Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Members of Trump Inner Circle in Danger?; Sources: President Trump's Wiretapping Claims Contradicted by Documents; Tillerson Meets With Putin. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired April 12, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. You're watching CNN's special live coverage here. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Here's a heads-up for what we're all watching for.

First of all, as we look at pictures of the White House and the big arrival in front of the West Wing, you see a member of the military, which means, of course, the president is in residence. He's awaiting the arrival of the NATO secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, there to be at the White House holding this meeting, this news conference in about an hour from now.

Significant because, as we watched Mr. Trump, candidate Trump, on the trail continuing to call NATO obsolete. We're watching that for you.

Meantime, though, let's begin with this unexpected face-to-face meeting in what a number of people are calling this new version of the Cold War, Russian President Vladimir Putin's nearly two-hour meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Until that meeting actually took place, it was entirely unclear whether these two leaders would meet in person, one sign of the intense tensions over the U.S. missile strike in Syria. Secretary Tillerson just held a news conference with his Russian counterpart. They were candid about Tillerson's words, the low point in this relationship between the U.S. and Russia, especially regarding the current situation in Syria.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted on an independent investigation over who was behind that gas attack, despite the U.S.' certainty that it's Syria's regime to blame.

Here is more from Secretary Tillerson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The current state of U.S.- Russia relations is at a low point. There's a low level of trust between our two countries.

The world's two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship. As time goes by and more and more evidence continues to be gathered, it is possible that the threshold necessary to charge individuals, including Bashar al-Assad, may be achieved.

As you know, this is a very high legal hurdle in order to bring such charges against an individual. So I would not suggest to you that all of that evidence is in place. But I think the longer time goes by, it's possible that the case will be made. And there are certain individuals who are working to make that case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's begin our coverage in Moscow with our CNN international correspondent, Phil Black.

And talk to me about what came out of this meeting. I heard Secretary Tillerson stopped short of calling Assad a war criminal. What did you hear in that news conference?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, what I think came out of it was something very close essentially to the status quo, not a lot of change.

You're right. They were both very candid in discussing the difficulties in the relationship. But that's really stating the obvious, I think. But what became clear is they broke down all of the issues, their positions, the differences between them.

Well, they haven't really moved. Syria is the obvious big one. That's the big one that everyone was were talking about leading into this talk. And of course the Russian position remains the same. It says it's not wedded to Assad, but it doesn't believe that outside forces get to choose who the leader of the Syrian government should be.

And it believes that it's doing the right thing militarily in Syria by helping the Syrian government fight terrorists there, whereas Tillerson was very clear. Assad has to go, his family. They have no future in the political governing of this country.

What was interesting, though, is that when you think about the fact that we have been talking about all of that for about a week now, what we have been talking about is the very inflammatory language that both sides have been using, especially since the United States launched that missile attack against that Assad regime air facility.

That was gone from both of those head diplomats. In acknowledging the differences, in stating their positions, which still remain very separate, there was still a use of language and tone that seemed to indicate they are trying to do better. They are trying to rebuild this.

Both sides said that the nature, the current nature of the relationship is unacceptable. It can't go on. They are committed to trying to at least stabilizing it, and then working out where they can move forward from there.

They are talking about setting up a working group to begin that process. And, interestingly, and this was from Foreign Minister Lavrov repeatedly through the press conference, he talked about many of the differences, the difficulties going back to decisions and policies from the previous U.S. administration, the Obama administration, essentially blaming them for many of the tensions that still exist today.

Now, you could argue about just how accurate that is, but it is clearly an attempt, I think, to at least open the door somewhat to not allow Russia's relationship with the new American administration to deteriorate as rapidly or continue with the same momentum as it had done under President Obama.

So, what we saw today was by no means a reboot or a reset, but I think you could say that things didn't get worse. That in itself is something, both men committing to improving the relationship, but doing so with a very healthy understanding of just what a difficult challenge that will be going forward from here -- Brooke.

[15:05:12]

BALDWIN: Phil Black says it from Moscow. Things didn't get worse.

Phil, thank you.

Let me bring in a very powerful voice, someone who has literally been on the front lines of similar tense negotiations and diplomatic solutions overseas.

George Mitchell is a former United States special envoy for Middle East peace under President Obama. He also is a former Democratic senator.

So, Senator Mitchell, an honor and a privilege to have you on, sir.

Welcome back.

GEORGE MITCHELL (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Thank you. Nice to be here.

BALDWIN: Just even hearing Phil say, well, at least things didn't get worse, was the bar that low?

MITCHELL: Well, I think President Trump has a great opportunity today in his meeting with the secretary-general of NATO.

For the past few months, President Trump has been critical of NATO and very praising and supportive of President Putin.

BALDWIN: Correct. Now it's like swapped.

MITCHELL: That's right.

Now -- but during that time, his appointees, secretary of state, secretary of defense, ambassador to the United Nations, have had the opposite statements.

I hope that the president himself personally today will bring American policy into the line that has been set by his appointees, that we are friends and supporters of NATO. It's an important alliance, not just for the Europeans, but for the United States of America.

This was part of an effort after the Second World War led by the United States to encourage stability and peace in Europe. And it's been largely successful. Putin seeks to undermine that alliance. And we should make it clear that we will not only not join in that effort, but we will oppose it.

Secondly, the tension between the United States and Russia now originates in the illegal actions taken by Russia in Crimea and Ukraine under the direction of President Putin, in violation of international law.

The United States led the effort to impose sanctions on Russia, and the president should make it very clear today that those sanctions will not be lifted so long as Russia persists in its course of action.

BALDWIN: You, Senator, know what it's like to walk into a conversation like this with regard to Middle East peace and trying to broker that.

MITCHELL: Yes.

BALDWIN: This is different, but it is, in a sense, equally as delicate and tenuous.

How, if you are Secretary Tillerson -- and obviously we know he goes back with Mr. Putin and we also know that this meeting wasn't even initially on the table until this 11th hour. If you're the secretary of state, what is your mission?

MITCHELL: It is first to make clear that our differences are real and our views are based upon fact and principles which we support, but secondly to make clear that we seek no dispute.

We don't want to worsen relations with Russia. We don't want to worsen relations with anybody, and that we ought to be able to work constructively, but that will take a change in policy by the Russians.

BALDWIN: How do you work constructively when you have the U.S. saying it was Assad and his regime who murdered dozens of people, and yet you have Russia saying we're not so sure, we need an independent investigation?

MITCHELL: You have to recognize that Russia's interest in Syria is longstanding. They have had a huge naval base for many, many decades.

They are thousands of married to Syrian women who have come there over the years. Their interest is different from ours. But the fact of the matter is, I know President Assad. I met with him when I was over in the Middle East. It's sad to see what has happened to what was once a great and really an ancient country, but the reality is he cannot remain as the leader of that country.

The hundreds and thousands dead, the 5.5 million people displaced, the devastation and destruction of the country, all so one person can cling to power cannot be justified.

BALDWIN: Forgive me, Senator.

Let's go to the Oval Office here, where we have head of NATO and President Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: OK. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

TRUMP: See you in a little while.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

[15:10:06]

BALDWIN: All right. So, in TV lingo, that was just a pool spray. It was a handshake there in the White House.

So, that's NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has just arrived and will be holding a news conference with the president of the United States at the top of the hour.

But Senator Mitchell is here with me.

And you wrote the book on negotiating. And you talk about meeting Assad. And from what I remember, reading about Assad, he was this eye doctor who never really wanted to go into medicine because he was afraid of the sight of blood.

And it seems ironic now. How -- you say this all hangs on the fate of Assad, and Assad cannot continue. But we hear the Trump administration talking about, well, we need to create a better political climate in which the people of Syria can choose that.

But when you are -- I come back to this point, as the president who is gassing and killing his own people, how will there ever be that kind of climate created?

MITCHELL: A transition process through which there comes a new leadership in Syria.

It cannot be a process that has as its objective or its result the continuation of Assad in power. The United States simply cannot lend itself to that. It is so contrary to our values and to the values of the people around the world.

And if the Russians think that we will participate in a process that will keep him in power, I think we have to make it very clear to them that's not going to happen.

BALDWIN: Senator Mitchell, thank you so much.

MITCHELL: Thank you.

BALDWIN: I really appreciate it.

An explosive report that the FBI received this warrant to monitor a former Trump campaign adviser on the belief that he was acting as a foreign agent for Russia. We're going to talk about this FISA warrant and how even difficult it is to get, how significant this is.

Also ahead, the fates of two members of the president's inner circle in question now, Sean Spicer saying he let the president down over his remark on Adolf Hitler yesterday in the Briefing Room, and the president himself with some strange words to a New York newspaper about his chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Could changes be afoot?

We're watching CNN's special live coverage. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:16:13]

BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Now we have some breaking here on President Trump's former campaign chief Paul Manafort, who is expected to register as a foreign agent soon.

Evan Perez is all over this for us, our CNN justice correspondent.

What does this mean, Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, this is an attempt to try to resolve one of the many questions that U.S. prosecutors and the Justice Department and the FBI have with Paul Manafort.

This has to do with him doing some lobbying work essentially for the government of Ukraine, the former government of Ukraine. This is under the ousted leader Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted because of questions of corruption.

And so because of this, the Justice Department has been wondering and asking questions about Paul Manafort's firm and his work here in Washington on behalf of the former Ukrainian government. So, what we expect in the coming days is, he is going to file as a foreign agent for the Ukrainian government for that work that he did back in 2012 to 2014.

Now, as I mentioned, this is just one of the many questions that the Justice Department has. He's under scrutiny for his ties to Russians and pro-Russian people during last year at the time that the Russian intelligence agencies were trying to meddle in the U.S. election, so that's a big question that the FBI and congressional investigators are still looking at, as well as some of his finances.

This is some of the work that he did again with that Ukrainian, the former Ukrainian government, and whether or not he helped, his firm helped in any money laundering by that former government of Ukraine. Again, there's a lot of questions here, kind of a financial mess, actually, for Paul Manafort.

This is all, of course, all of this started emerging last year while he was serving as the chairman for Donald Trump's campaign. We expect that some of those questions are going to linger in the coming months, Brooke.

BALDWIN: All right, Evan, thank you very much.

PEREZ: Thanks.

BALDWIN: And now to this exclusive CNN reporting that congressional insiders are now telling CNN that a review of those classified documents contradicts surveillance claims made by House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes and President Trump.

Multiple sources, both Republicans and Democrats here, telling CNN there is just no evidence that the Obama administration officials did anything wrong or illegal.

CNN's Jessica Schneider is on this one for us.

And so what are these sources saying about the content of the documents?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, they are saying absolutely no smoking gun.

And, as you said, that's according to both Republican and Democratic sources on the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. Multiple lawmakers and aides have reviewed those intelligence documents that Chairman Nunes said showed improper unmasking of American names.

And those sources have concluded to CNN that there is no evidence that Obama administration officials did anything unusual or illegal. In fact, these sources personally viewed the classified documents at NSA headquarters in Maryland, and after finding what they called -- quote -- "normal and appropriate requests" by then National Security Adviser Susan Rice to unmask certain names, they say that it followed proper protocol.

And these sources are now saying they want the White House to declassify the documents to make these conclusions crystal-clear to the American public.

But, as for President Trump, he is not backing down, in fact, saying just this morning that he still believes Susan Rice acted improperly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: When you look at the extent of the surveillance, me and so many other people, it's terrible.

QUESTION: She said she didn't do it for political reasons.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Does anybody really believe that? Nobody believes that, even the people that try to protect her in the news media. It's such a big story, and I'm sure it will continue forward. But what they did is horrible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[15:20:05]

SCHNEIDER: So President Trump there doubling down on his belief that Rice did something wrong.

As for right now, Brooke, no comment from the White House on this request to declassify some of those intelligence reports, so people can see for themselves. And, of course, Chairman Nunes has recused himself from the Russian investigation on the House side, after all the controversy over those unmasking claims.

They did threaten to derail the House Intel investigation at one point, but it looks like it's now back on track -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Back to the allegations though against Susan Rice, we should just also mention, based upon all of our CNN reporting, that that is just quite simply untrue.

Jessica Schneider, thank you very much in Washington.

Meantime, this new report from "The Washington Post" today claims that the C -- forgive me -- the FBI was monitoring Carter Page, former Trump campaign adviser.

It indicates that the FBI and the Justice Department obtained this FISA warrant to monitor the communications of Carter Page during the Trump campaign.

Now, a FISA warrant is an acronym for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant. It's approved by a closely guarded court. They handle some of the nation's most secretive government decisions, FISA warrant.

To be crystal-clear, the bar is extremely high even to approve the surveillance of any American citizen. Here's the head of the FBI making that point just a couple of weeks ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: Every morning I'm in Washington, I put a stack of FISA applications that goes like this, thunk, and lands on top of that.

And the reason there's a thump is, the FISA applications are almost always -- I have skinny wrists, but significantly thicker than my wrists. It's a pain in the neck to get permission to conduct electronic surveillance in the United States, a pain in the neck. And that's great. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Michael Moore is with us, former U.S. attorney, and Bob Baer, former CIA operative and CNN intelligence and security analyst.

Guys, good to see you.

And on this FISA warrant, Michael, let me just begin with you, because you have been in the room as judges consider FISA warrants. We just heard Comey say the application for a FISA warrant is thick as his wrists.

To have that sort of information, how much do they have to have on you? How much would they have had to have had on Carter Page to get this?

MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: You know, the process is intense. I think the director is right when he talks about the stack of paperwork. And I have certainly sat in a room as judges have considered regular probable cause warrants and things like that.

But it's a secret process, and it's not taken lightly. I can tell you this. I promise you, they didn't put in front of a judge that Carter Page was talking about, I think Sean Spicer called it Russian salad dressing as some basis to get a FISA warrant in this case.

They had to have something. They had to have some basis. And it likely was heightened in their view because of the fact the the's an American citizen. I think that probably played in, too.

It's not something that's done willy-nilly and, you know, fly by the seat of your pants and run to a friendly judge and try to get a warrant. But there's a process. In fact, the presiding judge is appointed by the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.

It's a very detailed process that is set out in the statute. And I imagine that he likely just got caught up in another surveillance activity that they were having, and at that point, they needed to move over and ask that he be listed in an application as well. That's what typically happens in these cases. They spin off from one to the next.

BALDWIN: OK.

I need to explain, though, that Carter Page has cooperated. He's denied all of this. He's offered to testify before Congress, not really the actions of a man, you would think, with anything to hide.

But if he truly did anything nefarious, wouldn't he have been indicted by now?

MOORE: Well, I don't think necessarily so. These investigations can take a long time.

I'm never surprised to hear that somebody, after the bell has been rung, comes and wants to cooperate and talk and offer to testify. That's usually how it goes, especially as they start to feel maybe the vice starting to tighten around them a little bit.

I don't think he was offering to come testify back during the campaign. I think it's after the news story broke that there may have been some Russian collusion in the election that suddenly everybody is wanting to come to the table and talk, whether it be asking for immunity from a hearing or whether Carter Page wanting to come forward.

And let me say this. I'm not suggesting that he necessarily has done something criminal.

BALDWIN: Sure.

MOORE: This is simply a time when somebody has looked at it. He likely got caught up in some surveillance of a foreign national or some spy operation and he may have just been mentioned in it. But at least his mention was enough to lead them to go seek to get a warrant to hear his...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Well, Bob, I want you to jump in. And I think one of the last times I probably talked to you on TV was when Carter Page was in the news pretty recently, right, when he was -- a couple years before he was involved with the Trump campaign was being questioned by some Russian spies.

He says he had no idea that they were spies. One of them ended up getting arrested.

[15:25:01]

Actually, forgive me. We're going to go to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Will those in favor of the draft resolution contained in document S/2017/315, please raise their hand.

Those against?

Abstentions?

The results of the vote is as follows, 10 votes in favor, two votes against, three abstentions. The draft resolution has not been adopted, owing to the negative vote of a permanent member of council.

BALDWIN: Richard Roth, over covering the United Nations, this is a vote that would have required Syria to fully cooperate with investigators, face full accountability for the chemical attack there.

And did it just fail? Richard, are you with me?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brooke. For the eighth time, Russia has vetoed a proposed U.N. Security

Council resolution regarding the horrors and atrocities going on Syria over the six-year-plus war. The Russian veto was expected, but considering the nature of that horrific chemical weapons attack in Syria last week, some thought there might be some relenting.

This resolution would have called on Moscow and in effect President Assad of Syria to cooperate with an investigation and to turn over helicopter pilots for interviews, flight logs, find out what was going on in the skies over that town hit by the gas attack, Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK. Richard Roth, thank you so much on the notion that Assad would have cooperated. Thank you.

Bob Baer, let's pick up where we were discussing on Carter Page and this FISA warrant that was obtained. Your thoughts on this conversation?

ROBERT BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Brooke, what happened was that they were listening to the phone number of a Russian intelligence officer in 2013.

They picked up Carter Page. That Russian intelligence officer is talking to dozen, 20 people, but the nature of the conversation between Carter Page and the Russian intelligence officer made them think that there was a clandestine relationship here.

And I agree with Michael. It's almost impossible to get a FISA warrant on American citizen. I have been involved in mole investigations at the CIA. And you need proof of probable cause to listen in on a phone or do a break-in in the house and the rest of it.

And the FBI, when you ask them for a FISA, or the Department of Justice said, this is not enough. I have seen the CIA provide very sensitive, sensitive intelligence to the Department of Justice to get one of these FISA warrants through.

So, this was just not a casual fishing expedition listening to Carter Page's phone. He said something or did something that caused the Department of Justice to move on this. This is very serious.

BALDWIN: While I have you, Bob, let me ask you about a story that Evan Perez reported out just a couple minutes ago on how Paul Manafort has now officially registered as a foreign agent, something that he probably should have done a little while ago. Your thoughts on that?

BAER: Well, the president of Ukraine, Brooke, was a Russian proxy.

So he wasn't just working for a Ukrainian government which may or may not have been neutral vis-a-vis the United States. He was, in effect, working for the Russians. So, the fact that he has felt necessary to register as a foreign agent tells me there's a certain amount of culpability.

And it all goes back to Moscow, rather than Kiev. So, I think you are going to see a lot of these guys are going to be willing to come to the table and explain what their relationship is with the Russians. And they better not lie.

BALDWIN: All of this swirling, as we know. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just wrapped a one-hour-and-50-minute meeting with the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin.

Gentlemen, Michael and Bob,thank you all both very much.

MOOR: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Also on Carter Page, let me mention that Jake Tapper will be interviewing him next on "THE LEAD." Do not miss that piece of television.

Coming up next, two White House insiders potentially in trouble, Press Secretary Sean Spicer apologizing after he referenced Adolf Hitler while talking to reporters in the Briefing Room yesterday, and chief strategist Steve Bannon, who -- essentially thrown under the bus by the president himself in a new interview.

We will talk about why either of them are on their way out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)