tv Face the Nation CBS May 28, 2017 8:30am-9:31am PDT
captioning sponsored by cbs >> dickerson: today on "face the nation" on this memorial day weekend, an exclusive conversation with defense secretary james mattis. >> usa! us am! >> dickerson: president donald trump's first foreign trip is in the books. it ended with a pep rally for u.s. troops stationed in italy. >> this will be nine days and i think we hit a home run no matter where we are. >> dickerson: along with the hits, there were some diplomatic errors, and some not so happy allies were left questioning the president's commitment to nato and a global packet on climate change. >change. >> all of us will be more safe and secure if everyone fulfills their obligations the way they are supposed to, right. >> dickerson: but with last week's suicide bombing at a concert in manchester came a new set of urgency among allies to
fight terrorism, but how? we sat down with mr. trump's secretary of defense james mattis in his first formal interview since taking the job. >> we are going to move in an accelerated and reinforced manner, throw them on their back foot. >> dickerson: and the secretary thoughts about the threats from north korea. >> it would be a catastrophic war if this turns into combat. >> dickerson: we will have a report from iraq and we will look at another war with filmmaker ken burns who will preview his upcoming project the war in vietnam. plus the president returns to new questions about son-in-law jared kushner's contacts with the russians. and his own effort to influence the investigation. we will have plenty of analysis on all of the news coming up on "face the nation". >> good morning and welcome to "face the nation" t i am john dickerson. we begin with an update on the war in terror as iraqi force ms. continue their final push to get isis out of mosul, our
charlie d'agata is on the front lines and filed this report earlier. >> more than seven months into the battle to recapture mosul has come down to this, iraqi forces closing in on the old city from three sides, but as they advance, the progress is being measured by feet rather than -- blocks. >> iraqi and american forces have been firing heavy artillery and mortars, came as a surprise considering the u.n. estimates there may be as many as 200,000 civilians still trapped inside densely populated neighborhoods. more than 700,000 people have already fled since the offensive to retake mosul began last october. in january, the iraqi government declared that eastern mosul had been recaptured, the campaign to take back western mosul began a few weeks later with joint iraqi forces pushing in from the north, south and west, now
finally encircling the old city, it is at the very heart of the isis stronghold here in mosul, home to the alnori mosque where he first declared the caliphate, the so-called caliphate nearly three years ago. u.s. air strikes so crucial in the fight so far have become less effective in the maze of narrow streets and apartment blocks where isis gunmen open fire from homes with residents effectively held prisoner, trapped inside. a team of american medical volunteers told us they are bracing for a surge of patients as this new offensive gets underway, while the defeat of isis at this point seems inevitable the only question now is how much fight is left for the militants. >> dickerson: charlie d'agata reporting from mosul, the offensive in mosul is taking place as american forces are picking up the tempo against
isis in all theaters.
we sat down with defense secretary james mattis at the u.s. military academy at west point saturday and asked him about the new strategy. >> our strategy right now is to accelerate the campaign against isis, it is a threat to all civil lized nations and the bottom line is, we are going to move in an accelerated and reinforced manner, throw them on their back foot. we have already shifted from attrition tactics where we shove them from one position to another in iraq and syria to if an inside population tactics where we surround them, our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to north africa, to europe, to america, to asia, to africa, we are not going to allow them to do so. we are going to stop them there and take apart the caliphate. >> dickerson: explain what it means to be moving in an
annihilation posture as opposed to attrition. >> well, attrition is where you keep pushing them out of the areas that they are in, john, and what we intend to do by surrounding them is to not allow them to fall back, thus reinforcing themselves as they get smaller and smaller making the fight tougher and tougher. you can see that right now, for example, in western mosul, that is surrounded and the iraqi security forces are moving against them. talafar is surrounded we have an effort to take the self declared capital of raqqa, that surrounding operation is going on and once surrounded then we will go in and clean them out. >> dickerson: one of things you mentioned in this new accelerated tempo is that the president has delegated authority to the right level. what does that mean? >> when you are in operations, the best thing you can do at the top level is get the strategy right. you have to get the big ideas right, you have to determine what is the policy, what is the
level of effort you are willing to commit to it, and then you delegate to those who have to execute that strategy to the appropriate level, what is the appropriate level? a level where people are trained and equipped to take decisions so we move swiftly against the enemy. there is no corporation in the world that would in a competitive environment try and concentrate all decisions at the corporate level. but i would point out here that we have not changed the rules of engagement, there is no relaxation of our intention to protect the innocent. we do everything we can to protect the civilians and actually lowering delegating the authority to the lower level allows us to do this better. >> dickerson: after the annihilation has been done does that mean you can't let it fall back into isis hands? >> once isis is defeated there is a larger effort underway to make certain that we don't just sprout a new enemy. we know isis is going to go down. we have had success on the battlefield, we have freed millions of people from being
under their control and not one inch of that ground that isis has lost has isis regained. it shows the effectiveness of what we are doing. however, there are a larger currents, there are larger confrontations in this part of the world and we cannot be blind to those. that is why they met in washington under secretary tillerson's effort to carry out president trump's strategy to make certain we don't just clean out this enemy and end up with a new enemy in the same area. >> dickerson: you served under president obama, you are now serving president trump, how are they different? >> everyone leads in their own way, john, in the case of the president, he has got to select the right people that he has trust in to carry out his vision of a strategy. secretary tillerson and i we coordinate all of the president's campaign, we just make certain that foreign policy is led by the state department,
i inform secretary tillerson the military factors and we make certain that then when we come out of our meetings, state department and defense department are tied tightly together and we can give straightforward advice to the commander in chief. >> dickerson: president trump has said to defeat isis he has said there has to be a humiliation of isis. what does that mean? >> i think as we hook at this problem of isis, it is more than just an army. it is also a fight about ideas, and we have got to dry up the recruiting, we have got to dry up their fund-raising. the way we intend to do it is to humiliate them, to divorce them from any nation giving them protection and humiliating their message of hatred, of violence, anyone who kills women and children is not devout. they have -- they cannot dress themselves up in false religious garb and say somehow this message has dignity, we will strip them of any kind of
legitimacy and that is why you see the international community acting in concert. >> dickerson: when should americans look to see victory? >> there is going to be a long fight. the problems that we confront are going to lead to an era of frequent skie skirmishing, we wo it by and through other nations w he, we will do it through developing their capabilities to do a lot of the fighting. we will help them with intelligence. certainly we can help train them for what they face, and you see our forces engaged in that, from africa to asia, but at the same time, this is going to be a long fight and i don't put timelines on fights. >> dickerson: what about civilian casualties as a result of this faster tempo? >> civilian casualties are a fact of life in this sort of situation. we do everything humanly possible consistent with military necessity taking many chances to avoid civilian casualties. at all costs. >> dickerson: under this new
aggressive posture, what can be done that would not have been done, say, six months ago? >> probably the most important thing we are doing now is we are accelerating this fight. we are accelerating the tempo of it. we are going to squash the enemy's ability to give some indication that they have invulnerability that they can exist, that they can send people off to istanbul, to belgium, to great britain and kill people with impunity. we are going to shatter their sense of invincibility there in the physical caliphate. that is only one phase of this, then we have the virtual caliphate that they use the internet. obviously we are going to have to watch for other organizations growing up. we cannot go into some kind of complacency. i am from the american west. we have forest fires out there. and some of the worst forest fires in our history, the most damage were caused when we pulled the fire crews off the line too early. and so we are going to have to continue to keep the pressure on the enemy.
there is no room for complacency on this. >> dickerson: hundreds of civilians were killed after a u.s. bomb hit a building in mosul in iraq. is this the result of this faster tempo? is this the kind of thing americans needs to get used to as a natural buy product of this strategy. >> the american people and the american military will never get used to civilian casualties. we will fight against that every way we can possibly bring our intelligence and our tactics to bear. people who have tried to leave that city were not allowed to by isis. we are the good guys. we are not the perfect guys, but we are the good guys. and so we are doing what we can. we believe, we found residue that was not consistent with our bomb, so we believe that what happened there was that isis had stored munitions in a residential location, showing once again the callous disregard that is characterized every operation they have run.
>> dickerson: help people understand what a conflict with north korea would be like and how it would be different. >> a conflict in north korea, john, would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people's lifetimes. why do i say this? the north korean regime has hundreds of artillery canons and rocket launchers within range of one of the most densely populated cities on earth. which is the capital of south korea. i can't we are working with the international community to deal with this issue, this regime is a threat to the region, to japan, to south korea, and in the event of war, they would bring danger to china and to russia as well, but the bottom line is, it would be a catastrophic war if this turns into combat, if we are not able to resolve this situation through diplomatic means. >> dickerson: north korea has been testing missiles, are they getting any better at their
capability? >> we always assume that with a testing program they get better with each test. >> dickerson: you say north korea is a threat to the region. is north korea a threat to the united states? >> it is a direct threat to the united states. they have been very clear in their rhetoric. we don't have to wait inable they have an intercontinental ballistic missile with nuclear weapon it to say that now it is manifested completely. >> dickerson: what is the line in north korea that if the regime crosses that line, in your view, the u.s. should take action? >> i would prefer not to answer that question, john. the president needs political maneuvering room on this issue. we do not draw red lines unless we intend to carry them out. we have made very clear that we are willing to work with china and we believe china has tried to be helpful in this regard. >> dickerson: give me a sense, if you can of a time that north
korea gets to a point of no return. >> we consider it a direct threat even today. the north korean threat, as far as that specific threat, i don't want to put a timeline on it. at this time, what we know is i would prefer to keep silent about because we may actually know some things the north koreans don't even know. >> dickerson: let me switch tomato, the president recently met with nato leaders. he didn't mention the commitment in nato, the so-called article 5 commitment, attack on one is an attack on all. why not? >> i think when president trump chooses to go tomato personally and stand there, alongside the other more than two dozen nations in nato that was his statement .. not words, actions. >> dickerson: the president seems to need convincing on the power and importance of the nato alliance. do you have to convince him of how important nato is? >> we have had good talks about it, john, and my initial, in my initial job interview with the president he brought up
questions about nato and my response was, that i thought that if we didn't have nato that he would want to create it, because it is a defensive, it is a defense of our values, it is a defense of democracy, he was very open to that, obviously he had to make a decision about whether or not he was going to nominate me to be the secretary of defense, and although i immediately showed him that my view on that was rather profoundly in support of nato, he at that point in nominated me. >> dickerson: what interruptions -- >> beats me. right now, russia's future should be wedded to europe. why they see nato as a threat is beyond me. clearly nato is not a threat, but right now, russia is choosing to be a strategy competitor for any number of reasons. the bottom line is nato is not a threat and they know it. they have no doubt about it. >> dickerson: you have said that russia is trying to break apart nato.
is there, the united states going to take any action to deal with russia as a threat to nato, either in helping in the balkans or any other way? >> right now, we are dealing with russia attempting to deal with russia under president trump's direction in a diplomatic manner. at the same time, while we are willing to engage diplomatically we are going to have to confront russia when it comes to areas where they attack us, whether it be with cyber where they try to change orders using armed force, and that is admittedly a strategically uncomfortable position, engaging diplomatically, trying to find a way out of this situation, but confronting them where we must. and we are going to continue in this mode and hopefully soon our diplomat will work their magic and start moving us out of this quandary we find ourselves in. >> dickerson:. >> let me ask you about the paris climate accords. the president is going to make a decision on this. >> i was sitting in on some of the discussions in brussels, by the way, where climate change
came up, and the president was open. he was curious about why others were in the position they were in. his counterparts in other nations, and i am quite certain the president is wide open on this issue
as we takes in the pros and cons of that accord. >> dickerson: what keeps you awake at night? >> nothing. i keep other people awake at night. >> dickerson: secretary of defense, james mattis. we will have more of our interview later in the broadcast and we will be back in one minute with filmmaker ken burns. >>
>> dickerson: and we are back with film make fergus ken burns whose new documentary the vietnam war, in vietnam will air starting september 17 on pbs. ken is here to give us a preview on this weekend where we honor those who were lost in the service of their nation. and, ken, i want to do something we don't normally do is take a look at the trailer first and then talk about it. >>
>> dickerson: it is so sweeping and powerful. i want to ask you about the journey you took in making this. did you go in thinking, oh it is this way and come out thinking, no, it is really this way? >> i think every film that we tack st. louis like that, where you have that conventional wisdom, the superficial sense of what took place, you know, you say the 19 twenties, you think flappers are gangsters and if you go into it, it is a little bit more complicated than that. for those of us who worked on this project and particularly ann nowak the codirector with me we go in confident that we know something, and i think the ten years we spent working on sit almost daily humiliation of what
we didn't know, john and that's a good thing, because then you free yourself from the tyranny of that conventional wisdom, the tyranny of kind of binary yes and no that the sets our current media culture and our larger computer world that we think it is all black, all white or all wrong and what you certifying find out in war it is possible for a thing and the opposite of that thing to be true at the same time. and it is not saying that the dates of the battle of gettysburg change from july 1st, second and third, it just means if you have the passage of time you have perspective and with perspective a new scholarship you can gain new insight and if we, if you think as i believe we coa good deal of the divisions we experience now in our country, the seeds were planted the a virus started in vietnam then it may be possible if we can get off that binary sort of position that we are all in to be able to kind of unpack and then relearn the war, we might be able to address some of the things that beset us today, that, this lack of civility and
civil discourse, the thing that threaten us are perhaps greater than any enemy. >> dickerson: a huge perspective is what you are talk about. >> this is what history offers. we think of documentaries as all about the urgency and fuss and fire of a contemporary issue, but it is often, histories taught us, tortoise that keeps going and keeps going as the heir gets, hare gets tired and sits down. lynn and i have been working ten years about mass demonstrations taking place all across the country, it is about asimilar met federal, asymmetrical warfare, about a white house concerned about leaks, it is about a huge document drops in front of the american public, and activated free press. you would say you have abandoned history and you are talking about the contemporary moment but those are just a handful of the themes that are about vietnam, so they offer us a prism through which to see where we are now as well as what
happened then. >> dickerson: i want, you and lynn nowak talked to so many people, including members of the vietcong and i want to play a clip of one of those perspective enhancing moments. >> dickerson: what was amazing in watching this is that you have the sense of humanity from a perspective and then you have soldiers, american soldiers who said how much they hated in the moment. so i think what happens, the first casualty of war, people say is the truth but it is also, we have to objectify the enemy and turn them into nothing, we have 0 to say that they are sub
human and a what we felt is that the vietnam story is a story about three countries, the united states, our enemy, north vietnam and a third country oh which by the way disappeared in the course of this story which we really don't like to talk about but if we thought we could interview dozens and dons, dozens of americans across beliefs and geography and experiences but also talk to vietnam gur rills will and south vietnamese marines and dip gnats and protesters of their own government and north vietnamese civilians and soldiers you would have the ability to triangulate the story of this most important event, i think the most important event in the second half of the 20th century for americans. you could try angulate this story and come to some better understanding .. and it is not just policy, it isn't just the binary stuff, it is also the emotional stuff, the deeply, this is like shares spear rialto speech in which someone, you don't expect the it hav the aye congress soldier to say that
about americans, we expect americans to say the same thing. >> dickerson: ken, we look forward to seeing you and your codirector in september to hear more about the story on the eve. thank you. back in a moment. back in a moment. >> banks aren't just undergoing a face lift. they're undergoing a transformation. a data fueled, security driven shift in applications and customer experience. which is why comcast business delivers consistent network performance and speed across all your locations. hello, mr. deets. every branch running like headquarters. that's how you outmaneuver.
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>> dickerson: welcome back to "face the nation". president trump's nine day trip to five countries has come to its conclusion, in his first overseas travel as president, mr. trump makes a, made some new friends but had some uncomfortable moments with the old. in jerusalem mr. trump paper the first sitting president to visit the western wall, one of the holiest sites in judaism. >> tuesday, the president condemned the suicide bombing attack in manchester, england. >> so many young, beautiful, innocent people enjoying their lives murdered by evil losers in life. i won't call them monsters because they would like that term. >> dickerson: intelligence about that attack was leaked by the u.s., which infuriated the
british prime niner the, theresa may. >> will make clear to president trump that intelligence that is shared between our law enforcement agencies must remain secure. .. >> dickerson: wednesday president trump visited vatican city where he and his family met with pope francis someone he clashed with during the campaign. as for pope he lobbied the president on climate change. and it was off to brussels where the president who had made a point of not lecturing in saudi arabia delivered a lecture. to nato allies. >> nato members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations. >> dickerson: foreign leaders who had gathered at a 9/11 memorial commemorating when nato members stood with america didn't know quite what to make of it. or what to make of the handshake with the french president which turned into some kind of a contest. >> thank you very much. >> dickerson: or the president's moving aside the prime minister of montenegro,
the newest member of nato to get the front spot in a photo-op. the final stop on the overseas tour was sicily, where president trump met with leaders of the g-7 friday to talk terror and climate change. president trump was the odd man out when he refused to bow to pressure to keep the united states in the paris climate change agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. the president says he will make announcement soon on whether to pull out of the paris agreement. to talk about the president's trip and the problems he is facing the on his arrival back in washington, we are joined by susan page, she is the usa today's bureau chief in washington, jeffrey goldberg is an editor and editor in chief of the atlantic, michael morell is seen juror, and our margaret brennan our cbs news white house and senior foreign affairs correspondent, extra coffee and the first question goes to you,
margaret. let's go back to saudi arabia, what was the president's goal there with that speech, that choreographed visit? >> that was fascinating, i flew in on air force one with the president to riyadh and saw what was amazing pomp and sirring, he was welcomed as if he were a king by the king of saudi arabia, trump is just, you know, with flags everywhere, children greeting him, and this was really saudi pulling out all of the stops because they are embracing him in a way that, because, in fact, they so deeply resented president obama, and president trump's message clearly throughout the last few days was i am not him, and so the, a lot of that resentment goes back to iran, the failure to take military action in syria, it goes back to calling for hosni mubarek to step down in egypt a lot of deep-seated anger there, to the extent these saudi allies who are in many ways the protect for, protector of islam are willing to overlook some of the president's rhetoric
when he has said at time islam is at war with us and i want to ban muslims all of that was put aside and in this room full of 50 muslim leaders from all around the world the president said our interests and interests are aligned here and you need to help us in the war in terror and contrast sod deeply with what president obama did back in 2009 with his outreach to the muslim world in cairo, where he reached out to young people, president trump reached out to the leaders. >> dickerson: mike, what do you make of that strategic shift, that all focus now on iran based on this strategy? >> so i think it is positive. i think he accomplished something on this part of the trip. he reassured saudi arabia and the sunni arab allies there we will have their back on iran, which they see is an existential threat to them. they didn't believe that president obama had their back, they now believe president trump does, and it is a huge change. that is positive for u.s. influence in the region and for
our national security in the region. i think that was a success. >> dickerson: jeffrey, your thoughts? >> there is a flip side to this, of course, which is that the arab leadership after so many years of obama, they are positively giddy about the arrival of donald trump, and when they are giddy like any other leaders, they might over step and the danger, of course, is initiating a confrontation with iran that the u.s. really doesn't want to be involved with at any given moment, and enough to worry about on the north korea side. so the trip inadvertently maybe has upped the chances of a confrontation sooner rather than later with iran in the gulf, ", which already is essentially an american lake where the american navy is in charge of security for the gulf nations. the gulf nations want a confrontation between iran and the united states. >> the other thing i would say is a risk there is the president trump saying i am not going to lecture you. >> dickerson: yes. >> and has made this virtue, his policy of not lecturing on human rights. and when you are selling
$110 billion in weapons, not the first u.s. president to sell heavy weaponry to saudi it also comes with this come my sit when you are against us on terrorists who are all of these leaders calling terrorists and with will we be happy necessarily with the use of force? >> one thing that struck me about the president's speech and the contradiction margaret mentioned in what candidate trump had said, he had said basically the 9/11 attackers came from saudi arabia, he pointed at saudi arabia as the origin point. now i in in a vey different place. that seeps like the message he is very transactional and willing to put aside things he may have said in the past because me has not a new focus. that seemed to be the core of this, this is a transaction. >> that's right. and willing even to temper his language, remember how often he ridiculed barack obama for refusing to say rad lack islamic trip, a phrase he didn't use on this trip and in his willingness not to acknowledge the elections in iran which were positive for
united states, moderate incumbent, won big, a sign iran may be willing to live up to the nuclear agreement and wants to get closer to the west. that was not acknowledged, and clearly a sign that human rights concerns that barack obama would raise in a place like saudi arabia off the table. >> it is just important here that we remember that the iranians for years, probably now more than they ever have before are messing with the region. they are funding, training, providing counsel to terrorists, to insurgents throughout the region. this is a serious threat, not only to the nations there but to the united states, right? so it is time that we pushed back and it is time that we worked with our arab allies to push back. there are risks, right, that we are going to have to face and we are going to have to mitigate, but doing nothing as we were doing before, just gives the iranians open running room.
>> there is a quick point on iran. there is a way of calibrating our relations with this part of the world. don't we want to stand with our allies, the saudis, et cetera against iran, because iran is the prime state sponsor of terrorism in the world. that is the state department that was barack obama, state, barack obama's state department saying that, you want to do that without creating conditions for unnecessary war. we also have to recognize that, that election was a reality. the v show version of an election. the people who are running were picked by the unelected supreme court of iran to run, so it is no -- it may be slightly more democratic in saudi arabia, but not by much. >> let me ask you, let's go over to the nato meeting. this was much different kind of reception. >> yes. >> dickerson: and the president, after not lecturing and make a ago point of not lecturing with the saudis nevertheless had a few lessons and things he would like the leaders to do. >> exactly. there were protests in brussels, the president called a hellhole, people were not giving him a warm reception in europe and i
think all of the people planning this trip very well knew they wanted the president's first trip abroad to begin with a warm embrace instead stowed, instead of the outcry that resulted when he went to europe. but at the nato meeting, i think, you know, what the president is saying is essentially a more blunt version of what barack obama said and before that that nato members need to spend more on their own defense. but his mischaracterization of exactly how that funding mechanism works and his very blunt words from the podium there will also, while it may prod and get that result he wants it may also make it politically more difficult for the leadership there, the people who are leading the democratic nations that we are aligned with militarily here, to convince their own public to stand and support the u.s. in the same way. there is a political cost to some of that. but, you know, it was notable that the president didn't really talk about russia, which of course countering russian power in europe was the premise for the foundation of nato. >> dickerson: nike, one of the
things that came up on this trip after the bombing of manchester, there was this information that was leaked. how damaging was that to the information in the intelligence sharing between the united states and great britain? >> so now we have had two leaks of intelligence information provided to the united states by our allies that has been given to others, right? this leak, given to the public and president trump's briefing to the russian foreign minister of the previous intelligence information. so we now have two, we have two data points. now we have a line, now we have a trend, and the rest of the world is watching us, and the rest of the word provides us intelligence information. and if they have a concern that we are not going to be able to protect that, you, they have to be careful in what they will provide and hold back their most sensitive information so this is very damaging. >> but they are also dependent on our intelligence to a great degree, it is a two-way street. >> it is a two-way street, but they will hold back. i guarantee you, absolutely. this is damaging, right?
and there are two aspects of it. one is, a president who apparently didn't know what he was doing, right? wasn't careful, wasn't properly briefed, whatever. >> dickerson: in the oval office. >> in the oval office. and then a sheik. right? from law enforcement or intelligence or somebody in the white house, right? there is a leak that caused the second damage, and the president is absolutely right, these leaks which have grown in number, i mean, it always has been a problem but they are bigger now than they have ever been before in number is a very serious problem. >> dickerson: susan, let's look at the trip in its totality before we come back home. that was nice break for the president because things were going -- it was a pretty tough ten days before this trip, now he faces -- put the trip in context with the rest of the trump presidency. >> them the white house say it was the most effective, best nine days he has ever put together in a row, and it was in part because he was able to change the conversation from the conversation that he left in washington and the conversation that he comes back to. it was during the flight over
when margaret was on air force one that the story broke that he had called fbi director comey a nut job, and said that, and said that he was relieved by some of the pressure on him from the russian investigation had been relieved by firing him and when he came back the first question he got when he got off the plane was about the stories about jared kushner trying to establish a back channel communications with russia. so this was an opportunity to change the conversation there. he didn't change the conversation here. >> dickerson: he is back now and seems to have a buffer on his twitter stream, he had ten launched this morning, why not create a back channel to the russians. we have common interests in syria, why isn't that just what you do when you are -- >> sometimes thinking outside of the box is overrated. as when you are actually dealing with your adversaries. the idea of going to the russian embassy to establish a channel that is outside the realm of the
american national security apparatus or a, for a transition official is, i mean, let's put it bluntly if you put this in a is tir cal novel would say this is a little bit too much. it is a bad idea for any number of reasons. even the russians understood how bad of a idea this was this is implausible this is an attempt on the americans to spy on us, the russian embassy is a russian base of intelligence gathering and there is an assumption that this was meant to talk about syria, that is their assertion. i don't know what the purpose of this outreach was but it just seems to be a foolhardy endeavor. >> dickerson: mike, the administration officials are saying, look this was an attempt to get around a kind of the clotted normal relationships, have a conversation with the russians, planes are flying at the same time in syria, maybe we can work something out so we are not bumping into each other. >> i didn't see this as an attempt to open a back channel. i think that is misnomer. it was an attempt to open a
front channel and an attempt to have mike flynn talk regularly to the russian ambassador. that seems appropriate to me. the incoming national security advisor talking to our allies and adversaries, that seems okay to me. what is strange here is why ask for the secrecy, why ask for the security of using their communications? what are you trying to hide? and was this -- was this approach blessed by the president-elect? and the vice president elect? was there a strategic discussion? was jim mattis involved? he was nominated already, i believe or he was on the verge of being nominated. so was there a strategy to do this? those are the questions i would like to have answered. >> margaret final question to you. there are stories reporting about changes in the white house. what can you tell us about the staff changes, if there are any coming? >> there is a lot of talk but i feel there always is and when we come back from this trip and the president now back at the white house, we are expecting him not only to speak with his own lawyers but we are expecting him to make some of these decisions that they said are punted, not
only for the climate change agreement but what happens with his own communications team? on this trip, we are, we heard very little from them, they weren't in front of cameras, they weren't explaining things and actually didn't put the president out there for a press conference, very unusual, he was the only one of the seven g-7 ministers or heads of states not, heads of state not 0 not to answer questions. they are trying to rein in communications. >> whether they changed the method of communication, which they have been recently, putting orders, advisors to the president out there to try to change the topics back to more substance, less about head hines, that may be an approach, but frankly it only goes so far because someone needs to answer those questions. and that level of secrecy that we keep gesturing to inhibits what they would like to see as ending the story. >> dickerson: right and the chief communicator is still the president. thanks to all of you and we will be right back in a moment. >>
>> dickerson: former fbi director james comb any expected to testify before the senate intelligence committee next month and hopefully will be able to answer some of the questions that have been raised about his dealings with the president. we turn now to benjamin wittes, editor of the flel blog lawfare at the brookings institution, welcome. let's start before we get to the comey testimony about the jared story, what is your take of it, give us some perspective. >> it is hard to know what to make of it, it is a shocking set of allegations. it is not clear what they
thought they were doing or what it means, if i were an fbi counterintelligence agent i would be very interested in it. and it is the latest in a long series of revelations that put the president's claims that there is nothing between him and russia in a kind of head scratching relief. >> dickerson: yes. and what jared kushner seems to be doing is getting around the existing order of things. give me, back to the question of james comey, somebody you have known for a while. what if the president was just saying, the president just didn't know the rules and was trying to get around -- he has this investigation going on, he just says to james comey, you know,, it was just not obstruction but just a president who is unfamiliar with politics, just didn't know what was going on. >> well, so, you know, one possibility here is that we
have, you know, a series of interactions that are each in and of themselves just expressions of the president's frustration with, you know, the circumstances he finds himself in with respect to the press and the investigation and interests in the russia stuff. as a general matter, you are actually not allowed to obstruct investigations even when you don't believe that they have merit. and so the question of whether the aggregate of those interactions amounts to an obstructive pattern of behavior really doesn't depend on how the president feels about the merits of the underlying claim that there is something untoward about his relationship with russia. >> dickerson: and does it matter about whether he knew this is just foot the kind of thing you are to do when you are president with your fbi director? >> well, look, obstruction as a general matter is a specific intent defense so it actually really does matter what he meant
to do, and i think we should all be careful about making assumptions about what the president meant. what we have right now is a series of press accounts that are mostly, with the exceptions of the one that are based on conversations with me, they are mostly, you know, anonymously sourced so i think it is better part of valor for everybody to reserve judgment until we have, you know, some set of clear facts given under oath and that is actually the significance of the fact that the senate intelligence committee wants the former fbi director's testimony. >> dickerson: and that testimony, is there any chance that might bump into the special counsel and, therefore, former director comey may not be able to say everything he knows? >> well, so, look, i think that the former director comey, i am certain would not want to say anything that would impair the
investigation, and i suspect he would have -- he would sort of deconflict with muller about any investigative equities that might be ongoing. i say that not having, you know, talked to him about it or inquired specifically, so, you know, i am really sort of speaking my own opinion there, but that's the kind of thing he would do. in addition, he, while in office, has been very careful not to, you know, divulge anything classified in the context of his testimony, and i would expect he would do the same thing here. with the -- so -- but then i actually don't believe that there is a broad problem from muller's point of view with his testifying. that is just a guess, but that's what i think. >> dickerson: all right. and we have run out of time, i am afraid. thanks and we will be right back with a little more of our interview with our secretary of
we asked him about his concerns that one of the biggest challenges facing america today is its lack of unity. >> you mentioned in "the new yorker" you were worried about political, lack of political unity in america. >> well, you know, i am a, at west point where i am talking together, john, and you look at these young people who graduated today, over 900 of them, from all walks of life, every religion probably in america is represented, every state is represented. these people come together with an enthusiasm for protecting this experiment in democracy that we call america, and it takes people like, who have a fundamental respect for each other and a fundamental friendliness toward each other that i am worried is starting to slip away in this country. we still have it in the military. it is a diverse force. it is a force that can work together under the worst conditions and i just hope we can find our way back to engaging with one another,
arguing strongly with one another, and then going down and having a rootbeer together or something and having a good laugh about it as we work together for the best interest office the next generation of americans who are going to inherit this country. >> dickerson: more than 40 years ago, you enlisted and today you speak as the secretary of defense at west point. what is that like going from those two different ends in the span of your career? you know, it is humbling a to tell you the truth, because as you go up, you realize how little of an exercise of good judgment you really do that falls on the shoulders of very, very young people to carry this out inside the department of defense. i was an infantry officer in the marines and the infantry are named because they are young infant soldiers, young should years is how they got their name, they are very young so it is really a humbling sense of just how great our younger generation, is how selfless it
is, and what they are willing to commit, basically, signing a blank check payable to the american people with their very lives to protect it, and that is really what i
have come away from this job with, is a deeper sense of just being humbled by the commitment of others. >> dickerson: our full interview with secretary mats advertise is available on our website facethenation.com. >> ♪ what we do every night is like something out of a strange dream. except that the next morning...
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