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AT THIS HOUR

High Stakes Showdown Underway Between Russia, U.S.; Sources: Intel Doesn't Support Trump Claim That Susan Rice Committed A Crime; Report: FBI Monitored Ex-Trump Adviser Carter Page; Secretary of State Tillerson Meets With Putin. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 12, 2017 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- great report, appreciate it.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much for being with us this morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: John and Poppy, thanks so much. Hello, everyone. I am Kate Bolduan. We are watching breaking news on several fronts and what could be turning into an unexpected new cold war. Right now a high-stakes showdown in Moscow between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Russian counterpart.

They're expected to hold a joint news conference shortly and everyone should listen closely to that especially after taking jabs at each other in public over the U.S. strikes in Syria and the Russian role in the deadly chemical attack there.

But the big question at this moment, will Vladimir Putin meet with Secretary Tillerson? Normally that's not even a question. It's customary and tradition, but nothing is traditional today. Keep in mind this, new this morning, Putin says relations with the United States are now worse under Trump than under President Obama.

We have all of the angles covered for you starting with CNN's senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski. She is in Moscow right now. So Michelle, what is the very latest you're hearing of this high-stakes meeting, where things are and where things are headed?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: We saw them going into this meeting with the tensions just blatantly on display. Usually there is this period of time where cameras are allowed in and there are pleasantries exchanged and it all looks very official and welcoming, but you saw the Russian foreign minister just launch right into it.

It was clear that he wanted to project a position of him being the host. That Russia says the U.S. is doing something wrong. I mean, he called the U.S. strikes on Syria a violation of international law and said that they need to stop. He also took that opportunity to slam the State Department because they have so many positions unfilled. He says it's been hard to communicate with the United States.

Then there was an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. As you mentioned, he talked about the relationship getting worse, actually deteriorating under President Trump. Quite a change from what we were talking about months ago in the lead-up to the election.

President, then Candidate Trump, talking about Putin being a strong leader. Now things are much different. Listen to what President Trump said in an interview this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Frankly, Putin is backing a person that's truly an evil person, and I think it's very bad for Russia. I think it's very bad for mankind. It's very bad for this world, but when you drop gas or bombs or barrel bombs and have these massive barrels with dynamite and they drop them right in the middle of a group of people and in all fairness you see the same kids, no arms, no legs, no face. This is an animal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSINSKI: Secretary of State Tillerson also had a strong message that he wanted to deliver to the foreign minister. How this meeting went, though, we're not hearing much about. We are waiting for that press conference that's going to start very soon -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Piecing and parsing through every word that is going to be exchanged between those men. Great to see you, Michelle. Thanks so much. She's watching all of this for us.

So turn now to a CNN exclusive, President Trump called it one of the biggest stories of our time, and a possible crime. Well, now the headline is it was actually normal and appropriate according to sources.

What we're talking about here is what started with the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes and his concerns over surveillance information and possible inappropriate unmasking as it's known of Americans names.

They all point the finger at President Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice for this, well, now sources in both parties are telling CNN there is no evidence anyone in the Obama administration did anything illegal or unusual.

For more let's go to CNN's Jessica Schneider right now. So Jessica, lay it out for viewers. This was confusing when it started and it continues to be, but there is clarity being offered today. What does this all mean?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is some clarity, Kate. You know, those accusations by the president and the substance of those intelligence reports on unmasking really did consume the House and Senate Intelligence Committee for weeks.

In fact, the questions about whether former Obama national security adviser, Susan Rice improperly unmasked or revealed America's name caused so much controversy that the Russia investigation on the House side was temporarily derailed.

Eventually Chairman Devin Nunes recused himself, but now lawmakers and legislative aides on both sides of the aisle tell CNN that they have reviewed those intelligence reports related to unmasking requests.

They reviewed them at the NSA Headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, and the conclusion out there is that there is absolutely no smoking gun here and there is no evidence that the Obama administration officials did anything unusual or illegal.

[11:05:00]Sources do tell CNN that they're now calling on the White House to declassify those intelligence reports to make crystal clear that there is nothing alarming in the documents. Of course, like you said, Kate, it was just last week that President Trump said in a "New York Times" interview that Susan Rice was breaking the law.

Susan Rice also has spoken out about this saying that there were in fact instances when she would receive a report where a U.S. person was redacted and she would go through the proper channels to unmask the identity to get the context of the report.

She said, though, she never leaked any information or did anything improper and really that is what we're learning from House and Senate Intel Committee sources now is that they have not seen anything improper about these unmasking requests and now they want the White House to release the documents -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: What this means for the investigation and what this means for the president who as you've mentioned really went out there with his statements last week, just last week to "The New York Times," very unclear, but important development. Jessica, thank you so much.

Now that explosive new report about former Trump campaign adviser. "The Washington Post" is reporting that the FBI was monitoring Carter Page and his communications as part of their investigation into Russian ties to the Trump campaign, suspecting that he was working as a foreign agent.

For more on this new report, let me bring in Patrick Healy, CNN political analyst and "New York Times" editor. So Patrick, there are a lot of developments in the various kind of threads of the Russia investigation. This is a big one here. I mean, judges don't hand out FISA warrants for nothing. What could this really mean? What are you hearing?

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, it's significant. I mean, as far as we know, this is the only figure in the FBI's probe of the Trump campaign and its ties to Russia who was under FISA order, FISA authorized surveillance. You had a situation where officials in the Justice Department went to the FISA Court and asked for this warrant. Put this in formal advice under investigation because there were concerns that this adviser, Carter Page, had close ties to the Russian government, had said very positive things over time about Vladimir Putin.

And a real concern, again, that the relatively informal Trump campaign was getting information from people like Carter Page who was an outside adviser that basically might -- that might be under real influence from the Russian government.

BOLDUAN: And Patrick, when you talk about the role of Carter Page, I mean, there has been a lot of back and forth over exactly what Carter Page's role was during the campaign. Even -- Carter Page has put out conflicting statements of what exactly his role was, when and if he ever met with then-Candidate Trump. What do you -- what is your kind of assessment of this?

HEALY: Right. When I was covering the Trump campaign last year and we talked to the campaign about their foreign policy advisers, officials, typically, Kate, as you know, a presidential campaign team usually has dozens and dozens of foreign policy advisers --

BOLDUAN: Right.

HEALY: -- who were attached and writing memos. The Trump campaign had very few and especially about Russia, we wanted to sort of understand who was advising president, then Candidate Trump, about Russia and why he was saying the things he was saying about Vladimir Putin. Carter Page was a key figure in this. He was one of a fairly small number of informal advisers who were writing memos to the Trump campaign about Putin, about Russian policy, about American interests in Russia and --

BOLDUAN: The president had himself named as an adviser even though he walked it back later.

HEALY: Right. No, exactly. And Paul Manafort who was for several months the campaign chief executive also had ties in Ukraine, in Russia. You know, so the key thing here, Kate, is you have today Rex Tillerson in Moscow.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

HEALY: You have still this FBI probe going on of the Trump campaign's contacts in Russia, and there's still a lot of unknowns, but what is so key here is that there have been questions about surveillance for so long now about whether, you know, President Trump as he claimed without evidence was wiretapped and whether Paul Manafort and others were being looked up and examined. What we do know now is that the FBI was very interested in Carter Page, and in his relationship to Russian officials and to the Trump campaign.

BOLDUAN: Carter Page has denied doing anything wrong. All of the information he would have passed on was all basically public information, Googleable, if you will, and he's happy that this came out because in his view it is proof that the Obama administration was basically on a witch hunt and putting forth investigations for political purposes. I want to talk more about that with our next guest, but Patrick, thanks so much. Great to see you. Thanks for laying it out.

HEALY: Thanks, Kate.

[11:10:03]BOLDUAN: All right, joining me to discuss this and much more is former presidential candidate, Evan McMullin, joining me now. He's a former CIA officer. Evan, it's been a while. Thanks for coming on.

EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER CIA OPERATIONS OFFICER: Great to be with you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: So let's talk first about this "Washington Post," the FBI monitoring Carter Page on his ties to Russia. On this, you had a lot to say and you said this right when the news came out. You tweeted this, you said that "Carter Page's role as foreign policy adviser to Trump was considered bizarre from day one. Now it may make sense." What sense does it make to you?

MCMULLIN: Well, it's important to note that this FISA warrant as reported by "The Washington Post" said that the government believed that Carter Page was a knowing, clandestine collaborator with a foreign power, that being Russia.

That's a big, big deal and that's sort of espionage language for spy. So what they're saying is that they believed Carter Page was a Russian spy and the court agreed with them. So it wasn't just the Obama administration or even the intelligence, law enforcement agencies.

This was the executive branch and the judiciary agreeing that there was cause to believe that Carter Page was a Russian spy, and of course, he was affiliated with the Trump campaign, and I think when people say that he was an informal adviser.

I want to push back a little bit about that. He was named by then candidate Trump as an adviser. All presidential campaigns have a range of people offering advice. There's no shortage of that. Those are sort of informal and they could be informal.

People who have no association really with the campaign other than they know people in the campaign, those are what I would call informal advisers, but when you are named by the candidate as an adviser, that's more than just informal. Carter Page was a part of the Trump campaign and that's a big deal.

BOLDUAN: When it comes to this FISA warrant, though, it was over the summer that this started with the FBI. They got the FISA warrant. They were monitoring his communications. If it is clear cut, as you kind of seem to believe, there have been no charges against Carter Page. I mean, do you leave open the possibility that there is nothing there that he did nothing wrong? I mean, an investigation doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to find a crime.

MCMULLIN: Well, yes, but in order to have a -- in order to achieve a FISA warrant or to obtain a FISA warrant you have to demonstrate a lot of probable cause and a lot of evidence. It's not easy, and I've been through it before, and you sort of receive feedback as you go through the process about whether it's likely to be approved or not and you can withdraw it if it doesn't look likely to be approved.

And therefore when you get to the point of really making the case it's because you've presented a lot of evidence. So I think it's -- they must have had a very strong case, but I'll tell you, just because charges haven't been leveled against Carter Page yet doesn't mean there will be.

There are plenty of reasons why -- I mean, granted or keep in mind that "The Washington Post" reported this, this wasn't something that the FBI or administration released. This is "The Washington Post," I'm sure the government would prefer to not have this in the public space right now.

BOLDUAN: Evan, let me ask you about other big news as we reported earlier about Susan Rice. You have Republicans and Democrats. They view this key intelligence material that Devin Nunes also viewed saying that -- after viewing it, sources are telling CNN that Susan Rice's unmasking requests weren't anything that were unusual for someone in her job as they've seen in this material, but the president said he thinks she may have broken the law and he also said this just yesterday. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT TRUMP: When you look at the extent of the surveillance, me and so many other people, it's terrible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She said she didn't do it for political reasons.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Does anybody really believe that? Nobody believes that. Even the people that try to protect her in the news media. It's such a big story, and I'm sure it will continue forward, but what they did is horrible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Look, Evan, from your political perspective, you are no fan of Donald Trump and the Obama administration. With this news and your experience in the field, do you think Susan Rice did anything wrong?

MCMULLIN: No, I don't. This is an orchestrated distraction by the White House and by then-Chairman Nunes of the House Intelligence Committee. That's what this is. Everybody including former directors of central intelligence and others, people who are reporting on the matter, CNN most recently, anyone with any credibility on this topic sees right through the charade.

That's exactly what it is. It's an effort, I believe, and this is my assessment at this point, but I believe this is an effort to distract from the ongoing FBI investigation of Donald Trump's campaign and its potential or now confirmed by "The Washington Post" ties and other reports ties to Russia. That's what this is about. This is, as I said, an orchestrated effort to distract the American people.

BOLDUAN: Very interested to hear what President Trump has to say following these new reports. Evan McMullin, it's always great to have you. Evan, thank you.

MCMULLIN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Moments ago, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, saying that he let the president down after his remarks about the Syrian chemical attack and Hitler. What Spicer says today amid speculation about his future?

Plus I like Steve Bannon, but the president raising more than a few eyebrows with a not so ringing endorsement of one of his top advisers, the one feuding with the president's son-in-law, of course. What is the president's message here?

And the CEO of United Airlines speaking out on camera for the first time about basically this video, the passenger dragged off of one of his flights. Hear what the CEO said about that passenger now and what's next for the company.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:19:44]

BOLDUAN: All right, we are following breaking news and this gets to the big showdown in Moscow. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin after all. This is a big change from yesterday. There's been a lot of mystery around this.

Let's get there. Let's go to Matthew Chance. He's got the reporting on this right now. Matthew, what are you hearing?

[11:20:06]MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, within the past few seconds, really, Kate, it's been confirmed to us by the kremlin that Secretary Tillerson who is, of course, in Moscow for his first official visit as secretary of state along with Sergey Lavrov, his Russian counterpart and the Russian foreign minister have been meeting with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president inside the kremlin.

It is not clear from the text message that I got from the kremlin spokesman a few moments ago where that meeting is still under way or whether it's already finished, but the fact is the meeting took place which is something that was being questioned really ever since Rex Tillerson arrived here in Moscow yesterday.

It's been kind of traditional for secretaries of state from the United States to have an audience with Vladimir Putin particularly on their first visit to the Russian capital. There was a suggestion that that was not going to happen, and of course, that was going to be interpreted as something of a slap in the face to Washington.

Moscow is, of course, extremely angry at the moment, furious, that the U.S. conducted strikes against Syria, its ally, last week and it was believed to have been, you know, reciprocal response now and that's been put to one side now.

Rex Tillerson has been having a meeting with Vladimir Putin over the past few minutes and it is not clear whether that meeting is continuing right now, but what we are expecting within the next hour is a joint news conference with Rex Tillerson and Sergey Lavrov.

We will bring that to you live and we'll have clarity on what is discussed during these tense meetings -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, Matthew. Stand by. I want to bring in our diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski who is also in Moscow. So Michelle, at the top of the hour, it was still unclear if any of this would happen, right? Now Matthew says he's received confirmation from the kremlin. Are you hearing anything from your sources? Are you hearing anything from the State Department on this?

KOSINSKI: The State Department isn't yet confirming, but it's now being reported openly and there has been a confirmation to CNN that this is happening now. As with most things regarding Russia, there's some deciphering in how this is playing out that you have to put into it.

I mean, the State Department from the beginning fully expected that Tillerson and Putin would sit down. That's what always happens, as long as Putin has been in office he has met with U.S. secretaries of state but then it kind of evaporated.

It was not scheduled yet although Tillerson as of yesterday did have a big gap in his schedule, right now, that hasn't changed much. So we suspected if this was going to happen, and Russian officials were being very coy about it.

I asked one of them, what do you think? Is this meeting going to happen? And he responded we have to see and he left a smiley face after it. So it's as if they wanted to leave a little mystery in there. Was it contingent upon something?

Might it have been contingent about how this meeting went between Tillerson and the Russian foreign minister? We just don't know at this point. It could have been something like they were trying to work out schedules although this is something that is fully expected to happen and was planned for some time.

So it's not as if it came as a surprise and now everybody has to try to fit it into their schedules. So it's an interesting circumstance, but now we know that at this point with his time spared during this portion of the day that Tillerson is indeed at the kremlin sitting down face to face with Russian President Vladimir Putin to try to hash out this extremely complex and urgent situation.

Whether something is accomplished or whether he brings something back to Washington to say here's what we moved past, here's what we agreed to. I don't know how likely that is. The original point of this meeting and this is before the Syria chemical attack happened with all of the back and forth that's transpired since was simply to lay the foundation and help to build that before ultimately President Trump and President Putin would be able to sit down and speak together.

You know, kind of a let's look at the relationship. The State Department has called this an exploratory meeting with Russia to see what can be salvaged from this relationship and how there might be ways to work past the differences. So again, as Matthew was saying, we're just waiting for this press conference where if we're going to get much clarity it's going to come from there.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. But important meeting regardless, important especially when Putin is saying the relations with the United States are at a worse point than it ever has been.

Let me add to the conversation right now, Steve Hall, CNN's national security analyst, who is also retired chief of Russia Operations for the CIA.

[11:25:06]Steve, pull back the veil for us a little bit. Michelle lays it out really well. Is the mystery by design or did something change since Rex Tillerson has been in Moscow and having meetings? If the not meeting is a slap in the face, should people read into it that there's progress being made?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: No, I would recommend against reading into any progress being made. The whole conversation is Tillerson going to meet Putin? Is he not going to? Is it the 11th hour? Does it mean something?

In my experience, and I'm sure it oversees where there's been a number of authoritarian regime, there's always, oh, are we going to get to meet the big man himself? And the authoritarian government sort of holds back and saying there are a lot of congressmen who would say maybe I'll get to meet Castro if I stay up until midnight.

A little bit of that is going on with this in Russia. There's a little bit of drama and a little bit of diplomatic posturing in all of this, but really, the important part here is we've begun to hear the kremlin say which is we don't want you doing any more strikes and frankly our trademark western approach to this.

Well, let's see if there's room to cooperate. Let's go into this neutral and better understand each other. The Russians see that coming from ten miles away because they're so used to dealing with western democracies and the United States.

They don't deal with it that way and they go in hard and unless we go in hard, it would be interesting to hear what Tillerson says and there probably won't be a whole lot of progress is my bet.

BOLDUAN: We shall see. The suspense now building even more. Steve, stand by with me. Let me join the conversation right now with the political significance and there's a lot with CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cilizza.

So Chris, there have been a lot of public statements. You've heard from the president and you've heard from the administration about Putin that Russia is an island in and of itself. You've heard that from more than one person.

You've heard from Donald Trump just yesterday in an interview saying when it comes to Russia, they're supporting a man who is an animal and who is a criminal in talking about Assad. The fact that Putin is meeting with Rex Tillerson, what does that mean? What are you seeing here?

CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, Kate, I would also say a lot of tough talk on the Russian side, as well. You mentioned Putin saying relations with the U.S. are at or near a historic low. Sergey Lavrov this morning with Rex Tillerson essentially giving him a talking to about how this is going to go down as well as the fact that, you know, they weren't sure what U.S. policy was because of the confusion with Tillerson versus Nikki Haley.

So diplomacy is the highest form of politics in some way. Every word matters. I think you're seeing that fact. Lavrov, I think, wanted to point out the fact that the United States had used different words, Tillerson, Trump, and Nikki Haley.

I'm interested to know when you hear this tough talk out of Russia. One thing that we know is Donald Trump believes very strongly in sort of being the tough guy, backing up what he says and with action.

So I was in Syria last week and throughout the campaign he said to say America isn't feared anymore. We need to be respected and feared at some level. These countries need to know they won't get a free pass when they say and do something.

This is a test with a very large country, and someone of geopolitical importance that we can't sort of write off. Let's see how the Trump policy of I'm going to make good and we're not going to have empty threats and let's see how it works in the face of tough talk from the Russians.

The answer is we don't know. The Trump press conference maybe shed some light on it, but I doubt they'll resolve the differences between the two of them in a sit down between Vladimir Putin and Rex Tillerson.

BOLDUAN: That's a very good point and you also have a very important -- you have this meeting happening right now and as you noted, two important press conferences coming up today.

We'll hear from Rex Tillerson and his Russian counterpart very shortly and we'll bring that to you live and we'll hear from the president later this afternoon. So as we say, a whole lot can change when they take to a microphone.

Great to see you, Chris. Thank you all so much for helping me on this one as we follow this breaking news. Let's continue this here, though. Talk about thin ice, folks.

When is it ever good to hear your boss say, I like you but -- especially when he does it in the pages of "The New York Post." White House sources weighing in on Steve Bannon's future. Plus moments ago, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer saying he let the president down after his remarks about the Syrian chemical attack and Hitler. What Spicer says today amid speculation about his future?

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