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Russia Warns U.K. of "Playing With Fire" in U.N. Meeting. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 5, 2018 - 16:30   ET



[16:32:14] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In our world lead today, Russia clearly emboldened, warning the U.K., quote, they are playing with fire, and they will be sorry, unquote.

In a Security Council meeting minutes ago, Russia blasting the U.K.'s claim that Moscow is responsible for the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil, calling it a, quote, coordinated campaign to delegitimize Russia. Shockingly, it was Russia itself that it called for the meeting at the U.N. Security Council. Britain's foreign secretary called that action a gambit tweeting, quote, the world will see through this shameless cynicism, unquote.

CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is live in Moscow for us.

And, Matthew, the U.S. and U.K. representatives to the end called Russia's claims absurd. Is anything actually likely to happen because of this meeting, though?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think they're right in that this is Russia refusing to back down over these allegations that it was behind the Skripal poisoning in Britain. Remember, Moscow faces diplomatic isolation over this issue and has responded with increasingly heated denials and increasingly heated rhetoric. All this comes as one of the victims in the Salisbury poisoning, Yulia Skripal, speaks out for the first time from her British intensive care ward.


CHANCE (voice-over): Today, the first statements from Yulia Skripal, now awake after surviving the nerve agent attack meant to kill her and her father, Sergei, in Salisbury, England, last month.

I woke up over a week ago now, and am glad to say my strength is growing daily, she wrote.

Yulia's cousin claims she recorded this unauthenticated phone call with Skripal on Wednesday and handed over the audio to Russian state television.

The call has not been confirmed by CNN, but in it, an update on Yulia's father. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): He's OK. He is resting. He


CHANCE: The former Russian spy remains in critical condition as an emboldened Kremlin called a U.N. Security Council meeting today, rejecting all blame.

VASSITY NEBENZIA, U.N. AMBASSADOR, RUSSIA (through translator: ladies and gentlemen, I don't know what to say about this. It's some sort of theater of the absurd.

CHANCE: Russia's anger has been fueled by the British government's allegation that the weapons-grade nerve agent used in the attack was made in Russia. British foreign office tweeted the same conclusion but quickly deleted it. Scientists who examined the nerve agent say they never identified a source.

Soon, Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman took to Facebook: The U.K. now has its own test tube of shame, she says. Liars.

[16:35:00] Britain stands by its assessment, but Russian (ph) officials say that the allegations were fabricated, designed to discredit Russia.

SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): The so- called Skripal case became a pretext, an imaginary or staged one, for a groundless mass expulsion of Russian diplomats, not only from the U.S. and Britain but also from a number of other states.

CHANCE: The foreign minister spoke as 60 expelled American diplomats departed Moscow, part of a tit-for-tat response. As relations between the Kremlin and the West worsen, the Trump administration is also threatening to sanction Russian oligarchs coming to the U.S. over their involvement in the American presidential election.

As for the Skripals, Russia's ambassador to the U.K. was all smiles today at news of Yulia's survival, even offering an invitation home.

ALEXANDER YAKOVENKO, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.K.: Really happy, and I am sure that one day, Yulia will come back to Moscow where she has a job and apartment.


CHANCE: Well, it's not clear at this point, Jake, how keen Yulia Skripal will be to resume her life back in Russia. British officials say that they've offered her the opportunity of a consular visit from Russian diplomats in Britain, but so far they say she has not agreed.

TAPPER: All right. Matthew Chance in Moscow for us. Thank you so much.

What are the odds that former KGB agent and now Russian President Vladimir Putin knew about the poisoning? We'll talk to our panel of experts, next.

Stay with us.


[16:40:41] TAPPER: We're back with the breaking news.

In the world lead, Russia accusing the U.K. and its allies of manufacturing claims that Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin were behind the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy on British soil. And Russia vowing there will be consequences.

I want to bring in my panel of experts.

Julia, assuming that Russia was behind the attacks which is the assumption of the British government, the French government, the American government --

JULIA IOFFE, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Well, I'd say it's more than an assumption at this point.

TAPPER: OK, assuming it's true, would -- based on your knowledge of the Russian government, would Putin have known about the operation? Would he have had to have signed off on it?

IOFFE: Probably. But I think at this point Russia can't possibly back down. Russia can't possibly say, you know what, the jig is up. We did it. That was us. Sorry about that.

They have to maintain this posture of denial. And they have to maintain the posture that they're being punished unfairly. And that the West is not in a position to punish them because who punishes, a parent, maybe somebody who's a boss.

So, Russia's trying to show that they're equal, that they're peers. And that they can call this meeting, they can roll out there side of the story as crazy as it is. Today, we heard about the Russians officially asked for information about the health of Sergei Skripal's guinea pigs and cats to see if they were also poisoned.

TAPPER: To see if they were also poisoned?

IOFFE: Correct. This was an official information request from the Russian government.

TAPPER: So, Michael Allen, today, American diplomats were seen leaving Russia on buses. Part of the expulsion, Russian diplomats expelled from the U.S., but in either case -- in both cases I should say -- there is no reduction in diplomatic staff. It's just the individuals they're kicking out are being kicked out. But still 60 more Russian or American diplomats can come in.

So, how significant is this expulsion of diplomats?

MICHAEL ALLEN, MANAGING DIRECTOR, BEACON GLOBAL STRATEGIES: It's significant enough in that if we are taking down serious intelligence officers and getting them out of the game, thereby freeing up FBI resources, it is significant. But look, this has happened for decades. They're just going to

rebuild. They by all accounts have the highest number of intelligence officers in Washington and around the United States than even during the Cold War. I mean, this is --

TAPPER: They have more now than during the Cold War?

ALLEN: Yes, this is an open congressional testimony. They are more aggressive than they ever have been. And so, that speaks to a lot about what we need to do in the United States in terms of monitoring who's here and what they're doing.

TAPPER: And, Julia, here's how longtime Putin critic and Russian chess champion Gary Kasparov responded to the news that the U.S. and the Russians could replace the expelled diplomats, because there were no order to reduce diplomatic staff. He tweeted, quote, the Kremlin was boasting and laughing about this on Russian TV two days ago. Putin enjoys showing there's no limit to the humiliation Trump will accept from him, helps rally his gang facing sanctions.

Is that right?

IOFFE: I think it's a little bit overstated. But I think it's true that this is, you know, not as bad as it seems. What's ironic I think, and probably not that ironic given how Putin maneuvers when this happens, he tends to punish his own people. So, for example, the St. Petersburg consulate was closed. There is -- there has been a massive staff reduction across the American diplomatic presence in Russia.

So, a lot of Russians now have a really hard time getting an American visa. And who wants to go to America from Russia? It's the most pro- American, pro-Western Russians who tend to not like Putin. So, this is just another way to get his shot at them in.

TAPPER: And, Michael, we learned that special counsel Robert Mueller has questioned some Russian oligarchs who have visited the United States about funneling money to support President Trump's campaign, even going so far as to remove information from their cell phones so that is the other subtext of all of this is what the Russians did in 2016.

ALLEN: I think one of the legacies of the Mueller investigation, aside from the indictments which are very important, and we've got to get to the bottom of it, they're going to uncover a vast network of Russian activity. Not just traditional cold war-like spying, but money and funds, and covert influence, and manipulation of Internet platforms and the rest.

And so, you know, this is a partisan issue. We can all have our different views on collusion or not. But I'm really glad that there's a team of people going through this so that we can educate the -- not just the American people, frankly, but the international community.

TAPPER: And, quickly, Trump is expected -- the Trump administration expected to sanction some oligarch who have ties to Putin because of their election interference in the campaign.

IOFFE: They were supposed to do that quite a while ago, and they didn't because there tends to be this kind of bifurcation. We have the trump administration and Trump himself and we have the Trump administration saying, for example, on your phone call with Putin do not congratulate Putin. What is --

TAPPER: Right, all caps.

IOFFE: -- right. What is -- what does Trump do? He congratulates Putin. And you know, say something about the poisoning. What does Trump do? He doesn't say anything about the poisoning. And unfortunately, this creates a huge opening for the Russians to manipulate and exploit.

TAPPER: Michael, Julia, thank you very much. I appreciate it. Today referring to a caravan of migrants heading to the U.S., President Trump said, "women are being raped at levels nobody has ever seen." Is that true? We're in Mexico getting the facts and speaking with those on the journey. Stay with us.


[16:50:00] TAPPER: President Trump is making his way back to Washington after a startling speech this afternoon in West Virginia. He literally threw out his prepared remarks on tax reform and said female migrants coming from Mexico are getting raped at "levels nobody has ever seen before." Meanwhile multiple parts of the Trump administration now scrambling to carry out the President's sudden and perhaps impulsive order to send National Guard troops to the U.S.- Mexico Border. How might that work? Let's bring in CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon and CNN's Leyla Santiago in Puebla, Mexico, just outside of Mexico City. Barbara, I want to start with you. What can these National Guard troops do, what can they not do and will they be armed?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: There are a lot of questions here and very few answers, Jake. Today, the Pentagon said they would engage most likely in things like aviation, maintenance, surveillance, logistics support, support functions for the border control operations down there. But not likely to engage in law enforcement actually moving out and detaining people trying to cross the border themselves. These will be National Guard activated by the governors. The big question, of course -- will they be armed? Will the governors want them to be armed? Will the Pentagon want them to be armed? The DHS Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, talked about it earlier today, very noncommittal. Listen to what


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- from Mexican officials they will be unarmed, is that true?

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY, HOMELAND SECRETARY: We, as you know, in the past they have had -- in 2006 there were weapons. So it has been done before. The weapons didn't have ammunition. So we're continuing -- we're continuing the negotiation.


STARR: Continue the negotiation about what they're going to do. Some initial indications, maybe 2,000 to 4,000 National Guard. The question again, who pays for it? This can run into very big money for the Pentagon. When President Bush did it in 2006, it was over $1 billion. When President Obama did a smaller operation in 2010, that alone was $1 million essentially.

TAPPER: All right, Barbara, thank you. Leyla, this afternoon, President Trump mentioned this caravan journey. He said, "women are being raped at levels nobody has ever seen." Have you heard anything like that from the people with whom you've spoken?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Listen, Jake, I am in Puebla, Mexico and this is the church where many of them are arriving as we speak. And I actually spoke to one woman, she was with the caravan earlier. She's from El Salvador, so a Central American, that is also on the way north. And when I asked her about that, when I said, look, President Trump has talked about raping --the raping of women, she said, look, he's just trying to make this caravan, to give it a bad name. She says the reason we are going as a caravan is to provide that safety for each other, sort of this safety in numbers. Now that said, I have covered immigration in Mexico, as well as the U.S. side of the border and I can tell you that that is the concern, that there is a level of violence and assaults on women, and that is why so many say this journey is so dangerous, that they want to take part in the caravans that we are seeing right now.

TAPPER: And Leyla, President Trump also tweeted in part today, "the caravan is largely broken up thanks to the strong immigration laws of Mexico and their willingness to use them so as not to cause a giant scene at our border." Is that the case? Is the caravan breaking up?

SANTIAGO: The caravan is now -- we are seeing it in smaller groups. Now, that is not the Trump effect. This caravan, it is an annual event, it's actually a religious pilgrimage that is so symbolic that people have chosen it to sort of make a statement. This group is making a statement about Central America and the conditions there. And then some of them, 200 of them are expected to get to the U.S.- Mexico border and seek asylum. So typically, every year this starts off as a big group like it did this year, about 1,000 or so people, and then they go their own ways once they get to certain parts -- certain checkpoints rather in Mexico. So it is actually common for this group to break up, which we are seeing. But that is not because of President Trump. That said, I have spoken to some which are not in the majority that said that they were on their way to the U.S., and now they're changing their mind given some of the rhetoric that they're hearing. But I want to make sure to leave that clear. The fact is that always happens in this caravan around this point in the journey.

TAPPER: And Leyla, quickly if you can, the Trump administration reporting a spike in border crossings for the month of March. Is that in any way because of Mexico doing more or less on their side of the border?

SANTIAGO: Mexico has stepped up its immigration enforcement, but that was in 2014 for part of a program that was established after actually the unaccompanied minors crisis that we saw in 2014, so yes. When I was on the border, I did see that there was more law enforcement but there's also still a bit of a back and forth, especially on the river that we have seen.

[16:55:16] TAPPER: All right, Barbara and Leyla, thank you very much. I appreciate it. Breaking news just in moments ago, President Trump speaking to reporters on his way back to Washington talking about Stormy Daniels. President Trump has remained uncharacteristically silent on the allegations of any affair he had with the adult film actress until now. What did he say on camera? That's ahead.


TAPPER: That's it for THE LEAD. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" has a lot -- who has a lot more on President Trump talking about Stormy Daniels. Tune in. Thanks for watching.