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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Trump-Putin Meeting: Two Accounts Emerge; Trump Raises Election Meddling in Lengthy Meeting With Putin. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired July 7, 2017 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:06] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: So, did the president of the United States stand up to Vladimir Putin on election hacking or let him off the cyber hook?
John Berman here, in for Anderson.
The answer may depend on what really happened after this handshake. Presidents Trump and Putin met today at the G20 Summit in Hamburg, just them, their respective top diplomats and a pair of translators. They talked far longer than expected, or at least longer than we were led to believe.
Then, two vastly different accounts emerged of what transpired. Tonight, they're driving two competing assessments how President Trump handled his first encounter with someone who was more than just a key player on the world stage. He's also a central figure in the president's own political drama.
The meeting was, in political jargon, bilateral, but the implication, multidimensional. Not to mention just plain fascinating.
We begin with CNN's Jim Acosta who joins us now from Hamburg.
Jim, so, what went on in and what came out of this meeting today?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, President Trump did what a lot of his critics thought would be unthinkable, and that is he confronted Vladimir Putin on this issue of meddling in last year's election. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson came out and talked to reporters and said at the very top of this meeting that President Trump did press Vladimir Putin on this issue, and that this was a lengthy exchange. It went on for several minutes and happened repeatedly throughout their two hour and fifteen or so minute meeting.
What's interesting, though, John, is a couple of things. One is Rex Tillerson said that President Trump was presenting what he believed to be the concerns of the American people during this meeting. Not necessarily his own concerns. And that leads one to believe and raises questions as to whether President Trump is coming to the conclusion that yes, Russia acted alone in meddling in the election last year.
Of course, yesterday at that news conference in Warsaw, he was holding out the possibility that other countries were involved. But, John, potentially, an even more important and significant disagreement. After the meeting was over, Rex Tillerson's foreign counterpart Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister for Russia, said that President Trump accepted Vladimir Putin's denials of interference in the elections last year. I talked to a senior administration official who said, no, President Trump did not accept those denials. So, there's a disagreement here.
However, because it is an anonymous administration official who was saying this, you have some critics out there now saying, especially people who worked with the Hillary Clinton campaign, who are saying that President Trump needs to come out and definitively say, he's not buying Vladimir Putin's denials that the Russians were meddling in last year's election. Of course, that is going to be a question put to the president next time he speaks in front of the cameras.
BERMAN: Indeed. It's like tonight, we haven't heard from him tonight, will he speak about that tomorrow? We'll have to wait and see.
The meeting went on longer than what we were told it would. It was scheduled for 30, 35 minutes. It went more than four times that. Do we know why?
ACOSTA: Well, part of the reason, and they had big issues to tackle, not only the election interference that went on last year, John, but they talked about Syria, and there was an agreement reached, despite some of that clashing over the issue of Russia meddling, there was an agreement reached to start to bring down some of the hostilities in parts of Syria. No real definitive sense as to whether this is going to be a lasting cease-fire. They were talking about it in those terms today. But, of course, Syria being Syria, we're going to have to see how things play out moving forward.
And, of course, they also talked about the situation in Ukraine. They did not come to any kind of final decision or any kind of final agreement to end Russian aggression in Ukraine or anything of that kind of importance. But the president did talk with Vladimir Putin about that subject as well. And, of course, there are lots of other issues discussed between these two men.
And, keep in mind, John, at one point Rex Tillerson said during the briefing and it was an off camera briefing with reporters earlier today, that they had good chemistry with one another, and apparently, the chemistry was so good that Melania Trump, the first lady had to come in at one point and check on these two leaders to sort of speed things along.
But, John, I think one thing we want to press on our viewers in terms of what happened today, I think it's very striking that coming out of this very historic meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin, there was an on-camera briefing and there was an off-camera briefing. The Russian Sergey Lavrov talked to reporters on camera after this very important meeting today. The United States, the greatest democracy on the face of the planet, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, they did not talk to reporters on camera. That briefing was held off camera. I think the juxtaposition today was pretty striking. It was an
opportunity for the president today, and his administration to tout something of a victory today, they answered their critics and talked to Vladimir Putin about election meddling but they chose to do it off camera -- John.
BERMAN: Interesting point. Jim Acosta for us in Hamburg -- thanks so much.
More now on the meeting as Secretary Tillerson and his Russian counterpart saw it, their own two accounts of the election hacking conversation.
[20:05:01] CNN's Michelle Kosinski has the latest and other questions. She joins us from the State Department.
And, Michelle, we have a he said-he said right now.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and we should say --
BERMAN: Russia claims one thing, Russia claims one thing, you know?
BERMAN: And President Trump and the others claim another.
KOSINSKI: Yes, this is Russia we're dealing with. You have to take these statements often with more than a grain of salt, maybe a little pile of salt. And this is not unusual. The readouts are often different. Each side is going to emphasize or interpret certain things to their advantage.
The Obama administration officials described sitting down with Putin as like listening to an alternate reality. But these things that the Russian foreign minister said to reporters were surprising. He said that Trump told Putin that the allegations of Russian meddling in the election were strange, because there's not facts to support it. He said that Trump accepted Putin's very clear statements that Russia was not involved.
Now, that prompted the White House to shoot back with a response saying, no, Trump did not accept Putin's claims of non-interference. But watch how Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described this meeting.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The president opened the meeting with President Putin by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. Now, they had a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject. The president pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement. President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past.
(END AUDIO CLIP) KOSINSKI: So many questions here, though. Did this come up off the top of the meeting to get it out of the way fairly quickly or did it take 30 minutes? You heard Tillerson say that Trump brought up the concerns of the American people. So, is that him saying that, well, there are others that have these concerns or was Trump saying he also shared these concerns? Did Trump say, we know you did this, here's what we're going to do about it, and this has to stop?
It doesn't sound like he said those things, John.
BERMAN: And, Michelle, the Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also commented that President Trump essentially down played the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. What exactly did he say?
KOSINSKI: He said that Trump said in this meeting that there are groups within the United States that are trying to fan the issue of Russian involvement without having any facts to back it up. Some are interpreting that saying there are groups that are trying to exaggerate this. The White House didn't respond to that statement by the Russian foreign minister specifically, but this is no way inconsistent with things that President Trump said, even yesterday when he was in Poland, he said, well, Russia may have played a role, but it could have been others. And that nobody knows for sure -- John.
BERMAN: Remember, as you say, Michelle, this is the Russian version of events.
KOSINSKI: Of course.
BERMAN: So, take that into account. Michelle Kosinski, thanks so much.
So, however Secretary Tillerson characterizes it, it does not seem either he or President Trump offered a factual rebuttal of President Putin's hacking denial. And as you know, the president going in was still equivocating on the extent of Russian blame and throwing shade on the intelligence community. However, had he cared to make more of an issue out of it, it's not like he would have lacked the ammunition.
CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto joins us now with more on that.
And, Jim, again, you know, we talked about this almost every night, this question of hacking, to our intelligence community is not, in fact, an open question. They believe they have definitive proof.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORESPONDENT: Not at all. They've had -- they released publicly, they don't often do this with highly sensitive intelligence issues, but on October 7th, 2016, and in January 2017, they released assessments with confidence that Russia was behind this, and they detailed in some degree in that classified report in January as to why they believe that to be true.
Then the fact is, and we have a special on tonight at 11:00 that deals with a lot of the open source evidence of exactly why intelligence agencies traced this back to Russia, some of it obvious. The hackers who were operating were operating on Moscow time. The hackers who were operating were operating in the Cyrillic alphabet, the Russian alphabet, as well as other indicators.
So, the evidence is there. Donald Trump has been briefed repeatedly on the evidence, and the intelligence agencies, who have a hand -- who contributed intelligence to this assessment, the CIA, the NSA, the FBI, they concurred in a high confidence assessment that Russia is behind this.
So I suppose the difficulty for us, for the American people, and for people in the intelligence communities to rectify President Trump's statements yesterday in the press conference, doubting that intelligence community's assessment that Russia was solely behind this, and then, today, having confidence that when he delivered that message to President Putin, that he did so with the strength and certainty that you would expect from an American president.
[20:10:03] We don't know, we weren't in that room, but on two different days, the president seemed to be delivering two different messages.
BERMAN: And again, just to belabor the point from yesterday, or not to belabor it, but any evidence that any other countries other than Russia attempted or succeeded in hacking during the 2016 election?
SCIUTTO: I asked -- I interviewed former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper yesterday, the most -- senior most intelligence official in the country until January, who has served, to be clear, Republican and Democratic administrations going back four decades. He said, and he saw and supervised these assessments, saw no evidence of anyone else but Russia. You can't get a more definitive statement than that.
And if you want to accept that, listen to the Democratic and Republican chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees who also have been briefed on this, and they say the same thing. It is not a partisan issue, it's a fact. And the fact that the president won't say that in explicit terms in public is a cipher, is a question. We don't really have an answer as to why that is.
BERMAN: All right. Jim Sciutto, stick around for a moment. We're going to bring in some reinforcements here.
Matthew Rojansky is the director of the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute, named after America's founding and foremost criminologist. Also joining us, America's foremost and only David Gergen, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Heather Conley is with us. She's current senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. With us as well, Steve Hall, former CIA director of Russian operations.
And, Jim -- sorry, David Gergen, I want to start with you here. These divergent views of what happened in the meeting, the Russians say that President Trump accepted President Putin's denial that the Russian hacks, the senior administration official tells Jim Acosta that's not the case. How important is it, how big of a deal is it that we do have these divergent views tonight?
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR TO NIXON, FORD, REAGAN & CLINTON: It's serious. It's serious because it goes to the credibility of each side. Obviously, what's needed now is for President Trump --
GERGEN: I'm sorry. What's obviously needed now is for President Trump to talk to the American people, to talk to the world and make what Rex Tillerson would call a robust statement, making it definitive and clear that he believes the Russians hacked in this election. They tried to help him get elected and that he's taking it seriously, and, you know, he needs a full statement. That would make the American account of this, the Tillerson account of what happened in this meeting much more credible. And one would like to think that is credible.
But if he dodges, if he continues to duck and waffle, then the Lavrov, the Russian interpretation of what happened in that meeting is going to become much more credible. I think it's that simple.
BERMAN: You know, Heather Conley, it strikes me that the administration wanted the story out of this meeting to be that President Trump confronted Russian leader Vladimir Putin over election hacking. It happened right at the beginning of the meeting. The fact now that there are these divergent views, that Sergey Lavrov said this, you know, is this the Russians trying to gaslight the administration?
HEATHER CONLEY, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: So, in some ways, President Trump did what he was pushed politically to do, asked and answered. He asked about the interference, it was answered.
And in some ways, both Sergey Lavrov and Rex Tillerson had, in some ways, the same things to say, meaning that this is an intractable disagreement, and Secretary Tillerson said, we've got to move forward. And Lavrov has said, well, we didn't do it, we're going to move forward.
We're not addressing the fact that a foreign power has interfered in the American democratic process. Russia is doing this in France, in Germany. They're increasing their influence, and this sort of back and forth does not get us to the place where we need to be, which is protection of the American democratic process, for upcoming elections and to make sure that we can prevent NATO allies from being interfered with by the Russian government.
BERMAN: So, Matthew Rojansky, on that point, Secretary Tillerson says, no, no, they want to turn to the future and face the future here, but can you really say, oh, just bygones over the Russians hacking the election? What's the impact of saying that's in the past? MATTHEW ROJANSKY, DIRECTOR, KENNAN INSTITUTE AT THE WILSON CENTER:
Look, I certainly agree, John, the president would have bought him an awful lot of domestic political capital, maybe even breathing room from the investigation on the Hill, from the pending new sanctions legislation which would really tie his administration's hands, Tillerson has opposed that, because he wants to be able to use sanctions as leverage with the Russians.
If he had simply publicly released the transcripts to what he said with Putin, or there had been issued some kind of clear and strong statement from the administration about what the consequences will be, not only for what Russia has done but if it continues to do this.
But I think it's vital to understand that the moving forward aspect is also the responsibility of the president of the United States on all of our behalf.
[20:15:05] It's not to bury what has happened, but it is that we've got to deal with the Russians. This is a major nuclear weapons power. Like it or lump it, they hold the keys to solving problems like Syria, Ukraine, North Korea.
What troubles me most of all, to be honest, is I didn't hear any readout from Secretary Tillerson or anybody else, that they talked about the near collapse of the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control regime or that they really got anywhere on the North Korea conversation. This is the stuff that worries me, when you have a leader of the United States and Russia sitting down together for two hours.
BERMAN: You know, Jim Sciutto, on the divergent views, though, it really does strike me that the administration thought that the president delivered or at least they portrayed it as a firm message to Vladimir Putin. You know, Rex Tillerson came out of that meeting and as part of his audio-only briefing, he made clear it was the first thing that was brought up and it was brought up repeatedly. And also, it seems to me that the reason now that it's being questioned so much is because of what the Russians did after, which seems like an intentional effort to put Donald Trump, the president of the United States, in an awkward situation.
SCIUTTO: Listen, I think a couple of things. Had President Trump not brought up the election meddling in this conversation, we would be having a very different conversation tonight. So, credit where credit is due. That was not expected.
Officials inside Trump's own White House have been telling reporters they did not expect him to bring it up, and in fact, he did, and apparently multiple times. That is -- that is something. That is certainly something.
SCIUTTO: Two, in principles, meetings like this between U.S. leaders and foreign leaders, you often have divergent readouts of what happened inside, because both of them are speaking to different audiences, your domestic audiences and they're very different. And frankly, sometimes in diplomacy, that's allowable, right? Listen, I understand you're going to say that's your take on what happened here to your population. I understand this is what I'm going to say to my population. So it's not that unusual.
That said, we know how Russia operates. Lavrov has a reputation for this kind of thing. Putin, certainly, a former KGB agent. So, I think we have to be conscious of that. In general, it's not that surprising to have divergent views.
I think in Trump's case, the final point I would make, is what allows for that Russian interpretation to have a little bit of life is that Donald Trump has contradicted himself on the severe -- you know, how seriously he takes the Russian hacking, in fact, 24 hours ago. So, that's one of the reasons he undermines his own message by his own public messaging.
BERMAN: No, no, look, in diplomacy, very often is trying to make both sides look good. The problem here is that the way the Russians handled it puts the president of the United States in an awkward situation, where now, you know, he's in a position where he probably needs to say outright he doesn't accept what Vladimir Putin said. I imagine if he takes any questions over the next 24, 48 hours, that that will be the question that's asked.
Steve Hall, you know, back to the original point here that President Trump did bring up election meddling, which is something maybe he wasn't planning on doing as recently as a week ago, will that have any impact on the intelligence community here who has at times been in conflict with the president? How do you think it will play among some of his skeptics, even politically in Congress?
STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA SENIOR OFFICER, RUSSIA EXPERT: You know, it's kind of interesting how low the threshold has gotten here. I mean, we're sort of giving accolades to a president for raising what really should be extremely obvious to raise, you know, an attack on our democracy.
There's a couple typical Russian things that I think that we saw here. Number one is when you get these denials and where are the facts? Where's the proof?
You know, the Russians know this is intelligence, that it's sensitive information. They're not going to get facts. They're not going to get proof, but they like to say that because it leaves us in a difficult position.
The other thing is, and to jump on what Jim Sciutto was talking about, I think Secretary Tillerson perhaps without intending to, made life a little bit easier for Foreign Minister Lavrov when he said things like, well, our relationship with Russia is extremely important and we need to find a way to move forward. The Russians will interpret that or they will use it politically to say, look, OK, that's the acceptance right there that we didn't meddle in elections because the U.S. government wants to move on or willing to move past that. They want us to forget about things like Ukraine. They want us to forget about things like Crimea. They want us to forget about meddling in elections.
And when a secretary of state says, yes, we're just going to -- time to move on, we've got to move on to the next important thing, the Russians say, this is great. We paid very little price for it and we're just going to move on to the next thing and we can do it next again with little fallout. That I think was maybe inadvertent on Tillerson's part, but the Russians ran with it.
BERMAN: All right, guys. Stick around. We got to take a quick break. When we come back, how meetings like this can shape American presidencies and sometimes world history. Think JFK and Khrushchev and the decision to get more involved in Vietnam. These things really matter.
And then later, another take on the day. A key congressional Democrat weighs on the message that President Trump sent on hacking. And he's got more than just a passing interest. He's also part of the investigation into any possible collusion on the hacking involving people in the president's orbit.
[20:23:35] BERMAN: Today's meetings between President Trump and President Putin made news first because it happened, second, because it ran long. Third, for the hacking discussion and perhaps for Syria. Yet, for all the headlines today, the repercussions may well play out far into the future.
Back now with our panel.
Heather Conley, let me ask this to you. You know, it's good the White House and the Kremlin said this was is good first meeting. That is what you want out of serious, high level diplomacy. But you made the case this doesn't necessarily foreshadow a long, fruitful relationship. Why?
CONLEY: Well, we've seen where many U.S. presidents have many first meeting, that famous meeting with President George W. Bush in Slovenia where he looked into Putin's eyes and saw his soul and felt that this would be a fruitful conversation and they felt very convinced after September 11th that counterterrorism would be the issue that would bring these two countries together and the relationship at the end of President Bush's tenure collapsed with the Russian invasion of Georgia.
President Clinton had his own challenges with the Russian regime. And, of course, President Obama did the same. It starts out fruitful, but we run into the long list of issues that we don't agree on. And this is just our values do not coincide.
So beware, we've been here before. Lots of positive chemistry in meetings in those first initial sessions. But when you get down to the details, we'll see if the Syria ceasefire works.
[20:25:00] We will see if Russia will be supportive on North Korean issues at the Security Council. We will see if they will really implement a ceasefire and pull back from the Ukrainian border. We will see if they stop interfering in the German election coming forward in September.
All of these issues, we will have to see. And so, that first good meeting, that's great. But we've got to see the action next.
BERMAN: Matthew, we listened to you last night talk about the power play that Vladimir Putin has tried in all kinds of meetings with past foreign leaders and everyone analyzed the photo-ops today so carefully, with the two leaders sitting side by side, and then the readouts of the discussion. You know, aside from what may have been a very big power play with Lavrov saying that President Trump accepted Putin's denial of Russian meddling, aside from that -- I know it's a big aside here -- did you see any games being played by President Putin?
ROJANSKY: So, this is a really interesting question, John, because remember that Putin doesn't always put his interlocutor in a negative position. Part of his skill set, which comes in his experience as an officer of the KGB is what he himself has called working with people, take with out of that equation, and it's working people.
But sometimes that means flattering them. Sometimes it's about making them feel good, feel fortunate that they have so much time with him, that he's gracious. That maybe he appears to be making concession. Again, we don't know exactly what was said. We do know to some degree how it was said, the body language was basically positive rather than, you know, you saw Putin with Obama, often leaning back in his chair, looking very grim, almost sarcastic. And President Obama reacted very negatively to that.
Here you have Trump and Putin leaning towards each other, making physical contacts, slapping each other on the back, smiling. And I think Putin would have brought all that to the table intentionally.
The last point, John, you know, this is a win simply because it happened. Putin previously was subject to a U.S. isolation policy after the Ukraine invasion. The fact that he had a meeting with the leader of the United States, on the margins of a gathering with more than a dozen other powerful world leaders, that is a huge win for Vladimir Putin no matter what was discussed.
BERMAN: An official bilateral meeting with all the trappings that come with it.
David Gergen, I know you're a believer in diplomacy. Meetings are good. The fact this went so long, more than two hours -- now, look, the White House may have intentionally been setting a low bar here, saying the meeting was only supposed to last 35 minutes, so that it went longer, they can say it was a massive success. But two hours is a long time, period.
GERGEN: We should welcome the fact that they spent two hours and 15 minutes or so together and not the 30 minutes that was originally on the schedule, because it does mean they went deeper, they were more serious, they've engaged more. Listen, I think this -- you know, earlier in the week, David Sanger,
world class journalist, wrote a piece in "The New York Times" recalling how John Kennedy went to his first Russian meeting with the Russian leader, name is Khrushchev. Khrushchev like Putin was a bully, and he walked over Kennedy. It was a mess.
And from that, as you said earlier in the show, came the roots of Vietnam. Kennedy told Scottie Rusten of "The New York Times" way back then, you know, we've got to show Khrushchev how serious we are, maybe Vietnam is the place to start.
Trump didn't do that today. He didn't crumple in front of Putin. And Putin didn't bully him into a corner. There were no apparent shouts or anything like that.
And I think we should be, you know, when the president gets something -- does something better than expected, I think we should say so. But I do think what has been over -- you know, and all of our focus on Putin, one thing that's being overlooked, being overshadowed is this is the first time I've seen a president coming to a G20 meeting which is he is no longer regarded as the world leader, no longer regarded as a world leader, and Europe is going its own separate way. Japan just signed a big trade agreement with Europe. That is troubling.
BERMAN: You know, Steve Hall, we are going to talk much more about a global implication of everything going on at the G20 in a little bit, but what do you think President Putin learned about President Trump today?
HALL: Well, I think Putin and Russia, writ large, they're just -- they're just enjoying this and living large in this. And the reason is because one of their primary geopolitical goals is to be relative, to be a great power, to return to superpower status. That's why they're in Syria. That's why they have these meetings with the president of the United States.
And that's one of their goals, is to say, hey, we're not the B-team anymore. We're out there talking to the president of the United States, we're out there doing things. We're making ourselves needed in a place like Syria. We've got to fix that.
They'll probably do the same thing in North Korea. This is a primary goal of theirs. Until they understand that we might be able to do this really without the Russian's help on things, I don't think they'll take this as seriously as they need to.
BERMAN: All right. Guys, thanks so much.
Tonight, do not miss Jim Sciutto's special report touching on all of this and more, "The Russia Connection: Inside the Attack on Democracy". This is at 11:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.
Up next on 360, more on the other big developments from the meeting, the partial Syria cease-fire agreement.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) The Trump-Putin meeting made headlines just on its own merits, then came the surprise announcement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Both Presidents along with Jordan agreeing to a partial Syrian cease- fire. Here is what Mr. Tillerson said about the effort to curve the violence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is our first indication of the U.S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria, and as a result of that, we had a very lengthy discussion regarding other areas in Syria that we can continue to work together on to deescalate the areas and the violence once we defeat ISIS. And to work together towards a political process that will secure the future of the Syrian people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: All right, joining us to talk all about of this, CNN Diplomatic and Military Analyst Retired Admiral John Kirby, CNN Military Analyst Retired Air Forced Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, and Robert Ford, former ambassador to Syria, now senior follow at the Middle East institute. Admiral Kirby let me start with. This cease- fir, how significant do you think it is that the U.S. and Russia reached what appears to be some common ground on this today?
JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, it's certainly good news, John. I mean, any cease-fire that can put into effect in whole is good for the Syrian people. I think as a couple of things we need to keep in mind, the devil's in the details. When asked about the details tonight Secretary Tillerson really didn't have a lot. When it comes to who is going to monitor this, how is it going to be enforced? And that's really the key. Number two, it's in southwest Syria. Again, any cease-fire any places in Syria is a good thing. But that is an area of Syria where there isn't a whole heck of a lot of fighting and certainly not a lot of ISIS. So we need to bear in mind the localities.
[20:35:12] And number three, we've been to this movie before, and the Russians don't always have the same idea of who is a terrorist and who is in opposition or vice versa. And so these things oftentimes break down. Now, I hope that's not the case, but we'll have to see going forward. Again, the devil is going to be in the details of implementation.
BERMAN: You know, Colonel Francona on the point that we've been here before there have been other cease-fires that the U.S. and Russia have been involved within Syria over the last several years. They have not worked. Why would this one be any different?
RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I don't think it's going to be any different. And as the admiral says, this is not an area of critical importance, but there is fighting going on and there is an ISIS group there. But we see fighting three ways. You've got the regime ISIS and the Free Syrian Army. And any cease-fire is good, but I think the important point here is that the Russians and the Americans are now talking to each other, talking to each other at high levels, and that's how this is going to solve. This problem is going to get solved. We're not going to solve it on the battlefield. We're going to solve it between diplomats. And those diplomats have to be Russians and they have to be Americans.
BERMAN: Ambassador Ford, Secretary Tillerson said today that the U.S. position continues to be that they see no long-term role for the Assad regime, and that was made clear in discussions with Russia that that was the case. But saying it and doing something about it, putting any muscle behind it, that's another matter, isn't it?
ROBERT FORD, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SYRIA: It's completely a different matter. What I read in -- from Secretary Tillerson's comments today reminded me frankly of the Obama administration saying that Assad should step aside, but having no strategy, much less any tactics that would actually make that happen.
BERMAN: And do you believe that is essential for any kind of long- term solution, Ambassador, in Syria?
FORD: I don't think there's any visible long-term solution in Syria right now. I think that Assad is not leaving. Assad has largely won the war in Syria. He controls all of the cities in western Syria. And he's advancing now steadily into eastern Syria. With the Russian and Iranian help that he has received far greater than anything Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Americans ever provided to the opposition. Assad has basically won.
The real question going forward is, how do you contain extremist insurgents against that victorious Assad government? And that largely was what Tillerson was saying. How do you restore stability in such a way that the Islamic State don't take advantage of cracks in the stability that is arranged.
BERMAN: Well, let's listen to something that Secretary Tillerson said today about what was discussed. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TILLERSON: And I will tell you that by and large, our objectives are exactly the same. How we get the re, we each have a view, but there's a lot more commonality to that than there are differences. So we want to build on the commonality, and we spent a lot of time talking about next steps.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Admiral Kirby, our objectives he says are basically the same, is that the case that U.S. and Russian objectives in Syria are the same?
KIRBY: What I suspect he's talking about, John is the Geneva Communique that set up a framework to get to a political settlement in Syria. And if you might remember the Russians, Chinese, even the Iranians were at the table when that framework was crafted largely led by the United States. If that's what he was talking about, then he's not wrong. There was a common picture signed up to by the international Syria support group two years ago about what the future of Syria should look like. That said, and this is where the cease- fire gets tricky, our objectives in Syria have never been the same as the Russians. The Russians have always been about propping up Assad, keeping a friendly regime there so that they can keep a foothold in the Middle East.
Our objectives in Syria Militarily have been to go after ISIS and to try to get the opponents in this civil war back to the negotiating table. What we're not hearing, and the Ambassador is right when we talks about this, what we're not hearing as a result of cease-fire discussion is let's say it works, then what? Where is the plan to get the opposing sides back to the table in Geneva, or beyond or somewhere? And we haven't heard that from this administration.
BERMAN: You know, Colonel Francona, very practical sense what is this talking, what are these negotiations, what does this cease-fire, what does it mean for the flight and the deconfliction going on with both U.S. and Russian plane in flight pretty consistently over Syria?
FRANCONA: Yes, that framework exists pretty much. There is a deconfliction lines and there's the deconfliction hotline that seems to be working very well. But I think that this is a process. And this is the next step in the process. But I'm encouraged. I know the Ambassador said there's no visible solution, but at least this might be a start.
[30:40:06] And one thing I wanted to say, the Russians are there to prop up Assad, but I don't think they're wedded to Bashar al-Assad. I think they could live with a follow-on regime as long as that regime honors the commitment of the Assad government has made. I'm talking the 49-year lace for the air base (INAUDIBLE).
BERMAN: And, Ambassador Ford, you were the last U.S. Ambassador to Syria. You were critical of the Obama administration policy last year, as you sit here today, do you think the situation in Syria is better than it was yesterday? Any reason for optimism?
FORD: The Islamic State is much weaker, and is in retreat. And that's a good thing. And if this cease-fire in southwestern Syria takes hold, it will probably reduce the refugee flow into Jordan, an important ally of ours and of Israel. And that too would be a good thing. And I don't think we should kid ourselves. The chances of the cease-fire working are not great. Neither is the Iranian government, which has troops in southwest Syria, nor the Syrian government were involved in these U.S.-Russia talks. And Russia's ability to deliver Iran and to deliver the Syrian government is really questionable. The experience of Aleppo with John Kerry should remind us all of that.
So let's be hopeful that this is a step, but let's not kid ourselves. This is a very difficult process. And even if it works, the long- range solution to Syria's essentially political problems are very far away from resolution.
BERMAN: Ambassador Robert Ford, Colonel Rick Francona, Admiral John Kirby, thank you all for your time. Up next, the Democratic Congressman on the intelligence committee reacts to President Trump's meeting with Vladamir Putin. Especially the conflicting accounts.
[20:45:51] BERMAN: As we mentioned after President Trump's long meeting with Vladamir Putin, both sides are telling a very different story about the discussion on Russian interference in the election.
Joining me now for his take on all this, Democratic Congressman Jim Himes, who serves in the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, when we spoke on this program last night, you said that President Trump should speak with great specificity, great authority on Russian interference. Did he do that?
JIM HIMES, (D-CT) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: No, John, he did not. What you saw today was just a dog's breakfast of uncertainty and lack of charity about what happened. John, what I meant yesterday, you know, presidenting is hard, but writing the script for this meeting is not hard. And I can tell you how that script goes, that script goes the President of the United States, when the doors close, looks him in the eye and says Mr. Putin, I have the very best intelligence agencies in the world. They caught you red handed. Here is the evidence, if you ever do this again or think about this again, at a time and place of my choosing, I will put you in a world of hurt. Any questions, that's the script. And of course, that is far from what was said today. We had conflicting accounts about what was said, about who agreed to what? If you listen to Tillerson's words, the President apparently talked about the concern of the American people. Not of the President of the United States, not of the commander-in-chief but the concerns of the American people. So sadly I think we're teeing up to see this again.
BERMAN: Look, if he didn't bring it up at all, you would be all over him for not bringing up. Does he get any credit for discussing what you say is obviously a very important thing to discuss?
HIMES: Well, I guess so. And look, I'll tip the hat to the fact that apparently they worked out some sort of cease-fire in Syria. We'll see if that sticks. Any conversations with the Russians I think are good conversations. We need their help with North Korea, we need their help with Syria. I actually am glad that the meeting occurred. I'm glad that the President was clear on Article V. But no, I mean, can you imagine we had this attack on our country, and if the President had not mentioned that, I mean, it would be just a historical catastrophe. So, again, I'll give him credit for some of the things that happened today. But he did not speak with great clarity. He did not have Putin walk away from this meeting thinking, boy, I better not try that again.
BERMAN: And then of course, there are the divergent views of what happened. Again, Secretary Tillerson said, it was one of the first things that was brought up and it was brought repeatedly by President Trump. You take issue with some of the accounts of how it happen but the fact there are two versions now, the Russians say President Trump accepted President Putin's assurances that there was no Russian involvement, a senior administration official tells Jim Acosta that's not the case. What do you make of these divergent views?
HIMES: Well, I don't know. But I mean, if I were the President of the United States or the Secretary of State and the Russians came out with a dramatically different account of the meeting, and one that is profoundly embarrassing to me, I would have wondered if I was just a mark at the poker table. So again, I'm concerned. And look, it doesn't surprise me John. We've watched for months now as the President has equivocated, and even denied that this attack took place. So I'm not surprised that maybe there was some uncertainty about what occurred in the room.
BERMAN: But just to be clear. You know, you're not suggesting you believe the Russians more than the White House, are you?
HIMES: I am not suggesting that. And since there are conflicting versions, that it's little hard to know. You know, I would hope and maybe there's a role here for congressional oversight. You know, it is our job as a Congress to do oversight. And, you know, I would hope that perhaps Secretary Tillerson, because this is a matter of such importance to our national security and to the integrity of our system, I would hope that maybe he would come before one of the committees of Congress and really elaborate on what exactly happened in that room.
BERMAN: But just to be clear, again, the Russians say that President Trump accepted President Putin's denial. A White House sources tells Jim Acosta that's not the case. Given those two stories, who are you more inclined to believe?
HIMES: Well, all I can do is reflect on how I've heard the President talk about the Russian attack on our election over the course of the last four or five months. And he has ranged from denying that it occurred, and denying the conclusion of his own intelligence community, to saying that maybe it's a 4000 pound fat man or is as latest yesterday. You know gosh, maybe it was other people as well. We don't really know.
[20:50:03] So I would be shocked if he then turned around when the doors closed and ran the script that I suggested he should run, which is looking Putin in the eye and saying we know you did this. That would sort of, you know, contrary to what the man has done over the course of last four or five months.
So again, I don't know what happen in the room. I am not inclined to believe the Russian is just about ever but I am worried that we didn't get the point across in the way that it is going to -- hopefully preserve the integrity of our elections going forward.
BERMAN: All right, Congressman Jim Himes, thanks so much for being with us. Have a good weekend, sir.
HIMES: Thanks, John.
BERMAN: All right, First Lady Melania Trump on the world stage taking on the unexpectedly prominent role in the G20 meetings including a drop in on the President's meeting with Vladimir Putin.
BERMAN: Despite early morning security concerns leaving the First Lady trapped in her guest house in Germany, Melania Trumps spent most of the day at the President's side of the G20 and an unexpected move he even joined in a high profile diplomatic meeting. CNN Kate Bennett has more.
KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER (voice-over): It was supposed to be a day of scheduled events for spouses of G20 leaders including a visit to a climate center and a boat ride and lunch on the Alva River. But instead Melania Trump was on lock down, as protests raged outside her Hamburg hotel. Deemed too dangerous for the First Lady to depart, she had to skip the outings. Her spokeswoman telling CNN that instead Mrs. Trump held staff meetings at the hotel and asked to be regularly updated on the protests.
[20:55:18] This morning, the First Lady tweeting her concern and hope that people stay safe. The G20 visit came on the heels of a quick stop in Poland yesterday where the First Lady gave brief remarks, introducing President Trump before his speech.
MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you again, for this wonderful welcome to your very special country. Your kindness and gracious hospitality will not be forgotten.
BENNETT: It's her second time stepping on to the global stage. Her first in May, a nine-day trip with stops in five cities brought glowing reviews for Melania's measured diplomacy, her style, her visits to children's hospitals and even, yes, her independence streak after that gap on the tarmac in Israel ending with remarks in Sicily to American troops and a message of unity.
M. TRUMP: This trip for me has been very special and I will never forget the women and children I met. As one of the kids at the hospital that I visit said in a picture he draw for me, we are all the same.
BENNETT: Even her husband was effusive in his praise for the First Lady.
D. TRUMP: America is 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.
BENNETT: Today, back at the G20, once she was finally cleared to leave the confines of her hotel and join her husband, Mrs. Trump was back to using those diplomacy skills, sent in to help wrap the lengthy meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. It didn't work and the two men talked for at least an hour longer. But by dinnertime, the Trumps emerged, Melania in a fringed white dress by Michael Kors, greeting the other leaders for a family photo before attending a performance by the Philharmonic.
And at dinner, separated at the table from her husband, who was seated next to the First Lady of Argentina, the First Lady's companion was none other than Vladimir Putin.
BENNETT (on camera): Now, Russian isn't one of the five languages the First Lady speaks, but she does speak German and so does as Putin. So maybe they communicated that way. Either way, there was a translator. Interesting dinner companions, John.
BERMAN: Indeed, better to find out what they discussed, if we find that out. Kate Bennett, thank you so much.
When we come back, more on the two accounts of today's meeting between the two leaders.