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Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Public Appearance; Trump Wanted to Stop Hurricanes With Nuclear Weapons?; G7 Summit Fallout. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired August 26, 2019 - 15:00   ET



NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Maybe the weather might change. Maybe some other natural phenomenon might slow the

burn. This is 85 percent up on last year.


WALSH: It's taking out vast swathes of the Amazon here, of an area twice the size of France, you heard Emmanuel Macron saying

Drips of rain like I'm feeling now are not going to change that dynamic. What will do it is people stopping setting those fires and people coming in to put the fires that are currently burning out.

CABRERA: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you for that reporting.

Top of the hour. I'm Ana Cabrera, in for Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for staying with me.

The president is now on his way back to the White House this hour, but he leaves his G7 allies with more questions than answers. Among the global economic concerns, the president's trade strategy with China. And after days of whiplash decision-making and turbulent markets, President Trump says a deal is in sight.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The vice chairman of China came out that he wants to see a deal made. He wants it to be made under calm conditions, using the word calm. I agree with him on that. And China has taken a very hard hit over the last number of months.

You know, they have lost three million jobs. It will soon be much more than three million jobs. Their chain is breaking. The chain is breaking up like nobody's seen before. And once that happens, it's very hard to put it back together, you understand.

I think they very much want to make a deal, and the longer they wait, the harder it is to put it back.


CABRERA: Now, throughout the summit, the president advocated to let Russian President Vladimir Putin rejoin the summit.

Today, he once again blamed President Obama for Putin's ouster.


TRUMP: I think it would be better to have Russia inside the tent than outside the tent. Do we live either way? Yes, we live either way. Is it politically popular for me to say that? Possibly not.

I do nothing for politics. I know a lot of you aren't going to -- you're going to smile for that. I do nothing for politics. I do what's right. President Obama was pure and simply outsmarted. They took Crimea during his term.

Would I invite him? I would certainly invite him. Whether or not he could come, psychologically, I think that's a tough thing for him to do.


CABRERA: With us now, CNN White House reporter Sarah Westwood.

And, Sarah, this weekend, there were a lot of mixed signals from the president and the White House as a whole. Walk us through some of the disconnects.


A lot of confusion still surrounding President Trump's performance at the G7 summit this weekend. Just to take a few examples, on China, President Obama said during a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson -- he sort of opened the door to potentially having second thoughts about his aggressive approach to U.S.-China trade negotiations.

He said, "I have second thoughts on everything," only to have the White House later walk those comments back, say that President Trump's only regret when it comes to U.S.-China trade relations is that he hasn't hiked tariffs up even higher.

And then, just about a day later, President Obama saying that China wants to come back to the negotiating table, sort of softening his rhetoric there, saying he really wants to make a deal with China, believes that one is still possible, despite the escalations.

And when it comes to climate change, President Trump missed out on the G7 climate action meeting this morning. And the White House said it was because he had scheduled bilaterals and meetings with the Indian prime minister and with prime minister -- Chancellor Angela Merkel from Germany, even though both Merkel and Modi were present at that climate change meeting.

So not a lot of making sense about the White House's reasoning for President Trump not attending that climate change meeting. Later, when he was asked about climate change, he said it's still a high priority for his administration. He says he knows a lot about the environment, and yet highlighting the fact that he's unlocked American wealth, in his eyes, through energy production domestically.

And finally, when it comes to Russia, President Trump creating a lot of uncertainty there. He repeatedly brought up the prospect of Russia being readmitted to the G7. It was ejected from what was then the G8 over Russia annexing territory in Ukraine, Crimea.

Russia still holds that territory. That hasn't changed. That after a senior administration official told reporters before the summit that Russia had not even asked to be readmitted to the group, so that wasn't really going to be a priority for Trump. He did bring it up repeatedly.

And he refused to be pinned down on whether he would invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to next year's G7 summit, which will be held here in the U.S. He said perhaps he would invite Putin, but he's not sure if Putin would actually accept the invitation.

And then just more broadly, Ana, President Trump projecting this sense of total unity coming out of the G7, even though there still remains tensions between him and allies over the uncertainty in the global economy created by his China trade relations and him pushing for the readmission of Russia into the G7, which there's no consensus on that.

Many leaders disagree, Ana.

CABRERA: OK, Sarah Westwood at the White House, thank you for recapping all of that.

With us now, Samantha Vinograd. She's a former senior adviser to the national security adviser under President Obama. She's also a CNN national security analyst. And Hagar Chemali once served as spokeswoman for the U.S. mission at the United Nations.


Ladies, so glad you could both be here to help walk our viewers through all of this.

Let me start, Sam, with President Trump continuing to blame President Obama and pushing Putin out of what was then the G8.

Fact-check that.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think that Trump's version of Russian history is going to be printed in Russian textbooks at this point, because it is so flattering with respect to Putin and Medvedev, Putin's predecessor, and so untrue when it comes to actual history here.

We both worked under President Obama at the White House. We were both staffing G8s when Russia was the skunk at the G8 party. Russia didn't un-invade Ukraine. Russia didn't un-annex Crimea. So, at this point, what President Trump is doing is criticizing his

predecessor on foreign soil, and really not paying attention to the fact that Russia has continued to engage in destabilizing activities. And what President Trump is doing is signaling that he's open to rewarding bad behavior for a reason unbeknownst to us, which may just be he wants to keep Putin happy.

Now, finally, Ana, as Sarah just pointed out, we don't even know if Putin wants to come to an actual G7 meeting. So what this shows is that Trump is really speaking off the cuff without coordination with allies. And his most important focus right now is criticizing President Obama and reinventing history.

CABRERA: And in the next breath, Hagar, he says, I don't care about politics.


CABRERA: I do what's right.

Was that on display?

CHEMALI: You know, one of the things that I found fascinating was that he brought up President Obama and tried to blame him for Russia's ejection from the G8 and tried to blame him for Russia even invading and annexing Crimea, which is so categorically false, number one, and, number two, shows a lack -- fundamentally, a lack of understanding of history, of what happened back then, of why Russia was kicked out.

And also the fact that the other G7 leaders are not interested in having Russia at the table. It's an absurd idea for a variety of reasons. Aside from the fact that the implication would be that they would have to un-mess the situation up for -- to give Crimea back to Ukraine, in order to even be invited back or that they should in fact make the request, but it's an insult to the United States itself, given their meddling in the U.S. election.

And it also just doesn't make sense, given that you have got the United States and other leaders from countries around that table who are actively sanctioning the Russian government. So how are you supposed to have them at the table talking about other broader international economic, national security, energy issues with a country, an adversary that you're actively targeting? It just doesn't make any sense.

CABRERA: And, again, the next G7 summit will be here in the U.S.

The president talked about this possibility. And it really sounds like it's leaning that direction, based on a White House statement after this, in which this summit would be held at one of his family's properties in Miami, the Doral resort there. He touted the resort's national security provisions, the bungalows, the conference rooms.

He said he would not make any money off of it.

Sam, I know you have been involved in preparing for one of these summits. What do you think?

VINOGRAD: Well, one of the things that we did when we prepared for summits was identify a site that was secure and that didn't present a conflict of interest. That's why, for example, we held the G8 at Camp David. It was a secure site.

It was accessible to other world leaders. And you could get actual business done in a way that didn't confuse the world about whether the U.S. president was trying to promote American business or his own business.

And throughout his presidency, President Trump has conflated bringing world leaders to Washington, D.C., and pretending, at least, that they're there to gauge in foreign policy, while perhaps encouraging them to stay at his hotels. He's opened up counterintelligence risks when he's done business at Mar-a-Lago without adequate security provisions being in place.

So, from this point, when you think about what this message is globally, it really signals to other world leaders that if they perhaps cozy up to the president's business properties and say that they will stay at those properties or hotels, that they might get a more positive outlook from the president.

CABRERA: And, Hagar, you weren't just critical about President Trump and his place at the G7, but you said it was like amateur hour at the G7.


CABRERA: So you felt critical about the other leaders as well. Explain.

CHEMALI: That's right.

I was really disappointed in the whole show. First, I will start off by saying that when Sam and I worked on these issues and prepared for these summits, they were a big deal. We would prepare months in advance. We took a heavy pen on the schedule, on the agenda, regardless of whether or not we were hosting the event.

We're just not in normal times. But that being said, right, President Trump has not shown great behavior at any of these summits, not last year, where he walked out early and didn't sign the communique, not the year before, where he wouldn't agree to reaffirm our commitment to the climate change accord.

But this year, what I found different and really quite disappointing was the fact that I found at least President Macron engaged in a very similar bravado type of behavior by inviting Zarif without a very clear plan, without very clear stated goals.


VINOGRAD: But the plan worked, though, to an extent. You and I might disagree on this. Macron did take a gamble. Other leaders did tell President Trump to a certain extent some of

what he wanted to hear on various issues. They expressed on openness to trade. But at least for now, Macron and other leaders did get President Trump to take a more conciliatory tone on China, at least for the time being, and to express an openness to negotiate.


VINOGRAD: So while it may have been amateur hour from President Trump's perspective, it feels to me that the other G6 leaders did what we should be doing, which is coordinating amongst themselves to try get the skunk at this G7 party, the United States, in line with their positions for the time being.


CABRERA: Ladies, got to leave it there. Thank you so much, Hagar, Sam. Good to see you both.


CABRERA: Now, with a tropical storm threatening the Caribbean, a new report says the president had an idea to stop hurricanes with nukes. We will take a look at his obsession with nuclear weapons next.

Plus, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg makes her first public appearance since her most recent cancer treatment. And we will have what she said.

Also, a new poll of 2020 Democratic contenders, guess what, it is a three-way tie now at the top between Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

We will break it down. Stay with us.



CABRERA: It's the fourth named storm now of the season. Tropical Storm Dorian could become a hurricane by tomorrow.

And as we're watching Dorian, we're learning of President Trump's nuclear option for handling hurricanes.

Axios is reporting that the president suggested dropping a nuclear weapon inside a system to stop the storm, and a source paraphrased Trump saying as saying -- quote -- "As they're moving across the Atlantic, we drop a bomb inside the eye of the hurricane and it disrupts it. Why can't we do that?"

The source told Axios the briefer responded to the effect of, "Sir, we'll take a look at that" or "We'll look into that."

And here's more from Axios' source. The briefer -- quote -- "was knocked back on his heels. People were astonished." The president has denied the story, but he would not be the first to think of this idea.

Let me turn to CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray.

Jennifer, scientists in the Eisenhower years suggested this. There's actually an explainer about this on a government Web site. So why would a nuclear bomb not work?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Many, many reasons. And the bottom line, really, is that hurricanes are way more powerful than a nuclear bomb.

In fact, the average hurricane has 50 times the power mankind can produce in a day with all of our power, electric, fossil fuels, nuclear, and other generators of power, 50 times more.

And so hurricanes are bigger and more powerful than most people can even realize. In fact, the energy in an average hurricane in a 24- hour period is equal to exploding more than 400 20-megaton bombs.

And so, basically, we wouldn't be able to do it. The other reason it's not a good idea is you have to factor in, if you did put a nuke in one of these hurricanes, basically, the particles from it would flow with the winds, and so it would end up over land where we all live.

And so that wouldn't be good for anyone. Chances are we would all be wiped out and this hurricane would still be chugging along -- Ana.

CABRERA: Not good. That explains it all. Jennifer Gray, thanks.

Now, this story does show that nuclear options are never far from the president's minds.

Let's bring in CNN politics reporter and editor at large, Chris Cillizza, with more on this.

Chris, it seems the president has a nuclear obsession dating back to the '80s.


He's consistent about his interest and belief in nuclear power and nuclear weapons. OK, Ana, let's go through it.

Let's first start in 1984, an interview with "The Washington Post," my former colleague Lois Romano. He's talking about -- by the way, the context here. He's talking about why he, Donald Trump, private citizen at the time, should be the lead negotiator on Russia and the United States talking about their nuclear weapons.

Here we go.

"Some people have the ability to negotiate. It's an art you're basically born with. You either have it or you don't." And here's the key. "It's something that somebody should do that knows how to negotiate, and not the kind of representatives I have seen in the past."

Again, he goes on to say -- oh, this is my favorite part. "It would take an hour-and-a-half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles."


"I think I know most of it anyway."

So again, 1984, not 2019, but very little has changed about Donald Trump. OK, let's keep going, because, trust me, there's more, I believe, I am told. OK. Yes, I was right.

Joe Scarborough, August 2016, during the campaign, while Trump was effectively the nominee: "Several months ago, a foreign policy expert on the international level went to advise Donald Trump and three times he asked about the" -- and this will pop over to the next room, which is -- "the potential to use and deploy nuclear weapons," again, August 2016.

He believed then and believes now this is a good viable option for lots of things. OK, let's play some sound. The first one, I believe this is from Chris Matthews interviewing candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 election about nuclear weapons and nuclear power."


Let's play that.


TRUMP: First of all, you don't want to say take everything off the table.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: No, just nuclear.

TRUMP: Because you're a bad negotiator if you do.

MATTHEWS: Just nuclear.

TRUMP: Look, nuclear should be off the table. But would there be a time when it could be used? Possibly. Possibly.

MATTHEWS: OK. The trouble is, when you said that, the whole world heard it. David Cameron in Britain heard it. The Japanese, where we bombed them in '45, heard it. They're hearing a guy running for president of the United States talking of maybe using nuclear weapons.

Nobody wants to hear that about an American president.

TRUMP: Then why are we making them? Why do we make them?

(END VIDEO CLIP) CILLIZZA: Right. So there's an example.

Nuclear should be off the table, except possibly we need it.

Then we have our own Wolf Blitzer talking to Trump. Let's play that.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: You're ready to let Japan and South Korea become nuclear powers?

TRUMP: I am prepared to -- if they're not going to take care of us properly, we cannot afford to be the military and the police for the world. We are right now the police for the entire world.


CILLIZZA: OK, so, look, Ana, it's very clear. This is 1984 to 2018. There's many more examples we don't have time to fit into one segment. But he continues to always believe nuclear is -- well, two things, one, nuclear is a good and viable option for lots of things, and, two, he is an expert on nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

Now, both of those things combined and you get the idea that maybe we should nuke hurricanes, which, as the previous segment showed, would be an absolutely terrible and destructive idea -- Ana, back to you.


CABRERA: All right, Chris Cillizza, you always make things interesting. Thanks.


CABRERA: Despite recently undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court justice, is speaking in public. She's not slowing down.

Hear her message next.



CABRERA: Welcome back.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made her first public remarks since news of her pancreatic cancer diagnosis. She traveled to the University at Buffalo to receive an honorary degree and multiple standing ovations.

The 86-year-old justice briefly referenced her health challenges during her speech, but didn't get specific. She did, however, delight in the notion that she's become a pop culture icon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RUTH BADER GINSBURG, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE, U.S. SUPREME COURT: It was beyond my wildest imagination that I would one day become the notorious RBG.



GINSBURG: I am now 86 years old, yet people of all ages want to take their picture with me. Amazing.




CABRERA: Joan Biskupic, CNN Supreme Court analyst and biographer, was there.

Joan, Justice Ginsburg looked well and strong. I know you have observed her for years as you have studied the Supreme Court. What did you see in those moments today, given what we have learned about her most recent cancer battle?


First of all, you're right. They were on their feet for RBG today multiple times. And I have to say, this could have been Ruth Bader Ginsburg 10 years ago. She was assisted on to the stage, but then her voice was very strong. She showed some sense of humor. She seemed in usual form.

And she talked about Supreme Court milestones, women's equality rights, and her friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia. And, Ana, one of the things she did do when she reflected on her recent health concerns, she talked about how meaningful this visit was to her.

It had been arranged by a former classmate when she was at Cornell as an undergraduate. A man who had become an attorney here in Buffalo had set this all up. And he died in December. And she said that she was dedicating this appearance to him, and she wasn't going to let her own health problems challenge her in any way.

And about those problems, this is the fourth time she has survived cancer. And each time, Ana, she comes back seemingly like she's got a renewed sense of mission.

CABRERA: Yes. Yes. It's amazing, her resilience and her toughness.

She certainly doesn't seem to be slowing down. What else is on her agenda? Another event tonight?

OK, obviously, Joan can't hear us anymore.

We will continue to follow the developments with Justice Ginsburg as she recovers from this latest cancer scare.

Meantime, the race among Democrats vying for the White House might be tightening, a new poll showing a three-way tie at the top. Details ahead.

Plus, as some of Senator Elizabeth Warren's recent rallies attract their biggest crowds yet, I will speak to someone who says there's a real possibility of a President Warren in 2020.

That's next.