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CNN: Russia Steps Up Spying Efforts After Election; Trump: Russia Meddled, But "No One Knows For Sure". Aired 8-9p ET

Aired July 6, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:07] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Good evening. John Berman here, in for Anderson.

We have breaking news tonight on perhaps the only growth industry in the United States the president will not be touting anytime soon, Russian spy. Here at home on the rise. A new twist as President Trump gets ready to meet his Russian counterpart which happens to be Russia's former top spy and someone who may have ordered intelligence operations aimed at getting him elected.

Today, President Trump issued a strongest statement yet about Russian mischief around the world, but was also abundantly unwilling to decisively include Russian meddling in the U.S. election as part of it. That's the reality tonight in Hamburg, Germany, on the eve of President Trump's first formal meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit that takes place with protesters marching, allies seeking reassurance, North Korea testing missiles, China looking to fill the vacuum and so much more, including now the breaking news.

CNN has learned that even with all the attention, the reporting, the hearings, the FBI probe, intelligence officials are concerned that Russian has accelerated its spying given the intelligence community which the president slighted today even more to do.

More on Putin, the summit, the president's resistance, all of it tonight. First, though, CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown on the stepped-up spying.

Pamela, what have you learned?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've learned, John, Russian spies are ramping up their intelligence gathering efforts in the United States. This is according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials who say they've noticed this increase since the election. So, it appears, John, the Russians have not been slowed by retaliatory efforts after it meddled in the U.S. election, according to the U.S. intelligence community.

And since the election, John, U.S. authorities have detected an uptick in suspected Russian intelligence officers entering the United States under the guise of other business. Now, officials say they believe Russia is trying to replenish their ranks since the U.S. expelled 35 Russian diplomats suspected of spying last December. And in some cases, Russian spies have tried to gain employment at places with sensitive information as part of their intelligence gathering efforts. The FBI, which is responsible for counterintelligence efforts in the

U.S., would not comment for this story, and the Russian embassy in Washington didn't respond for comment either.

BERMAN: So, if this is known to U.S. intelligence, Pamela, and they're seeing it, why aren't they stopping it?

BROWN: So, that is the big question. So, first of all, you know, even after the meddling in the U.S. elections in 2016, both the Obama and Trump administrations have been slow to take measures to respond to the intelligence threat. And according to current and former U.S. officials, partisan political disagreements over the Russian activity and President Donald Trump's reluctance to accept intelligence conclusions about Russian's meddling in the election has slowed efforts to counter this threat.

Also, we're told from -- by Russian experts that Russia wants to ramp up spying when it has someone new in office, an adversary government, someone who they view as unpredictable, they want to have as much intelligence as they can.

But we're told that counterintelligence is seeking to keep an eye on the activity as much as it can. In some cases, the FBI uses surveillance to track the suspected Russian intelligence officers as part of a counterintelligence efforts, and that's how the U.S. was able to identify and expel the 35 Russian diplomats accused of spying last December, in response to Russian election meddling.

We're told some of the diplomats have violated protocol, John, by leaving the Washington, D.C., area without notifying the State Department. That's been a big concern for those in the intelligence community. Russia, by the way, has similar rules in place for U.S. diplomats in Russia.

And another issue, an ongoing frustration with the State Department over granting of visas to people the U.S. intelligence community suspects are intelligence officers. State Department official would not comment specifically on the visas -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Pamela Brown, fascinating reporting, and a lot of it. Thank you so much.

So, if the Russians are taking advantage of America's inaction, which might in turn be affected by the continued refusal of the president to say tht he is certain the Russians meddled in the election. Today, at a news conference in Warsaw, the president once again hedged on the hacking.

CNN's Jim Acosta has the latest on that and the president's other remarks, some of which maybe perhaps more comforting to Western allies. Jim joins us now.

Jim, what exactly did the president have to say about Russian interference in 2016?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you said, John, the president once again declined to back up the U.S. intelligence community's assessment that Russia was behind the meddling in last year's election. But at the same time, he blamed Barack Obama for failing to do enough to stop the Russians. And at the same time, he said you can't trust what the U.S. intelligence community is saying, because they got the weapons of mass destruction wrong in Iraq.

Here's more of what he got to say at a news conference earlier today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it was Russia, and I think it could have been other people, in other countries. It could have been a lot of people interfered. I've said it very -- I said it very simply, I think it could very well have been Russia, but I think it well could have been other countries.

[20:05:03] And I won't be specific, but I think a lot of people interfere. I think it's been happening for a long time. It's been happening for many, many years.

Now, the thing I have to mention is that Barack Obama when he was president found out about this in terms of if it were Russia, found out about it in August. Now, the election was in November. That's a lot of time. He did nothing about it. Why did he do nothing about it?

I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries. I see nothing wrong with that statement. Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.

I remember when I was sitting back listening about Iraq, weapons of mass destruction. How everybody was 100 percent sure that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. And guess what, that led to one big mess. They were wrong. And it led to a mess.


ACOSTA: Now, a couple of points on this, John, one thing we should point out, the president appears to be the only person in the United States government in any kind of intelligence receiving capacity who is saying that Russia did not act alone in the meddling in last year's election. He's the only one saying that others countries may be involved. As a matter of fact, at a Senate intelligence committee hearing back in May, six heads of different intelligence agencies all testified that they believe Russia was behind the meddling in last year's election.

Now, to the point about former President Obama, we should point, John, yes, there are some Democrats who say the Obama administration did not go far enough. And there are even some Obama administration veterans who say that themselves. But point of fact, President Obama did confront Vladimir Putin at a G20 Summit in September of last year, after he received this information about the possible hacking of last year's election. So, when the president says that Barack Obama did nothing, that is

factually not accurate. Meanwhile, the president has not even said himself whether he will bring up this issue when he meets with Vladimir Putin tomorrow here in Hamburg.

So, at this point, the president is doing, or at least promising he's going to do even less than what he's accusing Barack Obama of doing about Russian meddling in last year's election -- John.

BERMAN: Interesting way to put it there, Jim.

The speech the president gave today in Warsaw after the press conference, it actually did include some language that was tough on Russia, in some cases tougher than it has been. What did he say?

ACOSTA: That's right. He was tougher on Russia when it comes to Ukraine. He said, he wanted Russia to stop its activities in Ukraine, referring to their military intervention there. He also said that it's time for the Russians to stop supporting what he called a hostile regime in Syria, and in Iran.

So, that is going to certainly ease a lot of tensions among some of the Western European allies who are concerned about President Trump and what he said during his last foreign trip. Remember, John, he went to NATO in Brussels and did not really offer up a stout defensive Article 5 of the NATO's charter that says an attack on one member country is an attack on all. The president made sure to say that today. That's certainly going to really soothe some of the ruffled feathers from earlier this year when he was on that last foreign trip.

The question is whether or not he brings all of this up with Vladimir Putin. They don't have a long time in their meeting, less than an hour scheduled for the meeting between the president and Vladimir Putin today, John.

BERMAN: Yes, high stakes, but not necessarily a lot of time.

Jim Acosta in Hamburg for us, thank you so much.

Drilling down now more on the hacking question, and whether as Jim just mentioned, if even an open question at all for U.S. intelligence. Tonight, CNN's Jim Sciutto sat down with the nation's former top intelligence official who watched the election tampering unfold as the director of national intelligence.

Jim Sciutto joins us now.

So, Jim, keeping them honest -- the hacking question, is it an open question with the U.S. intelligence community at all?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: In a word, no. It's difficult to imagine a more definitive dismissal of the president's comments today than what we heard from the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, the senior most American spy with more than 40 years experience, serving presidents of both parties I might add. But he said, one, zero question or doubt within the intelligence

community that was Russia behind the attacks. Two, no evidence whatsoever that he has seen, and, of course, he sees all the intelligence on this, that there were any others involved in this. And finally, you heard Clapper debunking this sort of 17 intelligence agencies thing that's gotten out there.

He made the point that these assessments were the assessments of the U.S. intelligence community as a whole. And while not all 17 intelligence agencies signed on to it, they wouldn't, because he said they consulted the agencies that had relevant intelligence to add. The NSA, the CIA, the FBI, not, for instance, the Coast Guard's intelligence branch which is one of the 17 agencies, or DEA's intelligence branch, because that's not what they do.

[20:10:02] Definitive knockdown from Director Clapper.

BERMAN: And, Jim, the president did cite something that you know stings the intelligence community, the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. You brought that up with former DNI Clapper in your interview today. What did he say?

SCIUTTO: That's right. This is a frequent point that Donald Trump has returned to many times as he has undermined the credibility of the intelligence community, saying, well, they got WMD wrong. So, I asked Director Clapper this. And as he said, he takes it personally because he was involved. Have a listen.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The intelligence community has done a lot of things to make sure that never happens again. And so, yes, it's true that was a big mistake. But we have learned from it and inserted, the intelligence community has, I should say, and injected a lot of safeguards to prevent that from ever happening again. And because of that experience, and my having lived through it, that's why my confidence level is so high and the veracity and fidelity of the information of the intelligence community assessment.


SCIUTTO: And, you know, John, one of the changes that's been put in place by the intelligence community since the failure of the Iraq WMD assessment is including at times in classified intelligence reports dissenting views, in other words, saying you have a certain group of analysts who believe x, but there's the dissenting view for this reason. And I've spoken to U.S. intelligence officials repeatedly on Russia hacking, including former Director Clapper, and they say there were no dissenting views in the analysis that Russia was behind this hack.

BERMAN: Interesting.

All right. Jim, stick around, stay with us. I want to talk to you more after the break. To you and our other intelligence officials in how tomorrow's meeting with Vladimir Putin could play out and how the U.S.-Russia relationship may unfold given some of the realities we've been discussing.

And later, another reality, North Korea's nuclear weapons and missiles, President Trump's warning to Kim Jong-un today about the, quote, pretty severe response he says he's considering. We'll talk about the message he sent and how it might be received ahead on 360.


[20:15:45] BERMAN: All right. Russia ramping up their spying here, emboldened by what they perceive as lack of action from both Presidents Trump and Obama. That is the breaking news tonight. The ongoing news, the current president's reluctance to issue a full- throated, unequivocal endorsement of his own intelligence community's assessment on election hacking, least it somehow tarnished his victory, which is not in question.

Jim Sciutto is back, along with Phil Mudd and Steve Hall.

Steve, I want to start with you here. This CNN reporting, Russia sending in more spies, feeling emboldened about the size and scope of spying it can do. Does that surprise you?

STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA SENIOR OFFICER, RUSSIA EXPERT: No, it really doesn't really surprise me. I mean, this is a time of significant tension and uncertainty on both sides, Russia and the United States. And it's not at all uncommon for intelligence services to try to ram up, so they can get more information on the plans and intentions of the senior-most policymakers in Washington.

In that sense it's not a surprise. It's also not a surprise given the fact that 35 Russian diplomats, one can safely assume, many of them intelligence officers, were expelled from the United States late last year. So, that's another thing that the Russians have to do some catching up on. So, no, it's pretty much expected.

BERMAN: And, Phil Mudd, this happened on the same day that President Trump said that nobody knows for sure whether the Russians meddled in the U.S. election, despite the fact that U.S. intelligence officials say they do know for sure. And the president also brought up the failed intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. What effect did that have on the intelligence community?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Oh, now, really, John, let's discuss this for a moment. The president of the United States when he gets great intelligence, that leads to laptop ban. Intelligence from a partner of the U.S. intelligence services that he's so proud of that he brags to the Russians, in an inappropriate leak of that information, he talks about it. He doesn't talk about the Iraq problem then.

When he gets great intelligence warning him that the Syrians might use chemical weapons again, what does he do? He publicly uses that intelligence to warn the Syrians. When he gets great intelligence on issues like the Iran nuclear

program, on issues like North Korea, partnering its ballistic missiles with nuclear weapons, potentially, he brags about that information.

When he gets information that's inconvenient personally, because it looks like it might tarnish his election victory, what does he do? Overseas, in the spotlight of European security services and every CIA officer around the world, because it personally embarrasses him, he suggests that he doesn't like that intelligence because it's an inconvenient truth.

I think we know what's going on here, John. When the intelligence supports him, he's going to use it publicly, including leaking it to the Russians. When it doesn't, he's going to denigrate publicly in an overseas environment an overseas the U.S. intelligence community. I think I know what's going on here, and you could read it simply as I can. He doesn't like stuff that embarrasses him personally, that's what this is.

BERMAN: Let me ask you this, Phil, because this is something that we've heard already in the few hours that this has been reported, the possibility that this information, the intelligence community saying more spies are coming in, leaked or put out by intelligence U.S. officials, upset about what you're talking about, that the president's criticizing them openly overseas. Is that possible?

MUDD: I think that's possible. But I think this story could potentially be overplayed. Let me pick up on something that Steve Hall said.

Look, the former president, President Obama, despite what President Trump has said, expelled a lot of Russian intelligence officers. Any intelligence service on the planet is going to say, over the course of the next months or years, I'm going to replace those intelligence officers, I'm going to send more people in.

Let me give you one other truth about this country, John, and that is, if you send more Russians into this country, there is plenty of information available on CNN, in "The New York Times," in "The Washington Post," and on the cocktail circuit of Washington, D.C. about what is happening in the White House. You can vacuum up information in this environment in this environment without spies that will help the Kremlin understand what's going on in the White House, and that's what I think the Russians are doing. It's entirely predictable.

BERMAN: And, Jim Sciutto, there seemed to be a flat-out conflicting message from the president of the United States. On the one hand, he delivered a speech in Warsaw where he called on Russia to stop what he called their destabilizing activities in the Ukraine and elsewhere. That's a strongest statement in some ways on that subject to date. But he quite deliberately seemed not to include election meddling as a destabilizing activity.

[20:20:05] That's a mixed message to say the least. SCIUTTO: No question. One was a scripted speech, the speech itself.

And the other, you know, when he's in those press conferences, he's speaking off the cuff.

So, I think that might be part of the explanation there. But there is clearly something about election meddling, because remember, the president, it took him some time to call out Russia for activity in the Ukraine and elsewhere. He's gotten to that point. I'm sure his advisers have been pushing him in that direction.

On the meddling, we know he's been briefed on that as well. He's seen the same intelligence that Director Clapper and others have seen, and yet on that issue, he has something stopping him from going public and definitive with that. And perhaps that means that it is unlikely that he brings it up face to face with Putin tomorrow.

That's something that you're hearing from both Democrats and Republicans, that that would be a mistake. Particularly in light of the fact that Russia continues to lay the groundwork, as Director Clapper said in our interview today, that Russia is, quote/unquote, prepping the battlefield for attacks on the elections in 2018 and 2020. That's an alarming warning to hear from the former director of national intelligence.

BERMAN: You know, Steve Hall, what is the effect inside the intelligence trenches, as it were, of statements like the president made today, when he says nobody knows for sure, when in fact intelligence leaders are saying they do? What impact does that have for the people on the ground?

HALL: So, it was interesting to hear Jim Clapper's comments on that. He went on to say something very important, which was essentially, look, the intelligence community, it doesn't help when they hear those things. But they're a resilient bunch. And I would agree with that.

I would tell you who it does help, though, it really helps Vladimir Putin and those in the Kremlin who are prepping for the meeting tomorrow. For a president who says, you know, I really don't like to transmit my plans to the adversaries, I'm not going to talk a whole lot about what's going to happen in North Korea or another war zone, he certainly has transmitted a lot of information about himself before he goes to meet Putin.

It's going to be extremely difficult for him to walk into that room tomorrow and be what I think he needs to be, which is tough with Putin when he's already equivocated on whether or not the Russians were the only ones involved in the election meddling. It shows his own personal insecurities with regards to his presidency. That's something that's not going to go unnoticed by Putin.

And, lastly, this whole divisiveness that now exists between the intelligence community, at least as perceived to exist, certainly, the Russians will perceive it as such between the intel community and presidency, that's something they will take advantage of. Putin will say, boy, it must be tough for you, Mr. President, when you can't trust your own intel guys, when they make those kinds of mistakes and then there's the deep state piece to all of this. That must be really tough for you.

Those are things Putin will try to manipulate. The president has essentially given all of that to him for free.

BERMAN: Well, we'll see how it plays tomorrow at Hamburg when the two sit down face to face for their first formal meeting as president.

Jim Sciutto, Phil Mudd, Steve Hall, thank you very much.

Next, a Republican member of Congress weighs in on the Russian relationship, where he thinks the president gets it right, and where he fell short.


[20:27:02] BERMAN: So, with the intelligence assessment that the president still can't fully endorse or accept, and today in Poland, he again undercut the intelligence agencies that made it, and the consensus they reached.

Keeping them honest, though, here's what top officials of some of the relevant agencies said when asked by the Senate Intelligence Committee.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), VICE CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: As the assembled leadership of the intelligence community, do you believe that the January 2017 intelligence community assessment accurately characterized the extent of Russian activities in the 2016 election, and its conclusion that Russian intelligence agencies were responsible for the hacking and leaking of information, and using misinformation in order to influence our elections? Simple yes or no would suffice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do, yes, sir.







BERMAN: You also heard former DNI Clapper endorsed that view a bit earlier on the program.

More on the subject now from Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. We spoke just a short time ago about that and tonight's breaking news.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BERMAN: Congressman Kinzinger, the breaking news tonight is that

Russian spies are ramping up their efforts to gather intelligence in the U.S. They feel emboldened to do so because of the lack of retaliation of the 2016 election interference, lack of retaliation from both the Trump and Obama administrations. What's your reaction to this news?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL), HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, I mean, presuming this is true and presuming the reason for why is true, first off, I'm not surprised that they're ramping up their intelligence gathering information. The Russians feel as if the Cold War is back on. They're trying to reestablish the Soviet Empire through soft power, through election hackings and through hard power like in Ukraine and Syria.

And I do think that the reaction needs to be strong. I think it's time for the House of Representatives to get -- pass this Russian sanctions bill that the Senate sent us. There may be some tweaks, that's fine, whatever, but we need to send that strong message and it needs to be powerful and effective. I think if we react to that, then that's absolutely essential.

But I think this sends one big point, which is that the Russians only react when they meet brick walls. When they don't meet brick walls, when they think they can advance, when they think they can up their spying game without repercussion, they'll do it. That's how they think.

BERMAN: They only react to brick walls. Today, the president of the United States was in Warsaw, the border with Russia, and said, nobody knows for sure whether the Russians hacked into the 2016 election. Is that the kind of brick wall you're talking about?

KINZINGER: No, that's not. That's not. And he did say, yes, it was the Russians, but it was the follow-up statement, I don't understand, it could have been other countries, it could have been other people. Unless he knows something that I don't and haven't been briefed on.

You know, it's a good start, at least he's saying that. But the reality is, this isn't about, you know, this isn't about delegitimizing President Trump. He won because he won a majority of the electorates. He spoke to the heart of people who were in anguish in a lot of areas.

But this is about protecting democracy and the institution, not for 2018, not for 2020, but for frankly 2100.

BERMAN: Just to be clear: any doubt in your mind that Russia hacked into the 2016 election?

KINZINGER: No doubt. I trust our intelligence agencies about this stuff. And they seem pretty convinced.

BERMAN: And again, given that you think there needs to be a brick wall message from the United States Congress and the administration, was the statement nobody knows for sure appropriate for the President to make, especially in Central Europe?

KINZINGER: I don't think so. I think the President has an opportunity to make some really good strides in this. I think he's doing good in some areas. But that comment, you know, that are talking about the intelligence agencies in Iraq, is something, A, you don't do. Secondly, you don't do what overseas in front of our allies. Keep in mind, our allies -- these are the folks that are feeding us intelligence information when it comes to ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Russia, et cetera. We're doing the same. There's a good exchange of information.

If they believe, and I don't believe this is necessarily true, but if they believe that the President of the United States does not trust his own intelligence agencies, that could lead to real serious problems in the future.

BERMAN: Big meeting tomorrow between President Trump and Vladimir Putin. What message do you think the President should deliver?

KINZINGER: I think he needs to deliver that brick wall. I think he needs to talk about the Assad regime and begin to talk about, let's force a solution here that ends the violence that ends ISIS. He needs to talk about Ukraine. And I think he needs to bring up election hacking, the election meddling. Not just here, but what's going on right now in Europe and what's going to happen in the future elections. I don't think that needs to be the centerpiece, but I think it needs to be mentioned. And I think he needs to make it clear to President Putin that we are serious about this.

But keep in mind, when you having the -- I don't know, how long is going to last, maybe an hour or something and you have translators, that really gives you about 30 minutes of actual talking time because of the translators. So we need to hit Syria, Ukraine, let's see if there are areas of common ground in North Korea. But I do think election hacking needs at least mention if not necessarily discuss the whole time.

BERMAN: From what you've seen, does President Trump understand Vladimir Putin?

KINZINGER: I don't know. I don't have any indication yet. I think a lot of presidents in the past did not understand Vladimir Putin.


KINZINGER: I think this is a man that reacts to power. He reacts to strength. Concessions will not help him concede to us. So giving back these properties we seize will not create some kind of goodwill that he's going to get out of Syria and Ukraine. I think meeting that was straight, the shoot down of the SA-22, the bombing of the airfield in Syria are good messages. Now President Trump needs to back that up with very strong statements and points to him.

BERMAN: Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois thanks so much for being with us.

KINZINGER: You bet. Anytime.

BERMAN: Up next, how White House staffers are preparing the President to handle Vladimir Putin tomorrow. Stay with us.


[20:36:38] BERMAN: In a matter of hours, President Trump will sit down with Vladimir Putin for one of the most anticipated meetings up his presidency to date. Lots of issues could be up for discussion, from escalating tensions in North Korea, to the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. As of earlier this week, there was really no set agenda for the meeting. Now White House staffers are trying to prepare the President the best they can. CNN's Elise Labott has more.


ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Even as Donald Trump publicly meets with world leaders in Germany, behind the scenes his top aides, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis and Fiona Hill of Putin Critic now on the National Security Council are all prepping him for tomorrow's sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Tillerson has a long history of dealing with the Russian President and Mattis has taken a harder line on Putin than the President has publicly. Over the past several days advisers gave the President a large binder of material for his nine meetings on the sidelines of the G20 summit, but aides say the section on Putin and Russia is only a few pages, written in one sentence talking points to keep the President focused. Senior administration officials say the President has been receptive to their advice.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We're at the very beginning, and I would say at this point it's difficult to say exactly what the Russians' intentions are in this relationship. I think that's the most important part of this meeting to have a good exchange with President Trump and President Putin of what they both see as the nature of this relationship between our two countries.

LABOTT (voice over): And in a statement, Secretary Tillerson offering the only clues so far as to what the leaders will discuss on Syria, writing, "The United States and Russia certainly have unresolved differences on a number of issues. But we have the potential to appropriately coordinate in Syria in order to produce stability and serve our mutual security interests."

Besides the two leaders and their translators, only Tillerson and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be in the room at tomorrow's meeting. On the eve of the sit down Putin is showing he isn't planning to make things easy for Trump. Praising the success of the G20 in a German newspaper, but slamming U.S. trade policies as, "protectionism," and U.S. sanctions as "Doomed To Fail." He also voiced support for the Paris climate accord which Trump pulled out of, calling it, "A reliable international legal framework."

Meanwhile, President Trump publicly called out Russia in his harshest terms to date.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine, and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes, including Syria, and Iran.

LABOTT (voice over): But he also cast doubt on U.S. Intelligence assessments Putin was behind the meddling in the 2016 election, an issue Trump is not expected to raise with Putin.


LABOTT (on camera): Though his advisers acknowledge they have no certainty over what Trump will bring up with President Putin, and are concerned over the President's unpredictability when it comes to tomorrow's meeting, John.

BERMAN: All right, Elise Labott at the State Department, thank you so much.

A lot to discuss now with our panel, Jon Finer Former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State John Kerry Former Chief of Staff, Secretary of State John Kerry. Jill Dougherty, Former CNN Moscow Bureau Chief, and Steve Hall CNN National Security Analyst, Retire CIA Chief of Russia Operation. John Finer, I'll start with you because you've been in the room with Vladimir Putin several times when he met with then Secretary of State John Kerry. Give us an idea of what that's like, the vibe he gives off.

[20:40:11] JON FINER, CHIEF OF STAFF TO SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: Thanks, John. The trick with the meetings is to maximize the amount of time you're spending on the agenda that you have and minimize the amount of time you have to listen to what is inevitably a fairly lengthy Russian diatribe against allege American transgression in foreign policy. They usually start the meeting with. They'll go back in history to the cold war, to the Arab spring, to the Iraq invasion, to try to put the person across the table on the defensive. And I think the key to this meetings is really being able to absorb that, you know, rebut it when absolutely necessary, and then shift to your own agenda, which is, you know, the most important reason why you're there.

BERMAN: And Jill Dougherty, you know, so much is being made of the optics of this. Who will smile, who will frown, who will shake hands first. But you know, don't forget the U.S. policy here and what is the U.S. policy toward Russia.

JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Well, I don't think actually there is a policy right now. That's one of the problems. There are disparate issues. But there's no overarching policy. And so that kind of makes it difficult, really, to pin down what's going to happen.

I mean, I think on the optics, you have two men who were pretty macho in kind of different ways. And I think it would be very interesting to see that kind of power dynamic. You know, who initiates the conversation, and as it was just said, who can kind of make their points without being rammed by the other guy, and eating up time that you don't want to deal with.

You know, interestingly, I was just looking at some Russian media and how they're hamming this. Because they -- each man is playing to his own domestic audience as well and I think that's really important. Mr. Trump has looks strong to his people. So maybe we'll see that kind of serious frown that he has. President Putin also has to look strong to his own people. And some of the media are actually kind of mocking -- this is sputnik, as the Russian media outlet, they're mocking President Trump, interestingly for a handshake faux pas in Poland. And so it's interesting, they're kind of nibbling around the edges, setting it up. And anything that makes Trump look a little weak makes Putin look stronger.

BERMAN: Steve Hall, to you. You know again, Vladimir Putin not your average world leader, someone who led up Russian intelligence. Do you think he approaches this type of meeting differently then with the intelligence experience? And how then should the U.S. be prepared for this?

HALL: Well, there's no doubt that Putin's experiences as a KGB officer, and then, of course, his responsibilities in the FSB has move up to the rank certainly influenced him. But he's also just an experienced world leader who's met with a whole bunch of other world leaders. And so he kind of knows how this whole thing goes. I really think it's important that Trump be very, very firm with Putin right off the bat.

People have made an argument that, well we're not sure how much time there's going to be. It doesn't take much time to say something like the following. You know, Mr. Putin, you all have to earn the right to deal with the rest of the civilized world, with the west and with the United States. Let's just review, if -- even if you set aside, you know, the shenanigans with regards to election hacking and meddling, you've annexed a country. You've set another country very close to civil war in the Ukraine. You've shot down civilian airliners. And that's all before we even get to the part about the election meddling.

So before we talk about any of that, Mr. Putin, we have to resolve those issues and then we'll talk about the things that you want to talk about, lifting of sanctions and so forth. I have a national security team who can work though that stuff with, but right upfront we've got to call you on these basically inappropriate and bad behavior that you've done in the international realm before we can go any further.

BERMAN: Of course, John Finer, you've got to do that while also waiting for Vladimir Putin to finish his diatribe on soviet and Russian history. John Finer, to you, do you ever emerge from these meetings with Vladimir Putin, with the Russians saying, well, one thing happened. It went a certain way and U.S. officials feeling something different happened?

FINER: That absolutely does happen. What you often see is reflections in the Russian state-run media that bear almost no resemblance to what actually went on behind closed doors. But again, that's to be expected. And that's not a problem. I think the other thing that's important to emphasize, though, is that these meetings, particularly for the U.S. side are big opportunities. Because in our system, there are lots of people who are empowered at different levels of the governments to make different decisions, at least about matters of policy that don't rise to the level of war and peace.

In the Russian system, Putin is really the only decision maker. So the opportunity get in front of him to make the case about steps we need him to take, and to put down some firm markers as was just said, is unusual and important to take advantage of.

[20:45:07] BERMAN: Jill is there a way to intimidate Vladimir Putin?

DOUGHERTY: I don't think so. I really don't. Putin is very good at thrusting back, you know, pairing and thrusting. And he often -- he usually knows something that he will use, or exploit in a conversation about the other person. And maybe establish a little camaraderie by saying -- by quoting what the other person thinks. He's very skillful in almost a lawyerly fashion in saying, you've made that point, but you have these faults, too. Especially America has these faults.

BERMAN: Fascinating. It will be fascinating to see. Again, that happens about 12 hours from now. Thank you all so much.

Up next, tensions escalating after this week's successful launch of a North Korean ICBM, President Trump says, he is not ruled out military options, but some experts say that could spell disaster.


BERMAN: In the latest escalation of tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, President Trump addressed potential military options at a news conference with the Polish President today.


[20:50:03] TRUMP: As far as North Korea's concerned, I don't know, we'll see what happens. I don't like to talk about what I have planned. But I have some pretty severe things that we're thinking about. That doesn't mean we're going to do them. I don't draw red lines.


BERMAN: Military experts say that any attack could spark out all-out war on the Korean Peninsula.

I want to bring in our panel CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen who worked with four U.S. Presidents, CNN Military Analyst Retired Major General James "Spider" Marks, and former National Security Council of Director for China and Korea in the Obama administration Laura Rosenberger. David, I want to start with you when you heard the President says, pretty severe things, those were his words. How do you interpret that?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I interpret that as he wants to put a warning out there but he's not quite sure what to do yet. You know, basically, the United States for some years has faced same three options as -- and none of them appealing. As the scholar (INAUDIBLE) put it so well, the options are buy them out, squeeze them out or burn them out. And we tried buying them out with the Clinton administration. We got an agreement. I was involved with that. And it worked for a number of years but eventually it fell apart. We've tried sanctions, squeezing them. Since then, that hasn't worked very well. And so the president, inevitably is also thinking about severe military reprisals going beyond sanctions and as you say that's a very scary proposition and I thought Secretary Mattis of the Defense Department was reassuring today saying that this recent test by the North Koreans does not bring us any closer to war.

BERMAN: Yes. It was fascinating, General Marks, what David Gergen is saying there because the Secretary Defense James Mattis went to the briefing room to talk to reporters. They weren't expecting and he went there to say to them that this new capability by North Korea doesn't change the calculus for the United States in the region. It seems to be saying this doesn't make war more likely and specifically said the diplomacy is still the first option here. Do you think the reason he did that is, you know, as a general that he knows that the military options here are just not good?

MAJOR GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, the military options clearly are not good. The third option that David described which is burn them out clearly is not an acceptable option either. What needs to be very clear -- and I think we've made this clear. Secretary Tillerson has made this clear. Regime change in the north is not an objective of the United States or the coalition himself. Clearly, there are pockets that would want to see that. And intellectually and emotionally you can sit back and say, well, of course, Kim Jong-un and the Kim regime is a pathetic -- he's a charlatan leader and this regime is go away. No, no. We don't because the real recipient of that discussion is in Beijing. Beijing does not want to have a reunified peninsula. We don't care about the Kim regime. What we care about is Kim's ability to marry up a nuke with a missile and have that missile reach the United States or launch a missile over South Korea and have an electromagnetic pulse that darkens that part of the world for quite some time. Those are unacceptable outcomes and the window is very, very narrow.

So James Mattis, Secretary Mattis is absolutely correct. This is simply a step in the path that we have predicted and seen all along. It doesn't, in the near term, make it any more likely that there will be hostilities on the peninsula.

BERMAN: So Laura Rosenberger, this part of world you watched is you watched very closely for a very long time with intense interest. How do you think President Trump's words will be received? Pretty severe options he's looking at right now. On Twitter he is talking about Kim Jong-un. How is that received?

LAURA ROSENBERGER, FMR. DIRECTOR FOR CHINA & KORIA, OBAMA WH NATL. SECURITY COUNCIL: You know, I think it's a little bit careless and potentially reckless to put out strong terms like that when it's, as David said, is not entirely clear that the President even really knows what in fact he means by that. Pyongyang surely reads a lot into the President's words. And we'll be trying to figure out what in fact are his intentions.

My greatest fear in this scenario is actually miscalculation, whether that's miscalculation in Pyongyang thinking that Trump intends something that it not what he meant to signal or whether that's miscalculation in Solar Tokyo thinking that they may not be able to have the same kind of confidence in our assurances that they have come to believe that, you know, are there under our defense agreements.

BERMAN: Laura, what about the idea that for generations people have said sometimes uncertainty and mystery can't help in foreign policy? You know, does it give the President more options? Is it OK to have the North Koreans guessing here? And also, there are people will take issue with your notion the President doesn't have a strategy here. You know, look, he tried to woo the Chinese. He thought it was worth a try. It didn't work. Now, he's going in a different direction.

ROSENBERGER: Look, I think there are absolutely elements of the administration that have a strategy that they are trying to pursue. I think diplomacy or messaging on this issue is a highly complex process. I think it requires a lot of careful coordination. I think that that's very hard to convey and sentiments that are a bit off the cuff. I think there are two really important concepts in dealing with the North Korean threat. One is deterrence and one is reassurance, deterrence of our adversary, reassurance of our allies. Both of those depend very, very centrally on clarity of intentions and a very crisp understanding of the credibility of what we are saying are we may do.

[20:55:31] And what's concerning to me about some of Trump's statements is I don't believe that he is actually conveying the kind of clarity that is necessary for deterrence and reassurance to actually have the kind of effect that we need them to.

BERMAN: David Gergen, your response to that?

GERGEN: Well, I do think, John, to go back to your original point, there are times in Americans foreign policy when ambiguity is a wise course. That's the way we have approached, what we would do about Taiwan if they got into a fight with Mainland China. We have intentional ambiguity. But on a question of North Korea, I think it's really important that the administration have come to a firm consensus view within the administration about what they would like to see happen, what their plans are in order to get allies to join with them. Ultimately, we may have to face down China and Russia on this question and we need definitely to have Japan, we need the South Korean government, we need Europe to be standing firmly with us and that means you can't be too ambiguous. You have to have some clear path of what you're really trying to accomplish.

BERMAN: And Spider, you know, one of the most important allies here might be South Korea. They are the ones, you know, most immediately involved with this situation. We have a new South Korean leader who may be more amenable to the idea of negotiation. What's should the United States be doing there?

MARKS: We've been there before. Kim -- the former leader Kim Dae -- the leader of South Korea, my apologies, back in 2000, won the Nobel Peace Prize, KDJ. He was able to talk to the north and got nothing from that and they spent millions of dollars to try to achieve some type of result. Even though we now have President Moon who may, in fact, moving the direction that's not dissimilar from that. The foundation of our relationship with the south is absolutely solid. There is no break in that type of view or an approach towards what's right for Seoul and what's right and what's right for the United States and the regional partners.

BERMAN: It will be fascinating to see these meetings over the coming days and what comes out of it and the language that's used. Thanks so much, everyone.

Up next, more on our breaking news, word of ramped up Russian spying just hours before the President's first formal face-to-face meeting with Vladimir Putin, all of this and more when we continue.