tv Amanpour on PBS PBS February 20, 2018 6:00am-6:30am PST
what action will the trump administration take against russia now that it indicted more than a dozen russian nationals and companies on charges of meddling in the 2016 election? joining me to discuss, luke harding, author of "collusion" and kelly mcevers, plus, martin smith on his new documentary for pbs about the dangerous rivalry escalating between iran and saudi arabia.
>> amanpour was made possible on pbs by the support of rosalyn p. walter. >> now the kremlin and the white house are marching in step. both denying allegations of collusion over the 2016 u.s. presidential election. there is nothing unusual about that. but the circumstances are now quite extraordinary. the mueller investigation has led to 13 russian nationals and three organizations being indicted on charges of conspireing to defraud the united states. plus, another former trump adviser rick gates has reportedly agreed a plea deal to cooperate with the investigation. as for the president, he still refuses to ackwledgehe danger oference and he took aim at countless people from the fbi to his own
national s security adviser. for the time being, there is no actual proof that donald trump's campaign and the kremlin were in cahoots. the journalist luke harding is the author of "collusion." he writes for the u.k.'s guardian which is a major presence in the u.s. he is joining me here in london. kelly has delved into trump's ties into russia. she's joining us from california. welcome to both of you. given the fact that you have been working on this subject for so long, i just want to get an initial temperature of how you think this indictment fits in. first luke. >> i think it's extremely significant what we got last week from robert mueller. he is like shakespeare. it's calm, it's factual. what he lays out is a massive
espionage operation by russia against america to really subvert and sabotage the 2016 election and push donald trump across the line. we have the troll factory in saint petersburg but there's more to come. for donald trump, this is the beginning of the agony. not the middle or end. >> let me move over to you before we get into the details why you think this. luke and you believe this is a game changer. kell why do you think it's a game change what did you see in the 37 pages? >> it's a really stunning document. i mean, it's just so much detail and how exactly the russians worked to push this election. keeping in mind that it is just one piece of one piece of mueller's investigation. he is investigating whether the trump campaign coordinated with russia to tip the election. he is investigating whether or not the president obstructed justice. this is one piece of coordination. it's the social media piece. it's such a shocking piece.
you see details about how fake news was spread, how actual rallies were scheduled in the united states. people went to rallies, counter rallies. so much detail in just how the information part of this influence campaign went. it just gives you a sense that it's just the first of what's more to come. >> so kelly talked about the rallies. there were two notorious rallies right after the election. one pro trump. one anti trump. now we find these were organized by these russians. >> yeah. i mean the big picture is the kremlin trying to create chaos to make a broiling mood if you like by exploiting the left and the right. we know that they were keen to push third party candidates like the green to suppress the black vote and really to kind of fuel a cultural war that still rages in america between these two.
one thing that strikes me is the use of actors to dress up at hillary clinton and the president. this iszy tactic i used to see in moscow which would happen at pro-government rallies. the fact this team had the audacity to take thisolitical technology and roll it out into america is astounding. >> it is. kelly, you just mentioned fake news. obviously for us journalists, it's a very sensitive issue. do you think this finally puts to bed amongst all decent and truth loving people the notion that this is fake news? >> would that it did. if you look at the campaigning and the preparations for the 2018 mid-term elections, you are still seeing stories out there. you are seeing russian bots on
twitter. every time a news item comes up, you see #releasethememo. pointing people to think that somebody is a white nationalist, whether they are or not. you still see this kind of influence. i think what a lot of people in washington will say is that is because you have an administration that's not willing to fully admit how much meddling the russians are doing, that there's not a national strategy to attack this. therefore, it's going to continue. that's also, i think, why this indictment is so interesting. it's robert mueller's team saying, look, this is how we're going to have to enforce this. these are the names. these are the people. now we know it's laid out. you can't ignore it anymore. >> that begs the question, obviously, president obama's administration was kind of blamed for not coming out publicallynd telng the nation and the world what they knew about russian interference. it would have looked look a political gambit. now the world knows according to these indictments. so what should this administration do in terms of
punitive -- what's openterms of against the russians. >> after the obama administration came forward and talked about what happened in the election, a lot later than people thought they should and in a lot less detail, it wasn't really until after the election that you got a full reporting on it, there were sanctions put in place after trump became president, congress voted on sanctions. this administration has not enforced those sanctions existing sanctions. so the question is whether or not the trump administration is going to pursue further sanctions now that we have the names of the people in the indictment. >> luke, you wrote the book "collusion." we have to say and everybody is saying and the sassistant attorney general said this is not about collusion. this indictment did not investigate or charge regarding collusion. is he saying that because it didn't or because there isn't any collusion?
>> no, it's because they are not there yet. it's the first indictment. there will be many more which follow. of course, one thing that mueller is looking at are the secret meetings between known or suspected russian agents, incling in this town, london, and trump people. we know about george p papadopoulos. it's clue the spying factory was all over this. there's a lot that has been fed into washington which will figure in future investigations. into t we're talking about all trump's long history with russia and the soviet union. he first went to moscow in 1987. the kgb have a huge file on donald trump. his interactions are clearly
something which will greatly interest mueller's team. >> you are talking about the business in those days? >> the business and also the -- what trump may or may not have done when he was there. we have the dozssier of steele. i think steele is in a good place today because the indi indictment investigates some of his reporting. his analysis of what was going on. this huge russian operation to help trump win. >> you mentioned the troll track tr factory. it has a name. some information agent -- >> they have a name. what's interesting is someone who followed this closely is they got better. initially, they were rubbish. they would post tets in bad english. we know from the, they were working in american zones. they took note of american public holidays. it was a major plot, conspiracy.
of course, the russian embassy would have known about this as would putin, as would other spies. >> i wanted to read -- you know -- everybody knows that donald trump has been tweeting about this. in a way, sort of trying to deflect attention. he said, i never said russia did not meddle in the election. i said it may be russia or china or another country or group or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer. the russian hoax was that trump campaign included with russia. it never did. he did say -- he did say that actually i don't believe they interfered. how do you assess trump's reaction? >> you know, it's interesting. he said this indictment proves there's no collusion because the deputy attorney general said no one -- none of the americans named in this indictment are accused of any crime. they are unwitting. he is really parsing words here. i think deputy attorney general
rosenstein is a careful man. he was careful to say none of the people who are named in this exact indictment are accused of any crime. that doesn't mean other people may not in the future. we don't know. it's a tight ship. we don't know what's going on behind closed doors in this mueller investigation. but i think a lot of legal experts you will talk to will say this is how you do it. you build a case. you start with this. you can build the blocks on top of it later. people could be added to this existing indictment, let ane indictmes that cld come after this. do we know fore there was some kind of criminal cooperation? that's the question. this indictment didn't answer that question. it definitely gives us a window into what they're doing. >> could i just play a little bit of an interview or statement from h.r. mcmaster, the national security adviser over the weekend? . >> as you can see with the
indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible. >> he said it and he said it to the world, president trump didn't like it. he tweeted against his own national security adviser. let's talk about gates, the operative who now may be taking a plea to cooperate. may, in fact, i don't know, according to reporting, talk against manafort. it's becoming more and more embedded and involved. >> this is fascinating. i was searching through my in box. i saw an e-mail from gates from 2007 today. that was when i was in the ukraine reporting. there was manafort. i met him. gates was at his elbow. gates knows everything manafort has been doing for over a decade. knows about the dirty money, allegedly. he knows about the meeting with russian oligarchs. he knows what happened in the summer of 2016 when he was on the campaign.
i think this is pretty deadly for manafort. manafort seeo be doing the strategy of going for presidential pardon. the charge sheet is piling up and getting bigger. >> kelly, with your podcast and you have been delving into this issue, where do you go next? you said this sort of sets the table, it's a piece of a piece of this big investigation. what do you see coming next? >> you know, i think that's interesting. we're going to have to see what else robert mueller is going to drag up in terms of what the russians are doing. i think, again, this is consider this fascinates me so much. you are not seeing it coming from the white house. you are not seeing the president of the united states saying, i want a review across all agencies, i want to talk about what we're going to do for 2018 for the mid te-term elections. we know the russians scanned and probed electoral systems in
2016. what's going to happen? are we going to rely on robert mueller to give us the tools we need to see what we have to look into? i don't know. that's where we are turning our attention is how is the next election going to be affected. >> go ahead. >> i was going to say, the big question of interference elsewhere. they had 80 people at the america desk but other desks as well. >> 80 people and $1.25 million. >> the question about the uk, brexit, france and germany and interference in other elections. there's only one bob mueller. he is only looking at the united states. this goes bigger. >> now that we know this, why can't we shut them down? >> shut the russians down? >> yeah. why is it that it's a -- why are they able to surprise us with their interference? >> because they don't care. because they deny it. they lie about it. there's nothing to see here. you carry on. that's part of the tactic. >> isn't it the consumer, us who
need to get savvy? >> maybe we have to exit from social media. we can't do that because it's 21st century and we're addicted to it. this is about western society from external attack. >> luke, kelly, thank you so much for joining us. fascinating ongoing story. thanks a lot. while vladimir putin is using information warfare to destabilize america and other western democracies, he is using military force to shore up his syrian ally. syria has become a major battlefield in a growing proxy war between iran and saudi arabia. as each flood money and weapons into regional conflicts extending from syria to iraq and lebanon in the north, to yemen in the south, a major new frontline documentary delves into the bitter rivalry between the two powers and it's fallout across the middle east. here the host martin smith hears
from the foreign ministers of iran and saudi arabia on just who is to blame for the escalating conflict. >> the saudis insist that iran is hostile, belligerent, atte t attempting to export revolution. how do you respond? >> talk is cheap. let's look at the actions. saudis helped saddam hussein for eight years. saudis helped al qaeda. saudis created dah. saudis are fundi terrorist war operating in eastern iran. so they started this sectarian message, not us. >> the iranians say, you have been busy supporting and exporting extremism. what's your response to that? >> nonsense. the iranians are the ones who are exporting terrorism.
they're the ones who are stoking the fires of sectarianism. they are the ones who are violating international laws and norms and unacceptable behavior. they are the ones who have been on an aggressive panth. >> martin smith joins me from new york. welcome. >> thank you. >> so i mean, you have to smile when you listen to those two foreign ministers back to back, both equal and opposite blame game. what did you think when you heard them, when you were doing the interviews and sitting with them? >> well, as someone at the frontline offices who is reading the interviews turns to me and said, reading these two interviews, it seems like a script from "mean girls." there's this immature blaming that's going on that indicates that they're not ready to sit down and talk. they are ready to continue this across iraq, across lebanon, syria and, of course, as you mentioned now yemen.
so it's -- they're not giving ground. where this goes, i don't really know. >> on that note, let me just read something that you have from your documentary. quote from your conversation with the iran analyst. when elephants fight, it's the grass that suffers. in today's middle east, the two elephants are iran and saudi arabia. there's been over a million casualties in the middle east over the last decade, but they have been syrian, they have been yemeni, iraqi. iranian and saudi citizens aren't the ones who are suffering. i mean, did you find that because it's proxy and they're not facing off against each other there's a greater willingness to continue this cold war or this proxy hot war? >> they wouldn't benef from having a war between the two
countries. their oil fields are along the gulf. it would be those -- that would be the ground over which their planes would fly if they decided to go at each other. they don't have an interest in a direct conflict. but as time has gone by -- this is since 1979 with the revolution in iran, the coming of ayatollah. this has built since then. we now have saudi arabia deciding to go in itself, not through a proxy in yemen, running their own bombing campaign with some other gulf allies. so it's getting hotter. most people -- everybody that i talk to really who has expertise in this area says it's going to get worse before it gets better. >> you know, that's very clear. because everybody seems to be stepping up to the plate. not just the iranians and saudis but now we have the americans. we have the israeli prime minister. both gave stern speeches at the
munich security conference this weekend. the israeli prime minister warned iran just to watch out. we were told by an investigative reporter who has done a lot of reporting on this that the close call between the countries about ten days ago could foreshadow a looming war. today in iran, a leading ayatollah warns if israel launches any military attack inside iran, tel aviv will be razed to the ground. how much of that picture did you get into when you were doing your reporting for this documentary? >> we cover a lot of territory. we start the in 1979 with the revolution in iran and the reaction then of the saudis to having a cleric take over and declare that the gulf monarchs that were allied with the u.s. needed to be toppled. we looked at their reaction. they doubled down on their religion. out of that came al qaeda, which
eventually became isis. again, it's gotten hotter and hotter. i don't think at any time the rhetoric has been any more pitched than it is right now with threats going back and forth. now israel being very much involved as iran has moved into syria, has -- seems to be constructing missiles there for hezbollah. they are looking at the golan heights, a contested piece of territory that syria and iran would love to take a nick at. i don't know where the cooler heads are right now. >> you know, it is interesting. obviously, saudi arabia is backed by the united states and most of the west. all those gulf arab monarchies are. iran has russia and i guess hezbollah and others. again, this is what the foreign minister said. as we know, iran has along with russia been the savior of president assad in syria.
this is what he said about the relative power in that region. >> despite the fact that the united states and almost every other powerful nation supports saudi arabia actively and tries to undermine us activity, the most influential power in the middle east we are. that should tell you something. that should tell you that we have made the right choices and they made the wrong choices. >> it's pretty stark there. right? they do seem to have -- >> not very modest. >> not very modest. but perhaps clear eyed. >> well, they have had success after success. they have been able to dominate the politics in neighboring iraq. they have been able to continue to support
proxy army or as proxies in lebanon. the saudis have pulled out of syria. they have told me that they consider that a lost cause. they blame the americans for not coming to their aid. they blame obama for that. and they can irritate saudi arabia. they can keep sort of a sharp stick in their side in yemen without much cost. so it's not clear that they fomented the houthi rebellion but it's clear they are supporting them for some degree. for very little cost they can have support -- something that is holding saudi arabia down, distracting them from everies in ir efforts in iraq or syria. at this point the iranians have had a winning strategy for some time now. they have problems at home. they have unemployment.
food prices. about the expenditures in the new budget for this year that show how much money is going to the islamic revolutionary guard corps for foreign adventures as they would say. >> martin, you did get a rare look inside yemen. why do you think the saudis decided to draw a line in the sand there? why did they go into yemen with such force and are now bogged down? >> there's a changing of the guard, if you will, in riyadh. the young 32-year-old now crown prince isonso cdating his power. it was his judgement that align had to be drawn in yemen. i met with him. i spent a couple of hours talking with him. when i talked about how this rivalry with iran was going to end, where it was going, he said, we're going to stop them
in yemen. i don't think he realized how long it might take and how difficult it might be. the houthis have been able to hold on. an air war is not enough to dislodge them. that's why they are there, because the saudis decided that an iranian ally on their southern border controlling the access to the suez canal was unacceptable. they have gotten support in this both from the obama administration and from the trump administration. >> just very, very quickly, what did you find in yemen that proved that iran was backing the houthis? any weapons? any personnel? >> yeah. there's a group called conflict armament research. this is made of former u.n. weapons inspectors. they have gone into the battlefield where the houthis' weapons have landed. they have analyzed the weapons. they have found the internal components of the weapons, the design of the weapons is
iranian. it has all the markings of being iranian. when i asked what they thought when the houthis say they are not getting aid, they said, they are lying. >> martin smith, we look forward to the documentary on frontline. thank you for joining us. martin's documentary airs on pbs tuesday and again next week the second part. that's it for our program tonight. thanks for watching "amanpour on pbs." see you again tomorrow night. >> "amanpour on pbs" was made possible by the generous support of rosalyn p. walter. possible by the generous support of rosalyn p. walter. >> you are watching pbs.