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Ex-CIA director on spy poisoning; Mary Lou McDonald takes the reins of Sinn Fein

Aired March 14, 2018 - 15:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, holding Russia accountable, Britain kicks out more than 20 diplomats in the crisis over

the suspected Kremlin poisoning of a former spy. The former CIA Director Michael Hayden joins me on the UK's next step and why it might not get the

support it wants from President Trump.

Plus, my conversation with the new Sinn Fein leader here for St. Patrick's Day. Mary Lou McDonald brings a message of unity to America.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in New York.

Britain gets tough with Moscow just over a week after a former spy, his daughter and a British police officer were poisoned by a Russian-made nerve


Prime Minister Theresa May is expelling 23 Russian diplomats and suspending all high-level contacts with Moscow.


THERESA MAY, PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN: They have provided no credible explanation that could suggest they lost control of their nerve agent. No

explanation as to how this agent came to be used in the United Kingdom. No explanation as to why Russia has an undeclared chemical weapons program in

contravention of international law.

Instead, they have treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.


AMANPOUR: And Russia calls May's action unjustified and shortsighted and promises to retaliate.

Britain needs the high-level support of the EU and America. But how will President Trump react? Here's what he said about all of this yesterday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Theresa May is going to be speaking to me today. It sounds to me like they believe it was Russia and

I would certainly take that finding as fact.


AMANPOUR: So, in a phone call, he then told the prime minister that he's with her all the way. And the White House today says that it stands by

Britain's assessment.

Just before May told parliament what she's doing about it, I spoke about all of this and the moving chess pieces of Trump's national security

cabinet with Michael Hayden, the former director of the CIA.

Gen. Hayden, welcome back to the program.

MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR OF THE CIA: Thank you very much. So, "The New York Times" is writing Tillerson ousted as Trump silences dissent in

cabinet. Is that how you see the firing of Tillerson and giving the job to Mike Pompeo?

HAYDEN: That's not the only thing that's going on here, but I do think it's an interesting and important element. I mean, Director Pompeo will be

the new secretary of state after confirmation, gets very good marks at CIA for management.

But his worldview is much more like President Trump's worldview than Secretary Tillerson's ever was. And so, what we'll see here, I think, is a

tighter relationship between the two. That's a plus in many cases. When Secretary Pompeo speaks, the world will believe he is speaking on behalf of

the president.

But, again, that unanimity of view means he will not be the kind of counterpoint to President Trump that Secretary Tillerson has been on many

occasions. And frankly, that makes me a little nervous.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's take point by point then about what might make you nervous. Russia, for instance, Director Pompeo has sort of played down or

simply dismissed a lot of the findings by the intelligence community on the level of Russian interference in the elections.

What will be the response now as we go ahead, especially as we see Russia is really being accused by Britain of having something to do with this

nerve agent that has been poising one of the former spies there, the crisis that has erupted in Britain?

HAYDEN: Well, to be fair to Director Pompeo, he has accepted and defended the intelligence community view with regard to the Russian interference in

the 2016 election except for one, I believe, inadvertent misstatement that he made that the agency quickly fixed.

And so, he's probably not quite the same person as Secretary Tillerson with regard to Russia, but I do think he's got a healthy skeptical view. And

really important, Christiane, the woman replacing him at CIA is really good on Russia and very tough on Russia.

AMANPOUR: We'll get to Gina Haspel in a moment. But, first, I want to drill down a little bit on Russia. What are the next steps?

[15:05:04] HAYDEN: Well, the Prime Minister Theresa May was very clear in her language. I mean, she said it was highly likely that, all right, and I

don't think she says that it is based upon the forensics of the crime scenes.

I think her intelligence services are giving her strong supportive information. And then, she laid down quite an ultimatum. Without an

adequate explanation, Great Britain will view this as an illegal use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom.

Now, that doesn't mean the two countries are going to go to war, but I do expect there will be sanctions and probably quite a few fewer Russian

diplomats serving in the United Kingdom.

And, of course, the Russians will respond to that. Those moves will be made tougher if they are supported and at least matched a bit by the United

States of America.

But here, again, Christiane, we're back to this earlier premise that, for well over several years now, the president doesn't seem to be anxious to

take tough moves against the Russians.

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, let's move on to some of the key issues on President Trump's plate and presumably for the new secretary of state.

Of course, Iran. Now, I want to play you this soundbite from President Trump talking about why he spit up with Secretary Tillerson and about the

Iran issue.


TRUMP: Rex and I have been talking about this a long time. We got along actually quite well, but we disagreed on things. When you look at the Iran

deal, I think it's terrible. I guess he felt it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something and he felt a little bit differently. So,

we were not really thinking the same.

With Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process. I think it's going to go very well.


AMANPOUR: So, where do you think Mike Pompeo stands now? He was a hawk on Iran.

Some who know him now, since he's been in office, say he's moderated the views on that deal and feels it should stay.

You're in the know. What do you think is going to happen here?

HAYDEN: So, I think even if Director Pompeo has moderated his views, and that's a naturally occurring event, when he's talking to the CIA analysts

all the time, even if he has moderated his views, his views are more like the president's than Rex Tillerson's ever were.

And one other really interesting dynamic in all of this, Christiane, that I don't think has been commented on enough is that Secretary Mattis and

Secretary Tillerson talked a lot, they met for lunch, they hammered out joint positions.

Much of what Secretary Tillerson was trying to impress upon the president, Secretary Mattis was doing the same thing. And now, I think we find that

Secretary Mattis is a bit more isolated inside the power ministries, inside the national security cabinet than he once was. This is going to be an

interesting dynamic.

AMANPOUR: Well, what should the rest of the world think then, those who are American allies, and let's say just on this issue, on the Iran issue

where we know America's allies and all the powers that created this deal do not want United States to ditch it and there's a May 12 deadline looming

for whether the president agrees to continue the sanctions waiver?

HAYDEN: Well, let me offer a comment that probably won't be too calming to my European friends. During the campaign here, Christiane, we talked about

some folks taking President Trump seriously, but not taking him literally. People like me took him literally, but not seriously.

I actually think, as the president gets more comfortable on the job, more confident in himself, as he begins to surround himself with advisers who

either agree with him or who are less willing to push back, check out what the president says on a lot of issues because I think he's going to be

governing a lot more literally than we expected in the past.

AMANPOUR: Right. And that leads you straight into North Korea, which potentially a massively important, unprecedented summit is looming. I

mean, not even President Reagan and Gorbachev can match the unprecedented nature of this potential summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, not

to mention there are none of the State Department or ambassadorial figures left in.

But what do you think, obviously, the opportunities, but the pitfalls, particularly given Mike Pompeo's views on North Korea?

HAYDEN: So, number one, I've got a lot of concern that we've created this sense of equivalence between a real president of a real country, Donald

Trump and the United States, and Kim Jong-un.

I used to negotiate with the North Koreans, a backbencher in Geneva, but I was at the table negotiating with the Korean People's Army at Panmunjom.

And the one thing they always wanted to maneuver to achieve is to isolate the United States and create this sense of balance, this sense of equality

between North Korea and America. And now, we have granted them that as a going-in position for these talks.

[15:10:13] Now, with regard to the actual expectation of the talks, here is an interesting dynamic, I think, Christiane, actually, soon-to-be-secretary

Pompeo is a bit more skeptical about the North Koreans' willingness to ever give up their nuclear weapons than I think the president is.

I think he's listened to CIA analysts who have pointed out they're not crazy, they're coldly rational. And within their calculus, they would have

to be crazy to give up all their weapons. And so, he may actually have a more realistic view of what it is we could or could not achieve than some

others, including the president.

AMANPOUR: So, now, Gen. Hayden, we get to Gina Haspel, who you have praised as an exceptional manager and a very good CIA agent and, frankly, a

lot of the CIA are saying the same thing.

However, there is this black spot that people are talking about in her past and in her experience. And as we know, she led one of the first US secret

sites and that was in Thailand after 9/11 where they were 9/11 suspects, there was harsh interrogation and the like.

Let me just read to you this tweet that John McCain, who knows a thing or two about being a prisoner of war and torture, tweeted yesterday. "The

torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history. The Senate must do its job in

scrutinizing the record & involvement of Gina Haspel in this disgraceful program."

Do you agree they must scrutinize what she did?

HAYDEN: Of course. I mean, we all have history. And when you're up in front of the Senate for confirmation, they want to know about your history.

But Gina's history will reveal that she did her duty, that she didn't raise her hand with enthusiasm to go out and do any of these kinds of things, she

did it out of a sense of responsibility. She was directed to do it by competent authority and she was told by the Department of Justice at the

time that it was absolutely consistent with American law.

And so, let's give some credit where credit is due. Gina and a whole bunch of other people in her generation of officers did what we expected them to

do. They went to the sound of the guns and tried to defend America to the best of her ability.

The fact that the program was controversial, go ahead and have another debate about that if you like, but I think that has been already litigated.

Let me tell you, the one person I want in the room telling truth to power in the circumstances I just described to you is Gina Haspel.

AMANPOUR: Obviously, the question is, do you accept that you obey orders that may not be ethical and we've had this whole national debate on

torture. It is illegal. There's been a 2014 commission and findings from the Senate.

What is the actual answer these days?

HAYDEN: These are extraordinary circumstances. America was under extraordinary threat. Extraordinary decisions were made. Now, 17 years

later, people who've been made safe, people who are operating in a more calm environment may want to go back and actually judge whether they were

the right or the wrong decisions.

That's a fair debate for history. That's what the Senate Intelligence Committee, at least the Democrats tried to do, although I think they did it

in a very one-sided sort of way.

We should not in any way blame the people who did what they were responsible to do and asked the appropriate organs of government whether or

not this was constitutional, lawful and consistent with American treaty obligations. They were given yes answers to each of those. They did their


And let me put out the harsh statement here between us, Christiane, and it worked and it made America more safe.

Now, look, there are a lot of people out there who make the argument, I don't care if it made America more safe, I don't want my country doing

that. I respect that argument, but that's the argument that people can have and they don't need to bring in people like Gina into that debate.

AMANPOUR: You were not the CIA director when all this was going on. But the 2014 report did criticize you for precisely the statements you're

talking about now that you felt it worked, that you sort of underplayed some of the harsher tactics, the kind of things you're saying right now.

So, the question then is, and finally, President Trump has said in the past that he believes torture works. Do you think that this is going to become

a live issue again for the United States if there is a similar situation or that kind of situation with the president who believes that way and Gina

Haspel who has actually led one of these sites?

[15:15:04] HAYDEN: That's a great question. And it really captures what really ought to be the issue, Christiane. Not history and an officer doing

her duty 15, 16, 17 years ago, but what does it mean for the President.

And I take what candidate Trump had said, even what President Trump has said. When Gina was nominated to be the deputy director last year, I

offered the commentary that her choice was a clear signal that CIA intended to neither repudiate nor repeat its past because, number one, law has

changed and, number two, CIA officers feel a genuine sense of betrayal as to what happened to them as we changed administrations in this country.

No responsible head of CIA will be telling his or her officers to go do this because he or she will not be able to provide the kind of protection

that they deserve and they should demand. This is a moot point.

AMANPOUR: Well, that is extraordinary insight. And Gen. Hayden, on that note, thank you so much for joining us.

HAYDEN: Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: So, this Saturday, many Americans and countless others around the world will be celebrating St. Patrick's Day.

Irish leaders are making their annual pilgrimage to the United States for the holiday. Among the greenest of the guest, Mary Lou McDonald, who was

elected leader of the Irish republican party Sinn Fein just last month.

Unlike her predecessor, Gerry Adams, though, she is a leader with no history or links to the times of the IRA or to the IRA, the militant

republicans who fought a decades-long campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland, a period known as the Troubles.

They ended with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement 20 years ago. And Mary Lou McDonald, the first female leader of Sinn Fein in more than 65

years, joins me now live from Washington. Welcome to the program.

MARY LOU MCDONALD, SINN FEIN PRESIDENT: Thank you so much, Christiane. Nice talking to you.

AMANPOUR: So, on this historic moment really, as everyone is celebrating 20 years almost to the week or so of the Good Friday Accords, and with your

new election, what message are you bringing today to the United States?

MCDONALD: Well, I suppose in addition to wishing people the joy of the festivities over St. Patrick's weekend, we are coming with the message of

hope, but also a message of threat posed to the Good Friday Agreement by Brexit, by some within the Tory establishment in Britain who have taken a

view that the Good Friday Agreement has served its purpose and can be now discarded with.

I suppose we are issuing a rallying cry to all of those people right across America, people who were instrumental in delivering a peace process in

Ireland, were instrumental in delivering the Good Friday Agreement, we are saying that we now need to defend that very agreement, its principles of

equality, of inclusion, the very things that created and sustained the peace.

We are saying very clearly that Brexit poses a real and present danger to that agreement. We've delivered that message very directly to Mrs. May in

London. Her government are well aware of this.

And I suppose, we're also asking people to keep faith with us. As you know Christiane, our country, our island is partitioned since the 1920s. And as

Irish republicans, it's our political mission to reunify the country peacefully, to do it democratically and to build a new Ireland.

So, I suppose the message is mixed. Inasmuch as we're talking about the real political threats that need to be met head on, but also the massive

political opportunities that are out there and the big historic mission now that I believe we can complete in our political life times to reunite our

country peacefully and to create a bright new future for one and all.

AMANPOUR: OK. Well, that is a very clear message with a lot of hope attached to it. Let's not forget, as you pointed out, that it was the

United States, which as much as the parties involved in the British government of Tony Blair, under President Clinton, who forged that historic

Good Friday Agreement.

You are here now. What do you make of not being invited to the White House. It's strange to me that, unlike your predecessor, Gerry Adams, the

former president, the recently resigned president of - or retired president of Sinn Fein, who has got an invitation even today. You don't. Why not?

MCDONALD: Well, look, I mean, the invitations are issued by the White House and it's a matter for themselves to make decisions as to who might be

invited or not.

I will be at the speaker's lunch. I've had a very extensive range of engagements with people, political people. I meet with the Friends of

Ireland up in the Hill tomorrow morning.

[15:20:07] So, we are very busy and very active. Gerry will be in the White House tomorrow and I think it's most appropriate given that it's the

20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

And to be honest with you, Christiane, just given the political challenges that we face, I certainly don't feel that I've been snubbed or anything

like that. I guess it's a matter for the White House, if you're seeking an explanation, to forward that to you.

But I would say this, and we've met today with the State Department. As I say, we will meet with others. The challenge in Ireland is immense.

But, for the United States, Ireland, I believe, remains almost a jewel in the crown, if I can use that term, a massive foreign diplomatic triumph for

the United States of America. And we are very mindful of the role of successive administrations.

We wish America always to be constructive and I believe that's the intention of this administration as with others.

But, I guess, we're asking people at this stage now to step up and to demonstrate that by way of deeds. So, this talk now of a special envoy

being appointed, I very much hope that that happens.

I heard George Mitchell speak so eloquently last evening in the Library of Congress, so movingly, so passionately about the process of building a


AMANPOUR: Well, he knows it probably better than anybody except for you in that country having been the key negotiator.

But I wonder, you just said you met at the State Department, and we've been talking about the sort of changing of the guard there. Did you actually

meet with Rex Tillerson? Is he still on the job?

MCDONALD: No. No. indeed, we didn't. And we were busily examining issues that, for me, are domestic matters.

I have to say, though, you couldn't help but feel that there was a changing of the guards underway. And of course, that's a matter for this

administration. It's not really a matter for me to comment on, except to say that I hope that any administrative changes won't delay or won't

compromise what I believe can be a very positive influence and a very positive intervention by this government.

AMANPOUR: So, Mary Lou McDonald, I just want to put to you the whole Gerry Adams issue. He was a larger-than-life figure. He spent his whole career

during The Troubles and eventually was one of the leaders of the peace process.

And I did say in the introduction that you and your fellow leader Michelle O'Neill have got a different generational experience. You've not got

direct links with the militants, with the IRA.

But you did in your inaugural speech, you did use a term, which was Tiocfaidh ar la, apparently it means "our day will come." But for many it

is known as an expression that the IRA used, an expression of potentially militant nationalism. Was that deliberate?

MCDONALD: Well, I did issue those words. I did say Tiocfaidh ar la and that is the Irish, as you say, for

"our day will come" and people will know fully, and rise well, that in saying those words and in using that language - by the way, which has its

origins originally in James Joyce's portrays of the artist as a young man, so it has a very auspicious literary pedigree.

In using those words, I talk very directly to the building of a new Ireland. You're right to say that I have no connections - direct

connections with the conflict. I'm a Dublin woman, so I'm from what's called the south.

Myself and my deputy leader Michelle O'Neill represent a new generation of republican leaders. And, of course, we're mindful of the past. We're

mindful of the fact that we have a job in terms of building reconciliation.

But our eye is firmly on the future. And to be honest with you, if you care to examine the speech that I made when I became leader, you will see a

manifesto - an ambitious manifesto for reaching out, for healing and for change.

And I say that as a republican woman and I reserve the right to use republican language. And that slogan is far beyond the reach of any single

group. That is a term that's commonly by Irish nationalists, by Irish republicans and it's all about building the future and that's what we are

all about now.

AMANPOUR: All right. Mary Lou McDonald, newly elected president of Sinn Fein, thanks for joining us from Washington.

MCDONALD: Thank you so much.

AMANPOUR: And happy St. Patrick's Day to you this weekend.

MCDONALD: Many happy returns.

AMANPOUR: And just a final word from us before we go. Exactly one month ago, an all too familiar horror played out in another American school, when

a 19-year-old boy stormed into the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 students and faculty with a military-style

assault rifle, the AR-15.

[15:25:14] But the students' reaction has been anything but familiar, anything but typical. This time, they have turned their grief into a

clarion call and mass action for stricter gun control. They've been staging protests. They've been visiting state houses. They've been

attending congressional meetings.

And today, on this one-month anniversary, they have staged a massive national school walkout around this country. They spilled out of thousands

of schools all over from coast-to-coast, from north to south in protest for full 17 minutes to honor each of the 17 people who were killed.

They are disappointed that President Trump has walked back what seemed to be solidarity in the immediate aftermath over issues like the age limit for

buying these weapons and stricter background checks.

But last week at least, the Florida Governor Rick Scott signed legislation on a state level, including raising the minimum age for buying firearms

from 18 to 21 and allowing some teachers to be armed.

That is it for our program tonight. remember, you can always listen to our podcast. You can see us online at And you can follow me on

Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for watching. And goodbye from New York.