Return to Transcripts main page


U.S. Ambassador to Israel Presents Credentials to Israeli President; Accusations that Trump Disclosed Secret Information to Russians; Iranian Elections Close Ahead of Friday's Vote. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired May 16, 2017 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:15] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think it's safe to have Hillary Clinton be briefed on national security because

the word will get out.


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: Now get this, accusations are flying at Trump that he boasted about top secret information to the Russians in the Oval Office.

Mind blowing stuff, right? All the details on that are next.

Plus, it's not just American politics that feels like a circus right now.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Campaigning has become vicious by Iranian standards. Almost all candidates accused each other of

being corrupt in a recent TV debate.


ANDERSON: Iran about to get a new president, that could impact a lot of things from the price of bread to how safe you are. We are live in Tehran

for you this hour.

Then game set, but has she met her match: tennis could keep one of its biggest stars, Maria

Sharapova off center court. Why? Well, that's coming up later on.

Hello. You are very welcome. This is Connect the World. I'm Becky Anderson in Abu Dhabi. It is just after 7:00 in the evening here.

Defiant in the face of yet another crisis of confidence at the White House. Donald Trump isn't backing down from reports that he shared sensitive

information with Russian diplomats in the Oval Office. He tweeted that he has the, and I quote, absolute right to share facts with Russia about

terrorism and airline safety saying he wants Moscow to step up its fight against ISIS.

Well, Mr. Trump didn't comment on whether the information was classified, but sources say it was so secretive that the U.S. hadn't even shared it

with its closest allies, much less a country considered an adversary, especially given its role in undermining the U.S. election.

Well, as Joe Johns now reports, the president's defense appears to contradict the message from his own top advisers.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The White House reeling from another Russia crisis, an unforced error at the hands of President Trump.

H.R. MCMASTER, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The story that came out tonight as reported is false. At no time -- at no time -- were

intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known.

JOHNS: national security adviser H.R. McMaster, in a carefully-worded statement, refuting claims that were not in the story first reported by

"The Washington Post," while falling shot of denying the president revealed classified information to Russian diplomats.

GREG MILLER, "WASHINGTON POST": That the White House is playing word games here to that effect to try to -- to try to blunt the impact of this story.

JOHNS: Intelligence officials tell CNN that the president did reveal sensitive information that could expose intelligence sources, potentially

jeopardizing critical U.S. access to intelligence on ISIS as the terror groups hopes to use laptop computers as bombs on planes.

The White House insists the president only discussed common threats with the Russian leaders.

The shocking revelation opening up the president and the Republican Party to accusations of a double standard after repeated criticism of Hillary

Clinton's handling of classified e-mails.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can't hand over our government to someone whose deepest, darkest secrets may be in the hands of

our enemies.

I don't think it's safe to have Hillary Clinton be briefed on national security, because the word will get out.

JOHNS: The report setting off a firestorm on Capitol Hill.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: If it's true, obviously, it's disturbing. But I think we've got to find out more before I could comment.

JOHNS: Republican Senator Bob Corker, a Trump supporter, telling journalists, the White House is "in a downward spiral. The chaos that is

being created by the lack of discipline creates a worrisome environment."

Democrats calling for a bipartisan investigation into the latest Russia firestorm.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I hope that we'll be able to proceed in a very nonpartisan way.

This is as serious as it gets.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: This kind of serious and grave threat really requires a national response putting country above


JOHNS: This report comes as the White House fends off tough questions about the firing of FBI Director James Comey, which occurred just one day before

Trump's meeting with the Russians. White House press secretary Sean Spicer repeatedly dodging questions about whether tapes exist of their


[11:05:08] SPICER: I think I made it clear last week that the president has nothing further on that. I was very clear.

I made it clear what the president's position is.

I think the president's position has been very clear.

The president has made it clear what his position is. He said that he has nothing further to add.

I've answered the question over and over again the same way.


ANDERSON: Joe Johns reporting.

You saw Mr. Trump's national advisor at the top of Joe's report saying that the story as reported is false, while we've just learned that H.R. McMaster

will speak to reporters later this hour and we will of course bring that to you live.

Let's get to Joe, then. Again he's at the White House for you. Matthew Chance also joining us

for the perspective from Moscow.

Joe, whatever that intelligence was, and it's still not clear, of course, Donald Trump says he

had the absolute right to share it. Is that true?

JOHNS: Generally, yes, Becky. The president h broad authority to declassify information as he sees fit often on the spot. Now, there are

some caveats to that. Number one, there is a tradition going all the way back to at least President Reagan of vetting the release of information the

president wants to declassify with certain members of the intelligence community, but

that's not a firm rule.

It doesn't sound like it's absolutely positively the law that the president needs to do that. But as more of a courtesy and out of concern for things

like sources and methods, generally, the executive will check with the intelligence community before releasing anything that's deemed particularly


ANDERSON: So let's just get this straight. If it's strictly true that he has every right, or the absolute right to share this intelligence, then

what's the problem here?

JOHNS: The problem in a nutshell is that an United States ally, a friend, gave certain extremely sensitive information to the United States on the

condition, apparently, that that information not be widely shared and kept and held very closely apparently out of concern that there may have been an

invidual or persons who somehow have gained access in a close way to ISIS or information relating to ISIS which is something extraordinarily

difficult for the United States'intelligence community to pull off.

So because there was also certain information that told a little about the location of this source, if you will, it's deemed highly sensitive and of

the type that could actually cause that person to be outed, revealed, and then that source has to be protected.

ANDERSON: Got it. Got it. So, it would help if we knew what this intel was, correct? Matthew, you're in Moscow. Any sense from there as to

whether we will ever find out what this intelligence was? What's the perspective in Moscow on this?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERANTIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, you're not going to hear from the Russians, I think, about what specifically was

discussed, although, obviously, there's been quite a bit of reporting on the general theme of what was disclosed, not least from President Trump

himself who says that he spoke about international terrorism and as it relates to civilian aircraft security.

The Russians at this point, are deeply frustrated by the way this relationship with the Trump

administration is going. They thought it was going to be transformational. They thought this was going to be a new era in the relationship between

Moscow and Washington. That they were going to be able to cooperate on a whole range of things.

But none of that has come to pass. And in fact, every time there is a meeting, they're facing more and more controversies, what the Kremlin said

this morning, and we asked him about - asked the spokesman about what was discussed and whether they confirm or deny it, they say, look, we don't

even want to have any comment. We want no relationship to this nonsense is what they're talking


And so, yes, deeply frustrated that time and again, any attempt to just forge a relationship with the Trump administration is being knocked out of

the park in terms of the controversy it causes.

ANDESON: Just walk me through the atmosphere, Joe, if you will in Washington today. Here is a man who admits he shared intelligence, the

same man that in the run up to the U.S. presidential election in November said his opponent, Hillary Clinton, couldn't be trusted because she might

likely leak intel to foreign governments.

Just talk to me about the atmosphere, if you will.

[11:10:11] JOHNS: Yeah, there are deep concerns. And I think it started last evening when this information was first revealed by The Washington

Post. Concerns here in Washington emanating first and foremost from the intelligence community. I can tell you the word I've used in talking to

sources in the intelligence community is that people are apoplectic about how

dangerous this is and how - they've used words like loose cannon to describe the president.

And so that's a huge problem for him in and of itself because the intelligence people have to keep the president apprised of what's going on

around the world.

Then there's the issue on Capitol Hill, of course, of individuals who are investigating connections, possible connections Is should say between the

Trump campaign and Russia and to have all of this on top of it emanating from a meeting in the Oval Office with two senior Russian diplomats. And

it just - it complicates the situation a lot. And there are a lot of other things going on here besides that by the way, Becky.

Chaos reigns in Washington at least. Joe, thank you for that.

Matthew Chance, always a pleasure to get your perspective out of Moscow. And viewers, you've been watching a small box on the right-hand side of

your screens. And let's bring that back up again. And I'll tell you what that is. That's the set up for the U.S. National Security Advisor H.R.

McMaster who will be giving a press briefing shortly, that is from the White House. And we will listen in to what he says as and when that

starts. Clearly man front and center when it comes to what is going on there in Washington at present, particularly on this story given his

views and his statement some hours ago.


Well, President Trump has faced one controversy after another, hasn't he, since taking office. Now the acting attorney general he fired is speaking

to CNN about the Michael Flynn fallout. Now, Sally Yates has a lot to say about her warning that Flynn had been compromised by the Russians. Don't

forget Flynn was the national security advisor for not as many as 30 days in this new administration.

Don't miss her, that's an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper. That's later today at 8:00 p.m.

New York time, 1:00 a.m. Wednesday in London. And I will leave you clever viewers towork out what time that is wherever you are watching in the


Well, in just about an hour from now, the Turkish and American presidents will meet. Mr. Erdogan will be gunning for two big things in Washington,

two big things - America taking away support for its Kurdish allies in Syria who consider -- Turkey considers terrorists - getting the man Mr.

Erdogan accused of attempting a coup against him. Here's my special report for you with all the details on what are these big issues.


ANDERSON: The biggest thing they've got to talk about, surely Kurdish forces like this in Syria.

America's main weapon on the ground against ISIS. Washington moving in to protect them. But Turkey can't stand them. Bombing them, brandishing them

terrorists. In a worldwide exclusive, Turkey's president told me why.

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKISH PRESIDENT (through translator): In order to hit a terrorist organization such as Daesh, using another terrorist

organization such as YPG or PYD, it's not right. It's a terrorist organization and the other one is a terrorist organization as well.

ANDERSON: That is putting Washington in an awkward position. Its two main partners in a deadly war triangle and many have fled conflict like that.

ERDOGAN (through translator): There are three million refugees in Turkey right now, and last July, the E.U. echelons pledged 3 million euros to

Turkey and then a second 3 billion euros was pledged. So far only through UNESCO have we received 725 million euros.

ANDERSON: It's not clear how much help Trump would be either.

TRUMP: A judge has just blocked our executive order on travel and refugees coming into our country from certain countries.

ANDERSON: And that's not all. Turkey has another big wish.

ERDOGAN (through translator): We're going to ask for the extradition of this heinous Fethullah leader, the evidence is there, the documents have

been amassed pointing to the number one perpetrator of this failed coup as Fethullah Gulen.

ANDERSON: That's this man, a powerful Turkish cleric who lives in Philadelphia. Erdogan accuses him of mounting this failed coup against him

last summer. Something he strongly denies.

America's president wanted more proof before sending him to Turkey. Mr. Trump hasn't spoken about it at all so far, but Turkey's president is


ERDOGAN (through translator): I am hopeful. I am hopeful, and I'm going to preserve that hope.


[11:15:14] ANDERSON: It's going to take a lot more than hope to get everything sorted out.

To find out just what it will take, I'm joined now by Soner Cagaptay. He's the author of the recently released book, "The New Sultan," that you saw at

the front end of that report -- "The New Sultan: Erdogan and the Crisis of Modern Turkey" is with us from Washington.

And we've laid out what Mr. Erdogan wants as his big potential wins from this meeting. We discussed those goals at length during what was an

exclusive interview with him a couple weeks ago in Ankara. But do you think it's clear whether those goals are realistic as wins from this

upcoming meeting?


Yes, it seems to me that both Presidents Erdogan and Trump want to have a deal out of the

meeting in Washington. Trump wants to have Turkey become a non-spoiler as the U.S.moves ahead to work with the Syrian Kurds to take Raqqa. In

return, of course, Erdogan not only was going to push for extradition of Gulen, his eternal enemy, who Gulen lives in the United States, but also

U.S. assistance against PKK strongholds in Iraq.

So, I think Erdogan is going to push for a compartmentalization of U.S. policy regarding Kurdish factions. So that Turkey looks the other way as

Washington works with the Kurds in Syria and the U.S. helps Turkey in Iraq as Turkey strikes PKK bases there.

ANDEROSN: It's not like Turkey hasn't got a couple cards to play in this, is it. It's got NATO's second biggest army, it's got the Incirlik Air

Base, which is where anti-ISIS coalition forces run sorties to and from. It has been very vocal about its foot in both camps when it comes the fight

against ISIS with its very visible presence alongside the Russians and Iranians who are looking to find a political solution to Syria, which is

perhaps slightly different or very different it seems from that of the western coalition.

And he's also just been in China looking to drum up investment into his country, the economy needs an awful lot of help. And that's the sort of

don't worry about it, America, if you don't like what we're doing or you don't want us as a friend, we're going to look east as so many people are.

So, do you agree he's got -- his negotiations starts, is a pretty robust one at this point, isn't it?

CAGAPTAY: That's correct. As you said, Becky, Turkey's reached out to China. There's even some talk that they might buy a missile defense system

from the Russians. But ultimately there's a very clear fact, the United States is Turkey's best ally. Just because Turkey has exposed to so many

threats from the Assad regime to Russia to the Iranians to ISIS next door. And it doesn't have the hardware or the assets to protect itself on its

own, so I think ultimately Washington knows that.

But also Erdogan knows the U.S. needs Turkey a lot as well. Turkey borders Iran, Iraq, Ssyria, ISIS and across the Black Sea Russia. Whatever U.S.

policies are regarding those five states or enties, they'll be easier with Turkey. Of course, Turkey is not indispensable but

it would make it so much more easier for the U.S. to implement its policies regarding ISIS, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and assets that the U.S. has

access to in Turkeysuch as Incirlik air base will make the Raqqa operation very easy.

So, one ask that President Trump will try to get from Erdogan is that Turkey not be a spoiler. Turkey has rebels it backs in Syria. The U.S.

does not want them to open up a second front against the Kurds, as YPG the Kurds move to take Raqqa. And the other ask is that the United States

wants to have continued access to Turkish bases in Syria as it moves ahead to take Raqqa from ISIS.

So, my guess is there will be some sort of a deal. It will look like a really tough bargaining, but both leaders need each other. And they know

that very well.

ANDERSON: All right, Soner Cagaptay. And I apologize for mispronouncing your name earlier on, apologies. Absolutely.

You're a pleasure. Thanks for coming on. And we will have you back. Thank you, sir.

CAGAPTAY: It's pleasure to be with you. Thank you.

ANDERSON: All right, let's get you up to speed on some of the other stories that are on our radar right now.

Right next door to Turkey in Iraq, coalition forces say ISIS is on the brink of defeat in

Mosul. Military officials say the terror group is completely surrounded in a pocket of territory in the city. ISIS has steadily lost ground, as we

know, since the operation to retake Mosul began seven months ago.

One of Britain's most notorious murderers has died. Ian Brady was jailed in 1966 for sexually abusing and killing children along with his

girlfirend. Brady and Myra Hindley were known as the Moors murders, because four of their victims were buried on the moors near Manchester.

Hindley died in prison 15 years ago.

Mexican officials are promising more protection for journalists after a respected writer was killed on Monday. Javier Valdez Cardenes wrote about

- fearlessly wrote about the drug trafficking and crime that plagued the country. He was shot in Sinaloa State, famous for its namesake cartel.

We are the world's news leader for a very good reason. We are tracking literally hundreds of stories now as well as all of them fascinating and

extremely important to you and to the world. Find out everything you need to know at

Still to come this hour on this show, controversial candidates and political polarizationd - no

we are not talking about the U.S.election. We take you to Iran. Up next.


ANDERSON: Election fever in Iran. An estimated 55 million voters in the Islamic Republic get ready to decide between a moderate or a hard line

president. It is essentially a two man race now in just the last hour. News agencies reported that the vice president has withdrawn his candidacy

and backed the incumbent President Hassan Rouhani.

But Friday's election could be a close call for the man many see as the moderate president. Will his key achievement, the Iran nuclear agreement,

be enough to clinch it now that conservatives have rallied around his opponent.

Well, for more, Frederik Pleitgen in Tehran looks at the politicians and the policies in this race.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Election buzz Iranian-style. Supporters for incumbent President Hassan

Rouhani drumming up enthusiasm for what they feel will be a close vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because he made my country so much better in his first four years.

PLEITGEN: Rouhani has a balanced approach to foreign relations, this woman says. I think he will continue this policy. So, I'll vote for him.

Rouhani is a moderate. He wants to build on his biggest achievement, the nuclear agreement reached two years ago between Iran and several world

powers that curbs Iran's nuclear ambitions in return for sanctions relief.

But these folks are in a tough political fight against Rouhani. Iran's conservatives have unified behind this man, the ideological hardliner,

Ebrahim Raisi. The conservatives want Iran to get tougher on America. They say the nuclear agreement hasn't brought the economic benefits Rouhani

promised. Our youth are ready to work and get married, Raisi said. But the framework is not right for them to get jobs. Does the situation really need to

continue? And should we continue to look to foreign powers to solve our problems?

Campaigning has become vicious by Iranian standards. Almost all candidates accused each other of being corrupt in a recent TV debate. Rouhani even

saying conservatives try to undermine his efforts to negotiate the nuclear agreement.

(on camera): Many analysts and pollsters here in Iran say the race is simply too close to call, just days before the election. That's also

because around 15 percent of voters remain undecided.

(voice-over): And so, both sides continue to mobilize their supporters, hoping to gain an edge in an election they believe will be key in

determining their country's economic and political future.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Tehran.


[11:26:05] ANDERSON: Fred joining us now from Tehran, the political heart of a country

that he has reported from extensively, of course, in recent years.

Fred, you've just got back from a rally for the conservative candidate. What was the mood there and in Iran?

PLEITGEN: Well, I would say that the people that were at that rally and there were many people at the pro-Raisi rally that we went to really just a

couple minutes ago. Many of the seriously believe -- really believe that their candidate can win. There was a lot of enthusiasm. There was a lot

of chanting. There certainly was a lot of confidence. And of course, Raisi himself took the stage and he sort of laid out the plans that he has.

And a lot of that really centers around the economic situation here in Iran. One of the things that we always have to keep in mind, this

election, like so many others around the world, really focuses around economic issues. And there are a lot of people, Becky, here in this

country who feel that the nuclear agreement that was brokered by the Rouhani government has relaly not trickled down, the effects haven't

trickled down to the majority of people. They're dissatisfied with their economic situation. They believe that there isn't enough progress. And

certainly the conservatives are saying they believe they can do things better.

Whether that's really the case, that certainly is something that for instance Hassan Rouhani would call into question. He says that he believes

if he's given more time he can really improve the economy here in this country, Becky.

ANDERSON: We know how Donald Trump's administration feels about Iran. The relations, of course, are very tense. That is an understatement. Trump's

lot talking about Tehran's destablealizing influence in the Middle East. So, what do people in Tehran make of the choice of Saudi, Iran's enemy as

the first stop on Trump very first international trip coming as it does on Saturday, the day of the Iranian election results?

PLEITGEN: Well, they certainly aren't thrilled about that choice. And I think many people here in Iran do believe that when President Trump goes to

Saudi Arabia - and of course we also have to keep in mind he's going to Israel afterwards which, of course, has very difficult relations with Iran

as well. They believe that there is going to be a lot of anti-Iranian rhetoric coming out of some of the

meetings that President Trump is going to have. So they certainly aren't happy about it.

And it is something also, Becky, that quite frankly plays into this election here as well. There's an analyst I spoke to today who says that,

yes, he believes that there is somewhat of a Trump effect, that the hard line of the Trump administration has been prodding vis-a-vis Iran is

something that has certainly hurt the moderate candidate, hurt Hassan Rouhani where many people now are saying, look, you said there would be

better relations with the west, better relations with the United States. Now, that's not happening, on the contrary, there's additional sanctions

that have been levied on Iran after a ballistic missile test that took place earlier this year.

So, many people believe that that's something that Hassan Rouhani hasn't delivered. And they certainly are seeing that first trip that President

Trump is doing as another thing that shows them, they believe, that better relationships with the U.S. are certainly going to be difficult to come by,

if not impossible, at least with this administration.

ANDERSON: Fred Pleitgen is in Tehran for you. And Connect the World, decamping to Iran for all - for this all-important election. I'll be in

Tehran with Fred for a very special hour of coverage on Friday, the day of the vote. You can catch that 7:30 p.m. local time in Iran. That's our

usual time of 7:00 p.m. if you are watching here in Abu Dhabi and the Gulf which is 3:00

p.m. GMT, or 4:00 p.m. British summer time in London.

Meanwhile, in Iran's big regional rival, Israel, the new U.S. ambassador starting his first week on the job. David Friedman is getting ready for a

visit by President Donald Trump himself.

And in just a few minutes, we are expecting a briefing from the National Security Advisor. H.R. McMaster's remarks to you live as soon as they

begin. Stay with us.



[11:33:28] ANDERSON: Well, the new U.S. ambassador to Israel has presented his official credentials to the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

Ambassador David Friedman has long advocated for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but leading officials from across the U.S. government

warn that could harm the peace process and regional security.

Oren Liebermann joining me now live from Jerusalem for you.

From Israel's perspective, what are they hoping will be the big wins from this Trump trip starting Monday next week?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The big question surrounding the trip, and what Israel is hoping for is a definitive

announcement from Trump that he's made the decision to move the U.S. embassy from where it is now in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognize a

united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

That was one of Trump's biggest campaign promises, and it was one of the first promises he walked back right after his inauguration.

And his election.they have not given any serious indication of which way Trump isleaning at this point. Friedman presented his credentials, as you

pointed out, to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin a little earlier today at the president's residence. They gave short prepared remarks. In it, we

were waiting to see some sort of indication indication about the embassy. In fact, there was none.

Friedman didn't even say the word embassy, leaving it open to Trump to make the definitive

statement there. Remember, Trump has only two weeks here to make a decision about not moving the embassy. If he doesn't waive the movement of

the embassy it moves automatically because of a 1995 law, so that will be the big focus of Trump's trip here. What is his decision on the embassy


More and more Israeli politicians are calling on him to move the embassy. But the speculation, the feeling is, is that he's going to hold off on that

movement because it's so controversial.

Friedman, as you pointed out is himself very controversial - oh, go ahead, Becky.

[11:35:22] ANDERSON: No, I was going to say, controversy has dogged this Trump administration and its relations with Israel from the outset, hasn't

it, not least the suggestion of moving the embassy, the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And now more ahead of this trip, with the Western

Wall. Just explain if you will.

LIEBERMANN: Absolutely. And it's interestingly it happened right as Ambassador Friedman landed in Israel and made his first stop heading to

Jerusalem to visit the Western Wall.

This was a spat between U.S. officials and Israeli officials preparing for Trump's visit. There was a suggestion - and it's in the plans that Trump

is expected to visit the Western Wall. The Israeli officials first said Netanyahu, that is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wanted to join him at

the wall and then broadcast the visit live. But the U.S. officials fired back and essentially said the Western Wall isn't your territory. It's in

the West Bank. That infuriated Israeli officials who expected a much friendlier and a much more pro-Israel administration under Trump. And they

went to the White House for clarification.

The White House came back and said this is not the view of Trump. This is not the view of the White House, but they ended it there, leaving it as a

question as to what Trump's visit to the western wall will actually look like and will he be accompanied by Prime Minister Netanyahu.

So, even if there is some clarification on what it is that Trump intends to do that still very much a hanging question adding to the confusion is the

fact that the State Department's page on Israel-U.S. bilateral relations remains empty to this point since the inauguration that it's currently

being updated - Becky.

ANDERSON: All right.

Oren Liebermann is in Jersualem.

U.S. House Member Adam Schiff is a Republican talking about Trump, speaking to the Russians in the White House Oval Offijce. Let's get to that.