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Week In Politics: Trump And Kim, Trump's Spying Claims

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The leaders of North and South Korea met today apparently in a bid to save the North's talks with the U.S. And the White House says a team is leaving for Singapore to prepare. Is this summit back on? And the president continues to insist his campaign was spied on by the FBI but offers no proof. For more on the weeks in politics, we're pleased to be joined by Geoff Bennett in our studios, a former editor of this program. He's now a White House correspondent for NBC. Geoff, thanks so much for being with us. Everyone is so happy to see you.

GEOFF BENNETT: It's great to see you, Scott.

SIMON: Well, great to see you, too. Now, it seems from the outside as if President Trump just got up on Thursday and decided to pull out of the summit meeting because the North did a little trash talking. Do we know what happened at the White House?

BENNETT: Well, multiple White House officials say privately, Scott, that the president feared that Kim might be the one to cancel the meeting. So his decision to abruptly scrap the summit was a way of beating him to the punch. And so this was a decision that exposed real disagreements among the president's top advisers. We're told the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, blamed the national security adviser, John Bolton, for torpedoing this progress. We're told that Bolton was one of those in the president's ear encouraging him to back out of this meeting. That said, there are White House officials now who are, I think, relieved in the sense that canceling the summit really lowers expectations for a meeting should it ever happen.

I think there's a realization among some White House officials that coming up with a denuclearization plan for the Korean peninsula is something that takes time. It's something the success of which is measured in time. But the president, at least in this instance, wanted a quick win. And so that's one of the reasons why I think it can be argued that the administration was set to enter this meeting perhaps unprepared and overly optimistic.

SIMON: And what do we make of the change in rhetoric? I mean, the North isn't talking about dunces and dotards again. And this is what President Trump said on Friday morning. We have a clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're going to see what happens. We're talking to them now. It was a very nice statement they put out. We'll see what happens.

BENNETT: We'll see what happens. As one person put it to me, in Trump world, even canceled meetings can still happen. We know, despite the setback, there's enough motivation on the parts of all of those involved to have this meeting. The president certainly wants it. We know North Korea wants it. The second Kim sits across the desk from the president, he's instantly elevated. China wants this meeting to happen. They want to have, you know, a front-row seat. So, again, there's motivation, but there are still lingering questions about the substance of the talks. How will North Korea be convinced to denuclearize? What, frankly, does that even mean to them given that we know the nuclear program is their real insurance policy?

SIMON: And in another direction - the president essentially continues to accuse the Obama administration and the FBI of spying on his presidential campaign. Has he offered any proof?

BENNETT: He hasn't offered any proof. And I think the thing that emerged from that classified briefing on the Hill with the Democrats and Republicans was that the Democrats came out of that meeting and saying that there was no evidence of a spy, and Republicans ultimately agreed. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, told NPR's Susan Davis, Kelsey Snell, that even after that briefing, he still supports the Mueller investigation. And, again, there is no evidence that the FBI planted a spy in the Trump campaign.

What we know based on the reporting is that the FBI sent an informant to meet with three Trump campaign advisers after suspicious evidence emerged of two of them, namely George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, of those two men having suspicious contacts with Russians. But for the president, for his allies, it's really a distinction without a difference. This is his way of discrediting whatever emerges from the Mueller investigation.

SIMON: And I don't want the week to go by without a stunning story that's come into focus. So your - one of your networks, MSNBC's Chris Hayes, did a segment last night - thousands of children being separated from their parents as they cross the border, then put into foster care where apparently HHS has lost track of at least 1,500 children. Is this now the policy of the U.S. government?

BENNETT: It is the policy of the Trump administration to separate children from their parents at the border. It is viewed as being a tough deterrent. And what's interesting about this is that the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, was interviewed by NPR's John Burnett not too long ago. And John Burnett asked him about this, and Kelly said he did not think it was inhumane. In fact, he said this - "the children will be taken care of, put into foster care or whatever." That's a quote. And so if the or whatever part of that quote doesn't inspire confidence, perhaps it shouldn't because the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is responsible for caring for these children - this is their own numbers - say that in 2017, of the 7,000-plus children placed in its care, the agency did not know where 1,475 of them were. That means that department lost track of 20 percent of the children, some of whom were 2 years old and younger.

SIMON: Geoff Bennett, thanks so much.

BENNETT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.