Return to Transcripts main page


FBI Confirms it's Investigating Trump-Russia Collusion; EU Officials Worried About Russian Interference; Walls Talking Back. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 20, 2017 - 15:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, it is official. The director of the FBI tells Congress, the president of the United States Donald Trump was

wrong about Obama wiretaps and he confirms the investigation launched into links between the Trump campaign and Russian government interference in the

U.S. Election. James Comey could not have put it more plainly.


JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: Vladimir Putin hated Secretary Clinton so much, that the flip side of that coin was he had a clear preference to the person

running against the person he hated so much. They wanted to hurt our democracy, hurt her, help him.


AMANPOUR: Reaction from Strobe Talbott, a former Clinton deputy secretary of state and the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on Russia

playing politics and fake news with European elections.

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

Dramatic testimony on Capitol Hill today as America's top two intelligence chiefs testified on those persistent allegations of Russian meddling in the

2016 U.S. Election.

The FBI director, James Comey, publicly confirmed for the very first time that an investigation is underway.


COMEY: I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the

Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. And that includes investigating the nature of any links between

individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government.


AMANPOUR: And this was just the start of it. The FBI director was then asked to comment on President Trump's explosive claims on Twitter that his

predecessor, Barack Obama, wiretapped Trump Tower. Comey didn't mince his words.


COMEY: With respect to the president's tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that

supports those tweets.


AMANPOUR: Also appearing before the committee was the National Security Agency chief, Admiral Mike Rogers. He pushed back hard against Trump's

charge that the U.K.'s intelligence agency, GCHQ, conducted that supposed wiretapping.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now the British allies, our British allies have called the president's suggestion that they wiretapped him for Obama nonsense and

utterly ridiculous. Would you agree?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you ever request that your counterparts in GCHQ should wiretap Mr. Trump on behalf of President Obama?

ROGERS: No, sir, nor would I. That would be expressly against the construct of the Five Eyes Agreement that has been in place for decades.


AMANPOUR: But perhaps a predictable reaction from the White House with President Trump spokesman, Sean Spicer, insisting that, quote, "Nothing has


I spoke about all of this with Strum Tolbert. He is deeply experienced in all matters of U.S.-Russia relations. He's a former U.S. deputy secretary

of State and now he's president of the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.


AMANPOUR: Strobe Talbott, welcome to the program from Washington.

Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: It's been described as unprecedented. The director of the FBI saying that his own president is wrong. There was no wiretapping. And

also, confirming that the Department of Justice has authorized an investigation into potential collusion between the Russian government and

the Trump campaign during the election. And Russian interference, that could have affected the election.

What is your reaction today to these developments?

STROBE TALBOTT, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, it is certainly, as you say, unprecedented, and I would also add one point. The

director of the FBI and the director of the NSA said that they have no evidence that there was tapping of the Trump Tower, and what our British

allies, when I would say they're probably the best allies we have in the world, would like to hear more than that.

They would like to hear these agencies and their directors say, it did not happen. Not just that we don't have information about it.

AMANPOUR: Admiral Rogers, the head of the NSA, did go a little further than Comey, basically saying, absolutely not. I didn't ask for any

wiretapping. Of course it wouldn't have happened. He went a little bit further.

But let me ask how you this will affect American-British relations going forward.

Everybody says in the intelligence community, it won't really affect it, but politically it might do.

What do you think?

[15:05:00] TALBOTT: I think it will cast a shadow. I also think, though, that the basic relationship between the United States and the U.K. is

strong enough to weather this storm.

AMANPOUR: What do you think from an American security and the strength of America's democracy and institutions, what do you think is the biggest

threat to the United States?

These apparently so far bogus claims of wiretapping by the Obama administration, or the issue of potential Russian interference and

collusion in the electoral process.

TALBOTT: Well, if you put it that way, I would say the latter is the most important thing that we have to get to the bottom of. For a long time, the

Russians have been doing everything that they can to damage, to discredit, and to weaken western democracies.

And the U.S., of course, is target number one. But if, and it's still a very big if, if they were able to find people in our political system who

were prepared to collaborate with them in hacking our election, that would be something without precedent and extremely serious.

AMANPOUR: Well, so far without precedent is the fact that they did spy, they did hack, but what they did, the Russians, was hand it all over to

WikiLeaks and make it public.

TALBOTT: yes, that's, of course, the revolution in digital technology made that happen. There have been cases over the decades when back in the

Soviet period, when the KGB tried to mess around with our democracy, but never with any success.

AMANPOUR: And actually, Director Comey confirmed that this, you know, was an attempt by Russia to cover its tracks, by giving all this stuff to

WikiLeaks. How do you think this is playing in Russia? Is this good for the Russians? Can they make hay out of this?

TALBOTT: They'll make as much hay as they possibly can. And given their propensity for overplaying their hand, they'll probably make too much and

it will backfire on them.

However, Christiane, I think there's an important point here. While perhaps the successor organizations of the KGB are thrilled that they have

had so much success, not just in the United States, but in Europe as well, to mess up our Democratic elections, these operations were intended to be

clandestine. They were supposed to be covert.

And, of course, they are now not covert. Everybody in the world knows about them. And as a result of that, if they thought that they would get a

better deal and maybe a lot of better deals from President Trump, as a result of perhaps helping him in his election, they're going to have

another think coming. Because President Trump and his advisers are going to be under great pressure not to let the Russians get away, first of all,

with the hacking of our democracy and then, using the results of that to get the United States to cozy up Russian policies, which I think are very


AMANPOUR: You are a long time Russia expert.

I mean, how long can this very, very unhealthy state of affairs between such powerful countries, Russia and the United States, how long can they

continue in this regard? What actually has to be done to get relations back on track? Or is that just a pipe dream?

TALBOTT: Well, let's hope it's not a pipe dream. But let's just say that if -- as I just said a minute ago, if the Russians thought that they could

pull a trick on American democracy and get a Russia-friendly chief executive in the White House and all would be good, that is not going to


And in fact, it's quite possible, not least because President Trump has around him people who are very gimlet-eyed and very realistic about what

Russia is up to. I think, actually, the relationship could stay either frozen or even get a little worse.

AMANPOUR: Can I ask you again about the administration? "The Washington Post" today says that the White House has installed senior aides at every

cabinet agency to monitor loyalty to President Trump among cabinet secretaries and key aides.

[15:10:12] Have you ever encountered this before? Did this happen in the Clinton administration or Obama administration?

TALBOTT: It certainly did not. I don't know anything other than what you were reporting from the press and particularly "The Washington Post" had a

very good story on this.

I was stunned, for example, to hear that the secretary of defense, General Mattis, who, by the way, if I'm not mistaken, was confirmed 98-1 and is

highly regarded, the White House has sent somebody to sit in his meetings and monitor him and whose nickname is a commissar. That is just something

very new and I would say something very troubling.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Strobe Talbott, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.


AMANPOUR: So amid that fierce cyber war between Russia and the west, we now recall a time when Russia and the west were allies -- World War II.

That's also when this woman, whose face is projected on the white cliffs of Dover, was the UK's wartime sweetheart.

Dame Vera Lynn's famous ballad to British soldiers, "We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when," kept hope alive and raise their moral.

This tribute in lights and a new album mark her 100th birthday.

And now that the British government says it will trigger the formal British divorce, Brexit, from the E.U. next week, it is a timely tune once again.

And after a break, I speak to the European Union's top diplomat, Federica Mogherini.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Now that the FBI has confirmed a formal investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, here in Europe,

officials say that more of that kind of thing is underway.

With "The London Times" reporting today that Russia has launched a propaganda campaign to discredit British troops who arrived in Estonia this

weekend as part of a major NATO mission in the Baltic States to deter Russian aggression.

I asked the EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, who's in Washington, to meet with high-level U.S. government officials, how

concerned she is at the threat of Russia's cyber warriors.


AMANPOUR: Federica Mogherini, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: You are in Washington on an incredibly important and actually quite explosive day. Across town from you on Capitol Hill, there is a very

important congressional hearing taking place.

As you know, into the investigation that the FBI has confirmed about potential Russian collusion in the U.S. election.

But what I want to ask you is, what do you think of that? But more importantly, how does this affect or what are your concerns about Russian

collusion and interference in Europe's Democratic process?

We've heard complaints from France, from Germany, even from the Netherlands before their election.

[15:15:00] MOGHERINI: Well, the Netherlands are the perfect example of how it is clear that European societies have the strengths and European

Democratic systems have the strength to take decisions autonomously and by themselves. And I'm confident this will be the case in all the other

elections around Europe in this electoral year, indeed in France and Germany and elsewhere.

You know, at the end of the day, European citizens have the wisdom to make the right choices.

AMANPOUR: You know, many of the senior EU leaders have said there really needs to be a dramatic pushback against what they consider is some of the

most dangerous warfare that's happening right now, which is Russia's cyber warfare.

And they're very concerned in Germany and also in France. As the EU's top foreign policy leader, are you concerned as well?

MOGHERINI: More than being concerned, we're working on it. Because we have launched in the last year, year and a half, a specific team, a

specific task force that is dealing with this kind of challenges, especially propaganda and countering the wrong information that are spread,

especially on the Web, but also through regular media and traditional media.

But more than that, we've started to work on concrete projects with NATO, EU/NATO partnership on countering threats, including cyber attacks. So

more than being concerned, we're working to face potential threats that might arise, indeed.

AMANPOUR: You may know that a Czech think tank signed by some very prominent Europeans has today issued a report talking about Kremlin actions

being, quote, brutally aggressive disinformation campaign, active in Europe for the last three years, basically meddling in elections and referendums,

misleading political leaders and breaking up EU unity by supporting those who want to destroy it.

Do you agree with that description?

MOGHERINI: You know, we see that there is a lot of concern around about anti-European, but also anti-system trends in European politics, but the

same we see in America, here in Washington and elsewhere in the world.

But at the end of the day, as the Dutch elections have confirmed, when Europeans have to take the choice and make the choice about their future,

they do choose to stay united in the European Union. And this is because they see that in the world of today, which is, indeed, a dangerous place,

being together as Europeans protects them much more, covers their interests, their concerns in a much better way, and promotes their values


So I think Europeans, at the end of the day, know very well that being together in the European Union is much more convenient for all of us. It's

a way to regain sovereignty somehow in this complex world.

AMANPOUR: This same think tank has called European values actually, specifically, talked about you and said that your reaction, quote, "is

irresponsibly weak."

Now you say we're doing things. How do you react to them accusing your reaction to this disinformation campaign of being irresponsibly weak?

MOGHERINI: You know, we've set up, as I said, one year and a half ago, a specific team, a task force, and that was my decision to exactly tackle

this country's information.

But again, the best possible reaction that Europeans can have to this information about the European Union is spreading themselves. The good

that the European Union is doing.

Sometimes, you tend to forget about all of the achievements we've had. Not only in terms of peace and security in Europe, but also in terms of

economic developments. Europe is still the best place to live. And, Europeans are the best sponsors for that. We're approaching the six-state

anniversary of the Rome treaty this week. And I think we will re-launch the European integration process exactly on the basis of our

acknowledgement of the fact that without the European Union, Europeans would be much weaker.

AMANPOUR: You're in the United States. And you know that President Trump doesn't have a great view of the EU and has said things in public.

What story are you bringing to the United States about the EU? Particularly after, you know, a little bit of a tricky meeting with

Chancellor Merkel. Where they were very clear and different views over trade, over immigration and other such things?

MOGHERINI: You know, we've entered into a different phase of the relations between Europe and the United States. That's quite clear. We do have, I

think, still a common ground on many different things, starting from economy.

80 percent of foreign investments in the United States come from the European Union. Millions of jobs in the United States depends on relations

-- economic relations with European Union, and the European Union is and will continue to be, even after Brexit, the largest single market in the

planet. Also for American businesses.

So, from the economy to security, to the big work we're doing to stabilize places in the Middle East or in Africa, there is a common interest to work

together. But there are also things on which we will have different views and we do have different views.

Let me tell you that the meeting I had with Vice President Pence, when he was formally visiting European Union institutions in Brussels a few weeks

ago, I'm meeting him again in a couple of days from now, the message I heard, privately and publicly from him, was that of a big investment from

the new U.S. administration in deepening and strengthening cooperation with the European Union. So I stick to the official positions that are

expressed in official meetings.

AMANPOUR: But how do you reconcile all their promises and pledges and, you know, official words, with the Trump administration's slashing the budget

for foreign aid and for, you know, diplomacy at the state department?

MOGHERINI: This is one of the messages I'm bringing here in Washington. If the United States are going to cut their budget for aid, be it

humanitarian aid, development aid, or peacekeeping operations in the world, this is going to affect the very same security of Americans at home.

Because when we invest in stabilizing a country or in managing a major humanitarian crisis, even far away, we are working on the prevention of

major conflicts or radicalization or refugee or migratory flows.

So when the Americans and the Europeans invest in humanitarian or developments or peacekeeping, they do also invest in their own security and

stability of their countries.

And I believe that our people here in Washington that understand this perfectly well, then how to reconcile different messages or different

policies inside the U.S. system is not for me to sort it out. It's more for them to do it.

AMANPOUR: All right. Federica Mogherini, thank you so much for joining us from Washington.

MOGHERINI: Thank you, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: Now, this weekend, the third annual Global Teacher Prize was won by a Canadian teacher, Maggie McDonald. Her award was announced from the

International Space Station. She won for her work with Inuit children in an isolated part of the Canadian Arctic.

She was praised for transforming her entire community that had been haunted by high suicide rates. Now from north to south, where President Trump has

formally sent out tenders for a, quote, "aesthetically pleasing wall" along its southern border with Mexico.

Mexico is livid, while artists rise to the challenge. We imagine yet another border wall becoming a giant canvas, next.


[15:25:26] AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, the philosophical debate upending politics around the world right now, especially here in the West,

is about whether our societies remain open or close themselves off.

So imagine a world full of walls going up and where walls talk back. In the U.S., a bidding war is underway as construction companies vie for

President Trump's Mexican border wall contract.

The administration is advertising for a, quote, "physically imposing yet aesthetically pleasing design," on the U.S. side, at least. Well, it's

getting ugly already because the Mexican government is calling on Mexican companies to examine their conscience before bidding and to put country

before contract.

And those aesthetics President Trump is calling for, well, they might not be to his taste. Walls have always spread protest art. The Berlin wall

seemed to become one giant art installation before it fell, and in the middle east, the wall separating Israel from the occupied West Bank is also

a multi-media event and even inspired the guerrilla artist Banksy to create a hotel on the Palestinian side.

And now if you really want to see a really creative use for a wall, check out a little film called "Wallyball."

That's it for our program tonight. And remember, you can listen to our podcast, see us online at and follow me on Facebook and

Twitter. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.