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Trump, Putin Set for First Face-to-Face Meeting; Russia Stepping Up Spying Efforts in U.S. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired July 7, 2017 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[07:00:06] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has to be strong. We do have to talk about Russia's involvement in our democracy.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was an aggressive action taken by the senior leadership inside of Russia.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The Russian spies are ramping up their intelligence-gathering efforts in the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not at all surprised the election hack caused no response from the United States president.
JAKE TAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: As long as we don't push back with the Russians, they're going to continue.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Alison is off, Poppy Harlow joins me this morning. Thank you.
HARLOW: Good to be here.
CUOMO: We have a lot of anticipation building at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, because in just a few hours, you have President Trump and Russia's Vladimir Putin are going to sit down for a high- stakes meeting. The leaders are going to be face-to-face on the summit sidelines. The big question: Will Russia's election meddling be part of their discussion?
HARLOW: This meeting happens as current and former U.S. intelligence sources tell CNN that since the election, Russian spies have stepped up their intelligence-gathering efforts in America. Officials say the Kremlin is emboldened by the lack of a strong response from the current administration and from the Obama administration.
We have it all covered. Let's go first to Sara Murray, who's live for us in Hamburg, Germany. Good morning, Sara.
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy.
Well, presidents Trump and Putin did meet briefly earlier this morning for the first time. They shook hands, but the real substance will come later in what is sure to be a closely scrutinized formal bilateral meeting between the two world leaders.
TRUMP: If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks? That's called an asset.
I hope we have a fantastic relationship.
I don't love; I don't hate. We'll see how it works.
MURRAY (voice-over): After months of anticipation, President Donald Trump set to come face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the controversial head of state behind the 2016 election interference that has haunted the Trump presidency.
The pair will meet today for 30 minutes, accompanied only by their translators and top diplomats: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov; and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has a long-standing relationship with President Putin.
REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We've begun an effort to begin to rebuild confidence between ourselves and Russia.
MURRAY: Tillerson is one of the top officials who has been hurriedly preparing the president for the high-stakes face-off.
White House advisers say the agenda is not set, but key issues could include the conflict in Syria, North Korea, and Russian aggression in Ukraine, which led to sanctions. Sources say President Trump has been presented with a large binder of reading materials for the G-20 summit but only a few pages of notes and bullet points on his Putin meeting.
TRUMP: We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere.
MURRAY: Trump delivered a tough message to the Kremlin ahead of today's sit-down, pledging support to the NATO alliance in the face of Russian aggression.
TRUMP: We stand firmly behind Article V, the mutual defense commitment.
MURRAY: But just hours earlier, the president stopped short of condemning Moscow for meddling in the 2016 election.
TRUMP: I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries. And I see nothing wrong with that statement. Nobody really knows.
KOSINSKI: This statement undercutting the conclusions of his own intelligence community. CLAPPER: There's absolutely no doubt about it and the high confidence
levels, the multiple sources of information we had and its high fidelity, still leave me very convinced of the veracity of that report.
KOSINSKI: It remains unclear if President Trump will bring up the election hacking today, but a growing number of lawmakers are urging the president to raise the issue.
REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: I don't understand how the United States president can protect the country if he's not willing to sit down with Vladimir Putin and look him in the eye and say, "I know you did this. It will stop."
KOSINSKI: Now, the G-20 is playing out here against the backdrop of extensive protests. Those protests are actually preventing first lady Melania Trump from attending the spouses' program she was slated to be at today. The Hamburg police have not cleared her to leave. That's according to her spokeswoman.
And from our vantage here on this rooftop, you can hear sirens across the city. We've heard a number of loud bangs and seen plumes of smoke coming up, so clear that those protesters are continuing today, just as they were last night. Back to you.
CUOMO: Protests at the G-20, not unusual. We saw sights yesterday of the water cannon being used against people. They were trying to use umbrellas to deter those efforts so they could stay in place. We'll keep tracking what's going on with the demonstrations.
With President Trump ready to mute with Putin in just a matter of hours, CNN does have new reporting on concerns in the U.S. intelligence community about stepped-up Russian spy efforts here in America. We have Shimon Prokupecz. He reported this story with Evan Perez and Pamela Brown. What did you learn?
[07:05:13] SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Chris. Well, Russian spies are ramping up their intelligence-gathering efforts in the U.S., according to current and former U.S. Intelligence officials, who say they have noticed an increase since the elections.
The Russians have not been slowed by retaliatory efforts after it meddled in the U.S. election, according to the U.S. intelligence community. Officials say they've been replenishing their ranks since the U.S. expelled 35 Russian diplomats suspected of spying last December.
In some case, Russian spies have tried to gain employment at places with sensitive information. The FBI would not comment for the story, and the Russian embassy didn't respond for a request for comment, Chris.
CUOMO: All right. So, here's the question. If they know that they're stepping up their efforts, do they have any ability to stop the same?
PROKUPECZ: Well, not necessarily stop it, but here's the thing: we know that even after the meddling of -- in the election, you know, both the Obama and Trump administrations have been slow to take measures to respond to the intelligence threat, according to the current, former U.S. intelligence officials.
You know, also partisan political disagreements over the Russian activity and President Donald Trump's reluctance to accept intelligence conclusions about Russia's meddling in the election has slowed efforts to counter the threat.
Another issue here, Chris, is that there's an ongoing frustration with the State Department over the granting of visas to people the U.S. intelligence suspect are intelligence officers. A State Department official would not comment specifically on the visas. We are told that the FBI's counterintelligence division is trying, you know, is making efforts to keep an eye on some of this activity -- Chris and Poppy.
CUOMO: Yes, a very interesting issue there. Obviously, a visa is a privilege; it's not a right. And you just had the travel ban put into effect to keep the country safe, but you have these people who are getting visas, and it's kind of freaking out those in the system. Why isn't that on lockdown the same way?
Shimon, thank you very much for the reporting.
Let's bring in our panel: CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein; CNN global affairs analyst and former deputy secretary of state, Tony Blinken; and CNN political and national security analyst, David Sanger. He is in Hamburg, Germany, where the G-20 is being held.
Tony Blinken, the stakes. We know we've had the first handshake. We're getting in there today. There's a lot of muscling up in advance of this. Is that the right posture for the American president in this meeting? Does he want to go in there to call out Vladimir Putin? To flex, as he has suggested he would in the past?
TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Chris, I don't think he has any choice but to call him out, particularly on the election meddling.
CUOMO: In a first meeting?
BLINKEN: In a first meeting. Because this is the elephant in the room. And if he doesn't do it, then he's emboldening the Russians to continue to do what they've already done in 2018 and in 2020.
CUOMO: But if he calls it out, hasn't he already set himself up for failure on that? Like, if he comes long and strong -- "I know what you did. I don't like that you kid it. I'm not Obama. You try that again, you're going to have trouble" -- hasn't he set himself up for Putin to say, "What did I do? I didn't do anything. You have admitted yourself, Mr. President, that this intel is shaky at best."
BLINKEN: The president, of course, has painted himself into a corner by casting doubt on our own intelligence services, which were unanimous in finding that Russia had meddled in the election.
But if you don't clear this up, he's not going to be able to pursue anything else that he wants. And the problem is this, Chris: There's a larger Russian strategy at play here. And that is to sew doubt in our institutions and leaders. The failure to even acknowledge that they've done that, never mind to actually confront it, actually feeds that doubt.
So, you know, then the president presented himself as a leader of the West in the speech in Poland. And he asked, "Do we have the will to survive?" If he doesn't confront the greatest threat to the West, which is Russia's efforts to undermine our institutions, the answer would have to be no.
CUOMO: So this is a cool moment. These are the G-20 leaders you see on your screen. They're gathering for a group photo. Angela Merkel popping out there with the red jacket down in front.
HARLOW: Not to mention one of the few females.
CUOMO: I know.
HARLOW: That, too. And in the red, so standing out. They call it the family photo. And you see President Trump on the end on the left.
CUOMO: Are they ordered in any specific way? Do we know anything about the ordering of the countries? How it goes? Anybody got anything on that? Sanger, Brownstein? How do they figure out the order?
DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Usually -- usually, the ones that I've covered in the past -- and Tony has been to more of these than I have, probably -- they do it frequently by height, as you would organize many other photographs, so that you don't actually end up blocking some leader who doesn't show up in the G-20 family photo.
BLINKEN: Muscle him out of the way.
HARLOW: But look, you have the sides of the screen. You actually can't see -- I think just on the end there, you've got them. But there you have President Trump on the end--
CUOMO: Is he talking to Macron here?
HARLOW: Talking to Emanuel Macron of France, exactly.
And now they're walking off the stage. As we keep looking at these live photos from Hamburg, Germany, Ron Brownstein, to you. We're about to, we hear, get the image of the handshake between President Trump and President Putin. And optics matter a lot, right? They don't matter like substance, but they are what get -- get people talking. There's that famous photo of President Obama with President Putin. There you go!
CUOMO: There you go. HARLOW: Let's take a moment to look. All right. Ron Brownstein--
CUOMO: Somewhere, Alisyn Camerota is begging for a body language expert.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
CUOMO: Not getting enough of it. So he gave him the shake and the underpat. The shake and the underpat.
BROWNSTEIN: Look, you know--
HARLOW: Ron Brownstein? Your thoughts?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, as I said before, I mean, I think, you know, of all -- there are so many things that are unique about President Trump, but I think one thing that is typical about him is this enormous belief in the ability of a personal relationship to cut through the entrenched disagreements between nations.
We saw this with Xi Jinping, when he had the -- what he thought was a very successful personal bond at Mar-a-Lago. And here we are, a few weeks, months later, and he's expressing frustration that that -- that encounter did not change years of underlying Chinese views about the proper way to handle North Korea. And did not lead them further in the direction that we had hoped they would take.
And I think we are -- you know, we are heading inexorably for the same thing with Vladimir Putin, where you know, President Trump said during the campaign, "It would be an asset for us if I have a good relationship with him. That, you know, we can -- he will respect me more than he did President Obama. And therefore, they will move in the direction that we want."
And I think what we are going to see, whatever happens today in this meeting, is that there are underlying conflicts between our visions of the world, that Russia has essentially chosen a role as a disrupter of kind of the global order and is systemically working in all sorts of different ways to try to unmoor the western alliance from both ends of the Atlantic. And that is not likely to change.
However, you know, whatever the quality of the handshake or the quality of the conversation, those underlying conflicts will endure, and we will have to decide how forcefully we are going to respond to them.
HARLOW: We just saw Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany speaking with Vladimir Putin as they were walking to their seats. You know, she was asked interestingly, Tony Blinken, yesterday, does she see herself as sort of the moderator between President Trump and President Putin in these key meetings? And she didn't hesitate before saying, "Absolutely not. That is not my role. I am here to negotiate for what is best for the world community."
What about the preparation? Because we know -- if we know one thing -- you see Gary Cohn, one of the president's chief advisers, there with the president right now. What we know is that Vladimir Putin prepares very -- extensively for these meetings, and prepares in a different way than we're hearing President Trump prepare.
BLINKEN: Yes. That's exactly right. Putin is a master of his brief in every single meeting. Tremendous preparation, tremendous mastery of the facts or at least the facts as he sees them. And, you know, there's some concern that the president hasn't had the same focus. And we've heard from the White House that there isn't a set agenda. That's a little hard to believe.
But here's another thing. The folks in the room, on our side, the president, Secretary Tillerson, they've got about -- combined about 12 months of government experience. The Russian side, Vladimir Putin, Sergey Lavrov, about 80 years of government experience. There's a little bit of a mismatch here.
CUOMO: But look, I can actually be of some help here this morning. Donald Trump is good in a meeting. He has been around a lot of very powerful people. He is not cowed by power, which is a great asset to have going in, you know. Having that arrogance about you sometimes is helpful. He has that.
He is very good at staying on point in meetings with people and understanding things. He is very different than the president you have all come to know in terms of how he deals with the media and how he deals with resistance. I'm saying, in meetings. I'm not saying that it's a given he's going to be that way, but to dismiss the president's ability to step up in a situation like this, Ron Brownstein, might be a gross underestimate of his potential.
BROWNSTEIN: Yes, no, look. I mean, we have no idea what the personal interaction will be. And having not had a meeting with President Trump of the kind you're describing, I have no reason to, you know, question your analysis.
I do think, as Tony said before, part of the problem he faces going in here is he has painted himself into a corner. You know, what we saw -- what we saw from James Comey and his testimony, maybe in some ways, the most memorable moment was he said Russia will be back. There has been nothing that's happened in the U.S. in 2017 that would cause them to view their intervention in 2016 as anything but achieving their goals of, at the least, sowing disunity and confusion.
We saw what was almost certainly another attempt in France. We don't know how far they are going to push it in the German election. It is important from a national security point of view not only for the U.S., but for other nations, that they receive a forceful message that this is not OK.
And the president, as Tony Blinken said, has made that tougher on himself by conflating the question of whether Russia interfered at all with whether his campaign colluded with that interference.
[07:15:08] And so, you know, is he capable of pushing back on that? We don't know, based on -- whatever his personal qualities in a meeting, has he painted himself into a corner where he makes it very difficult to do that? I think he's certainly diminished his credibility.
HARLOW: David Sanger, the Kremlin grabbed control of the narrative the last time its officials met with the president. And that is, Ambassador Kislyak in the Oval Office. No U.S. media was allowed inside. Russian media was. That picture taken of them smiling together, shaking hands was then subsequently leaked, something the administration was not happy with. You have Sergey Lavrov there, the foreign minister with President Trump, also the Ambassador Kislyak in the Oval Office.
How does the White House grab control of the narrative on this one? Because both the Kremlin and the White House will give these readouts. How does the White House get in front on that one?
SANGER: Well, the first thing they're probably going to do is bring Secretary Tillerson, who was the only other one in the room or will be the only other one in the room out to go do that briefing.
But the Russians will be briefing, as well.
I think one of the big issues that we come into this meeting with is, does President Trump want to go portray himself as having a friendly, "I can do business with this guy. We're going to be buddies" kind of relationship? Or does he want to come out and make it clear that he's been tough?
And there is a way on the cyber side of this to do that without dwelling too much on the election, which is to dwell on the cyber activities that the Russians are engaged in now. And both Ron and Tony made some reference to that. The Russians are doing a lot around the world. And the president could lay out what the cost of that will be.
So far, we haven't seen any evidence of any U.S. pushback on that or the Russian military activity, as well, around Europe. So the president as a negotiator knows he needs leverage, and he's going to have to figure out a way to get some here. Right now, he doesn't have that.
And there's a lot more for them to do in this meeting. The Russians are in violation of an intermediate nuclear forces agreement. The president will have to decide whether to say, look, if you continue along that route, we're going to deploy something similar or maybe pull out of that agreement.
On Syria, the president already seems to have signaled that they're seeing a larger Russian role in Syria. They're going to have to figure out a way around that.
They're about to go announce the appointment of a new special representative on Ukraine issues. The Russians are looking, of course, for the lifting of sanctions, something that 97-2, congress voted against the other day, the Senate voted against the other day. So the president has got to know, he doesn't have his own Republican Party with him if he thinks he's going to get sanctions lifted. HARLOW: All right. Thank you, all, very much. As we look at these
live pictures, as this meeting at the G-20 is getting underway in Hamburg. We saw the hand shake. The main evet, President Trump's big meeting with President Putin just a few hours away. We still don't know if he will bring up Russia's election meddling. Senate Democrats are demanding it, writing a letter to the president. But do they think it's going to happen, though? We'll ask senator Blumenthal, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[07:22:16] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you once and for all, yes or no, definitively say that Russia interfered in the 2016 election?
TRUMP: Well, I think it was Russia, and I think it could have been other people in other countries. It could have been a lot of people interfered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: That was President Trump yesterday, hedging on Russia's involvement, meddling in the 2016 election. Those comments coming right before his high-stakes meeting today with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It begins in just over two hours. The big question, will he even bring up election meddling with Putin?
Joining us now, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. It is nice to have you here, and I understand, in the green room, you saw, as we saw for the first time, the handshake between the two men.
What would satisfy you to come from President Trump in this meeting with Vladimir Putin?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: What President Trump has to do is leave no doubt in Putin's mind that he knows and he accepts the unanimous findings of the intelligence agencies that, in fact, Russia interfered in our election and that Russia will pay a price for it. And an even higher price in the future. There's a sanctions bill that passed the Senate overwhelmingly with bipartisan support.
HARLOW: Ninety-eight to two.
BLUMENTHAL: I was glad to help lead it. Ninety-eight to two. It's now in the House, and it's stalled there, largely because of tacit resistance from the Trump administration. So, President Trump has to tell Putin, who is an adversary, not an ally, that Russia will pay a price if he repeats this kind of meddling in our election.
HARLOW: I'm sure you heard what President Trump said yesterday in that press conference. For our viewers, let's play it again. Here's what President Trump said yesterday, pointing the finger at his predecessor, President Obama, on Russia. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: The thing I have to mention is that Barack Obama, when he was
president, found out about this, in terms of if it were Russia, found out about it in August.
Now, the election was in November. That's a lot of time. He did nothing about it. They say he choked. Well, I don't think he choked. I think what happened is, he thought Hillary Clinton was going to win the election, and he said, "Let's not do anything about it." Had he thought the other way, he would have done something about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: He's referring to that "Washington Post" reporting from a few weeks ago, one of the Obama administration officials saying, Senator, that they felt like their own team choked on this one. Now, some of your fellow Democrats, like Adam Schiff, the head -- you
know, the ranking Democrat on the House Intel Committee, agree, to an extent and say, "Look, the Obama administration should have done more, should have said more." Are you in their camp or do you disagree with the president?
BLUMENTHAL: I agree that the Obama administration could have done more and sooner. Let's accept that.
HARLOW: Should they have? Should they have?
[07:25:00] BLUMENTHAL: They should have in retrospect.
BLUMENTHAL: Remember, this attack was unprecedented in its scope and scale. Never before has our democracy been attacked in this concerted, concentrated way by a foreign power, and Russia really attacked the United States. It was, in my view, an act of war that should have prompted a quicker, more aggressive response.
But let's accept that argument. Is that a reason to do nothing now? Donald Trump seems to think, well, we should back away from any action to make Russia pay a price now. In fact, it's an argument for making them pay an even steeper price now to deter them for repeating it in the future.
And it will be a sad day for democracy if Donald Trump conducts business as usual with this KGB thug who's determined to undermine us at every turn, whether it's Syria, Ukraine, the IMF treaty, which he is violating with impunity.
HARLOW: Now, he did, as you heard in the speech in Warsaw yesterday, call out Russia, specifically on Ukraine. So that may be an indicator of how he is going to head into this meeting. We shall see.
New CNN reporting that I'm sure you've seen this morning that Russian spies here in the United States are ramping up their efforts, largely because they don't feel like they've been deterred at all by the Obama administration or the Trump administration. Now, a key part of that is that the State Department, under both Obama
and President Trump, keeps handing out a number of these temporary visas, even to these suspected Russian intelligence officers. Does that concern you?
BLUMENTHAL: It does, very much so. I'm very concerned that these visas are continuing to be made available in light of what we know about what these operatives are doing here.
And in fact, that the United States is now apparently in negotiations with the Russians. The undersecretary of state met with the Russian ambassador just days ago to possibly return the two compounds to the Russians in Maryland and New York. So it seems to be business as usual.
And what the president has said in Poland was actually deeply troubling, because he said, "It could have been the Russians, but it could have been a lot of other countries."
HARLOW: Which former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, struck down, being head of all of the intelligence agencies, at the time; struck down yesterday on "THE SITUATION ROOM."
The top watchdog for the government, Walter Shaub, who's been incredibly critical of the Trump administration, has resigned and stepped down from his post at the head of Office of Government Ethics. And he put out a very -- a very civil statement, saying, "More needs to be done. I'm moving on," et cetera.
Nancy Pelosi, though, your fellow Democrat, said that this, quote, "deals a serious blow to the integrity of our government," to not have him there. Do you see it that way?
BLUMENTHAL: I think it's a loss, because he's a good and decent man who was determined, as a career civil servant, to uncover conflicts of interest and to insist on enforcement of law. And now the Trump administration may well simply leave a placeholder there, without sufficient enforcement--
HARLOW: Well, the White House says they're looking at someone to nominate, and you as a senator, will be part of the confirmation process. They will have to be confirmed by the Senate. Are you saying you're very concerned about whom the White House may put forward?
BLUMENTHAL: I'm deeply concerned, because the Trump administration has resisted Shaub, who ran the Office of Government Ethics.
And I'm also determined that we're going to pursue a legal action that we've begun, 200 members of Congress, asking that the courts tell the president he must obey the Constitution because of his financial dealings with foreign powers.
And the question arises, going back to Russia, whether his apparent receptiveness to Putin is the result of his ego being involved or possible financial dealings. And we believe that ethics require and the Constitution mandates that he disclose any of these financial dealings.
HARLOW: Thank you very much, Senator Blumenthal. Nice to have you here.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
HARLOW: We appreciate it -- Chris.
CUOMO: All right. Thank you, Poppy. Good conversation to have.
So no question the president is criticizing U.S. intelligence again, but this time he's doing it on the world stage. Does that hurt the credibility of our intel agencies? How do they take it? We're going to get you some good insight from a former member of the House and Senate Intel Committees, next.