JIM SCIUTTO (filling in for Anderson Cooper), CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Topping this hour of “360”, a question as we head into a weekend of foreign policy challenges. Does the Trump administration even have a foreign policy?
After a week that saw tensions rise with Russia over Syria, the biggest non-nuclear bomb in the arsenal fall on Afghanistan, and a nuclear threat from Kim Jong-un, it is quite a question to be asking. But there is a case to be made that it’s the right one. That’s just ahead. First with the president at Mar-a-Lago, CNN’S Jim Acosta sets the stage.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A critical moment may be at hand as U.S. foreign policy experts worry North Korea just might celebrate its 105th anniversary with a dangerous display of military might. A nuclear weapons test ordered by that country’s leader Kim Jong-un designed to provoke President Trump.
MIKE MORRELL, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: We have a new president and Kim Jong-un is trying to challenge him. He’s trying to get him back to the negotiating table.
ACOSTA (voice-over): U.S. flexed its own muscles last week with strikes in Syria and again earlier this week diverting an aircraft carrier toward North Korea as the Trump administration dropped a massive non-nuclear bomb on an ISIS target in Afghanistan. Add to that, the president is ratcheting up the rhetoric on North Korea.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don’t know if this sends a message. It doesn’t make any difference if it does or not. North Korea is a problem, the problem will be taken care of.
ACOSTA (voice-over): A high-ranking North Korean official told the Associated Press that Trump administration’s posture toward the communist nation is becoming more vicious and aggressive.
MORELL: And we are also making it worse, right? With our bluster and by sending aircraft carriers in there, we’re raising the crisis.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Earlier in the week, the president held out hope that Chinese president Xi Jinping could help contain North Korea.
TRUMP: President Xi wants to do the right thing. We had a very good bonding. I think we had a very good chemistry together. I think he wants to help us with North Korea.
ACOSTA (voice-over): But the president acknowledged to the Wall Street Journal he only recently learned that the Chinese may only be able to do so much saying, “After listening for 10 minutes I realized it’s not so easy. I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power over North Korea but it’s not what you would think.”
The president will be monitoring the potential crisis down at his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago where he’ll spend the holiday weekend without much of his senior staff. But Vice President Pence is headed to the region this weekend.
TRUMP: But they don’t have nukes yet. They will have them unless I get to be president. If I get to the president, I promise you folks, they won’t have them.
ACOSTA (voice-over): During the campaign, the president vowed he would keep nuclear weapons out of North Korea while offering some surprising praise for Kim Jong-un.
TRUMP: But if you look at North Korea, this guy, this — I mean, he’s like a maniac, OK? And you’ve got to give him credit. He wiped out the uncle, he wiped out this one, that one.
ACOSTA: And President Trump offering China a big incentive to help contain North Korea. Today the Trump administration formally announced, they will not label China a currency manipulator, that’s a major reversal for the president who promised to do just that during the campaign. Instead China will be listed among countries that are being monitored for their trading practices. Jim?
SCIUTTO: Jim Acosta, thanks very much. Analysis now from CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen and Fareed Zakaria. He is host to Fareed Zakaria GPS.
Fareed, if I could begin with you, if you look at the variety of national security threats just in the last seven days, Russia, North Korea, Syria, Afghanistan. I’ve been told frequently that the variety of threats facing the U.S. is something that we haven’t seen for decades. Are we seeing a demonstration of that right now?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN GPS HOST: I think we’re seeing a demonstration of the fact that we’re living in a very complicated world. And that these challenges don’t have easy answers. I think that’s really the most important piece of this which is you can drop big bombs all you like. You’re not going to achieve political stability in Syria or Afghanistan. In North Korea, you’re not going to be able to just threaten the regime and suddenly find that one day they’re in a cave.
That I hope is the realization. Because he came to office claiming that all these problems were easy. That if you just gave the generals more of a leeway, if you just talk tough, you know, they were all going to fall and he alone would be able to fix it all. Well, he’s in power now and, you know, he will discover none of this is easy.
SCIUTTO: David, to Fareed’s point, in the moves that we’ve seen by President Trump in recent days, a cruise missile strike in Syria, a very big bomb in Afghanistan or even the reversal on Russia, really. Are you seeing real dramatic change in U.S. policies or are they really continuation to some degree, big picture, of policies for some time?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You’re right. I think the big picture is that we’re seeing reversals in President Trump in terms of what he thought he will be doing as president. He’d be very, you know, that he would be close to Russia and that China would wind up being a potentially a long-term enemy. But he is now — in reversing his positions he’s actually coming back to a lot of positions that President Obama and his predecessors held. They see much more in conventional places.
I think what is surprising, and we have not seen the degree we’re now seeing, is the degree to which the military is out in front and not the State Department, not the diplomats.
SCIUTTO: Fareed, I will hear from officials in the administration or in other agencies that they’re beginning to see a decision-making process come into play, a lot of credit you’ll often hear going to H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser. From the folks you speak to and also just observing these decisions in recent days and weeks, do you see the development of a more sort of set process for making big-picture decisions like this?
ZAKARIA: I think the beginning is exactly the right way to describe it. And McMaster is a very seasoned, very smart guy, a very thoughtful. And so I’m sure he is, you know, what you’re seeing is, in fact, his hand at work. But it really is the beginning. And really we’re walking off the — you know, we’re walking back from the cliff.
So while, you know, while it’s encouraging, there are still is the whiplash of the confusion of where exactly the United States stands on all these issues and what it says for the future. President Trump boldly and proudly says, I’m very flexible. But the flexibility is such that it’s not, you know, he’s not unpredictable at this point, he’s incoherent, right?
I mean, one day he says NATO is obsolete, the next day he said it isn’t. One day he says China will be labeled a currency manipulator on his first day in office, and then he says it isn’t. You know, how many more of these reversals will happen?
SCIUTTO: David, I’ve spoken to a number of foreign diplomats who make the point that they don’t know what the actual policy is. They don’t even know sometimes who to speak with in the Trump administration or which public proclamation to believe. From your seat, at least in the last week and I don’t want to exaggerate a short period of time, but as you begin to see some policy moves here, are you beginning to see the outlines at least of a Trump doctrine or if not a Trump doctrine, at least a Trump foreign policy?
GERGEN: If there is an emerging Trump doctrine, it’s very well hidden. I think Fareed is absolutely right that there’s a lot of confusion still. We don’t know quite what directions they’re really taking. We don’t know how anchored these things are. But I just want to go to one other point about the decision-making process.
I do think Fareed is right. We’re seeing the beginnings of a decision-making process. But what is notably different from other administrations is the predominance of military voices in that process. And the absence of a strong voice from the civilian side especially from the State Department.
At this point in time if you have a possible — a real serious crisis brewing with North Korea, the secretary of state would be out in front. He would be calling people, he’d be trying to rally other nations to make sure that there’s an international agreement upon next steps to try to get negotiations of some sort launched before there’s any military action.
I think right now within the absence of a clear doctrine and with an administration that is showing it wants to send a message there’s a new sheriff in town, we don’t know, you know, whether we’re making maximum effort to settle this peacefully or not.
SCIUTTO: New developments in the Russia investigation got somewhat buried in the many other headlines this week. We learned that foreign intelligence agencies also picked up evidence of communications between Trump associates and Russian officials and other Russians known to western intelligence.
Also, contradictory statements from former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page about his contacts with Russia. He has denied that he was a foreign agent. Page told CNN’s Jake Tapper that when he visited Russia last July, he never discussed easing sanctions on Russia related to the seizing of Crime. But interviewed on ABC news, Page could not provide a clear answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARTER PAGE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I never offered that, no, nothing along those lines, absolutely not. I mean, it may — topics — I don’t remember. We’ll see what comes out in this FISA transcript. Something may have come up in a conversation — I have no recollection and there is nothing specifically that I would have done that would have given people that impression.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Now Page denies any wrongdoing. In any case, he was hardly the only development. And he was hardly the only one with Russia connections.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): There is an expanding web of contacts between Trump advisers and Russia during the election and the transition. One of the latest revelations, a meeting in January on the island nation of the Seychelles, hundreds of miles off the east coast of Africa, a diplomatic source tells CNN. A little more than a week before President Trump took office, Blackwater founder and Trump donor Erik Prince met with the Russian businessman close to President Vladimir Putin to arrange a possible back channel of communications between Moscow and the incoming administration.
AMB. NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. UNDER SECRETARY FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: There was no reason to find some Russian businessperson or some contact with the Russian government when you could easily have asked the State Department of the Obama administration to help create contacts.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Prince claimed to have influence with then President-elect Trump, but both the White House and the foreign diplomat tell CNN the administration was not involved in arranging the meeting. Still, GOP lawmakers acknowledge growing questions.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This is a centipede. A shoe will drop every few days. The latest, the meeting in the Seychelles. Look, this is a requirement in my view why we need to select committee in order to get through all this because there’s a lot more shoes that are going to drop.
SCIUTTO: The connections however do not end there. Former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a key adviser during the Trump campaign, sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2015 at a black tie gala for Russia’s R.T. propaganda network. We now know the Kremlin paid Flynn more than $33,000 to attend. Income he did not initially report as required to the U.S. Army or to the White House.
Flynn was fired less than a month into the administration for lying to the vice president about discussing sanctions with Russia’s ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
TRUMP: When I looked at the information, I said, I don’t think he did anything wrong. Anything he did something right. The thing is he didn’t tell our vice president properly and then he said he didn’t remember. So either way it wasn’t very satisfactory to me.
SCIUTTO: The connections to Russia extend inside the Trump family. President Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser Jared Kushner met with Russia’s ambassador and with Sergey Gorkov, the president of Russia’s state own bank Veb which is under U.S. sanctions.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Jared did a job during the transition in the campaign where he was a conduit and to leaders. And that’s until we had a State Department to function place for people to go. He wants to make sure that he’s very clear about the role that he played, who do we talked to and that’s it.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): And the ties extend as well to the very highest levels of the Trump campaign. Former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort worked for years in Ukraine for pro-Russian politician Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort also partnered with the Russian oligarch on business deals. And according to the Associated Press, he worked for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to benefit the Putin government. Manafort denies his work was representing Russian interests.
PAUL MANAFORT, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: As far as the Yanukovych administration is concerned, you will see if you do any fact checking that I was the person that negotiated the framework which is based upon which Ukraine is now a part of Europe. That was my role. That’s what I did. And when it was completed, I left.
SCIUTTO: And now Trump’s own Attorney General Jeff Sessions has had to recuse himself from Russia investigations because he also met with Russia’s ambassador twice, despite testifying that he never had contact with the Russians during the campaign.
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF TRUMP: With retrospect, I should have slowed down and said what I did meet one Russian official, a couple of times, that would be the ambassador.
SCIUTTO: Finally, among others, there is long-time Trump associate Roger Stone, who communicated with someone known as Guccifer 2.0 through private messages on twitter. The U.S. intelligence community says that the Guccifer 2.0 persona is actually a front for Russian intelligence and claimed responsibility for hacking the DNC before the election. It is Russia’s election-related hacking that is at the center of FBI and House and Senate Intelligence Committee investigations that continue.
SCIUTTO: Perspective now from a pair of intelligence professionals, former FBI and CIA Senior Official Phil Mudd and Steve Hall. He ran Russia operations at the CIA as a member of the agency’s senior intelligence service.
Steve, I want to start with you. As you look and I’m curious what you think Russia was up to here? Separate from trying to interfere in the election. Do you see evidence they were trying to recruit people who may end up inside the U.S. government?
STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Certainly Jim, what we’ve seen with guys like Carter Page and arguably others are what we typically associate with Russian trade craft when they are trying to identify people who might be close to incoming presidents and other, you know, people of power in the U.S. government. So this is simply standard operating procedure on the part of the Russian government.
You want to try to have people on the inside who are at the very least willing to talk to you off the record. Maybe they’re willing to agree to even more than that. And in the best of all circumstances for Russia, you could have somebody who would be an agent of influence who could actually may be even influence somebody who was, you know, in positions of power in Washington.
So that would be very typical for what the Russians would want to do. I think the surprising thing in this particular circumstance is the breadth as you were just outlining in your report in there, how many different data points that we have from the Trump campaign that sort of lead back to Russia. We just need to find out whether or not there’s really anything there, whether this is all some big, convoluted, you know, just something that happens somehow. It will be interesting to see. But we’ve got to get to the bottom of it one way or the other.
SCIUTTO: Phil, as you look at it now, we’re at a stage of the investigation, at least with what’s public knowledge at this point, where as Steve said you’ve got smoke but no fire. You have connections, you have communications, et cetera but no proof that for instance there was a good pro quo discussed in those conversations. As you look at it, someone who’s been analyzing intelligence for a long time, what do you see here?
PHILIP MUDD, FORMER SENIOR OFFICIAL, FBI AND CIA: I see a couple things. First, let’s go back a bit, remember, the Director of the FBI was embarrassed last fall and last summer when he talked about an open investigation against Hillary Clinton. He then talked about closing the investigation, reopening — a total embarrassment for an FBI that never, almost never, discussed as an open investigation.
What does he do in this case later, after that embarrassment? He again talks about an open investigation, in this case potentially related to Russian collusion with Americans. I cannot imagine the FBI Director after the Clinton embarrassment talking about this case without looking at information months ago saying, “I’m going to get out in front because this one is going down with indictments”.
There’s one other thing to watch about smoke in this case. And it’s something nobody is talking about. There’s a collusion piece, there’s also what we call in the business a thousand one, lying to a federal officer. I can’t figure out why Carter Page is talking. Because if he’s saying something different, then the FBI is finding out in interviews, that guy’s got a problem.
SCIUTTO: Steve Hall, one issue that’s come up in a number of Democratic members of the house sent a letter to the White House with a concern that Jared Kushner, very close adviser to the president, also happens to be his son-in-law, did not reveal on his security clearance form meetings as you’re required to do, and in this case with Russians. How much of a concern is that for you? And how much does it expose him to legal repercussions?
HALL: It’s certainly a concern. I mean, I can tell you that, you know, anybody who has amenable tone I have had security clearances. Anybody who’s had a security clearance knows, you know, you just don’t leave that kind of thing off of, you know, off of the paperwork.
There’s language, you know, up fronts that says, you know, if you’re signing this, first of all is complete, it’s all the information, it’s all true, and it’s a felony if you lie about that. So that’s serious. And it’s of concern to me because, you know, it’s yet again another thing that sort of — again, trails back to Russia. And if it had been any one of these things, you know, if it was just to Manafort question or if it was just Kushner’s, you know, omission on this. Then you say, OK, well, maybe that’s just one-off. The problem is that this is beginning to be a little more than just coincidence. And from a counter intelligence perspective, I think that there’s grave concern here. So, yeah, that’s worrisome, one of many worries in pieces.
SCIUTTO: And that, Phil, is the focus of the FBI’s investigation at this point, a counterintelligence investigation going forward.
MUDD: That’s right. But again, it’s not just the counterintelligence investigation. When you sit at the table for these investigations, and I have, there’s a question about whether the people who are involved are truthful. Even if you can’t prove whether the individual colluded with the Russian government, if you can prove they lied, that’s a federal violation. They’ll charge him with.
SCIUTTO: Yeah. Absolutely. You know, that’s a — you know, a lot of other investigations that’s completely different topics, that’s gotten …
SCIUTTO: President Trump is now approaching a major milestone. His first 100 days in office will end on April 29th. This week alone has been very busy as we’ve mention tonight, there’s the nuclear threat from North Korea. Cold War words from Russia, possible escalation in Syria and the dropping of that massive bomb on Afghanistan. But to some it’s been a largely winless 100 days. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, of course, disagrees.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have done so many great things including nominate and confirm a Supreme Court Justice. Roll back more regulations than any president in modern times. Roll back the Obama-era war on coal, oil and natural gas. Restore confidence in the economy.
We’re now seeing historic levels of consumer CEO home builder manufacture confidence. There’s been a 12 percent gain in the stock market. We’ve even seen a real resurgence in the mining industry. We’ve reduced illegal border crossings by over 60 percent to the lowest level in nearly two decades and implemented historic ethics reforms including a five-year lobbying ban and a lifetime foreign ban.
(END VEDIO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Joining me now our two gentlemen who know a thing or two about the first 100 days of a presidency. They’ve seen it from the inside, Robert Reich, he serve in several administrations most recently as President Clinton’s labor secretary. He’s now a professor at U.C Berkeley and he’s also a author of “Saving Capitalism For The Many, Not The Few”. Also with us tonight our CNN Political Commentator Jeffrey Lord who worked in the Reagan White House.
To both of you, thanks for taking time tonight. Secretary, if I could ask you and I’m going to ask you to put on a different hat tonight. If you were working in this White House, imagine that, and compiling a list of the accomplishments for President Trump in his first 85 days or so. What would you highlight at this point? Robert, are you hearing me OK?
ROBERT REICH, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY: Yes, I’m trying to figure out what I’d highlight.
REICH: Really, I think this is — I honestly, this is the worst 100 days of a president, certainly beginning I’ve ever seen.
That the whole point of the 100-day metaphor comes out of Franklin D. Roosevelt. And it really is a metaphor about the fact that when a president begins, you know his more credibility and more public support than he’s ever going to have again.
And also, when he has both Houses of Congress that is his party, I mean, you’ve got everything going for you. And I’m sorry, because I think that what Donald Trump has done is essentially squander these first 85 to 100 days. I mean, not only has he lost on every major battle, I mean, repealing ObamaCare, and he can’t even afford the wall, and he can’t — and his Muslim ban is held up in court. But he’s just filled the airwaves with lies. Lies about fraudulent votes, three million to five million, completely unsubstantiated. I mean, lies about Obama spying on him. I mean, ethics violations. This Russian connection where —
SCIUTTO: OK. Let’s —
REICH: — you know, any president — I mean, I — the problem is you asked the question that is almost — I mean, what would I say? He got somebody through to the Supreme Court. Well, OK. Good.
SCIUTTO: Lifetime appointment of 49-year-old justice. Jeffrey Lord, you served in the Reagan White House. Reagan of course, his first 100 days were legendary for accomplishments. Let’s try to give an honest opinion of not just the gains but the disappointments of the first 85 or so days of the Trump administration.
JEFFREY LORD, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR: Well, let me just run through a few of the successes. The Gorsuch appointment is huge. I mean, I used to hear from people at rallies about how they wanted a Supreme Court Justice, a conservative Supreme Court Justice. He’ll be there for generation. That is a very, very big accomplishment.
He withdrew from the TPP, The Transpacific Partnership. He got the — he green lighted the keystone X.L Dakota access pipelines. He streamlined the budget and is going to have a Reagan style defense increase. And of course as Sean mentioned the enforcement of immigration laws, the illegal crossings have been reduced by 40 percent in the stock market is up.
Now on the other hand, let me just say this —
SCIUTTO: Well, to be fair, if I could just say, Jeffrey, a lot of the those things —
LORD: You know, we need to focus on some of the negative things that have happened to presidents. President Kennedy had the “Bay of Pigs.” President Lincoln had states withdraw from the union. I mean there have been pretty good presidents who had some really bad things happen in their first 100 days. That is not what’s going on here with Donald Trump.
SCIUTTO: Well, Jeffrey to be fair —
REICH: Now these are really self-inflicted wounds, Jeffrey. And that really — I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. I mean, why did he spend so much time lying with baseless lies and why didn’t he call for — I mean, if he’s involved, and all of his aides seem to be somehow involved in this Russian connection. Why didn’t he call for a commission, a bipartisan commission, to get to the bottom of it? If he really cared about clearing the air that’s what he would have done. Instead it’s all this kind trying to deflect attention from it, trying to wiggle out of it, creating more of a cover-up. And you know cover- ups just create more stories. I mean it’s —
SCUITTO: I want to get back to the agenda. I want to get back legislative agenda if I can. And I want to ask this question to both of you because, you know, a lot of the stuff he’s done so far, he didn’t, well, he didn’t require Congress really, a lot of these are executive orders, et cetera. We’ve talked a lot in this program tonight about how Donald Trump has moved towards the center in some of his foreign policy positions in elsewhere, even domestic positions. Do you see him, the potential of him, doing that on tax reform whether an infrastructure plan, even ObamaCare reform to bring in votes not only from other wings of his own party but perhaps Democrats. Do you see that coming, Jeffrey? And Robert I want to give you a chance as well after him.
LORD: I see him getting things done. This is the man, the art of the deal, and also the other book, never give up. He is going to be relentless just as he was in his business career. So, I see him doing that over and over and over again and he will keep coming back until he gets what he wants. Very much like Ronald Reagan saying that he’d settle for 80 percent and then come back for the other 20 percent later. That is very much what Donald Trump is doing here. Robert —
SCUITTO: Do you see the potential in that?
REICH: The what — Ronald Reagan’s — the Ronald Reagan’s great gift —
LORD: And will Democrats welcome it?
REICH: Look, if Donald Trump actually improves the well-being of the bottom 60 percent of Americans, that’s wonderful. I mean, I’m 100 percent behind him. But he’s so unfocused. He’s so undisciplined.
I mean, all he cares about is what, winning, and getting even? And I don’t know. I mean this is a man who seems to move from position to position effortlessly. There’s kind of a vacuum at the center. Except for narcissism, I mean there is no — Ronald Reagan was focused. Ronald Reagan knew what he wanted to do, he want to take on the economy, he want to cut taxes, he laid the predicate for all of that in the first 100 days. He was amazingly disciplined.
This president is the most undisciplined and kind of egoistic president I’ve ever imagined in the White House.