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Violent Protests Greet Trump's Arrival in Manila; Trump meets with Controversial Philippines Strongman; Trump: Those Playing Politics on Russia: Haters & Fools; Alabama Voters Speak out Amid Roy Moore Accusations; Clapper Downplaying Russia Threat Poses Peril to U.S.; Trump Now Claims He Doesn't Believe Putin's Meddling Denials; Former U.S. Intel Chiefs Fire Back at Trump; Community Gathers For First Service Since Shooting; Trump: I Believe In U.S. Intel Agencies On Election Meddling; Brennan: I Think Trump Is "Intimidated By Putin". Aired 2-3p ET

Aired November 12, 2017 - 2:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: I will see you next week.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone and welcome this Sunday, I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Protests, diplomacy and a clarification marking the latest segment of President Trump's Asia trip. Violent protests in the streets of Manila greeting President Trump as he arrived in the Philippines. He got a warm welcome, however, from that country's controversial strong man and leader Rodrigo Duterte whose bloody war on drugs has led to thousands of killings and international condemnation.

Trump's diplomatic skills also now in the spotlight as the world waits to see how he addresses human rights concerns after praising Duterte's leadership in the past.

And before Trump's arrival in that country, Trump unloaded on his critics, calling them haters and fools. Trump also downplayed his past skepticism of Russia's interference in the U.S. election after he was widely criticized this weekend for calling previous U.S. intelligence leaders political hacks.

Trump now says he has confidence in the U.S. intel community.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe in our intel agencies. Our intelligence agencies. I've worked with them very strongly.


WHITFIELD: All right. A lot to unpack there. Let's get straight to CNN's Kaitlan Collins in Manila where President Trump is still trying to clear up the confusion and controversy after initially suggesting that he believes Vladimir Putin's election meddling denials. So, Kaitlan, has the president clarified where he stands?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president certainly received a fair amount of backlash after that flight on Air Force One where he suggested to reporters that he thought Putin was being sincere when he said Russia did not meddle in the election and it raised the question among reporters, if he meant that he believed Putin when he said Russia didn't meddle in the election or if they simply thought he was being genuine when he made those statements.

The president was asked that directly. Does he believe that Russia interfered in our presidential election in 2016 today during a press conference in Vietnam? Here's what he had to say.


TRUMP: I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election. As to whether I believe it or not, I'm with our agencies especially as currently constituted with their leadership. I believe in our intel agencies and our intelligence agencies. I've worked with them very strongly. There weren't 17, as was previously recorded. There were actually four. But they were saying there was 17. There were actually four.

But as currently led by fine people. I believe very much in our intelligence agencies.


COLLINS: So you see that the president is really seeking to straddle that line between siding with U.S. intelligence. They didn't like the CIA which has said yes, Russia did meddle in the election and then kind of trying to downplay the entire thing by saying, you can only ask Russia so many times if they did it. He really was seeking to move on from that whole thing.

But we've really seen these questions follow the president in the last few months of his administration. Because he hasn't come outright and said yes, Russia did meddle in the election, instead he's made comments like it could have been Russia, it could have been China, it could have been anybody and that is why he keeps being asked directly whether this happened.

And it's likely that these questions will follow the president during his last stop of his Asia trip here in the Philippines where he's scheduled to meet with President Duterte. A very contentious figure where the president has a very warm relationship with him as described by a senior administration official in the White House. Those two are scheduled to meet.

And now the question on everyone's mind is, if the president will publicly and forcefully bring up the human rights issue with Duterte, because as you know, Fred, since he's been in office, his administration has had this crackdown on drug trafficking that has resulted in these extra judicial killings, human rights groups say that nearly 10,000 people have died from that. And what everyone wants to know is if the president is going to press Duterte on that. And that's what we will be looking to see today as the president has his meetings at the summit, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Because in the past, the president, President Trump has applauded Duterte of how he has handled the drug problem and now we have learned or at least reportedly the numbers upwards of 10,000 people drug dealers or even drug users, who have reportedly been executed and killed on the order of Duterte.

So, is there a feeling that if the president of the United States addresses --


WHITFIELD: -- any kind of human rights abusive issues while they are in the Philippines, would it be on a one on one type of meeting or is there a feeling that there is an open forum in which everyone would be able to hear from the president?

COLLINS: That's what we're still waiting to find out. Certainly, a lot of people would prefer if the president would do so in public just because of the message that it would send to the world of him confronting Duterte publicly and forcefully about that.

But as we've seen in the past, the president does not like to raise these types of things in public. Instead The White House says he often does so in private as we saw we saw when LCC visited the White House from Egypt earlier this year. So that is what we're waiting to find out from the White House.

But, yes, we have seen the president been very -- he's praised Duterte quite some time back in that phone call in May. He said he thought he was doing a good job handling the drug problem here in the Philippines. So it's not likely that the president will do so publicly, but that's what we will be waiting to see as he wraps up his trip here in Asia, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much in Manila. All right. Back to the American intelligence findings versus Putin's denials. Two former US intel chiefs are firing back at President Trump's controversial initial remarks throughout the weekend on Russia's election meddling. On CNN "State of the Union," with Jake Tapper, former CIA director John Brennan and James Clapper, former national intelligence director responded to the president's earlier comment that he believes Vladimir Putin's elections meddling denials and that the two also weighed in on Trump calling Brennan, Clapper and former FBI director Jim Comey political hacks.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: He said Putin believes what he believes and I side with our intelligence agencies, but it was vague. Why do you think he does that?

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: I don't know why the ambiguity about this because the threat posed by Russia, as John just said is manifest and obvious and has been for a long time.

Putin is committed to undermining our system, our democracy and our -- and our whole process and to try to paint it in any other way is, I think astounding and in fact poses a peril to this country.

TAPPER: What threat? What peril does it pose to the country?

TAPPER: Well, for one, as we've seen and the evidence that's come out since the publication of our intelligence community since January, further reinforces, the depth and magnitude and scope and the aggressiveness of the Russian interference to include their very astute use of social media.

Apart from that, something we don't think about too much is the fact that the Russians are embarked on a very aggressive monitorization of their strategic nuclear forces to include a very capable and scary counter space program.

They only have one adversary in mind when they do this. And, oh, by the way, the Russians are in abject violation of the INF Treaty, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. So the Russians do not harbor good intentions towards the United States. And there shouldn't be any illusions or ambiguity about that. And our president fosters that ambiguity.

TAPPER: The president also called both of you and FBI Director Comey political hacks. All three of you worked in senior levels in the Obama administration, although you also worked during the Bush administration. How do you respond to that charge?

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, first of all, he was referring to us as political hacks because he was trying to delegitimize the intelligence community assessment has done. Jim Clapper, Jim Comey and John Brennan did not write that assessment. It was written by the professional intelligence officers and law enforcement officers of this great country.

Secondly, I feel very honored to be associated with Jim Clapper and Jim Comey in the same category. Considering the source of the criticism, I consider that criticism a badge of honor.

And third, I found it particularly reprehensible that on Veterans Day that Donald Trump would attack and impugn the integrity and the character of Jim Clapper who served in uniform for 35 years. Who responded to the call of his country to go to Vietnam, flew in over 70 combat support missions over Vietnam and like Senator McCain, really did put his life at risk because of this country's national security. And to impugn the character of somebody like Jim clapper on Veterans Day who has dedicated so much of his life to this country, I just find that outrageous and it's something that --


BRENNAN: I think that Mr. Trump should be ashamed of, but it doesn't seem as though anything he does he feels any shame whatsoever. TAPPER: What is the effect of these attacks not on you two or Jim Comey, but on other people in the FBI and the CIA and the NSA? People who are still there, who worked under you and are still there working to try to make the country safer?

CLAPPER: First, I have to reciprocate what an honor has been to serve with the likes of John Brennan and Jim Comey who are dedicated public servants and had served this country long and well and with great integrity.

I think it can have a positive -- it can have a positive impact on the -- on the morale or the workforce of the intelligence committee, but I do believe in my heart that the men and women in the intelligence community will continue to convey truth to power even if the power ignores the truth.


WHITFIELD: All right. Let's discuss this now with our panel. Robert Zimmerman is a democratic strategist. Tim Naftali is a CNN presidential historian and former director of the Nixon presidential library. Good to see you both.

All right. So, Robert, you first. How do you assess President Trump on the world stage trying to offer clarity on his now acceptance of American intelligence but it comes after insulting some of those intel chiefs, namely two, plus Comey that we just heard from. How do you assess all of this?

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: When you're the president of the United States and you attack and criticize our heroic officers and intelligence who work around the world to keep us safe to hunt out terrorist leads and to try to keep us protected from a future attack. When you malign them on foreign soil, when you attack on Veterans Day, a decorated three-star general, there is no recalibration, there is no do-over.

This tragically reflects a mentality and articulation of Donald Trump's philosophy and point of view. It's worth noting during his presidency while he's been able -- he's criticized Mitch McConnell to Meryl Streep. He's never had a harsh word about Putin. And in fact take a one step further, when the United States congress by near acclimation has increased sanctions against Russia, President Trump and his administration have refused to enforce them.

So the idea that he somehow reversed himself with his follow-up comments doesn't change the reality that this is a president who tragically, for inexplicable reasons stands with the KGB and Vladimir Putin even over our own CIA and intelligence officials.

WHITFIELD: So, Tim, is the damage done? Is there is no about-face?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, when I listen to President Trump's comments from Vietnam, I was reminded of his comments after Charlottesville, after there was so much pushback in response to his first comments about Charlottesville and when he did a press conference. And it was clear in that second -- in that press conference that he wasn't all that sincere or at least he looked very uncomfortable trying to walk back his comments after Charlottesville.

He seemed very uncomfortable trying to walk back his comments regarding Putin. He never said, he hasn't said that Russia intervened in the election. What he said was --

WHITFIELD: Are you saying that it comes across less sincere?

NAFTALI: Well, he said I stand with my intelligence community, especially with the leaders, and that by which he meant the leaders that I put in. He didn't say I disagree with President Putin. He told me he denied involvement, but of course the foreign leader is going to deny his involvement.

Could you imagine Putin saying to the president oh, yes, we did intervene in your election? So President Trump is either naive which I don't think he is, or he has decided that for the sake of his own domestic standing, he will side with a foreign leader because if he didn't, it would imply some kind of tarnishing of his election in 2016 and that is tragic for the nation.

WHITFIELD: So, Robert, John Brenan saw it as intimidation that Trump is intimidated by Putin and we've heard Trump say on this world stage, during this Asia trip that he wants a good relationship with Putin.

Can you have it both ways?

ZIMMERMAN: I think it's worth noting that in fact President Trump has not even said, I take the issue of Russian hacking seriously. And he's even in conflict with his own officials in the CIA like director Pompeo who stands with the intelligence gathering that Russia in fact deliberately orchestrated a plan.

WHITFIELD: And is that what precipitated these latest comments from Trump that it was the director's statement that came out and then you heard this --


WHITFIELD: -- correction, for lack of a better word, coming from Trump?

ZIMMERMAN: I think it's a very valid point. There's no question as we've seen it, like -- as Tim pointed out with Charlottesville and other cases, his associates came together with him and point out the obvious and that point out that he would be in conflict with his own officers at the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Not to mention, congressional leadership in the house and the senate who are republican. Who have acknowledged quite clearly that Russia pursued a strategy to help his campaign and to hurt Hillary Clinton.

So that's -- I think that's without question. That speaks of the insincerity of what he said. But I think -- I'm sorry.

WHITFIELD: No, go ahead. ZIMMERMAN: But the point about whether he was intimated by Vladimir Putin or not, that's I think an issue that has to be investigated and explored. But I think the bigger point is he's not even gone so far to say he takes the issue of Russia launching an attack on our government and our democracy. He's not even taking it seriously. And I think that should and I think it is concerning a majority of Americans.

In fact, he's undermining his own credibility, this president, by not showing his aggressiveness and showing his toughness and standing up to Vladimir Putin.

WHITFIELD: And last word, Tim? Does he look tough? Is it weak? Is it naive? Is he intimidated?

NAFTALI: Well, of course, he doesn't look tough, because every foreign leader knows, all right. That it's not a matter of believing an adversary or not. It seems strange that he would even expect Putin to respond truthfully to a question like the one he keeps posing.

It seems peculiar that after getting the answer, he talks about it as if Putin is telling the truth. It seems weird and completely a historical to assume in a diplomatic discussion that your foreign adversary is always telling you the truth. So it makes Mr. Trump look like a naive and I don't see that that makes him look strong at all in international politics.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll leave it there for now.

Tim Naftali, Robert Zimmerman, always good to see you.

ZIMMERMAN: Good to be with you.

NAFTALI: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Straight ahead, Roy Moore, the Alabama GOP candidate for U.S. vehemently denying an allegation of sexual misconduct, but with the election in that state exactly a month away, the big question, will any of this sway Alabama voters? We'll bring you the local perspective, next.



WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. Exactly, one month from today, Alabama voters will head to the polls to cast their ballots for U.S. senate. Right now, front and center of attention, the republican candidate in that race, defiant an unconventional Moore, appearing before cameras yesterday at a Veterans Day event denying allegations of sexual misconduct with a 14-year-old girl when he was in his 30s.

Calls for Moore to step aside are growing louder with many critics coming from GOP lawmakers. CNN Martin Savidge is in Alabama.

So, Martin, you've been talking to people as they have been leaving church. What are you hearing from them?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me point out the gags in Alabama is the hometown of Roy Moore and though not everybody here is going to vote for Roy Moore, a lot of people know him. And it's pretty clear they're giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Listen to this man and listen carefully to what he says.


JACK FLOYD, ALABAMA RESIDENT: Roy Moore is my friend. I'm a democrat. I'm not going to vote for him because I'm a democrat, but I've known him a long, long time. The thing that bothers me about those charges is that he's been in public life running for many offices and as many times as this happened, no one's ever said anything until now. And I don't think it comes from any place except Washington. It comes from Washington, it comes from the Republican Party.


SAVIDGE: Did you hear that at the end? This is dirty politics, he believes. But not coming from the democrats. And Doug Jones who was the opponent of Roy Moore. He believes it's coming from more mainstream republicans.

And I got to tell you, Fred, you hear that a lot in this community. They think it's the republicans that are leaking these allegations here.

I also talked to a Mike Ortiz yesterday. He used to date Leigh Corfman, this is the young woman or the woman who was 14 at the time and said she was molested by Moore. Ortiz says that he was told by her the same story back in 2009. This goes to the whole timing thing. In other words that she was telling people about what Moore allegedly did long before Moore ever decided to run for office. And lastly, I'll point out "The Washington Post" which first reported these allegations has maintained that the women were approached by their reporters, not that the women were seeking out the media in this case.

So, again, when people talk about why now, well, maybe it was just time in their minds to come forward because he's running for a very important office. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Wow. Very fascinating. Martin Savidge, thank you so much for that.

Let's talk more about all of this from someone else who has a very local perspective, Don Dailey. Host of Alabama public TV's Capitol Journal. Don, good to see you.

Your show last Friday was dominated by "The Washington Post" reporting an alleged sexual misconduct of Roy Moore. And among those remaining in Moore's corner, one of your guests, state auditor, Jim Zeigler who dismisses the reporting and questions the timing. So explain such firming support of -- [14:25:00]

WHITFIELD: -- Roy Moore and skepticism of the alleged victims reporting in particular.

DON DAILEY, HOST, CAPITOL JOURNAL: I think the skepticism is by and large due to the timing that we referred to about the release of these allegations. I think naturally a lot of Roy Moore supporters are a little skeptical of the timing given that we're a month out from the election and why now after 40 years.

But as has been mentioned, these women have told certain people over the years about what they allege happened and it's not like it's a new development within their closed circles. At the same time on the larger stage, I think a lot of Alabamians, especially those who support Roy Moore are probably legitimately asking, why now?

WHITFIELD: So, I was going to ask you if the support of Roy Moore was based on party lines. But then we just heard that gentlemen talking to our Martin Savidge who said, he's a democrat. He's a friend of Roy Moore. While he won't be voting for Roy Moore because he is a democrat, he is behind him.

So, are you hearing a lot of that same sentiment from other people?

DAILEY: I think to a certain degree, yes. Roy Moore has a very fervent loyal base of support here in Alabama who have stood by him through thick and thin and, of course, through several controversies that he has weathered here in Alabama over the years. And they're thinking at least among the ones that we've spoken to is that this latest allegation is part of a larger effort to destroy his credibility in the lead up to the U.S. senate election here next month.

The base is loyal and seems fired up in large part, at least according to those, we've talked to about wanting to continue to help him get elected next month and step up their efforts.

WHITFIELD: So you've talked to a lot of Alabama political players. We're talking to ordinary folks, voters as well. Is it their feeling that this is coming from Washington but not necessarily democrats, but from republicans, leaders of the GOP who are trying to smear Roy Moore's campaign and reputation?

DAILEY: I've heard that more than once from several people who support Roy Moore. I think Judge Moore himself has said in recent days, wondered aloud if this wasn't just the work of democrats, it may be had to do with establishment republicans in Washington who might be afraid that he might not be a party line tower, so to speak. Might be a maverick where they're concerned.

I think there is that concern out there. But at the same time, the way this is playing out nationally is not necessarily the way it's playing out locally here in Alabama. I think a lot of people here in Alabama at least gauging by the ones we've spoken with are awaiting and seeing, so to speak, believe that all the facts are not in. Either they don't believe the allegations or they're so unsure about them that they want more information before they make a firm decision on whether or not they're going to support Roy Moore moving forward.

WHITFIELD: Interesting. And you and I spoke earlier, before we were on air earlier today and you said that voters want to hear more from Roy Moore about the allegations or about what Moore promised yesterday at that veterans event near Birmingham when he said that he is looking into the motivation behind "The Washington Post" reporting and that he has investigators or that people are going to learn more about the motivation.

DAILEY: I think they're more curious about the latter. Judge Moore has been pretty clear in his denial of these allegations and it seems, by and large, that his base of support believes him.

But when Judge Moore said this weekend that he and his campaign were looking into how these allegations came about in the first place, how the accusers were come forward to grant interviews to "The Washington Post" and whether or not they were influenced at all to do so. I think a lot of his base and Alabamians, in general, democratic or republican were very curious to know if there was any sort of concerted effort to draw these women out at this time.

WHITFIELD: All right. Don Dailey, thanks so much for being with us this Sunday.

DAILEY: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Appreciate it.

All right. Straight ahead, an emotional weekend for many in small Texas town, worshippers gathering again for the first time and families saying final goodbyes to loved ones a week after a mass shooting at a church there. How the community is healing, next.



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome back. Right now, a grieving community is standing together returning to their church a week after that horrific massacre at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. More than two dozen worshippers were killed. Today strangers gathering with survivors for the first church service at that sanctuary since the attack.

CNN Kaylee Hartung joining us live now. So, Kaylee, how are people coping there?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, there is sadness and people are hurting, but as one member of the community told me, they see goodness prevailing and they are finding strength in that. You saw that on display this morning.

It's more than 500 people came together in the tent set up on a baseball field about a half mile from First Baptist Church. There were members of that congregation there to worship as they would any other Sunday.

Also, Victims' families and others who traveled in, spoke to one man from Dallas, and another family who came in from North Carolina just to show their support for this grieving community.

First Baptist Pastor Frank Pomeroy preached a sermon of perseverance wanting good to prevail in the fight against evil. Senator John Cornyn was on hand. He addressed the crowd and afterwards he shared with us his reaction to Pastor Pomeroy's sermon.


SENATOR JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I saw him standing there at the front of the church, comforting others and he lost his 14-year-old daughter. It's remarkable, but a testament to their faith and compassion for others during this very difficult time.


HARTUNG: Pastor Pomeroy said he knew every single person who was killed last Sunday through tears. He said those were some of his best friends and his daughter. But Fred, that strength he showed his community today set an example for us all.

WHITFIELD: All right. Kaylee Hartung, thank you so much.

All right. Coming up, two of the top former intelligence chiefs weighing in on President Trump's relationship with Vladimir Putin. Why former CIA Director John Brennan says the president is, quote, "intimidated" by the Russian leader.



WHITFIELD: All right. Hello again, everyone, and thank you so much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

President Trump pushes on to the final leg of his five-nation Asian tour, the Philippines. This was the scene on the streets of Manila today. Anti-Trump protesters clashing with riot police.

But a warmer welcome from controversial Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose bloody war on drugs led to thousands of killings and past praise from President Trump. The world waits to see how Mr. Trump addresses human rights concerns amidst international condemnation.

And earlier in Vietnam, President Trump clarifies who he believes when it comes to the U.S. intelligence assessment on Russia's election meddling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I believe in our intel agencies, our intelligence agencies. I've worked with them very strongly.


[14:40:08] WHITFIELD: All right. This after he blasted former CIA Director John Brennan and former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper calling them political hacks.

More from CNN Jake Tapper's interview with Brennan and Clapper today.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: At one point, President Trump said he thinks Vladimir Putin is insulted by the suggestion and the conclusion by the intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the U.S. election. What do you make of that? Is bringing it up that Putin feels insulted?

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, I think Mr. Putin is very clever in terms of playing to Mr. Trump's interest in being flattered. Also, I think Mr. Trump is for whatever reason either intimidated by Mr. Putin and afraid of what he could do or what might come out as a result of these investigations.

So, it's very worrisome. I think it sends a worrisome, very disturbing signal to our allies and partners, who are concerned about Russian interference in their democratic processes as well. So, it's either naivety, ignorance or fear in terms of what Mr. Trump is doing vis-a-vis the Russians.

TAPPER: President Trump took to Twitter yesterday to try to justify his position and posture towards Russia. He said, quote, "When will the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing and not a bad thing. They are always playing politics, bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine terrorism, and Russia. You can greatly help."

So, that's his argument. Russia can be a help on these issues and that the posture of being belligerent towards Russia won't assist in that.

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, I suppose it could be, but I think it's naive to assume they will be. Again, it's likely that the Russians are going to pursue like interest with us is slim to none. I think it's very naive and again perilous to this country to make an assumption that Russia is going to behave with the best interest of the world or the United States in mind. They are not.

TAPPER: So Director Brennan, you said a couple of minutes ago, you talked about the reasons why President Trump might be susceptible to what Putin tells him and you talked about flattery. You also talked about fear. I can't ignore the fact that all of this comes at a time when there is a lot of speculation about whether or not the Russians have damaging information about President Trump. This comes, of course, within the context of the fact that President Trump has been willing to criticize everyone from the cast of Hamilton to Merrill Streep, but has yet to say one disparaging word about Vladimir Putin. Do you think this idea that the Russians have something on him have compromising material is relevant here?

CLAPPER: Well, I don't know if Mr. Trump is considering that. I just know he has been very determined to delegitimize any effort to come up with the truth in terms of this investigation. His attacks on the intelligence community and the assessment and attacks on the media.

This is an effort to try to undermine those quarters that could pose a serious threat to him. I think it shows the insecurity that he still feels about the election and how Russian interference may have contributed in fact to that election. I think there is a combination of factors that are motivating the president at this time.


WHITFIELD: All right. Let's talk more now on this with CNN senior international correspondent, Frederik Pleitgen in Moscow and CNN international senior affairs analyst, Michael Weiss. All right. Good to see both.

So, Fred, you first. Is President Trump being played in Putin's game or is this cunning strategy on the president of the United States' part?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm not sure whether he is being played, but what we can see in Russia is that the Russians are really happy with what they are seeing and hearing from President Trump.

One of the things that you've heard especially after that APEC meeting in Vietnam is that the Russians really are trying to give everything a positive spin. You know, there was no formal meeting between Putin and President Trump.

At the same time, the Russians are saying, look, that's not really a problem. The two came together in informal meetings and got the Syria declaration together. In fact, the spokesman for the kremlin said it didn't matter. There was no formal meeting.

So, the Russians certainly seemed to be hearing from President Trump what they want to be hearing. One thing that I think is really, really important because a couple of weeks ago, the Russians really seemed to be quite down on President Trump.

It really didn't seem as though they really had very much faith in this presidency after these APEC meetings, after these meetings that happened between President Trump and President Putin there in Vietnam.

You hear the Russians speak very differently and certainly seems to show that they believe that there might be a chance not just for better relations between the U.S. and Russia under President Trump, but possibly down the line even for sanctions to go away. That's the biggest goal of the Russians.

[14:45:11] WHITFIELD: So, Michael, President Trump has talked about his position of strength, that he wants a, quote, "good relationship" with Putin, who has leverage with economic issues and Syria and even North Korea. So, what is the likelihood of a good relationship with Putin paying off the way the president of the United States wants it to pay off?

MICHAEL WEISS, CNN INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Slim and none if you're judging tot by American interests. It's one thing to want a good relationship with Russia. Every president elected campaigns on such a platform and comes to office thinking that they can reset or reboot relations with Moscow and then, you know, reality impends.

It's another thing, though, Fredricka, to completely abase and undermine one's own national intelligence community which Trump has done even when he was a candidate and read into classified intelligence about what Russia was up to with respect to the election.

He dismissed this as a conspiracy theory. You know, this was the work of a 400-pound person sitting on their bed at home. He suggested the Chinese might have hacked. I lost track of the number of attempts to try and distract from the core issue here.

I never have seen a president so dogged in his defense of a hostile adversary who, by all accounts, did indeed try to and successfully meddle in the U.S. election. During the Cold War and somebody would have come out, somebody not of a stature of a president but much less than that.

And say, well, I believe what this KGB officer is saying to me, he would be considered at best a useful idiot and worst, an agent of influence for the Russian government. This is the problem and this is why you hear in between the lines of what Director Clapper and Brennan just said.

That there is a sneaking suspicion that Putin might have something on Donald Trump. I mean, he is spearing no expense to try and exonerate this man or create doubt where really doubt is no longer exists even within the upper echelons of the U.S. government.

And in the Republican Party, which is quite outspoken about Russia's acts of aggression and interference in the U.S. political system. So, it's bizarre to say the least, but it's also kind of macabre and creepy.

WHITFIELD: And so Fred, the president was very careful about how he tried to clean up the initial comments on this trip. While you just told us that Moscow people are very happy and thinking that this perhaps does pave a road of a good relationship between Trump and Putin, has it already filtered down to the same people that now President Trump tried to clarify and tried to say I do believe in the American intelligence community. Does that make a difference how he phrased this clean up?

PLEITGEN: I really don't think it does at all. In fact, especially after those comments you heard the state run Russian news service here still, I wouldn't say relative remarks, but they printed those remarks, but they made it seem as though those were very much in passing.

In fact, I think passage from Russian state media was President Trump said that while he relies on his intelligence services, he does believe that there need to be better relations with Russia. That's the thing playing here in media and in Russian politics.

The fact that President Trump tried to clarify remarks and said yes, I do trust the U.S. intelligence community. That is sort of being dropped by the way here. The thing that stands out to the Russians right now is yes, President Trump wants better relations.

Look, to the Russians, they said it's all a game of interest. They make no disguise of the fact that they don't have America's best interest in mind. They say this is all a game of what is my interest and your interest?

And certainly, there have been some instances where the U.S. and Russia at least have gotten out of each other's ways. If you look at places like Syria, for instance, where now you have that common declaration.

You also some deconfliction going on over Syria as well. There are other areas where there simply won't be any common ground. You have Ukraine, for instance. You the Crimea issue and then, of course, you have the whole issue of the election itself.

That's something where I don't think that the Russians necessarily fully realize that that's something that President Trump might drop, but certainly there are a lot of others in the U.S. that are certainly not going to drop that any time soon and most probably not at all -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And Michael, you used words like, you know, it's macabre. It's weird. Is it simply naive?

WEISS: I don't think it is. I mean, again, this is a president who prides himself on being a tough guy, a shrewd and stern negotiator, somebody who literally campaigned on the platform "Make America great gain."

And yet, he is throwing his own country and the findings of his country's intelligence community under the bus or casting doubt on them when long after that ship has sailed, and that question should have been put to bed.

In order to -- I mean, you made the point earlier that is this a strategy? Well, the only way I could conceive of this being a viable strategy, if Mr. Putin was somebody who is susceptible to being flattered or cajoled or finessed into doing the bidding of the United States. [14:50:05] That is just not the way it is. All of Donald Trump's advisers on Russia including the excellent Fiona Hill, who wrote arguably the best biography of Vladimir Putin will have told him that.

So, again, he goes against the advice of people who know this terrain, subject matter a lot better than he, who have done psychological profiles of Putin, a former KGB lieutenant colonel. Still he comes out with these notions that well, maybe the guy is telling the truth.

He certainly seems offended whenever I bring this up. Well, of course, he is offended because you know, you are acting as his defense counsel and playing right into his hand. Again, there is no other explanation for it than he is desperate to play the kremlin and the strong man who occupies it.

WHITFIELD: And it's why. That question of why. Frederick, maybe someone will share that to you and we can all figure out the big answer to the why. Why is that? Michael Weiss and Frederik Pleitgen, thank you so much.

All right. This breaking news now, a massive earthquake striking the Middle East. We will bring you the latest details, next.



WHITFIELD: All right. This breaking news, a major earthquake close to the Iraq-Iran border. The United States Geological Survey reporting a 7.2 quake and the epicenter was near the city of Halabja, Iraq, and felt across much of that country.

The Iraqi is government is advising people to stay away from buildings. No word yet on any fatalities or injuries. We will bring you updates when we get it.

Also, coming up next hour, a show of force around the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. Navy is involved. We will have a report.