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Trump Delivers Speech in Sicily, Italy; Trump Says He Reaffirmed Bonds With Israel; Trump: I Will Always Give The U.S. Military My Full Support; Trump: Money Is Starting To Pour Into NATO; Trump: We Will Overcome Threat Of Terrorism; Source: Kushner Considered Setting Up Secret Line To Kremlin. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired May 27, 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] MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: It's my great honor to introduce my husband, the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump.
AUDIENCE: USA, USA, USA, USA, USA, USA, USA, USA.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've got to get the lipstick off. Is it off?
Thank you, honey. Thank you both. That's great. And I'm trying to figure out who's in that helicopter that's coming in. It may be Prime Minister Abe, it may be Justin from Canada. Great people, we made a lot of good friends this week. I'll tell you, a lot of good friends. They're good people.
America's very blessed with a lot of great diplomats and I have to say this as she just walks over here but I don't think the United States could possibly have a better emissary than our magnificent and wonderful person, our first lady, Melania. Thank you, thank you.
The countries of the world have a large number of disagreements but they all agree with me on that one. That I can tell you. So, everywhere we go it's the (INAUDIBLE) so, great job. And, you know, we've been gone for now a long time. Everywhere I go -- but we have been gone for close to nine days. This will be nine days and I think we hit a home run no matter where we are. We're thrilled to be here right now and we're getting on that very big plane. We're heading back to Washington in the United States but to be with you at our great naval air station is wonderful.
I can think of no better way to conclude our first foreign trip than to spend the time with you right here with the incredible men and women of the United States navy and with all of our brave soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines and our great civilians who support them, right?
A very proud nation salutes you. A very, very proud nation -- I'll tell you what, we are very, very proud of you. Every single day you protect the safety and security of the American people and provide a symbol of hope, freedom and justice for the world. To our friends and allies, you are the ultimate reassurance. To our enemies, you are the ultimate deterrent.
You're the metal spine forged out of the fires of American strengths and do you notice how much stronger we're getting? Have you feeling it -- are you feeling it?
All that new equipment is coming in. You saw what we did with our military budget, way up, took a little heat on that one but it's OK with me. You are the men and women who make up the most powerful military in the world and under my administrating can we -- as you know, you've seen it, right, under my administration, stronger and stronger, every single day.
I want to thank Captain Brent Trickel for leading the American presence at the hub of the med. You know what that is, right? The hub of the med. Captain Trickel, considering everything your team has done to prepare for this visit and you really have done a lot, I've seen it. Feel free to sound Liberty Call as soon as wheels are up, OK?
That sounds -- maybe, I'll stay down with you and celebrate together and just wave but before going any further, I also want to express on behalf of the United States, our gratitude to our Italian and NATO allies here today. We have a lot of them.
You're stationed at the crossroads of the Mediterranean working side- by-side with Americans to confront the threats associated with the tremendous violence suffering and instability across North Africa and the Middle East. To every service member from Italy, from a NATO country, we want to thank you for your friendship and for partnering with us in the fight to defeat terrorism and protect civilization. Better believe it.
Terrorism is a threat. Bad threat to all of humanity. And together we will overcome this threat, we'll win but none of what we achieved would be possible without our wonderful military spouses and families, each of you makes these great sacrifices for our country as well. Let's hear it for the military spouses, please. We will always support you and we will never ever forget you, that I can tell you.
There is one more very special group I have to thank and that is our eighth grade students right here in Sigonella. Where are they? Where are -- oh, here they are. I've been hearing a lot about you. In January, the eighth grade class at Sigonella came all the way from Washington to march in my inaugural parade, right? Look at you, they're all so happy. Young. You're going to have a great life, right? Great life. Thank you very much and I have to say, are you all glad you did it?
TRUMP: Thank you, honey. It's an image I will always remember, your smiling faces right out in front of the White House, carrying that great, big, beautiful American flag, right? Thank you, kids.
You traveled all the way from Italy to support my inauguration. So, today, I'm glad to be here and I traveled a long way to support you and it's my honor, thank you very much. Military children also make great sacrifices for their country and I want you all to know that America is so proud of you, as you know, I was here in Sicily to attend very important summit meetings, the meeting of the G7.
It was a tremendously productive meeting where I strengthen America bonds. We have great bonds with other counties and with some of our closest allies we concluded a truly historic week for our country. Our travels took us to some of the holiest sites in the Abrahamic religions and the gatherings of both America's oldest and newest friends.
We traveled the world to strengthen long standing alliances and to form a partnership among nations devoted to the tasks of eradicating the terrorism that plagues our planet and we've got the people that can do it, believe me, and I am now more hopeful than ever in the possibility that nations of many faced and from many religions, and from many regions all over can join together in a common cause.
The barbaric attack in Manchester and the massacre of innocent young lives underscores the depth of the evil we faced and the urgent need for us to join forces to absolutely and totally defeat it.
I met with Prime Minister May and expressed the absolute solidarity of the American people and just yesterday, Coptic Christians in Egypt were viscously gunned down in another vile terrorist attack, one that took the lives of beautiful Egyptian children and others. These murderous attacks grieve ourselves but they also steel and I mean steel like in "steel" our resolve.
Together civilized nations will crush the terrorist, block their funding, strip them of their territory and drive them out of this earth. My first visit during my travels took me to Saudi Arabia where I had the honor of participating in a historic summit with the leaders of more than 50 Muslim and Arab nations. Hosted by King Salman, a wise leader, who expressed his strong desire to work with the United States not only to confront terrorism but also the extremist ideology behind terrorism.
The nations of the Middle East have endured one terrorist attack after another and I called on them to take on the burden of fighting this evil that has killed so many innocent Muslims. During this unprecedented gathering, we opened a new center to combat extremist ideology, launched a task force to block funding for terrorists and agree to massive economic development deals, the likes of which that has never been. That will create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the United States, building the equipment that has just been ordered by Saudi Arabia.
We also further isolated the Iranian regime over its hostile and destabilizing actions and reaffirmed that Iran must never be allowed to obtain under any circumstances a nuclear weapon. I was deeply encouraged to hear from the leaders of many Muslims and Arab nations that they are ready to take on a greater role in combatting terrorism and providing young Muslims, in their region, with a future of safety and a future of opportunity.
Next, I went to Jerusalem where I reaffirmed our unbreakable bond with the State of Israel. There we continued our discussion about fighting terrorism and crushing the organizations and ideologies that drive it. I went to the Western Wall, a monument to the perseverance of the Jewish people. I also prayed at The Church of the Holy Sepulchre and walked those sacred halls.
I was awed by the majesty and the beauty of the holy land and the faith and reverence of the devoted people who lived there. All children from all face deserve a future of hope and peace, a future that does honor to god.
I visited Bethlehem, a city so precious to so many and met with the Palestinian leader, President Abbas. He assured me he is willing to reach for peace with Israel in good faith and I believe he will and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured me that he too was ready to reach for peace. He's a friend of mine and he means it.
From Israel, we came to Italy. In Rome, I was inspired by the beauty of St. Peters Basilica and even more inspired by meeting with Pope Francis. We had a great talk. It was truly an honor to meet the pope and pray for peace on those hallowed grounds.
Then I traveled to two summits with our key allies. First, at a NATO summit in Brussels, where we agreed to improve the burden sharing among members of our alliance and to further confront the sheer threat of terrorism. Other member nations must pay more. The U.S. is currently paying much more than any other nation and that is not fair to the United States or the United States' taxpayer.
So, we're working on it and I will tell you a big difference over the last year. Money is actually starting to pour into NATO from countries that would not have been doing what they're doing now, had I not been elected, I can tell you that. Money is starting to pour.
It's only fair to the United States. We want to be treated fairly and we're behind NATO all the way but we wanted to be treated fairly. All of us will be more safe and secure if everyone fulfills their obligations the way they're supposed to, right?
TRUMP: Look at this man, he's over there. He's agreeing with me 100 percent. Most people agree with that.
Next, I attended the G7 right here in Sicily and made great progress toward very, very vital goals. I laid out my vision for economic growth and fair trade and support of good paying jobs and even great paying, middle-class jobs and more and I called for much greater security and cooperation on matters of both terrorism, immigration, migration, to protect our citizens.
From Saudi Arabia to Israel to NATO to the G7, we made extraordinary gains on this historic trip to advance security and prosperity of the United States, our friends and our allies and we paved the way for a new era of cooperation among the nations of the world to defeat the common enemy of terrorism and provide our children with a much more hopeful future. You're going to have a great, great future. You're going to have a safe future because of your parents and other people in this room.
That is why I knew I had to conclude my trip right here in Sigonella with the dedicated service members who make the future so bright, so proud because I am so proud of the future you're going to have. Are you all proud of the future you're going to have? You better believe it, right? Dad, mom, we're all proud of it. We're all proud of it. We're proud of our country.
The men and women of the United States' military have been the greatest force for peace and justice in the history of the world. I want you to know that you'll have a commander-in-chief who will never ever forget, never ever. You will always be remembered number one, just remember that, always.
I will give you my complete and unshakable support. We've already made a historic investment in defense spending. You've been reading about it because we believe and -- you know this. What's the expression? Peace through strength. Peace through strength, right? You'll understand that when you get a little bit older. Peace through strength and that's what we're going to have. We're going to have a lot of strength but we're going to have a lot of peace. We will buy planes, the ships, vehicles and equipment you need to get your job done and to come home safe and sound back to your families.
I also know that the single greatest strength of our armed forces is you, you, all of you, the dedicated, really tough, and really disciplined service men and women who bravely fight in our name. You not only know the pain of sacrifice but you also know the tremendous rewards of military service, of being part of something much larger than even yourselves.
You know what it means to be part of a military team in which men and women are bound together in a sacred covenant of trust to serve together, to sacrifice together and to fight together and, by the way, and to win together because you're going to win. You're going to do a lot of winning.
We are going to do a lot of winning and my pledge to you is that we will always protect those who protect us. You are protecting us and we will always remember that and we will always, always protect you. Americans fought and die to liberate Europe from the evils of Nazism. You know that and fascism. American military power helped to free the world from the oppression of communism and today Americans like you are battling the sinister forces of terrorism throughout the Middle East, North Africa and the world.
American military history is rich with noble traditions, harrowing missions and selfless heroes like your parents but, at its core, the moral of the story is always the same, it is the story of good overcoming evil. You have poured out your hearts, your souls and even your blood for this nation and we will pour out our gratitude to you in return.
We will show our gratitude especially this Monday, on Memorial Day, when we pause to thank god for the heroes who have laid down their lives for our freedom, right? Among those heroes was a young navy sailor from Omaha, his name was John Joseph Parle.
Parle enlisted in the navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Completed midshipman training at Notre Dame and soon ended up not far from here, in the waters of the Mediterranean. On the night of July 9th, 1943, Parle was among the tens of thousands of allied forces, preparing for a surprise landing, the next morning on the shores of Sicily, right here, about 70 miles away to be exact.
It was to be a major allied offense on European soil and it was important. On a ship, cloaked in darkness, just six miles offshore, Parle and others noticed that a smokescreen device had caught fire in a small boat staged to support the landings. The boat was filled with explosives.
He knew that if he didn't stop the fire, an explosion would light up the night sky, alert the enemy, all of his fellow comrades would be killed and the invasion would be a failure. So, Parle rushed to the source of smoke, hardly able to breathe, breathing the smoke in and without a thought for his own safety, picked up the burning device with his bare hands, ran to the side of the boat and hurled it into the sea as far as he could throw.
In that decisive moment, Parle didn't hesitate. He acted and in that act, he helped ensure the success, not only in the savings of his friends and those lives but of the allied landing itself which turned out to be very, very important victory.
So the allied forces were on to win the Sicily campaign, critical in their ultimate victory was Parle but before that final victory, the young, brave, beautiful sailor who helped make it possible died from the smoke that had damaged his lungs so badly.
Ensign Parle had just turned 23. Yesterday would've been his 97th birthday. For his brave actions, Ensign Parle was awarded the Medal of Honor. This Memorial Day, we remember him and all the brave men and women like him who give their last breath in defense of our country.
We honor their memory and their sacrifice and we also hope to honor them with our deeds to prove worthy of their sacrifice because there is no peace without those willing to bear the scars and wounds of war. There is no strength without those brave enough to protect the weak and the people that need protection and there is no prosperity at home without those willing to shoulder our burdens overseas.
That glorious American flag represents the blood of patriots, spilled in defense of freedom. It represents the courage that burns in American hearts. It represents the unity that binds us all together as once and it represents the freedoms bestowed on us by almighty god.
You are the warriors of freedom. You are the protectors of that great American flag. You are the patriots who keep the fires of liberty burning and you are the ones who protect the god given freedoms that are the birthright of every single American child.
I am proud to be with you today as your commander-in-chief. I am honored to have had this time to spend with you. I am excited for the great adventures and achievements that all of us will accomplish together. May god bless you, may god bless our service members, may god bless the United States of America. Thank you very much everybody. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, President Trump there at Sigonella naval base there in Sicily, Italy there, reminding everyone this Memorial Day weekend about the U.S. commitment to honor U.S. military members, past and present.
At the same time, he also recapped what he called a historic week on his nine day journey overseas, touching on everything from when he start in Saudi Arabia, began with the king there, recommitting with the United States in the battle against terrorism.
The president then also telling the audience there of military members as well as their family members that he went on to Jerusalem and Bethlehem and also met -- meeting with the Israeli prime minister as well as with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and then at the NATO submit, he said that the NATO nations agreed to share the financial burden, reminding that other nations must pay more and then there in Italy at the G7 summit and then now he says, quote, "There will be a lot of winning this day forward."
Our Jeff Zeleny, CNN's Senior White House correspondent, is traveling with the president who's joining us there now. So, Jeff, he recaps the entire week, the nine days in all, at the same time, he said he couldn't think of a better place to be to end his journey there with military men and women and their family members.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, there's no question that this president likes a rally. He likes to be around people who are cheering him, taking photographs of him. He loves the music and the revelry that comes with that.
So, this was an intentional way to end this journey of his, his first time coming over to Europe and indeed the Middle East leaving the U.S. as president here. So, he was talking about some of those goals of the trip.
He was giving the highlights, of course, the successes. He didn't talk at all about the deep skepticism among European leaders about his commitment to the NATO alliance or to some other things that he was pressured by particularly on climate change and other matters.
He got an earful, we're told, from a lot of our allies here about his wavering on climate change but it was interesting. He has been talking a lot during the presidential campaign, during his inaugural speech about his America first agenda. Typical refrain is about NATO and he says American taxpayers are essentially funding all of this.
I mean, what he doesn't say is that President Bush made a similar argument, President Obama made a similar argument that the U.S. pays a lot more but the U.S. also gets more in terms of its military bases here and having strategic reasons to be in Europe but let's go back and listen to what the president said about NATO.
TRUMP: Countries that would not have been doing what they're doing now, had I not been elected, I can tell you that. Money is starting to pour.
It's only fair to the United States. We want to be treated fairly and we're behind NATO all --
ZELENY: So, Fredricka, you almost get the sense here the president is going to be loading up a buckets full of money there from some NATO countries and taking it back to Washington. Of course, that's not the issue. That's not the reality here.
Other NATO countries are agreeing, are paying more into this but the reality is most of them do not have the defense budgets. In fact, none of them have the defense budgets anywhere near what the U.S.'s budget is.
So, by the president talking there about increasing America's military budget, he's already talking about even more of a disparity because some of that money indeed will come here but that is a central theme in refrain of his -- I think, interestingly, Fredricka, what he didn't say what's coming up ahead for him and that is climate change first and foremost.
He is leaving this G7 summit in Sicily saying that he will make an announcement next week whether to leave the U.S. in the Paris climate agreement which was reached during the Obama administration or to pull out.
He was pressured from everyone from Pope Francis at the Vatican to Theresa May and Angela Merkel to stay in.
There is a deep division inside of the west wing and what to do about this.
And of course, first and foremost as he gets on that Air Force One and flies back, Fredricka, so many issues with the Russia investigation and clouds hanging over him. He's been following that blow by blow and it is waiting for him when he gets back to the White House.
WHITFIELD: Right. So the two last things that you are mentioning, not the headlines and today the "Washington Post" reporting about Jared Kushner and son-in-law and closest adviser, he reportedly proposing to the Russians to have a back channel in meeting in the Trump Tower back in December.
Second, an omission that to be expected from the president. We do know that the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, was asked about it directly while also there in Italy. And he said, no comment on Jared, but he did elaborate further on the purpose of back channels. But as it pertains to that Paris accord, climate agreement refreshing our memory on the president saying to the pope, I will think about what you said in his parting words. The pope apparently really bent his ears on the importance of a commitment toward climate change.
Any idea exactly, you know, what the president was talking about when he said, you know, I will remember what you said and might that perhaps be impacting the president's decision that he may reveal next week on the Paris accord?
ZELENY: It is a great question, Fredricka. It seems like that as the week was going along here that he did say that he would listen to what the pope said. In fact, Pope Francis gave the president one of his encyclicals on the environment writing that this pope has done about the need to protect the environment.
And he again was pressured by every other leader here at the G7 Summit here in Sicily to stay in the agreement. If you withdraw from it, they warned, it will impact the rest of your standing with the rest of the world.
This agreement was reached by the entire world. This is -- if the U.S. pulls out, it has deep ramification for this. So this is deeply controversial inside his White House, but it looks like he's still leaning towards withdrawing from that.
We'll find out next week, but the communicative was signed here at the G7 Summit was about six or so pages long. The U.S. refused to sign and acknowledged to sign onto the climate portion of that. That gives you some sense that there is still so much reluctance inside this administration.
And he has said privately in meetings with the French president and others that he is under deep pressure back home to pull out of the Paris climate accord. Of course, there are voices of both sides on this very loudly. So an interesting thing to watch in the next week ahead.
Other things on his agenda as well. He said he would lay his plan to fight ISIS and he also still has to articulate his plan for Afghanistan whether he will sign off on the Pentagon recommendations to send more troops there.
So this trip is ending with a lot of work done to be sure, but even more coming up for him as he heads back to Washington -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much as we continue to watch Air Force One there with the president boarding along with the first lady, Melania. We'll check back with you, Jeff Zeleny also traveling with the president has done so during his entire nine days and now is coming to an end.
All right, let's talk further about all that has transpired including today. With me right now is CNN presidential historian, Tim Naftali, CNN political commentator, Mike Shields, CNN global affairs analyst, David Rohde, and CNN military and diplomatic analyst, Rear Admiral John Kirby. He is the former spokesperson for the State Department and the Pentagon.
Good to see all of you. All right, so John Kirby, I would love to go with you first because we have the president's remarks putting a very positive, you know, outlook on his nine-day journey.
He talked about the majority of the high point but at the same time also up staging the president's journey as "Washington Post" reporting also you know, coinciding with CNN reporting today about Jared Kushner, closest adviser to the president back in December meeting at Trump Tower at the time the expected NSA, Michael Flynn, also in the meeting with the Ambassador Kislyak.
And talking about a proposal reportedly by Jared Kushner to have a back channel to Russia and by way of the Russian embassy. Your initial thought about this. This is the cloud that continues to darken and hangs over the White House even though the president had paint a very rosy picture about his nine-day journey. What is your reaction to this report?
[11:35:00]JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I think, you know, at best, it shows an incredible naivety by Mr. Kushner and perhaps General Flynn, at worst, it could fit right into this large mosaic of what the FBI is investigating which is a potential for nefarious collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
Even if it is not that, it seems -- it certainly worth looking into this connection between the Russian officials and people that were working on the Trump transition team and what that was all about.
But I mean, look, if they wanted to have communications specific -- direct communications with the Russians, there are ways they could have done that using current administration -- the Obama administration channels. The State Department was standing by to help facilitate those discussions.
There is nothing wrong with them wanting to talk to a foreign government even Russia in this case. But it's the way they've gone about here that raises legitimate questions about motive and intent. Why try to do something secret and back channeled with, you know, clandestine meetings in the say shells.
I mean, there is a way to do this. I think on the face of it could just be naivety, but I think because of the way they went about and the process that they tried to implement here, it does raised more questions about this larger mosaic.
WHITFIELD: And David, yes, the president wanted to underscore that moment there at (inaudible) Naval Base, you know, all of the high points of his journey over nine days even though, you know, there were so many other things as it pertains to the investigation that continue to overshadow. What is the homework that this president has to do, however, to commit to "there will be a lot of winning." Will that come fairly easy particularly since he ruffled a lot of feathers particularly at that NATO stop?
DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, it is going to be real challenging. I mean, he highlighted this new cooperation on terrorism. Terrorist is very difficult to counter. You saw that in the large attack in Egypt and he did ruffle a lot of feathers at NATO.
I just want to point out, he sort of exaggerated his achievement in that speech. He said that he -- you know, that spending by NATO countries was increasing because of him, actually 22 of 28 NATO countries had already increased their contributions to defense spending before President Trump took office. So that's the problem.
WHITFIELD: So not necessarily when he took them to task during that speech where he did not single out each one, but he did use a similar number.
ROHDE: Yes. He was noted earlier, President Bush and President Obama pressed on this, but again, 22 of 28 actually increased their spending last year before he was elected. No talk of Russians and containing Russia and this sort of change the traditional embrace of Europe and sort of Democratic norms. He did not talk about that, he embrace sort of autocratic leaders in Saudi Arabia. That's a real reversal of American foreign policy.
WHITFIELD: And Mike?
MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, let's take a moment and celebrate what a great trip the president just had. Our critics are certainly going to try and find everything they can to criticize him. The fact of the matter is the president just had a very, very successful nine-day trip.
I can tell you, first of all, as a military (inaudible) in Europe, it is incredibly encouraging to watch the president go to these military bases and not just rally the troops, but talk about increased defense spending. That's what they want to hear.
They want to hear their lives are going to be better again and the equipment they need and the training they need, the healthcare they need because the White House is committed to giving the people he just spoke to more money and a budget fight.
But on top of that, the president went to the Middle East and gave a speech that really should be analyzed. We have a historian here, to be analyzed for the historic nature of that speech where he was calling on the Middle East to fight terrorism amongst their own people, and rallying the rest of Europe to that cause.
Of course, he's going to ruffle some feathers. That's what he got elected to do and I'm a huge proponent of NATO, but I have no problem with the president of the United States going to NATO pressing the American cause there and ruffling some feathers and saying we have a new leader in town.
That's exactly what he was elected to do. So I think he had an incredibly successful trip. He's going to come back to Washington now. I think, you know, the critics are sort of dying from the comeback so they can start getting back to things they want to criticize him for. People don't want to admit how successful this trip was. I think we should take a moment to talk about the president being overseas and talking about jobs, trades and commitment to fighting war on terror. That's exactly what he was elected to do and that's what he just came back from doing in Europe.
WHITFIELD: Tim, what are the measuring sticks here?
TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I think it is really important that the president's language on terrorism is shifting. He did not say Islamic terrorism as he stood in front of our great troops, he said terrorism. He talked about the fact that there is a vicious ideology behind terrorism.
So we are actually seeing him shift more to the language that President Obama used about terrorism and that of course is a good thing because we are not at war with Islam. So in that respect, this trip has been very interesting in shifting the messaging of the Trump White House regarding terrorism.
With regard to NATO, I just don't understand why he needed to pick a fight. In 2014, the NATO countries committed to this new guidelines of spending 2 percent of their GDP on defense.
[11:40:10]In 2015 and in 2016, they, that's the European and Canadian partners of NATO did increase their spending. Why pick a fight with them? They're already doing what they committed to doing in 2014.
By the way, they were given to 2024. NATO is a complex commitment on the part of the United States. It is not as paid as you go system. We benefited enormously from the fact that we have collective security in Europe.
And by the way, when we spend about 3.64 percent there of our GDP on defense, we are not just defending our NATO allies, we have commitment outside of NATO, which our NATO allies do not share. We have commitments in Asia, for example.
We are patrolling the South China Sea, a very important mission, but to blame the NATO allies for not paying for that particular commitment is not fair. It is not part of the NATO agreement.
So I think there is a bit of apples and oranges, and I don't understand why it was necessary for the president, who was in fact making some gains in Saudi Arabia to anger our important allies. We need every ally we can get whether in the Islamic world or in Europe in order to fight Islamist terrorism.
WHITFIELD: All right, great assessment as we continue to watch Air Force One taxi there. And of course, a lot of those NATO allies also wanted to hear recommitment from the U.S. that attack on one is an attack on all, but that reaffirmation did not happen.
We'll have a quick break. We will bring all of you back and we'll talk more about today's headline involving Jared Kushner and his proposal of a back channel with Russia when we come right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. For the first time, the White House is responding to an explosive new report confirmed by CNN now involving the president's son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner. Sources tell CNN Kushner discussed setting up a secret communication line with the kremlin and he did that in a December meeting with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. Today White House officials were asked about the new details first reported by the "Washington Post."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not going to comment on Jared.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General, generally speaking, General, would you be concerned if somebody on the National Security Council or in this administration were to seek a back channel communication system with the Russian embassy and with the kremlin, would that generally concern you not to even address Kushner specifically but in general terms?
GENERAL H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: No, I mean, we have back channel communications with a number of countries, so generally speaking about back channel communications, what that allows you to do is communicate in a discreet manner so it does not predispose you toward any sort of content of that conversation or anything so, no, I would not be concerned about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right, so you are listening to the National Security adviser, General H.R. McMaster there. He's also traveling with the president.
All right, well, I want to bring back that panel now. Let's talk more about this new developments, first of all, with our Ryan Nobles. Ryan, explain to us further before we get to our panel, explain further about this reporting, what this back channel was all about, why it was unique, and why it was reportedly entailed the Russians embassy there in D.C.?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There is a lot of complex parts to this story, Fredricka, and a source with knowledge of the situation confirms to CNN's Jeff Zeleny that after the election last fall, Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of President Donald Trump, and of course, his senior adviser to the president, explored the idea of setting up the secret line of communication with Russia to discuss military operations in Syria and other matters.
Even though it is unclear why it would be necessary to set up such a channel like this to discuss these issues secretly. Now Kushner first discussed the idea during a meeting in December with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. Now the line was never established, but the line of communication would have given Kushner, and incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a secret channel of communication with Russian leaders that would have been outside the purview of the Obama administration.
Now this story was initially reported by "The Washington Post," which revealed that it was Kislyak who told his superiors about the proposal. Kislyak telling his bosses that the channel was Kushner's idea and would have been established inside Russian diplomatic facilities here in the United States.
According to the "Post," Kislyak was taken aback by the proposal because of the security risk that it could potentially create for both the Russian government and the Trump transition.
Now Ellen Nakashima was the reporter who broke the story and she did caution that this could be another attempt by the Russian government to confuse the public about the Trump's administration's connections to Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELLEN NAKASHIMA, NATIONAL REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": I caution that this is based on reporting by Kislyak up to his superiors in Moscow and that reporting was captured on intercepts and, you know, this could be Russian -- intelligence agencies are known sometimes to put disinformation into their feeds in order to sew confusion, sometimes senior officials in their reporting can exaggerate a bit, but if this report is true, then it means that Kushner was seeking a secure channel during the transition period in the weeks leading up to the inauguration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBLES: Now, at this point that Jared Kushner himself has not denied the report. You did just hear those senior White House officials who are refusing to comment on it.
[11:50:06]But this development once again raises questions about the depths of Kushner's involvement with Russia and the role it could have played in the campaign. Now Kushner was a private citizen at that time, but it may not really matter legally because he was an official member of the transition.
He was already given some interim clearance at that point. His attorneys have said that he's willing to cooperate with investigators including those on House and Senate Intel Committees -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right, all very fascinating. Ryan Nobles, thank you so much.
All right, let's now talk with my panel, I keep getting ahead of myself, I'm anxious to hear more on your points of view, Gentlemen. Back with me now, Tim Neftaly, Mike Shields, David Rohde, and Admiral John Kirby. OK, so Admiral, I know earlier you said that you thought it was awfully naive for Jared Kushner to embark on something like this, so David, I'm wondering, you know, your point of view. Is this naivety or is there something else behind wanting and proposing this kind of private line of communication?
ROHDE: Look, I want to be fair. You know, in all these stories there has been no evidence so far of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and it's more of these actions that are -- I agree with Admiral Kirby. It's, you know, either naive or something more nefarious, but it's unusual.
You know, the failure to disclose these contacts, meetings with Russian officials and then a separate report last night, Reuters reported that there were two additional calls between Jared Kushner and Ambassador Kislyak that the White House had not disclosed.
So, they may be innocent. There may be no conclusion but the failure to disclose these calls and these meetings and his communications efforts, it keeps the story rolling forward.
WHITFIELD: And that's part of the big problem, is it not, Tim? Because I mean, there's an opportunity for Jared Kushner to reveal these meetings in that very standard form, but it didn't happen or is it that he thought it was so innocuous that maybe it wasn't necessary? I mean, what would be the best explanation?
NAFTALI: Well, this report raises a lot more questions than it answers. I hope we will learn more. It's the conspiratorial nature of it that is so troubling. If indeed the reporting is accurate and if, indeed, this is not some kind of disinformation, why set up a back channel before your administration takes office.
There are many examples in American history of administrations setting up back channels. The Kennedy administration, the Nixon administration, and there are back channels with certain countries, a back channel with the PLO, there have been many back channels, but you do it when you're in office.
Why the need, if, indeed, this is not dis-information, why the need to set it up before you're in office. And why even make the effort at a time when you know that the United States is putting the Russians under scrutiny.
What kind of signal are you sending to Putin while the United States is gathering information about Russian intelligence activities and its covert action during our campaign? What's the signal you're sending to Putin if you send a representative to talk to him through his ambassador in this way?
Aren't you saying to Putin, you know what, this new administration won't care at all? So I'm a little cautious about this. I'm wondering first of all what the nature of the report was. I mean, was this sent through highly encrypted -- highly encrypted system that Soviet -- listen to me -- Russian diplomats used to communicate with Moscow? Do we have the ability to break that? Have we lost that ability now? I really would like know the nature of the source of this information because that will help us understand the extent to which it's real and extent to which the Trump team was engaging in conspiratorial behavior before President Trump took the oath of office.
WHITFIELD: And so Admiral, you know, even the Russian Ambassador Kislyak was taken aback reportedly about this proposed back channel by way of using a Russian interest and we heard from General McMaster of the NSA, who said, you know, back channel communication with a number of countries is, you know, is pretty normal.
You even said that there were already, you know -- there's support system in place, why not use what's already in place from the Obama administration, so what would be the best explanation from this White House if it says we want to start anew. We just don't trust our predecessor and this is the way we want to proceed.
KIRBY: Yes, assuming all this reporting is true and I'm with David, I think we need to let the investigators do their job before we jump to conclusions, but let's just assume that the reporting is true, that they did this.
I think the best explanation would be simple naivety. Mr. Kushner is just so young and so inexperienced on the foreign stage that they wanted to make sure they had direct communications with the Russians because they didn't trust the Obama administration and the poor relationship that existed between Moscow and Washington at that time.
And so they wanted to set this up separately so that they can have direct and unfettered communications without the State Department sort of listening in on what they were talking about. That would be in my mind the best possible thing for the White House at this time.
[11:55:09]If that's -- if all this reporting is true, but it just doesn't make any sense and I agree with Tim, it just raises more questions than answers right now and I think this is all the more reason why these investigations need to proceed at a pace so that we can get the answers to them.
WHITFIELD: So, Mike, Jared Kushner, you know, has a law degree from Harvard. You know, the argument or best defense of it being you know, naivety might be tough for some people to swallow, but does this now mean he being the closest adviser, perhaps, to the president that his role will have to change or that it's in question now?
SHIELDS: Well, first of all, my understanding is Jared Kushner has offered evidence testimony, whatever it is that's needed on his behalf, he's offered that in the past and he's offered it again to go to Congress and talk to anyone who is looking into this.
You just heard General McMaster say this sort of thing doesn't trouble him. He is an official in the White House. Officials in the White House talk to people in other governments. He was an official on the transition. So I think that's a little bit different than an investigation into whether or not the campaign had some sort of connections with Russia to which there have been zero evidence anywhere that anyone has seen and looks like a lot of people are looking for it.
I think, you know, it's interesting, I keep hearing the word conspiracy on this panel and we know this because of a leak. This was intercepted in a conversation amongst some Russians and it came out and now it's in the "Washington Post."
And, you know, after a while you start to realize there's no actual evidence of any collusion going on and yet stories keep coming out time and time and time again and you start to wonder where those stories are coming from why are they getting planted the way they are?
I'm a huge supporter of our intelligence community, my father worked in the intelligence community, but there's something really deeply troubling about the fact that every day a reporter manages to get some kind of leak about this supposed investigation and then we have a panel with people saying there's a conspiracy when there's actually no evidence of any of it.
WHITFIELD: OK. So David, you know, leaks are, you know, pretty in step with Washington, D.C., and especially when there is trouble in a department or in the White House, the leaks seemed to come even more so, but these leaks, in answer to Mike's point there, do the leaks hinder ongoing investigations or do the leaks in some way help propel the investigations into areas that should be looked at closer?
ROHDE: Look, I've had some government officials leak to me and the specific cases I was involved in it was because they were sort of alarmed by the president's actions and I -- this is, you know, an incredibly unusual situation that the possibility, the allegation that, you know, the Trump campaign colluded with a foreign power to possibly impact the outcome of the election.
And again 18 intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russians did try to tip the election in Hillary Clinton's favor. So this, you know, the investigation needs to go faster. I just -- I think leaks that embarrass the president politically are very different from leaks that endanger national security and I think most of these leaks embarrass the president politically.
WHITFIELD: And so Admiral, you know, what's your point of view on these leaks? Because this information apparently comes from documentation as well, according to "Washington Post" and CNN reporting on conversations that were -- that took place and, of course, Russian ambassador, you know, Kislyak is among those at the U.S. intelligence community watches very closely, has transcriptions of all kinds of conversations he has had with a number of U.S. interests, so what do you see is at the root of the leaks?
KIRBY: Well, I think what I'm given to understand from reporters that I've talked to is that many of these are coming from individuals that have this information and are deeply concerned about their direction certain decisions are going and feel that they have no other recourse but to share it with the media to bring night the light of day.
Because they feel retribution or worry about retribution or worry about their own security there inside the establishment. That's what I'm given to understand. Look, there's leaks and leaks. Washington always leaks. David is right.
Leaks of sensitive classified information, is against the law and I fully support the president when he says he wants to investigate them and prosecute them. He has every right to do that. He has every responsibility to do that. That has got to stop.
What we saw with Manchester and potential dangerous leaks there for that ongoing investigation is absolutely abhorrent. That said, like any other White House, they're going to have to get used to the fact that there will continue to be these leaks. It's going to happen.
Leaks that embarrass the president, and are not based on sensitive or classified information, are not criminal and they're going to have to learn to deal with that. One of the things I'm worried about, though, Fredricka, is the rumors that they're trying to deal with this by standing up a war room and by going to battle with, in fact, the investigation, and that's the absolutely wrong approach.