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Trump Arrives at Presidential Palace for Putin Meeting. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired July 16, 2018 - 07:00   ET

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


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: -- a meeting between the two men and their top advisors. There'll be a secondary meeting, a working lunch thereafter. Everything got a little delayed this morning. President Putin was late. Was that tactical? We don't know. But it's not unusual for the Russian president, as John was just telling you.

[07:00:19] President Trump delayed his entrance, because he didn't want to be seen just waiting on Vladimir Putin here, although practically, he was. And now comes the big moments.

The tone coming in has been very unusual for a U.S. president; forgiving of Vladimir Putin; wanting to put certain horrible acts in the past; blaming his predecessor; blaming the United States for bad relations between the United States and Russia. We have never heard anything like that from a U.S. president before, but we have never seen a relationship like that between Putin and Trump.

So how does it manifest itself today? Both men looking to declare a win here. An easy -- an easy get for Vladimir Putin, to be given this legitimacy. Helsinki, such an historic location for big meetings over the many years between Russia and the U.S. He literally has the world waiting on him this morning.

What's the easy win for Trump? Well, as we saw with Singapore and North Korea, that summit, sometimes just by making something happen, having a moment, President Trump sees that as a win.

So let's discuss the different considerations. We have a great panel for you: David Gergen, CNN senior political analyst and former presidential advisor to Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton. We have Susan Glasser, CNN affairs analyst and staff writer at "The New Yorker," of course. And Jeff Zeleny, CNN senior White House correspondent.

We also have Kaitlan Collins, CNN White House correspondent, is there.

Hey, Kaitlan, if I have you for a second, not to put you in a box, but do you have anything on what will be the makeup of people in the rooms? So you have Putin and Trump. We know it's one-on-one. Do we know anything yet about the translator situation? Whether it's one or two, or anything like that?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We don't know, Chris. Yes, we are expecting there would be one for each one, one for Russian President Vladimir Putin and one for President Trump. But it could also just be once translator in the room. That is still

really left up to discussion. And that's one more detail that the White House has not been clear about that as we've been preparing for this summit.

We reported yesterday they've been very tightlipped -- tightlipped about the preparations that President Trump had undergone in the past 48 hours or so when he was hold up in his golf course in Scotland as he got ready for this meeting, this big, high-stakes sit-down with Vladimir Putin that many experts and former presidential advisors have said is something that would have taken months or years to prepare for.

Instead, President Trump feels that this is something that you operate best when you use your personality in a meeting like this. But Chris, I can't help but expect that President Trump is not pleased that he had to wait this long on Vladimir Putin. They were supposed to be well into their one-on-one meeting by now, 40 minutes or so into that 90-minute meeting they are going to have. And instead, they are just now going in for that official greeting.

John put it best when he said that they're largely operating off of Putin time right now. But we do know that once we get into the room, it's just going to be them. No aides, no advisors and no records kept of this meeting. So no transcripts of what exactly it is that is said.

Of course, these are two leaders who have very troubled histories with the truth before. So what is really the outcome of this meeting is really up to each one and what their own depiction of what was said during that meeting is.

Now afterwards, they will open it up to the advisors. Surely John Bolton; the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, will be in that meeting. But what really is -- got everyone's attention is that first one-on- one sit down and what is said during this, Chris.

CUOMO: Right. What matters most is what we'll know the least about, Kaitlan, at least, through direct interpretation. All right. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. We'll show you some picture here.

This is where it's going to happen. This is where the men will meet. You'll have media in there. They will exit. The two men will speak, and everything will take on from there.

So let's go to Jeff Zeleny. Give and get is a big part of the equation here. What do we know about what is and is not on the table?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I just talked to a U.S. official just a short time ago this morning, and they said one thing that is not on the agenda, with the caution of at least planning going in, is the halting of military maneuvers in the Baltics, the U.S./NATO-led military maneuvers.

Of course, one reason that this is being discussed is because of the Singapore summit we've been talking so much about. That was one of the things that really surprised everyone, of course, South Korean first and foremost, when the president, A, started using the language of Pyongyang, who called them war maneuvers, than war games. So I'm told that that is not on the agenda here.

CUOMO: Although remember the spin from the White House: "We said we won't do them, but we can change our mind just like that and put them back." Remember how they came back at that.

ZELENY: Sure, no question. But I can't help sitting here in Helsinki, thinking back to Singapore. This has a very different feel to it, largely because Vladimir Putin has done so many of these before. That was the first time Kim Jong-un was on the stage in this world set (ph). That was a Trump show. This is --

(BEEPING SOUND)

[07:05:12] ZELENY: One thing, also, we don't know about is sanctions. Administration officials going it are saying that there's not going to be any sort of retreating from sanctions at this point, but we will see about that.

Also, I have a question. Edward Snowden, will there be any conversation about returning him, extraditing him? We don't know about that, but that is another thing in the air, not to mention, of course, the Russian meddling.

CUOMO: David Gergen, to set the table for us here, the list of 27 presidents that you've worked for that we've laid out there -- I think we missed a few -- can you imagine any other president that you ever worked with heading into a Russia-U.S. situation by saying, and let's be honest. The reason that relations are strained are because of the United States?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No. No, it's out of the question. The tradition is that when presidents go overseas, they represent the entire country. They are the U.S. -- the statesman representative of the United States. You carry that mantle proudly, and you stand up for your country when you go in.

To go in and trash your own country in advance is like making a concession to Putin in advance. "We're not blaming you; we're blaming ourselves." Well, Putin can pick up on that. It gives him a lot of leverage in the conversation.

But more than that, it is just -- it's so crude and, frankly, it's unpatriotic to go in and trash your own country as president of the United States. We've made a lot of mistakes, I'm sure, in the relationship, but how do you just sweep away, with just -- without saying anything, "You know, we're not going to hold you accountable for the indictments. We're not going to -- meddling in our elections, for going into Crimea, continuing to sponsor the separatists there, for continuing to try to dismantle Europe, NATO, the E.U. We're going to forget all that. It's our fault."

CUOMO: Which, of course, would be music, Susan, to Putin's ears. And we see John Bolton in the room right now. Somewhat of the expectation here from those who have concerns about Trump's apparent affinity for Putin, as well, this may be a little different for Helsinki. That this isn't the culmination of a process. It's the beginning of one. And someone like Bolton, who is historically a much more hard liner on Russia, he'll be meeting with his counterparts on the other side, and that's where the meat of the controversies will come into play.

But optics matter. You know, certainly to Trump. I mean, he will declare this a win just because he made it happen. For Putin, it's putatively a win, because he is now getting respect on the world stage.

So how do you plan to assess what this means today?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think you've hit the nail on the head, really. President Putin has already won in some ways by the fact of the meeting. If he turned around and went home now, you know, it be a victory for Russia, being welcomed back onto the world stage.

Especially because President Trump did that -- not only by agreeing to the meeting but also by setting the stage for it this morning, with his tweet with his series of remarkable statements; alienated our own allies over the last few days. President Trump has already, in effect, said, "Forget about Crimea. Forget about all these hostilities." And we don't even know what's on the agenda.

CUOMO: Why do you think that is? And by the way, is it a legitimate question that he is different with Putin than anyone else? That article in Axios this morning really got my eye. Read it for yourself. It says that the president was enraged, it turns out, when Vladimir Putin aimed missiles at Florida in that video demonstration.

But I will tell you this. This is what is curious about it to me. For the president of the United States, Donald Trump, to not say anything about being enraged by that video at the time -- and he said nothing. You check his Twitter feed, you check the White House statements. Nothing. But that he was so enraged that he called Putin, a call we heard nothing about with the likes of Jeff Zeleny, who is scrubbing that White House all the time. We heard nothing about the call.

And that during the call, he did two things. He was outraged, and said, as a basis for his outrage, "Theresa May and Macron, they agree with me." That he would use them as allies of power. And then he congratulated Putin on the same call for winning his election.

GLASSER: And invited him to the White House. That's the origin of this summit meeting that we're here -- sitting here, this extraordinary moment today.

CUOMO: What are the chances that all that can be true?

GLASSER: I think it's very important for viewers to realize that this summit meeting was initiated by Donald Trump.

CUOMO: Here are the gentlemen. Hold on one second, Susan. So this is the moment we've been waiting for, the presidents of Russia and the United States. Let's see if we can hear anything.

(CAMERAS CLICKING)

(INDISTINCT MUMBLING)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: (SPEAKING RUSSIAN)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) here on Finnish soil, in Helsinki.

PUTIN: (SPEAKING RUSSIAN)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) different terms -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

PUTIN: (SPEAKING RUSSIAN)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we now find (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and discussions.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Well, first of all, Mr. President, I'd like to congratulate you on a really great World Cup. One of the best ever, from what everybody tells me, one of the best ever, and also for your team itself doing so well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING RUSSIAN)

TRUMP: I watched quite a bit. In the United States we call it soccer. And I watched quite a bit of it, and I watched the entire final, the semifinals, and they were really spectacular games, but it was beautifully done, so congratulations on that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING RUSSIAN)

TRUMP: Most importantly, we have a lot of good things to talk about and things to talk about. We have discussions on everything from trade to military to missiles, to nuclear, to China. We'll be talking a little bit about China, our mutual friend, President Xi.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING RUSSIAN)

TRUMP: I think we have great opportunities together as two countries. Frankly, we have not been getting along very well for the last number of years. I've been here not too long, but it's getting close to two years, but I think we will end up having an extraordinary relationship. I have been saying it, and I'm sure you've heard over the years, and as I campaigned: Getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING RUSSIAN)

TRUMP: And I really think the world wants to see us get along. We are the two great nuclear powers. We have 90 percent of the nuclear, and that's not a good thing. It's a bad thing. And I think we hopefully can do something about that. Because it's not a positive force, it's a negative force. So we'll be talking about that, among other things.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING RUSSIAN)

TRUMP: And with that, the world awaits, and I look forward to our personal discussion, which I think begins now. And then we're going to meet with our whole team. You have quite a few representatives, and I do, and we all have a lot of questions, and hopefully, we'll come up with answers, most importantly. It's great to be with you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING RUSSIAN)

TRUMP: Thank you very much. Thank you, everybody.

Thank you, everybody. Thank you very much.

CUOMO: All right, so President Trump and President Vladimir Putin just had their first press avail at the beginning of this meeting here in Helsinki. Interestingly, President Trump let Putin start the meeting, and he ended it.

[07:15:05] Just to give you a quick talk-through on it, if you're just joining us now, President Putin was very brief. He said, "It's good to meet and talk about all the problems and difficulties that we have to discuss."

President Trump spoke more. He talked first about the World Cup, congratulated Putin, said that it was supposedly one of the best World Cups ever and that he watched a lot of it; it seemed really good.

He then gave a list of issues to talk about. He did not mention the U.S. election in that list of issues. He said that -- that Russia and the United States have not been getting along over the last few years, but that he promised that he, the United States, and Russia would have what he calls "an extraordinary relationship" and that the world wants the two countries to get along well, because they have 90 percent of the world's nuclear capabilities, and that is a bad thing. And that might be a little nod to talking about something called the START arrangement between -- that's an acronym about the amount and reduction of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles that is due to expire in 2021, if it isn't extended. A little bit of a nod there.

And then the media told to leave the room. Now the two men will be together, we're hearing, for as long as 90 minutes. Another question that we had had early on may have been answered. Who is in the room? We heard two voices as translators there. When Putin spoke, there was a male voice that translated into English afterwards. When President Trump spoke, there was a female voice that translated afterwards. We didn't see the people, but it does suggest, obviously, two people in the room. So that's a little bit more information than we had before.

Let's talk about the impact of these opening statements. Susan, what did you hear? What did you not hear? GLASSER: Well, I think you're right to highlight that there was no

mention whatsoever by President Trump in kind of a laundry list of issues he hoped to discuss with President Putin. He did not mention the 2016 election meddling, even with those dramatic indictments by the Justice Department, his own Justice Department, on Friday.

He mentioned China not once but twice. He said, "We're going to talk about our mutual friend, Xi Jinping," which is throwing in a new element into this conversation. Also, the possibility of arms control, as you mentioned. Ukraine, not only the takeover of Crimea. But again, very unspecific.

And again, we're talking about a summit that has been prepared unlike any other in anyone's memory between Soviet or Russian leaders, not going into it in advance with any pre-agreed-upon deliverables. There was not a single principles-level meeting of the Trump administration, of his cabinet, before they came to this.

Trump himself last week told us it would be a loose meeting. He said this might be his easiest conversation, compared with the tough conversations he was having with American allies in Western Europe. And that's he atmospherics that he set out for us right from the beginning today.

CUOMO: And look, if he wants it to be easy, it will be, because nobody benefits from that more than Vladimir Putin. All the real issues are very difficult ones.

We're so in the dark about what's going on right now between the two men. We do have some new CNN reporting on what these 90 minutes may contain. Susan [SIC] Collins has those. What do we -- Kaitlan Collins has those. Kaitlan, what do you understand?

COLLINS: Well, Chris, we're learning a little bit more about why it is that President Trump wanted to sit down one-on-one with Vladimir Putin to start this summit off, something they're slated to be there for 90 minutes or so.

The CNN White House team is now reporting that they made that request during those initial talks about setting up this meeting in the first place, and there are three reasons why President Trump thought it was a good idea to sit down one-on-one with President Putin.

One of those is he feels that it's a better way for him to assess his personality, to get to know him better when they are sitting them, just the two of them in that room, of course, with the translators but no other big presences in the room.

A second is that the president didn't want anything from this meeting to leak to reporters, as has happened in the past during other meetings with foreign leaders. The details of what was said or the reactions to something President Trump said has quickly leaked to the media. He didn't want that happening.

And the third reason is potentially the most interesting. And that is that the president didn't want any of his aides who favor taking a hard line against Russia to undercut him during his conversations with Vladimir Putin to start this summit off.

So three reasons there. The president thinks he can better assess his personality. He didn't want any details from the meeting to leak, and he didn't want any of his aides to undercut him on what he said to the Russian president, Chris.

ZELENY: There's a notepad, too, did you see that?

CUOMO: All right. Thank you very much, Kaitlan. Appreciate that. Certainly fills in some of the blanks for us.

David, you know, first of all, we have to remember: Vladimir Putin is not just another politician. OK? He is a longtime KGB agent. The idea that he needs a translator is a little bit of a farce. Right? We know that in the '80s he was actually sent away for language training and, by many anecdotal accounts, speaks and understands English very well. So the idea of sizing him up, this is a man who is trained in the dark arts of not being sized up.

GERGEN: Right. And what you see may depend a lot on what you bring to the conversation. When George W. Bush met him, he said, "I looked into his eyes, and I could see the soul of a man I could get along with."

[07:20:07] And Bob Gates, his secretary of defense, said, "I looked into Putin's eyes, and what I saw was a cold-blooded killer." And that's a very different interpretation.

Now what really struck me about these opening statements is that, as a general proposition, President Trump named all the problems of the future and didn't talk anything about the issues that have brought us to these impasses. Why the relationship has deteriorated. You know, whether it be our elections or the Ukraine and Crimea, or trying to split up NATO, that whole litany he just sort of swept away.

CUOMO: The Skripal poisoning.

GERGEN: And I think that's why he doesn't want his -- Bolton and other hardliners in there, because they are reminding him of all those issues. You can't -- from Bolton's point of view, you simply can't simply walk away from the past. You have to deal with the past in order to go into the future.

CUOMO: Well, this is an easy conversation, though, based on what he just outlined.

GERGEN: Absolutely.

CUOMO: If you want to talk to Russia about Syria, he'll talk to you all day and about how he's going to make you the greatest deal to get out of there, which is what Trump says he wants, if he wants to talk about strategic arms.

GERGEN: Right. Did he mention Syria? I didn't -- I didn't hear. CUOMO: He did, but we'll see what that actually means after the meeting. But Jeff, you want to talk about strategic arms, you want to talk about START, Putin will talk to you about that all day. He'd love to know more about the U.S. -- you know, the U.S. munitions and what kind of capabilities we have.

ZELENY: No question at all. And one thing I was also struck by is only one of the two leaders had a notepad next to him. That was Vladimir Putin. I did not see that the president has one. Of course, he might have one, or the translator might have one.

But there's no question, that is what many advisors, that David was saying, are worried about, the fact that what will he, you know, potentially give up in there or not?

But I was also struck by the slouch. Vladimir Putin, that's sort of how he sits. I think President Obama once describes him as he looks like he's the bored kid in the back of the classroom. Of course, he is anything but that, you know, no question.

So if there's any sizing up going on here, I think it's the other way around. As opposed to him trying to get something from -- trying to learn something.

But the question is that this is still so different than that Singapore summit. I can't stop thinking about that. But one of the reasons that they're not calling it a summit or they're sort of lowering expectations, there will be no signed document coming out of this. There will be no signed agreement coming out of this. And that matters --

CUOMO: Do you know that for sure? I know that your reporting is going to be fast and true, but what I'm saying is, "Do you think Trump can leave something like this --"

ZELENY: He'll talk about it, but I don't think he'll sign a joint communique or a document like they did in Singapore. Of course, that wasn't worth much more than the paper it was printed on.

GLASSER: But again, you have this very extraordinary notion of the president of the United States does not really agree with the policy, the Russia policy of his own government, never mind --

ZELENY: Right.

GLASSER: -- those critics, you know, on the outside.

And so you have, first of all, that remarkable report we just heard from CNN's White House team, saying there are three reasons why the president wanted this meeting one-on-one.

So first of all, they've now confirmed the reporting which previously only came from the Russians. The Russians have put out more information in advance of this summit than --

ZELENY: No question. GLASSER: -- the government of the United States of America. So first of all, that's an extraordinary thing, in my view. David would know much better. This is unprecedented.

Second of all, not only have the Russians put out more information, the White House is now confirming that it was Donald Trump who personally requested the one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin, at least in part, according to the CNN sources, because the president doesn't trust his own staff.

Think about that for a moment. Think about that. He's hired a team, his second or third consecutive national security team, that is composed people who are much more hardline on Russia than he himself is. And he said, "Well, I don't trust them enough to be in the room with me."

CUOMO: Well, he didn't want them to get in his way.

GLASSER: Right.

CUOMO: Have you ever heard of that before?

GERGEN: I think he wants to be the architect of the future. I don't think he wants to share that with the secretary of state or his NSC advisor or anybody else. He wants to be one of the great men of history. And you do that by sort of having this elaborate vision.

I did think that one -- it would be encouraging part of what the president said was about arms control. I think there's a real possibility that they could reach an agreement on --

CUOMO: On what?

GERGEN: -- working -- well, I think, and getting a new START -- the deal START extended, which is coming up. And on dealing with a whole set of other issues: INF, or space. You know, the president's very interested in space weaponry and that sort of thing. Cyber. You know, they could have a U.S.-Russian commission on this.

CUOMO: So let's think it through. Is that a win? When he goes back to NATO, right, and he goes back to the allies, and he says, "Here's what I got."

GERGEN: Yes.

CUOMO: Let's just prognosticate for a second. "We have a joint task force, you guys are going to be able to add some people to the mix, if you want. We're going to talk about START and maybe extending it a little bit, and we're going to talk about Syria and figuring out an exit for that. And that's what we got done for now. Let's see what we can get done there and we'll move on."

GERGEN: To me, you know, he's going to be able to take that to his base back home and sell that and say, "This is really important."

CUOMO: And we've seen in polls that Republicans -- GERGEN: Yes.

CUOMO: -- are ticking up in their favorability of Putin.

GERGEN: Exactly.

CUOMO: By the way.

GERGEN: He was always, from a Republican point of view, or any Russian --

[07:25:04] CUOMO: He was the boogeyman.

GERGEN: Absolutely the boogeyman. And I do think that that's -- you know, that's what he's working to, and I think he can do that. But it will be at the expense of all these other issues that really need to be cleaned up.

I don't know how you trust the Russians on arms control if you can't trust them on trying to disrupt and take -- and poison your own country.

GLASSER: But I think a lot of the Russian hands (ph) would take that, you know, in sort of Hippocratic oath. You know, first do no harm.

If they come out of this today, essentially agreeing to talk about talking some more, whether it's on arms control or other issues, you know, I think a lot of people would breathe a quiet sigh of relief that -- that more problematic scenarios for Russians and Americans would be a grander bargain.

CLINTON: All right, let's take a break here right now. We have a lot more to discuss, but it has begun, this momentous and anticipated meeting here in Helsinki, Finland. The two men, arguably the two greatest powers in the world, are talking amongst themselves right now. What are they saying? What will it mean to your life? We'll discuss, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, it is on. President Trump behind closed doors at this moment in Helsinki in Finland with the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin.