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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Former CIA Director Michael Hayden; Putin Talks With Trump. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired November 21, 2017 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:07]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: We are back now with our world lead, and new details about a nearly 90-minute phone call between President Trump and the man who orchestrated Russian interference into the 2016 election.

That is the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

According to President Trump, the two leaders discussed North Korea and the future of Syria, this the day after Putin met with, even embraced, as you see there, the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, who has been accused of war crimes.

Let's bring back CNN's Ryan Nobles. He's at the White House.

Ryan, President Trump, before leaving for Florida, said that he discussed peace in Syria with Putin, but thus far Assad doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's a big question, Jim. Is Assad part of the picture in Syria going forward?

And when you take into account that the president spoke to Vladimir Putin less than 24 hours after that face-to-face meeting with Bashar al-Assad, that certainly raises big questions. Still, the president saying today that he is hopeful for peace in the region.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump and his family are en route to Florida to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. But before heading south, he spent a busy day at the White House, tending to both ceremonial and official business.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Drumstick, you are hereby pardoned.

(APPLAUSE)

NOBLES: On the diplomatic front, the president held a high-stakes phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The call came just hours after Putin held a face-to-face meeting with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

The White House said the call lasted more than an hour, with a focus on Syria.

TRUMP: We had a great call with President Putin. We're talking about peace in Syria, very important.

NOBLES: Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin also talked broadly about terrorism and what's happening in Afghanistan, Ukraine and North Korea, including the Trump administration's just announced new aggressive moves against the rogue nation, putting it back on the state list of terrorism sponsors and imposing a new round of sanctions.

[16:35:02]

Overnight, a North Korean state newspaper published a report, warning that Trump's moves were "hideous crimes" committed by the "lunatic president."

The president leaves Washington with a number of topics on the table, including Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Mr. Trump ignored a shouted question on the potential for actual pardons during the annual pardoning of a turkey at the White House, but still found an opportunity to needle previous administration.

TRUMP: As many of you know, I have been very active in overturning a number of executive actions by my predecessor. However, I have been informed by the White House Counsel's Office that Tater and Tot's pardons cannot under any circumstances be revoked. So, we're not going to revoke them. So, Tater and Tot, you can rest easy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES: And so, Jim, as you mentioned, that call almost 90 minutes between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

And the White House gave us a readout of all of those topics that were discussed. Not on that list, Russia's meddling of the 2016 election -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Ryan Nobles at the White House, thanks very much.

Joining me now is the former head of the CIA, NSA, retired Four-Star General Michael Hayden.

General Hayden, thanks very much for joining us.

Looking at Russia and Syria and the U.S., has the Trump administration, I think you might fairly say, and with the Obama administration before it, has the U.S. effectively ceded Syria to Russia?

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: We have given the Russians an opportunity to play an outsized political and military role in Syria here.

And you're right, Jim. The bread crumbs here go all the way back into the Obama administration. We actually invited the Russians in as a way to get us off the X we had created by drawing that red line with regard to Assad's use of chemical weapons. So we brought the Russians in, gave them legitimacy there, political legitimacy, in order to police up, imperfectly, I might add, the Syrian chemical weapons.

And then just a little bit more than two years ago, the Russians intervened in force in Syria and literally changed the geometry of the battlefield there. Assad was on his last legs, and with a really fairly modest application of Russian military power, changed the dynamics of the fight. And now we see that Assad's not going anywhere and it's ISIS that it's thoroughly defeated.

SCIUTTO: One of the ironies here, right, is that President Trump has promised a tougher stance against Iran in the region, but, of course, Assad is Iran's client state as well, right, protector state.

HAYDEN: Yes.

If you look at who is winning here, all right, what you have got are the rump Syria, the Alawite-officered army. You have got Hezbollah. You have got the Iranians being supported by Russian airpower.

And here's the dark story, Jim, drafting, in the race car sense of the word, drafting on American combat power in Raqqa and the Euphrates River Valley to expand the area of control of what I was always thinking would be a rump Syria, making that much larger than I ever imagined it would be, and then allowing the Iranians to create a land bridge to allow them to move between Tehran and Beirut uninterrupted.

SCIUTTO: And you're saying in effect that Russian forces, Syrian forces, Iranian forces who are working together, they are fighting together there, are using American airpower to their advantage?

HAYDEN: What they are doing is taking advantage of the defeat that we are imposing on ISIS, Raqqa, the Euphrates River Valley. I don't think we are coordinating fire and movement here.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: No, not coordination, but taking advantage, right?

HAYDEN: But at the strategic level, they're taking advantage of that.

And, frankly, Jim, that's because, somewhat from the Obama administration, certainly in the Trump administration, we have been laser-focused, we are there to defeat ISIS and only to defeat ISIS

And you haven't seen an American talk in any serious way of what a post-ISIS Syria or region would look like.

SCIUTTO: Now, the president will often say -- and they said in their statement today -- about the U.S. and Russia can cooperate against is in Syria. Is there any actual evidence of that?

HAYDEN: Yes, for the longest time, Russia wasn't fighting ISIS at all, although the candidate -- candidate Trump and then President Trump was saying Russia is fighting ISIS. No, they weren't. Russia was helping Assad work against the Syrian

opposition, which has geographically threatened the Assad regime. ISIS is more distant. ISIS is more out to the east.

Now, as time has gone by, we have seen the Russians a bit more active, as I have suggested here, but fundamentally the military defeat of ISIS was done by American arms with largely Kurdish allies in the eastern part of Syria.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you about North Korea now.

Yesterday, the Trump administration put North Korea on the terror sponsor list, which brings with it penalties and so on. They have also announced some new sanctions today, although North Korea pretty well-sanctioned to this point.

[16:40:01]

In your view, are these measures meaningful?

HAYDEN: Yes. They're all good.

They're amping up the pressure. None of these are a step function, all right? We're on a curve here. It's increasing the pressure on the North Koreans.

I think designating them a state sponsor of terror gives us some additional tools for secondary sanctions, that we can actually interfere in the banking system of those who would dare bank with the North Korean regime.

And so, yes, it's good, but sanctions are slow-moving. Sanctions are like rust, not like an explosion. It takes a long time to get you where you want to be.

SCIUTTO: Final question. It's been 60 days since North Korea's carried out a provocative act, missile test, et cetera. Is that a hopeful silence, in your view?

HAYDEN: I would like to think it's hopeful.

But I actually today went back and checked the math. In terms of missile testing, we're kind of out of season for the North Koreans. They have occasionally taken a shot during the winter months, but mostly they don't.

Nuclear tests, they have actually done a third of them during the wintertime. So, there may be some political calculations here, as well as just the weather.

SCIUTTO: OK, so keep ourselves braced.

Michael Hayden, thanks very much, as always.

And we have a big CNN announcement now. On Tuesday, November 28, CNN will host a live town hall debate, Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Tim Scott facing off against Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell and independent Senator Bernie Sanders on tax reform.

This comes as the fight over taxes comes to a head in Congress. Jake Tapper and Dana Bash will moderate the debate that you can only see here on CNN. That will be 9:00 Eastern time next Tuesday.

And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We are back now with our "POLITICS LEAD" and my panel as well. And I want to focus on a series of steps the administration has taken, all with a similar undercurrent in common and that is, of course, the immigration issue. Mary Katharine, if I could begin with you. The Trump administration deciding today not to renew protected status for some 59,000 Haitians who came here, you may remember after that devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010. When you look at a move like this and you bring in sanctuary cities, travel ban, et cetera, I mean, is this playing to the base strategy on immigration?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, THE FEDERALIST: Yes, I mean -- well, it's something he promised on the trail that this was something -- these were things that he was going to do. So it's not terribly surprising. I think on some of these other ones on the sanctuary cities, for instance, and on the travel ban, you see a pattern and we'll see with this one as well, you see a pattern where there's merit to doing things well and being prepared to put out, you know, sort of legal rulings and that you don't get stuck in court defending over and over again and appealing over and over again. And I think they have made plenty of mistakes on that front. And so you're seeing that sort of play out. And we'll see with this one as well.

SCIUTTO: Right. But I mean, what's the argument for sending home Haitians who came here after an earthquake, seeking relief after an earthquake? Is that it was meant to be temporary?

HAM: I mean, it was named temporary so there is an argument that it should have an end at some point. I'm not sure I've heard an argument from Trump himself exactly why this is necessary on a security front.

SCIUTTO: The other issue here, Rebecca and Neera is that the administration has asked the Supreme Court to take a look at -- well, actually to let the travel ban 3.0, if you want to call it that, to take effect immediately while it is looking into this in effect. And I'm not going to treat either of you as lawyers here or Supreme Court specialists but is that something the Supreme Court is likely to do in light of the remaining questions about it?

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I would say most of the courts have ruled against these travel bans and I think in part because they've seen it's -- they've also taken into account the President's words, which do seem to be focused on Muslims and a travel ban focused on a religious ban. I would say --

SCIUTTO: His public comments during the campaign -- TANDEN: But I would say just one thing about the temporary protected

status issue, this is a decision that Kelly himself upheld six months ago. The -- Haiti has just gone through some additional devastation. So it seems particularly pernicious to do this now. These are people who have been living here a very long time actually. You know, have settled in and are now being told that they have to leave in the next several months to a year. So I think, you know, taken together it does seem like the President has an immigration policy which isn't against immigration per se but does seem to be focused against particular minority groups. And I think a lot of people see it that way, and I think it's part of -- it does seem to tend to create more and more distrust of the administration.

SCIUTTO: Rebecca, what's your view? I mean, Mary Katharine makes the point, the President did, his stances on immigration were very clear and public during the campaign and even since then. I mean, do these kinds of moves appeal I mean, not just to his base but beyond his base?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, they certainly re-enforce I think for his base his commitment to this issue as one of his prominent issues in his administration, one of his policy priorities. And certainly, Jeff Sessions has also reiterated as the Attorney General that this is going to be a priority for him as well in leading the Department of Justice. And so it's, again, no surprise that we would see this sort of focus from the Trump administration on immigration issues, but it is, I think, a really big question mark, how does the President move forward on issues like on sanctuary cities when he is running into these obstacles in the courts, when they are not letting him implement the policies that he wants to implement from an executive point of view. Will he have to turn to Congress for more help on these -- on these --

SCIUTTO: Checks and balances can be frustrating for a president.

TANDEN: The only thing I would briefly add is, you know, issues like sanctuary cities were really litigated, again, in Virginia just a little while ago. And I mean, more racialized than the decision itself, but there were ads run by Ed Gillespie and there was -- they did fuel a big counter-response, again, in the suburbs. I think people were, like, this level of division is too much. And so, I totally appreciate the President is reaching out to his base, but he's also creating a larger and larger counter-reaction of people who are against these policies. Immigration -- his policies on immigration are actually unpopular. They do not have a majority.

[16:50:20] SCIUTTO: I mean, we saw that in the D.C. suburbs for instance during the race. But Mary Katharine, do you agree that that point of view is effectively being rejected?

HAM: I think in Virginia you saw a lot of that but you won't see that everywhere. You'll see plenty of places where it won't be rejected. And I think there is an argument -- by the way, I think there's a legit argument about being very careful about who we let in the country and that vetting is important. But look, I also think the President likes a fight. He doesn't mind fighting with the courts. He doesn't mind that much that they keep saying no because he gets to keep punching them in public which signals that he's still fighting this issue. And they aren't getting a wall so he needs to --

BERG: And he recognizes that this is not only an animating issue for Democrats we have seen in races like in Virginia, but it's also very much an animating issue for Republicans as we saw in his election.

SCIUTTO: Very quick question, Neera. DNC money raising in October, not great at $3.9 million, the RNC $9.2 million, 2 1/2 times more. Is this a warning sign for Democrats?

TANDEN: I think what's really happening on the Democratic side is money is flooding into candidates. Every Democratic challenger or lots of democratic challengers are out raising Republican incumbents in the House. That's happening in the Senate. So I think -- I think you should look at total money raised and it seems pretty equal if not heading like a little bit more for the Democrats.

SCIUTTO: Neera, Rebecca, Mary Katharine, thanks so much. He was brainwashed by ISIS and took bullets for its warped caliphate and he was just 12 years old at the time. Now, this young boy is talking to CNN about his road back from a terror nightmare.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] SCIUTTO: We're back now with our "WORLD LEAD." And the truly incredible stories of child soldiers fighting for ISIS, one who went back to the front lines after he was shot in the chest. With the ISIS power center in Raqqa crumbling, these kids are now escaping the terror grip and looking for help but what can really be done now? CNN's Arwa Damon has the stories of a recovery at a rehab center as these kids try to get some of their lives back.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Halil is the youngest of the class. He says he ran away from home to join ISIS about a year and a half ago when he was 13 or maybe even 12. He's not sure. He's sheepish, shy and struggles to verbalize what he was thinking and feeling. Their lecturer, who doesn't want to be filmed, is dissecting and disproving ISIS' interpretation of Islam and their draconian rule as part of a fledgling rehabilitation program.

Halil is categorized as level two, an active fighter. He says his mind was blank his first time in battle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

DAMON: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

A unit of children, teens at best, used as cannon fodder on ISIS front lines in al-Bab. They would get ferried to a fight and just told which direction to shoot. Halil was wounded within a day. The bullet went through his chest and out his armpit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) DAMON: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

Again within days he was shot. This time through the leg. (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

DAMON: At the Syrian Center for Anti-Extremist Ideology, he's with other ISIS members, battle hardened fighters and level three detainees, the foreign fighters, most from eastern Europe and central Asia. The wives of the foreigners live in the same compound along with their children. Little Amida was born in Iraq. Her mother says she had no idea what they were getting into. She's Russian, born in Ukraine. Her husband is from Kiev, a convert to Islam and they ended up in Tal Afar where he was assigned to the front lines with a Russian-speaking unit.

Her husband claims he's turned away from ISIS and its twisted beliefs, but behind bars, they all say the same thing. Halil was once a kid who just loved history and geography. He still has the demeanor of a child, one who regrets his actions and is desperate to rejoin a world that may not accept or forgive him or could very well push him back towards a brutal way of life. The center's leaders say it's the ISIS ideology that is the most dangerous. Its grip on a person's psyche more profound than imagined. Combatting that is a necessity, but it's also uncharted territory. Arwa Damon, CNN, Mare', Syria.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Just a powerful, powerful story. Be sure to tune in tonight for CNN "SPECIAL REPORT," Twitter And Trump. Could the President's tweets backfire on his Presidency? That airs at 9:00 Eastern time. And that's it for THE LEAD today, I'm Jim Sciutto in for Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to Jim Acosta now in "THE SITUATION ROOM."