Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Fighting in Syria; Interview With Maryland Senator Ben Cardin; Protests in Germany; Putin Meets With Trump; Interview with Michael Fallon; CNN: Russia Steps Up Spying Efforts After Election; CNN Inside ISIS Capital as Terrorists Struggle to Hold City. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 7, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Presidents Trump and Putin managed to reach common ground on the war in Syria, striking an important agreement on a cease-fire that could take an effect within days. Can it stand the unrelenting bloodshed in Syria's brutal civil war?

We want to welcome our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Sciutto, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: We are following breaking news at the G20 summit in Germany tonight, including new violent protests, with fierce clashes between demonstrators and police.

Fires are burning in the streets of Hamburg, and officials are reporting almost 200 police injured now, more than 80 people arrested.

Also, new details of the first face-to-face meeting between Trump and Putin. It ran more than 90 minutes over schedule and began with Mr. Trump raising concern over Russian cyber-meddling in his U.S. presidential campaign.

Russia's foreign minister said Mr. Putin denied interference and that Mr. Trump accepted Putin's word. But a senior White House official denied the Russian account of their conversation.

And we have exclusive CNN reporting tonight on the fight against ISIS. Our Nick Paton Walsh and his crew gained rare dangerous access inside the self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa, Syria. U.S.-backed forces are tightening their circle around the city tonight with terrorist fighters struggling to hold onto their dwindling ground.

We're covering all that and more this hour with our guests, including British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon and the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is Senator Ben Cardin. Our correspondents and specialists also standing by.

We begin with the wave of violence around the G20 summit.

CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is in Hamburg, Germany.

Frederik, we're seeing new protests tonight. Still violent there, still dangerous on the streets of Hamburg.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, you're absolutely right.

We have to move now because apparently the police are charging the protesters at the moment.

Wait, wait, wait, wait, stop, stop.

Sorry, Jim, we just -- we had to run a little bit there.

SCIUTTO: No, listen, you keep yourself safe.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Tell us what led to the run.

PLEITGEN: Whoa. Yes.

It looks like the police fired some tear gas that we are now starting to feel as well. We're going to make a little move back, but this is basically what's been going on, Jim. There have been skirmishes between some of the protesters and the police officers here on the ground.

There have been barricades that have been burning. We have just seen the police make a move forward, charge the crowd here. And that's what really caused us to make this move. You're hearing some of those bangs. Those are flash bangs that the police are using as well.

Protesters for their part have also been attacking the police with bottles. They have been throwing rocks also. It's been a really charged atmosphere. As you can see, it is really not showing any signs of letting up. And I have to say I have been reporting from this country for a very long time and it's been a long time since I have seen something like this on streets of a German city.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Fred, it looks like it's gotten much more dangerous just in the last hour there. To be clear, those booms we're hearing, they are flash bang grenades. This is not gunfire.

PLEITGEN: No, it's not.

They're flash bangs that are being used by the police obviously to drive people back. There are just -- there are not gunshots here. But you're absolutely right, Jim. It has gotten a lot more dangerous, a lot more violent, I would say, in the past hour or so since the last time that we spoken.

We have seen the police here make a move forward. What you had before that is you had the protesters sort of setting barricades on fire, and the police keeping back, still using those water cannon trucks. That's now changed. It seems a though the police themselves are now moving forward, certainly trying to corner the protesters, if not trying to make this protest stop.

But, again, it doesn't show any signs of doing that. There certainly are many streets here in Hamburg where this is still going on here, very close actually to where the G20 summit is taking place, Jim.

SCIUTTO: What are the protesters trying to accomplish here, and what's led to these more violent clashes just in the last hour?

PLEITGEN: Well, you know, obviously, many of them are voicing their displeasure at the G20 being held here in the city. Many of them of course have a political agenda as well. They feel that a lot of the folks that are coming, that their policies are not fair to ordinary people, not just here in Germany, but, of course, around Europe as well.

And what they want to do is they want to disrupt the G20 summit and we have already talked about it. Some of that, they have been successful with some of that, for instance, disrupting the first lady, that she wasn't able to go to one of the appointments she was to supposed go which was actually organized by Angela Merkel's husband.

[18:05:00]

But there have also been some other delegations. They have just had a harder time moving around Hamburg. It's the general disruption I think these is something that these folks here certainly want to achieve.

And then, of course, they also want to make sure that the world leaders that are assembled here in Hamburg, that they see what's going on here on the streets, that they certainly, while they are in that bubble, that they still see what's going on and what they are doing here.

SCIUTTO: First thing I want to say, if you have to move at any moment, Fred, move. Your safety far more important than anything.

PLEITGEN: Sure.

SCIUTTO: Is there a sense, as you have been watching this over the last several hours, that police are losing control of the protests?

PLEITGEN: No.

Yes, I think that in certain areas, it's very difficult for them to come to grips with it. In the immediate area around the summit venue, they are certainly not losing control. Here in the streets, you know, you don't see many police officers right here inside the cordon that they have sort of formed around this neighborhood here.

And certainly there is no police presence whatsoever. You could say they have lost control here to a certain extent in some of the streets. We have seen -- I also have to say, some looting going on of some of the shops here in this area. We have seen some scaffolding that was damaged as well.

Right now, yes, there certainly isn't a police presence where I am right now. I wouldn't say on the whole, though, they're losing control of the situation in Hamburg. I think they still are very much in control.

However, it is proving very, very difficult for them. They had 20,000 police officers in and around here when all of this began. They have already decided to call for reinforcements. They have 46 water cannon trucks that they really have been using extensively.

And so you see the scenes that we're seeing here tonight. Where we had the bonfire I think the last time that we spoke, we're already seeing barricades getting set on fire again. We have to move again, actually, Jim. Sorry about that.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Move. Stay safe. Stay safe. We're going to be checking in with you throughout the hour.

Again, you have been watching live pictures there of increasingly violent protests, this in Hamburg, Germany, very close to where world leaders, including President Trump, are meeting right now.

Now let's delve into the much-anticipated meeting between Trump and Putin at the G20 summit.

CNN senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski, she has been working that story for us.

Michelle, we are learning new details tonight about exactly what was discussed and how it was discussed between Putin and Trump.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jim.

Yes, this was a very private meeting. So, the insight we have as to what happened comes from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said that Presidents Trump and Putin had a quick connection and a positive chemistry. And just as Trump seems to relish the element of surprise or doing the opposite of what the analysts or even some within his own administration think he will do, Tillerson today said that instead of avoiding the subject, Trump opened the meeting by raising concerns over Russia's meddling in the U.S. election.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Appreciate it. President Putin and I have been discussing various things and I think it's going very well.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): The handshakes were public, the meeting, private, the briefing afterward, no cameras allowed. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson detailing how he says the first Trump-Putin face- to-face meeting played out. REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The president opened the

meeting with President Putin by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. They had a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject. President Putin denied such involvement.

KOSINSKI: Tillerson says Trump pressed Putin more than once on cyber- meddling, but then moved on to avoid it being merely an argument. The Russian foreign minister had a different version of events.

SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): President Trump said he heard Putin's very clear statements that this is not true, and that the Russian government did not interfere in the elections, and that he accepts these statements.

KOSINSKI: The White House responded saying there was no acceptance of the Russian view. Really, only Trump-Putin, their two top diplomats and translators know exactly what happened.

TOM WRIGHT, AUTHOR, "ALL MEASURES SHORT OF WAR": Was it brought up where he said some people in my country are exaggerating or pushing this narrative and, you know, we need to bring this to an end, or was it I know for sure, despite what I have said to the press, that you were involved and this has to stop? Did he say that there will be consequence? So, all of that detail is missing. We may never find out.

KOSINSKI: On Thursday in Poland, President Trump would not say for certain if Russia was responsible.

TRUMP: Could have been a lot of people interfered.

KOSINSKI: When Tillerson was asked by reporters, though, whether Trump was unequivocal in his belief that Russia did meddle, Tillerson didn't answer the question. He called the meeting constructive, a good start.

TILLERSON: The two leaders, I would say, connected very quickly. There was a very clear positive chemistry between the two. I think, again and I think the positive thing I observed -- and I have had many, many meetings with President Putin before -- is there was not a lot of relitigating of the past.

[18:10:08]

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I'm delighted to be able to meet you in personally, Mr. President.

KOSINSKI: Though the initial greetings for the cameras were somewhat stiff, Tillerson told reporters there was so much to talk about, it was difficult to stop the two hour, 15-minute meeting, that after an hour, the first lady came into the room asking if they wanted to wrap up, but the discussion went on.

Syria being the focus, they were able to announce today an agreement between Russia and the United States on a cease-fire in southwest Syria starting Sunday. And on the cyber-issue, an agreement to discuss a framework and commitments to not interfere, though clearly there remains a big gap in approach here.

WRIGHT: The real question is, how do you deter him from acting in that way in the future? What are the punishments and the costs that President Trump would impose on Russia to ensure that they do not repeat that action in 2018 and 2020? And he did not do that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOSINSKI: There were plenty of questions here. I mean, did the subject take up 30 seconds before they moved on, or 30 minutes?

Remember, the U.S. intelligence community believes it was not just Russia, but Putin himself who ordered this intrusion into U.S. democracy. This administration has not answered the question of what do you intend to do to punish Russia, or to make sure that this does not happen again?

The extent of what we heard today from Secretary Tillerson was that Trump did bring up the fact that the Senate at least has passed a bill to strengthen sanctions against Russia, and he did that to show the seriousness of the issue -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Michelle Kosinski at the State Department, thanks very much.

We continue watching the situation on the streets of Hamburg, where police are using tear gas, water cannons to push back protesters who have been setting fires, looting buildings, injuring dozens of police officers.

We are also following the disagreement tonight over a key detail of today's meeting between President Trump and President Putin, whether Trump accepted Putin's denial that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta, he has been covering that part of the story for us.

Jim, you spoke to administration officials tonight who pushed back really against Russia's account that President Trump somehow accepted Putin's position. What more have you been learning?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim.

A senior administration official told me the president did not accept Vladimir Putin's claim of noninterference in the last election. That was after the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told reporters that Mr. Trump had in fact accepted Putin's denials.

That is going to be a nagging question for this White House moving forward. There were some former Clinton campaign officials on social media this afternoon tweeting that the president needs to state this emphatically on camera. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, for his part, he painted a different

picture to reporters, saying both sides could not come to an agreement at all on this issue of interference and said that the question moving forward is, what do we do now? That is a huge question, Jim. What do we do now? Both sides do not have any answers to that question today.

SCIUTTO: As you know, CNN had been told by administration officials that the president was not initially planning or they didn't expect the president to bring up election meddling. Have administration officials explained the change of heart in this meeting?

ACOSTA: Not yet, and it is a seemingly very big change of heart, Jim. Just yesterday, as you know, the president was insisting that it wasn't clear that Russia alone was meddling in last year's election, adding other countries could have been involved.

Contrast that with today and Tillerson's account the president brought this up right away. That is a sign that perhaps the president is listening to his critics. But keep in mind, the president also, according to Rex Tillerson, was passing on what he described as the concerns of the American people.

So, it's not clear that the president was passing on his concerns, and one has to assume based on what he said yesterday that he was not passing on his concerns, but the concerns of people back in Washington. And also look to what happened earlier today. The president was still blaming others for the election meddling. He slammed Clinton campaign chair John Podesta for not turning over DNC servers to federal investigators.

That, of course, is not something that Podesta can do as he was running the Clinton campaign, not the DNC. And so, as of this morning, the president was still deflecting on this issue. I think that's a pretty clear indication, Jim, that the president has not had a change of heart on this issue, but felt compelled politically to bring this up with Putin in this meeting.

If he had talked to Putin two hours and not brought this up, he would have big political problems heading back to Washington, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Jim Acosta in Germany, thanks very much.

Let's get more on this with Senator Ben Cardin from the great state of Maryland. He's the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Cardin, thanks for joining us this holiday week.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Jim, it's good to be with you. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: As you know, just reminding our viewers, you and a handful of other Senate Democrats wrote a letter to President Trump ahead of this meeting actually urging him to raise Russian hacking during the U.S. election. We are told by Secretary Tillerson that he did.

[18:15:01]

Are you satisfied that he led this meeting with it? Did he do what you had pushed him to do?

CARDIN: Well, it was very important that this issue be raised.

So, I am certainly pleased that it was -- the subject that was brought up during their meeting. Obviously, we don't know the details of the conversation, but it was important for the president to make it clear that we know Russia interfered in our elections, that if they continue this pattern, there is going to be additional sanctions that will be imposed and we're not going to stand by and let Russia interfere with our democratic system.

That was the message I hope the president delivered in a very clear manner with Mr. Putin.

SCIUTTO: As you know, just yesterday, President Trump, in his press conference, undermined his intelligence agencies' assessment that it was Russia who directed these election hacks, again raising doubts, raising the possibility of others being involved, even though U.S. intelligence says it has seen no evidence of that.

For viewers back home, for Americans, how should they rectify the president's public comments yesterday, questioning whether Russia was behind this, and Tillerson's account today that the president raised the election meddling forcefully in his meeting with President Putin?

CARDIN: It's hard to understand why President Trump undermined the intelligence community with this statement yesterday or the day before.

It's very difficult to understand. Russia clearly interfered in our elections. The intelligence community has made that very clear. And yet the president raised doubt about that just a day ago. That makes no sense at all and didn't give him the strongest hand going into meeting with President Putin.

We hope that he clarified that and made it clear to President Putin that there is no doubt from our information that Russia interfered, and we will not tolerate that. Sanctions have already been imposed. Additional sanctions will be imposed if they continue this behavior.

That's the important message that he had to give to Mr. Putin. I cannot explain why Mr. Trump does certain things and undermines his own statements at times. It's difficult to understand.

SCIUTTO: You have been a strong proponent of stepping up, in fact, pressure on Russia as a result of election meddling. The Senate passed a new sanctions last month a vote of 98-2, obviously bipartisan.

The House has its own bill, but that's been delayed because the White House opposes some details in that legislation. Now there is talk that that issue has been resolved. From where you sit, are the Senate and House going to be able to agree

on a piece of legislation imposing new sanctions on Russia for election interference?

CARDIN: Well, I certainly hope so. Our bill passed 98-2. It was very bipartisan. It was a very strong bill.

It speaks to the appropriate role for Congress. We think it gives the president a much stronger hand in dealing with Mr. Putin. It makes it clear these sanctions must be imposed if Russia does these behaviors. So, I would hope the House would take it up very, very quickly when we return on Monday and send it back to us and let's get this done. Let's get this on the president's desk.

SCIUTTO: Do you have any concern that, if you get it on his desk, that the president will not sign it, will perhaps veto it?

CARDIN: I think the president will sign it. The numbers I think in the House will be comparable to the numbers we had in the Senate. This is a clear message that we don't tolerate this type of behavior.

It's not just meddling in our elections, interfering with our elections. It's also what he's done in Ukraine, he's done in Georgia, he's done in Moldova, Mr. Putin. It's also his interference in Syria. Now, we know they announced that there will be a cease-fire. We don't know the details. We don't know whether this is going to be real or not.

It is important that we keep the pressure on Russia. It's not just us. Our European allies are fully in support of what we're doing. Russia needs to understand that they're out of step with their international responsibilities.

SCIUTTO: Let's talk about that cease-fire, because this was a hard, concrete deliverable from this Putin-Trump meeting here in a civil war that's raged on for half-a-dozen years. It's only a portion of the country, southwestern Syria. But it is a cease-fire in a bloody war. Is there reason for optimism that this is a positive step forward?

CARDIN: Well, certainly, a cease-fire would be important. We will see in the details whether it in fact holds.

I thought it was important that Mr. Tillerson said President Assad has no future in Syria. I think that was an important statement to be made during the G20. So, what we need to do now is see whether we can in fact have a cease-fire in place that leads to direct negotiations, so that we can end the civil war and concentrate on our battle against ISIS.

But we need a government in Syria that represents all the communities, and, clearly, President Assad has no future in Syria.

SCIUTTO: Senator Cardin, thanks very much for joining us.

CARDIN: My pleasure. Good to be with you. Thank you. SCIUTTO: We again want to show you live pictures of the situation,

really alarming situation on the streets of Hamburg, Germany. Police and protesters clashing there, sometimes violently. We're going to have more on this and other stories right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:24:24]

SCIUTTO: We're following breaking news tonight, increasingly violent protests at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, fires burning on the streets, city riot police using tear gas, water cannons to disperse the crowds. Hundreds of people have been injured, many of them police officers, dozens arrested.

Also breaking, new details of the meeting between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit. Mr. Trump did raise the issue of Russian interference in the U.S. election, which Mr. Putin once again denied. Russian officials say Mr. Trump accepted that denial, but a senior Trump administration official said that's simply not true.

Joining us now for more is British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, who met today with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis.

[18:25:05]

And certainly much for you to discuss.

If we can start on Syria, because that arising out of this Putin-Trump meeting, a limited cease-fire in a portion of the country. In your view, is this a substantive positive step?

MICHAEL FALLON, U.K. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, it's a cease-fire agreement, not the quite the same as a cease-fire itself.

But it is to be welcomed, any cease-fire. That civil war has gone on so long. But previous cease-fires have broken down in Aleppo. And Russia has allowed the regime to go on bombing its own civilians, so it does need to be enforced on the ground, so that we can get more humanitarian aid in some of those areas where it's really badly needed. But it's welcome, but let's see it enforced.

SCIUTTO: Do you trust Russia as a partner in ending the war there? Russia, of course, has backed the Assad regime, who has been the number one perpetrator of this civil war really against his own people.

FALLON: No, we don't trust Russia. We can't deal with Russia as a business partner anymore after what it did in the Ukraine.

And it's been able to -- could have stopped this civil war in Russia years ago now. Russia has huge influence over the regime, could have stopped the killing, stopped the bombing and helped us work towards a political settlement in Syria. Russia could have done that a long time ago, and still needs to help get the different parties in Syria around the table to chart a better political settlement for that country.

SCIUTTO: So, if America's closest ally, the U.K., doesn't trust Russia as a partner in this, is President Trump making a mistake to enter into such an agreement?

FALLON: No, you have to engage with Russia.

What we say is engage, but beware. Russia can't be trusted on everything, but it's important to talk to Russia, to reduce tension with Russia, to have dialogue there, and to keep persuading Russia to use its influence for the good in those areas of the world where Russia has strong influence. Now, Syria is one of them.

SCIUTTO: The last time President Trump went to Europe, he rattled even America's closest allies by not mentioning NATO Article 5, America's commitment to NATO Article 5, mutual defense.

At his speech yesterday in Poland, he did. Are you satisfied? And after meeting with secretary Mattis, do you have confidence in America's commitment to NATO?

FALLON: Yes, I'm quite sure of America's continuing commitment to NATO. The president made that very clear right after his inauguration when our prime minister visited Washington.

And it was good to hear yesterday that specific commitment to Article 5, whereby each country can come to the aid of anybody who is attacked. Look, we have a really strong relationship with the administration. I work with Secretary Mattis. We work right across the administration on improving NATO, on modernizing NATO and encouraging the other allies to reach that 2 percent target. Britain hits that 2 percent target.

We think America is right to encourage the rest of Europe to do so, too.

SCIUTTO: Clearly, speaking with Mattis, the advance against ISIS in Iraq and Syria top of the agenda, the U.S. and the U.K., of course, partners there.

You have really commendable progress in the last several weeks, Mosul effectively fallen, U.S. forces, backed forces, now inside Raqqa, the self-declared caliphate.

Do you see ISIS losing its caliphate in the near term?

FALLON: Well, it's certainly beginning to lose its caliphate, certainly in Iraq. Some four million people in both countries, Iraq and Syria, have now been liberated from their rule.

Mosul is the last city they held and they are almost out of Mosul now. There is still some clearing-up work to do and there is more work to do over in Syria. But through airpower -- and the Royal Air Force has been alongside the Americans in the strikes that we have carried out -- and through a lot of training and a lot of effort on the ground, you know, we have helped Iraqi forces recover their own country, and we need to do the same in Syria.

SCIUTTO: President Trump the last time he met with senior Russian officials in the White House, Lavrov and the Russian ambassador, rattled an ally by sharing classified information that he was not meant to. Is there any concern in the U.S.-British intel-sharing relationship?

FALLON: Well, we share intelligence with you in the United States. You share intelligence with us. It's been a very, very close relationship.

So, any weakening of that relationship, we would take extremely seriously. But I'm not going to comment more than that.

SCIUTTO: OK. But you're not going to express confidence in the state of that intelligence-sharing relationship?

FALLON: Well, I do, yes, absolutely. We rely on the intelligence you share with us and vice versa. That's very important, not just in keeping tabs on what Russia is up to. It is also important in the battle against terrorism.

SCIUTTO: The famous Five Eyes.

Secretary -- or, rather, I should say, Minister Fallon, thanks very much for taking the time.

FALLON: Pleasure.

SCIUTTO: The breaking news continues ahead. We will take you back live to streets of Hamburg, where police and protesters continue to clash outside the G20 summit.

Plus, an exclusive look inside the self-proclaimed ISIS capital of Raqqa, where U.S.-backed forces have terrorist troops almost surrounded there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:34:49] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. We are following multiple breaking stories, including what's turned into running clashes between police and protesters just outside the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. CNN senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen is right in the middle of there.

We've seen you running at times from police as they advance there. What are we seeing there now?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's become a little of a standoff, Jim, what we're seeing right now. I can show you the police front line is right there. They're sort of, you know, flashing their flashlights over here.

Move a little bit closer, I think, right now. There are still a lot of protesters who are out here. There are still a lot of clashes that are actually going on, as well. We're right now at one of the sort of cordons the police have set up, where it's a bit of a standoff situation right now. But of course, as you've seen the last two hours that we've spoken, that can change pretty quickly, and things start moving very quickly.

Certainly, I can say that it doesn't seem as though this is going to die down any time soon, because there are still many, many people who are out here on the streets and the police certainly seem to be up for a very long night, as well. They still have several choppers that I'm hearing overhead right now.

One of the other things that has also been happening is that there's been some looting here of some stores. There have been people who we've seen who have been injured. There's a lot of police officers who have been injured, as well, as these clashes have been going on.

Police has been using quite a bit of tear gas recently, which here in Germany is really a sign that the situation is escalating. What we've seen, especially over yesterday and parts of today, was a lot of water cannons being used, but now that they've escalated up, they're now up to using tear gas, you can really tell that they're taking a harder line, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And we've heard those flash-bang grenades before, as well. Senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen, stay safe. Thanks very much.

Now let's dig deeper into developments at the G-20 summit and today's important meeting between presidents Trump and Putin. Our specialists are here.

John Kirby, help our viewers understand and rectify the Donald Trump of yesterday at a press conference in foreign country, questioning whether it was Russia by itself or whether it was really much evidence that it meddled in the election, and today, who Secretary Tillerson says he forcefully delivered the message, "No more meddling in our elections."

JOHN KIRBY, CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I hope that he actually has had a change of heart here. I hope that the staff was able to convince him that what the intelligence agencies all know and have said publicly. Look, I'm just glad that he did it. I commend him for bringing it up. I commend him for doing it at the beginning of the meeting. And if Secretary Tillerson's account is accurate -- and I have no reason to doubt it -- that's also commendable.

I think it's interesting that Lavrov comes out with a completely different view. You could chalk that up to maybe, you know, translation. Maybe they just agreed to disagree. But look, I've been in plenty meetings with Sergey Lavrov. He's a -- he's a very experienced, skilled diplomat. It's not unlike him to come out of a meeting with a completely different perspective and go right to the cameras and say something that did not comport with our understanding of what we discussed.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Even if you take Secretary Tillerson's account at face value, the message is kind of ambiguous. On the one hand, it is important and valuable that the president brought it up, after seeming to suggest that he would not.

On the other hand, Secretary Tillerson said, "We agree to disagree," which kind of implies that you are giving equal weight to the unanimous conclusion of the entire intelligence community and the word of an autocrat, who has also denied killing his political opponents, both in Russia and outside of Russia.

And secondarily, when you say you want to look forward, that's kind of an interesting formulation, as well, because many people would argue that the best way to prevent this going forward is not so much further conversation. It's consequences for what they have already done, which you are essentially putting off of the table.

So, even at its face value, the version that Secretary Tillerson offered, I think, does not go to the point of truly drawing a line in the sand and saying, "Look, we believe that -- we know that you did this, and there are going to be consequence for what you've already done as the best way of preventing you from doing it in the future."

SCIUTTO: Neither side, Jeremy Diamond, says that there was a discussion of consequences, and it's kind of interesting, because Donald Trump even this week has been attacking the Obama administration for not being clear enough to Russia during the election that we're not going to tolerate this.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And this also raises the question of how can you go and try and make the case to Vladimir Putin, "Listen, I know you interfered in the elections," when just the day earlier you were publicly undermining the intelligence community's conclusions? So, it's very difficult for him, for the Russians perhaps even to take the president seriously on this matter.

And furthermore, as you pointed out, the president has yet to do anything additional as far as additional sanctions or any additional measures against Putin for this election meddling.

And I think this comes down to the president's belief, at least, that election meddling, even if it -- whether it happened or whether it didn't happen, isn't quite as important as some of the other problems that the U.S. is facing, and that the U.S. could tackle with Russia. Whether it's Syria, whether it's Ukraine. Clearly, this president has made a judgment that those issues are more important, and he'd rather set aside this election meddling and try and work with Putin to deepen that relationship and tackle some new problems.

SCIUTTO: Rebecca Berg, we would be having, though, to give the president due credit, a very different conversation right now if the president had not raised election meddling. The fact is for most Americans, the headline they're going to read is the president raised election meddling. There you go. That's what you've been asking him to do.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. And the White House certainly set low expectations for this meeting. Their senior officials were telling reporters prior to the meeting, including CNN, that they were not planning on raising this issue with Russia. Perhaps Donald Trump decided on his own, on the spur of the moment, to

raise this issue. Perhaps it was something that was planned.

[18:40:17] Perhaps they were trying to set up the...

BERG: By setting low expectations, certainly, they exceeded them in that regard.

But I think the rest of the panel is absolutely right, that this still does not send an unequivocal strong message that the president rejects what Russia did or even accepts what Russia did.

SCIUTTO: Anyone who has dealt with Vladimir Putin face to face says he responds to power and consequences, right? Not words, not tweets.

DIAMOND: It does seem very pro forma at the end of the day, right? It's "Let's get it out of the way and then..."

BROWNSTEIN: And we have an intractable disagreement. That formulation from the secretary of state just really has just left me puzzled. What you're basically saying, we have a unanimous conclusion of our intelligence community that they did this. And we have a warning from the former FBI director that they intend to do it again. We have indications in Europe that they are continuing to do it. And then you say "We just have a disagreement about whether this happened"?

I mean, that just seems like, as you say, almost a pro forma raising of it...

KIRBY: Well, clearly...

BROWNSTEIN: ... and not pushing and saying, "We know this happened. We know you did it. You may deny it. We know you did it."

KIRBY: Clearly, it was a grudging addition to the agenda. He wasn't actually, you know-- I'm glad that he did it right at the top, but I'm sure this was not something that he really wanted to have to do. They really wanted to get to other issues.

But to the excellent points about the future, look, you want to talk about the future of the bilateral relationship? Syria, Ukraine, even North Korea, which now all of a sudden Russia really cares about, it has to start with a challenging this election meddling issue, and to make clear that in '18 and in '20 going forward, that we're going to protect ourselves and our system and that there's going to be consequences.

You're absolutely right about Putin and consequences. They -- their history and their tradition is they will go right up to the line until you slap them back.

SCIUTTO: On Syria, again, this was a -- this was a concrete deliverable from this meeting. Listen, it's not the end of the Syrian civil war. It's a big country. This is a small portion of the country. But a lot of sides have been trying for some time to get a cease fire. We don't know if this is going to stick, but -- but there was something of a ceasefire agreement that came out of this. How significant, John Kirby?

KIRBY: Well, it's not insignificant. I mean, I think it's great that they've done this, but we have to keep it in perspective.

A, we've seen these ceasefire agreements in the past. I myself have been in the room when these were negotiated. They quickly fall apart, because the Russians' idea of what is a terrorist and what is not a terrorist and who's in opposition and not in opposition don't comport with the rest of the coalition and the United States.

So, let's -- let's take it for what it is and see where it goes. I think it's good that they did it.

It is in an area of Syria which is closer to Jordan, which will explain why Jordan is involved and will help monitor. That's also good. But it's not an area where a lot of the fighting is going on. Certainly, it's not an area where ISIS is.

So, again, I think it's a good start. I think we just -- color me a little skeptical.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, and while we're understandably focusing primarily on the Trump-Putin interaction, the geometry of this meeting is more complex than it usually is at a G-2. It is not -- G-20. It's not the president going into this meaning as the leader of a unified west. In fact, what -- what happens tomorrow in the final communique may be just as interesting and important about whether there is any unanimity on climate, on trade. We see the E.U. and Japan doing a trade agreement.

I mean, there may be as much division between the U.S. and its traditional allies as we saw between the U.S. and Russia today. So I think that's going to be an important piece to watch as this concludes, much more than the almost pro forma hand holding that you usually get at the end of these meetings.

SCIUTTO: Jeremy, Ron, John, Rebecca, sounds like a band almost. Thanks very much, as always.

Just ahead, Russia steps up its espionage efforts inside the U.S. Now we are learning new details of how Moscow's spies are slipping into the country.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:48:29] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: We're learning new details tonight about stepped up Russian spying inside the U.S. in the wake of Moscow's interference in the 2016 presidential election.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher has the latest.

Dianne, Russian spying not new, but this increase in U.S. -- Russian espionage is. DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, which is a cause for

concern for some in the intelligence community, Jim. Former and current officials telling CNN officials they noticed the uptick in Russian agents began after the election.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GALLAGHER (voice-over): As president Trump met face to face with pollutant, they are ramping up intelligence gathering inside the U.S., with suspected Russian intelligence officers continuing to enter the country under the guise of other business. In some cases, Russian spies have tried to gain employment at places with sensitive information.

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: They are looking for other ways to be able to attack the United States should they need to do so. And the most compelling way to do that is basically a cyberattack that would shut down significant American infrastructure.

GALLAGHER: U.S. officials say Russians are feeling emboldened by the lack of significant retaliation for meddling in the 2016 election, from both the Obama and Trump administrations. Intelligence experts warned that America and its elections remain at risk, even after Trump raised the issue with Putin during their meeting. Putin denied any interference.

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: This is an assault on us, on our nation, our country, and regardless of party. And we need to get to the bottom of this and figure out what to do to prevent it in the future.

[18:50:02] GALLAGHER: For decades, Russian intelligence gathering inside the U.S. has been a constant threat. Before becoming a Moscow media star, Anna Chapman was caught on camera in the USA working undercover for the Kremlin. In 2010, she was busted during an FBI probe into ten Russian deep cover sleeper agents. Chapman and others were later exchanged in a spy swap with Russia.

Intelligence sources tell CNN they believe the Russians have nearly 150 operatives here, quickly replenishing their ranks after the Obama administration expelled 35 diplomats suspected of spying back in December, shuttering two compounds believed to contain sophisticated surveillance equipment.

Russia denies that, but a U.S. official says Russians were seen removing equipment before going home. The compounds now a major point of contention between Russia and the U.S.

HALL: In my view, the administration should absolutely not return them really under virtually any circumstances that I can imagine the Russians agreeing to. There ought to be a price to pay and this is actually a relatively small price to pay.

GALLAGHER: Meanwhile tonight, the FBI and Homeland Security have issued new warnings to U.S. energy facilities bout the potential of cyber attacks on operating systems of nuclear plants. Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation that runs a nuclear plant in

Kansas was one of the companies targeted, according to a report in "The New York Times." There is no indication in any of the intrusions the systems that control the actual plants have been infiltrated. A joint statement from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security said in part: There is no indication of a threat to public safety, as any potential impact appears to be limited to administrative and business networks.

And while the origins of the hackers are being investigated, people familiar with the investigation tell "The New York Times" the technique seen here mimic those of a Russian hacking group from five years ago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GALLAGHER: Now, according to "The New York Times," the FBI and DHS joint report did not indicate whether the attacks were an attempt at espionage perhaps as a way to steal industry secrets or the paper says part of a larger plan to cause destruction -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Dianne Gallagher, thanks very much.

For more on what we know about Russia's election meddling, be sure to watch tonight for our CNN special report, "The Russian Connection: Inside the Attack on Democracy". It tells the story from start to finish. You can see it at 11:00 Eastern Time, only on CNN.

And there is more breaking news ahead. New details of President Trump's meeting with Vladimir Putin and the differing accounts of their conversation about election interference.

And a CNN exclusive next, we go inside the self-proclaimed ISIS capital. Tonight, terrorist fighters struggling to hold on to the city.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57:03] SCIUTTO: Now, a CNN exclusive. A rare look inside a key ISIS stronghold now under siege by U.S. backed forces.

CNN's senior correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is in northern Syria tonight.

Nick, you were the first journalist to get inside the old city of Raqqa, the so-called capital of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Describe what you saw. How much of the city does ISIS still hold? And how dangerous is it for U.S. backed forces?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is extraordinary at this point to see how that wall was broken through by coalition air strike a few days ago. Now, if you are hearing music in the background, Jim, that's some radio interference we're getting. But since that hole was punched in the wall of the old city, a milestone, frankly, for this Syrian, Kurdish and Arab forces moving their way through, they pushed through about three or four hundred meters into that part of the old city itself.

It's pretty intense fighting, but most of that occurs at night because during the daytime, ISIS snipers hold those forces down. Now, we ourselves have heard where these forces have the big advantage, and that's coalition air power. If you are near the city at night, you just hear endless planes and helicopters flying around. That's when ISIS were put on their back foot.

As we currently understand from some of the maps we've seen, there's only really about one-and-a-half miles between the west and the eastern flanks of ISIS. They haven't got much territory left, about three miles in height as well. So, they're now in very dense urban terrain. That's where the fight could get nastier.

We've seen the move through the outskirts of Raqqa, in the roads we travel down today, in the last three weeks about three or four kilometers, incredibly quickly. It may slow now or ISIS, who are in their final stand here in what they call the capital of their so- called caliphate, they may possibly even crumble. But the real road, Jim, is what happens to civilians trapped in their midst.

SCIUTTO: Is it your understanding, the military's understanding, that most ISIS senior leadership has already fled?

WALSH: The thought is that those left in Raqqa, about 2,500 diehard fighters, a few hundred foreigners in their midst. And that, yes, the majority of the ISIS leadership has fled down the Euphrates, east towards other towns in the east of Syria. Now, that makes them a target. Well, they're on the run as well. But potentially, too, may demoralize those staying behind because they've had months and weeks to prepare, but obviously they are considered to be cannon fodder at some degree, too.

So, unclear what level of preparation they have, how long they can necessarily hold out. But let's say again the big question people are asking is how many civilians are still in Raqqa? Some say 50,000, some say 150,000. We simply don't know.

It's a lot less than Mosul, though. Mosul in Iraq took eight to nine months for Iraqi to retake because there are so many people trapped. This may go faster. We don't know what's underground, too. That's another fear, but still progress fast, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Nick Paton Walsh, primarily, please stay safe.

I'm Jim Sciutto. Thank you very much for watching tonight.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.