Return to Transcripts main page


Special Counsel Named in Trump Russia Case; White House in Turmoil Ahead of Trump's Trip; Inside Venezuela's Health Crisis. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 18, 2017 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, as the ex-FBI chief, Robert Mueller, is made special counsel to look into Trump's ties to

Russia, we ask, could this be the president's Watergate? I talked to the journalist who brought us that story 45 years ago, Carl Bernstein.

Also ahead, as the president flies out to the Middle East, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, talks about that

intelligence leak. And John Kerry's former chief-of-staff, John Finer, on Trump's chances of bringing peace to the region.

Plus, a special report from Iran.

And part two of our dramatic undercover look at the crumbling state of Venezuela.

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

45 years ago this June, five men broke into the democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington. Two years and many Woodward and

Bernstein bylines later, President Richard Nixon was forced to resign. History may not repeat itself, but it certainly follows familiar patterns.

Late yesterday, the former FBI director, Robert Mueller, was made special counsel in the investigation of Russia's ties to Donald Trump's campaign.

And today, Carl Bernstein joins me here in the London studio.



AMANPOUR: You are still at it. Still sleuthing. Still reporting.

BERNSTEIN: Yes, same stuff.

AMANPOUR: Same stuff. Different generation. It is eerily reminiscent. I mean 45 years ago this was going on. The president even made a trip to the

Middle East just before he had to resign.

From your perspective, what is the significance of the special counsel now being named to investigate into the Trump administration?

BERNSTEIN: Let's establish, first of all, this is not Watergate. There are may be some similarities. There are also some real differences. It's

possible that what we're seeing now is more dangerous than Watergate. Possible because, if some allegations are true, there may have been

collusion between the president of the United States or/and those around him and a hostile foreign power. That did not happen in Watergate.


AMANPOUR: That was just a robbery.

BERNSTEIN: But what we do know that there has been a cover-up going on. The president has obstructed, impeded, attempted to demean legitimate

investigation. That does not mean that he's obstructed justice, but he has tried to keep the facts, the truth of whatever is underneath all of this,

from coming out.

We now have seen that cover-up at a monkey wrench thrown into it last night by the appointment of a special prosecutor. And not just "A" special

prosecutor, but Robert Mueller who occupies a unique place in the annals of American law enforcement.

So this is a hugely significant event. It means that Trump is now isolated in terms of having no control over the investigations. He's tried to

control them up until now. He's now not going to be able to do that.

AMANPOUR: So what is the next step? Because on the one hand, people are saying, well, maybe this is good for the White House because they now don't

have to, you know, answer any more questions. They put it to the special counsel.

And we understand that the special counsel appointment means that we won't be seeing -- tell me if this is correct -- public testimony inside the

Congress by, for instance, James Comey who's, you know, the center of a lot of this.

BERNSTEIN: Well, it would be good for the White House is if there were no there there. If indeed there was no collusion. If indeed the president

had not obstructed anything. We don't know what's underneath. What we now know is we're going to see an awful lot of forensic accounting by the FBI

that will look at all of Trump's finances in terms of whether or not he and his family and his businesses have been the beneficiaries of lots of

dealings with ethno Russians, those people in countries around the former Soviet Union that are not part of the Russian federation. Russian doesn't

mean just Russian.

But more important, this has also -- we saw today the president of the United States describe himself as a victim of the worst witch-hunt in

presidential history.

We are also seeing a real question raised by Republicans, among others, of his fitness to be president of the United States, whether he has the

temperament, the mental capacity to govern effectively, to conduct the office of the presidency in the way that protocol and decorum and proper

procedure and rule of law prevail.

[14:05:08] We are in a kind of presidency very different than the Nixon presidency. Nixon understood American history, understood the office of

the presidency. This president understands neither. And one of the things that has so many Republicans so disturbed is how apparent that is becoming.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you, because you know, the press has done a huge job in uncovering all of this stuff and scooping and counter scooping

and just never seems to end.

But, obviously, the Trump-friendly press is calling it "fake news," as you said "witchhunt," you know "a soft coup," the deep stay, you know, trying

to raise a tsunami of doubt.

And his voters are not yet convinced that there deserves to be a special counsel.

Well, nor should they necessarily be convinced. Some of this is a little opaque. But what we have seen is great reporting. You know, what's good

reporting? The best obtainable version of the truth. And we have seen "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," "The Wall Street Journal,"

"CNN" do what they are supposed to do. Not heroics. Simply get at what the truth is. And this is not fake news, by any means.

The reason that we now have a special prosecutor is because of what the press has done to make it impossible for a cover-up to continue.

AMANPOUR: Just finally, you know the president is embarking on a trip with all this happening around him. I know it's not Watergate, but that

happened to Richard Nixon as well.

What do you sense will be the reception he gets from these foreign leaders?

BERNSTEIN: I think two things. One, the great thing about being a reporter is we don't have crystal balls. I really don't know. But, the

one thing also that is evident is that his conduct in office -- and you know this from talking to leaders around the world -- has raised grave

doubts not just with members of Congress, but about foreign leaders about who this man is, how does he conduct himself and his presidency, what does

he know and not know about the real world? Is he a serious man capable of carrying on his shoulders the burden of the American presidency? That's

what we're going to be looking for on this trip, and I believe foreign leaders are going to be looking for as well.

AMANPOUR: Carl Bernstein, thank you so much. And we're turning to that precise question next.

So as we said, 45 years ago, President Nixon did make a trip to the Middle East. And when we come back, we will be talking to two leaders, two

officials, on Donald Trump's trip coming up.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

On the eve of Donald Trump's first overseas trip as president, the question is whether it will provide welcome distraction from crises at home, or

weaken his hand with his foreign partners.

All this week revelations have emerged regarding the president, his FBI director and his own team's connections to the Kremlin.

"Time" magazine sums up the week's events with this wordless cover. And now as we've been talking, the special counsel has been named to

investigate the Russia connection. That's Robert Mueller who preceded Comey as FBI director.

[14:10:00] Now when President Trump touches down, first in Saudi Arabia, he'll meet a royal family keen to make this a success for him.

Next, it's on to Israel, which reportedly was the source of the intelligence that Trump passed to the Russian foreign minister.

All of this against the backdrop of tomorrow's presidential elections in Iran. The country that all these allies seek to isolate.

President Rouhani running on securing that nuclear deal, faces stiff opposition from his hard-line opponent as our Fred Pleitgen now reports.


FRED PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A final push fighting for every single vote. Moderate supporters in what they call a Rouhani street

party just hours before voting is set to begin on Friday. Many telling us they want to see incumbent Hassan Rouhani's course of trying to improve

Iran's foreign relations continue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we don't want to be recognized as a nation who's seeking war and aggression.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This past four years he really did his best and especially in foreign policies.

PLEITGEN: Rouhani says his course of rapprochement will bring foreign investments, economic growth and jobs to a country suffering from massive

unemployment. But these people say that isn't working. Iran's very powerful conservative and hardliners put on their own mass rallies, fueled

by the Trump administration's new hardline against Iran, they say the nuclear deal weakened the country and hasn't brought the promised benefits.

Their candidate, the ideological hardliner Ebrahim Raisi is saying he has a better plan, "Self-sufficiency."

"Our people are worried about unemployment and we know how to solve this problem," he said. "We can create at least 1 million jobs and we have the

means to do that."

And his message is resonating. While Rouhani is ahead in most polls, Raisi is gaining ground, analysts say.

Like in most countries, the economy is the main issue in Iran's election, and Hassan Rouhani's record is mixed, at best. While the massive oil and

gas sector has been booming since the nuclear deal, others like manufacturing are stagnating as foreign investment is only slowly trickling


The two main candidates have very different views on how to jumpstart economic growth making the election all the more important.

But while there is a fierce political battle between the conservatives and the moderates in this country, one thing both sides can agree on is they

believe this election will be pivotal in determining the direction this country takes in the future.

Both sides want a chance to shape Iran's political future and at least partially defying this country's role in global affairs.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Tehran.


AMANPOUR: Now despite President Trump saying he'd rip up the Iranian nuclear deal, the State Department announced Wednesday that the U.S. would

continue to weigh nuclear sanctions on Iran as part of the 2015 agreement.

Joining me now from Tel Aviv is Michael Oren. He is a member of the current government and he was former ambassador to the United States. And

from Washington, Jonathan Finer, who is director of policy planning for the former secretary of state John Kerry.

Welcome to the program.

Can I start with you, Ambassador Oren. What is the best that Israel is hoping from President Trump's visit, not just to your country but to Saudi

Arabia as well?

MICHAEL OREN, ISRAELI DEPUTY MINISTER FOR DIPLOMACY: First, good to be with you, Christiane. First of all, the president's coming here is not a

very common and frequent event. That's only been -- he'll only be the sixth president to visit Israel. So a visit by any president to this

country is always an extraordinary and celebrated moment.

On the table will be the peace process and reanimating hopefully that peace process, direct talks with the Palestinians without preconditions, and

involvement with other regional actors, including the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Jordanians. That would be one principal issue. The other,

as you mentioned earlier, would be the Iran nuclear deal, how we can best cope with continued Iranian aggression throughout our region. Iran's

repeated pledges to destroy the state of Israel. And how we can begin to cope, even at this stage, with what's going to happen in just a little over

a decade when that nuclear deal expires.

The same regime is in power in Tehran. And it will have the ability to enrich enough uranium to make many hundreds of nuclear weapons. We have to

begin to grapple with that threat right now.

AMANPOUR: All right. Let me move on to Jonathan Finer, because you and the diplomats in the United States who helped negotiate very painstakingly

this deal are committed to trying to save it.

You just heard what Ambassador Oren said. Look, it's no secret that President Obama and the Obama administration was not the most favorite in

Saudi Arabia and Israel. So this is a chance for President Trump to score some major points. Right?


subject more than almost anything else given everything that's happening in Washington over the last week.

You know, there have been some reports that his aids do not relish -- he does not relish the opportunity to go abroad. But I think the one way in

which he does that would allow him to get away from some of the Russian mess that's going on back here.

And I think the Ambassador Oren is right. That Iran will feature prominently in his conversations in both Riyadh and Israel, but I have a

slightly different take on the current state of play on the nuclear agreement.

You know, the Trump administration has now twice declared, once to Congress in a certification that had been made, and once in these waivers that have

been issued this week in regards to sanctions that Iran is complying with its end of the nuclear deal.

And while the problems, the challenges, that Ambassador Oren pointed out are real, what happens in the later stages of the agreement, the

characterization -- again, I think it is important to be precise about the facts.

The deal does not expire in ten years. There are aspects of it that last 15, 20, 25 years, and others like the monitoring and verification

procedures, they are in place indefinitely going forward.

So this is a deal that has safeguarded, we thought, a very fundamental challenge that the region faced for a long time to come.

AMANPOUR: So the Iran thing we know both Saudi and Israel wants to sort of deal with.

But Ambassador Oren, on a different issue, we just talked about potential peace. Now I'm hearing that some in Israel are a little nervous because

President Trump keeps talking about the ultimate deal and he has actually mentioned the two-state solution. And he does want to talk, and will go to

visit, as well as Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Abbas in Bethlehem.

Is there any concern that President Trump may just make a deal?

OREN: Well, it's going to take two parties to make the deal. And President Trump has also said that he's not going to impose a solution on

the two sides and he will back any arrangement that is acceptable to both Israelis and Palestinians, and to that equation, we can also add Sunni-Arab

states in the region.

Peace is an interest for the state of Israel, Christiane. It's a peace that is a genuine peace, a stable peace, that grants us security and

recognition, and that can be directly negotiated without preconditions between us and the Palestinians.

If the president can succeed in getting the Palestinians back to the negotiating table -- and keep in mind, they have not come back to that

table for eight years now -- that would be a welcome achievement here and will be more than interested in engaging in those talks to reach, again, a

stable and secure peace.

AMANPOUR: I'll come back to that in a second. But I want to ask you, Jonathan Finer, on that issue, but also on the issue of President Trump

going to Saudi Arabia. And we understand he's going to make a major speech for the Islamic world.

You know, how do you think that's going to go given the fact that this is also the president who brought in the Muslim ban.

FINER: Yes. So I think this is in the category of high-risk and potentially high-reward if they happen to get their message right in

Riyadh. But I'm really focused on the risks at this point.

This is a president who has surrounded himself with advisors who have, let's just say, not the most nuanced views of Islam, not the most nuanced

understanding of that part of the world or of that religion.

And so the notion that the president is going to be going to one of the cultural and religious centers of the region and explaining the proper role

of Islam in the world in Saudi Arabia I think risks really setting some off notes that cause both American Muslims and also Muslims in the region to

further question what his views are and how they inform his policy.

There are any number of ways to get this wrong, and I don't have a lot of confidence that they will get it right.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Oren, you know Israel and the United States really, really well.

It's being said that President Trump, you know, sort of discombobulated by this big domestic crisis is getting a little antsy and doesn't want to have

such a long trip, has tried to cut down his attendance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

And, also, I just wanted to ask you, is Israel the one that provided that third party intelligence? Because this obviously is going to come up on

the trip as well.

OREN: Well, I can't comment on the latter question, Christiane. I can only tell you that Israel and the United States have the closest possible

intelligence cooperation. I know of nothing like it in the Middle East, perhaps in the entire world. And that cooperation is not only going to

continue, it is going to be stronger still in the future.

[14:20:00] As for the schedule of the president, I was involved in scheduling President Obama's 2013 trip here. It was a longer trip. And

there's always a tremendous debate about what you can fit in and what's more important, how much time the president can spend at every location.

The logistics are beyond maddening. Can you imagine?

So I think at the end of the day, the most important thing is that he comes here. If the president goes to the western wall and pays homage to the

western wall, not to Al Aqsa Mosque, but to the western wall, that's going to resonate very, very deeply with Israelis because we have the UNESCO of

the U.N. has cast into doubt the connection of the Jewish people to our holiest site, the western wall.


AMANPOUR: Do you think he will go there?


OREN: Visit Yad Vashem, it will be very important. I hope so. I do hope so.

AMANPOUR: And just one other question. We've literally got 60 seconds. 30 seconds to weigh in for each. The effect of this domestic crisis and a

special counsel on the president's first trip abroad.

John Finer, quickly, how do you think it will affect his interlocutors?

FINER: Well, again, it's a chance to change the subject. I don't think it's going to factor into his conversations abroad at all. I think much

more interesting is how the president will come out of this visit.

This is a president who is very impressionable. He had a conversation with Xi Jinping and he changes his tune on North Korea.

He had a conversation with the secretary general of NATO, and he changes his tune on that.

Here's a very hard line message on Iran and Riyadh and Israel. I suspect that he may come out with a very hard line message going forward.

AMANPOUR: And what do you think, Michael Oren? I mean, you know, he is going be to talking to the Palestinians, to the Israelis.

What do you think the reception will be given this crisis at home?

OREN: Irrespective of what's happening in the United States, we're focused on what's happening in our region, what's happening at home. We are

interested in addressing that Iranian challenge. We're interested in working towards peace with the Palestinians. I'm personally daily working

on projects that the president wants to improve the quality of life for Palestinians, the Palestinian economy. We're focused on the real issues

right now. America will have its own issues, we understand. But right now, the focus is on us and our region.

AMANPOUR: All right, Ambassador Oren, Jonathan Finer, thank you both very much for joining me on the eve of the president's first trip abroad.

And when we come back, more of our special report from Venezuela on the edge. We imagine the high price even the sick are having to pay now.

That's next.


AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world crumbling before our very eyes.

On Wednesday, we showed you the gradual collapse and violence of Venezuela in crisis. Today, we look inside a hospital with our Nick Paton Walsh in

the city of Valencia. And it does include some graphic and painful scenes right from the very start.


[14:25:00] NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pain is never worse than when it's needless. Danielle is 14 and elsewhere

would probably have kept her leg. But in Venezuela, vital medicine for chemotherapy is short and so were the odds the bone tumor in her leg

wouldn't spread.

"Just a little cold water," the doctor says. "Careful," she cries.

It was removed yesterday, but as often happens, with amputations, strangely, she can still feel it.

"It feels strange," she says, "because I feel a leg that isn't there. That's gone."

(on-camera): Does it make you feel angry as a doctor that a procedure like this is necessary where you could prevent it, if you had the right



(voice-over): This is a society crumbling from inside where a government who tried to control everything from wages, to health care, to food prices

now seems to control nothing.

With the body of a murder victim lies in the streets of Valencia, now a common curiosity rather than a scandal. Doctors sneak us in to a public

hospital to show why diseases that this once oil-rich nation thought were vanquished decades ago are coming back.

Wounded protesters making due with water bottles to drain gunfire wounds. "The medicines were brought by my family members," he says. In fact, they

also brought the water to bathe me. Everything.

The doctors who once enjoyed modern sanitary conditions are now themselves at risk of infection, they say. And patients die from waiting.

Last week in Valencia the doctor says 11 dead arrived here. The wounded arrived at about 9:00 and they can't get medicine. They were being treated

for some 12 hours later. People die here from gunshot wounds because we can't treat them.

Patients wait for hours for the universal free health care the socialist government once promised. Yet now its mismanagement means it cannot pay

for. Instead, they seek to conceal the embarrassment even firing the health minister after revealing child mortality and malaria figures. So

now there is silence rather than an end to the suffering.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Valencia.


AMANPOUR: And a government whose policies have condemned an entire population to this catastrophe as Nick Paton Walsh says remain silent and

continues to decline our invitations to talk about it.

That is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast, you can see us online and you can follow me on

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