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Trump and Putin Meeting; Trump Blames Obama Administration; Topics of Trump-Putin Meeting; Aired 8:30-9:00a ET

Aired July 16, 2018 - 08:30   ET

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


[08:30:00] MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: They have emphasized over and over again, the White House and the State Department, that this is not an agenda here. They've set no set agenda. They want to just talk things through, see how it goes.

So a couple of things jumped out at me. First of all, President Trump goes back to his sort of laundry list of, here's all the things we could talk about. Conspicuously absent, of course, is the attack on democracy by hacking the presidential election. Lists all kinds of other things, including China and also that he's fired up lately on nuclear talks, on trying to extend the START treaty with Russia. He seemed to be big on that during this little exchange as well. So we know that that's a potential deliverable. I think that's something that we see coming out of here. Not a signed agreement. But something to say, well, we can now work on this together and that will be another positive that we can work on in this relationship.

Another thing that jumped out at me is how little President Putin said as he's sitting there then listening to President Trump speak, how bored he looked. At one point he was kind of picking at his fingernail, sort of making an almost --

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Low expectations maybe on both sides. A White House source told me anything is something, Nick, that anything that came out of this, it's a big moment, he's meeting with Putin, it hasn't happened for eight years, so it's good.

But we learned something about the dynamic around Trump with that list of preconditions for why he wanted to be alone. What did you pick up in that?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: You know, it kind of defies logic in a way. When you say you don't want your aides in there because they could interrupt you, actually they're your advisers. That interruption is because they want to help you.

The idea that he could better get to know President Putin. Well, you met with him for two and a quarter hours in your first meeting back at the G-20. You met with him again for an hour over dinner at the same G-20. And you did meet him again for a few minutes in Vietnam. So that doesn't add up to me.

But then that idea that he doesn't want sensitive information to leak, well, who leaked the very sensitive photographs that came out of his meeting with a Russian ambassador to the U.S. at the time, Sergey Kislyak, and the Russian foreign minister, Lavrov? It was the Russians and their photographer. And that caused an embarrassment. And that was the Russians (INAUDIBLE).

Further embarrassment at the G-20. It was the Russians who contradicted the narrative that the White House was putting out about how the conversations went at their first meeting, at the G-20. So the Russians have actually been -- caused him more embarrassment, it would seem, in meetings with Russians than internal leaks.

CUOMO: So the counter, Susan, to the anything is something is, well, it's a matter of perspective. And there is something beguiling about how Trump deals with Putin. And today was just a further extension of it, that he didn't mention the things that people wanted to see mentioned.

You know, Nic and I were together in Ukraine when that plane was shot down and we saw what by every appearance were Russian soldiers not letting people collect the dead, not affording the dignity of that situation. And if it just doesn't come up today, what does that mean about how good anything that comes up can be?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I mean, it's, first of all, it suggests the limits of personal diplomacy and personalizing diplomacy as really a classic error that not just Donald Trump but many American presidents make to their regret when it comes to dealing with Russia. By the way, tomorrow is the anniversary of that horrific shoot down of the plane.

CUOMO: Four years.

GLASSER: And, again, it's never really been addressed. It's been a major sticking point in relations with the west.

I'm struck as the presidents start to soon finish up their one-on-one meeting and move to the expanded meeting. You know, really it's going to underscore I think for us how President Trump really is not on the same page with his own foreign policy team when it comes to Russia policy. This has been true since the beginning of the administration. You have him wanting a one-on-one at least in part so he doesn't have his own advisers stepping on him.

But now, in the expanded meeting, I'm told that, you know, not only will there be Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a long time Russia hawk, National Security Adviser John Bolton, again a noted Russia hawk, and, by the way, noted arms control skeptic, and it looks like, at the last minute, because this White House does things in flux, they've added their chief Russia expert, my longtime friend and colleague, Fiona Hill, to the mix as well. That, I can tell you, will make a lot of those professional Russia watchers happy. But are they going to be able to really influence President Trump and the outcome of his conversations with President Putin? That part, of course, is not clear.

CUOMO: So, Michelle, it's hot here in Helsinki.

KOSINSKI: (INAUDIBLE).

CUOMO: OK, we're here at the (INAUDIBLE) pools. You know, we're looking at these pools behind us, very tempting. There's heat outwardly. There's heat inwardly. Word comes that Theresa May is trying to take some of that heat off Donald Trump despite what he said about her.

She was asked just now, did you ask him to say something about the Skripal poisoning and that being Russia, maybe the same unit we believe where the proposed plan for how to attack the elections was birthed?

KOSINSKI: Right.

CUOMO: And she says, no, I didn't ask him to do that. That makes it a little easier for Trump to walk away from that issue.

[08:35:06] KOSINSKI: I guess, but he has his own country and members of his own team wanting him to address that. And Susan mentioned the fact that this expanded bilat, after the big one-on-one with Trump is going to include all these people with differing and sometimes opposing views.

But what European allies are especially worried about is that doesn't prevent Trump from conceding something to Putin in this meeting. Doesn't necessarily have to be something big, but it could be some sort of tacit agreement that Crimea is Russian, for example. Something that Putin -- that President Trump has said before, has alluded to during the campaign. And --

CUOMO: Back when it happened too. Just for context, when it was going on, when we were there reporting on it, Trump was almost flattering of Putin with how quickly he moved and how decisive it was and how he had gotten over on Obama and the U.S. and, boy, was that impressive how he just --

KOSINSKI: Said he was a better leader than Obama.

CUOMO: He just took it like that. It's already over.

ROBERTSON: Right.

GLASSER: By the way, he restated that just the other day during the G- 7. He restated essentially the Russian talking points on Crimea.

KOSINSKI: Yes.

GLASSER: So, in a weird way, we actually already know what President Trump's positions are. What we don't know is what he's really going to agree to behind closed doors with only Putin in the room.

CUOMO: Right. And, look, I know that on one level of optics it looks like, well, you forget the past and you move forward. But when you forgive that kind of murderous action by a state, what do you think happens in the future?

Thank you very much for helping on this part of the conversation.

We're going to take a tease here and in break, think about this, we've never heard a U.S. president say or tweet what President Trump did about his own country, saying the U.S. is to blame for bad relations with Russia. Let that sink in. What will it mean? A member of the Obama team is going to answer the charge, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:41:16] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let me bring you up to speed about where we are with the Trump-Putin meeting happening in Helsinki, Finland, in that building you're seeing right there, that beautiful yellow building.

We understand that the White House travel pool has been asked to assemble. The president and the Russian leader have been meeting for about an hour and 30 minutes. They will come out of their one-on-one meeting for a brief photo op. They may speak. And then we believe they will meet further along with both of their staffs.

So that is where we are, waiting to hear on President Trump and Vladimir Putin. That could happen any minute now.

In the meantime, joining me is CNN's senior national security analyst Lisa Monaco. She was President Obama's top homeland security and counterterrorism adviser.

Lisa, thanks so much for being with us.

Let's talk about what's happened so far this morning. We saw the two leaders go behind closed doors. Before they went back, President Trump said they have a lot of good things to discuss and some other things. He talked about the nuclear capabilities of both countries. He talked about the World Cup. He talked about their mutual relationship with China. He didn't talk about the Russian attack on the U.S. election, nor the Russian occupation of Crimea.

LISA MONACO, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's right, John, and good to be with you this morning.

I was really struck by both the body language in that first side by side picture that we saw, the slouch from President Putin, the leaning forward, the eagerness by President Trump. So that was really quite striking.

And what was conspicuously absent from the list of issues, good issues that President Trump said that they would discuss in their unprecedented and quite extraordinary one-on-one without any note takers, any record of the meeting, what was conspicuously absent from that, John, was any mention of Russian aggression, whether it's the annexation of Crimea, the occupation in Ukraine, the targeting of civilians in Syria, the attack using a nerve agent against individuals in the U.K., the bringing down of the Malaysian airliner that killed 298 individuals, the anniversary of which is tomorrow. So these are a long, long list of Russian aggression that seemingly is not even remotely on the table. And, of course, topping the list of issues that was not mentioned by

President Trump is the attack on our democracy that President Trump's own director of national intelligence says is ongoing as we sit here today.

BERMAN: Again, maybe those issues will come up behind closed doors. Maybe president Trump will be willing to say it when it's just the two of them in the room, instead of in public with the cameras rolling. We don't know. We simply don't know and we may not know based on the fact there was no one else in the room.

We should hear from both of them again very shortly.

Lisa, along those lines, on that attack, on the U.S. election, the intervention by the Russian military intelligence, the GRU, over the weekend the president basically blamed you, blamed the Obama administration for that.

Let me read you what he said. He said, the stories you heard about the 12 Russians yesterday took place during the Obama administration, not the Trump administration. Why didn't they do something about it, especially when it was reported that President Obama was informed by the FBI in September before the election?

Your response.

MONACO: Well, John, it's fascinating because if the president is really concerned about letting Russian aggression go unaddressed, he certainly has an interesting way of showing it.

Let's look at what President Obama did and the inaction by President Trump. President Trump wants to blame everybody but Putin for Russian aggression and the attack on our democracy. President Obama confronted strongly and directly the adversary nation that is Russia. He did not sit down with him as an equal and call him a great nuclear power.

President Obama demanded a stop to the attack on our state election systems and threatened severe consequences if that didn't stop. He did not say he would simply ask president Putin about it.

[08:45:13] President Trump said over the weekend he was going to maybe raise this. He would ask President Putin about it. Well, that's like asking the defendant if he's guilty. You don't ask something you know the answer to. President Trump's own intelligence community, his own Justice Department has laid out a very clear set of evidence about the attack on our democracy and President Putin -- President Trump, rather, it's as if he doesn't credit any of that and he's leaving the question open for President Putin.

The real question, John, is not what did his predecessor do, it is what are we doing today, right now, what does this president, who is responsible for protecting this nation, what is this president doing right now to stop the attack that his own intelligence community, his own head of national intelligence says it ongoing as we speak?

BERMAN: DNI Coats said there's a big red light flashing. Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, I don't have time to play his sound right now, when he was issuing the indictments on Friday made clear this isn't a partisan issue. This is the United States of America, Democrats, Republicans, independents and otherwise under attack. So --

MONACO: And that's how we should treat it.

BERMAN: Do you see anything being done at this moment?

MONACO: I see precious little being done. I see President Trump not calling out President Putin and Russian aggression. I see him not confronting directly saying, I know what you're doing. I see him not demanding the return of dozens of Russian individuals who have been indicted.

And by the way, John, you know, he talks about a witch hunt. It's true that Bob Mueller and his team of career prosecutors presented evidence to a grand jury and has laid it out in a stunningly detailed indictment that we saw on Friday. But that indictment was returned by 16 U.S. citizens, regular Americans sitting in a grand jury who have determined there's probable cause about that attack on our election.

BERMAN: Lisa Monaco, thanks so much for being with us.

Again, we could hear from President Trump and Vladimir Putin very shortly if any of this came up behind closed doors.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, so we're expecting them to emerge at some point in the next few minutes, if they're staying on schedule. But will they emerge and what will they say when they do? Our live coverage continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:50:31] CAMEROTA: All right, any moment President Trump should be wrapping up his one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin, though it's hard to know exactly how the schedule is going. They have been inside this meeting for about -- little more now than 90 minutes.

So the president of Finland tweeted this photo from before the meeting. There are the leaders of those three countries.

So what was on the agenda? Well, President Trump gave us a bit of a window into his thinking before he went in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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, to -- we'll be talking a little bit about China, our mutual friend, President Xi.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Not the attack on the U.S. election. Not the occupation of Crimea. Not, you know, the poisoning of an agent in London.

CAMEROTA: At least not -- that's not what he was previewing for us there.

So let's get "The Bottom Line" from CNN's senior political analyst John Avalon, and CNN political analyst David Gregory.

Great to have both of you.

So, John Avlon, I mean we've been talking about it all morning. How do we know what to expect and how will we know what really to count on when they both come out and recount it since, in a highly unusual move, there is no record keeper in there. There are no top aides in there to witness this?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: What could possibly go wrong from such an unsupervised chat? We'll have to take the president's word for it, basically, that his agenda does not include the tough issues, the really contentious things that an American president should be raising with Vladimir Putin. Instead, it's sort of the veneer of geopolitics as usual.

The president of the United States has been known as the leader of the free world since the Second World War. President Trump is going into this meeting abdicating that role and responsibility. He seems disinterested in pursuing a freedom agenda or really challenging Vladimir Putin on these core issues. Instead, he's weirdly differential. He's singularly uncritical of Vladimir Putin. And it's worth asking why as we wait for this outcome of this meeting.

BERMAN: And as we wait for the two leaders to speak, again, that could happen very shortly in between the one-on-one meeting and the group meeting.

And, David Gregory, I do think these words that they will choose to speak, and particularly President Trump, chooses to speak next are so important. He did not bring up the Russian attack on the U.S. election beforehand. What are you expecting to hear from him in just minutes?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So I think what we'll hear today is really not where the action is. I think that what's -- what's clear is that this president admires all that President Putin is. He admires that he's -- has authoritarian tendencies, that he's been in power for so long, that he has this kind of, you know, imperious and imperial atmosphere around him. I think he likes all of that. Donald Trump, this populist politician, likes all of that. And you're seeing what -- that he's deferential.

Two, this is theater. He wants this to be a successful meeting. He wants to reset the relationship on his terms because he has got this belief, and he's expressed it so many different ways, that he, Donald Trump, as president, can make a difference in a way that no predecessor could have. That Vladimir Putin won't push him around. He did that to his predecessor, to Barack Obama. Even to George W. Bush. But it won't happen to Trump. So you got -- the administration that has actually taken a tough line

on sanctions, on the issue of being with NATO against the Crimea invasion, in terms of sanctions, and then the president seems to undercut it by all he says. I think the president wants this meeting to be warm. I think he wants to say that we have a good relationship. They're working on some tough issues. But -- but, ultimately, you know, we're going to work together better than my predecessors have because he's got the solution.

Let's remember, Vladimir Putin has been at this for 18 years. He knows exactly how to play Donald Trump. He knew how to play his predecessors. And I don't think Donald Trump understands as president what he's up against, the kind of threat he's up against. And it is -- the reason what Dan Coats said is so important about the threat from Russia is that it's just like the threat before 9/11. And we look back after 9/11 and said what an incredible missed warning that was. That is -- those are the stakes right now for this administration. Are you going to heed this warning, are you going to take this seriously?

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, John.

[08:55:00] AVLON: Guys, I mean, but the thing is, 9/11 already happened within the context of this relationship. Russian influenced the outcome of our election. The president is pursuing an agenda that's consistent with Putin's own national security aims, undermining U.S. led international institutions. And even Trump's own Department of Homeland Security seems to be at odds with his DNI Director Coats about the seriousness of the threats against upcoming elections.

So you do have this larger dynamic where the administration seems to be containing the president's worst instincts. But far from being tough, this president has been absolutely bent over backwards to acquis (ph) Vladimir Putin. He seems intent -- intent to appease Vladimir Putin. That's not a sign of strength, folks, that's a sign of weakness.

BERMAN: And that's why I'm watching so carefully what they say coming out of this because, politically speaking, most presidents could not survive coming out of this saying, you know, we didn't really bring it up or I mentioned it and nothing much happened. Most presidents will stand up there and say, oh, no, no, I told him no and never again.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

BERMAN: But I don't know that's going to happen.

CAMEROTA: Guys, stay tuned because we are about to find the answer to all of those things as CNN's live coverage from Helsinki will pick up with Anderson Cooper after this very quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And, good morning. I'm Anderson Cooper, at the site of the U.S.-Russian summit in Helsinki, Finland. President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are behind closed doors at the presidential palace alone except for translators ahead of a wider lunch meeting due to start any time now. After that, they're due to step before the cameras and maybe take questions from reporters. This is the two leaders first formal get together. A meeting that President Trump suggested may be easier than his summit with NATO allies. Here's what he said this morning after the opening handshake and before reporters were ushered out.

[08:59:58] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.