An interview meant to address President Donald Trump’s participation in the ongoing investigation into possible Russian interference went south quickly on Thursday, after former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani suddenly announced that North Korea would release three U.S. nationals from prison that same day.
Giuliani is currently serving as a member of Trump’s personal legal team. He is not a member of the Trump administration, has no official capacity in the State Department, and does not have the proper security clearance to discuss sensitive diplomatic issues.
“The president of the United States is getting ready to negotiate probably one of our most historic agreements… and we got Kim Jong-un impressed enough to be releasing three prisoners today,” Giuliani said during an interview on Fox & Friends Thursday morning, citing an upcoming diplomatic summit between Trump and the North Korean leader.
Giuliani claimed that the ongoing Russia investigation — which is being run by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and focuses on possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election — was detracting from the real issues at hand, such as Trump’s supposed diplomatic progress with North Korea.
“[Now] I’ve got to go and prepare [the president] for this silly deposition about a case in which he supposedly colluded with the Russians, but there’s no evidence of that,” he lamented.
Giuliani’s North Korea comments came as something of a surprise, considering the State Department has not yet made any announcements on the matter and declined to give any sort of timeline for the prisoner’s release when reached for comment. Both the National Security Council and the White House have also been silent on the issue so far, as CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins noted Thursday.
The three Americans in question — Kim Hak-song, Kim Sang Duk (Tony Kim), and Kim Dong Chul — have been detained in a North Korean prison since early 2017 and late 2015, in the latter man’s case. Two of the three men, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim, worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST); Kim Dong Chul is a pastor.
On Wednesday night, sources with knowledge of the negotiation process told CNN that a prisoner release was “imminent,” but did not say when the three men would be handed over to U.S. officials. According to the sources, North Korean officials made the decision to release the men two months ago.
Around the same time CNN published its report, Trump addressed the matter himself, tweeting, “As everybody is aware, the past Administration has long been asking for three hostages to be released from a North Korean Labor camp, but to no avail. Stay tuned!”
As everybody is aware, the past Administration has long been asking for three hostages to be released from a North Korean Labor camp, but to no avail. Stay tuned!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2018
During a separate interview with Fox & Friends on Thursday morning, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about the possibility the three men might be released within the week. The spokeswoman replied that such a move “would be an incredible step and certainly a sign of goodwill moving into the summit,” but declined to comment further.
“We again are cautiously optimistic about where this will go,” Sanders said. “As the president has said, we’ll see what happens.”
The potential prisoner release follows a historic summit between North Korean leader Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in last week, during which the two leaders discussed an array of issues, including denuclearization and bringing the decades-long Korean conflict to an end. The summit concluded with Kim and Moon signing a new peace agreement, the Panmunjeom Declaration, which promises to reunite families, address humanitarian issues, and end all “hostile acts” between the two countries.
Experts remain skeptical that the agreement will work, citing similar agreements in 2000 and 2007 by previous North and South Korean leaders, which failed to prevent the Kim regime from carrying out nuclear tests in later years.
Trump’s upcoming summit with Kim is expected to center on the issue of nuclear disarmament as well. The meeting will reportedly be held in the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Korea, which some experts worry could appear conciliatory to Kim.
Already, the president’s supporters have suggested Trump receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in the Korean Peninsula, with a group of GOP lawmakers officially nominating the president in a letter to the Norwegian Nobel Committee on Wednesday.
The letter, signed by 18 Republican members of Congress, including Steve King (R-IA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Diane Black (R-TN), and Mark Meadows (R-NC), cites a mistranslated quote from President Moon, who appeared to suggest that Trump receive the honor for his work with North Korea. However, later reports, confirmed with the South Korean Blue House — or presidential office — revealed Moon had simply been declining the offer himself, saying that South Koreans “only need peace,” rather than awards.
UPDATE, 3:05 p.m. Eastern Time: Speaking with reporters on Thursday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reaffirmed that Giuliani, a member of Trump’s legal team, had no authority to speak about sensitive state issues, including the topic of an expected North Korean prisoner release.
“In addition to being an attorney for the president, does Mr. Giuliani…have a wider remit to talk about things like foreign policy?” one reporter asked during a press briefing.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Sanders stated.