Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump Again Says Putin Is A Competitor, Not An Enemy; Trump: Allies Have Agreed To Increase Defense Spending; Croatia Beats England To Reach World Cup Final; Who is Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh? Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired July 12, 2018 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I apologize. We've got to go. There's so much breaking news with all of the press conferences, et cetera.

But, Sen. Mike Rounds, thank you very much for sharing your perspective on all of this.


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.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I know you get embarrassed when I lavish too much praise on you Alisyn, but I do think you asked the key question there which is that NATO defense spending is important, but was it the most important thing --


BERMAN: -- for the president to discuss with NATO leaders?

CAMEROTA: Go on. I'm actually quite comfortable. I'm quite comfortable with the praise. Please, continue.

BERMAN: No, you were right and you said it in one sentence. It took me 15 minutes to get to that point but you just distilled the whole issue in one succinct sentence there -- was it the most important issue?

The president goes to meet with Vladimir Putin. Russia has annexed Crimea. What about that? What about Russian election meddling?

What should the president have been discussing with the NATO leaders, maybe on top of the money? We'll discuss that, next.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's a competitor. He's been very nice to me the times I've met him. I've been nice to him. He's a competitor, not a question of friend or enemy. He's not my


[07:35:00] And hopefully, someday maybe he'll be a friend. It could happen. But I don't -- I just don't know him very well.


BERMAN: President Trump previewing his meeting with Vladimir Putin. He heads there to Helsinki to meet with Putin on Monday. This after a very contentious NATO summit in Brussels.

You can see right now in Brussels, the president departing there very shortly. He's heading here to the United Kingdom where I am. I'm in London.

He has meetings scheduled with the British Prime Minister Theresa May, as well as tea with the queen tomorrow.

And joining me now is the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Russia, India, Israel, Jordan -- ambassador to the world, Thomas Pickering.

And also with us is Alastair Campbell. He was director of communications for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Ambassador, I would like to start with you with what we just saw from the president. You heard him talking about Vladimir Putin as a competitor. He wouldn't call him a foe.

And then on the issue of election meddling, which I think is symbolic of his view toward Russia in general, he says all I can say is did you and don't do it again.

Your takeaway?


These have been the kind of soft touch of the -- of the president with respect to President Putin. And in many ways, the strategic framework within which all of this fills (ph).

The denigration of NATO, in effect. The creation of real tensions within the alliance over a money issue which in the end is probably going to end up exactly where it was when he began even though he'd like to take personal credit for it.

And a visit to the U.K. in which clearly, there are troubles in the U.K. and with Mrs. May. And he hasn't shown much either sympathy or capacity to be helpful in underpinning the particularly important relationship of our most stalwart traditional ally in Europe, along with denigrating Germany.

And so he has a capacity here to do a three-strike disaster for American strategic interest in leading the world, in keeping the European framework behind us, and Putin would be the icing on the cake.

Does he give away, in fact, Baltic exercises? Does he undo the kinds of things that are very important to us in maintaining the relationship over the Ukraine and indeed, Crimea? What does he get in return?

It's a little bit like the Kim Jong Un time where he gives away U.S. exercises with the Republican of Korea with seemingly nothing in return except a smile from Kim.

So, we're in a situation in which seemingly, U.S. interest and U.S. strategy is very much at stake and the president seems to be very much motivated and continued to be by reality television and ego-building.

Not a sense clearly, of how and in what way the U.S. is leader of the world and can continue to provide that kind of benign, helpful, cooperative, and indeed, energetic and the progressive leadership that we have been known for and which he has, over the last year and a half, been undoing piece by piece.

BERMAN: I want to fill in some of the contexts for what Ambassador Pickering just said.

The president, in this news conference, would not rule out canceling joint NATO exercises in the Baltics -- Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania -- so concerned about Russian expansion right now there are NATO exercises planned. The president won't rule out canceling them if Vladimir Putin asks.

The president would also not say whether or not he would accept the annexation of Crimea. He wouldn't flat-out say no on that.

And on the NATO funding, the president, who held this entire news conference that we just saw moments ago, suggesting that he had secured pledges of increased spending from other NATO members in their own defense.

We haven't received confirmation of that from the NATO secretary general or, in fact, these other NATO nations.

Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, said that may not be the case. He just committed to the two percent that France always committed to spending by 2024.

So just some context there.

Alastair Campbell, former spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is here with me in London.

Again, the president due to arrive in the U.K. in about an hour.

Back to Vladimir Putin for a second. I am curious, from the standpoint of Europeans, from the standpoint of people in the U.K., when you look at how the president deals with Vladimir Putin what do you all see?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATION FOR BRITISH PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR: We see a very strange relationship that seems to develop that developed before they even met so far as we know.

And I think we do -- you know, I've got to be careful because I'm very much in the kind of anti-Brexit brigade and anti-Trump as well. But I think we do see it partly in that context of the meddling, as you called it in your introduction.

There is this sense of why is he so seemingly unwilling to criticize somebody that actually is, by any standards, a figure of dictatorship rather than a figure of democracy. And I think partly, I see some that he is actually a little bit jealous of the dictator.

[07:40:08] You know, I see -- I think most Brits, as far as I know them, see Trump as a narcissist. It's all about him.

I mean, even in that press conference where he said they all -- they all said thank you to me. Well, they didn't -- I know that. They didn't all say thank you to him. I think they were all a bit stunned by the way that he behaved this morning.

And he said the thing about British people like me. Well, some might but most don't. But it's all this sense that it's about him.

And I agree with what the ambassador said. He's still in his reality T.V. show and he's projecting himself as the main star the whole time. That is very effective in terms of making himself the person -- we're doing it now -- the person the world talks about, and he loves that.

But I agree with every single word that the ambassador said there.

In terms of securing what you imagine -- what we imagine American strategic interest to be, I don't think he's done that. And I think he's -- he's heading here. Those other leaders are all heading back to their countries thinking, as George Bush said, that was some weird stuff.

BERMAN: Ambassador Pickering, that news conference we held -- it was President Trump declaring victory, in a way, over America's greatest allies which is interesting in and of itself, isn't it?

PICKERING: It is because, in fact, they're the bedrock of the kind of relationship in the world that we would hope to create and press forward with, and making that bedrock a transactional issue totally defined by percentages of money provided in a situation in which others have clearly been working on that.

But it becomes all about me and what I can achieve and how and in what way I can broadcast from this impromptu press conference the kind of victory I'd like to push for myself before the American people. And unfortunately, the American people don't like to get complicated with data and statistics and complicated issues of that sort.

And so he has a natural advantage in his experience in reality television in being able to push ahead with this kind of thing.

But the clear question is what are our strategic interests? How is he promoting those interests and why and how is that going to make this a better country, a better community of allies and friends, and a better world for all of us? And I think he fails on all of those questions and unfortunately, not enough people are asking them.

And we are at a critical stage now in the Trump presidency where, in fact, the foreign policy approaches of President Trump are clearly undermining the national interests of the United States, our friends and allies, and as I said a moment ago, the international community and we should be very, very careful about this.

BERMAN: Ambassador Thomas Pickering, Alastair Campbell, thanks so much.

I would say that President Trump will say that because he got commitments for more spending from NATO leaders, that does promote the interests of both NATO and the United States. We're waiting for confirmation whether or not those commitments do, in fact, exist.

The president on his way to the United Kingdom right now. He's leaving Belgium very, very shortly.

We had some pictures of that moments ago. You can see they're waiting for him there at the airfield in Brussels -- outside Brussels -- to fly here to the United Kingdom. We're watching that, as I said, very closely.

When he gets here to this country he is going to reach a country that is heartbroken. Not really because of what's happening in Brussels although there is a great deal of concern.

No, because England lost in the semifinals of the World Cup which is why I'm the only person smiling here in England. Not because of the football game just because I'm happy, but I'm the only one in this country happy today.

Stay with us.


[07:47:41] BERMAN: It is World Cup history for Croatia and heartbreak for England where I'm sitting right now.

Coy, I arrived here this morning. I've been here for about seven hours. I have yet to see anyone smile.

Coy Wire with the "Bleacher Report."

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: You keep smiling, brother. And yes, it could have been a party there for you but it is not.

This "Bleacher Report" brought to you by Ford, going further so you can. Croatia is now the smallest nation to reach a World Cup final since 1950, all thanks to its players who overcame absolute exhaustion to get a win.

England, though, got off to an incredible start taking the lead just five minutes into the match. Kieran Trippier's goal sent England into a frenzy.

Look at the surreal scene that unfolded in that moment back in London there in Hyde Park. Beer flying everywhere. They could feel it.

But, Croatia would not back down. Despite playing into extra minutes in their two previous matches, despite being exhausted, they kept finding a way.

Ivan Perisic equalized the match so they went into extra time again and that's where 32-year-old Mario Mandzukic, battling injury, got off a shot that would become iconic -- the eventual game-winner.

Croatia players piling atop one another. They have now won three- straight matches all in extra time.

Even a nearby photographer buried in the pile and in the groundswell of emotion, capturing photos and a moment that are now worth more than a thousand words.

Croatia advancing to the World Cup final for the first time ever -- a 2-1 victory over England.

But back in Zagreb, fans packing the street celebrating, knowing that their nation of just four million people just took down a giant of England, over 50 million people. They might be partying until the final on Sunday.

John, I'm sure the heartbreak there, though, in England -- in London is palpable.

BERMAN: Oh, my God, it's all anyone is talking about. It's fascinating to see.

Coy Wire, thanks very much.

Alisyn, I'm going to go back to you in New York. I've been looking for fascinators, Alisyn. The right fascinator for me since I've been here and I have yet to find one. But I'm --

CAMEROTA: Why didn't you borrow mine?

BERMAN: -- on the lookout.

CAMEROTA: Why didn't I give you mine? It was quite fetching.

BERMAN: I should have -- I should have -- I like --


BERMAN: It would look good on me. It's my colors.

CAMEROTA: OK, next time I will.

But I'm just bringing in John Avlon because he had to break it to his son that England lost.

AVLON: Yes, that was a tough conversation for the little man. He was pretty sure --

CAMEROTA: How old is he, four?

[07:50:01] AVLON: He's almost five and he was watching the beginning of the game -- that unbelievable opening goal -- and he really thought he was on the right side of history by pulling for England -- not so much.

But, you know, a shout-out to Croatia. Half the population of New York City going to the World Cup.

CAMEROTA: There you go.

AVLON: Amazing.

CAMEROTA: All right, John. Thank you very much so.

So, Kenneth Starr has known Judge Brett Kavanaugh for decades. They worked together on the Whitewater investigation that turned into the Monica Lewinsky investigation. So, what he thinks we should know about this Supreme Court nominee.


CAMEROTA: President Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill this week attempting to convince senators that they should confirm him in what will likely be a tight vote.

So our next guest knows Brett Kavanaugh very well. He recruited him in 1994 to join his independent counsel investigation that ultimately resulted in President Bill Clinton's impeachment.

[07:55:04] Joining us now is former independent counsel Ken Starr. Ken, great to have you here in the studio.


CAMEROTA: So you've known Brett Kavanaugh for years. You are a fan of his and his work. Tell us about him.

STARR: He's a great jurist. Well, first of all, he's a great human being. I think the nation got a sense of that on Monday night. So he's good -- the all-American person, very solidly grounded.

But here's the key. When Akhil Amar, one of the nation's most distinguished constitutional scholars says at the Yale Law School, he deserves 90-plus votes; when people take into the account the fact that Elena Kagan, a very distinguished jurist on the Supreme Court hired him when she was dean of the Harvard Law School, I think that people should just sort of calm down a little bit.

He is the most distinguished candidate for the Supreme Court of the United States sitting on the federal bench.

CAMEROTA: One of the things that has people questioning where he will stand is whether or not he believes a sitting president can be investigated because he's had a change of heart about them.

STARR: Right.

CAMEROTA: So when he was working with you on Whitewater in 1998 -- well, I guess I should say at the end of your investigation --

STARR: Right, right.

CAMEROTA: -- what his conclusion -- and he helped write the Starr report -- was this.

"In sum, perjury and acts that obstruct justice by any citizen -- whether in a criminal case, a grand jury investigation, a congressional hearing, a civil trial or civil discovery -- are profoundly serious matters. When such acts are committed by the President of the United States, we believe those acts may constitute grounds for an impeachment."

He believed then that a sitting president could clearly be investigated --

STARR: Right.

CAMEROTA: -- and litigated.

Then, in 2009, he felt differently. Here's what he wrote.

"Having seen firsthand how complex and difficult that job is, I believe it is vital that the president be able to focus on his never- ending tasks with as few distractions as possible. The point is not to put the president above the law or to eliminate checks on the president, but simply to defer litigation and investigations until the president is out of office. If the president does something dastardly, the impeachment process is available."

So, was he right in 1998 or was he right in 2009?

STARR: Well, in 2009 -- I think he's right in both instances.

CAMEROTA: How can he be? You either --

STARR: OK, Alisyn, let me -- let me answer the question --


STARR: -- OK? Here is the situation. The law required us to do what we did in 1998. What he did in this

law review article when President Obama was the president was to say Congress needs to take a look at this. We've now had the experience with several presidents whose activity -- whose responsibilities have been terribly disruptive.

It's a call for Congress. It's not saying that he, as a judge, should find that there's immunity. The Supreme Court rejected it --

CAMEROTA: Well, but it is a change of heart. I mean, how -- here -- look, I'm a layperson, you're not, but here's how we hear it -- we laypeople. That he, at one time, believed a sitting president could and should be investigated and he no longer believes that.

STARR: No, the -- well, these -- first of all, the words you first quoted are my words. They're not Brett's words. Those are my words and I --

CAMEROTA: But he agreed then.

STARR: -- and I have a different view than Judge Kavanaugh now has with respect to the liability of a sitting president. I just have a different view.

CAMEROTA: Well, hold on. Let me just clarify that.


CAMEROTA: So what's your view on the liability of a sitting president?

STARR: That no one is above the law and is subject to civil litigation. That's what the Supreme Court held in the Paula Jones case and they held it unanimously.

CAMEROTA: Fine, but you under -- you agree that he has had a change of heart that a sitting president should not be investigated.

STARR: Oh, in terms of -- his view is that because of disruption -- and I agree with this that disruption is terrible and therefore, here's the conclusion. Congress should consider passing, essentially, an immunity law, which it does for our service people.


STARR: I think that's a fair -- I think it's a very fair point.

CAMEROTA: That a president should have immunity --

STARR: Temporarily --

CAMEROTA: -- while president.

STARR: -- while president.

CAMEROTA: OK. So look, here's where that -- so his view has evolved, yes? I mean, he didn't once believe the president should have immunity and now he does.

STARR: That was a year -- when you're talking about the report this is where I'm quarreling with you. That's my conclusion. Brett was serving on the staff.

But we now know in --

CAMEROTA: But did he agree with you?

STARR: You'll have to ask him. I'm sure that that's going to be asked in the confirmation process.

But, do people change their minds? Of course, they change their minds. And I'm not trying to suggest that people should not change their minds based on their own experience.

What he saw in light of Iran-Contra, President Reagan, all of the things that President Clinton faced --


STARR: When you go back to Watergate, what we have in modern history is -- and now under President Trump -- is just a series of disruption. I think he's concerned about that.

CAMEROTA: Very quickly, should -- some have suggested that Brett Kavanaugh should recuse himself if he is on the Supreme Court and questions about the Mueller investigation come up. Should he do that?

STARR: No, absolutely not. There's no indication in that Minnesota Law Review article that he has prejudged an issue. He made a policy recommendation.