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Trump Administration Failing to Reunite Migrant Families?; Will President Trump Damage Western Alliance?; Supreme Court Confirmation Battle Begins; Trump: NATO Has Not Treated the U.S. Fairly. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired July 10, 2018 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Has Trump arrived at the NATO summit itching for a fight?

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump lands in Brussels to face a group of angry U.S. allies who warn he should appreciate his friends, adding he doesn't have many left. But not so fast, Europe. You might be forgetting Russia. Trump says he expects an easier time once he sits across from Putin next week.

Building a case. President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, hits Capitol Hill today. Democrats warning they're bracing for a fight, even if simple math is not quite on their side.

Plus, today's the day for the Trump administration to return migrant kids younger than 5 to their moms and dads, but the Justice Department says only a fraction will be reunited by the deadline. And they're blaming some parents for that.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the world lead today.

In just an hour, just the last hour, Air Force One touched down in Brussels, Belgium, for the beginning of President Trump's European trip, one that could potentially redefine the world order and who the United States can consider a friend or foe.

First on the agenda, the NATO summit, where the president will sit down with U.S. allies, whom he has been verbally attacking for insufficient contributions to the alliance, as well as for trade deficits with the U.S..

That will be followed by a bilateral summit with British Prime Minister May, whose government in turmoil and who the president notably declined to full-throatedly express support for before he took off this morning.

All before the president's highly anticipated meeting in Helsinki, Finland, with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a traditional adversary of the U.S., a man heading a government accused of interfering in the 2016 presidential election, of annexing Crimea, of invading Ukraine, murdering journalists and political critics and much, much more.

Yet that meeting seems to be the one that President Trump is most looking forward to.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, I have NATO. I have the U.K., which is in somewhat turmoil. And I have Putin. Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all.


TAPPER: CNN's Kaitlan Collins is live for us in Brussels, site of the NATO summit.

And, Kaitlan, Republican senators have been very clear that they see Putin as no friend of the U.S., yet President Trump obviously thinks that he can forge a strong relationship.


A lot of people wouldn't hesitate to call Vladimir Putin a foe, but when President Trump was directly asked today whether or not he sees him as a friend or a foe, he said he couldn't answer, noting only that he views him as a competitor and instead saving his toughest language for some of America's closest allies.


COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump taking fresh aim at NATO and claiming his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin might be easier than sitting down with America's closest friends.

TRUMP: I have NATO. I have the U.K., which is in somewhat turmoil. And I have Putin. Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think?

COLLINS: Trump antagonizing allies over defense spending before taking off for Brussels.

TRUMP: NATO has not treated us fairly. But I think we will work something out. We are being taken advantage of by the European Union. We lost $151 billion last year on trade. And on top of that, we spend at least 70 percent for NATO.

COLLINS: Continuing to tweet about it during his flight on Air Force One, asking, "Will they reimburse the U.S.?"

E.U. Chief Donald Tusk firing back.

DONALD TUSK, EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT: I would like to address President Trump directly, who for a long time now has been criticizing Europe almost daily. Appreciate your allies. After all, you don't have that many.

COLLINS: But the NATO secretary-general striking a different tone, hoping the summit can be salvaged.

JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: Yes, there are disagreements. Yes, there will be some open and frank discussions, but when it comes to substance, NATO is delivering and NATO is delivering that the U.S., Canada and Europe working more closely together.

COLLINS: The president fueling European fears that his sit-down with Putin will be friendlier than his summit with U.S. allies, refusing to rule out Putin as a foe today.

TRUMP: As far as I'm concerned, a competitor. A competitor. I think that getting along with Russia, getting along with China, getting along with others is a good thing, not a bad thing.

COLLINS: That friendly language despite Russia's meddling in the election, taking over Crimea and alleged involvement in the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the U.K. Trump's aides insisting he will be tough on Putin.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: We don't recognize the annexing of Crimea. This president has been really tough when he needed to be, expelling Russians from our country, issuing sanctions, pushing back against President Putin and others.


COLLINS: And even some Republicans voicing their concern.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Putin is not a friend to democracy, capitalism, anti-corruption. He is not a friend of those efforts. OK?


COLLINS: Now, Jake, European leaders have made clear that their biggest fear is that this is going to be a very contentious NATO summit and then the president going to travel to Helsinki and have a very friendly summit with Vladimir Putin, something that they fear could result in concessions like the stop of military exercises in Europe or the scaling back of U.S. troops there as well.

But there's also a sense on the ground here they think a new world order could happen after this trip -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins in Brussels for us, thanks so much.

Let me bring in my panel.

Maggie Haberman with "The New York Times," let me start with you.

There's a lot nervous folks not only on Capitol Hill, but even some in the Trump administration, because President Trump will be meeting with Putin one on one. I want you to take a listen to Bob Corker, Republican senator of Tennessee, also the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


CORKER: Well, yes. You know, I hope there are people present during the meeting.

QUESTION: Why do you say that?

CORKER: I just do. I just -- I just hope there are people around him, Mattis and others hopefully, Pompeo.


TAPPER: That's a big sign of concern about that one-on-one meeting. What are people like Bob Corker concerned about?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think they're afraid the president has a tendency to say all kinds of things that he -- any other president probably wouldn't say in some of these meetings.

For instance, we had a story at "The Times" last year about how he had a meeting in the Oval Office with the Russian foreign minister and he disclosed all kinds of things, including criticized James Comey, called him a nut job, said that this relieved him of pressure in his job to have it done.

The White House argued there was nothing wrong with that. It is true Trump has said a fair amount of that publicly, but it sets a different tone when you're saying in it a one-on-one meeting. I think the concern is going to be at minimum that the president is going to be led into saying something or voluntarily say something that he might not do if someone else were present.

And then there's the concern about how Vladimir Putin will portray this meeting. I think the concern is how he then turns around and says what he was told by the U.S. president, whether it's grounded in fact or not. It is pretty hard to combat it when you don't have a witness on your side.

TAPPER: Scott, let me put up some items on the agenda according to a senior administration official for the Trump/Putin summit meeting. They include arms control, Ukraine, Syria and, of course, 2016 election meddling and meddling in future elections as well.

If President Trump actually pushes on any of those topics, how could that meeting be easier than the one with NATO allies?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The reality is none of these meetings are easy, but at least you know where Vladimir Putin stands.

And what I would tell the president is, they're not our friends. These people are our enemies. Expect them to lie. They lie to everybody. And expect them, as Maggie said, to portray the meeting in a way that puts them in the best light no matter what actually happens in the room.

I'm not really nervous about this meeting. I just hope the president goes in -- he said he viewed Putin as a competitor, which is I think an interesting businessman-like jargon.

Sometimes, you can have friendly competition, but in the case of these guys, these are not friendly competitors. They're cutthroat competitors and the president ought to recognize that if he brings up any of these topics.

TAPPER: Cutthroat, literally, not just figuratively cutthroat.

JENNINGS: No doubt.

TAPPER: Kirsten, in "The Washington Post," a foreign affairs opinion editor argues that President Trump is looking to flatter Putin and he views him as a potential friend.

They write -- quote -- "Putin came of age as a secret police officer in the Soviet Union and he approaches his job through the lens of a centuries-old tradition of authoritarian power politics. It's a framework that doesn't really accommodate the notion of a bromance. Russia doesn't want us to be its friend. It wants us to be an enabler. Trump may be incapable of understanding this. And if he is, the result could be a disaster."

Is too much being made of this, do you think?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: No. I think that that's exactly right.

I don't think that Putin is somebody who would succumb to that. I think he could see right through what Trump is doing and I don't think Trump appreciates how sophisticated he is probably. He thinks he is more maybe like a Kim Jong-un-type person who maybe would listen to the flattery, though if we look at how that went, the reality is, there was a lot of build-up to that meeting and all the wonderful stuff was going to come of it.

And in the end really nothing did and Pompeo just had a pretty disastrous meeting over there in the follow-up. This flattery thing, as much as he seems to think it's a good idea, hasn't really produced anything yet.

TAPPER: You know President Trump well.

He does have a very confident sense of his own ability to negotiate that maybe is merited in New York real estate. I don't know. But certainly as of now, untested on the international stage.

HABERMAN: Look, I mean, the negative case about Donald Trump has always been that his reputation as a deal-maker was vastly overstated, that he's very good -- the deal that he's best at is presenting himself and selling himself and selling his image. And that got him very far, obviously.


That is not translatable to a world stage and that is not translatable to a meeting as high level as this because, to your point, Putin's set of concerns and interests and goals are just so vastly different than what the U.S.' are and what this president's are.

I think the other thing the White House is concerned about is not -- take away everything -- let's pretend that nothing gets said and let's pretend they all agree on what actually took place in the meeting. You are going to have...

TAPPER: Those are big ifs.

HABERMAN: I'm just saying, for instance, it could happen.


HABERMAN: If everything else is equal, you have got the NATO meetings, which are going to be contentious. You have got his arrival in the U.K., which is going to be contentious, which he even referenced is going to be contentious.

You're going to have the juxtaposition of those images, sort of tense images with allies to what is likely to be warmer, smiling pictures with Putin. It again becomes a prop that Putin can use.

And it's just not something the White House wants to see continued. Even people that think in the White House that the media is unfair to him or that there is an unnecessary focus on Russia and over- demonization of Russia in terms of the 2016 context, they just know this is not going to play well for him and they're worried about that.

POWERS: There's also just -- I just would love someone to explain why he thinks it's so much easier to be with a Putin type than to be with the NATO allies.

What are the allies doing that's so harmful? I think that Trump actually has a valid complaint. They do need to be spending more money on their own defense. There's no question about that. And he's right to I think take a hard line with them. But I don't understand what they're doing that would be so much worse than, say, you know, getting involved in an American election.

TAPPER: Yes. And a reminder that CNN has special coverage on the Trump/Putin summit in Helsinki, Finland next week. I'm going to be live in Helsinki starting this Sunday for "STATE OF THE UNION" at 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. Eastern, and on Monday also for THE LEAD at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

This might be Republican blasphemy. We will show you how President Trump's anti-NATO rhetoric stands in stark contrast with a GOP icon.

Then, the deadline is today, but the government says far fewer small children will be reunited with their parents and now they're blaming some of the parents.

Stay with us.


[16:16:26] TAPPER: President Trump's skepticism of international organizations and agreements, his repeated verbal attacks on NATO allies and his unusual praise and occasional deference toward Russian President Vladimir Putin have many foreign policy experts concerned that the president may ultimately upend the NATO alliance. It is, of course, credited with defending and protecting Western interests and values since 1949.

CNN's Barbara Starr is in Brussels.

Barbara, how concerned are U.S. allies on the eve of the summit about the president's commitment to NATO?


Well, here at NATO headquarters in Brussels, there is growing anxiety about what will happen tomorrow when President Trump sits down with his fellow heads of state.


STARR (voice-over): President Donald Trump still bitterly complaining about the alliance that has provided much of U.S. and European security for nearly 70 years.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We spend at least 70 percent for NATO and, frankly, it helps them a lot more than it helps us.

STARR: It's always in the fundamental question of President Trump really is prepared to upend the global world order that has had the support of generations of U.S. presidents, and has supported U.S. forces across countless battlefields.

DONALD TUSK, PRESIDENT OF THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL: Europe was first to respond on the large-scale when the U.S. was attacked and called for solidarity after 9/11. European soldiers have been fighting shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers in Afghanistan.

STARR: Today's rhetoric mimics Trump's 2016 campaign claims.

TRUMP: The U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves. We have no choice.

STARR: Stoking fears the U.S. may remove troops and weapons from Europe.

But that may be easier said than done. There are now over 70,000 U.S. troops in Europe, many in critical spots -- a reality even Trump's defense secretary who fought alongside NATO forces for decades acknowledges its importance. JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: In a world of wash and change, NATO

stands firm as an island of stability in a turbulent sea.

STARR: Trump's approach of taking on U.S. allies while maintaining a friendly position with Russian President Vladimir Putin stands in stark contrast to a Republican icon in the same situation 30 years ago.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT: Our first priority is to maintain a strong and healthy partnership between North America and Europe. We will never sacrifice the interests of this partnership in any agreement with the Soviet Union.


STARR: NATO is a mutual defense pact. So, the question now on the table is, does the president just want the other NATO members to spend more on defense? Something everybody thinks is a good idea. Or, is Mr. Trump preparing to walk away from 70 years of defense cooperation? Jake?

TAPPER: All right. Barbara Starr in NATO headquarters in Brussels, thanks so much.

Let's bring back the panel.

It's so odd listening to Secretary Mattis talk about NATO and president Trump talk about NATO. It's almost as if they work for a different administration.

Take a listen to Kay Bailey Hutchinson. She is the current U.S. ambassador to NATO.


KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: We are a deterrence alliance and being strong is the best deterrence.

[16:20:00] That's why I think it's so important that we show that strength, we show the unity. I think the discord is music to Putin's ears.


TAPPER: Scott, how do you explain the fact that Kay Bailey Hutchison seems to kind of tacitly criticizing President Trump in a way? She's criticizing the discord and he is one of the main people causing the discord.

JENNINGS: I think our ambassador and Secretary Mattis are on the operational side of our alliance with NATO. They're the ones who have to deal with NATO as we work through our logistical mutual defense pact. President Trump is on the negotiating side because it is true, all these NATO allies with the few exceptions have not been meeting their obligations as it relates to defense spending. In fact, the secretary-general of NATO today gave a speech and thanked Donald Trump for pushing the rest of the allies to spend more.

So, I think what Trump is doing is trying to get more money into the NATO alliance while Mattis and Hutchison are trying to keep the operational side of it as cooperative as possible.

TAPPER: Do you think it's that simple?

POWERS: No. I think this is part of a bigger world view that Donald Trump has, which is he doesn't like democratic institutions. So, he attacks the democratic institutions in this country, whether it's the intelligence community or it's the press. And he doesn't like -- he talked about pulling out of the WTO, something the United States helped to establish to help actually the United States.

And I think that he doesn't probably like NATO either. And this is something that's a world view among very nationalist people. They see this sort of big world order, right, the one world order and they want it torn down. And so, I don't think it's just -- you know, I don't think he's just being a negotiator and it is something as the ambassador said that he has in common with Putin.

TAPPER: Maggie, President Trump recently said that NATO is as bad as NAFTA.


TAPPER: Whatever that means.


TAPPER: Do you think that if he could, he would withdraw from NATO? I mean, is this something to take seriously?

HABERMAN: I think it is something to take seriously. I don't think that it is something that he is likely to do, but I don't know that I actually agree with either of you about where he is coming from. I think at the end of the day, I don't think it's that well thought out and I don't think it's a tactical negotiating skill. I think that there is a proportion issue with him and I think that he tends to view everything as zero-sum and everything exists to rip him off and he sees himself as the U.S. and therefore they're ripping me off.

And nothing is ever sort of distinct and nuance doesn't exist. So, NATO is just like NAFTA as you said, whatever that means. It's just that it's an acronym that he doesn't like at that given moment. I think it is unlikely that he would actually pull out because he doesn't -- he's not -- he comes close to touching these hot stoves and then doesn't usually do it, right?

The one time he really did it, Paris accord I guess was one. Another one was firing James Comey. Some of these have not worked out the way he wanted them to. So, I don't think he ultimately would do it, but he is going to talk as loudly as possible with little nuance as possible about it.

JENNINGS: I do think it's true, though, that since he started his push for more spending, we've seen -- I think last year four or five countries that were meeting their obligations. This year, they estimate that eight countries are going to meet their obligations.

So, if the net result of this is that all of these NATO allies end up spending more money on the mutual defense pact, which is against the Soviet Union, you know, in its original form, and now again, the global war on terror, that's a good thing. And so, if that's where we wind up at the end of Donald Trump's first term, more money in NATO defense, great.

HABERMAN: There is something -- there is something to that. The problem with that is that it ignores things like the discussion about Article 5 and you're right about a war on terror, and all of these countries were supporting the U.S. after 9/11, and that is never something that he talks about.

TAPPER: Article Five, yes. An attack on one is an attack on all.

HABERMAN: Correct. And that was invoked very strongly without hesitation after September 11th, 2001. And it's never a part of the equation that you hear him discuss.

TAPPER: Kirsten, let me ask you. If Latvia or Estonia were attacked or were invaded the way Crimea has been invaded by Russia, what do you think President Trump would do? Would he honor the Article Five agreement on attack on one is an attack on all?

POWERS: I don't know. I mean, I could see a situation where he wouldn't, definitely. I mean, I think that -- I do think he has a -- I do think that he is more aligned with Putin than we have ever seen any American president. And that he -- definitely has for some reason wants to always side with Russia and wants to -- and he's even parroted Russia's talking points in the past, you know, about Crimea and how they speak Russian and these kinds of things.

So, It's hard to say. I mean, I could definitely see him not doing what the typical U.S. President would do.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We've got a lot more to talk about.

President Trump's Supreme Court nominee with a charm offensive on Capitol Hill today, which is predictably not working with to Democrats. But some key Republicans may also not be too happy. Who are they?

Stay with us.


[16:29:20] TAPPER: The battle has now begun over the newest Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who started out his day on Capitol Hill trying to win over senators who could be key in confirming the 12-year D.C. Appeals Court judge. He's facing fierce protest from several top Democrats and liberal interest groups who vowed to fight Kavanaugh's nomination no matter what. But as CNN's Phil Mattingly asks, will any of this be enough to derail

Kavanaugh's momentum?


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: President Trump's Supreme Court nominee smiling and standing quietly during his inaugural Capitol Hill appearance.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I think the president made an outstanding nomination.

MATTINGLY: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office followed by a meeting with Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, offering relative calm amid the fierce partisan war.


MATTINGLY: It has already engulfed Washington.