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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Threatens NATO Allies; Cave Rescue Ongoing in Thailand. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 3, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:23]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.

Our world lead now. President Trump threatening to upend the decades- old NATO alliance over military spending.

In letters to a dozen major allies, Mr. Trump delivered a stern and clear warning, according to "The New York Times," demanding that the country pony up on their pledge to spend 2 percent of their GDP on effort, or else he may withdraw U.S. forces from Europe, at a time when Europe is facing an aggressive Russia.

This all comes ahead of next week's key NATO summit in Brussels, after which President Trump will sit down one on one with Russian President Vladimir Putin, NATO's chief adversary.

CNN's Barbara Starr kicks off our coverage from the Pentagon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump sending scathing letters to America's closest allies, demanding they increase military spending to at least 2 percent of their economy, the NATO standard.

Trump has been relentless that U.S. allies are not pulling their weight at NATO.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If all NATO members had spent just 2 percent of their GDP on defense last year, we would have had another $119 billion.

STARR: Mr. Trump's letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel had an especially frosty warning. "It will, however, become increasingly difficult to justify to American citizens why some countries don't share NATO''s collective security burden while American soldiers continue to sacrifice their lives overseas or come home gravely wounded."

A senior German official points out that, in Afghanistan, Germany is the second largest contributor of foreign troops.

To Norway, a not-so-subtle reminder of Norway's risks, since it "remains the only NATO ally sharing a border with Russia that doesn't have a plan to meet the NATO spending target."

NATO spending may be one area where there is agreement with former President Obama.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody's got to step up and everybody's got to do better.

STARR: NATO's spending estimate show the U.S. is well above the 2 percent spending standard at more than 3.5 percent of the U.S. economy going to defense. The U.K. is just over 2 percent, while Norway, Canada and Germany are all under.

But Trump could go too far in criticizing NATO at the upcoming summit just before he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he wants to scuttle the Western alliance, and there's a lot of supposition that he does want to do that, then, of course, that could very well play into the hands of the Russians.

STARR: The president also making additional national security claims, tweeting: "Just out that the Obama administration granted citizenship during the terrible Iran deal negotiation to 2,500 Iranians, including to government officials."

It's a claim by an Iranian cleric that a former Obama national security official is pushing back on, saying the allegation is false and based on a FOX News report.

Mr. Trump also tweeting on what he sees as success with North Korea. "If not for me, we would now be at war with North Korea," even though the Pentagon says there is no evidence Kim Jong-un is giving up his weapons.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And at that summit next week, as you said, Jim, President Trump's relationship with the allies, with Vladimir Putin and progress with North Korea is expected to be front and center -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

My panel with me now.

Phil Mudd, there's nothing wrong. In fact, it is very justified for a U.S. president to demand that NATO allies meet this level of spending. On the other hand, a president has not threatened to withdraw troops, which of course serve not just those European countries' security interests, but American security interests.

How crucial is that difference?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think there's a couple of differences here that are crucial.

We should not discard this one. You're right. In terms of anybody who wants to criticize the president, look at his predecessors who have come out and said, look, Europe isn't paying their bill.

Two things that are different here. You come out of the G7 and the European leaders watching the G7, saying style is different. The president's going to show up in Europe and if doesn't like what he says, he is going to try to embarrass us in public.

Previous presidents wouldn't do that. I think more significant point is substance. If you think the president or if they think the president is not going to back up the talk, watch what he said about North Korea. He shows up in Singapore. Watch what he says about tariffs, Republicans in Congress say, no. And he says, I don't care. I'm going to slap on tariffs on them.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: That may feel good to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany to punish Germany, but does that serve U.S. national security interests in Europe, when Russia is increasingly aggressive militarily?

[16:35:03]

MUDD: I think that's the question I would ask.

If you look at what has Russia has done in terms of moving into Syria, but more critically taking Crimea, interfering in Ukraine, the Europeans are going to say this is our front doorstep and this is the time when you say you're going to withdraw the troops in advance of your meeting with Putin, where Putin is going to say, I got the message, the president wants to deal with me and he doesn't like the European allies?

SCIUTTO: Nayyera, you worked in the Obama administration. As we saw there in Barbara's piece, President Obama expressed similar frustration with European allies. That's already a couple of years ago.

Why aren't these countries -- we saw Canada, Germany, why aren't they meeting the 2 percent limit?

NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: There's an actual perception gap here as well.

We have I think five countries right now that are meeting their goals. Eight more online at the end of the year. And they technically have until 2024, so they have a couple more years to get there. That goes on the factual side of things.

Trump is playing to his feeling among his base that the United States is getting a raw deal when it comes to running the wars of the world, and in particular in bailing out Europe.

Unfortunately, the bulk of our defense spending has been in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is not necessarily a NATO-approved or NATO-caused mission. And that's post-9/11. And the president himself has asked for a 10 percent increase in the military defense budget. And we are spending a lot on our military, but that's something entirely discretionary upon the president and the United States itself.

SCIUTTO: Phil Mudd, there's a line in the letter to Angela Merkel that caught not only my eye, but I'm sure caught the eye of Angela Merkel as well. This kind of dig that our troops are fighting and dying in these wars and Iraq and Afghanistan principally.

With the implication being German troops are not, when in fact they're the second biggest contributor in terms of personnel there. How much of a dig is that for a treaty ally to make that kind of comment?

MUDD: I think it's a dig because you have to look at not only what she's reading into the letter, but what he is going to do, as I mentioned a moment ago, when he comes out of the meeting.

You can't trust him. If I'm Angela Merkel, going into a meeting with him, you can't trust him to have a meaningful conversation and then not come out on Air Force One and hammer you.

Remember we've got some context here. I mentioned G7 a moment ago. He's also embarrassed Angela Merkel in terms of his comments about her immigration policy, which is hugely sensitive in Germany. So, if you are going into that meeting, even if it's one on one, and you're the Germans, you're saying, be careful. He's going to tweet it out once you get out of the room.

SCIUTTO: Watch out for flying Starbursts as well.

The president also tweeted today, and odd, we don't even know what the source of the story was. It looks like a FOX News story. He said the following: "Just out that the Obama administration granted citizenship during the terrible Iran deal negotiation to 2,500 Iranians, including to government officials. How big and bad is that?"

You worked in the Obama administration. We have spoken to officials in the Obama administration who just said it's just not true. Do you have any knowledge of something like this?

HAQ: It's unequivocally false.

But what it gets to is Donald Trump playing into the hands of the Iranian extremists, right? You had Rudy Giuliani almost as a surrogate, even though he's not an official of the administration, out there advocating for regime change.

And you have hard-liners in Iran right now who are advocating to overthrow their government and potentially make it even more extreme and their anti-American sentiment. And so that seems to be who Donald Trump allies himself with in countries around the world. Right?

It's the Marie Le Pen types in France. It's Putin in Russia and clearly in North Korea. He likes allying himself with people who are not really pro-democracy. And Iran is just the latest example of that. SCIUTTO: And not necessarily allying himself with the facts on this

particular claim here.

Phil Mudd, Nayyera, thanks very much.

They survived 10 days without food or fresh water, but now it may be months before a boy's soccer team trapped in an underground cave could be rescued. Imagine that, more than a month.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:42:43]

SCIUTTO: In our world lead now, rescue teams are working around the clock to find a way to save the 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped in a Thai cave.

They have been underground now for 10 days a mile deep into the cave system, but they could be waiting there for months. There is no clear way to get them out.

And with monsoon season under way, the waters inside that cave could rise.

CNN's Anna Coren, she is on the ground covering the live updates.

But first I do want to bring you CNN's Tom Foreman.

Tom, I know you have been working on just sort of the layout of this operation. Why is it so tricky and dangerous?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, because finding the boys in this cave was incredibly tough, but actually extracting them could involve a lot more technical maneuvers, a lot more time and could prove more difficult.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): Darkness, cold, rushing water and time. Rescuers will have to overcome all those elements to bring the boys to sunlight and right now it is not clear how or how quickly that can happen.

With substantial portions of the passage to safety flooded, the idea of bringing them through underwater is fraught with peril. Authorities have not yet specified how long the boys would have to be submerged to make it through those sections, but it appears substantial.

In addition, some of the boys reportedly don't know how to swim. Rescuers have speculated that they could be trained to dive while in the cave and then one by one led out. But skilled divers note that would be bring a strong risk of panic, especially in areas where the water is so densely filled with debris, visibility is only a few inches, where the currents are strong and where narrow passageways prevail. ANMAR MIRZA, U.S. NATIONAL CAVE RESCUE COMMISSION: Cave diving is an

incredibly dangerous activity for people who are very experienced doing it. And now you're looking at taking people who have no experience or very little experience of diving and putting them into a complete blackout situation, where they have to rely on the regulator and the tanks with them to breathe. And losing that regulator even for a minute or two could be fatal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're very strong.

FOREMAN: On top of all that, the boys are hardly in great shape for such an attempt. Authorities report they spent more than a week with no food, huddled on a chilly, cramped ledge.

But the options are limited. Rescuers could potentially drill an escape route as they did for the trapped Chilean miners in 2010 who were about as deep down. But that took more than two months with potentially catastrophic failure haunting every day. Officials could send supplies to the boys, move them to a wider, safer platform and wait but the waters recede, but that could take even more time. The monsoon season here in Thailand has only just started. It's torrential and they could be stuck in there for four months.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Amid all the worried waiting, there's still hope for a fourth option. The idea that somehow another path can be found through the maze of passageways which might allow the boys to just walk out as they walked in. But if that path exists, Jim, no one's discovered it yet.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: (INAUDIBLE) of those Chilean miners, that kind of rescue. Tom Foreman, thanks very much. CNN's Anna Coren, she's live on the ground outside that cave in Thailand. Anna, this prospect of the kids stuck for many weeks, perhaps months, is that dangerous?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely, and what sort of impact is that going to have on them psychologically. You know, this is -- this is the real thing. But I must say, Jim, Thai authorities is doing everything possible to minimize that. There is a doctor and a nurse both Navy S.E.A.L.S who are part of the team with those boys. They have not left their side. So they're assessing them, they're looking after them, they are providing them with food, and for the first time last month, Jim, slept with blankets. So it's just gone 3:45 in the morning here. Let's hope that they are still sleeping but we also have to remember that these kids, some of them as young as 11. So they have been in the darkness now, we are entering day 11 of the saga. So I mean, that would be incredibly scary but they're also very resilient and they have each other. This is a team that has been together for many years. And their coach, their 25-year-old coach, Jim, has been critical and crucial in keeping them together, keeping morale high. We know that they've been resourceful in collecting rainwater, they were seeping through the ceiling of the cave, you know, natural filtration system rather than resorting to the filthy polluted muddy floodwaters that have been lapping at their feet. We spoke to the coach's aunt yesterday. She said that this is a man who loves the boys. He's dedicated to these boys and that he will do whatever it takes to protect them. So we certainly know there's a team of between seven and ten Navy S.E.A.L.S there with those boys as we speak. They're not going to leave their side, Jim, until they get out.

SCIUTTO: Anna Coren, there, those poor kids, their poor parents, thank you very much. The U.S. government has three days to make sure that separated children talk to their parents on the phone, the children separated at the U.S. border. Is there a plan in place to make that actually happen?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] SCIUTTO: We are just days away from a deadline for children torn from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border to have at least phone contact with their parents. But as the deadline looms, the most important question remains, does the administration have a plan to finally reunite these families? CNN's Miguel Marquez, he joins us now. Miguel, you've been in Texas covering this for weeks. Have you seen any signs that these families will have at least that contact with their parents any time soon?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. that may be one of the best things that we can say about what's happening on the ground right now is that a lot of families say that they have had at least one phone call with their loved ones. Not all of them, it is not perfect, some haven't heard from their loved ones at all. The deadline for that -- for everybody to be in contact with the families by this Friday but there are more serious deadlines ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: The clock is ticking under order by a federal judge. The Trump Administration has until next Tuesday to reunite children under five with families and all kids must be reunited by July 26th.

EFREN OLIVARES, RACIAL AND ECONOMIC JUSTICE DIRECTOR, TEXAS CIVIL RIGHTS PROJECT: I just got off the phone with one of the mothers we represent. She has spoken to her son or her daughter once since being separated in May and she has no news about eminent reunification or anything of that sort.

MARQUEZ: And that's what you kind of hear?

OLIVARES: That's what -- that's what we're hearing. None of the clients have reported that you know, they were notified that they're going to be reunited in the next few days.

MARQUEZ: Efren Olivares with Texas Civil Rights Project represents nearly400 separated families. He says families are reporting they are being pressured to drop their asylum claim and agree to faster deportation in exchange for quicker reunification with their children.

OLIVARES: They are being presented with an option of choosing removal and being reunited with their children as part of that process.

MARQUEZ: In another setback for the President's zero tolerance immigration policy, a judge in Washington ruled the Trump Administration cannot arbitrarily detain those seeking asylum. In a sharp rebuke, Judge James Boasberg wrote, this opinion does no more than hold the government accountable to its own policy which recently has been honored more in the breach than the observance. All this as the pace of families seeking asylum in the U.S. continues as it has for years. Sister Norma Pimentel says her Catholic Charities helps 50 to 200 families every day.

NORMA PIMENTEL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CATHOLIC CHARITIES: All of them have been processed by Border Patrol and they determined that this family leads us to a family profile where to continue their legal immigration process at another point in the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Now, the Department of Homeland Security, we asked for information about this claim that families are being pressured to give up their asylum claim to get the kids back more quickly. They have not responded to that. We've also just in the last few minutes heard from HHS, Health and Human Services. They're responsible for the kids that are in detention. They're now tweeting out pictures sort of showing some of the work that they're doing saying they're working around the clock to make these reunifications happen. Of course, this is all work that wouldn't have been necessary had zero tolerance either not happened or been thought out to begin with. Jim?

[16:55:34] SCIUTTO: Miguel Marquez down there at the Border, thank very much. Just into CNN now. More possible Supreme Court nominees interviewed today by the President at the White House. The White House announces how many. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)