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Trump Cancels Afghan/Taliban Meeting at Camp David Pence & Bolton Disagreed with After Taliban Attack Kills U.S. Soldier; Lawmakers Shocked, Condemn Trump's Afghan/Taliban Meeting at Camp David; U.S. Extracted Top Spy from Inside Russia in 2017; Bahamas Minister of Health Duane Sands Discusses Hurricane Death Toll, CBP Stopping Evacuees from Boarding Ferry to U.S., Bahaman Government Response. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 9, 2019 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate. Thank you so much for joining me.

President Trump planned it and now President Trump says he canceled it when it comes to the gathering that the president had hoped for bringing Afghanistan's leaders and the leaders of the Taliban to Camp David. Now we have learned two of the president's closest advisers, including Vice President Mike Pence, objected to the whole thing.

Both Pence and national security adviser, John Bolton, disagreed in holding talks with the Taliban at Camp David just days before the anniversary of the September 11th attacks but President Trump overruled them.

And then, this weekend, he changed his mind, blaming a suicide attack the Taliban claimed credit for that killed an American soldier and 11 others in Kabul. Announcing it on Twitter, which came as a shock to even the people involved in the negotiations.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle quickly condemned the plan.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): The whole thing doesn't quite make sense to me. And it is just another example of the president treating foreign policy like it's some kind of game show. This isn't a game show. These are terrorists.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Negotiations between nation states can happen there.

But a terrorist organization, that doesn't recognize nation states, that kills innocent women and children, that denies women the right to be in the same room as husbands, is just a minor part of the terrible things that they do, to have them at Camp David is totally unacceptable.


BOLDUAN: Joining me now, CNN White House reporter, Sarah Westwood, and CNN national security reporter, Kylie Atwood.

Sarah, we don't often hear from the vice president breaking with the president on basically anything. So what does this mean?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate. Vice President Pence was one of several officials who advised President Trump that a Camp David summit with the Taliban was not a good idea. Another one of them, National Security Adviser Bolton.

And both of them also warned President Trump about a potential backlash for hosting the Taliban on the U.S. soil the same week as anniversary of 9/11. That's on Wednesday.

But both men were overruled by President Trump who signed off on Camp David as the venue for this potential meeting because of its long history of hosting foreign leaders.

And sources tell CNN that President Trump grew frustrated with the progress of the Afghanistan peace talks. Keep in mind that bringing the troops home is a long-term goal of President Trump's ultimately. That's what the peace agreement with the Taliban/Afghanistan leaders was aiming to do.

And Trump considers himself best positioned to finalize this deal. We have seen him take that attitude in other negotiations, as well, with North Korea, thinking himself most capable of extracting concessions of adversaries.

And the bottom line here is just President Trump wanted the optics of striking a landmark deal in a historic setting. There were few aides involved in the planning of this summit. But even fewer knew the president was going to announce the collapse of this secret meeting in a series of tweets on Saturday night.

BOLDUAN: That's for sure.

Sarah, thank you.

Kylie, where does this leave the peace talks?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That is the million-dollar question right now because we have not heard from U.S. officials in the Trump administration what the preconditions are for restarting these talks.

We know that Secretary Pompeo made it clear yesterday and made it pretty clear that the U.S. feels that they can get back to the table with the Taliban if the Taliban show that they're able to uphold commitments that they have discussed across from U.S. officials in these meetings in Doha. But the key here is President Trump is now involved. As Sarah said,

he's grown frustrated with the talks in recent weeks. And he was told by those who are close to him, including Senator Graham and his National Security Adviser Bolton, that the Taliban were being given too much leverage.

So does that mean that what the U.S. had agreed to is off the table now and they have to start at ground zero? That is something that the U.S. officials who are working tirelessly on this effort are going to have to work towards.

But the reality, here is that the Taliban does feel that they are negotiating from a position of power. And so, how does the U.S. kind of draw them back to the table and determine that they are the ones who are going to make the decisions here and not just leave the country ahead of the president's election in 2020?

BOLDUAN: Kylie, great reporting. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Much more on this. Joining me is CNN national security adviser, Samantha Vinograd. She worked, of course, on U.S. negotiations with the Taliban while serving the White House and working under the national security adviser in the Obama administration.

Sam, I want your take. What if this is a negotiating tactic on the part of the president trying to -- he goes about this to try to gain leverage over the Taliban, working towards the peace talks? Does this help the negotiator, the man working on this for so long? Does this help him?


SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: This undercuts the negotiator. And President Trump is not a student of history or a student of much else, for that matter.

But if he looked back over the past several years, over the past several decades, the Taliban doesn't care about the court of public opinion. We should be talking to the Taliban. We should be negotiating with the Taliban. But not by tweet.

The Taliban is focused on trying to get a deal with the United States and trying to push the United States out of Afghanistan. What they're not focused on is what President Trump thinks about them or what his Twitter feed thinks about them.

All that President Trump's tweet did was push the Taliban into a corner such that they feel like they have to retaliate with violence. It's their trump card to show that they're negotiating from a position of strength.

And it puts President Trump's experts in a box. They now have to try to get talks back on track while dealing with the public backlash about this secret meeting. This should never have become public. President Trump should have

trusted his experts to do their jobs that we would be able to get a deal.

BOLDUAN: You are kind of getting to it but, if talks -- let's say at best talks are just at a pause, right? There's still 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan as we speak on the ground. What happens in the interim? Is this just -- we need to find another date? It seems like that's not how this works.

VINOGRAD: It's not a scheduling issue but the immediate near-term need right now for those in the Situation Room is try and mitigate the increased threat to coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan.

The Taliban will likely respond with violence. And is unclear that anyone on President Trump's team knew he was going to tweet about this meeting. It is unclear whether we move more assets into place to try to meet the threats that are coming out as a result of the president's tweet while, concurrently, trying to figure out what our withdrawal timeline is.

President Trump announced our withdrawal, which is the whole purpose of the negotiations, before we had a signed deal.


BOLDUAN: What President Trump criticized President Obama for.

VINOGRAD: Yes. But before we had a signed deal.

BOLDUAN: Right, right.

VINOGRAD: At this point, I don't know if the Taliban or anybody else for that matter believes that we are going to keep the same troop presence even not getting a deal. So the military maybe starting to implement a withdrawal timeline while trying to mitigate these increased threats from the Taliban while negotiators are trying to figure out how to even salvage these negotiations in the first place.

BOLDUAN: Regardless, this is so important. This is such a huge moment. It's so amazing that it is this unclear.

VINOGRAD: And so unnecessary, so unnecessary.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Sam. Really appreciate it.

VINOGRAD: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: We will have much more on this for everybody coming up.

Now to a CNN exclusive, though. We have new reporting about a previously undisclosed operation by the United States involving spying on the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin.

CNN anchor, CNN chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He broke the story. He's here with me now. Jim, thank you so much.

First, lay out what your reporting is and what you have learned.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR & CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Here are the headlines. Multiple Trump administration officials with direct knowledge tell me, in a previously undisclosed secret mission in 2017, the U.S. successfully extracted from Russia one of its highest-level covert sources inside the Russian government.

Knowledge of the Russian covert source's existence highly restricted even within the U.S. government. According to a source, there was no equal alternative inside the Russian government, providing both insight and information on the Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A person directly involved in the discussions said that the removal of the Russian was driven, in part, by concerns that President Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence which could contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy.

The decision to carry out the extraction occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which, you may remember, Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.

The intelligence concerning ISIS in Syria had been provided by Israel. The disclosure to the Russians by the president, though not specifically about the Russian spy, prompted intelligence officials to renew discussions about the potential risk of exposure. This, according to a source directly involved in the matter.

At the time, then-CIA Director Pompeo told other Trump senior administration officials that too much information was coming out regarding this asset.

BOLDUAN: So, Jim, what are you hearing about the fact that this was not the first time that there were concerns about this source, this spy being exposed?

SCIUTTO: For sure. And to be clear, I spoke to multiple officials and these concerns were growing over months.

At the end of the Obama administration, U.S. intelligence officials had already expressed concerns about the safety of this spy and other Russian assets, given the length of their cooperation with the U.S. This, according to a former senior intelligence official.

Those concerns grew in early 2017 after the U.S. Intelligence Community released its public report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which said that Putin himself ordered the operation.

The Intelligence Community also shared a classified version of that report with the incoming Trump administration, which included highly protected details on the sources behind the intelligence.

[11:10:06] Senior U.S. officials considered extracting at least one Russian asset at the time but did not do so, according to the former senior intelligence official.

However, when the meeting with the Russians happened in the Oval Office, that raised new talks, and concerns in the Intelligence Community continued to grow in the period after Trump's Oval Office meeting with Kislyak and Lavrov.

Weeks after the decision to extract the covert source, the president met privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit in Hamburg. You may recall that, at that meeting, he took the unusual step of confiscating the interpreter's notes.

Afterwards, I'm told intelligence officials again expressed concern again that the president may have improperly discussed classified intelligence with Russia. This, according to an intelligence source with knowledge of the Intelligence Community's response to that Trump/Putin meeting.

So you can see here, Kate, it was not just one instance.


SCIUTTO: It was a series of instances.

BOLDUAN: I know you reached out. What is the Trump administration saying about this?

SCIUTTO: All right. I reached out to the administration, of course, the agency, as well. One U.S. official I spoke to said, before the secret operation, there was media speculation about the existence of such a covert source, and such coverage or public speculation poses risks to the safety of anyone a foreign government even suspects may be involved.

However, this official did not identify any public reporting to that effect at the time of this decision. CNN itself could not find any related reference in the media, again, at the time.

Asked for comment, Brittany Bramell, the CIA director of public affairs, told CNN, quote, "CNN's narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life-or-death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false. Misguided speculation that the president's handling of our nation's most sensitive intelligence, which he has access to each and every day, drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate."

A spokesperson for the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, declined to comment. The White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, said, quote, "CNN's reporting is not only incorrect but it has the potential to put lives in danger."

However, the removal happened at a time of wide concern in the Intelligence Community of mishandling of intelligence by Trump and his administration. Those concerns that were described to me by five sources who served in the Trump administration, the intelligence agencies and Congress.

I should also note, Kate, that CNN is withholding some key details about the spy to reduce the risk of this asset's identification.

BOLDUAN: Speaking about asset, what is the cost of -- from what you have gathered from your sources, what is the cost of losing an asset like this, one that was clearly importantly placed?

SCIUTTO: Enormous, at an enormously important time between the U.S. and Russia. It's left the U.S. without one its key source on the inner workings of the Kremlin and the plans and thinkings of the Russian president at a time when tensions between the U.S. and Russia have been growing.

The U.S. Intel Community considers Russia one of the two greatest threats to U.S. national security, along with China.

A former senior intelligence official tells me, quote, "The impact would be huge because it's so hard to develop sources like that in any denied area, particularly Russia, because the surveillance and security there is so stringent." This official added, "You can't reacquire a capability like that overnight."

This is big loss.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Thank you, Jim. Really appreciate you bringing that.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: So much, so much more to learn from this.

Really, really appreciate it.

Joining me now for more perspective on this from Jim's great reporting, is Steve Hall, CNN national security analyst and a retired CIA chief of Russia operations.

Steve, I just want to get your take on what we make of this reporting.

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Kate, I think it's probably clear that I need to be somewhat circumspect in the comments here.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

HALL: I'm reticent to talk about American capabilities because, I can assure you of one thing right now, that the Russian counterintelligence service are watching very carefully this story and how it's handled both in the administration and in the press.

That said, what this does say to me is it just deepens my concerns about a president who seemingly thinks that intelligence information is sort of his to do whatever he wants with. And what are the consequences of that? You have got, as Jim was mentioning, in his report, the situation of

the Oval Office talking about very sensitive intelligence in that time from the Israelis with the Russians. Of course, the icing on the cake was, oh, I just got rid of this guy at the FBI I don't like very much, James Comey.

Just a couple of days ago, the president tweets out what appears, to me at least, and I don't know for sure, but it looks close to a classified overhead of an Iranian missile launch site.

And then, very quickly, if you had questions whether or not the president was concerned he abused classified information, he comes out with another tweet saying, this is my absolute right to use this information however I want to.

So when you have a president who's willing to use intelligence for pretty much whatever he wants to, you're going to have consequences that can have long, long range, down-range impact on U.S. national security. And that concerns me.


BOLDUAN: And, Steve, I know you can't -- won't give a play by play, and I would never ask or want you to. But as Jim was talking about what the sources telling him of the cost of losing an asset like this. The way it's described, this asset is described as "one of the U.S. government's highest-level covert sources inside the Russian government."

From your perspective, can you describe the value of that asset? And also if you're still head of Russia operations, what are you doing, what have you been doing to try to fill the void that is left then?

HALL: Yes, Kate. Again, I have to be careful. But if I were in my old position, this would always be a concern of -- that, frankly, wouldn't have had to be dealt with before. You're collecting, you're trying to collect -- you know, not just Russian operations. There's operations worldwide.

And when you have to ask yourself, well, how, at the end of the day, is this information going to be used is it going to be treated appropriately by the senior-most members of our government, that's a concern. It's also a concern of our allies. So that's something that, again --


HALL: -- is very worrisome.

BOLDUAN: Also, how much does -- would President Trump or any president be told about this certain asset? Do they know everything?

HALL: Kate, they know as much as they want. You know, if you get a request from the White House or from senior members of the administration, hey, we want to know in great detail about, you know, a particular intelligence operation -- you know, by law and by our regulation, if I'm not mistaken, the president can ask whatever he wants about that.

Again, that can make people very, very nervous, both inside our own Intelligence Community and, again, our allies who may be passing us critical counterterrorism information, for example.

BOLDUAN: Always important to have your perspective, especially in a day like this.

Steve, thank you so much.

HALL: Sure.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, for us, the death toll and the despair rising in the Bahamas. Now we're learning that more than 100 people were trying to evacuate the islands and come to the United States on a ferry and they were told to get off the boat. Details on that ahead.

Plus, one of the president's golf resorts is now at the center of a big investigation into military spending. Got much more on that. Stay with us.



BOLDUAN: Seventy thousand, that is the number of people now left homeless in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. Devastation as far as the eye can see on some of the hardest-hit islands.

Here's how the head of USAID describes it after touring some of these parts.


MARK GREEN, USAID ADMINISTRATOR: What I was struck by was the focused nature of the devastation. So there are parts of Abaco and the Bahamas that don't show a great deal of damage. And then there are clusters and communities devastated, almost as though nuclear bombs were dropped on them. That's how great the suffering is and the devastation is.


BOLDUAN: And it continues.

Meanwhile, there's growing confusion really over where Bahamans can now seek refuge. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is now speaking out after new reporting that more than 100 people trying to evacuate the Bahamas on a ferry were forced off the ferry after hearing this announcement. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: All passengers that don't have U.S. visas, please proceed to disembark.


BOLDUAN: Visas are not required for Bahaman residents flying into the United States if they meet other criteria.

U.S. Customs now says this move, what you just heard there, was not under their direction and not how they would have handled it. Listen.


MICHAEL SILVA, PUBLIC INFORMATION LIAISON, CBP: We would have basically made sure that everybody was properly documented and facilitated that process working with the cruise line. So why they said that I wouldn't know. And it's really heartbreaking for them to say that to these people that have really suffered more than beyond comprehension.


BOLDUAN: That's for sure.

For the very latest, joining me on the phone is the Bahaman minister of health, Duane Sands.

Minister, thank you so much for joining me.

DUANE SANDS, MINISTER OF HEALTH, THE BAHAMAS (via telephone): Hi. Good morning. How are you?

BOLDUAN: I'm doing well, thank you.

I really appreciate your time.

Have you received any clarity about that situation with folks being told trying to evacuate the island to come to the United States on that ferry and then being forced off? Have you gotten any clarity on it?

SANDS: No, I haven't.

You know, the complexity of this situation, which is an immigration matter, certainly my fellow cabinet minister that has responsibility for foreign affairs, Darren Henfield, and the minister of immigration will be in close contact with the U.S. counterparts in order to try to resolve this issue.

In the urgency of the moment, as you can imagine, not every "I" is dotted nor every "T" crossed.

BOLDUAN: That's -- yes. That is for sure. Folks trying to get off may not have the documents that are required, though they still do need to get off the island.

You even hear the sympathy and empathy from U.S. Border Patrol and border protection on that one.

The death toll -- let me ask you about - (CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Go ahead. I'm sorry.


SANDS: Before we go there, I mean, the other problem is that there are persons who may, indeed, have passports with visas but they have been destroyed in the floods and the hurricane.


SANDS: So, believe me, let me say categorically that we have been the beneficiaries of tremendous international support. And one of the greatest comforting entities is the United States of America.

So, the micromanagement of this particular issue is not something that I am certainly going to get involved in, except to say that I am sure that this is going to be resolved and resolved satisfactorily.

BOLDUAN: We'll be checking back in on that.

So the death toll right now stands at 45 people. And you have said all along you expect it to go up and to go up significantly. I did hear that you announced new updates on the death toll coming from the prime minister's office from now on. But when do you think that you will have a final count? Will have your arms around the enormity of that?

SANDS: Well, I think we have a massive logistics challenge. The island of Abaco is 100 miles long. Grand Bahama is 100 miles. You have discrete pockets of populations separated by land and water. Many of those areas devastated with debris, residual flooding.

And you have teams of experts, many of them from the United States and Canada, equipped with cadaver dogs and the Bahaman Defense Force of Bahamas and police force officers. And they are -- they have divided the hurricane zones into grids and they're working methodically in order to find out, can we clear this area? Can we clear this cluster of homes, et cetera?

But if you're talking 1,200 square miles, and bear in mind that many of the vehicles that would ordinarily be used to move people and things have themselves been destroyed, you understand the logistic challenge.

So, to answer your question directly, we have no idea how long it's going to take. It could be weeks. It could be months.

BOLDUAN: Are you expecting this to be in the hundreds or the thousands of people to have perished?

SANDS: I have heard speculative estimates. And I stand by my previous statement that the public should be prepared for unimaginable numbers. That we expect the death toll to rise. But I don't think that there's going to be a whole lot of benefit in

pegging it at a particular number. There are many souls that have lost their lives, many families that are grieving.

We will work until we identify them all or at least retrieve them all. We will treat them with dignity that they deserve. And then we have to do the legal process of determining a cause of death, notifying next of kin, and then giving them a proper disposition of their remains.

BOLDUAN: Beyond just getting to the final death toll and the process that you just laid out, there's -- I am hearing criticism that the government has moved too slowly to provide basic relief to the Bahamians, food and water, that sort of thing. What do you say to that?

SANDS: I say that, you know, there are certainly instances where we have not been as rapid in our response to certain communities. There are other communities where we moved quite quickly. We have certainly moved as quickly as we could.

We have been ironing out the kinks in terms of organization and deployment. I have spoken to the destruction of much of the capacity in order to do what it is that we're trying to do. I have mentioned that, in Grand Bahama Island, 100 miles long, we have one functioning ambulance. One.

BOLDUAN: Minister, I was going to ask you about that. The status of the hospitals, troubling reports that, like in Grand Bahama, they can't perform surgery. They're not even equipped for that yet. The rooms that aren't flooding, the ones that are available that aren't flooded, they are completely full. What is the status of the hospital situation?


SANDS: Well, we have recognized, the operating room, intensive care center, et cetera --