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Large Protests at G20 Summit; Interview With Former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired July 6, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's the buffer zone.
There have been bottles flying. This is water cannon trucks that you see right here, right in front of us, actually, have sort of been taking aim at people, have been -- police have been using those extensively.
You can see this water cannon truck. It seems to be hit by some sort of paint bomb or something. So, right now, the demo, which is actually supposed to go all the way around the outer perimeter of the G20 summit area, has started moving again.
I would say that, at this point in time, in the past, when did this whole thing kick off? Maybe two hours ago. That they have moved maybe 100 yards.
It looks like the police are moving in here again. Let's see how long we can stay out here, Brooke. So, it looks like they're moving forward again. But, yes, right now, it's a little more calm, but it certainly is still very, very charged as the police are all clearing people out of the way, trying to get that demo moving again.
And, look, if we look down here, you can see that it is a substantial march that's taking place. I mean, it's literally thousands of people that are marching here through central Hamburg at the moment. And I think the police want to allow this march to go forward, but, at the same time, they are cracking down very, very hard on people who are not following the ground rules that they have sort of set in place here.
So, and it still is a very, very tense atmosphere. And I think Jeff was alluding to fact that it's still quite light out. He's absolutely right. It does still feel like the afternoon. It's still very, very early going here. So, we believe that these protests here are certainly are going to take -- are going to continue for a very long time, Brooke.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Fred Pleitgen, 9:00 at night, your time, Hamburg, Germany. The sun sets in just an about an hour.
These are anticipated protests, right, protesters, thousands of them, anticipated some 100,000 over the course of the next couple days. We will come back to you, sir. Thank you. Jeff Zeleny, on a perch above there in Hamburg, where you can look
down and sort of see where Fred is and where all these protests are taking place, let's talk substance. Let's talk about these world leaders all convening in Hamburg and President Trump. You know, can you tell us exactly what President Trump is doing now?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Sure, Brooke.
President Trump is at the U.S. Consulate office. It's about two miles or so from where those protests were where you were seeing Fred at. And he is actually having a dinner with the prime minister of Japan, as well as the president of South Korea. They are talking about, of course, North Korea, front and center, the nuclear ambitions, the nuclear rising concern from North Korea front and center for this president and these leaders.
So they're having a dinner this evening. And then tomorrow, of course, the most anticipated meeting of the G20 summit, when Russian President Vladimir Putin is meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, and there's going to be -- you know, this is fraught with so much history and drama, you know, both on the domestic front and the global stage here, Brooke.
But I was in Warsaw, Poland, earlier today, with the president, and he simply would not say, again, that he believes that Russia was primarily responsible for the interference in the 2016 election. At the same time, he was giving a speech in Warsaw, and he was talking in sharper terms about the Putin aggression in the region, in Crimea and other places, but simply mixed messages coming from the president.
Now, even as we're here talking, Brooke, you can hear sirens in the distance. We can see some police activity. The protest strip where we had our eye on earlier has dissipated largely, but this is the sort of the scene-setter here, where all of these world leaders are meeting. Again, they're not involved in this. They're watching it, but they are -- these protesters are trying to get their attention, Brooke, so many issues here they're trying to protest on.
BALDWIN: No, and only about two miles away. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much in Germany for us.
And we're going to keep our eye on a lot of these pictures here. There is definitely some substance from the president's trip. We heard him earlier call out his predecessor. He called out the U.S. intelligence community and the American media all there on foreign soil.
He refused to condemn the Russians for meddling in the election, and even once again suggested no one knows for sure who interfered, despite what his own intelligence chiefs say.
The president also warned of severe options against North Korea for its missile launch.
So let's have a big conversation about all of the above. Mitchell Reiss, former negotiator on the North Korean nuclear crisis,
is with us, who spent more time in talks with North Korea than any other U.S. official.
So, Mitchell, welcome.
Also Laura Rosenberger, who served in the State Department under President George W. Bush and the National Security Council under President Obama, and Douglas Brinkley, CNN presidential historian.
So, welcome to all of you.
And, Douglas Brinkley, to you first. Just what's your assessment of President Trump's tone and tenor today?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I was surprised that he spoke like this on foreign soil, basically continuing an assault on the media.
But the very fact that he's kind of backing away from the idea that all of our intelligence agencies know that Russia did, indeed, interfere with the 2016 presidential election, it struck me as very odd.
It was going to be strange already, Brooke, tomorrow, that if Trump didn't raise 2016 elections with Putin, but to kind of do a preamble and turning back to his sort of quasi-disbelief that they did it, I thought, was a wrong note and kind of reckless. And it tells you there's something going on between Trump and Putin that most people don't understand.
BALDWIN: Mitchell, same question to you. What did you think?
MITCHELL REISS, FORMER NEGOTIATOR ON NORTH KOREAN NUCLEAR CRISIS: Well, I think the president's tweets demonstrate his frustration with what he thought was going to be a quick foreign policy victory on North Korea and his disappointment that the Chinese haven't delivered that he hoped on the promises that he heard early on in his administration.
So I think that he's ramping up the learning curve that every president has done for the past 30 years, is that North Korea is a real policy dilemma, because we have very limited options.
BALDWIN: Laura, to you.
We know that President Trump, as I mentioned, also went after your former boss, his predecessor, President Obama, saying he, President Obama, choked in response to Russia influencing the elections and the lead-up to it. And, yes, officials have questioned how the administration handled the response, but a bit of nuance here, a big reason Obama didn't act was because Trump was saying the election was rigged.
LAURA ROSENBERGER, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL STAFF MEMBER: Yes, that's absolutely right.
And I think one of the really confusing things about what Trump said today is that he's attacking President Obama for not doing something about a fact that President Trump himself denies. He denies that Russia was behind this, yet he blames President Obama for not acting to stop Russia.
So, it's a bit of a logical disconnect in terms of the argument that he's trying to make. I think it's really deeply troubling that the president continues to fail to grasp the fact that his entire intelligence community has consensus on the fact that Russia interfered in our democracy.
And for me, as a national security professional, what's really troubling about this is, this is an attack on our country, and the president is the commander in chief. He has a solemn duty to protect the country. And, instead, he is protecting Russia. And that is deeply, deeply troubling.
BALDWIN: The issue that came out of a lot of this Comey testimony was the fact that Comey testified that President Trump never once even asked about the meddling or about the influence in the elections.
BALDWIN: And also we just need to be asking bigger questions about, well, what about the elections moving forward?
You know, Mitchell, back over to you to Laura's point about the logical disconnect going into this meeting tomorrow with Vladimir Putin. And we know he has just met with Chancellor Merkel. He's meeting with Xi.
How much of a message is muddled going into these meetings for him in terms of what America really stands for?
REISS: Well, certainly, his public statements lead one to believe that he doesn't quite grasp the seriousness that Laura mentioned, interference with our sovereignty and our most sacred duty, which is voting in a presidential election.
What he says in private, though, may be very different, and we're not privy to that yet. I know I have confidence that he will be briefed properly about the talking points he should raise with Mr. Putin. And I hope he delivers them. I hope he delivers them forcefully about Russian interference, not just in the past, but currently what they're doing around the world.
I think there's also an opportunity for the president, perhaps, to find common ground and perhaps to seek some cooperation in ending the violence in Syria and some of the other conflict places around the country -- around the world -- excuse me -- including North Korea.
BALDWIN: Just a note. I'm being briefed. This is what we have heard from sources. Over the past couple of days, President Trump has been presented are with a large binder of preparation materials for his trip to Europe, but the section on his meeting with Putin amounts to only a few pages of paper.
This is what -- the reporting we're getting, just to add that note.
Laura, back over to you. Just let's shift to North Korea and all that's going on with that. President Trump is responding to the launch of a missile that could potentially hit the U.S. When he says, in this -- when he's speaking out and says he has some pretty severe things available to him, what do you think Kim Jong-un hears when he hears pretty severe things?
ROSENBERGER: It's really hard to get into the mind of Kim Jong-un, but what I can tell you is the North Koreans parse every single word that comes out of senior U.S. government officials' mouths.
And in particular, the words of the president carry an incredible weight. And they will be looking to read meaning into things, even when the president himself may not know what he meant. And so something like severe consequences, it's a pretty vague term.
I mean, in diplomacy, you know well how carefully we tend to choose our words. And there's a reason for that. There is a clear communication of intention. There is a clear signaling that is involved in deterrence of our adversaries and reassurance of our allies.
I think it's very important that we continue to have a real strategy towards North Korea. And that cannot be accomplished by off-the-cuff quips and by bullish statements that may feel good, but don't actually make us any safer.
In fact, they may lead to miscalculation that could inadvertently create a crisis.
BALDWIN: Mitchell, you know North Korea better than anyone. I mean, if North Korea fires at the U.S. homeland, can the U.S. military stop it?
REISS: Well, I think we heard from Jeffrey Lewis about the technical difficulty of doing that.
BALDWIN: We did. That's why I wanted to ask you.
REISS: Well, let's question the premise. Why would North Korea attack the United States?
Now, it could be that there's a miscalculation, and that's a risk that we run in a nuclear world. We ran it with the Soviet Union all during the Cold War. But the reality is that the North Koreans aren't suicidal. They want to survive. And they survived for 60-plus years since the end of the Korean War.
That's the most important thing for this regime. It's why they say they want nuclear weapons, to deter us. And what we need to focus on is both making sure that we can deter that initial launch against the United States or any of our allies in the region, South Korea and Japan, and also there are many more things that we can do to deny them the technical ability to improve their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile capabilities.
There's more sanctions. There's more interdiction. There's more measures that we can take. And a policy of denial and deterrence is the best way forward for the Trump administration.
BALDWIN: But, Mitchell, just quickly. If we want to question the premise of the question and let's say he doesn't want to attack the U.S., at the end of the day, what does Kim Jong-un want?
REISS: I think, fundamentally, he wants to survive. He wants to make sure that his regime continues. It's a family dynasty.
It was founded by his grandfather and his father and now him. And he's a young man. And we know that he likes the good life. We know that he drinks good whiskey. We know that he eats. He's gained weight in recent years, perhaps because of the anxiety of being the leader.
But we know that he wants to wake up in his own bed tomorrow. And so there are things that we can communicate, need to communicate to him about what he can and can't do. And we need to stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies to make sure that he can't divide us.
Deterrence can work. It worked during the Cold War and it can work today against North Korea.
BALDWIN: Mitchell, stay with me, and Laura and Douglas. We're going to hold you over because we have more on these protests.
Also news just in about how the White House is prepping the president for this meeting with Vladimir Putin, including why advisers are concerned.
And what happened when President Trump met with the world's most powerful woman? Angela Merkel's biographer joins me on how she likes to outsmart her male counterparts.
You're watching CNN's special live coverage. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
BALDWIN: Welcome back.
You're watching CNN's special live coverage, these protests erupting in hamburg, Germany, at the G20 summit, where President Trump is right now, just finishing a big meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Tensions have been high between the two world leaders since President Trump backed out of the Paris climate accord and criticized NATO member nations for not paying their fair share for defense. President Trump also has another high-stakes meeting with Russian
President Vladimir Putin. That begins tomorrow.
So, my panel is back with me, Douglas Brinkley and Laura Rosenberger and Mitchell Reiss.
So, Douglas, first, just back to you. The meeting with Merkel here, which has wrapped now, you know, could have arguably been the most tense meeting, actually, between the different meetings that we're reporting on.
The German foreign minister warning today that the U.S. and Europe may be heading for a trade war. What's your assessment between these two?
BRINKLEY: Well, they dislike each other immensely.
Their personalities and their educational backgrounds couldn't be more different. Germany has really invested a lot in the Paris climate accord, as did the Obama administration. And to have Donald Trump kind of renege on it, pull out on willy-nilly fashion has been a real irritant in Germany.
Also, Merkel is very aware, as the protesters showing there in Hamburg, I mean, Donald Trump's despised in that country. He has an 8 percent approval rating in Germany right now. So it's not in her political interest to seem too cozy to Donald Trump at the G20.
BALDWIN: Just talking to someone who wrote her biography, and he said that she speaks Russian, she has a doctorate in quantum physics.
So, let me just play a little something. This is what Ben Judah, who wrote the book on Vladimir Putin, this is what he shared with me on a meeting between Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN JUDAH, AUTHOR, "FRAGILE EMPIRE": Well, typically, when Vladimir Putin first meets Western leaders, he likes to see how vulnerable they are to intimidation or how vulnerable they are to charm.
For example, when he first met Angela Merkel, he knew that she was frightened of dogs and he brought along one of his pet Labradors to sit next to him during the meeting to see just how vulnerable she was to that form of intimidation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: So, Mitchell, what do you think -- knowing that, what do you think Vladimir Putin could do, might do with President Trump?
REISS: Well, I think Vladimir Putin's got to be very pleased with what he's already done. And more of the same, I think, would be in his interest.
He has dominated the debate because of their interference in our election last year. He has caused a great uncertainty at the most senior levels because of an investigation that's now ongoing that is going to handicap the Trump administration for many months to come.
He's raised doubts along with the president's own statements about our commitment to our allies and our fortitude towards our ad adversaries. So I think, right now, things are going OK, from his perspective, with the president.
Fortunately, Congress has pushed back, and they're playing their constitutional role in foreign policy, and they're not falling for what Mr. Putin's selling. But it's it's gone pretty well for Mr. Putin so far.
BALDWIN: You say it's gone well for Putin so far. We will see how the meeting goes. We will see how much we will actually know what comes out of the meeting.
But, Laura, behind the scenes -- this is some of CNN's reporting. Behind the scenes, Trump advisers are still expressing concern at the president's unpredictability ahead of this meeting with Putin, especially in the wake of his -- Putin's known practice of really just doing his homework and being overly prepared.
We know what happened some time ago in the Oval Office between, it was Kislyak and Lavrov with the president, when he let slip classified information. There is a concern there.
I think, Brooke, you hit the nail on the head. Putin is a meticulous preparer. He is going to come into this meeting knowing exactly what he wants to achieve, knowing exactly how he's going to try to achieve that. He is a master manipulator of personality, as you pointed out in that last clip with Ben Judah on the story of Putin's dog and the meeting with Angela Merkel.
He is going to have thought well in advance about how he's going to play Donald Trump, how he's going to try to achieve what he wants to get out of it.
When I was at the National Security Council, the kinds of preparations that go into these kinds of meetings are really extraordinary. And the idea that a president would walk into a meeting like this without anything -- with anything short of full preparation is, frankly, in a way, dereliction of duty, especially given the gravity of the issues on the agenda that we need to have discussed with Russia.
And I think that that's of really, really great concern. The other point I would say is that, you know, Putin has this tendency sometimes of, you know, pulling aside the leader or his counterpart afterwards, after the broader meeting.
And so we should watch the space of -- there will be what happens in front of all the advisers at the table, but we should make sure that we have a clear sense of anything else that happens on the side, behind the scenes, because we can expect Putin to try to work his way in that angle.
BALDWIN: How will we ever know what happened in the meeting?
ROSENBERGER: I would say that that is the media's job to get to the bottom of that. I think that's why we have seen the importance, frankly, of our free press doing on an incredible job over the past few months, really uncovering a lot of facts about what's been going on.
I think that's why, frankly, his comments on foreign soil disparaging our media is really detrimental to our democracy. So, I hope that all of you will be able to make sure that we hold the administration to account, that we know what happens, that there's transparency about that. And I think that it's really incumbent on the American people to demand that and members of Congress, frankly.
BALDWIN: And the comments being made in Poland, of all places, right?
ROSENBERGER: Of course.
BALDWIN: Laura and Douglas and Mitchell, thank you all very much.
ROSENBERGER: Thank you very much.
REISS: Thank you.
BALDWIN: Coming up next, we're going to stay on some of these themes.
We will talk Defense Secretary James Mattis saying that North Korea's latest missile test does not bring the U.S. closer to war. So what is the next step here? We will talk to a man who used to serve in Mattis' role. Former Defense Secretary William Cohen joins me live.
Stay with me.
BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
Just in, Defense Secretary James Mattis made his first comments since North Korea's launched its most far-reaching missile yet. Secretary Mattis calling it -- quote -- "a provocation and a serious escalation," but he also said this in an audio-only recording.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I do not believe this capability in itself brings us closer to war, because the president's been very clear and the secretary of state's been very clear that we are leading with diplomatic and economic efforts.
The military remains ready, in accordance with our alliance with Japan, with Korea. We stand ready to provide options, if they are necessary. But this is a purely diplomatically led, with economic sanctions and buttressed by the military, position that we're taking right now.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Joining me now, former Senator, Congressman William Cohen, who was also the secretary of defense in the Clinton administration. He leads The Cohen Group, a global consulting firm.
So, Secretary Cohen, a pleasure. Welcome.
WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Good to be with you.
BALDWIN: Sol, we just heard the words from Secretary Mattis, saying he doesn't think this move by North Korea will bring us closer to war.
To you, sir, what do you think it would take to bring apart some sort of U.S. military action?
COHEN: Well, it would take some action on the part of the North Koreans to attack our forces either in Korea, our ally Japan, or to try and launch a missile that would attack the United States.
But I think what Secretary Mattis is doing is trying to tamp down somewhat the implications contained in President Trump's tweet about serious consequences are going to flow.
You can read that in economic terms, diplomatic terms, but you can also read it in military terms.