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Tornadoes Rip through Central Iowa; NFL Pauses Anthem Policy; Trump Invites Putin to Washington; Senate Rejects Proposal to Allow Americans to Be Interrogated by Russians; At Least 11 Dead, 6 Missing after Missouri Tour Boat Capsizes. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired July 20, 2018 - 06:30   ET

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


[06:30:00]

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ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tornado teams are going to Central Iowa today to survey all this damage and to assess the strength of these sudden twisters that broke out. Some of them were caught on camera.

At least four homes were destroyed in Bondurant, 10 people were injured in Marshalltown, which the National Weather Service said suffered catastrophic damage.

Sixty miles south of there, there was extensive damage and at least seven people injured after this business on your screen took a direct hit.

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JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: This is really interesting. The NFL is pausing its new policy regarding national anthem protests. In a joint statement, the league and the Players' Association say they've reached a standstill agreement on the policy compelling players to stand during the anthem.

In the union's subsequent grievance, some players began kneeling during the anthem to protest police brutality and push for equal rights. The NFL's decision came hours after the Miami Dolphins -- well, after it was leaked that the Dolphins were considering disciplining players who protest during the anthem.

Again, there was a story out that they could discipline with a suspension up to four games, which seemed extreme to a lot of people here.

So it is unclear exactly where this is headed. The agreement they had reached was that players could stay in the locker room if they don't want to stand during the anthem now. But the idea that the players could be suspended for four games is something that I can't imagine the union ever abiding by. CAMEROTA: Well, the problem is that the feelings aren't going away, the motivation for wanting to do some sort of public protest like this haven't gone away. They don't think the problems have been fixed.

So then what do you do?

BERMAN: And when you threaten players with four-game suspensions, it makes them feel as if they are not being heard.

CAMEROTA: All right, meanwhile, beyond becoming better pals, what is President Trump's policy on Russia?

This week, you would not be blamed for being confused. We'll dive into that with the former ambassador to Russia.

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[06:35:00]

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CAMEROTA: President Trump extending an invitation to Russian president Vladimir Putin to come to the White House in the fall. This as our nation's top spy chief says Russia is engaged in ongoing election interference before our midterms.

A suspected Russian foreign agent is accused of trying to sway U.S. politics through the NRA. And police in the U.K. are still searching for the two suspects accused of poisoning a former Russian spy and his daughter and accidentally doing so to two other civilians.

Let's bring in former ambassador to Russia under President Clinton, Thomas Pickering.

Ambassador Pickering, it is great to have your expertise with us this morning.

THOMAS PICKERING, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: What do you think of this timing?

Is this the right time to invite Vladimir Putin to the White House?

PICKERING: I think we're at a point now where we need to distinguish between a policy that has communications with Russia, which I support, and the man who has to deliver those communications, who seemingly quite inept in his ability to do that.

And that ineptitude should not be a roadblock to talking with President Putin, despite what we all know and believe to be bad actions on the part of President Putin. You need to talk to your enemies. You need to talk to the people who can help resolve problems. Problems don't get resolved by making them worse by the failure to communicate and we are where we are now, in part, because we have failed to communicate.

And I wish I could say that to you with the confidence that the president would somehow change, would use his staff, would think together with them about the problems and issues and how to resolve them.

The public has a right to know but it has a right to know at a time and under a set of circumstance that promote U.S. vital interests. And the president has to be an arbiter of that.

I think he should have said more about the general directions in which the policy is going. I think he should use every occasion to talk to President Putin about intervention, interference in our elections process.

(CROSSTALK)

PICKERING: And to use the power of his office to tell President Putin that he will take further tough steps.

CAMEROTA: Do you have any sense from their one-on-one meeting in Helsinki that that happened?

PICKERING: No more than you do. We all depend upon what is being said about that.

[06:40:00]

PICKERING: I wish the president could articulate a little better where he intends to go. On Ukraine, on Syria, on nuclear weapons, on certainly intervention in our elections, those are all important questions for the president to articulate and to build confidence in the American people.

The notion that the intelligence chief did not know about this is, in my view, a clear instance of poor internal communications, even if stuff moves quickly. But it is not a reason not to continue to try to resolve the problems with Russia.

CAMEROTA: But you've spelled this out. But let's put a finer point on it of what Vladimir Putin has been up to in the past few years. So here are some of the things that he has done that are hostile.

The attack on our 2016 election; the U.K. nerve agent attack that now has sickened three and killed one; attempt to interrogate Americans, including a former ambassador to Russia.

As you know, he threw out that suggestion and for many days President Trump considered it; the invasion and annexation of Crimea; backed the rebels who shot down MH17 and there have been mysterious deaths of journalists and his political opponents, as you know.

So, Ambassador, you were ambassador to Russia for many years. What is Vladimir Putin's end game?

What does he want on the global stage?

PICKERING: It is quite clear that Vladimir Putin wants to promote Russia as an equal copartner with the United States for more in resolving and, indeed, settling the world's problems.

(CROSSTALK)

CAMEROTA: But he is not just a problem solver, right?

Doesn't he want more than --

PICKERING: He's a politician. He wants to stay in office in his own country. And a lot of the policies he is pursuing are designed to achieve that, just as some that President Trump is doing.

So we need to distinguish quite frankly the notion that bad behavior by someone who is clearly not working for U.S. interests, President Putin, is not the reason not to talk with them.

But I wish we could do so with somebody who had the capacity, the understanding and the depth that could approach those particular problems in a way that could lead to their resolution rather than merely promoting his own kind of narcissistic traits before the American public.

But the president we've got is the president we've got. And the problems we have with Russia are the problems we have with Russia. And letting one stand in the way of trying to resolve the other is not, in my view, in U.S. interest. Look, not talking never gets you anywhere.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I understand what you're saying. So you're a fan of communication and you're a fan of talking and you wish that we had somebody who was behaving in a more traditional and transparent way.

But since we don't, are you concerned about what you've seen this week?

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CAMEROTA: -- everything that unfolded in terms of the president saying one thing and then making 180-degree turn and saying the opposite and all of the stuff that we just laid out, including wanting to interrogate somebody who served, as you did, as ambassador to Russia.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how much does this worry you?

PICKERING: It worries me like 9.5. Look, I'm joining this morning in a statement made by the American Academy of Diplomacy, that says any effort to put diplomats in a position, where their diplomatic immunity that they were given when they protected and defended American interests in Russia or in any other country, should be immediately discarded as a way of proceeding.

It is really a dumb idea. It puts us and our diplomats under huge pressure all around the world that someday the American public or the American government may turn on them and say, hey, you're now before a court of justice in country X and country Y.

That doesn't cover crimes. But it covers defending U.S. interests. And Michael McFaul, who I know well, is a great defender of U.S. interests. The Russians didn't like what he did. But he said the truth and he tried hard in whatever way he could to see if he could affect a difficult situation.

That's where President Trump ought to be, working hard to change a difficult situation with President Putin. And look, short bursts of -- put it this way -- silence on both sides may send messages but long-time notion that we are going to demonize a process that could find an answer to the question, despite all the ineptitudes we have seen and despite all of the things that you lined up, that President Putin has done, to which we object, those are important considerations in our national interests.

And I would still say, hopefully, have a better president, hope he's better prepared, hope in whatever way we can that he comes forward --

[06:45:00]

PICKERING: -- with useful ideas, hopefully find out a little more about what he's doing. All those are deficiencies.

But should those deficiencies affect the vital interests of the United States in ways that mean, in fact, we are not communicating with a country that we will need to communicate with over a period of time?

I still accept the view that it is important to keep those lines of communication open, however we can.

CAMEROTA: Hope springs eternal.

(LAUGHTER)

CAMEROTA: Ambassador Thomas Pickering, you are an optimist. Thank you very much.

PICKERING: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: So Thomas Pickering is a guy who has seen everything, been around everything, seen everything. You ask him, how worried is he about the U.S. communications and the message President Trump is sending toward Russia now on a scale of 1 to 10, and he says it worries me like 9.5.

CAMEROTA: Yet he thinks that we do need to keep talking with Russia and with Vladimir Putin. And he said he will be releasing that letter. He'll be very happy to know that the White House has now once, yet again, reversed its policy or whatever they called it, reversed its consideration of having an ambassador be interrogated -- (CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Sarah Sanders says she thinks that the offer by Putin was sincere. She talks about the sincerity of Vladimir Putin.

So what kind of message is that sending?

The kind that worries Thomas Pickering like 9.5, he says.

So what is the White House going to do next?

How will they try to dig themselves out politically here?

We have insight from a reporter, who has got sources all over the West Wing. Maggie Haberman is with us.

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[06:50:00]

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MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Does President Trump support that idea?

Is he open to having U.S. officials questioned?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president will meet with his team and we will let you know when we have an announcement on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So on Wednesday, Sarah Sanders says the president and his advisors would meet to discuss whether U.S. officials could be questioned by Russia. But by Thursday, the White House said President Trump disagrees with Vladimir Putin's suggestion.

Want to bring in the star of that exchange, the reporter who asked Sarah Sanders that very question, CNN political analyst and "The New York Times" White House correspondent, Maggie Haberman.

I have to say, Maggie, I was fascinated when you asked the question. We had known that notion was out there. But to hear her response at the time was shocking, the idea that the president was discussing the possibility of somehow turning over the ambassadors. So that part was fascinating.

And then one day later, this reversal.

HABERMAN: Well, it was not met positively, as you know, when she said it. And I was very surprised that she gave the answer that she did. I had expected that there would be some version of we're not going to get into the details of what was discussed by X, Y, Z, which we have seen repeatedly.

And so that, again, that took me by surprise. I think that it surfaces and concretized for a lot of people that this wasn't just sort of Trump mouthing off essentially in an interview, which he had done earlier in the week. And he had talked about this and he had talked about this --

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CAMEROTA: What a great suggestion, what a great proposal.

HABERMAN: -- because it was an incredible offer, I think --

BERMAN: An incredible offer.

HABERMAN: -- because we have gotten used to him being separated from his own government essentially. So I think people tend to mentally compartmentalize that it's just, oh, that's just how he talks.

In fact people, I mean people who get pushed on this issue or anything he says, to have to respond to what he is doing in real time, this was the first time where you saw the -- not the first time.

But this is a rare time where you saw the government saying, a member of his government saying, yes, we are looking at this and this is a real thing. And that prompted a pretty swift and really rare bipartisan rebuke from Congress. I cannot remember the last time there was a unanimous vote on anything.

CAMEROTA: I can't, either.

BERMAN: 98-0.

(CROSSTALK)

CAMEROTA: When they want to, they can act fast, we've learned.

HABERMAN: Look, this was a signal to the president, which was, this is not going to be acceptable to us. There are lines that we are not Russia's equal. These are not going -- these are synonymous and parallel investigations.

And the president then responded by digging in further and inviting Vladimir Putin --

CAMEROTA: You think that was a direct response to the rebuke from Congress?

HABERMAN: Yes, I do. I think that he cannot stand having a brushback pitch like that. And he need to dominate and control the conversation in his mind. So he changes the subject but he changed the subject with the same subject, which is dealing with a Putin problem by inviting more Putin, essentially.

CAMEROTA: Right, more Putin. It's better (INAUDIBLE) solution.

What I'm curious about is why it took four days to get to that. So when he announced the great deal, the one-time offer, of this Putin suggestion to interrogate -- Americans, U.S. diplomats, why did it take four -- why wasn't that one cleaned up immediately because there was so much hue and cry?

HABERMAN: I mean a couple of reasons. There actually wasn't as much hue and cry about that initially. There was a hue and cry about the fact that he was not acknowledging the intelligence community --

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BERMAN: He was obscured by other --

HABERMAN: -- he was obscured by other things that came out from that news conference, that people were gobsmacked about. This became a different, sort of a secondary issue. And it was rising again. There were press accounts about how they were going ahead with this.

I think that once it came up in the Briefing Room, it pushed it to the surface and then -- and it is a big deal, just inherently a big deal, the idea that the President of the United States would consider --

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CAMEROTA: I can't believe it took four days for them to --

HABERMAN: And yet it says something about the way about how our news cycles work, right.

BERMAN: I think it also says something about what might have gone on behind closed doors. And again, we don't know. We don't know because there is no record of it. But this is one of the things that's emerged from it, speaking about this, clearly Vladimir Putin's terms, Bloomberg is reporting this morning that the president listened to the idea of a referendum in Ukraine, which is such a Putin-centric --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: -- idea of a Crimea in Ukraine there, which again is fascinating that everything we learn, that's dribbled out of this, it really does seem like this was a meeting on Putin's agenda.

HABERMAN: Well, look, we have no way of knowing whether it was or wasn't or any -- that this was always a concern that U.S. officials had about this agendaless meeting, is that with no witnesses other than the translators, is that the President of the United States was going to go in.

[06:55:00]

HABERMAN: And just by his mere presence, give Vladimir Putin a victory and allow Vladimir Putin to then go say whatever he was going to say. Vladimir Putin has dribbled out, to your point of why has this taken so many days, because Putin has frankly been controlling these news cycles.

He is largely the one dribbling out pieces of information from it. And then the U.S. government has had to respond, often haphazardly, often chaotically without knowing from the U.S. president precisely what happened.

BERMAN: It's almost like Donald Trump is a character in Vladimir Putin's reality show. It's a first. It's a first.

HABERMAN: That's definitely a first, yes.

BERMAN: Stick around, Maggie, we have a lot more to ask you. I'm fascinated by the politics of this and how the White House is trying to respond to the politics of this. I want to say, the White House really just seems to be the president trying to respond to the politics of this.

And you have a great article overnight. We will talk about that in just a second.

There is breaking news we're going to get to coming up.

CAMEROTA: There is also this tragic boat accident in Branson, Missouri. You can see video of this duck boat actually going down in the waves. There was a thunderstorm warming. We have an update for you on the search for some of these victims.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. We do start with breaking news for you. It's tragic breaking news because, overnight, 11 people have been confirmed dead. This is near Branson, Missouri, their tour boat sank in strong winds and thunderstorms.

We have some video of this tragedy. It is very disturbing to watch it unfold.