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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Interview With Former Trump Adviser Carter Page; President Trump and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg Hold News Conference; Report: FBI Monitored Ex-Trump Adviser Carter Page; Ex- Trump Adviser Carter Page Responds To Report. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 12, 2017 - 16:30   ET



QUESTION: And for you, Mr. Secretary-General, the president has said the attack in Syria last week was warranted and was also an attack on U.S. allies.

Do you think that this attack was warranted? And do you see NATO playing any supporting role in future actions in Syria?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I want to just start by saying, hopefully, they're going to have to fear nothing, ultimately.

Right now, there is a fear and there are problems. There's certainly problems. But, ultimately, I hope that there won't be a fear and there won't be problems and the world can get along. That would be the ideal situation.

It's crazy what's going on, whether it's the Middle East or you look at no matter whether Ukraine. You look at -- whatever you look at, it's got problems, so many problems. And, ultimately, I believe that we are going to get rid of most of those problems, and there won't be fear of anybody. That's the way it should be.

We have a very big problem in North Korea. And, as I said, I really think that China's going to try very hard and has already started. A lot of the coal boats have already been turned back. You saw that yesterday and today. They have been turned back. The vast amount of coal that comes out of North Korea going to China, they have turned back the boats.

That's a big step. And there are many other steps that I know about. So, we will see what happens. It may be effective, it may not be effective. If it's not effective, we will be effective. I can promise you that.

Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: NATO has constantly condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

And the use of chemical weapons is horrendous, and it's a clear violation of international law. And any use of chemical weapons is unacceptable and cannot go unanswered. So, those responsible must be held accountable.

The strike against the air base in Syria was a U.S. operation based on U.S. intelligence, but you have seen that, within the alliance, this has been something which has been met with a lot of understanding, because NATO allies do not accept that chemical weapons are used.

And, therefore, we also strongly support the efforts of the fact- finding commission to try to find out actually what happened and to make sure that we don't see any use of chemical weapons in the future.

TRUMP: OK. Thank you very much. Thank you.

STOLTENBERG: Thank you very much.


You were just listening to President Trump and the NATO secretary- general addressing the media in the East Room of the White House after meeting this afternoon, President Trump saying he's honored to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to NATO, that, contrary to previous statements, he no longer believes NATO to be absolute, although he did underline, as did the secretary-general, that NATO members have to pay their fair share.

That is a reference to the fact that all of the countries who are members pledge to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense spending.

On the Syria chemical attack, President Trump referred to the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, as a butcher.

CNN's Jim Acosta is at the White House, where we just heard President Trump and the secretary-general.

Jim, the president had a strong declaration that the alliance is no longer obsolete. He also said that relations between the United States and Russia are perhaps at an all-time low.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake, and that echoes what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said earlier today when he was in Moscow with the foreign minister there, Sergei Lavrov, that U.S.-Russia relations are at this all-time low.

That's as close as we have heard President Trump, either as President Trump or as candidate Trump, really criticize Russia. You have not heard that very much from Donald Trump over the years.

I do think it is interesting, Jake, that when given the chance on a couple of occasions during this press conference, he was asked had his views changed of Vladimir Putin, the president sort of retreated to this notion that, well, you know, Russia is a powerful country. We're a very powerful country. We will have to see how things go and that it would be great if the U.S. and Russia could get along with one another.

Once again, when presented with an opportunity to directly criticize the Russian president, this president did not elect to do that. And I think that what makes that even more interesting, Jake, is that you heard President Trump during this news conference refer to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad as a butcher, and questioning whether or not the Russians may have had advanced knowledge of those chemical weapons strikes against a civilian population in Syria.

That was not enough, apparently, during this news conference for the president to come out and say, OK, now I am changing my attitude. Now I am changing my opinion of Vladimir Putin.


You just didn't hear that today from the president, but, yes, there certainly was a reversal when it comes to the NATO alliance. The president time and again, as you know, Jake, during the campaign referred to the NATO alliance as obsolete.

He did not do that today. He said he no longer thinks it's obsolete, didn't really provide a whole lot of insights as to why that attitude has changed, although you know, Jake, and I know that a lot of foreign policy, you know -- smart minds out there have impressed upon this president that, no, you can't abandon NATO alliance, not after decades of relying on that alliance for global peace -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jim Acosta at the White House for us, stick around.

Let's bring in my roundtable.

And let me start with you, Congresswoman Harman.

What struck you the most from this press conference? What do you think was the most intriguing, as we are watching, to be charitable, the evolution of President Trump when it comes to his views on foreign policy?

JANE HARMAN (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: Trump's tone, the fact that he stuck to his message and didn't veer off at all, the civility of the whole thing.

NATO is a place that he said just a short while ago was obsolete. And I was in Munich in mid-February at the annual Munich security conference. And the audience, mostly Europeans, mostly NATO members, were terrified.

Vice President Pence showed up and said President Trump believes in NATO, and he didn't make the sale. He made it personally, but he didn't make it for the president.

So this is a big deal, and it comes after a good week of operating on many fronts, and I think the Tillerson visit and the two-hour meeting with Putin was impressive. And I also think the fact that we welcomed a 29th member to NATO just today shows that we actually can operate on multiple levels.

TAPPER: Danielle Pletka, one of the things that the congresswoman just mentioned is the fact that Europeans have been very concerned, as the European Union is showing some strains with the U.K. leaving and other nationalist movements perhaps threatening the E.U. as well with other defections, with Putin wanting to extend his control over Eastern Europe.

A lot of a lot of our allies in Europe are very worried. I would think that this press conference might reassure some of them.

DANIELLE PLETKA, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: I think that this press conference overall was very reassuring.

Since last week, the big question on everybody's mind has been, was this a one-off? Was Ivanka just telling the president, oh, this was so terrible, look at the poor babies, and he will just go back to business as usual, Putin is my friend, we can manage, I don't care about Assad?

The answer to that is no. This actually appears to be -- we can call it an evolution. We can call it a change. We can call it whatever we want, but we like it. This appears to be the president taking very seriously our commitment, our American commitment to NATO, how important that is, how our European allies rely on us, how the United States is, in fact, standing for what is right in the world in this strike on Syria.

He's giving it to the Russians. Yes, he wasn't personal with Mr. Putin, but I think he was very straightforward about potential Russian involvement, so he didn't shy away from any of that. I thought this was good Donald Trump growing in office.

TAPPER: And yet, Bill Kristol, it's possible that the flexibility that the president brags about having might rear its head tomorrow, and he's back to NATO seeming obsolete and Putin being a strong leader.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes, though he's come pretty far. And it seems like he internalized that in the Q&A, wasn't just reading talking points that H.R. McMaster wrote for him.

And I am old enough, as we all are, to remember when Donald Trump denigrated NATO, made excuses for dictators using poison gas.

TAPPER: Old enough. It was two weeks ago.

KRISTOL: Yes, exactly, or during the campaign certainly, right?

It as not a -- wanted to stay out of wars in the Middle East and so forth. For me, the one question that would -- so, I think on some of these things, he's certainly moved to a much more traditional, you might say, American posture.

The one place we have been fighting with NATO obviously for over a decade is Afghanistan, which was barely mentioned by either of them. And there, there are big decisions to make. It sort of slid to the back -- not to the back burner, but the back of people's consciousness because Syria is such a big story and then Russia and so forth. But, actually, it's a question of how many troops we will leave there, whether we should up our troops a little bit. Are we going to try to maintain control of the country or let it go? We have lost Sangin, the capital of Helmand, what, about three, four weeks ago.


KRISTOL: The Afghan army did.

So I think Afghanistan is another issue where we will see whether he has had the attitude of, oh, these wars, I don't want to be part of them, we don't win wars anymore. Is he going to be serious about making sure that Afghanistan doesn't fall apart?

TAPPER: Let me bring in Julia Ioffe, who joins us now from Moscow.

Julia, you heard the press conference. You also were present earlier today when Secretary of State Tillerson met with his counterpart, the foreign minister of Russia, Lavrov.

Where do you see the U.S.-Russian relationship going right now?

JULIA IOFFE, "THE ATLANTIC": I think the Russians are really on the back foot right now.

They did not expect this 180 from the Trump administration. They did not expect them to go in a matter of days from saying that, you know, it's the Syrian people who should decide Assad's fate and we're not a part of this to in a matter of hours taking the decision to bomb an airfield in Syria.


So, they are still trying to figure out what the Russians -- sorry -- what the Trump administration wants, what their policy is. They are now -- they are talking a lot about how the State Department under Trump is not staffed up.

They don't know who to talk to. They are clearly a little bit flustered, and they are trying to kind of keep the channels of discussion open and trying to paper over differences as much as you can.

So you saw Secretary Tillerson taking a very firm stance during his press conference with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was trying as much as he could to keep Russia's position strong, but also to paper over differences, to keep things kind of moving, to keep things looking more smooth than they really are.

So, usually, you know, we're used to in the U.S. to Putin being the unpredictable one. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

TAPPER: And yet, Julia, just as long as I have you, there is something of a disconnect, President Trump certainly being more vocally critical of Vladimir Putin than he has been in the past, but members of his administration, whether Defense Secretary Mattis or United Nations Ambassador Haley, have been much stronger on Russia.

So it seems as though President Trump is still keeping the possibility of better diplomatic relations out there. Do you agree?

IOFFE: Yes, I do agree.

And you actually had Secretary Tillerson in Moscow say that, you know, it's kind of a case -- the case is closed on Russia meddling in the U.S. elections. He said we talked about it a little bit, but all the evidence is there, you know, and the jury is not out anymore on this.

But as you saw with President Trump saying about President Xi of China, you know, it turns out when you meet with this guy, turns out he's very nice. We have great chemistry. We have some great chocolate cake.

I think he's hoping and the Russians are certainly hoping that once he and Putin meet that the same kind of chemistry will take hold and something will be able to be done. That's very much the hope here in Moscow.

TAPPER: Congresswoman?

HARMAN: What's missing, though, is a strategy. It doesn't have to be a public strategy. But I don't sense that we have a strategy for what our next acts are, maybe bombing again, but maybe not, no boots on the ground. Fine.

But ISIS is a bigger problem in Iraq to us than it is in Syria. Congress is on vacation. Nancy Pelosi was right in saying Congress should come back in special session and debate an authorization to use military force. The AUMF we have now, the one we passed that I voted for having to do with Afghanistan in 2001, is DOA.

TAPPER: But that's never going to happen. Members of Congress, they don't want any ownership of anything. Right?

PLETKA: They don't. And we were talking about this beforehand.

TAPPER: Except for you. You were brave.


HARMAN: There's several members who do.

PLETKA: But Nancy Pelosi isn't one of them. Nancy Pelosi wanted them to come back into session, so they could constrain this president, so that they could criticize this president.

And I have got to say, I'm with you, Jane, on the question of whether or not this is part of a strategy. But I do give enormous amount of credit to the professionalism of someone like H.R. McMaster.

HARMAN: So do I. I totally agree with you.

TAPPER: The national security adviser. PLETKA: Right, and Jim Mattis, who is our secretary of defense. They have some terrific, terrific people staffing up the NSC.

HARMAN: I agree.


PLETKA: Yes, they are too slow, but they are developing -- yes, but they are putting together a strategy.

And, frankly, I am happier that they don't rule something out and posture and actually think this through and do it seriously.

TAPPER: Bill, final word?

KRISTOL: No, I agree with that, but I think they should force the debate in Congress.

I think it would healthy for the country, because, otherwise, we're going to sit here speculating about the internal machinations of the Trump administration. Let's let's -- if people want to say we should be more constrained in dealing with poison gas attacks in Syria than President Trump has been, let's have that debate on the floor of the House and the Senate.

I think you could get actually bipartisan majorities to support a sensible, strongish foreign policy, which would be a healthy thing for the country.

TAPPER: I agree, and the debate should be in places other than just this table.

Thanks so much, one and all, for being here.

Coming up: A new report says the FBI monitored a former Trump campaign adviser when he was speaking to individuals. How will we respond? We will ask him next, Carter Page.

Stay with us.


[16:48:13] JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Let's shift to the "POLITICS LEAD" now, and news on the FBI investigation into possible but yet unproven collusion between advisers to the Trump campaign last year and Russians seeking to influence the 2016 Presidential Election. The Washington Post is reporting that the FBI obtained a FISA warrant to monitor the communications of then-Trump adviser, Carter Page, during the campaign, a FISA warrant, FISA stands for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is granted by a very closely-guarded court that handles some of the nation's most secretive government decisions. It is granted a FISA warrant if judges decide there is probable cause that the American in question is working as the agent of a foreign country.

Now, before the Trump campaign, Page was in the Navy, he served as an investment banker, he worked in New York, London, and Moscow for three years. He was once an adviser to the Russian energy giant Gazprom, and he has repeatedly denied any impropriety in any meetings with any Russians during the Trump campaign and he joins me now, former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, Carter Page. Carter, thanks so much for joining us.


TAPPER: So, The Washington Post, as you know, has reported last year the FBI went to a FISA judge and argued successfully that there was probable cause to believe that you were acting as an agent for a foreign government. So, my question is, were you?

PAGE: Of course, I wasn't, Jake. This is -- it's just such a joke that it's beyond words, and what's interesting about it is March 20th, Director Comey, he made the point that people can lie to the press, people can lie to the American public all they want in politics. What's interesting about last night's report is if it's true, well, there is a different standard when it comes to evidence in court.

[16:50:01] So, all of this false evidence that you've been hearing about myself with the dodgy dossier and other false reports going back through most of the last summer, well, that will -- that will have very definite implications, so this is a real game changer if it turns out to be true.

TAPPER: What do you mean it's a game changer? How is it a game changer? I mean, at least two times that we know of, the FBI has investigated your links with Russians. In 2016, last year, when they went to the FISA court and got a court order and received permission to monitor your communications, and earlier, as you know, in 2013, the FBI interviewed you, you were dealing with a man named Victor Podobnyy who was charged later with being an unregistered agent of a foreign government, so, that was 2013. At the time, did you have any idea that Podobnyy was a Russian spy.

PAGE: I talk to diplomats all the time, and based in New York, a good portion of the time, the United Nations is based here. You're always meeting with foreign diplomats, and the reality is whenever you talk to a foreign government representative, the assumption is that on some level, it's going to go back to the government in question. So, again, I never gave him any information which is material or classified or in any way improper, and the assumption is that it would go back, so it's quite an irrelevant question in my view in terms of my involvement.

TAPPER: Well, it's not irrelevant. It's not irrelevant. I mean, there is -- you know, if you meet the German Ambassador or the French Ambassador, maybe they'll pass on the information, but we're talking about clandestine services, and he was charged in the U.S. with being an unregistered foreign agent, so I guess my question more specifically is, "OK, you knew that he was Russian, but did you know he was a spy?"

PAGE: I did not know that he was a spy when I -- when I first met him, although eventually it came out. I mean -

TAPPER: Did you think - did you think he was trying to recruit you or get intelligence that would have been inappropriate for you to have shared?

PAGE: He never made any indication that he was trying to recruit me. It was all just a casual conversation, exactly what I told my students at New York University. So -- and no offer was made and I - there was no negotiation whatsoever. I met him at a conference at Asia Society and at some point later, within a month or so, I believe, it was several years ago, we had coffee once, had had a slight conversation. I gave him a couple of my information from my lectures, some public research reports, and that was the end of it. So ...

TAPPER: So, let's talk about the 2016 case. The FBI Director has said that convincing a FISA judge to approve surveillance on a U.S. citizen requires so much evidence that the court filings are often thicker than his wrist. Do you have any idea what might have been in the filing last year that convinced a judge to approve surveillance on you by the FBI?

PAGE: Well, it's just like President Trump just said when he was discussing the allegations about, you know, who knew what with the chemical weapons. We're -- let's not jump to any conclusions, and until there is full evidence and a full investigation has been done, we just don't know. I have the same attitude about this. However, if you look back at all the information that has dribbled out and false information going back to, really, the first major one was the letter from Senator Harry Reid to Director Comey in late August of last year, and it was citing - it was - it was giving some indications of this false evidence, which eventually kept dribbling out, and we saw it in its full glory in early January with the BuzzFeed report. So ...

TAPPER: Have you talked to the FBI about the Russian investigation? Have you been interviewed by them or questioned by them in any way?

PAGE: You know, I tried asking Lisa Monaco at a - at a breakfast meeting in early January about the ongoing allegations about FISA warrants, which had been coming out about me going back to October, and she avoided the question completely, and she also made the point that we don't talk about any ongoing investigations. And I -- you know, again, I've always respected confidentiality. I have nothing to say about any ongoing investigations that may or may not be going on.

TAPPER: You're not going to comment, is that what you're saying? PAGE: I have no comment, no.

TAPPER: Well, I mean, just -- I prepared for this interview when I read, you know, a year's worth of stuff about you, and until February, you would say repeatedly the FBI had not contacted you. You stopped saying that in March. Is it fair to assume from that that you have now talked to the FBI and you are just declining to comment because now the facts have changed?

[16:54:59] PAGE: Well, I have been very forthcoming that I want to get as much information out there as possible, and that has stood from the very beginning, and in several documents which I've sent to both the House and Senate Committees, and I really look forward to having those discussions and really supporting this on-going process as it -- as it continues.

TAPPER: So, there are a few questions -- you talk about wanting to be as honest and open as possible -- there are a few questions that in the past you have declined to answer. So, let's give you another opportunity. I think you owe it to the American people and frankly, you owe it to yourself, to clear your name if you're innocent as you say you are. So, the first one, who brought you into the Trump campaign?

PAGE: You know, Jake, even if you look on -- many shows on CNN, they always have these line diagrams with various faces of people who have supported the Trump campaign over time and various wire diagrams back to President Putin, and very often it's, you know, based on these false reports. I don't want to mention any names because that's just going to add one other senseless dot on that diagram.

TAPPER: But Carter, I mean, you want to clear things up. There's nothing wrong about bringing a Russia expert on to a campaign. I'm just asking you who brought you into the campaign. Was it Paul Manafort?

PAGE: It was not Paul Manafort. I've never met Paul Manafort, I've never spoken with him. And again, I'm just -- out of respect to their privacy, if I told you a name, Jake there, would be dozens of phone calls on that individual's phone within the next ten minutes.


TAPPER: Was it Sam Clovis? Was it Sam Clovis?

PAGE: I have no comment. I have no comment.

TAPPER: Well, I mean, I know you want to get out all this information, but then you refuse to answer questions.


TAPPER: There's nothing wrong with somebody bring you into the campaign. I'm just trying to find out who it was.

PAGE: It's an irrelevant point. He was not the first person that brought me in. I can assure you of that.

TAPPER: Well, at least we know it was a man. So, you told Anderson Cooper that when you talked to Russian Ambassador, Kislyak, around the time of the republican convention, in that group, where there's a bunch of ambassadors and a bunch of people filled with the Trump campaign, you said you talked to him for fewer than ten seconds. OK. I get that. When you went to Russia last summer, did you ever talk to any Russian about the Trump campaign or about the Clinton campaign or about the 2016 election in general?

PAGE: No Russian official. I was speaking at a university, and I spoke with many scholars and students and parents that were at the graduation celebrating their kids' achievements. Other than that, nothing.

TAPPER: I didn't ask Russian official, I just asked any Russian because obviously, Russians, as you know in Russia, people are affiliated with private industry but they also do work with the government, et cetera.

PAGE: Sure.

TAPPER: So -- but you did not talk to any Russian at all other than students and parents and scholars about the presidential election?

PAGE: I met a few business people, but no negotiations about anything in terms of anything related to the campaign whatsoever.

TAPPER: Well, I'm not talking about negotiations, but as long as you bring it up, I mean, have you ever conveyed to anyone in Russia that you think President Trump might have been more willing to get rid of the sanctions that were imposed against Russia after they invaded and seized Crimea, which I know our sanctions that you oppose and you think are in effective. Did you ever talk with anyone there about maybe President Trump, if he were elected - then-candidate Trump, would be willing to get rid of the sanctions?

PAGE: Never any direct conversations such as that. I mean, look, it's -

TAPPER: What do you mean direct conversations? I don't know what that mean, direct conversations.

PAGE: Well, I'm just saying no -- that was never - I've never said, no.

TAPPER: You never said that to anybody that you think that if Donald Trump won, he might be willing to get rid of the Russian sanctions - the sanctions against Russia.


TAPPER: One of the matters the FBI is investigating is, you know, is whether any adviser to the Trump campaign, at any point, discussed the released of the hacked and phished and stolen documents from the DNC and from Clinton campaign chairman, John Podesta. Did you ever discuss any of those documents, or the release of them, or the timing of them, when you were in Russia, or with a Russian?

PAGE: Absolutely not, absolutely not.

TAPPER: Did you ever --

PAGE: No advance - no advance warning. I mean, people may have mentioned it after it came out, but -- or you're alluded to some of the findings, but no direct discussions. Absolutely not.

TAPPER: During the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on this subject, on Russian involvement in the U.S. election, the vice chair, Mark Warner, talked about how there was a lot of information in which disinformation about Hillary Clinton was sent to specific precincts and counties in key states, like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin or Michigan. Is that the kind of information, the kind of knowledge about what states President Trump or then-candidate Trump was trying to wing? Did you ever had any discussion about state by state, or counties, or precincts where President Trump - Donald Trump might be --