Return to Transcripts main page


FBI Director on Capitol Hill; Biden Set to Meet With Putin. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 15, 2021 - 15:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Top of the hour. It's good to be with you. I'm Victor Blackwell.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And I'm Alisyn Camerota.

A worthy adversary, that is how President Biden is characterizing his Russian counterpart, as he prepares for tomorrow's critical summit with Vladimir Putin.

BLACKWELL: So, in just 16 hours now, the two will meet here at the Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland. It's expected to last about four or five hours.

We know that they will not share a meal.

CAMEROTA: Sources tell CNN that Biden has been preparing intensely for this conversation. And the issues to be discussed are contentious and complicated.

BLACKWELL: Joining us now live from Brussels, CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Intense and complicated, contentious. It's a pretty growing list of topics they're going to discuss.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there are a lot of topics for them to discuss. And, so far, it's actually -- you have seen President Putin in that interview be pretty dismissive of what it is that he and President Biden are expected to talk about -- excuse me -- including human rights and, of course, election interference, those ransomware hackings that have been going on with Russia.

And so all of these matters, of course, are something that are going to make this a very intense conversation. And, so far, we're waiting to see what it's actually going to look like when they're in the room together. We do know, Victor and Alisyn, what the format of this is going to look like just a little bit. The White House has said that President Biden is going to have

President Putin arrive first at the villa that you were just showing there here in Geneva. Then they are going to be meeting not quite one- on-one. They're each going to have another staffer in the room.

And for President Biden, that is going to be Secretary of State Tony Blinken. For President Putin, it is going to be the Russian foreign minister. Then they will be in a room where there are more officials, a bigger delegation.

You can see there who is coming from the U.S. side, including the national security adviser. One face on there that's notable is the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan. You see him there in the middle. He was recalled -- or essentially brought back to the U.S. for consultations back in April, when those heightened tensions were happening.

You were seeing a lot of Russian military buildup on the Ukrainian border. He has not yet gone back to Russia as this has gone on. We will be waiting to see if that changes as one of these outcomes as part of the summit tomorrow.


CAMEROTA: I feel like somebody important is arriving near Kaitlan. I don't know how I'm getting this impression, but that's what I'm feeling like.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much, reporting from the ground for us.

Let's bring in now CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward, who is in Geneva, and Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a former deputy national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence Council.


Ladies, great to have you here.

Andrea, I want to start with you.

You say that part of this summit, the purpose, is to put guardrails on the relationship. What does that even look like?


I think, going into this summit, President Biden is looking to basically create a stable and predictable relationship, which is what he has said over and over. So, the sheer fact that the two leaders are sitting down and having this discussion is a really critical guardrail, that they can have that leader-to-lead channel of communication.

It helps avoid misperception, miscalculation that can spiral into something more serious between the two countries. I think the other key guardrail they're going to look to discuss is each other's diplomatic presence in the two countries.

So, you have had over the last several years this repeated tit-for-tat expulsions of each other's diplomats. We have had the closure of consulates. So the two sides put an end to that, so that diplomacy can get back to functioning, I mean, that is also a really important guardrail in this relationship.

And, finally, I think perhaps the most important guardrail and what I think will be the anchor of the U.S.-Russia relationship is the arms control and strategic stability bit. So the two leaders, I hope, are likely to announce the launch of discussions between the two countries, basically trying to put some rules of the road in place.

So, of course, the nuclear agenda is really important. But there's other issues, like cyber and space, where we don't have rules of the road and where the risk of conflict between the two countries has grown. So they want to put those guardrails on because, ultimately, for Biden, I think it's about ensuring that Russia doesn't derail him from executing on all of the other things that he would rather be spending time on, like China and COVID and climate.

So those are the guardrails, I think, that they're going to address in the summit.

BLACKWELL: So Clarissa, does predictability and stability seem plausible coming out of this? I mean, this latest interview with Keir Simmons from NBC, Vladimir Putin doesn't sound dramatically different than he has in the past, no new humility.

Is there something that's happening behind the curtain, behind the scenes that makes cooperation any more likely than it was in the, let's say, Obama administration, because we know how President Trump treated him?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- that whatever his behavior might be, President Vladimir Putin is a rational actor.

And in this case, the messaging we're getting from behind the scenes, listening to Kremlin-aligned analysts, is that they want this to be a success. Now, what is the metric for success? What does success look like? It doesn't look like some groundbreaking results. It doesn't look like the leaders are going to hug or look into each other's eyes and see each other's souls.

No. What it looks like, as you just heard, is essentially creating a framework whereby there isn't a further degradation in the relationship. Both of these leaders, very experienced diplomatically and politically, both of them want to be tough, and to have self- respect, and to stand by their values and their principles and their attitudes.

But they -- also room for pragmatism. They're also willing to find those areas of commonality where they can have a strategic relationship in order to avert a crisis or an escalation of conflict, which I genuinely believe at this stage doesn't benefit either side and I don't think either leader is seeking from this summit.

CAMEROTA: Andrea, here in the U.S., the ransomware attacks launched within Russia, we are told by intel experts, have brought parts of this country to a grinding halt.

I mean, our infrastructure has been shut down for days because of these. Does President Biden approach this as a red line and say, do not do this again, or here's what will happen? I mean, is that the kind of frank talk that will come out of this?

KENDALL-TAYLOR: Yes, I expect so.

I mean, President Biden has said repeatedly that he is going to stand up for U.S. interests. He is going to go in ready and prepared to deliver hard messages, whether it's on the ransomware or the democracy and human rights front.

We know that he will raise these issues. He talked about raising democracy and human rights in his Memorial Day speech. So, he is perfectly comfortable going in and confronting the Kremlin where he feels that we need to, and then looking for that pragmatic engagement where we can.

And so, yes, I do expect that he's going to deliver these hard messages. He said he would do it. And we have already seen, in his calls with President Putin, that he will do that. So, kind of that whole host of issues. Like you said, it's the ransomware and the broader malign cyber activity with SolarWinds. It's Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who is still in prison.


It's Putin's attacks on Russian opposition within the country. It's Ukraine. It's Belarus. I mean, there is a long list of grievances and areas that President Biden is looking to address. And I do expect he's going to go in delivering those hard messages.

BLACKWELL: Clarissa, let's talk about the two Americans who are detained in Russia, Trevor Reed, Paul Whelan still detained there, Reed since 2019, Whelan in custody since 2018.

The Kremlin says that Whelan is off the table, potential for this prisoner swap. We know that Viktor Bout, an arms dealer known as the Merchant of Death, and Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian drug smuggler, are the two in jail in -- or prison in the U.S. who they're interested in, in swapping.

Is there potential that this could happen? We know this doesn't seem like a one for one for the charges they're facing.

WARD: Yes, I wouldn't expect an imminent result on that front.

But what might happen -- and I may be wrong here. This is speculation, I should be clear. But what may happen is the announcement of the beginning of a kind of dialogue to dig further into the whole issue of prisoner swaps. But there's going to be a lot of misgivings on both sides.

And I would be surprised if there was an immediate result like that we would hear about tomorrow. And this is something, more broadly speaking, that I think is important for our viewers to keep in mind.

Tomorrow is the beginning. Tomorrow is the first step. Tomorrow, hopefully, everybody's on their best behavior. They can find small areas of consensus. They can deliver tough messages where needed. But the really hard work starts after the summit, keeping the relationship on the train tracks, ensuring that it doesn't derail further, trying to build up those areas of pragmatic dialogue or constructive cooperation where possible.

This is a marathon and not a sprint.

BLACKWELL: Marathon, not a sprint. Important to remember.

Clarissa Ward, Andrea Kendall-Taylor, thank you both.

CAMEROTA: OK, so right now, back here, the director of the FBI is testifying in front of lawmakers about the January 6 Capitol riots. We will bring you the key headlines.

BLACKWELL: Plus, the attorney general is taking action after that attack, his four-pronged strategy, we're going to talk about that, to combat domestic terrorists.

And new calls from some Democrats for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to retire now. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he would not confirm a new justice if the spot came open in an election year and Republicans had control of the Senate.



CAMEROTA: We're following two key House committee hearings on Capitol Hill that are part of investigations into the January 6 insurrection by pro-Trump rioters.

BLACKWELL: So, FBI Director Christopher Wray is in front of the House Oversight Committee right now. You see him there on the right of the screen.

Also, general Charles Flynn, the brother of Trump's former national security adviser, QAnon supporter General Michael Flynn, he was on the call as D.C. government, U.S. Capitol Police were asking for National Guard troops. So that's why he's part of this hearing.

Wray started his opening statement by highlighting the Biden administration's new strategy to combat domestic terrorism. Attorney General Merrick Garland also announced that plan earlier today, and he tied the new strategy directly to the January attack on the Capitol.

CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is with us now.

So, what have we and what are we expecting to hear from Director Wray?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Director Wray's talking about the January 6 Capitol attack. He's addressing questions on that.

He, of course, highlighted the fact that the FBI is still very concerned about the threats posed, particularly the growing threat of domestic terrorism. This, of course, was something that Attorney General Merrick Garland focused on this morning, when the administration rolled out its first ever national strategy for countering counterterrorism.

So we're hearing FBI Director Wray, and stressing the fact that he has repeatedly raised the red flag about the uptick in incidents stemming from racially motivated domestic extremists, as well as anti- government domestic extremists. He's been raising this issue for several years now.

And he noted in the hearing today that the FBI has doubled its investigations, doubled its arrest of these two groups of domestic extremists in the past three years. And now he's pointing to January 6 as this perfect example of how these extremists organized and mobilized.

And in large part, it was over social media. And a lot of the talk has been about how he they had easy access to guns. So, tie that in with what we heard this morning and the announcement about the Biden administration coming up with this -- these plans to counter the threat of domestic extremists.

They're recognizing that the threats these extremists pose, they continue. And, as we heard from Director Wray, they may be getting worse here, because they have doubled the number of investigations and arrests.

So, the Biden administration, under the Department of Justice laying out this detailed plan, it was a four-pillar plan. It also allocates millions of dollars to attack threat not just at the federal level, but also cooperating with state and local law enforcement agencies to really share information about the threat, to understand it, to thwart the threat before it can really mobilize and move forward into potentially a violent attack, and then also to get to some of the root causes here, economic insecurity, racism, the proliferation of guns.


So, this is a massive strategy coming out of the Biden administration. And, guys, what's interesting to note here is that, despite the fact that FBI Director Wray has been raising this red flag for years now, it's the Biden administration who seems to be taking the lead on this.

It's something that Trump administration sort of tried to sweep under the rug for many years, despite the fact that this was building and a lot of people say culminating in what happened on the attack of the Capitol January 6 -- guys.

CAMEROTA: Yes, sweeping it under the rug certainly didn't make it better.

SCHNEIDER: Not at all.

CAMEROTA: Jessica Schneider, thank you very much for all of that reporting.

We're joined now by CNN legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa. She's also a former FBI special agent.

Asha, great to see you.

What are you looking for today from Director Chris Wray on Capitol Hill? What are you hoping he will say?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I just think that he needs to answer questions about what intelligence the FBI had, and what they did with it.

We know that there was this one report from the Norfolk field office that made its way to the Capitol Police. And I think it should get to a bigger picture of how they were treating these threats prior to now there being this coordinated strategy, especially since, as Jessica noted, they have been aware of this growing domestic terrorism threat.

If they didn't have intelligence in their possession, why not? So I think he's a little bit between a rock and a hard place, because, if they knew something, why wasn't it aggressively acted on? If they didn't know something, how is that possible?

Because it was happening over a long period of time in many open channels. So that's what I'm looking for, is the answer to how they were treating this threat in the months leading up to January 6.

BLACKWELL: So, let's talk about this plan that the attorney general unveiled today, four tiers, four pillars, as Jessica said. If we have got the full-screen, let's put it back up.

One of them focuses on information-sharing. And we know that that was an issue, getting some of the analysis to the U.S. Capitol Police and their intelligence arm. The importance of all of these elements working together, after what we saw just a few short months ago?

RANGAPPA: Yes, this is incredibly important.

And what we're seeing now on the domestic front is very similar to how we responded after 9/11 on the international front, things like tracking, prevention, disruption, getting to some of these root causes of how people are radicalized, how they get weapons.

I think, Victor, I would say the tracking piece is super important here, because we don't have a domestic terrorism statute. We have a definition, but we don't have a crime. And so, until now, we haven't really had a very clear picture of the threat. So, for example, if there was a hate crime that was motivated by white

supremacists -- white supremacist ideology, it wasn't tracked as a domestic terrorism event. And now we're going to start seeing the full breadth of this, whether it's racially motivated white supremacist violence, whether it's anti-government violence, and that is going to, along with the resources and all these other coordinated strategies, help us address it, again, in the same way that we did with international terrorism after 9/11.

CAMEROTA: But, as Jessica just laid out, the access to guns, the access to weapons and firearms that these folks have in this country just sends a shiver down your spine.

I mean, as a former FBI agent, what keeps you up at night most about where we are right now?

RANGAPPA: Well, that's one of them, Alisyn.

I mean, listen, until there is a coordinated and unified effort to really address how the gun problem in America is linked to these issues, we are at some level just simply willing to accept a certain amount of domestic terrorism as just the price of being American, I guess.

And that keeps me up at night. I will also say that I think disinformation, conspiracy theories that are proliferating, that are even being promoted by elected officials and given credence, that bothers me too, because they are linked.

When people decide to act on these ideologies, these conspiracy theories, and they can easily get weapons, that's what manifests in the real world as violence against innocent people.

BLACKWELL: Yes. What happened on January 6 is not past tense. They're still seeing that, as one judge called it, that continuing drumbeat over the last several months.


Asha Rangappa, always appreciate your insight.

RANGAPPA: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: And for more new details about what happened on January 6, be sure to watch the CNN special report "Assault on Democracy: The Roots of Trump's Insurrection." Drew Griffin is going to talk to people who were there, firsthand accounts.

That's Sunday night 9:00 Eastern and Pacific right here on CNN.

BLACKWELL: Next: A cell phone video captures offices in Ocean City, Maryland, kicking, Tasing two young black man who were initially stopped for vaping on the boardwalk.

You will see the video, and I will speak to the head of the local NAACP about their calls for an investigation. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)