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President Trump on U.S. Foreign Policy; Train Derails in Washington State; Interview With Washington Congressman Denny Heck. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 18, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: The train from Seattle to Portland was carrying 78 passengers and five crew members when it went off the rails in Pierce County, Washington; 13 of 14 cars derailed during what was the very first public use of this upgraded higher-speed route.

I want to begin now with CNN transportation correspondent Rene Marsh.

Rene, I know you have been talking to sources, including Amtrak. What is the latest we know about the extent of this crash?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the big question is, how many people died in this?

Because when you look at the images, it really is devastating to see. And the truth of the matter is, Jim, we don't have hard numbers as far as fatalities, the sheriff saying that there are still train cars that they have not been able to go into to search because it's just simply not safe.

At this point, we don't know how many people are dead. We know all the fatalities happened to individuals who were on board the train. Believe it or not, no one died on the road beneath. All of that said, we do know that there were 14 cars altogether on this train; 13, as you mentioned, jumped the track.

Two of those -- two of the 14 cars were engines. We know there were some 78 passengers on board, according to Amtrak, and five crew. This was a new route. That will be something that will be of interest to investigators.

One of the questions I'm certain that investigators will want to have answered is, was the crew that was inside this train, were they familiar with this new route? Again, travelers were starting and being -- were on this new route for the very first time today.

SCIUTTO: So, again, this issue of positive train control comes up, which is something -- it's a speed control for a train. Came up in the 2015 deadly Philadelphia crash. It was not on that train. And again you just learned not on this train either. Why is that?

MARSH: Right. So the CEO of Amtrak just gave a conference call to reporters, and I

do -- you know, it was troubling because that question was asked and he did not answer it at first. He was pushed, and he finally answered that there was no positive train control on this track.

And for people who don't know what that is, essentially, it's technology that automatically slows down a train if it's going too fast, faster than what the speed limit is.

SCIUTTO: In a curve in particular. And this was a curve in the track, wasn't it?

MARSH: Exactly. We know along the track the speed limit is 79 miles per hour, but what we don't know is, what was the speed limit as the train was approaching that curve and was it going that speed limit?

To your question why hasn't this happened yet, it all comes down to the almighty dollar. And a lot of these people who own the actual tracks, and Amtrak does not own the track, they have been pushing for Congress to delay, delay, delay the deadline, and it really just comes down to it's an expensive investment.

But people -- if you have a family member on that train, you think that those lives are worth the dollars.

SCIUTTO: Expensive, but possibly lifesaving.

Rene Marsh, thanks very much.

I want to bring in now Deborah Hersman. She's the former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and is now the president of the National Safety Council.

Thanks very much for taking the time. We're very happy to have you here.

Listen, I know it's early. There are certainly no final answers to many of these questions, but when you look at the scene of the crash, it happened on a curve. We have a witness who was speaking to CNN and he was on board. He said the train was going faster than traffic on the highway just prior to the crash.

And other experts on air have noticed how the cars were littered across a wide area. In your experience, does this look like a case of excessive speed?

DEBORAH HERSMAN, FORMER CHAIRWOMAN, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: Well, I think it's too early to tell just from looking at pictures, but the best piece of evidence they're going to get is the black box, or the recorder, on the train that will tell them how fast this train was going, what the throttle position was, if the brakes were applied.

And they need that corroborating evidence to be able to talk to the operator if possible to know exactly what happened. SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. This has been referred to in shorthand

as high-speed rail. But it's not actually high-speed rail when we think of sort of Japanese bullet trains or France. This was an old track with I understand a newer locomotive, but not quite true high- speed rail.

Is it dangerous to try to squeeze more speed out of trains on older tracks that have more curves, et cetera, that make it less safe to go at those speeds?

HERSMAN: So you have got to build safety in. Regardless of whether the tracks are older or newer, it's being able to do things like protect or eliminate grade crossings if you have high-speed operations.

Also, having train track allows you to get up to speed. Now, again, when we're talking high-speed, this is not 150 or 300 miles an hour. This was only up to 79 miles per hour. But, again, as they're coming around to that curve, they're probably going to have a lower speed.

So you either have that enforcement of positive train control to back up the human being if they fail to slow the train down or don't create those big differentials in speed on the track.


SCIUTTO: What kind of tests would have had to be done? This was the inaugural test with passengers, but, of course, before you would run a new train route like this, you would test it, I imagine, with engineers and locomotives, et cetera.

Would that have been extensive testing before starting a new line like this?

HERSMAN: Yes, so before opening this route, they're going to have to do a number of things.

They're going to have to do inspections. If they're going to run trains at 79 miles per hour, they have to meet the class of track requirements there. That means not just inspections, but running trains through. They also have to qualify engineers and crew on this territory.

So they have to be familiar with the terrain, the topography, the speed limits, so they would have had to do those things as well. You can bet, even though this is the first revenue operation, it's not the first time they were running trains through this section of track.

SCIUTTO: Unfortunately, though, lives lost.

Deborah Hersman, thanks very much for your expertise.

I want to bring in Washington State Congressman Denny Heck.

This is your district, Congressman, and we just learned that you have a personal connection here, that the niece of one of your staff members was on board that train. I just want to ask you right away, to your knowledge, is she OK?

REP. DENNIS HECK (D), WASHINGTON: Well, she's pretty badly banged up, Jim. Actually, I don't want to reveal the details of her injuries. I do not believe they're life-threatening, but it was of a serious nature.

SCIUTTO: Well, let me ask you then -- first of all, our thoughts to you, your staff and her family.

But on the broader issue, are you learning any -- are you getting updates on the ground as to what went wrong here? A lot of questions about the speed that this train was going when it went into that curve.

HECK: So we're getting a lot of updates from the ground. We're getting updates as to where the people are being dispatched to receive medical treatment.

As of last count, it's six different hospitals in the immediate area. We're getting a lot of updates as to the family reunification center that has been set up in city of DuPont.

But as to the cause of this, Jim, this is going to be awhile. I know the mind and the heart especially seek answers as soon as possible in the aftermath of a nightmarish tragedy like this, but I just want to remind you, Jim, a couple of years ago in Pennsylvania when there was that train accident, the National Transportation Safety Board took almost a full year to issue their complete report.

This is going to be awhile before we know the exact cause of it. I don't think it's helpful to jump to conclusions at this stage.

SCIUTTO: That is certainly fair. Investigations take a long time.

But we do have one fact that could be telling, and that is that this train was not equipped with this automatic train control, the speed control, which was also an issue, as you know, in the Philadelphia crash in 2015. This is your district. Some of these passengers, you know, connected to you.

Is that a disappointment to you, that it didn't have this technology that is widely available, maybe costly, but available, and could have saved lives here?

HECK: Well, we don't know it could have saved lives, Jim, but it's a disappointment to me that we're not farther along in the implementation of installing PTC, positive train control, on to trains throughout America, not just in my district. This is an American issue.

These devices were authorized, I think, way back in 2008. We did provide some money in the FAST Act that we passed last year to begin it. But we're way behind schedule. There is no question about it.

Again, Jim, we can't jump to conclusions. That doesn't serve any constructive purpose yet, especially now with all the injured and the number of fatalities, when really our focus should be on sending them our thoughts and prayers and organizing ourselves as best as possible to meet their needs.

SCIUTTO: The president's first reaction to the crash mentioned the infrastructure, the need for infrastructure improvement in the country. Several minutes later, he also sent thoughts to the victims as well.

But on that issue, that larger issue, do you believe that this is a sign of aging infrastructure that needs investment to prevent accidents like this from happening?

HECK: Well, there is no question, there is no question whatsoever that this nation ought to be increasing its investment in its infrastructure.

That's rails, that's rapid transit, that's highways, that's bridges, that's broadband, that's water systems, that's storm water runoff. All of these things need a substantial increased investment on the part of this country in order to move us forward.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Heck, thanks very much for you. And we send our best wishes for your constituents there who were affected by the crash.

HECK: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: We will keep following the breaking news on the train crash.

But, first, it was supposed to be a speech laying out the administration's national security strategy for the world, but did it sound like something more we'd hear on the campaign trail?

That's right after this.



SCIUTTO: We're back now with the world lead, and President Trump laying out his vision of national security, putting America first and blasting how prior administrations responded to global threats.

But it's what he said and did not say, specifically about Russia, that may be most of note.

The panel here with their take on the president's remarks.

But, first, let's go to CNN's Jeff Zeleny. He is at the White House.

Jeff, the president did not echo the same sentiments about Russia that were outlined in a document released by the White House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He didn't, Jim. You're right about that. But every president since Ronald Reagan has been required by law to release a national security strategy, basically an outline of the administration policy. And in the printed form from the White House earlier today, it talked specifically about a Russia undermining democracies.

But when the president spoke out loud, he made very little mention of that as he sought to fill in some of the blanks of his America-first policy.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America's coming back, and America is coming back strong.

[16:15:02] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): President Trump laying out his national security blueprint today, offering a broader look at his strategic world view.

TRUMP: We also face rival powers. Russia and China, that seek to challenge American influence, values and wealth. We will attempt to build a great partnership with those and other countries, but in a manner that always protects our national interests.

ZELENY: But the president did not specifically call out Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. Even though it is directly mentioned in the formal national security strategy released by the White House that says, today, actors such as Russia are using information tools in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of democracies. Instead, he pointed out a friendlier relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he's talked to twice in the last four days.

TRUMP: I received a call from President Putin of Russia thanking our country for the intelligence that our CIA was able to provide them concerning a major terrorist attack planned in St. Petersburg where many people, perhaps in the thousands, could have been killed.

ZELENY: He outlined a strategy with these four pillars: defending the homeland, American prosperity, advancing American influence, peace through strength.

TRUMP: We know that American success is not a foregone conclusion. It must be earned and it must be won. Our rivals are tough. They're tenacious and committed to the long term, but so are we.

ZELENY: The president's remarks at the Ronald Reagan building only blocks from the White House were part campaign valedictory and part forward-looking strategy. Today, he blasted the work of presidents who came before him, taking aim at policies of the Obama and Bush administrations.

TRUMP: American citizens, as usual, have, left to bear the cost and to pick up the tab.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZELENY: He went on to specifically call out the previous administration's policy on North Korea and Iraq, saying that those situations should have been handled and he talked again and again about his election a little bit more than a year ago. And now, he said voters elected him to, in his words, reclaim ownership of this nation -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Jeff, there was a surprise guest at the speech, Rex Tillerson, initial reporting was he might not be there but he made it in the end.

ZELENY: That is just part of this continued dynamic questions surrounding the relationship between the president and his secretary of state. The White House, in fact, said earlier today the secretary of state would not be at this speech, which was pretty unusual given that this is a national security speech, as several other high-profile members of the administration were there.

But in the end, Secretary Tillerson was there. Whatever meeting he had the White House initially said would prevent him, he was not at. So, he was at that speech, and then he came to the White House later for a meeting directly with the president.

But, Jim, it goes on to further fuel questions about the relationship. They've been somewhat publicly open about their disagreements on North Korea and elsewhere, but Secretary Tillerson was there front and center today, Jim.

SCIUTTO: I suppose as you would expect, the secretary of state.

Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thanks very much.

To the panel now, you know, you listen to this speech, 20 minutes or so. Did this sound more like the unveiling of a national security strategy or a campaign speech?

ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It sounded a lot like what we heard throughout the campaign. In reality, this was a lot of -- the pillars that Jeff outlined the were a repackaging of some of the ideas we heard, specifically reforming immigration, strong on border security as well as re-strengthening our relationships with our allies across the country, rebuilding our military and also really working on revamping the economy here.

So, it was kind of a repackaging of a lot of things that we've heard all before, but it's really important to take the opportunities like this to further his agenda.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, he made sure to mention the wall a couple of times as well in this national security strategy.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, he -- so, I'd say it was about two-thirds campaign speech. It sounded more like a rah-rah speech and sort of -- even talking about the stock market and how well he's doing and those kinds of things. And while he did touch on border security, trade, these kinds of things, he didn't really touch on some major issues in terms of cyberattacks, hacking, you know, interfering in U.S. elections and even homegrown terrorism.

You know, if you're going to talk about protecting the country then that's something that we've actually had to deal with recently.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, his speech in which the opening line is China and Russia are rival powers and you don't mention the most recent instance of Russia's rivalry, right, which is interference in the election.


What he said about Russia was very interesting and also what he didn't say, because in the document that the White House published today, it's very, very strong and the criticism of Russia and what they're doing and how it says that they're seeking to weaken American influence in the world.

SCIUTTO: Very specifically mentioning election interference.

[16:20:01] COLLINS: Exactly. That's not what we heard from the president today. In fact, he spoke pretty glowingly of his relationship with Putin, referencing that call where Putin called to think him for the CIA foiling that terror plot, and then talking about how the United States needs to work with Russia in his partnership. So, it's two statements in almost the same breath that really did not go together.

SCIUTTO: Chris, how do you reconcile that? I'm curious, what does Russia hear there? Do they hear the written statement or the printed word that says Russian rivalry or hearing the president say I had two great phone calls this week with my pal Vladimir?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS, EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, I haven't talked to him, but I'm going to make a very educated, Jim, that is they hear what the president says on the phone calls. While I'm sure someone in Russia is reading the entire national security statement, the truth of the matter is they like us largely consume things based on visual cues. If the president of the United States is out there talking positively about cooperation between the U.S. and Russia, is two phone calls in the last five or so days with Vladimir Putin.

And, look, how do you reconcile, to answer your first question, second, how do you reconcile it? This is a president who we know from our reporting and other reporting, this is a president who even though it is the unanimous belief of the intelligence agencies, the near unanimous belief of Republicans in Congress that Russia actively sought to interfere in our election to benefit Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. He is just not sold on that idea and it manifests itself in ways like this where it's in the text and he doesn't mention it.

What other conclusion could be drawn based on the context we know how he views the relationship with Russia in the 2016 election versus how the rest of the people in a position to know do.

SCIUTTO: On any other day, the secretary of state showing up for a president's national security strategy would not be news because you'd expect the secretary of state as one of the agents of the national security strategy to show up. Do you see any meaning in this, the fact that he's there? Does that mean Rex Tillerson lives on another day?

STEWART: I think the rumors of the death of Rex Tillerson in the administration are greatly exaggerated. Clearly, there has been back and forth. A lot of times it has to do with Tillerson will make a statement, the president makes something a little bit different and where they stand is somewhere in the middle.

So, clearly, they're all on the same page with regard to the policies and now, this national security agenda. It was really important to have him and all national security officials there as a symbol to Putin and other world leaders that we're a united front.


SCIUTTO: To speak in one voice.

Listen, stick around. We're going to have a chance to go at some of this. Lots more to discuss, including new information we're hearing about a warning to the Trump campaign that was given about Russian election meddling.

We're going to talk to James Clapper. He was, of course, national intelligence director under President Obama. Please stay with us.


[16:27:20] SCIUTTO: We're back with panel reacting to the president's comments today on Russia and more.

Also with me this hour is James Clapper. He served as the director of national intelligence under President Obama, is now a CNN national security analyst.

General, thanks very much for taking the time.


SCIUTTO: You heard the president's speech today. He calls out Russia and China, describes them as rival powers, rival powers to the U.S., but also says he wants to build a great partnership with them and had all of these friendly stuff to say about his phone calls with Vladimir Putin this week.

Is that a contradictory message?

CLAPPER: Well, it is to me. I think this past weekend is illustrative of what a great case officer Vladimir Putin is. He knows how to handle an asset, and that's what he's doing with the president.

SCIUTTO: You're saying that Russia is handling President Trump as an asset? CLAPPER: That seems to be -- that's the appearance to me. So, you

know, we've shared intelligence with the Russians for a long time. We've always done that. Although in my experience with them has been pretty much of a one-way street, where we provide them intelligence and we don't get much back.

And oddly enough, my first exposure to that was in the early '90s when I served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and we were trying to engage the Russians on all places of North Korea, and didn't get much back from them.

So, I think what we did is the right thing, certainly when people's lives are at risk that we do have a duty to warn. So the intelligence community, CIA did the right thing here and I thought in a rather theatric gesture of the phone call to thank President Trump for something that kind of goes on below the radar and is not all that visible.

SCIUTTO: I just want to be clear here, you say Russia is treating the president of the United States as an asset?

CLAPPER: Well, I'm saying this figuratively. I think, you have to remember Putin's background. He's a KGB officer. That's what they do. They recruit assets.

And I think some of that experience and instincts of Putin has come into play here in his managing of a pretty important account for him, if I could use that term, with our president.

SCIUTTO: There's been talk that not just Russia but other foreign leaders, the Chinese for instance, have a sense that your way to Donald Trump's heart is through flattery, pomp and circumstance, we saw that even with the French president, greeting him with a military honors, but these compliments for instance about where the American economy is from the Russian president.

Are you saying that -- is that what you're saying here?

CLAPPER: Yes. I think clearly, I mean, he said that during the campaign.