Return to Transcripts main page


Trump-Putin Meeting: Two Accounts Emerge; Tillerson: Trump, Putin Reach Syria Ceasefire Agreement; Trump vs. Podesta; Coalition Forces Push into Raqqa to Eliminate ISIS; Surprising GOP Compromise Offer. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired July 7, 2017 - 21:00   ET



[21:01:49] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Two tales of one meeting. That's the headline from today's face-to-face between the presidents of the United States and Russia. The U.S. president came with baggage where Russia is concerned. The Russian president brought his own agenda. And for a couple hours this morning, the G20 summit became simply the G2, just two countries in the spotlight followed by two competing accounts of what transpired. More from CNN's Jeff Zeleny.



JEFF ZELENY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The handshake the world has been waiting for. Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin side by side today for the first time at the G20 summit in Hamburg.

TRUMP: We've had some very, very good talks. We're going to have a talk now and obviously, that will continue.

ZELENY (voice-over): Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the only other U.S. official inside the meeting, later told reporters that President Trump opened the session by raising the elephant in the room, Russian interference in the 2016 election.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: 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.

ZELENY (voice-over): While Putin denied involvement, Tillerson said the two leaders agreed to work together to avoid future cyber attacks and not allow the election interference dominate their relationship.

TILLERSON: The two leaders agreed, though, that this is a substantial hindrance in the ability of us to move the Russian-U.S. relationship forward.

ZELENY (voice-over): Tonight, one question above all remains unanswered, whether agreeing to move on diminishes the seriousness of Russia's role. Tillerson confirmed that Putin demanded proof and evidence over Russian involvement. He said Trump offered no proof and moved on.

He said the two presidents spent the majority of their time on Syria, forging a preliminary ceasefire agreement in the southwestern part of that war-torn country. But the Russian account of the meeting was different.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Mr. Trump had heard and accepted statements by Russian authorities denying involvement in the election hacking.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

ZELENY (voice-over): The highly anticipated meeting today lasted two hours and 15 minutes, far longer than the originally planned 40 minutes. At one point, first lady Melania Trump was sent in to break up the meeting to keep the president on schedule but Tillerson said the session lasted one more hour.

And tonight, she was sitting next to Putin at a summit dinner.


ZELENY: Now, John, as for that sitting arrangement, a White House official says they do not make the seating chart. That's something done by the G20. It's so interesting that Melania Trump played such a pivotal role today or at least a visible one, by trying to interrupt the meeting for time and then later seated by Mr. Putin.

You never know if these things are by design, by happenstance or perhaps a bit of tricky diplomacy. In either case, this is the beginning of a Trump/Putin relationship. But so many questions remain about their next meeting and how they'll go forward. John?

BERMAN: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

The meeting took place in Hamburg, but it's still no stretch to say that Vladimir Putin had something of a home field advantage being along sovereign leader and a veteran of more such meetings of virtually anyone else. So does that mean expectations were different in Moscow than Washington? Let's check in with CNN's Matthew Chance in the Russian capital.

And, Matthew, what's been the reaction in Moscow to the meeting today?

[21:05:02] MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's been quite astonishing. I mean Russian officials have been reacting really positively to this meeting, this first face-to-face meeting between President Trump of the United States and President Putin of Russia.

One senior lawmaker said the results of these talks on the sidelines of the G20 summit, this is a quote from him, "They surpassed expectations and were psychological breakthrough." I can tell you, the expectations were pretty low to be fair. I mean, the Russians had been somewhat disillusioned with the notion of President Trump was going to be able to deliver the kind of radical change in the relationship that he'd promised during his campaign and in the early days and weeks of his presidency.

And I say the expectations were very low this was going to be anything other than a meeting to exchange pleasantries. But of course, in the event, two hours and a quarter, it was far more than that. They tackled and addressed some of the key issues in this fractious U.S.- Russia relationship, John.

BERMAN: You know, yesterday, Matthew, there's some speculation about how the two men would get along. You have followed Vladimir Putin for years. I was just watching on YouTube an interview you did with him some years ago. To you, how did it seem like they got along?

CHANCE: Well, I mean, there's no surprise that they got along really well. I mean, I think, for a couple of reasons. First of all, in the instance of Donald Trump, he's already obviously predisposed towards liking President Putin. I mean, he made a big thing out of this during his campaign. And he's been criticized for it, of course, extensively in the United States, as you know.

And, yes, guess what, when they met, they got on. He kind of liked him. But I mean, I think, it's also fair to say that Donald -- sorry, that Vladimir Putin has a strong track record, should we say, in charming American presidents. Who can forget in 2001, when George W. Bush looks into his eyes and caught a glimpse of his soul, got a sense of his soul, I think is what he said. President Obama when he first met Putin, as well, was equally kind of bulled over.

And so, you know, Putin does this. He's really good at getting American presidents, at least initially, to like him and to see a future in the relationship. And then, you know, maybe it won't go as well as hoped in the years ahead.

BERMAN: Yes. With what happens after that has been the problem. Matthew Chance for us in Moscow. Thanks so much, Matthew.

Perspective now from a panel of two diplomatic and national security heavyweights, America's former man in Moscow, former ambassador to Russia Thomas Pickering, former U.S. ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns and "New York Times" national security correspondent David Sanger, who's a CNN political and national security analyst.

Ambassador Pickering, I want to start with you. You have met President Putin. You obviously know the stakes involved with this type of meeting. Does it sound to you like President Trump effectively delivered the message on Russian election meddling?

THOMAS PICKERING, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, from what Sergey Lavrov had to say afterward, probably no. The idea that somehow either what he said or what he implied or his body language was twisted to be a kind of that's OK, guys, we need to put the past behind us, let's move on to the future, certainly is good news in Moscow but really quite bad news for him here and for, I think, a large number of Republicans who, in any way or another, are, if I could put it pretty crudely, very unhappy, very irate at what the Russians have done to us. BERMAN: So, Ambassador Burns, as Ambassador Pickering referring to, there are sort of two versions of what went on inside that room, the U.S. version and the Russian version. The Russians saying that Vladimir Putin, you know, said that the Russians did not interfere in the 2016 election and President Trump accepted that. A senior Trump administration official denies that. It's not unusual, though, to have two different versions of the same meeting, is it?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. UNDER SECRETARY FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Not with these two countries and not with the stakes involved. But I very much agree with Ambassador Pickering. It's important that President Trump raise the issue. He deserves credit for that. But everything depends on the strength and conviction with which he raised that issue.

And if, in fact, Putin is denying that he launched a cyber attack on the American elections, then we should not accept that denial. President Trump should accept the word of our intelligence community. General Clapper was on television today, reaffirming that the intelligence community was 100 percent united that Russia was the culprit.

And I think, John, there's no recourse now but for the United States Senate and House to vote very tough sanctions against Russia for its hack. And President Trump ought to get behind that because he shouldn't want Putin to believe that Russia can get away with this.

BERMAN: So, David Sanger, based on what Ambassador Burns said, how does what President Trump has said over the last days, weeks and months, how does it color the meeting today? How does the fact that just yesterday, he was saying nobody knows for sure whether the Russians hacked the election color his apparent pressure on Vladimir Putin today over Russian election meddling? And how do you think Vladimir Putin takes it?

[21:10:12] DAVID SANGER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, John, I'm here in Hamburg and when I heard the president speak yesterday, I thought to myself, that really isn't the opening that I would think he would want to give to President Putin for today's meeting. Even if President Trump does not believe the evidence is convincing on the election hack, he want to go into the meeting with Mr. Putin, I would think, making the case that the intelligence community was completely unified on this and that Russia needed to know it had to pay a price in the past and would have to pay a bigger price in the future.

BERMAN: So Ambassador Pickering, you know, every administration wants to reset relations with Russia, have a good relationship with Russia, only to end up disappointed at the end. What does Vladimir Putin want? Does he want a better relationship with the United States?

PICKERING: I think that, in part, he wants to show the Russian people that he's the master of this relationship and that he is pretty much in control and wants to achieve what he wants to achieve with it. Whether at the same time, obviously, neither President Putin nor President Trump wants an all out conflict. And they should be very cautious about getting themselves into that kind of a predicament.

And my sense is that they understand that and look forward to try to do something that can avoid it. But this is with Lavrov's statement, clearly an effort on the part of Putin, once again, to demonstrate to the Russian people in public that he's the cock of the walk and obviously running things and making stuff happen.

And this is centrally goes back to a lot of uncertainties he's had in Russia, beginning about 2010 when he came back as president and had demonstrations in the street in a very poor election. And a lot of what you're seeing over these years since 2010, 2011 has been obviously refurbishing, polishing and boosting up his popularity rating. And that should not be missed.

BERMAN: So, Ambassador Burns, one of the other perhaps biggest headlines out of this meeting is the agreement for a ceasefire in Syria. How substantial of an achievement is this for the Trump administration you think?

BURNS: Well, it really remains to be seen. I actually think that President Trump and Secretary Tillerson were right to engage the Russians on this. We don't have identical interests. The Russians are aligned with the Syrian government, with Iran and with Hezbollah. We don't want to be aligned with that group. But we do have an interest in seeing the war, if it is possible, brought to a halt at some point in the future.

There are 12 million of the 22.4 million Syrians now homeless inside or outside the country. There is a humanitarian obligation that we have. And if it's possible to work with the Russians on that basis, we should do so, but we have to be careful here because we don't want to be involved in establishing Shia dominance throughout the country. This is a minor achievement, I think, a ceasefire in the southwest part of the country, but Secretary Tillerson is right to have the conversation.

BERMAN: So, David Sanger, before this meeting, you noted that the announcement that there was no set agenda from the administration sent a shiver through Washington. Now that we're after the meeting, David, first of all, do you think it was true that there was no set agenda? Was that just spin to lower expectations and, in retrospect, now that we're after this two plus hour meeting here, would you consider it a success?

SANGER: Well, I think that at the time that H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, said there was no set agenda, there probably wasn't one. Clearly, they had issues they had to go pace through and Mr. Tillerson described those today.

You know, even if President Trump went into this with no set agenda, it seemed pretty clear that President Putin was going in with one. He wanted respect. And he wants an end to those sanctions that Nick was referring to before. President Trump could not lift those sanctions. In fact, there have been, by a vote of 97 to 2, new sanctions voted on by the Senate. So his hands were tied there. And I think that it was clear that you were not going to see Mr. Putin suddenly turn around and say, well, that was us after all in the election, which would be necessary if you're going to begin to resolve the question of what happened last year and why.

BERMAN: Right. Ambassadors Pickering, Ambassador Burns, David, Sanger and, Ambassador, one day, I'm sure, thank you all so much for being with us.

BURNS: Thank you.

PICKERING: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: Just ahead, more on what Vladimir Putin was looking to get out of the meeting today, how he operates and the ways he uses his vast experience, including at the KGB to get what he wants.

[21:15:00] And later, exclusive CNN reporting from inside the battle for a key ISIS stronghold in Syria.


BERMAN: So during the Cold War, Russia experts were called Sovietologists or Kremlinologists, however I don't really remember any (INAUDIBLE) whispers because for a while at least, Soviet leaders were as gray as the inside as they were on the outside. Not so with Vladimir Putin. You can almost see the wheels turning. He's a master manipulator and someone, for better or worse, with a very clear idea of what he wants for himself and for his country, which makes the question of what he got out of the meeting today both deeply relevant and very interesting.

Joining us now to Putinologists, Jon Finer, former director of Policy Planning at the State Department and Ben Judah, author of "Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love With Vladimir Putin."

Now, John, you were with Secretary of State John Kerry when he met with Vladimir Putin, you know how these meetings can go and sometimes how Putin put on power plays, making people wait for a long time before meeting with him. That didn't seem to happen today, did it?

JON FINER, FORMER CHIEF TO SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: No, I mean, you got the sense a little bit that this was a Vladimir Putin who thought he was pushing on an open door as opposed to running into opposition the way he felt, I think, sometimes during the Obama administration. You saw him laughing during the pool spray and smiling.

And then Secretary Tillerson in describing the meeting emphasized the warmth between the two men and the chemistry. That might have been a tact I wouldn't have taken, given the suspicion that a lot of people have about the relationship between President Trump and President Putin, but that's how they chose to characterized it. So it's fundamentally a very different tone from what you'd seen in recent years. [21:20:06] BERMAN: You know, Ben Judah, what about that Rex Tillerson did say there was chemistry. Did you see chemistry based on what you've seen in the readouts? Was there chemistry there?

BEN JUDAH, AUTHOR, "FRAGILE EMPIRE: I think that it's very important to acknowledge that Putin has several modes in dealing with world leaders. One mode is intimidation that we've seen him use with initial meetings with David Cameron or Nicolas Sarkozy. One mode is the lecture, screaming about Russia's humiliation in the 1990s.

But the mode we saw deployed today is the same mode that he tends to kick off relationships with U.S. presidents, which is seduction. And one of the things that is very interesting is that Trump actually, from what we heard, appears a little less seduced than George W. Bush was after his first meeting with Vladimir Putin, when Bush famously said or perhaps infamously said that he'd seen inside his soul. Putin used Bush's Christian faith to try and seduce him by telling tales of a golden cross that he kept around his neck, or claimed to.

BERMAN: Ben, one of the things that I've heard suggested by people close to the White House is that maybe by President Trump bringing up the Russian meddling so quickly in the meeting today and so what the White House, I think, considered, clearly, that's up for debate, but they, I think, he said it clearly that it might throw Putin off balance. Do you think that might be the case?

JUDAH: Well, it's very hard to know exactly what happened because of the way they structured the meetings, by having so few people present. But an interpretation which I am certainly leaning towards is that this was intended for perfunctory domestic purposes so it would be repeated inssisentaly on networks and cables that something had been, in fact, said about this issue.

BERMAN: You know, Jon, as a veteran, again, of these meetings and also the readouts after these meetings, a big part of the discussion right now is how there is the U.S. version and the Russian version and the divergence of very key point on whether or not President Trump accepted President Putin's denial that the Russians meddled in the election. That is the statement from Sergey Lavrov. You've had experience with this man. Do you think he was intentionally trying to muddy the waters and put the U.S. in a difficult position?

FINER: Well, it's interesting because part of the reason why you sometimes keep these meetings small is so you can control the information flow that comes out of them. Everybody can be on the same page and on the same message and to avoid leaks. And they've come out with a situation that's exactly the opposite of that. There's a Russian version of events and an American version of events.

Now, I have been, and my previous bosses, have been victims of Russian kidn of misinterpretations and misinformation about things that happened behind closed doors. So far be it for me to trust the account provided by Sergey Lavrov. But what I will say is that the foreign minister of Russia's account of the meeting is much more consistent with what President Trump has said in the run-up to the meeting, including just the day before, when he turned what has been a sort of closed case against the Russians into who done it again in his answer in the press conference.

And we take into account the fact that right now, as we speak, the administration is working to reduce the strength of sanctions that Congress is contemplating against the Russians, you do start to wonder whether Lavrov's account is more accurate.

BERMAN: Again, but you are not inclined, in general, to believe the Russians --

FINER: Absolutely not.

BERMAN: -- over an official U.S. position. I just want to make that clear. And number two, again, with your State Department experience, how important do you think it is for the U.S. to get out there soon, publicly, on camera, and say, you know, what Sergey Lavrov is saying is just false, if it is, in fact, false?

FINER: Hugely important. And they have denied Lavrov's account but they've done it on background and unnamed fashion. Even Secretary Tillerson's readout of the meeting, which I think was smart that he did, he did it off camera. And I think that's much less effective than putting your face behind the words.

BERMAN: And of course, it was before Lavrov said what he said. He didn't get a chance to directly address that, even in an audio version, which is part of the problem we have now as we stay here after 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Jon Finer, Ben Judah, thanks so much for being with us.

And now at top of the hour, much more on this topic. Fareed Zakaria's special report, "The Most Powerful Man in the World," a look at the rise and reign of Vladimir Putin as well as his relationship with President Trump, that's 10:00 Eastern

Next on 360, the president's tweet today that led to a Twitter rebuttal, a heated rebuttal from Hillary Clinton's campaign chair.


[21:28:17] BERMAN: Before President Trump met with Vladimir Putin today, he sounded off on Twitter about the 2016 election. He wrote, "Everyone here is talking about why John Podesta refused to give the DNC server to the FBI and the CIA. Disgraceful."

Now, Podesta, who served as Hillary Clinton's chairman, fired back calling the president a, "Whack job." He added, "Get a grip, man. The Russians committed a crime when they stole my e-mails to help you get elected president. Maybe you might try to find a way to mention that to President Putin." Podesta added, "By the way, I had nothing to do with the DNC." The Democratic National Committee servers were hacked separately, so he write about that.

And he ended his writings with this, "Dude, get your head in the game. You're representing the U.S. at the G20." Now, Podesta, as we look again at the presidential tweet, went further in a "Washington Post" op-ed, calling into question the president's claim that everyone is talking about this.

He also pointed out that the CIA would never get involved since it is barred from domestic intelligence gathering.

Here to talk about all this, Kirsten Powers, Molly Ball, Jason Miller, Robby Mook.

And, Jason, I really do want to talk about the meetings today because they were fascinating and the strategy that went into it and everything that transpired in the past week. But just on the face of it, the claim that everyone here is talking about the Podesta e-mails, that can't possibly be true. I mean I can't imagine it came up in the president's meeting with the leaders of South Korea and Japan and Enrique Pena Nieto today and Mexico.

JASON MILLER, FORMER SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, I'm not sure who everybody exactly refers to. I'm obviously not traveling with the president.

BERMAN: Maybe the guy in the mirror when he was shaving.

MILLER: Look, I do think the president has a point here that if Podesta really wanted to push the DNC to do this, he could have.

[21:30:58] And look, I think Podesta knows this is an issue, and that's why he's pulling over so many times on this cross country drive to Utah. I mean, at this rate, a covered wagon is going to make it to Utah before he does to give every interview that he can.

But look, I mean, I think that there is -- it is a little bit questionable why those DNC servers haven't been made available to --


BERMAN: -- is that the president wasn't talking about the DNC servers, he was just talking about John Podesta. John Podesta didn't work at the DNC. And I could easily make the case that John Podesta shouldn't have pull over on his way to his vacation as easily as I can make the case that the president, Kirsten, shouldn't have been tweeting about this hours before meeting with Vladimir Putin, which was a pretty important meeting.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, yes. That's right. I mean, but this is what he does. And I think it's pretty silly to think that anybody over there is really wondering about the DNC, you know, server. I mean, it's just -- it's ridiculous.

And the fact of the matter is, he keeps making this claim about the DNC not coordinating. And it's not even a true claim. The DNC has said multiple times, by the time that they were actually contacted by the Department of Homeland Security, it had already have been rectified.

So it wasn't -- this isn't even -- this is just one of these things that Donald Trump has made up and that people keep repeating. But -- and then separate from that, as John Podesta pointed out, John Podesta didn't work at the DNC.

BERMAN: All right, Robby Mook, you're more than a casual observer and had more than a casual relationship with all of this. I just want to get your reaction before we move on to the deep substance that did, in fact, happen in Hamburg today.

ROBBY MOOK, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Yes, I mean, look, this is unfortunate and it's growing day by day. I think the president at this point protests much too much, not just because, you know, he continues to deny that anything happened, yet he's the one who keeps bringing it up.

But again, you know, with everything that's looming over this meeting, the trade deals he talks about so much, but I would say more importantly, the threat from North Korea. Why in the world is he wasting his precious bandwidth as a president even, you know, drafting these tweets? I just don't understand. I don't want to even begin to try to understand the psychological motivations for doing this.

But I think the American people should ask for a refund today. I don't know why he was spending so much time on this issue.

BERMAN: He donates his money largely to charity. So you'd be taking the money away, Robby, I think from the Department of the Interior right now, which is the whole different issues. I don't want to get into that.

But, Molly, again, on the substance, and part of it is interesting because he was choosing to tweet about this in between, which was a very deliberate, strategic few days for the White House, and one that they probably will claim success for. He gave a speech in Warsaw that was well received in some corners, when he spoke in large terms about the U.S. and the western relationship. They are great job numbers out today. There were numbers that the White House is already pleased about people coming across the border, fewer of them coming across the border as well.

You know, so the White House, you would think, would be pointing to these things as successes. Not to mention, a meeting that they were happy about, at least before Sergey Lavrov started talking about it, with Vladimir Putin.

MOLLY BALL, POLITICAL WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Well, and they are. And I think if there is any meaning to what, I think, seems to be just a silly tweet, it is as a window into the president's mind. Because even when his administration has managed to coordinate a trip quite well and to drive a message quite well and to have accomplishments that they can point to, we continue to see very transparently what the president's obsessions are and where his mind goes.

And so you can see that, you know, it almost feels this has been in his drafts folder since September of 2016, and he just happened to hit send right now. He continues to be fixated on this.

And obviously, the subject of Russian hacking is on his mind because it's0 what everyone is talking about when they talk about his meeting with the Russians. And when he thinks of hacking, his mind immediately goes to these reflexive, defensive maneuvers of how can I blame it on someone else?

BERMAN: So, Jason Miller, you're close to the White House here. And the bigger picture of this week is, I think, according to people close to the White House, that there is a bigger picture here, that they've achieved something strategic with these meetings that are still going on right now. And again, you're close to the White House. What do you think it is that they're going to point to this week as having been a success?

MILLER: Well, I think at the surface level, we need to recognize the leadership that President Trump is showing on the world stage. But -- and I think there's a three dimensional chess game that's going on here that many folks might not realize.

So, obviously, we've seen the president reach out to allies. We saw the speech in Poland, the will of the west to survive. We saw him meeting with the leaders of Japan and South Korea. Both pacific rim allies. We saw the president sit down with the president of Russia today and stand up on the issue of election meddling. But then also come to an agreement on the Syrian ceasefire. So I think that impressed a lot of people.

But there was another audience, and I don't think folks have been talking about it, I believe is -- it was part of the intention today, and that's President Xi of China. And when you look at who probably, if anyone in the world, was probably most maybe caught off guard or whose attention was grabbed most by this extended meeting between President Trump and President Putin, it was President Xi. And the reason why that is so important is because China has been a little stand offish so far with regard to North Korea. We haven't gotten the cooperation that we need.

[21:35:07] Look, this North Korea problem is a real, existential threat to our country. If they keep pushing ahead with nuclear weapons, if they keep pushing ahead with ICBMs, they could put something in Downtown Seattle before we know it.

And so for the president to go and put this pressure on the president of China today, because we see that his relationship -- President Xi's relationship with President Putin isn't the only one going on here, there's also President Trump interacting with President Putin. So I think there is a very smart, long game that's going on here. And so I recognize that there's lot more going on than just the direct meetings that we've seen.

BERMAN: Robby, do you see signs of that from what you look at here? And also, again, someone you work very closely with, the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, you know, she's had experience on the international stage. You know, she tried to do something, you know, not completely unlike this with Russia with the reset, and that didn't seem to work out.

MOOK: Look, Putin has been a real challenge for most of our modern presidents, you know, since he's been in office. So I don't think there's any surprise there. I just disagree with Jason. I think he did the best job he could there trying to weave together all the different facts into a strategy. I think the fact of the matter is the president doesn't have a strategy. He keeps contradicting himself day by day.

I think he absolutely stepped all over his speech yesterday with, you know, his quotes about Russia. I think he did that once again today by getting into a fight with John Podesta, which was utterly meaningless and bizarre. So I don't think the president is being very strategic. And I don't think that his meeting with Putin sent any special signal to President Xi because he's always been praising Vladimir Putin.

So I'm actually very worried. I think he should have been rallying the entire world the last few days around this North Korea crisis. We haven't heard a word from him about it and not seeing progress.

BERMAN: If I can get quick takes, from Molly and Kirsten on when the president returns -- after he returns tomorrow, do you think he return for the stronger position than when he left, Molly?

BALL: I think it's about the same. I think the problem at this point is that even when he does give a speech that's widely praising when he does leave for a while. And this was the case with the last trip too. It was seen as having gone quite well, it gave him a little bit of breathing room here at home and then he just reverted right back into the same old crises, the same old patterns, same old things.

And I think he's also reaching a point of diminishing returns with the grand speeches, where the world leaders who are his audience know that what is being written for him and what he's reciting doesn't necessarily coincide with what he actually thinks.

BERMAN: Kirsten?

POWERS: Yes. I mean, I think that's right. And I think that he, you know, whatever gains he makes, he quickly will revert back to type and will do the kind of Podesta like things or whatever it is, and he will take everybody down another rabbit hole of, you know, sort of inconsequential things, rather than focusing on what's really important.

BERMAN: (INAUDIBLE) that we have meeting with President Xi tomorrow. I think we'll see more if Jason -- what Jason saying buries its self out.

Thank you all for being with us.

Up next, an exclusive report, CNN on the front lines in Raqqa in Syria, as coalition forces drive ISIS fighters out block by block under the threat of a sniper.


[21:42:03] BERMAN: More on President Trump and President Putin's face-to-face meeting at the G20 summit after their long talk came word of something. No one expected a partial ceasefire agreement, the so- called de-escalation zone in parts of southwest Syria starting Sunday.

Meanwhile, tonight, the fight against ISIS in northern Syria continues in a major milestone. Coalition forces have made it into the heart of Raqqa. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh on the front lines.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We are now inside the old city walls of Raqqa, the capital of ISIS's self- declared caliphate and a territory in which they will make their final stand in Syria and really the Middle East. That war a key milestone for coalition forces, and the Syrian, Kurds, and Arabs who now control fully about two to 300 meters inside of the old city here.

Down that way, 200 meters are ISIS's positions. The forces here don't move around much in the daylight because of the risk of ISIS snipers, less so in these streets. But it's at night where the majority of the movement forward is, in fact, made. We've seen U.S. forces here not far from these positions, and just not to be filmed or even noticed, frankly, but you understand it today, I'm recording in the air strikes and not from the artillery that's allowing these forces to move forward, frankly, so quickly.

I've been surprised how little of the city ISIS apparently are in right now, an area possibly one and a half to three miles in terms of size. So increasingly small in the terrain that they hold.

But, as we saw in Mosul in Iraq, civilians apparently held in their midst, unable to flee because of the ISIS snipers. A real impediment for these Syrian, Kurdish, and Arab fighters, but still, the progress here marking potentially the last time that ISIS can say they hold a city in Syria.


BERMAN: All right, Nick Paton Walsh joins me now.

And, Nick, the forces you're with, how close are they to pushing ISIS at Iraq entirely?

WALSH: It is still quite away, John. The key things to realize here is they made very swift progress. We possibly thought about three or four kilometers of the outskirts of Raqqa that we were in, in just the last three weeks or so. But that is much lighter terrain, there are more sparse (ph) buildings that now, when they hit the old city, yes, we saw them make about three to 400 meters progress far as I said, in the last few days since the coalition air strike breached the old city wall, allowing to move in more quickly.

But now they're being hit much than to urban areas. About a mile and a half, we think from east to west. Remember, there were two sides of the Syrian, Kurdish, and Arab forces coming in different directions at that area. But they could potentially meet in the middle. It could be swift if ISIS do collapse potentially, that may happen one day. But it could also be lengthy, because now, they hit denser streets where there could be more civilians, John. BERMAN: And the breaking news tonight is the ceasefire in southwest Syria brokered by the U.S. and Russia. What kind of impact do you think that will have?

WALSH: It's interesting because we have seen ceasefires come and go, John, dozens of times, frankly, during the Syrian civil war. The southwest of the country, well, it's not the biggest hot spot, frankly, in this war. There's way more troublesome stuff happening in the north.

[21:45:04] There have been some clashes between Syrian regime loyal militia and some Syrian rebels who were backed by the U.S. We actually have U.S. trainers in their midst. So there's been a need to calm that situation down. That's potentially in Russia's interest as well and then the interest of a big U.S. ally, Jordan, to the south of that area.

So, yes, this is certainly welcomed tactically. Is it going to transform things and overnight? No. The big take away though is the first meeting that Trump and Putin have. They talk Syria and come up with some kind of deal out of this. So this well choreographed but also perhaps suggesting that the old era of the Obama administration on a completely different page to Moscow supporting to a less degree the Syrian rebels against the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad.

Well, the Trump administration, they get to sit with the Syrian regime's key ally, Moscow, and come up with some kind of deal in their first conversation. So this potentially calms things down, but it also potentially heralds a change in policy in Washington to some degree in Syria's civil war, John

BERMAN: Indeed it does. All right, Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much for your reporting. Stay safe.

All right, that was Nick Paton Walsh reporting from Syria.

Back here at home, the health care debate in Washington heating back up with lawmakers returning Monday, the latest in a possible compromise when we return.


[21:50:05] BERMAN: With lawmaker set to return in the capital on Monday, there's a new twist in Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare facing Kremlin support from -- in their own party. Republican leaders may be putting a huge compromise on the table. CNN's Tom Foreman has the latest.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the Republican controlled Senate, a stunning change of direction. Majority leader Mitch McConnell saying he will work with the Democrats to prop up Obamacare if his own party can't pass an alternative plan.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) MAJORITY LEADER: Premiums are going up, copayments are going up, deductibles are going up, so we have to solve the current crisis. And I think repealing and then delaying the replacement doesn't work.

TRUMP: Tonight, I am also calling on this Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare.

FOREMAN (voice-over): CNN has learned the White House was caught off guard by McConnell's comments coming less than a week after the president's own to price move when he tweeted "If Republican Senators are unable to pass what they are working on now, they should immediately repeal and then replace at a later date." But that has gained no traction even as the Republican bill continued spinning its wheels. Some senators in their home districts for the July 4th recess faced tough questions from constituents.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R) MAINE: I still I'm a no unless the bill is dramatically changed.

FOREMAN (voice-over): So bipartisan support limited as it may be. It is swirling around McConnell's idea.

SEN. BEN CARDIN, (D) MARYLAND: Senator McConnell is correct, and that we need to make sure that the individual market is a stronger market than it is today.

REP. DAN DONOVAN (R), NEW YORK: I believe what Mitch McConnell says the right path to take.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Even amid furious pushback from conservative quarters. Here at the Jackson for America saying such a deal with the Democrats would be catastrophic for the Republican Party. And all it goes, a various Republicans offering their own solutions about how to end the impasse, unite the party and somehow turn the turmoil into trial.

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R) TEXAS: I think we got to get the job done, but we got to do it right.


CRUZ: That results matter. It's not just passing a bill who's title is Obamacare repeal. We actually got to do something that fixes the problem.

FOREMAN (on camera): Watching Republicans twists themselves into not over the health care reform riddle made for a wonderful congressional recess for Democrats. But it was less like Independence Day and more like Christmas in July, John?


BERMAN: All right, Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

Up next, we rewind to the nineties, the decade that brought us the sopranos Friends and anymore hit T.V. shows was at the best era for the small screen, a preview of the CNN original series day viewing this weekend on CNN in just a moment.


BERMAN: This Sunday night on CNN, the day view of the CNN original series, "The Nineties" to kicks off for the look of how T.V. transformed over the decade. Here's the preview.


ALAN SEPINWALL, CO-AUTHOR, TV:THE BOOK: Some of my favorite shows of all time aired in that decade and everybody was watching them. There were still that communal sense from the earlier decade of T.V., but it was being applied to shows that we're reaching higher and further and they were great.


CHRIS CONNELLY, REPORTER, ESPN: Because there were so many channels and because so much story telling was going on, you started to get more variety of stories being told.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get this school (ph) films, schedule a cat scan and call the neuro surgery residence.


BERMAN: Like Ally McBeal, Blossom, and Doogie Howser, I spotted all three. All right, joining us now is CNN Media Analyst, Bill Carter, he's the author of "The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy".


BERMAN: You know, so interesting. They are watching that clip and then talking about how the '90s was disground breaking era for television which it was. But I'm moving up for a member when now.

CARTER: What was consider the goal when they tell.

BERMAN: It was the goal in '80 television. But The Nineties was clearly something. What we need to expect.

CARTER: Yes. Well here is the different. And Allan that more got at this because I think was the last time when there was really group watching. People watched television and then talked about the next day, because they didn't watch at all once. You know, all the episodes at once. They couldn't record them so they had to watch them sequent. But it was also a time when cable had become a big factor and was raising the level of performance across television. I mean the artistry was really going up. You could make a case, John, seriously that there are at least five or six of the best shows of all time were on The Nineties.

BERMAN: Name them.

CARTER: Sopranos, Seinfeld, Simpsons, X-Files, Sex and the City, Friends, Frazier. It's amazing.

BERMAN: Yes, it's interesting that some of those are on people, right? And OK, a cable or thoughts was here, at point was sort of the broadcast.

CARTER: Yes. That's right. That's the experimental network.

BERMAN: And that was pushing. You think the quality across the board?

CARTER: Oh totally. And made everybody else sort of react like when the Sadowski (ph) like everything change. But I mean, you know, X- Files was a Brilliant Television and created all the bright artist like Vince Gilligan who then made "Breaking Bad", I mean really significant.

BERMAN: And house to get together every night, all my friends and I watched the "X-Files."

CARTER: Of course, yes.

BERMAN: OK, we got one minute left here. Also, The Nineties has big relate and I thought that you know very, very well.


BERMAN: But, we're talking not just, you know, Jon Stewart. We're also talking Magic Johnson, why did everyone try it?

CARTER: Well no, Johnny Carson was the guy and when he was unknown, it would challenged him. He left in 1992 and then it just opened up the can for everybody else to jump in. And, you know, later, and we had this enormous battle which I wrote a book about. And that really made everybody paid closer attention to late night. And the other competitors said, now we can get in the game. You know, we can get in the game for a cable channel. We can get the game for, you know, a FOX or ABC, the other networks will try to do it.

BERMAN: In 10 seconds or less, what was different about The Nineties Late Night than today?

CARTER: That was less of it, but it was -- I think was a little bit more traditional then.

BERMAN: All right, Bill Carter, thank you very much for being with us. I really appreciate. Again, CNN's new original series, "The Nineties" start Sunday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific.

Right now, our special report, "The Most Powerful Man in the World" followed by "The Russia Connection: Inside the Attack on Democracy," that's at 11:00.

I'm John Berman, thanks so much for joining us for in AC360. Stick around.