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Biden Heads Home After Putin Summit: I Did What I Came To Do; Putin Deflects On Tough Issues As He Responds To CNN's Questions; Biden Warned Putin Of Devastating Consequences If Navalny Dies; Former Trump Advisers React To Biden-Putin Summit; Putin Calls Biden Talks Efficient, Substantive, Aimed At Results; Israel Strikes Gaza Over Launch Of Incendiary Balloons. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 16, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And happening now, breaking news, President Biden puts a positive spin on his critical meeting with Vladimir Putin, declaring he did what he came to do as he heads home from this summit city. We're breaking down the areas of cooperation and the many ongoing conflicts.
The Kremlin leader says he and Mr. Biden, they spoke the same language during what he calls their efficient, that's a quote, their efficient talks. But Putin was clearly defensive when faced with some tough questions from reporters resorting to familiar tactics of denial and deflection.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in The Situation Room.
The big summit in here Geneva did not last quite as long as some have expected. Both the U.S. and Russian presidents are portraying their talks as a success.
Let's go to our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly. He's here in Geneva with all of us. Phil, this was a very important test for President Biden against a man he called a worthy adversary.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No question about it, Wolf. And the president emerged from the three hours of sit- downs with President Vladimir Putin and his top advisers self-assured, confident in the role the country, America is playing in the globe now and the role he believes the U.S. can play in at least some areas with Russia.
However, it is also very clear for a relationship that has hit a low point, there are significant issues that remain.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I did what I came to do.
MATTINGLY (voice over): Tonight, President Biden emerging from the highest stakes moment of his young presidency satisfied. BIDEN: It was important to meet him personally so there could be no mistake about or misrepresentations about what I wanted to communicate.
I told President Putin my agenda is not against Russia or anyone else. It's for the American people.
MATTINGLY: A summit that started with a long-awaited handshake and came to a close after roughly three hours of direct talks between Biden and Russian President Putin. Biden departing a scenic backdrop steeped in diplomatic history with no shortage of open questions still outstanding as the U.S. and Russia seek to emerge from a low point in post-cold war relations.
BIDEN: This is not about trust. This is about self-interest and verification of self-interest. That's what it's about.
MATTINGLY: Biden laying out red lines on cyberattacks that have been pervasive in recent years, specifically outlining 16 entities defined as critical infrastructure that both sides should agree are off- limits.
BIDEN: The principle is one thing. It has to be backed up by practice.
MATTINGLY: With that caution also laying out the scale of the potential U.S. response.
BIDEN: I pointed out to him, and we have significant cyber capability, and he knows it. He doesn't know exactly what it is, but it's significant. If in fact they violate these basic norms, we will respond.
MATTINGLY: These ransomware attacks buckled (ph) several critical American companies in recent weeks, this not so subtle note.
BIDEN: I looked at him and I said, well, how would you feel if ransomware took on the pipelines from your oil fields? He said it, it would matter.
MATTINGLY: But Putin, in his own press conference, continue to deflect on an issue U.S. intelligence has explicitly attributed to his country.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: As for American sources, they have said that most of the cyberattacks in the world are carried out from the cyber realm of the United States.
MATTINGLY: And as Putin declined to even say Russian Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny's name, Biden had this stark warning should he die in prison.
BIDEN: I made it clear to him that I believe the consequences of that would be devastating for Russia.
MATTINGLY: But both leaders describe the tone as business-like. PUTIN: I think that both of these sides showed a willingness to understand one another and to find ways to bring our positions closer together.
MATTINGLY: Unproductive (ph).
BIDEN: There wasn't any strident action taken.
But it was not done in a hyperbolic atmosphere. That is too much of what's been going on.
MATTINGLY: A litany of issues addressed from areas designated for future engagement to matters where the two sides have firmly divergent perspectives. Biden's short-term goal, to recalibrate the relationship.
BIDEN: We've established a clear basis on how we intend to deal with Russia and the U.S./Russia relationship.
MATTINGLY: But Biden also leaning on a view that the U.S. sits in a stronger position with his counterpart, and a unified west can force a changed calculation.
BIDEN: Understand when you run a country that does not abide by international norms and yet you need those to be somehow managed so that you can participate in the benefits that flow from them, it hurts you.
MATTINGLY: But it's a bet that many of Biden's predecessors have made before with limited success, underscoring a clear reality that the ultimate outcome of the summit won't likely be known for months.
BIDEN: Let's see what happens. As that old expression goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We're going to know shortly.
MATTINGLY (on camera): And, Wolf, there was one tangible takeaway from this summit. Both countries' ambassadors who have been away from their posts back home for the last several months will return to those posts in the next couple of weeks, we're told.
But, all in all, there's no question about it, from the U.S. side of things, this was about establishing a baseline, letting President Putin know where there were areas to work, letting him know where there were red lines and mostly trying to, in some way, shape or form, resuscitate a relationship that just simply has been in a bad place for several years, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, it certainly has been. All right, Phil, stay with us. We're going to get back to you in just a few moments.
But right now, I want all of our viewers to listen to more of what we heard today from President Putin right after the summit, as he was questioned by CNN Moscow Correspondent Matthew Chance. Watch this.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN MOSCOW CORRESPONDENT: First of all, could you characterize the dynamic between yourself and President Biden? Was it hostile or was it friendly?
And, secondly, throughout the conversations, did you commit to ceasing carrying out cyberattacks on the United States? Did you commit to stopping threatening Ukraine's security? And did you commit to stop cracking down on the opposition in Russia?
PUTIN: The first overall evaluation as far as that is concerned, I don't think there was any kind of hostility. On the contrary, our meeting was obviously a fundamental one. Many of our joint positions are divergent. But, nevertheless, I think that both sides manifested a determination to try and understand each other and try to converge our positions. And I think it was very constructive.
As far as cybersecurity is concerned, we agreed that we would begin consultations on that issue. And I believe that's extraordinary important. And, obviously, both sides have to assume certain obligations there.
BLITZER: Let's talk about this with our correspondents here in Geneva, Phil Mattingly still with us, Clarissa Ward, Fred Pleitgen is here as well.
Clarissa, what did you make of Putin's comments because you've studied him for a while? Can you read between the lines?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's always dangerous to try to read between the lines with President Putin. But I did think it was interesting with Matthew's questions.
The first one on the issue of the relationship with President Biden, the nature of the discourse between the two of them today, he was quite positive. He described it as constructive, substantive. He called Biden experienced, balanced, professional. Later on, he talked about a spark of hope in the eye of President Biden. But when it came to those key thorny issues, whether it's Navalny, whether it's Ukraine, whether it's cyberattacks, you immediately saw a shift in his posture. He became exceedingly defensive.
And I think that's why as much as both sides seem to be somewhat buoyed by the results of today or at least the seeds that have been sown through the dialogue, a lot of people were saying, hold on, don't expect any shifts on the major sticking points for President Putin, certainly, no indication in his answer to Matthew's questions that he is going to be shifting his attitude.
BLITZER: Fred, you spent a lot of time covering Putin in Moscow as well. What did you think? FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, I fully agree with what Clarissa says. I think one of the things that was really important for President Biden today is coming into the summit and already having all of America's partners on its side.
I think one of the things that very often gets underestimated is the amount of division that the Trump administration sowed in Europe. And I think you could really feel, and I think Vladimir Putin knows, he is dealing with a completely different west now after this trip, the tail end of this trip of President Biden, than he was before.
The other key takeaway, I think, from the summit that we saw today is that these two leaders have today, in a certain way, learned how to communicate with one another. I think President Biden is correct. He came in here and he said -- he told Vladimir Putin how he feels. He put some of the examples of what could happen, for instance, if there was an attack on an oil pipeline or if the U.S. used its cyber capabilities.
So, the Putin administration, they now know how President Biden communicates, they know who to communicate now within the Biden administration. I think those are things that are going to be key moving forward. And on some of the topics, I mean, there was incremental progress that was achieved.
I mean, you have the ambassadors now coming back.
And I think one of the things that I sort of read between the lines, I do think that more than at any time in at least recent times that I have been in Moscow, there is some movement possibly in the prisoner exchange issue. I do think that both leaders today did say that they have a positive outlook on that. They do think that a deal could possibly be made on that.
BLITZER: Putin did say there's going to be consultations now on the cyber warfare issue, which is so, so important.
Phil, President Biden said, I'm quoting him now, he said, I did what I came to do. How so?
MATTINGLY: I think Fred actually hits at a really key point here from the U.S. side as well. President Biden, he flipped at this a little bit in his press conference today. Face-to-face interactions are extremely important to him. Certainly, we have seen it on Capitol Hill with his former colleagues in the Senate, but more so on the international side of things, obviously, more than four decades in kind of his crucial role, critical role in U.S. foreign policy both as a senator and vice president.
And I think the sense, even though there were some divides inside his own team about the decision to move forward with this meeting, the sense from the president and his top advisers was, this relationship is at a point right now where you can't really hurt it by sitting down with President Putin, particularly at this early stage, and particularly given just how dramatically different the approach is from his predecessor.
And so laying out the baseline of where the U.S. stands on the relationship, laying out the areas we have been talking about ad nauseam over the course of the last several days, where they believe that they can work together, where there are clear red lines and then kind of the overarching view or perspective on the relationship.
I think the president and his team believe that there's significant value to that. They are clear eyed. They don't have expectations that the president or that President Putin is going to dramatically change his views and actions when it comes to human rights, the same with his views and actions when it comes to Ukraine and Crimea. And I think they are intrigued to see what can possibly come from kind of an expert dialogue on the cybersecurity side of things.
But I think when you talk to administration officials heading into this and when you listen to the president coming out of this, they believe they accomplished what they wanted to do because they didn't think it could get any worse from a relation perspective and they wanted to see if there are ways, even if just incrementally, they could start to make it a little better, Wolf.
BLITZER: I think you make an important point as well.
I want to get another take on the summit and what comes next. For that, we are joined now by Fareed Zakaria, the Host of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS. Fareed, thanks so much for joining us. You were watching all of this unfold very, very closely.
Did both President Biden and President Putin come away from this summit feeling like they achieved at least some success?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Yes, I think that's exactly the right way to put it, Wolf. Simply put, the adults are back in the room. I think on both sides, there is a recognition that you now have a serious adult foreign policy being pursued by the United States and that Russia is on, for its part, protecting, defending and advancing or trying to advance its interests. That is as it has been in the past. That is as it should be. We are done with the circus and freak show of Donald Trump.
Now, when you get to the reality of that adult relationship, there are lots of points of tension. There are lots of points of conflict. This wasn't really meant to be a summit in the sense that people sometimes imagine a summit where you have a big arms control agreement at the end of it or something like that.
That's what we think of when we think of summits, back to the cold war and the Soviet Union and the United States. This was really a bilateral meeting, a clearing of the air and a setting the stage for a stable and predictable relationship. I think they got exactly that. And I think, in a strange sense, both sides probably breathed a sigh of relief that they have gotten this over with.
BLITZER: Yes, I suspect you are right.
President Biden did say that he told Putin the two countries need, and I'm quoting him now, some basic rules of the road. But when it comes to cyber warfare, Ukraine, Belarus and other sensitive issues, is there any hope Putin would actually follow those rules?
ZAKARIA: I think they are three buckets, as it were. On Ukraine, look, I think there has to be some solution to it. And these are the kind of problems that diplomats can usually find some kind of solution to, particularly in the Eastern Ukraine where Russian forces are bogged down. They can't stay there forever. Ukraine is bleeding. At least there is the potential for something over there.
On domestic policy, Putin is very unlikely to buckle to American pressure. But I think Biden was sending a warning shot. He was sending a shot across the bow saying, if this guy dies, this is going to be a bigger deal than you realize, Alexei Navalny, the dissident.
Cyber is the most complicated, Wolf, because the problem here is it's very easy for Putin to deny that he did anything. It's very hard to know who did what. It all happens in a kind of shadowy realm. Putin pointed out in the clip you played that a lot of these cyberattacks are originating in the United States.
Well, that's a very clever tactic used by foreign adversaries who want to infiltrate American systems because it becomes easier to disguise their operation and, secondly, American intelligence agencies, by law, are not allowed to operate in the United States. So if the attack comes from an American server, it's hard for the NSA, the CIA to do anything about it.
So that's going to be the one we will be following for years and years to come, Wolf. What to do about cyber wars, cyberattacks, how to deter them when you can't be sure where they come from, are you really going to launch some kind of a war, a military operation in response?
Biden raised a very intriguing possibility of an American cyber counterattack. We have never done this before, to the best of my knowledge. And he even outlined what it would be, shutting down Russia's oil pipelines, using American cyberattack capacity, which is, of course, huge.
BLITZER: Yes, the U.S. has enormous capability if they were going to get into that kind of conflict. Fareed, thank you very much, Fareed Zakaria helping us. I appreciate the enormity of this day.
Just ahead, we're going to take a deeper dive on the summit showdown over the jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and Putin's refusal to even utter his name.
Stay with us. You are in The Situation Room.
BLITZER: During his news conference, after meeting with Putin here in Geneva, President Biden said he warned there would be, in his word, devastating consequences if the Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, were to die in a Russian prison. For his part, President Putin couldn't even bring himself to say Navalny's name.
CNN's Clarissa Ward interviewed Navalny before he returned to Russia. Clarissa is with us still.
Clarissa, both of these leaders were unrelenting in their respective views.
WARD: That's right, Wolf. We knew that this was going to be one of the awkward issues that would be a focus of today's events. And, certainly, it did not disappoint with President Putin having some very harsh words for Alexei Navalny, who he only referred to as this person. And President Biden also not backing down.
WARD (voice over): A final kiss for his wife before Russian Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny is led away by Russian security forces and later sentenced to 2.5 years in a penal colony. His crime, going to Germany for emergency medical treatment after he was poisoned with a nerve agent, Novichok, last August. A Russian court ruled that he had violated the terms of his probation in a 2014 fraud case.
At Wednesday's summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin doubling down on the harsh treatment of the dissident, refusing, as always, to utter his name.
PUTIN: This person went abroad for treatment and he didn't register with the authorities. He ignored the law. And he was then -- he knew that he was then being investigated. And he came back deliberately.
WARD: President Biden also standing his ground, ignoring the Kremlin's warnings not to interfere in Russia's internal affairs.
BIDEN: And I pointed out to him that that's why we're going to raise our concerns about cases like Alexei Navalny. I made it clear to President Putin that we will continue to raise issues of fundamental human rights, because that's what we are. That's who we are.
WARD: Certainly, Navalny was aware of the risks of going back to Russia. Last year, a CNN exclusive investigation with Bellingcat exposed the security services toxins team implicated in his poisoning.
Was it your team that poisoned Navalny, please? Do you have any comment?
Doctors said he was lucky to be alive. Still, he insisted he wanted to go home.
So, you have said that you want to go back to Russia.
ALEXEI NAVALNY, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: And I will do.
WARD: You are aware of the risks of going back?
NAVALNY: Yes. But I'm Russian politician. And even when I was not just in hospital, I was in intense therapy. And I said publicly I will go back and I will go back because I'm a Russian politician, I belong to this country, and definitely which I -- especially now, when this actual crime is cracked open, revealed. I understand the whole operation. I would never give Putin such a gift.
WARD: Even behind bars, Navalny continues to be a thorn in the Russian leader's side, a very public reminder of the Kremlin's intolerance for opposition. Today, Putin deflected criticism by comparing Navalny to rioters who ransacked the U.S. Capitol in January. Biden fired back.
BIDEN: My response is what I communicated, that I think that's a ridiculous comparison. It's one thing for literally criminals to break through, go into the Capitol, kill a police officer and be held unaccountable and it is for people marching on a Capitol and saying, you are not allowing me to speak freely, you are not allowing me to do A, B, C or D. And so they are very different criteria.
WARD (on camera): President Biden also warned that if Alexei Navalny is to die in Russian custody, that it would be, quote, devastating.
Not clear though, Wolf, exactly what that means in terms of how the U.S. would respond.
BLITZER: Excellent reporting, Clarissa. Thank you so much for doing that report. Thanks for all the work you are doing as well.
Let's discuss this and more with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff of California, who is joining us right now.
So what does it say, Congressman, what does it say to you that Putin couldn't even utter Navalny's name?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, clearly, Navalny is someone that Putin fears. He doesn't fear losing an election but he does fear these mass movements, these large demonstrations. He has watched these revolutions around the world topple autocrats, and that is his paramount concern.
So there's a reason why he won't mention the name, I think that's it. But it is remarkable, nonetheless, Wolf, to hear him basically make the argument that because Navalny, when we poisoned him, didn't trust our doctors, that's why he needs to be in prison. Well, yes, if you were poisoned by the Russian state, you are probably not going to want to rely on Russian state doctors.
But I'm glad that President Biden did speak his name and raised this issue, as well as the captivity of Americans, as well as Russian interference in our election, Russian malign activities in Ukraine and, of course, the very important cyber issues.
BLITZER: Yes, he certainly did. He even compared -- Putin even, we're talking about, Putin even compared Alexei Navalny to the rioters at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. What did you make, Congressman, of that comparison?
SCHIFF: Well, this is what Putin always does. He makes these false comparisons. He uses a lot of whataboutism. And, tragically, for the last four years, he had an ally in that whataboutism in the president of the United States when, for example, the former president was asked by Bill O'Reilly, why can't you criticize Putin, the man is a killer, his answer was, are we so different in the United States. And that is essentially Putin's point.
And that was the point that Putin was trying to make, that he is not going to tolerate opposition like Alexei Navalny, who is fighting corruption in Russia, who is speaking out for people's right to associate with whom they would and to petition their government and he is somehow equating that with a violent attack on the capitol That resulted in the death of a police officer and other people when there's no comparison.
But that's Putin. That's what he does. And I'm glad the president is setting him straight.
BLITZER: The former president, Trump, as all of us remember, sided with Putin over the U.S. Intelligence Community during that 2018 summit in Helsinki. I was there. I couldn't believe what I was hearing at the time. Did President Biden do anything today to reverse the damage that was done to the credibility of the U.S. intelligence agencies?
SCHIFF: Without a doubt. I think President Biden signaled that, essentially, he is not going to be the pushover that Donald Trump was for the last four years, that he will defend American interests, which increases our capacity to defend ourselves, the men and women that work within the intelligence community. But he is going to be unapologetic about advancing our values, even if Putin doesn't want to hear about it, even if Putin would like to say this is a matter of Russian domestic policy, it's a different relationship now.
And I think Putin recognizes that. I think he was certainly aware it was going to be very different. The last four years was just the never-ending gift to Vladimir Putin, but it's a different presidency now. And
I think our allies, importantly, are reassured of our steadfast commitment to NATO once again, to Article 5 of NATO, our defense of democracy again. And if I were Putin, I would be very concerned as I think China is concerned that the U.S. will once again rebuild our alliances and use those alliances to constrain malign activities coming out of either Beijing or the Kremlin. BLITZER: Yes, you make an important point. The House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, thanks, as usual, for joining us. We always appreciate you being here in The Situation Room.
Coming up, how will President Biden's faceoff with Putin play with Americans back home, where his domestic agenda seems to be in trouble right now as it hit a wall?
Stay with us. You are in The Situation Room.
BLITZER: We are following all the breaking news out of President Biden's summit with Vladimir Putin here in Geneva. Mr. Biden is now heading back to Washington after a news conference that included a rather tense exchange with CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins and it prompted the president of the United States later to issue an apology. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Why are you so confident he will change his behavior, Mr. President?
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Yes, I'm not confident. What you do all the time? When did I say I was confident? I said -- I said. What I said was -- let's get it straight. I said what will change their behavior is the rest of the world reacts to them and it diminishes their standing in the world. I'm not confident of anything.
I owe my last questioner an apology. I shouldn't have been such a wise guy in the last answer I gave.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Let's get some reaction. Jeff Zeleny is with us. Dana Bash is with us as well.
Jeff, he did the right thing, publicly going to the back of the plane on the tarmac, going to reporters who are waiting there and apologized to Kaitlan.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Right. It's sort of a presidential equivalent of batting cleanup. He, A, could have just keep walking out the stage and not answered her question at all. But there was something about it that made him want to engage.
That's why it's important we ask the questions and politicians can answer them or not. But it was certainly -- he thought his tone was off. Talking to advisers, he did not want that to be his final word here in Geneva because he does think that he had a really successful week and visit. And the reality is he will not know if this trip or this Russia strategy is a success for months to come. But there was something about it that -- it got under his skin clearly. And it was a flash of anger, which people close to Joe Biden have seen before, of course. But it's a -- he was certainly led to apologize and it was the right thing to do.
BLITZER: It was the right thing to do. And the question that Kaitlan asked was a totally legitimate, fair question, credit her.
You know, Dana, the president didn't walk away with any firm commitments or concessions from Putin. How do you think this played out though for our U.S. audience?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, we'll see. I think the bar is kind of low, given what happened in the infamous Helsinki event with former President Trump and Vladimir Putin. But this is an administration that set expectations low as well going into this summit.
The fact that President Biden got across that he wanted to -- and I'm not going to use the term reset, because that's loaded when it comes to the American and Russian relationship, but he wanted to make clear to start, to plant the flag on where the Biden/Putin relationship would be, that it would be straightforward, that it would be more -- as practical as it could be, as earnest as it could be in terms of where he is coming from. That is really the best that they could hope for here.
And I did think it was quite noteworthy that President Biden likely have seen some of his predecessors do, notwithstanding former President Trump, tried to play to President Putin's desires and goals, that, you know, if you, Russia, want to be a real player on the international stage, then you have to be in -- you have to conform with international norms.
BLITZER: And, Dana, the president clearly feels the trip was a success. Could it be a boost for his domestic agenda items, including infrastructure, police reform, immigration? What do you think?
BASH: Honestly, no, that these are separate issues, very much separate issues. But as Jeff has said earlier in the day, the world stage is his comfort zone. He has been in meetings with world leaders time and time again over the years, over the decades, not just as vice president but, of course, as senator foreign relations chair when he was there.
And so that is going to give him likely confidence. Whether or not that is going to mean he can suddenly miraculously find an infrastructure deal or a police reform deal, that's a different question.
But the through line in those two things is the fact that he feels good about his ability to interact on a human level, whether that's with diplomacy or legislative agenda.
BLITZER: Yes. All right, Dana, thank you. Jeff, thanks to you as well.
Just ahead, we are following more news, a voice of experience on the threat from Russia about to weigh in on the Biden/Putin meeting. I will speak with the former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton. We'll discuss the summit. We will get his reaction also to the Justice Department just dropping -- get this, just dropping today a Trump era lawsuit against him. More live coverage, that's coming up.
BLITZER: We're getting new reaction to the Biden/Putin summit here in Geneva from former top advisers to President Trump -- former President Trump, I should say, who have experience confronting the Kremlin leader. I spoke earlier today with Russia expert Fiona Hill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Was there anything that surprised you coming from Putin today, Ambassador Hill?
FIONA HILL, FORMER TOP RUSSIA ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I think, you know -- I wouldn't say actually anything surprising, apart from the fact that he clearly wanted to keep the tone generally cordial.
So I think it was very important for Putin to have this summit. It was important perhaps for it not to go off the rails, also for the purposes of taking this forward. It is an episodic event. It's not the be all and the end all. There was no expectation or things that going to be settled. But it's clear that he is open to having a whole set of other meetings afterwards.
The prisoner exchange, well, that kind of came up in the discussions. I would be mindful about that and watching very carefully because there's certainly an imbalance between who the United States has in U.S. prisons from the Russian side, people who have committed pretty serious crimes, and on the Russian side, you know, Captured Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, two former Marines, you know, for very trivial issues on Trevor Reed's past and a lot of fabrication on the past of Paul Whelan, there was definitely an asymmetry of their asked, when I was involved in all of this.
And the issue that, you know, Jim is mentioning about cyber, that's pretty critical. I think we have a long way to go before we can find some way of talking about this in a holistic sense, because there are so many different dimensions of that. There's the cyberattacks that we've seen the state perpetrating, including on the hacking into the elections. Of course, Putin has denied that the state was involved, but certainly state proxies.
There's the ransomware criminal groups. Those attacks on the critical infrastructure, this concerns about command and control. This is a really big issue, and there was no way that that was going to be resolved in this meeting. But, you know, there are suggestions to take it forward.
I think the bigger thing is if there's an announcement of different sets of professional meetings at different levels of the U.S. and Russian government, because those meetings themselves can be an anchor to stabilize an otherwise confrontational relationship.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Let's hear now from another former Trump administration insider. We're joined by the former national security advisor, John Bolton. He's also served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and he is the author of the book "The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir". There you see the cover.
Ambassador, thanks for joining us.
I know you worked closely with Fiona Hill during your time in the Trump White House. First of all, what did you make of her assessment?
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, I thought she stated a number of the issues that obviously came up in the course of the discussion. I think this was premature. I don't think Biden had thought through at a strategic level what he expected to get out of this. And in that sense, it's a wasted opportunity.
Practically everybody who has commented on this meeting today said, the White House set the bar very low, and they barely made it over it. So, you only have so many summits. And I think the idea that a phone call to Putin or using your secretary of state or your national security advisor to convey some of these thoughts wasn't sufficient, I think it's a mistake.
And I think -- I think what Putin reads out of this meeting is that Biden has a list of things he is concerned about. He is now satisfied his domestic audience. But his early performance, leave words aside, his early performance has been weak and inconsistent, on the Nord Stream sanctions, on the new START treaty, on a variety of other issues. Performance here shows Putin he's got some real openings.
BLITZER: You dealt with Putin directly when you were national security advisor, negotiating the 2018 Helsinki summit with president -- then President Trump. Is what we saw at Putin's news conference today cynical, dismissive, matter of fact, is that the same Putin you dealt with behind closed doors?
BOLTON: Look, Putin is smart. He knows his responsibilities. He has been president or prime minister for over two decades now. He knows exactly what he wants to achieve. I think he did have a strategic objective in mind here in ways that Biden didn't. And I think although it was a close call, I think he emerged as the bigger beneficiary out of this, simply for having had the meeting.
He is an expert at deflecting issues that he doesn't want to talk about. And that's what he did during his news conference. What he did, he did for an hour without notes, without a teleprompter, like our president. And he took questions from the snarky American media and dealt with them, too.
BLITZER: It was interesting.
Before I let you go, Ambassador, I want to get your reaction to the news that the U.S. Justice Department today just dropped its civil and criminal proceedings against you over the release of your book. Give us your reaction.
BOLTON: Look, I think this was a vindication of the view that I've had from the beginning that Trump used the question of classified information purely as a pretext to try and suppress a book he did not want to come out before the November 2020 election. My book did go through a prepublication review process. It was cleared by the expert team that reviewed it arduously, I might say.
But that wasn't enough for Trump. And I think we caught him. I think this decision by the Justice Department is a vindication of the rule of law against what was another abuse of power by Donald Trump.
BLITZER: So, do you think this was purely the U.S. Justice Department being used to seek retribution for Trump, because Trump hated what you wrote about him in the book?
BOLTON: As is the case with almost everything involving Trump, it was all about Trump and his political fortune. I do think there are others, lawyers in the White House and some in the Justice Department, who participated in this blatant effort to suppress the book, who ought to be looking at their legal ethics here.
And, you know, law firms or business considering hiring them ought to look at whether this is the kind of person they want to be associated with.
BLITZER: Ambassador Bolton, thanks so much for joining us. We'll continue this conversation for sure down the road.
Coming up, they're putting a positive spin or their first summit meeting today. But that has not always been the case when President Biden and Vladimir Putin have met in the past. We're going to take a closer at their contentious history, that's next.
BLITZER: The Biden-Putin summit here in Geneva is certainly the latest chapter in a relationship that stretches back for years.
CNN's Brian Todd has been looking back at Biden's legacy of talking tough with the Russian leader.
Brian, tell us more.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not too many surprises in Geneva today, Wolf. Neither man said they were ready to start a new relationship or become friends. These were two leaders who have been adversaries for far too long to really ever trust each other.
TODD (voice-over): Emerging from their meeting in Geneva, President Biden wouldn't engage when asked if he can trust Vladimir Putin.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is not about trust. This is about self-interest and verification of self-interest.
TODD: Biden claimed he warned the Russian president about Russian cyberattacks, elections meddling, and Putin's harsh treatment of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny. Putin said, sarcastically, they didn't look into each other's eyes or find a soul or swear eternal friendship.
SUSAN GLASSER, CO-AUTHOR, "KREMLIN RISING": I don't think that Vladimir Putin looked at Joe Biden and says, wow, he's a nice old guy. I can do business with him.
TODD: And that may have to do with the history between the two men. It was 20 years ago that then-Senator Joe Biden issued one of his first warnings about Vladimir Putin after then-President George W. Bush met with Putin and uttered this now infamously naive take on the encounter.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: I was able to get a sense of his soul.
TODD: Bush called the Russian president straightforward and untrustworthy. Almost immediately, Biden said, quote, I don't trust Putin.
BIDEN: I caution the administration against being excessively optimistic about Mr. Putin and his intentions.
PROF. KEITH DARDEN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Joe Biden is one of the American politicians who identified very early the type of man he was dealing with, with Vladimir Putin. He did not trust Putin.
BIDEN: Ten years after his initial warnings about Putin, Biden met the former KGB 10 colonel in Moscow face to face. Biden told a journalist that he said to Putin during that 2011 encounter, quote, I'm looking into your eyes and I don't think you have a soul.
Biden claimed Putin smiled and replied, quote, we understand one another. Putin was asked about that in a new interview with NBC.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I do not remember this particular part of our conversations, to be honest with you. He probably has a good memory.
TODD: Putin likely does remember Joe Biden visiting Georgia in 2008 to show solidarity with that nation after Putin invaded it. Putin probably remembers Biden being one of the leaders of America's efforts to punish Russia for its 2014 invasion of Ukraine. Biden was asked 3 months ago on ABC if he thinks Vladimir Putin is a killer.
BIDEN: Uh-huh, I do.
TODD: Biden has since dodged when asked if he thinks Putin is a killer, but he's also not expecting Putin to change his behavior after Geneva.
GLASSER: I don't think this summit meeting is taking place at a moment where Biden sees an opening to force a kind of relationship that's going to be a move beyond these troubles.
TODD: But even with the possibility of a better relationship now kind of tamped down after Geneva, analysts say that both men still benefit from this meeting. Joe Biden gets to look like he is not Donald Trump, that he's being tough on Vladimir Putin. For his part, Putin still gets to look like a world statement which she craves.
You know, Wolf, one analyst told us today that just the fact of this meeting is a victory for Vladimir Putin. He gets to go home and spin this to the Russian people, and he gets the benefit out of it.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you, Brian, very much.
Other news we're following, new details tonight of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza prompted by the launch of incendiary balloons.
CNN's Hadas Gold has the latest from Jerusalem -- Hadas.
HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, not even three days into Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's term, already a crucial test for the new Israeli government.
(voice-over): A fragile cease fire between Israel and Hamas-led militants in the Gaza Strip rocked Tuesday. Militants in Gaza launching incendiary balloons over the border earlier today, color for party decorations often attached to explosive devices or just lit on fire, sparking at least 20 blazes in southern Israel according to Israeli officials.
The Israeli air force responding overnight, striking what it says we're Hamas military complexes and meeting places. Palestinian media reporting material damages but no casualties.
Hamas calling the Israeli airstrikes a failed attempt to stop our people solidarity and resistance in the holy city. Militants say they sent the balloons in reaction to a right-wing Israeli flag march in Jerusalem on Tuesday, where demonstrators danced and saying in front of one of the main entrances for Muslim worshippers to the old city, chanting Jerusalem is hours, some even saying death to Arabs. The annual march celebrates Israel gaining control of the Western Wall
and East Jerusalem in the 1967 war reschedule Tuesday after it was canceled last month, when Hamas launched rockets towards Jerusalem helping to trigger the 11-day bloody conflict.
The airstrikes overnight, a harsher response to these incendiary balloons that in the past were tolerated. A test and a message from the newly installed government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett who was previously advocated for greater military action in response to these incendiary balloons.
More balloons launched Wednesday, sparking at least for more fires according to Israeli officials, showing the possibility that an imminent escalation cannot be ruled out.
GOLD (on camera): With more of these incendiary balloons launched into Israel today, the big question will be, how and whether the Israeli military will respond, a simmering situation that could quickly boil over -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Hadas gold in Jerusalem, thanks very much.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Geneva.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.