Return to Transcripts main page

CNN'S AMANPOUR

False Claims, Real Crisis; The Threat of North Korea Missile Tests; Springing in to Action

Aired March 6, 2017 - 14:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[14:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, revealed. The U.S. travel ban 2.0. That and digesting a new Trump-peddle conspiracy theory,

accusing President Obama of wiretapping him.

And all at a time of real crisis over nukes and deadly nerve gas in the hands of North Korea as Pyongyang launches four ballistic missiles.

Joining the program tonight, U.S. president's long time friend Chris Ruddy, the former CIA chief of Russia operations Steve Hall and President Bush's

top adviser on North Korea, Victor Cha.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christian Amanpour in London.

An enrage American president launches a burst of what's unsubstantiated charges so far at his predecessor at a time when real substantial crisis

call out for his attention.

President Trump's Twitter rant dominated U.S. and global headlines all weekend. Meanwhile, the FBI seems to be distancing itself, demanding a

retraction from the Justice Department to make it clear that the agency was in no way involved with any illegal surveillance.

The Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer says the president forced himself into a, quote, "lose/lose situation." If he spread false charges

against President Obama, he damages the credibility of the office. But if his claim of government surveillance is true, it shows probable cause that

the president or his team may have broken the law.

The president's baseless assertions forced his White House once again to double down on the boss's allegations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR: He's the president of the United States. He has information and intelligence that the rest of us do

not. And that's the way it should be for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Meanwhile in Washington, his administration rolled out a substantially revised version of the travel ban for Muslim countries and

across the Pacific, North Korea just fired multiple ballistic missiles towards Japan.

I'm joined right now by President Trump's long time friend Christopher Ruddy who spoke to the president over the weekend about this wiretapping

claim. He is the CEO of Newsmax Media, which run several conservative news outlets.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: Chris Ruddy, thank you for joining us again.

Look, let's first ask you about your own op-ed that you wrote about this. You said you ran into the president this weekend and that you have never

seen him that peed off in a long time. And when you mentioned that President Obama had denied the wiretaps, he shot back this will be

investigated. It will all come out. I'll be proven right.

Did he give you any indication of his evidence on this very serious charge, Chris?

CHRIS RUDDY, CEO, NEWSMAX MEDIA: No, he did not. But he did -- we spoke twice during the day on Saturday. He seemed very upset about it, not

happy, I would say. And I've known him for a long time so I can tell when he's not happy. And he felt that the Obama administration had targeted

him. He repeated things that were said in the tweets.

This was McCarthyism, Watergate level style stuff and that he knew about the process he said and how court orders had been obtained or initially

failed on the first try.

He seemed very, very confident about it and later in the evening when I saw him at dinner time, I said, you know, there's been a lot of denials out

there. And he said, well, this will be investigated. I will be proven correct at the end of the day.

So I -- just -- I'm reporting what he says.

AMANPOUR: Right.

RUDDY: I'm not acting here as the White House spokesman or his spokesman. I'm just reporting the facts.

AMANPOUR: But, you know what, I'm really interested because you're the one who has seen him and you can tell us and, you know, testify to his state of

mind, to how he was thinking and behaving at that time.

But here's the thing, Chris Ruddy. It's not the first time the president has made unsubstantiated claims. I mean, whether it's the birther

conspiracy that launched his political career, whether it was about people illegally voting, about murder rates, crowd sizes, et cetera.

Does it -- does it worry you that a lot of this is just now -- you know, is just a lot of Twitter blabber that is not substantiated?

What do you say to him, I guess, as a friend to the president?

RUDDY: Well, I don't think Twitter is the best way to reveal some of these things, but that's his decision and it works for him and he thinks it's

appropriate. I guess he and his advisers have to come to some decision on that.

[14:05:00] I do think when you say, you know, there's a lot of things here to discuss in perspective. One is this whole circumstance comes out of

this claim that he somehow was meddled -- allowed the Russians to meddle or work with them.

Director of the national intelligence Clapper said yesterday they did an investigation. They found no evidence of Trump collusion with the Russian

so there's been this long, big drawn-out controversy over something. Trump says he has evidence that they did the wiretapping of him. You keep saying

in CNN and others that it's been flatly denied by the FBI or Obama.

They are actually not denying yet that we know of that there was surveillance to the Trump campaign. They are denying aspects of Trump's

allegations. So there's --

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: Yes, but listen, Chris. I mean, you know America better than I do. When the FBI asked the Justice Department to refute President Trump's

assertion that Obama ordered the wiretapping of his phones last night -- or last year, rather. I mean, that's serious. And then when you dig down and

you see that the -- the information that the president is talking about is based we think on a Breitbart article, you know, a sharp jock, radio guy --

RUDDY: So?

AMANPOUR: So it's not -- it doesn't meddle off of it.

(CROSSTALK)

RUDDY: Well, again, that's media spin out of this. Nobody has ever said he got it from a radio host. He's not revealed how he's got the

information.

I can tell you the FBI has made no official statement that I know about. The "New York Times" quoted anonymous sources. So let's say it's true that

Obama himself -- we know that Obama did not order the wiretap per se because he has no legal authority, constitutionally legally to order a

wiretap. The question then is did he have knowledge of it?

We've both been around the block to know that government do these type of things. This administration has a history. I mean, back in the day, they

went after all the conservative groups in the U.S

We know that they have leaked -- Obama holdovers leaked secret, super secret conversations that Donald Trump -- President Trump had with other

heads of state, within hours leaked those to the press. I think it was very damaging to the presidency and to the country. Nobody is talking

about investigating that. That's a crime. And nobody is talking about special prosecutor. They should be on something like that.

So when President Trump sees this organized effort constantly to -- I can see why he's in somewhat of a defensive mode here.

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: OK. You know, again, we have no evidence of the things that you've just said, but we will -- obviously, he's the president of the

United States. We have to keep watching this.

I want to ask you this as we've just heard that Spicer -- that Sean Spicer, the spokesman is saying that President Trump is asking Congress not just to

investigate that but also to investigate leaks that you're now talking about.

But can I ask you this?

And again, as a friend, as somebody who knows the president. Howard Stern knows the president. The radio D.J. shock, jock conversationalist. He

said today -- and they are long-time friends that "I personally wish that he had never run. I told him that because I actually think this is

something that's going to be detrimental to his mental health, too, because he wants to be liked. He wants to be loved. He wants people to cheer him

on."

Explain that to us.

RUDDY: Well, the last thing I'm going to do is start explaining Howard Stern to you. As you know, your international audience, he's the shockiest

of shock jocks here in America and he's friends with the president as the president is friends with many people in the media world.

I just spoke with the president at the Oval Office on Wednesday and we talked about Howard Stern briefly. And funny enough, he said Howard is

telling everyone I shouldn't be in the job, or I don't really like the job or it's not appropriate. He's totally wrong. He said I love this job. I

have no problems with it.

I've seen the president and I've seen him for -- I've seen him for about 20 years in different circumstance. And I think he's very relaxed and there's

no mental health issues that I see.

I think, everybody -- this is a guy that comes out of 14, 15 years of highly rated success in the show business arena with his TV show. He has a

certain way of doing business and communicating with the public. Maybe it's not fully appropriate and there needs to be some adjustment here as he

goes in, but there's a lot of good things that he's done.

And I think even you have to admit internationally the types of people he's picked for key positions --

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: Yes, there's no doubt about that.

RUDDY: The types of policies he's --

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: Yes, there's no doubt about that. Just one -- you know, people here, overseas, are very, you know, happy to do business with the defense

secretary, the secretary of state and the vice president and all those people who have already been abroad.

But just a quick question because this is another thing that people say about the president, that he does know what he's doing in the media and he

has a way of sort of, you know, trying to not just control, but to distract and put his own message across.

Do you think that this was all to deflect from a real issue, which was that Jeff Sessions, attorney general, has had these conversations with the

Russian ambassador and failed to disclose them at the right time?

[14:10:00] Do you think that could have been it?

RUDDY: Well, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, here, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: All right, OK.

RUDDY: I mean, you know, I didn't get the sense that that was what was driving him. I think he really was angry that he had been targeted by the

Obama administration and he says the truth will come out on that.

AMANPOUR: All right. Chris Ruddy, thank you so much indeed for joining us tonight.

And now we're going to turn to Steve Hall, a retired CIA operative who oversaw the agency's clandestine operations in Russia.

Steve Hall, welcome. You're in Tucson, Arizona.

Can I ask you just to give your impression as a professional operative of what is going on of the possibility of a former administration issuing any

kind of surveillance against a presidential candidate? What do you make of the central allegation by President Trump?

STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS: Well, I think you have to ask yourself the question of what's most reasonable, Christiane? Is it

most reasonable that the previous administration -- President Obama's administration used somehow the intelligence, the law enforcement

mechanisms of this country, primarily the FBI, to somehow conduct a wiretapping operation against Donald Trump and his campaign in Trump

Towers.

Now we have former DNI Clapper yesterday who would definitely be in a position to know about this said it did not happen. You have in effect the

FBI saying, yes, it didn't happen. You have a whole series of people who are saying this is very unlikely, and of course President Obama's people

are also saying it didn't happen. So that's on one side.

On the other side, is it more reasonable to think that Donald Trump and his team are very -- continue to be very concerned about the allegations that

continue to pop up, it's a continuing drum beat, that there was some sort of untoward relationship between the Russian government and the Trump team.

And what do we know on that side? We know that the Russians did indeed try to do a multi-pronged influence operation in the United States elections to

try to increase the likelihood that Donald Trump would be elected because his policies were simply more beneficial to Russia. We have the Russians

themselves saying, yes, we had contact with the Trump campaign.

We have guys like Flynn, Manafort, all of this people who are senior -- who had been senior members of his campaign who there are serious questions

about their contacts and what they were up to with the Russian government.

So you have to ask yourself, which is more reasonable? What's really going on here? I'm going with it is more reasonable that Donald Trump and his

administration are throwing up a lot of chaff to try to direct away from the Russia problem.

AMANPOUR: So now you could have seen it all sort of out there. We sort of know the extent of what Russia is doing, not just in the United States, but

also around Europe and other elections.

Where is this going to lead to? I mean, is Russia, do you think, reaping any benefits or is this all blowing up in Russia's face?

HALL: Well, I'm thinking that the Russian intelligence services that I -- part of the Russian government that I have the most familiarity with is

probably sort of -- they are sort of confused right now.

I mean, in one sense they have to be extremely happy that they have accomplished something that they probably didn't think that they could

accomplish as well as they have, which is great disruption in Washington. And that is always I think a goal of the Russian government and

specifically the Russian intelligence services.

On the other hand, there was a time based on candidate Trump's positions vis-a-vis things like Ukraine, Crimea, NATO, there was a time when the

Russian government was extremely hopeful that a Trump administration would be beneficial to Russian interests and now that appears to be fading.

So it's perhaps a little bit of a double-edged sword for the Russians right now.

AMANPOUR: Especially since some of those -- you know, sort of perhaps Trump policies have been walked back, particularly with regard to NATO.

HALL: Yes.

AMANPOUR: Can I move you on to the travel ban from the Muslim countries. What do you, as an intelligence, a former intelligence official, say about

this ban? Is it going to keep America safer? Does it match the threat, the evidence that you have from those countries to date inside the U.S.?

HALL: Yes. The first thing, Christiane, that troubles me quite a bit about the travel ban, about the new executive order is that in my

experience in dealing with foreign intelligence agencies that are extremely useful. We have very good cooperation with a number of foreign

intelligence services who help us identify and thwart future counterterrorism threats against the United States.

Remember that really the threat is best thwarted first overseas before it actually gets, you know, to the shores of the United States. And a number

of those intelligence agencies are of course, you know, come from majority of Muslim countries.

[14:15:00] I've spoken to a couple of former colleagues of mine and there have been times when sort of, you know -- and pull asides and off the

record, the foreign intelligence services have said, look, this is really offensive. Some of the things that we're hearing coming out of the Obama -

- excuse me, the Trump administration with regard to the new executive order and sort of this cross the board, you know, anti-Muslim sentiment

that is sometimes seen as part of Trump's base.

So it's going to negatively impact, I think, some of those relationships which doesn't make the United States better protected from counterterrorism

threats.

AMANPOUR: Can I ask you as a counterterrorism, as a CIA operative, former, what do you see happening in the next six months to a year? This sort of

chaos theory, the disruptor theory that Donald Trump proudly assumes.

What is this going to do for American policy, on security, foreign policy and the rest do you think?

HALL: I'm gravely concerned because it is my belief and my assessment after working more than 30 years against the Russian target. I'm gravely

concerned that the Russians were beginning to accomplish that which they really hold dear, which is the driving wedges into the West, making liberal

democracies weaker in the United States and as you alluded to earlier, not just the United States but Europe, where we have upcoming elections in

places like France, the Netherlands, Germany and so forth.

So that I think is Vladimir Putin's long term goal. And I'm very concerned that this sort of upheaval that you have in democracies like the United

States and elsewhere plays into the long term Russian plan of having weaker adversaries in the West.

AMANPOUR: All right, Steve Hall, thank you so much for your perspective there.

And now, in the strange comments department, tripping off their tongues, we have all sorts of people to talk to you about right now. The EU Commission

President Jean-Claude Juncker was caught on camera having this very candid conversation with Slovenia's prime minister.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING THROUGH FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING THROUGH FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Well, you know, we don't know what the answer was to that. And not to be outdone, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused

Germany of imitating Nazi practices by banning apparently pro-Erdogan's rallies set for Berlin's Turkish community.

Germany hit back strongly denouncing the comments saying they belittle Nazi crimes. And when we come back, the hermit kingdom's ruthless dictator, a

VX agent kills his own brother, now another missile launch towards Japan. What are the world's options? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Officials say there's no evidence for President Trump's wiretapping accusations against his predecessor. But remember when the two men met at

the White House during the inauguration and before, there was very real evidence for Obama's warning that North Korea could provoke a very real

crisis for the United States and for the whole world.

Consider the past few weeks, Kim Jong-un allegedly sent VX nerve gas to assassinate his own half brother in Malaysia and he continues to launch

ballistic missiles.

Today, the White House strongly condemned the latest launches, but does the Trump administration have a North Korea policy.

[14:20:00] Victor Cha is a former White House director for Asian affairs and he joins me now from Washington.

Welcome back to the program, Mr. Cha.

And can I ask you, do you feel that this White House actually does have a policy for this extreme threat from North Korea?

VICTOR CHA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR FOR ASIAN AFFAIRS: Well, Christiane, I think they certainly understand the severity of the threat.

There's been this well-publicized conversation between Obama and Trump about that. And I think they are in the middle of some policy review to

try to determine what they are going to do.

But North Korean actions are really sort of short circuiting that review and making the outcome already determined in the sense that there's nothing

else to do but go tougher on North Korea rather than consider other options.

AMANPOUR: So what would tougher be? Because, you know, they've done all of these sanctions and this is still going on. Even China has just stopped

coal imports from North Korea.

I mean, are you talking a potential military response to North Korea?

CHA: I don't think that there would actually be a military response to North Korea unless they actually attack something, or there might be a

kinetic action against the missile launch if it looked like it was headed towards doing damage to U.S. territory or U.S. allies in Korea and Japan.

I think talk about a military option is certainly on the table only because in a policy review for a new administration, you want to put all the

options on the table. Everything from a pre-emptive military strike to recognizing North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. So it doesn't surprise

me that all of those options are currently out there at the moment.

AMANPOUR: A nuclear weapons state and one that is beginning to perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the United States.

But how worried are you about what actually has happened. And that is proliferation of one of the most deadly and illegal nerve gas VX. I mean,

what is your conclusion and analysis of the fact that Kim Jong-un's brother was murdered by it in Malaysia?

CHA: Well, I think it shows Christiane that the leadership in North Korea knows no restraint. North Korea is the -- is not a signatory to the

chemical weapons convention. It has one of the largest stockpiles of bio and chem weapons in the world that they are able to put on missiles and put

on their artillery. So this, as you have mentioned, is a multidimensional threat.

It's not just simply a threat of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. It is chemical weapons. It is cyber. They are a threat on multiple fronts

and this poses real challenges for the Trump administration.

AMANPOUR: So President Trump has said over and again that he's essentially holds China if not responsibility then, you know, the most effective to be

able to reign in North Korea. Is that realistic? What is your analysis of China's ability and why they haven't been tougher barring this latest ban

of the coal imports?

CHA: So I think China is both part of the problem and they are part of the solution. They are certainly part of the solution in the sense that 85

percent of North Korea's external trade is with China, including coal.

So you can't have that level of trade with the Chinese not cutting any of that off if we're going to put any pressure on North Korea to come back to

the table.

So in that sense they are part of the solution. But they are part of the problem because they never really want to put enough pressure on the regime

to bring them back to the table because they are afraid that they are going to allow the regime to collapse if they were to cut off oil or to cut off

gas or anything permanently.

So this is the dilemma that we face. I think there are still things that China can do on top of the coal ban with regard to their banks and others

that transact dollar transactions for North Korean companies that are dealing in dual use technologies. There are still things that the Chinese

can do and I think the Trump administration should push them to do those things.

AMANPOUR: And very, very, very briefly because I've only got 20 seconds, you were going to be part of a back channel talks in New York with the

North Koreans.

What do you think that could have achieved had it not been scuffled by the VX incident?

CHA: I think the back channel talks are really just a way to get issues on the table for the Trump administration. They would have heard what the

North Koreans had to say. But at this point it's really moot because I think they basically pulled -- the Trump administration pulled the

invitation because of the chemical weapons attack in Malaysia.

AMANPOUR: All right. Victor Cha, thank you so much indeed for joining me tonight.

AMANPOUR: And after a break, we imagine the rite of spring. Nature's season of renewal has come very early this year. Is that good or bad?

That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:26:11] AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world rotating through the four seasons at a rapid pace. Spring has reached the northern

hemisphere almost one month earlier than it did a decade ago.

According to studies, it sprung up 26 days early in Greenland this year. And just four days later, it hit the eastern United States, triggering an

early flourish of flowers across America and sending birds scrambling for the skies to start their migration.

Early spring also sent China into a flower frenzy, but with the blossom and balmy weather comes a less poetic truth. The trend worldwide is a symptom

of global warming that's caused the past three years to be the hottest on record.

Early springs in the northern hemisphere can cause massive crop loss and endanger some pretty confuse animals, throwing life's internal rhythm out

of step.

And that is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast, you can see us online @Amanpour.com and follow me on Facebook

and Twitter. Thanks for watching and good-bye from London.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

END