham who issued a pretty stern warning to Kim saying, you know, while he supports the president engaging in these discussions, he is warning Kim don't play Donald Trump, which also seems to imply that the president can be played here.

But his message pretty blunt, look, if you play the president, we'll end you.

And then on the other side, you have some Democrats who are supporting this decision, but obviously urging the president to proceed with caution.

KARL: I mean, the haphazard way this came down, Jonathan. I mean tell us what was going on.

JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS: He was in the room. The South Koreas were there and they told him the news. And he said, great, let's do it. And everyone is sitting there. And they're looking, and they're like -- and then he sends them out to do the announcement, which is classic Trump, because he sort of gives himself the buffer, you know, if that whole thing -- he could have actually sat there, watched it on TV, as he did. And if the whole thing bombed, he still hadn't issued a statement, remember. So, he was still preserving himself.

KARL: And initially they said it was going to happen in the briefing room.

SWAN: He sends out the South Korean as his press secretary.

I mean, it's just like, you've never seen anything like it.

KARL: So, the president told me the South Koreans were going to make a big announcement, you should be there. And my first reaction was do I have to go to Seoul? I mean, where is this announcement. But they were preparing to do it in the briefing room at the podium, a foreign leader at the podium. And then a hasty move outside.

SWAN: But this is what his staff has come to accept and recognize.

The other thing that happened this week, the tariffs announcement. You know, this was an hour by hour proposition, I promise you, I covered the thing. Microscopic...

KARL: The tariffs, it was on and off. It was on and off. There are exceptions. There are no exceptions.

SWAN: 10:00 p.m. on Wednesday night his senior staff were convinced, because the president of the United States had told them the thing wasn't happening on Thursday, he wakes up in the morning. He calls General Kelly I want it happening today, which he wanted it 24 hours previously.

I give up. I mean, it's like covering jello. You put your hands in and it falls through.

CHRISTIE: Let me tell you a bit about the president's style, knowing him.

KARL: Because this was a little whackier than form.

CHRISTIE: No. No, no, no. Listen, it's pretty consistent with who he is.

KARL: I agree.

CHRISTIE: There comes a moment when he's made -- hold on -- no, no, wait Jon -- there comes a moment when he's made up his mind and staff wants to continue to make arguments. And he doesn't want to hear it. And -- but he doesn't like that confrontation with staff, so he just says, OK, remember how he announced the FBI director. There was a lot of argument inside about who the new FBI director should be. And all of a sudden one morning he tweets out, not from the White House press office, not an announcement from behind the podium, not with a prepared press release, but a tweet saying I name Christopher Wray the new director of the FBI.

When the president finally decides he's made up his mind -- and on the tariffs no one should be surprised. I mean, go back to his Oprah Winfrey interview in the late 1980s.

KARL: He's been talking about that.

CHRISTIE: So, this is one of those things where a lot of people talk about jello. And you're saying before that the president moves. Not on this he hasn't. For 30 years he's been saying he's in favor of tariffs. So, I don't understand why anybody is so surprised. It is who he is. And this decision making process we should no longer call unprecedented. It isn't.

BRAZILE: But it's because -- the way in which he governs it's almost like he's governing on the fly. I mean, at first he said he was going to impose this big tariff on these countries, and then later we learned that he excluded Mexico and Canada.

KARL: And maybe Korea, right.

SWAN: The governor is right, of course, he said this for 30 years. What I'm talking about is the minute by minute execution of this.

BRUCE: But the president acting as his own communication director? His own chief diplomat. His own chief of staff, it works for the president, it clearly has. It does not necessarily work for Capitol Hill. It's not just, you know, all of us who are scrambling trying to figure out and read these tea leaves. I mean, Capitol Hill was completely caught off guard by this tariff announcement.

I mean, was up talking to Republicans within minutes of when they said the president was going to sign this. And they were saying, oh, we don't know if he's going to do this. We're still waiting.

KARL: They were actually saying they weren't going to do it.

BRUCE: Paul Ryan said he was still trying to persuade the president not to do this and then...

BRAZILE: Republicans sent a letter to the president warning him not to do this, because of the unintended consequences.

Look, we all support U.S. workers, U.S. steel workers. We support the U.S. steel industry. But the way in which the president went about this, again, leave you thinking, well, what is the longer strategy?

You know, back in 1989, our trade deficit with China was over $6 billion a year. Now it's $7 billion a week. I mean, the president needs to focus on fair trade policies but he way in which he came about this, I think --

CHRISTIE: But the surprise (ph) on Capitol Hill shouldn’t be surprise anymore. This is a guy who ran a family business without a board of directors. OK? So he never had to consult anybody before on the decisions he made. Right? And so -- and now he’s 71 year old president who’s been making decisions like this and been successful -- you know, all throughout his life.

I don’t see him changing his decision-making process. And I think what’s going to have to happen for the time that he’s president is Capitol Hill is going to have it figure out how they deal with this decision-making process. Because I know Donald Trump. He’s not changing --


BRUCE: And right now, they’re dealing with it by coming out very publically against his decision.


KARL: So Donna, can I ask you about Stormy Daniels?

BRAZILE: Why me? This is the prosecutor. (ph)

KARL: Well what -- what do you make of this story? I mean, this is a $130,000, looks like, hush payment made days before the election. Is this -- mean is this a legitimate concern? Story? (Inaudible)?

BRAZILE: It should be because, again, $130,000 of -- paid to someone to quote-unquote shut up from his personal lawyer, he didn’t report it. Was it a campaign finance issue? Look, there’s so many -- I have to tell you. Stormy Daniels don’t have to say anything. She -- she speaks loudly without saying anything. But we are living in a different era with Donald Trump. So I don’t know what else to say about it. I turn this -- the balance of my time to the prosecutor.

KARL: Yes, so I mean is there a legal issue here? I mean, is this a campaign contribution, is this a --


CHRISTIE: You’ve got to get to the bottom of the facts. Right? You got to get to the bottom of the facts. Was Michael Cohen reimbursed for this? If he was reimbursed for it, from whom? Did he pay for it himself? If he paid for himself, what are the campaign implications for it? I think there’s all kinds of issues that are going to be looked at. I’m confident --

KARL: It’s actually (ph) a bigger issue if he wasn’t reimbursed, right?


KARL: Because that means it was a campaign contribution --

CHRISTIE: Depends on who -- if he was reimbursed, then (ph) who reimbursed him, Jon?

KARL: Right. Or did the campaign reimburse him?

CHRISTIE: Or -- you know, did the president reimburse him --

KARL: Personally, yes.

CHRISTIE: -- did someone else reimburse him? So there’s a whole bunch of different issues -- wearing the prosecutor’s hat -- that this could potentially have. But in the end, I think Donna’s right. We’re living in an entire different world now, politically. Where if something like this had happened 10 years ago, 12 years ago to a different president, the whole way it was handled would be differently -- would be done differently. It’s not now.

So I think there are legal issues that need to be examined here and I’m sure will be examined. But, you know, we don’t know because we don’t know enough of the facts. The facts have kind of been moveable on this.

KARL: Yes.

CHRISTIE: As Michael Cohen has described them.

KARL: All right. We’ve got to take a quick break. When we come back, high stakes in Pennsylvania. A win by the Democrats in Tuesday’s special election could be a leading indicator of a blue wave coming that could cost the president dearly in November. Our in-depth look at the changing political map next.



TRUMP: You know what, do me a favor, get out on Tuesday and vote for Rick Saccone and we can leave right now.



KARL: That’s President Trump rallying last night for the republican candidate in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district. The special election is on Tuesday and it’s part of ABC’s 18 for ‘18 series.

It’s drawn national attention as an early indicator of whether democrats can retake the House in November. And that goal may have gotten a big boost last month after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court drew new boundaries for the state’s congressional districts.

To help us break it all down, let’s bring in ABC News Chief National Correspondent, Tom Llamas. So Tom, what is the deal with these new districts?

TOM LLAMAS, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, ABC: John, good morning, as you mentioned this all happened because of court challenges to Pennsylvania’s current congressional map.

Let’s look at that map now, now republicans here won 13 of the state’s 18 seats in Congress in 2016, even though the state is pretty evenly split politically. This is a battleground state and look at all that red.

Critics say it was gerrymandered to unfairly favor the GOP. And I want to focus on two corners of the state right now, around the democratic strongholds of Philadelphia and Pittsburg.

Look at some of those wild shapes right there, and if we zoom in just outside of Philadelphia, you can see the convoluted shapes of two of the republican held districts there.

Some democrats say this district right here is one of the most gerrymandered districts in all of the U.S. They point to how one district wraps around the other in order to pull republican areas together.

Now look at the new districts here, this is what they look like. The court says these districts are more compact and continuous and provide more equal representation but as it turns out, the new map could also cause these districts to flip from republican to democrat in November.

The clearest way to see that is to look back at 2016 and see what happened there, who voted for Trump and Clinton in the current districts. Remember both of these districts are held by republicans in Congress right now, but in 2016 you can see they went to Hillary Clinton by very narrow margins.

Now look at the new map for November, it carves out much more reliably democratic districts in those same areas in 2016, Clinton would have taken one area by nine points and another by a whopping 28 points.

So that’s a huge opportunity for democrats to pick up two seats in the mid terms. Now let’s just go north or Philadelphia right now, this district right here, it went to Trump by eight points in 2016, but the new map for November, look at that, it chops the district in half, creating the area that would have gone to Clinton by one point in 2016.

So that’s another pick up opportunity for democrats right there.

KARL: The lines are certainly a lot straighter there, but bring us back to the special election Tuesday outside of Pittsburg, could be a bell (ph) weather obviously for 2018. How do those new district lines play there?

LLAMAS: Right, yes, let’s go west for that to take a look at that area around Pittsburg we were talking about earlier, the 18th district down here in the corner has been reliably republican for years, but democrat Conor Lamb has a chance to steal win over the republican Rick Saccone in Tuesday’s special election.

That’s why national republicans have been pouring millions of dollars into the race to try to avoid an early 2018 embarrassment and why President Trump campaigned there last night. But look how this area changes with the new map, and it turns out this fall neither candidate running on Tuesday will actually be living in the new district formed down here.

The democrat Conor Lamb actually lives up here, and win or lose on Tuesday, he’d have a much better chance of winning November in this new district. That’ll be more of a toss up based on the new borders so that would be another potential seat pick up for democrats right there.

KARL: So the bottom line, these changes significantly improve the chances that democrats win back the house.

LLAMAS: Yes, John, you know this, this is all good news for democrats. They need to pick up 24 seats across the country to take back control of the House and we just (ph) showed you four seats in Pennsylvania alone that democrats have a chance of flipping.

So those new boundaries could have a very real impact on who controls Congress next year. But look, republicans aren’t taking this lying down either, they’re still challenging that new map in court, so check back with me before November.

KARL: Four seats could be the difference, thank you Tom. All right, let’s bring the round table back now. Donna, who is going to win on Tuesday (inaudible) 2018 (ph)?

BRAZILE: Look, it’s a tough district, we didn’t feel candidates in the last two cycles, Conor Lamb has been running terrific campaign keeping the issues local, he’s been campaigning hard, there’s a lot of energy there, it still is a republican district but I do believe that Mr. Lamb can succeed.

KARL: So Governor, I was (ph) -- a top republican in the House recently privately warned the president that the democrats are in -- within striking distance of taking back the House, and if that happens he will be impeached.

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I -- I think that the -- the tone and tenor and the democrats in -- in the House tells you that if in fact they were to take control of the house, that that would certainly be their top priority.

Now I think that would be a deaf knell (ph) for 2020 for them.

KARL: But is it going have (ph) -- what’s going to -- (inaudible).

CHRISTIE: You know, listen, I think it’s just too early to tell, John. I mean, listen, every incumbent president except for George W. Bush in ’02 loses seats in their first midterm, we know that.

The question’s going to be if this economy keeps going the way it’s going, you saw the jobs report in February which was spectacular, wages going up, if those things continue to happen, they can yap all they want about Stormy Daniels, in the end people vote on pocketbook issues.

KARL: So what are the stakes for the president?

MALE: Well, at some point, I mean if -- if Saccone loses, he will have a negative reaction because there’s a point at which you send him out to these districts and the candidates lose.

However, there is a recognition within the White House and on Capital Hill that Saccone is a terrible candidate, he hasn’t raised any money, and I’m sure that Trump -- you know, you saw last night he was very gentle in his praise for Saccone.

KARL: All right, we are out of time, Mary we’ll be talking a lot more to you about this, thanks everyone. We’ll be right back with a closing thought.


KARL: I hope you give me credit, that’s what Donald Trump told me when I ran into him in the west wing just about an hour before the remarkable news broke that he had agreed to meet with Kim Jong-un.

I hope you give me credit. I have now covered American crisis diplomacy on North Korea under three president, Presidents Bush and Obama had some of the most knowledgeable and experienced foreign policy hands America has ever produced, and both failed utterly on North Korea.

Now Donald Trump has turned the usual diplomatic practice upside down, he has violated the big rules of American diplomacy, you don’t meet with a mortal enemy like Kim Jong-un, and if you do, you get something in return first.

You don’t send the president of the United States, you send lower level embraceries (ph) first, you don’t take big risks, you don’t taunt a man with nuclear weapons, you don’t call him little rocket man.

Maybe this president is being naive, maybe he’s being reckless, as one of those highly experienced experts in the previous administration put it, we could end up in a much worse place than we are today.

But the truth is we are already in an awful place today, following two decades of failed North Korean diplomacy, we are at a point where the choices seem to be acceptance that North Korea has the wherewithal to nuke an American city or war, or a big risky unpredictable diplomatic gambit.

Does Donald Trump deserve credit? It’s way too early to tell but maybe, just maybe, the experts are wrong again. That’s all from us today, thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us.

Check out WORLD NEWS TONIGHT, and have a great day.