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Former CIA Station Chief Speaks Out About Russia; Trump Administration Sends Mixed Messages on North Korea. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired August 10, 2017 - 06:30   ET



[06:34:02] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Several State Department employees at the U.S. embassy in Havana have been targeted perhaps by a covert sonic device that caused them to suffer hearing loss and concussion-like symptoms. The FBI is looking into the possible acoustic attack. That's going to be a new phrase for us. We haven't heard it before.

The White House is going to react by expelling two Cuban diplomats from their embassy in Washington in May. The Cuban foreign ministry says it's taking the matter seriously, but there's still very little detail on what this was about or who perpetrated it.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Strange. Here's another strange story, why is an unarmed Russian air force jet conducting low-altitude flyovers of D.C. landmarks like the Capitol, the Pentagon, and the CIA. You're looking at exclusive CNN video capturing this. This flight was part of a long-standing treaty allowing the U.S. and Russia to observe each other's military sites from the air.

[06:35:01] A second flight by the same jet flew over Bedminster, New Jersey, where President Trump is vacationing.

MARQUEZ: Hurricane Franklin weakening to a tropical storm and making landfall over eastern Mexico. Flash floods and mudslides certainly a concern.

Let's get to CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray. She has the forecast.

What are you seeing, my friend?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Chris, I think the biggest concern with this storm now is the rain. Yes, we have rains of 70 miles per hour, gusts of 85. But the rain poses the biggest danger because of this mountainous terrain, you're going to have flash flooding, and we're also going to have the possibility of mudslides.

Now, this storm isn't going to last much longer, possibly dying out later today or tomorrow, but the threat still remains for the flooding across Mexico. It's moving to the west at about 15 miles per hour. And you can see some of these isolated rainfall amounts could be as much as six to ten inches. And some even more.

And we're including places like Mexico City as well. Little closer to home. We do have a threat across portions of the plains today, damaging winds, large hail, the possibility of isolated tornadoes, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Jennifer, thanks so much for keeping an eye on all that for us.

So, we have some new details about Don Trump Jr.'s meeting with that Russian attorney. Did the Kremlin want the American people to find out about this? We will hear from a former CIA station chief based in Moscow about his theory on this meeting, next.


CAMEROTA: A former CIA station chief who spent five years in Moscow is speaking out about Russia's efforts to undermine the U.S. election. He's now detailing a possible motive behind the meeting of Donald Trump Jr. and that Russian lawyer.

In a "New York Times" op-ed, he writes: The clearest evidence that this was a Russian influence operation is the trail of bread crumbs the Kremlin seems to have deliberately left leading from Trump Tower to the Kremlin.

[06:40:08] This operation was meant to be discovered.

That CIA -- that former CIA station chief, Daniel Hoffman, joins us.

Daniel, great to have you here in studio.


CAMEROTA: We should mention that you have retired, which is why we can now blow your cover and say that you were in the CIA for many decades.

HOFFMAN: Correct.

CAMEROTA: OK. What do you mean that meeting between the Russian lawyer and Don Jr. and others was meant to be discovered by -- that it was planted basically with a trail of bread crumbs by the Kremlin?

HOFFMAN: I think the evidence from that meeting points to an effort by the Kremlin to influence rather than some sort of a covert back channel for collusion. Vladimir Putin wants to soil our democratic institutions, and I think he found the best way to do that would be to tie us to the Kremlin.

CAMEROTA: But it seems that you're suggesting in your op-ed that the Trump team were serving as dupes, basically. They were unwitting pawns. They didn't know what they were walking into. So, it wasn't active collusion, though Don Jr. said I le it when offered the dirt on Hillary Clinton that may or may not have ever been produced, but this is what the Kremlin does, they try to find unwitting pawns.

HOFFMAN: I think -- I think what Vladimir Putin did, remember, his former experience was serving as a KGB offer and serving as director of the FSB. So, espionage is quivering his bow, and it's not just about recruiting sources. It's also about running these sort of operations.

I think what he felt was this would be the sort of bait that maybe someone might not want to refuse. And so, I think they took a gamble and won out and the meeting took place and that was really all that they needed.

CAMEROTA: One of the things I thought so interesting in your op-ed is you say one of the favorite Russian tactics, Kremlin tactics, spy tactics, is to dangle something that looks to be of great value for free, and that that should be an instant red flag. So, in other words, I'm going to just hand overall this great opposition research, this dirt on Hillary Clinton for free, and that that really in real life rarely happens and that should have set off some alarm bells.

HOFFMAN: Yes, I think it would have set off alarm bells for Russians who grew up in Russia and understand what this is all about, but it might not for us in the United States. You know, the other formative experience in Vladimir Putin's life is he's a black belt in judo, and that one of the key principles in judo is to use your opponent's strength against them.

In the United States, we have freedom of the press and we don't necessarily think the way a Russian might about this idea that someone was baiting you with something.

CAMEROTA: OK, just help me to understand one more time, the point of all this. If it wasn't active collusion and they wanted it to be discovered, if the Kremlin, in fact, wanted us to follow this trail of bread crumbs, why?

HOFFMAN: Vladimir Putin has his sight set on March 2018, when he will stand for election. And he knows many of his opponents, many of whom will risk their lives by protesting on the streets of Russia as they have before, derive much of their ideological inspiration from the United States. And I think that's why Vladimir Putin wants to soil our electoral process and democratic institution.

CAMEROTA: President Trump has said, basically, I'm paraphrasing, yes, maybe Russia tried to meddle, but so do other countries. Is Russia in a different category?

HOFFMAN: I think Russia is in a pretty special category when it comes to their sophisticated capability for intruding into our cyberspace. And we've seen that. We've seen that in our efforts to target our infrastructure and target our news sites. They're very good at what they do.

CAMEROTA: You spent 30 years in the CIA, is that right, focused on Russia?

HOFFMAN: I spent the bulk of my career focused on Russia, yes.

CAMEROTA: OK. So, from where you sit, in your expertise, since Russia will always try to launch disinformation campaigns and try to upset our democracy, what's the best way to stop them?

HOFFMAN: I think one of the best ways to stop them is to be transparent about what they're doing so our citizens are armed with the knowledge that this is a Russian tactic and this is what they're trying to achieve. I think it starts there, frankly.

CAMEROTA: But meaning that the more we talk about it openly, the more people will understand when they're receiving disinformation? I mean, what do you mean by transparency?

HOFFMAN: I think being transparent and honest about what the Russian tactics are, the full -- all of their intelligence efforts to target us in this country, whether those are human intelligence efforts. They've got lots of Russian intelligence officers in this country, ruthlessly targeting our people here and their efforts to target us through cyberspace as well.

I think we need to educate our people about that threat. I think that's the first step.

[06:45:00] And then we need to counter them and counter their themes.

CAMEROTA: And do you think the White House has done a good job of being transparent and presenting that evidence to the American people?

HOFFMAN: I'll leave it to others to grade the White House on how well or not so well they've done. I think it's certainly a major challenge.

CAMEROTA: If you're calling for transparency and you think there needs to be an education program for Americans so we know what we're up against, do you think the White House has done that?

HOFFMAN: I think -- you know, from my perspective, what I might like to see is, for example, when Ronald Reagan made the speech at Brandenburg Gate and told Mr. Gorbachev to tear down the wall, that might be something of that sort might be of value.

CAMEROTA: If the president says something more forcefully.

HOFFMAN: Or someone in the administration.

CAMEROTA: Daniel Hoffman, thank you very much for all of your expertise on this. Really fascinating to read that op-ed.


CUOMO: All right. Thank you very much.

Mixed messages from the Trump administration about the North Korean nuclear threat. The president saying they will feel the fire and fury if they do anything. Diplomats saying something much softer. Is this the way it should go? Let's debate it, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [06:50:09] CUOMO: So, the war of words is intensifying between President Trump and North Korea. We're seeing different rhetoric from the president and that from his top brass. The president clearly making the case to the American people. How do we feel about that?

Joining us now, CNN political commentators Ana Navarro and Ben Ferguson.

So, let's start with this premise, Ben, the president comes out and says the fire and the fury, you know, kind of an adaptation of the Faulkner novel, the Shakespeare quote, the sound and the fury, a lot of odd parallels there. You can Google that for yourself. But then we hear from Tillerson and others, yes, you're fine, you can sleep at night.

Do you see that as inconsistent or do you think that as tiered?

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's tiered. But I also think you have to look at where we've been for the last 8 1/2 years. We have said, we're going to let the international community lead on this. We've said we're gong to let other nations put pressure on them instead of us directly putting pressure on them.

It has not worked. He's got 60-plus nuclear weapons, miniaturized weapons. Inter ballistic missiles that work. So, did the rhetoric need to change?

Obviously, the hey, let's sit around and let's see if sanctions work did not work. In fact, every time we did a sanction, every time we went to the international community, the guy is just adding nuclear weapons. So, I didn't have as much of a problem with what the president said because I do think you have to make it clear what you're doing and how you're doing it is no longer acceptable. And we're not going to let you get from 60 to 120 and think there's no repercussions, because sanctions clearly are not enough to get him to stop his program or act responsibly in the world.

CAMEROTA: Ana, are you comfortable with the fire and fury rhetoric?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. I don't think two boxers doing trash talk preparing for a fight in Las Vegas. I think this is very serious stuff. It affects the psyche of the country.

I think this is yet again another example where President Trump and his administration are not on the same page, not on the same message. The other person who had a big problem with it was John McCain, the chair of the Armed Services in the Senate. It's uncoordinated, irresponsible --

CAMEROTA: Is it possible they're just good cop, bad copping North Korea, that Tillerson says, everybody can calm down, we're going to figure this out diplomatically and the president says, fire and fury will rain down on you, that they want to be unpredictable?

NAVARRO: The only thing that's predictable about them is they're inconsistent and they're off message. There you can have credibility. I mean, I have a hard time thinking this was a strategic well-thought out, you know -- including, by the way, somebody else that I wonder thought about it who does have military experience and takes this very seriously is his new chief of staff.

FERGUSON: See, I think a lot of this is good cop-bad cop. I think the president is smart and realizes, first of all, his message that he said was not in an offensive way. It was in defense of what was coming out of North Korea. It's not like he just randomly said I'm going to pick a fight this morning with North Korea.


CAMEROTA: But he sounds like he randomly woke up and used this language. John Kelly didn't know about --

FERGUSON: Well, look, I think the president has the ability and the right to clearly state a message and people are looking at two words and trying to make this actually that those words somehow only meant we had a nuclear option, which I don't think is accurate.

CUOMO: What does fire and fury --

FERGUSON: I think fire and fury means the United States of America is not going to be bullied by a guy who has nuclear weapons that can reach half of the United States of America.

CAMEROTA: Yes, what are we going to do?

FERGUSON: A guy that can literally -- I mean, think about it. If you live in Hawaii, you have a 20-minute warning and now it's real. This isn't a joke --

CUOMO: We get the urgency of what this fire and fury suggests that is non-militaristic?

FERGUSON: One, I would say ask Iran. They saw the fire and fury of what the world can do to their nuclear program solely through cyberattacks. No one was talking about a red button.

But guess what? We screwed their program up, brought them back from what we think is literally years from the brink, that's fire and fury, yes, using cyber warfare.

The president's point was not so much we're going to bomb the living you know what out of you if you don't -- if I don't feel like you're not talking to us -- they made threats against the United States of America. They consistently --

CUOMO: How do you know he didn't mean military?


CAMEROTA: He said the likes of which the world has never seen.

FERGUSON: Right, I think if you look at what the people around him have said, and I go back to the part about the good cop bad cop, you have diplomacy. You always want diplomatic channels open. Those have been a failure. The guy has got 60 nuclear weapons and miniaturized warheads and he's an unstable individual.

NAVARRO: I got to tell you, I'm amused by the idea that you say the president didn't wake up in the morning and randomly pick a fight. You realize this man wakes up every morning and randomly picks a fight. He picks fights with department stores and Broadway shows. I mean, this is not --

FERGUSON: Look, I understand you don't like Donald Trump, I understand that. And it's -- if you don't like him, that's fine. But not everything he does is necessarily bad --

NAVARRO: It's not that I don't like him, which I don't. It's also I think he's irresponsible. I think that after six months of being president, you need to -- let me say this, you need to understand when you're president of the United States, your words matter.

FERGUSON: I agree.


[06:55:00] NAVARRO: He does it willy-nilly attacking people, attacking -- you know, causing international incidents, whether it's London and whether it's Korea and he does it without doing it in a coordinated fashion with his secretary of defense, with Congress, it is irresponsible.

FERGUSON: No, it's irresponsible for a president to continue on a course that allows a guy to be able to reach half the United States of America with nuclear weapons when we literally tried diplomacy for eight years.

CAMEROTA: Right. But Ana is saying it wasn't strategic. If it was strategic, then why aren't they all speaking from the same book?


FERGUSON: I don't think people -- people again are focused on two words because they love to look at the two words instead of the overall picture here. Let's not forget, you have an individual that doesn't care about his own people. You have an individual that's literally testing nuclear weapons and the whole world is condemning it. You have the most extreme sanctions you've seen in modern day in a country like this. None of it is stopping him.


CAMEROTA: You're saying the tough rhetoric you're saying will change something.

FERGUSON: I think the soft rhetoric for the last 8 1/2 years has been a failure.

CUOMO: Right. You just have to distinguish the premise for saying something provocative, which is clear. Nobody is saying that North Korea hasn't staged a situation that demands response. It's how do you respond, how well thought out is it and how much follow through --

FERGUSON: I rarely quote Barack Obama. But Barack Obama, when the president and him are having this private conversation, said, hey, is there any one other thing I should know about? And he said, North Korea needs to be on your radar. He understood how advanced North Korea is getting.

CUOMO: The threat is real.

FERGUSON: And it's real.


FERGUSON: -- when you have the president who sits back and crossed his arms and asked a question, you say, to North Korea, don't mess with America if you think you're going to go away for this for another four years like have, you're not -- I think that's a good point for him to make and I think it's presidential.

NAVARRO: We've gone from having to deal with the North Korea issue with one crazy man to dealing with two crazy men. That's one too many.

CAMEROTA: On that note, thank you both for the debate. Great to have you.

CUOMO: Good to have you here.

FERGUSON: Good to be here.


CUOMO: Thank you very much.

NAVARRO: You look a year older than the last time I saw you.

CAMEROTA: Oh, ouch.

CUOMO: I got to get this --


CAMEROTA: Thank you very much.

Meanwhile, North Korea seemingly crossing President Trump's red line with a new threat. What's next? We have live reports for you from Beijing, Guam and the Pentagon.