Return to Transcripts main page


Retired Army Brig. Gen. Peter Zwack Discusses Trump, Pence Not Being Briefed On Russia Offering Bounties To Kill U.S. & U.K. Troops In Afghanistan, Russian Bounties Believed To Have Resulted In U.S. Deaths; Update On Coronavirus Responses Around The World; The White House Tries To Explain Trump's Recent Tweets; Pence Defends Reason Behind His Refusal To Say "Black Lives Matter". Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired June 29, 2020 - 14:30   ET




BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: President Trump is denying he was briefed on intelligence that Russia offered bounties to Taliban militants to kill Americans in Afghanistan.

Just last hour, the White House was asked why the president was never informed about it and this is what we heard from Kayleigh McEnany.


KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The CIA director, NSA, the national security advisor and the chief of staff can all confirm that neither the president nor vice president were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But has he since been briefed since all of these reports came out?

MCENANY: So, let me back up and say this. There's no consensus within the Intelligence Community on these allegations. And in effect, there are dissenting opinions from some in the Intelligence Community with regards to the veracity of what's being reported.


BALDWIN: Despite those denials over and over, sources tell CNN that, last week, the U.S. even shared that intelligence with British officials, as some of the British troops would have been targeted as well.

And today, the "Washington Post" reporting the bounties are believed to have been led to multiple deaths of American troops.

Lawmakers, of course, are demanding answers. The White House now says seven Republican members of Congress just wrapped up a briefing on this intelligence moments ago.

Peter Zwack is a retired Army brigadier general. General, always a pleasure and honor to have you on.

I want to begin, sir, with that talking point from the White House, quote, "no consensus within the Intelligence Community on this. So, it wouldn't have been elevated to something else."


Why not? What did you make of her response?:

PETER ZWACK, RETIRED U.S. ARMY BRIGADIER GENERAL: Thank you, Brooke, and your distinguished audience.

I have a lot of personal equity and scar tissue related to this issue. I led a senior intelligence cell in Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009. There was a lot of problems, stress with the Taliban. A lot of people lost in the command.

We lived and breathed a threat, sourcing, evaluation, assessments, and would push forward up and our business, and it went all the way up, was about corroborating and doing all we could to confirm the threat streams we were feeling from the field in Afghanistan.

In our expectation -- and it worked most of the time -- was inter- agency and the various, different intelligence echelons and groups and capabilities, would work it, fuse it, massage it, and give the best assessment it could to the inter-agency and the White House.

We would often caveat and say this is unconfirmed intelligence but still senior leadership should hear it.

I'm appalled this was not -- what I'm hearing deemed important enough or verified enough it was not briefed to senior leadership, especially the president of the United States.

BALDWIN: What are you hearing? Why wouldn't it have been taken to the commander-in-chief?

ZWACK: I don't know. I don't know. I'm not in that world.

But I have a feeling that we are right now so snarled in our own internal senior-level body politicking in the United States, that there's a terrible lack of trust in that environment. Credible leadership, I think the whole country is craving for credible leadership.

And there's a sense that this is being battered around as a political football rather than, hey, this is what it is. And whether you agree with it, he, they need hear it.

What would happen, Brooke, in a fast-breaking crisis where 20 to 30 minutes we have to make a decision in an environment like this? It's -- it's terrible to see what's going on.

BALDWIN: Is it, General, at all in the realm of possible that because of the president's, we'll call it friendly relationship with Vladimir Putin, the fact that he wants Russia to join a G-8, is it possible any of the intel agencies would not have wanted to bring to the president?

ZWACK: This brings me to speculation, which is a very, very dangerous place.

I will say this. I was an active-duty, long-time member of the Intelligence Community. And it is their obligation to put that information forward, whether or not their senior looked at it negatively or not. That is their charter.

I believe them. When they make a consequential intelligence call like they did, and it may be ambiguous in parts. I believe in the credibility of the men and women of the Intelligence Community, even after all the chaos domestically we've had in the last two years.

BALDWIN: If the combination of all of these reports are true, that Russia did, in fact, bribe militants to kill coalition forces, how should the president respond?

ZWACK: First of all, I -- this is hard. This is hard at any echelon. I'm one and on the record that believes we need to find a path, and Russia needs a path with us, to a better, safer place, or else we're going to be in a world of hurt in the next generation, both of us.

Saying that, if the information is confirmed or strongly suggests that the Russians were doing this in conjunction with the Taliban, the president should have a direct line to Vladimir Putin. Our ambassadors should be talking to each other.

And by the way, this is also not a U.S.-on-Russia thing. This is also the British and probably other coalition members imparting that targeting. And anything we do, we should not do unilaterally as just the U.S. We should try to do in tandem with our allies.


We will have to push back on the Russians if this is accurate.

BALDWIN: My final question is more about stepping back and -- again, this is a report that's been corroborated, not just by CNN, "Washington Post," the "New York Times," A.P., on this bounty.

And I'm thinking of just American lives, military families now coming into this news and losing their loved one, which was tragic enough. How significant, how gut-wrenching is this?

ZWACK: This is visceral to many Americans who have served or have loved ones who do serve or know people.

This falls, if you will, the most sacrosanct part of the oath we take, presidents take, because they are out, as men and women in -- on the edge, if you will, trying to do the right thing. It's not perfect.

But we owe, from the president to our entire body politics in our nation, those great Americans out there and all allies, all the support. And no ambiguity in that support. This has to be terribly supporting. What we need more than anything else, right now, I think, the

Americans, we're craving, craving credible leadership.

BALDWIN: Brigadier General, retired Brigadier General Peter Zwack, a privilege, sir. Thank you very much.

ZWACK: The privilege is mine.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Over the weekend, U.S. airports were the busiest they have been in months. But if you want to travel to Europe, not so fast. Leaders there are expected to ban Americans just because of all the COVID cases right here in the U.S..

And Spain is taking its social distancing enforcement to a whole new level, using drones to monitor people on the beach. We'll take you there.



BALDWIN: As the coronavirus cases continue to surge in the U.S., the global death toll has hit a grim milestone. According to Johns Hopkins University, more than half A million worldwide have died from the coronavirus.

India's health ministry reported 19,000 new cases today, it's biggest single-day jump. They just opened a 10,000-bed hospital for COVID patients, one of the largest in the whole world.

Here's a look at some of the other coronavirus headlines from our international correspondents around the world.


FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Fred Pleitgen, in Brussels, where E.U. ambassadors have now completed a list of 15 countries whose citizens are going to be allowed to travel back here to the European Union July 1st.

It's not clear what countries on the list and that list still needs to be OK'ed by European governments, but it's highly unlikely Americans are going to be able to come back to Europe anytime soon.

The U.S. always said that's not a political situation. It depends on the coronavirus situation in the origin countries. And with the surges in cases in the U.S., right now in America most probably won't make that list.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Atika Shubert, in Valencia, Spain, where drones, apps, and other technology are being used to control crowds at beaches this summer.

At some beaches, you'll get a red alert on your phone if there are too many people on the sand. And at other more-narrow beaches, you'll have to use apps to book space for your beach towel.

Here in Valencia, police used drones over the weekend to monitor the crowds. It's part of the new COVID rules for going to the beach. You are allowed to come in groups of less than 20 people but you have to space yourself out two meters apart. Masks are not required but encouraged.

It's all part of Spain's effort to keep vigilant against coronavirus.

STEFANO POZZEBON, JOURNALIST. I'm Stefano Pozzebon, in Bogota, Columbia, where the total of coronavirus cases has now taken over the whole of China. The situation is particularly critical here the capital, Bogota, where the rate of intensive units is almost at 70 percent.

And this brings intense pressure of the government to impose strict lockdown measures again.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Here in Mexico, we are in the worst days of this outbreak so far. Consider, since June 1st, the number of cases has more than doubled. The number of overall deaths has gone up by more than 150 percent.

But despite that, Mexico's government is moving forward with reopening parts of the economy.

Consider here, in Mexico City, which has been the worst-hit part of the country. In the next few days, we expect certain businesses like restaurants, hotels and shopping malls to be allowed to reopen with limited capacity.


But it's also true that the economy here has taken a massive hit. The International Monetary Fund says that Mexico's GDP could fall by 10.5 percent in 2020.


BALDWIN: All right, thanks to all of you.

Now to this. Next, the president of the United States sharing a video of one of his supporters chanting "white power." And then another of people pointing guns at peaceful protesters. How the White House is explaining this one.



BALDWIN: Once again, President Trump is sparking controversy over tweets. One which depicted a blatant act of racism. He retweeted and then deleted this video over the weekend showing a group of Trump supporters at a small rally in a Florida retirement community. And one of the supporters was captured screaming the words "white power" at counter-protesters. And the president's caption read, in part,, "Thank you to the great

people of the villages. The radical-left do-nothing Democrats will fall in the fall."

And then, this morning, the president re-tweeted a video showing this St. Louis couple -- look at this -- outside of their home pointing guns at peaceful protesters. The group had gone through an unlocked gate door of the private community and were passing this house to protest at the home of the city's mayor

Abby Phillip is our CNN political correspondent.

And, Abby, let's begin with the re-tweeting of those videos. How is the White House explaining that?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They're saying the president didn't know what he was re-tweeting. The White House spokesperson, Judd Deere, put out a statement yesterday saying the president only saw the enthusiasm of supporters and didn't hear the words "white power," which were repeated multiple times in the first few seconds of the video.

The White House is making this about whether or not the president has supporters in this part of Florida.

But ultimately, there was -- in that statement, there was no condemnation of that term, no acknowledgment that it was there in the video, and that it was a mistake for the president to re-tweet it.

The only acknowledgment of that was that the video was eventually deleted from the president's feed with no comment from the White House about how racist and, frankly, offensive that video was.

BALDWIN: Incredibly offensive.

How the fact that a number of members of Trump administration, including the president and the vice president, have avoided using the phrase "Black Lives Matter."

And the vice president just recently defended his reason for not saying it. This is his explanation.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I see in the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement is a political agenda of the radical left that would defund the police, that would --


UNIDENTIFIED NEWS CORRESPONDENT; Leave that out of it. Just the phrase.

PENCE: -- take down monuments that would press a radical left agenda that -- and in support calls for the kind of violence that has beset the very communities that they say they're advocating for. UNIDENTIFIED NEWS CORRESPONDENT: So you won't say Black Lives Matter?

PENCE: John, I really believe that all lives matter.


BALDWIN: I'm just thinking ahead to November, Abby. And how much of an issue will this be for the White House, for the president as he would like another four years.

PHILLIP: You know, I think this is the issue for the White House. President Trump has made is clear that positioning himself in opposition to Black Lives Matter protesters is how he is going to run for reelection for the next four months.

So it is not much of a surprise that Mike Pence would refuse to utter the words because the argument that President Trump has been making is that Black Lives Matter, as a political movement, is aligned with the Democratic Party, aligned with what they call sort of an archaism.

But at same time, we should be clear that the vast majority of people out there in the streets using the term "Black Lives Matter" do not associate it with a particular organization. They associate it with an anti-racism statement.

And while Mike Pence is not willing to say it, other Republicans have been willing to say it, like Senator Mitt Romney, who was very clear, when it went out to the protests, that he was willing to use that term, not because of the association with the organization, but because of what it signals to black Americans in this country.

BALDWIN: I've got one more minute with you and I want to get into this statement. It's from Kayleigh McEnany. She held a White House briefing just a bit ago and this is what she opened with. Listen.


MCENANY: Law and order are the building blocks to the American dream. But if anarchy prevails, this dream comes crumbling down. Anarchy in our streets is unacceptable. And anger is not enough. You have a president committed to action.


BALDWIN: I think this totally goes to the point you just made, Abby. But we've heard this kind of language from the president over and over.

This is the strategy, right, ahead of November? Thirty seconds.

PHILLIP: Yes, absolutely. I mean, the president believes that the argument against Democrats that is the most strong is that, when you look at cities across the country, if you see burning buildings and statues being toppled, that is going to send some fear into the hearts of, particularly, suburban voters who have been on the fence.


That is the message going into November. We still don't know, though, Brooke, if it is effective.

BALDWIN: November 3, we wait and we see.

Abby Phillip, thank you.

Thank you all for being with me. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Our special coverage continues right now, "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starting now.