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Trump: Allies Have Agreed to Increase Defense Spending. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired July 12, 2018 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL, FORMER SPOKESMAN FOR FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR: -- European allies. I saw, by the way, it was interesting, as well, that on Brexit, he did seem to be kind of dialing down a bit.
[07:00:07] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: He dialed down a lot. There's a moment of restraint there. He said, "That's not for me to decide."
BERMAN: We'll have a chance to talk about that more in just a moment.
Michael Hayden with us as well. What about what Alisyn was saying? This is not the right way to go about it, Michael. Again, the context here, we are hearing from the leaders, the NATO leaders there, that the president threatened to go his own way, to do his own thing, if he did not get his way on defense spending.
Is it right to suggest that? Our Jeff Zeleny, White House reporter, actually said that a senior administration official told him the United States is not going to leave NATO. That's an extraordinary statement for a senior official to even make, Michael.
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, it really is, John, and you know, it might be part of the president's life experience where, as a real-estate developer, everything is about the deal, but in international affairs, practically everything is about the relationship. It's the long-term relationship, that people have confidence in one another.
And although he may have made some marginal progress, I agree with Nic, there was a lot of spiking the football on stage there a few minutes ago. But I haven't seen any points on the board yet. But even assuming he's made some progress there, at what cost, in the view toward the United States from some of our most important allies in the world?
BERMAN: Kaitlan Collins is in Washington (ph) alongside us.
Kaitlan, you follow the White House. I counted at minimum three things that were flat-out not true. No. 1, when the president said that U.S. defense spending is 90 percent of NATO defense spending. That's not true.
No. 2, he said that Ronald Reagan did not win Wisconsin; he was the first Republican to win Wisconsin. That's just a lie. Ronald Reagan did win Wisconsin twice.
And the president said many other things, as well. Give us a sense of what was true and not true there.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, really stunning to see the president there questioning what's true. He said that he's essentially declaring victory, that NATO has changed a lot than it was two days ago, now calling it a fine-tuned machine, largely crediting himself for that change.
But his ultimate statement there, when he came out to reporters in this unscheduled press conference, was that countries have agreed to up their defense spending from that 2 percent of that GDP.
But then later on in the press conference, he said they had only committed to getting to that 2 percent of their GDP, spending that on defense spending. Which is what it has been and what those countries have pledged to go to, to that 2 percent by 2024.
A lot of countries aren't even close to that 2 percent. That is what has exasperated the president.
But John, to be clear, he is declaring victory here, but I'm not sure for what. Because he did say that they have agreed to increase their defense spending past that 2 percent. He said that they were going to be spending higher than we've ever seen before, but it's unclear what or when. Because he did not say that it was going to go above that 2 percent. He didn't say when they agreed to commit to that 2 percent.
So to be clear, that was already what NATO was doing. This is exactly what NATO was two days ago, before President Trump showed up here in Brussels. So it's unclear if the president is just trying to declare victory to his domestic audience at home, so he can move on and go to London and go to Helsinki for that meeting with Vladimir Putin. But for what the president just said, nothing has changed about NATO, despite him saying that it has.
He also made several other statements there just equally as stunning, John. He talked about that meeting with Putin. He said he does not see Russian President Vladimir Putin as an enemy, but he sees him as a competitor. And he said that during their meeting on Monday, that he's going to talk about Syria, he's going to talk about meddling in the election, instructing them not to do that again, but not sounding very firm on what exactly he's going to say to Putin.
COLLINS: But one key question. He was asked that, if Vladimir Putin requests that he cancel military exercises in the Baltic states, would he honor that request? He said, "Perhaps. We'll talk about it."
So he did not rule that out, John. That's exactly what these European leaders have feared the president is going to do when he does sit down with Putin. Offer him concessions like canceling military exercises.
Several stunning statements there, John, throughout that press conference.
BERMAN: Kaitlan, thanks very much.
Max Boot, since Kaitlan just brought it up, in regards to Russia, the president said a number of very interesting things. First of all, on Russian election meddling, the president did promise to bring it up, but he says, "All I can say is, 'Did you?' And then I can say, 'Don't do it again.'"
On Ukraine and Crimea, the Russian occupation of Crimea, the president was flat-out asked if he would accept the Russian annexation of Crimea. He didn't rule it out. All he said was that Crimea went to Russia under President Obama's watch. And as Kaitlan just pointed out there, the president would not rule out halting military exercises, NATO military exercises in the Baltics.
Your impression of just those three issues in regards to Russia, days before his meeting with Vladimir Putin?
MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, this is very disconcerting, John, and it's very striking to see the difference between the Trump approach with our allies and his approach to Russia.
[07:05:00] In the case of our allies, he is highly confrontational and apparently threatening to pull out of NATO and -- and beating the table, and confronting our allies; whereas on the other hand with Russia, he says, "All I can do is I can just bring it up. What else can I do?" He can't confront Putin, is basically what he's saying.
So it's a very telling contrast, and this is not going to be reassuring to our allies.
I mean, in some ways, the press conference today felt a little bit to me like what he's been saying about his deal with North Korea, where he is taking credit for empty language that doesn't really mean that much. And likewise today, I think today you saw something similar going on where there was -- there's -- doesn't appear to be any new commitment in terms of NATO defense spending, beyond what has already been committed to reach the 2 percent level. And Trump is saying, like, this was a tremendous achievement; it's all him. The future of NATO is bright, and you know, he's transformed it and all that kind of stuff.
But ultimately, as General Hayden was suggesting, you know, these relationships are built on trust. And NATO is ultimately about credibility. And the credibility of NATO Article V, which was the mutual self-defense provision that if one country is attacked, the other countries will come to their aid.
You know, given this incredibly erratic performance, where Trump was tough with our allies, weak on Russia, saying one thing and claiming -- going from being highly critical to being highly laudatory, it's hard to imagine that our allies will have more trust in the United States going forward.
In fact, they're going to have a lot less trust. There's going to be a lot less credibility here, because I think our allies, just like the rest of us, don't really know what to make of this bizarre performance, veering from one extreme to another. And I think that ultimately, whatever his claims about NATO being strengthened, actually undermines NATO.
BERMAN: It's really interesting. Max brings up a good point, Alastair. If you look at the difference in rhetoric between how he held discussions with America's greatest allies and how he plans to hold discussions with Vladimir Putin -- and this is just the president's own language today -- he went into this NATO meeting today, apparently threatening to do his own thing if his friends, if America's greatest friends, don't do what he wants. He threatens America's greatest friends, yes. But when it comes to Russian election meddling, he tells Vladimir Putin -- he says he can say, "All I can do is ask him, 'Did you?' and 'Don't do it again'."
CAMPBELL: It is bizarre and it's troubling. And you know, I'm -- within the last few days, he's literally gone around one by one and kind of -- and gone for them in -- sometimes in quite a personal way.
And I think that, you know, that's the way he conducts himself, fine. But there is something of a very, very odd message that it sends out to everybody. Somebody that was -- and I was a journalist when Thatcher and Reagan were the big -- the big kind of item on the world stage.
And I cannot even begin to think what would have happened in your politics if one or other of the main candidates in a presidential election campaign got close to a Soviet leader at that time. And yet he has this relationship, this kind of -- this odd tie-up with Putin that you can see there, he cannot bring himself to be critical, whether it's about Crimea, whether it's about meddling in elections. It's almost like it's a game that he's playing.
And yet, with Merkel, with some of the other European leaders, he's just straight in there, making absolutely clear he has pretty much contempt for them. And I think that's very worrying. I think it says where his values are. I think he prefers dealing with these dictators than he does with real democrats.
BERMAN: Jeremy Diamond, our White House reporter, was in the room. We heard him ask a question at that news conference.
Jeremy, it was clear to me -- it has been clear to me after the last 24 hours that the president's design was to go in and make a scene. He did it yesterday, starting with the breakfast meeting, and he did it again today, basically hijacking a meeting that was supposed to be out about Russia meddling in Georgia and Ukraine and also Afghanistan, and turning it into this discussion on spending.
What did you see, and what did the president tell you this morning?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what we saw on display today was some classic elements of the way that Trump interacts with the world, the way that he likes to portray himself and kind of the strategies and tactics that he uses. Yesterday, we saw him begin with some insults aimed at Germany, you
know, questioning their sovereignty, their national sovereignty by saying that they were totally controlled by Russia.
Today, we saw apparently threats, these reports that the president suggested he would do his own thing if NATO allies did not increase their defense spending.
And then, to cap it all off, we saw the president's signature showmanship, this showmanship gained over his years in business as a master marketer, as a reality TV star. All of this was on display, because as far as we know, there -- the president did not secure any specific, verifiable commitments from NATO allies. Many of these NATO allies have already been in the process of getting to that 2 percent of spending. And -- and so clearly, you know, the president today still waiting for some of those details. I pressed him on that, what are the details? Is there an advance time table here with regards to reaching that 2 percent? And the president came up empty on those.
BERMAN: We really need to hear from Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary- general of NATO, because we're hearing from you, Jeremy -- also, we heard from Kaitlan Collins before -- that there don't appear to be these firm commitments that the president is claiming.
[07:10:13] He claims he got firm dollar commitments from these NATO leaders, but we don't know that. We don't know if they've committed to anything different than reaching that goal of 2 percent of their GDP on defense spending by 2024. We will have to wait and see on that.
Michael Hayden, General, one of the things the president said, his claim, overall claim after these meetings is that NATO is stronger than it was two days ago. And I keep going back to that, because this is the key point here. Is he making things better? From one of the most important alliances in the history of earth. Correct? We've been at peace for 70 years, and NATO has played a big role in that.
Is it better of because of his behavior over the last two days or not? He says yes.
HAYDEN: No -- no, John, it's not. I was assigned to Germany for three years in the mid-90s. To give you a sense of what's changed in the American contribution, at the time of the unification of Germany, there were 350,000 American troops in Europe. We're down to about 62,000 now.
And I was there for a lot of the withdrawal, and I remember a story about a concern that we were evacuating. And the local newspaper actually said, "As occupiers, these guys weren't bad." And that attitude with the Germans and the other Europeans was built up over three generations of American military personnel serving in Europe and becoming trusted friends.
And now we have this scene which, frankly, borders on thuggery or thuggish behavior, in order to browbeat the Europeans to do, well, what we're not sure of. And oh, by the way, John, the tick up in NATO defense spending began in 2014 with the invasion of the Ukraine. We have five countries at 2 percent. There will be eight in a few years, 18 in the current schedule, pre-summit, by 2024. And so we were already moving in the right direction without doing the things that happened in the last 36 hours.
BERMAN: General, you say he is thuggish. You call his behavior thuggish. Yet -- and you will speak to European leaders. Alastair here will admit that the defense spending has gone up. The president has been able to get better results than other U.S. presidents on this issue that all U.S. presidents dating back years have agreed with, which is that these European countries need to spend more in their own defense. And the president made the case in the campaign and as president that the United States was just paying too much, more than its fair share.
HAYDEN: Yes, and look, I served in Europe. I know about burden sharing. And I know how much more the Americans do and what we want our European allies to do more of over the years. I get all of that.
But we began to move in the direction several years ago before the current election. Oh, by the way, the budgets that the president is praising for this year were all agreed by European parliament several years ago.
And so I get it, if we're getting more, that's a good thing. But John, the most important currency is that we were viewed as a benign super power in whom our allies could have confidence. And I don't think we helped that argument in the last two days.
BERMAN: All right. Max, first to you and then to Alastair. And Max, if we can keep it concise. I want to get to both of you here.
Vladimir Putin meeting with the president in Helsinki on Monday. He has watched this. I'm sure he has watched this very closely. What is Vladimir Putin's takeaway from this NATO summit?
BOOT: I imagine that Vladimir Putin has a big Cheshire cat grin on his face because he is accomplishing what he wanted to accomplish when he intervened in the U.S. election and helped to get Donald Trump elected president.
He wanted to sow chaos. He wanted to call into question the future of the Atlantic alliance, and he has done that. Trump's erratic conduct is not going to reassure anybody, and in fact, it will cause Europeans to think they cannot rely upon the United States.
And of course, once again he refused to be confrontational in his rhetoric towards Russia and to suggest that perhaps they will be able to cook up some kind of deal that will include stopping exercises with the Baltic republics, possibly recognizing Russian annexation of Crimea. These are exactly the things that Vladimir Putin is looking for.
So I'm sure he is delighted by the outcome of this very bizarre two- day NATO summit. BERMAN: The president will claim that if he did, in fact, get a
commitment to more NATO defense spending, though, that is not something that Vladimir Putin would like. He will say that, "If I got the results here, that's what matters."
Alastair, the president on his way here right now to London. He'll take off in just a few moments, land as Stan (ph) said, about an hour and a half from now. How will this be received? How will he be received here? And what's at stake for Theresa May, the British prime minister?
[07:15:07] CAMPBELL: Well, he said in his press conference that he's very popular in Britain and British people like him, and we all agree with him on immigration. He may have -- there's a certain constituency that may like the kind of strong man leadership, and so forth, and the reality TV bit about him.
But I think it's very hard to overstate just how unpopular he is in the U.K. I mean, George W. Bush was very unpopular, but this is on a different scale. It is difficult for Theresa May, because she's got massive political problems of her own at the moment, in dealing with the fallout from Brexit.
She's also has got a sense of policies being pretty much in a state of -- Trump called it turmoil. There's certainly an awful lot of upheaval going on.
And she will be worried about the extent to which he will be getting piqued by these massive protests that are going to be -- and I've got no doubt at all, he will be aware. I spoke to one of your colleagues who told me that he's already become -- Trump has become a little obsessed about this baby Trump that's going to be flying around the place. And I suspect that's the sort of thing that will get right under his skin.
And in the meantime, these protests here and at Glemham (ph) and at Chequers, and at Scotland. We already had people trying to disrupt the golf course yesterday, two days before he gets there.
So he's not popular. And I think that -- and the point about Putin, if -- if you're Putin, you're sitting there thinking, "I'm presiding over a World Cup that is presenting a modern image of Russia to the world, and what's being described as one of the best World Cups ever, and Donald Trump is there destabilizing western Europe, which is one of my big strategic goals." I mean, he's a happy man.
BERMAN: Alastair, thanks so much for being here. Thanks, guys. I really appreciate that discussion. A very fascinating moment here.
Alisyn, I'm going to go back to you. A lot still needs to be fact checked. We need to hear from NATO if there was these firm commitments to increase defense spending. Other fact checks, as well. Wisconsin is calling to tell President Trump that Ronald Reagan did, in fact, win there and other things, as well. But as I said, a remarkable morning here in Europe. The president on his way to London as we speak -- Alisyn. ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: It really has been, John, and it's been great to have you on the ground, getting the instantaneous reaction there.
So how is it playing back here at home? How are lawmakers feeling about what they're witnessing? The U.S. Senate also trying to blunt President Trump's policy twice now in the past two days. So we'll talk about that when we have Republican Senator Mike Rounds here next.
[17:21:19] CAMEROTA: President Trump just had an interesting impromptu press conference in which he claimed that he'd gotten the NATO allies to agree to pay more, sooner, for their defense spending. We await confirmation from the NATO leaders as to that agreement.
Joining us now to talk about this and so much more, we have Republican Senator Mike Rounds.
Good morning, Senator.
SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: Good morning.
CAMEROTA: Did you just watch the president's press conference?
ROUNDS: I watched part of it. As usual, it was fascinating. He most certainly catches the attention of the world when he speaks.
CAMEROTA: He does. And so are you pleased with now the president has been conducting himself, his tone and the substance of what he's been saying from NATO?
ROUNDS: He has a very unique way of addressing our allies that does raise concern with a lot of us who really do understand the need to maintain a very strong NATO alliance.
But the substance of what he is suggesting is very important to continue to push, and that is that, in the NATO alliance, we have to be strong, and that strength comes from how much each one of those separate members is actually putting into the pot in terms of the defense of their own country and participating in the NATO alliance.
ROUNDS: We want to see the defense dollars that are available to defend against, in this particular case, Russia, and aggression from other countries. That that be enough to make darn certain that that alliance can always be there and can always be counted on.
So you've got two different issues. No. 1, is the president doing the right thing by demanding that the other countries step up and put more dollars in, more resources into NATO or into the defense of all of our countries, based on Article V? The answer to that is yes.
The second question is how do they feel about and negotiate with and work with our president as a leader? And I think it's pretty clear that he pushes the limits once in a while. In this particular case, he most certainly did that over the last couple of days.
CAMEROTA: Senator, I think the issue is that, of course, everybody should pay their fair share. That makes perfect sense. But the issue is, is that the top priority for the U.S.? So when there are issues of Russia aggression and how to tackle it, when there are issues of global terrorism and how to tackle it, focusing fairly single- mindedly, as the president has been talking about paying the fair share, are you happy with the outcome there when there hasn't been a lot of talk about the other stuff?
ROUNDS: You know, it was interesting, because one of the first things that he mentioned was the pipeline, the Nordic Pipeline. This is one that, actually, 39 United States senators sent a letter to the administration earlier this year, saying, "Please do whatever you can to stop that pipeline," because it's going to destabilize the Baltic states. This basically bypasses Ukraine.
CAMEROTA: Yes, and I did read that, but what's the outcome? In other words, he's talked about that, but has there been any agreement on stopping that? Have they made any progress?
ROUNDS: I'm not sure whether they -- they agreed to stop the pipeline. I doubt that they've been able to, in a matter of two days, stop the pipeline. But the fact that the president brought it up and made it clear that this was destabilizing in Europe was an important message to send. The challenge is that he has a very unique way of sending that message. And sometimes things that used to be said behind closed doors and in private with some of our closest allies, he says publicly.
ROUNDS: And that sometimes is very unsettling to the rest of the world.
I can tell you this much. The NATO alliance is strong. The United States Senate, our members, Republican and Democrat alike, want to continue to send that message. This is not a matter of having any question as to whether or not we would be pulling out, because we are not. In fact, we've actually created and strengthened an observing group of United States senators that I think will be announced today to continue to send a message about how strong NATO is, in our opinion, and also the fact --
[07:25:13] CAMEROTA: But who are you sending that message to? Because the president, as you know, at times has called it obsolete.
ROUNDS: Look, NATO is not obsolete. Most certainly with the fact that these same countries are now agreeing to increase the amount that they're putting into their own defense spending.
CAMEROTA: We think. I mean, again --
ROUNDS: Moves it in the right direction.
CAMEROTA: I understand. We have not had confirmation on that. I mean, the president has not given any specifics in terms of what he thinks he's changed in terms of the time line or the percentage that countries are putting in, but what you're calling unique in terms of the president's rhetoric, one of your colleges, Senator Bob Corker, is calling damaging. He says that it feels like we punch our friends in the nose and extend a hand to our enemies. Do you agree that it's damaging?
ROUNDS: I think I'll be a little bit more diplomatic than what my good friend, Senator Corker, is in this particular case. I'm going to say that he has a very unique style, and it's one that is not kind of the way that I would do it, and I'm not the president of the United States. I wasn't elected to be the president of the United States.
CAMEROTA: I understand, but is it possible --
ROUNDS: We're going after, and we're trying to get results.
CAMEROTA: I understand, but do you think it's possible that the way he's doing it could damage the relationships?
ROUNDS: Well, most certainly, when he steps in, he has an opportunity, and occasionally, he will create chaos. And he most certainly has created some chaos in the world. But out of that chaos can come some opportunities.
And in this case, if we've actually been able to get our other members to step up after years and years of asking for it, if they're actually going to step up and put more into the defense of -- of our individual countries, that's a positive thing for NATO.
CAMEROTA: Yes, but again --
ROUNDS: The part that we can play a part in, is --
CAMEROTA: But one last --
ROUNDS: Is just to let them know that we're going to have a strong alliance with them.
CAMEROTA: Great. But just so that I'm clear, is that would that have been your No. 1 priority there?
ROUNDS: Which, I'm sorry --
CAMEROTA: Getting them to pay their fair share. You know, in other words, every time -- when the president arrived late today, half an hour late, they were supposed to be talking about Afghanistan and Russia, but instead, it sounds like, from his press conference, what he wanted to address and what rose to the top of the agenda was getting them to pay their fair share. So that means other things weren't talked about.
Would that have been your first priority for him?
ROUNDS: Long-term, getting the NATO alliance to continue to have a commitment to investment is critical. That may not have been the top- of-the-mind thing for all of the other leaders, but for us to recognize that that long-term commitment to NATO to keep your defense spending up, that is critical.
And five years, ten years from now, we're going to look back at this and say that was the right move. Because our near-peer competitors, Russia and China, are both spending money.
ROUNDS: They are out there. They are a threat to not only our country but to the other members in the NATO alliance. And what we're sending is, a heads up: this is not getting better. This is not a safe part of the world, and most certainly, you've seen Russia, the way that they've treated Ukraine, the way that they've come into Crimea. These are the folks that are in Syria right now. They are creating havoc for our forces that have been on the ground there.
ROUNDS: They are not our friend. And most certainly, this is not the time in which we can expect that NATO should be spending less money.
So to send that message now is a strategic move on the part of our president.
ROUNDS: I think it's part of the most important thing that we can send to NATO, is we want to be allies with you. We want this to be strong, but everybody's got to do their fair share. This is a dangerous world.
CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, I think you might have just spelled it our more substantively than he did. I don't have any -- I have a few seconds left, but I just have to ask you about the message that you and 87 other senators are trying to send to the president about tariffs. What do you want him to know about how it's affecting your state?
ROUNDS: There are two parts. First of all, this was specifically to Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Enhancement Act that had to do with national security. And this has to do with when the president said that it was a national security issue when he put tariffs on Mexican and Canadian goods. These are our allies.
And what we're saying is that this was designed to give the president immediate ability to stop certain items from coming in if it was a threat to our national security. So if he's not using it in that light, or of he's interpreting it that way, we're saying that's not what we believe the intent was in the first place, and with all due respect to the president, if that's the way that you're going to interpret these types of tariffs, then we're going to take a second look at it.
We did it in a non-binding way.
ROUNDS: But we hope we sent a message that, if you're going to use the tariffs in terms of the economic impacts and so forth, then use Section 301 but not Section 232. I know I'm going into it a little deep.
CAMEROTA: I understand. Don't use national security as the justification.
CAMEROTA: And you want him to -- you want all of you to have a say in this.
I'm sorry --
ROUNDS: That's right. That's right.
CAMEROTA: I apologize. We've got to go. There's so much breaking news with all of the press conferences, et cetera.
Senator Mike Rounds, thank you very much for sharing your perspective on all of this.
ROUNDS: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: All right. We want to go back to London where John Berman is keeping an eye on everything that's happening at NATO -- John.