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Fiona Hill is Interviewed about the Biden/Putin Meeting; U.S. Marshals Service Faces Shortage; Shoplifting Surge in San Francisco; Warning about Delta Variant. Aired 9:30-10a ET.

Aired June 17, 2021 - 09:30   ET




JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I told President Putin my agenda is not against Russia or anyone else. It's for the American people.

I also told him that no president of the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Russia and the U.S. did make small agreements, including agreeing to exchange ambassadors once again. No major agreements. They were not expected by either side. But both leaders did describe something of a rapport, a constructive conversation and perhaps relationship going forward.

I'm joined now by Fiona Hill. She served as top Russia adviser to former President Trump. She is now a fellow at the Brookings Institute.

Fiona, always good to talk to you.


SCIUTTO: So, this morning, Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, released a statement. He says that Biden gave Putin a pass.

Do you think that's a description backed up by the events here yesterday?

HILL: Well, it depends what he means by a pass. I didn't see the statement but is it a hall pass, you know, a kind of a pass on, you know, not mentioning or raising major issues? I mean that's, obviously, not clear. I think, you know, kind of part of our problem with the whole relationship is really our own domestic arena and the way we depict interactions. And it says more about our own politics domestically, parties on infighting, than it does actually about the state of play in international relations.

I think the important point is what happens after this meeting because these are the kinds of meetings you routinely have to have with adversaries, as well with allies, or, you know, with more neutral countries. We've had a long history of meeting with the Soviet Union and also with Russia.

President Biden, like any other U.S. president, also has to meet with President Xi of China, which is, of course, our major competitor in the international arena right now. President Trump met with Kim Jong- un and had, you know, an awful lot of accusations thrown at him as well but that seemed to take down the temperature in that relationship for a while. We have to meet with the Iranians, as we are doing right now, to kind of try to figure out, you know, how we put that relationship on a different footing and deal with the nuclear crisis with Iran. I mean I could go on and on.

I mean we have diplomacy here for a reason and the proof is what happens next? How do the Russians comport themselves going forward? Do they want to have other meetings? Do they continue to launch massive hacking attacks against us? Are there assassination attempts? Is there an invasion of another country, for example? And we have to now basically look at how things play out. Will there be another meeting on cyber issues or on nuclear secretary and arms controls. So it's really kind of what happens next, not what just happened in the past now in Geneva.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And they did agree to set up working level meetings, for instance, on the possibility of prisoner exchange. The Russian president saying the foreign -- Russian foreign ministry and the U.S. State Department will discuss that. But on cyber, of course, Putin had a whole different, you know, stated denial about those attacks.

I wonder, you said to my colleague last night on the air that you believe Putin may have reached a point where he is interested in lowering the temperature with the U.S. Tell us why and have you seen evidence of that in the events yesterday?

HILL: Well, I did see some evidence of that in the events yesterday, just in the way that he talked about Biden himself, the president. I mean, you know, these were not, you know, massively complimentary comments that he made but he did -- he was very careful in his choice of words.

And although he went on a tear, as he usually does in the press conference about, you know, the United States hubris, you know, the kinds of things the United States does in terms of human rights abuses, this is their depiction, by the way, he -- this was all kind of standard fare. It was entirely predictable. There wasn't anything that I heard him say that was out of the ordinary from Vladimir Putin.

Now, in terms of taking the temperature down, let's just be realistic, I'm only talking about, you know, some fractions of degrees here because we're in a pretty confrontational state. But Putin himself has got to get through the next several years as well. I mean he hasn't outed (ph) the pandemic.

Russia isn't. I mean they've got very low vaccination rates. They've only got about 10 percent of their population fully vaccinated now. The Russian economy isn't doing great.

They've signaled very clearly that they want to have investment. And, in fact, Putin was crowing about the fact that there were more American businesspeople showed up at the recent St. Petersburg Economic Conference than other representatives. He might have been trying to make a point at the U.S. expense, but it was also very telling that they want to have American businesspeople and other people showing up.

Putin has to get through some parliamentary elections in 2022, same as our midterms, and he does have to basically put himself forward for re-election in 2024. He can't just sail out to 2036 without having any elections here.

So, you know, there are things that Putin has to deliver at home too. He can't just strut about the world stage and, you know, say he's a great power or a great leader.


He has to show something, too, otherwise there is not just opposition like Alexey Navalny, which, of course, he's stuck in jail and he's on a tear basically trying to persecute and get out of the way any real opposition. He does have people around in his own circle who are wondering, you know, whether they might do a better job at being president.

So, you know, he doesn't have everything going his way and how he interacts with the U.S. president is going to be basically, you know, kind of a sign as well at home about, you know, how he is faring on the international stage and domestically.

SCIUTTO: The contrast between Biden and Putin in Geneva and Trump and Putin in Helsinki was just remarkable. I mean, dramatic, frankly. And you shared earlier this week that during that infamous Helsinki moment you thought of faking a medical incident, pulling a fire alarm just to stop the embarrassment there.

I wonder, knowing what you know about Putin -- by the way, he had -- he even said this in his press conference yesterday, saying that Biden is very different from Trump. Do you think that Putin recognizes he can't push Biden around the way he seemed to be able to push Trump around, or at least have a meeting of the minds in the way that he had with Trump?

HILL: Look, behind the scenes it was very different between Trump and Putin. There were actually, you know, contrary to popular, you know, kind of opinions, some, you know, perfectly sensible discussions. And that's actually also happened at Helsinki because President Trump was also trying to push arms controls, strategic stability talks, exchange of meetings at the national security level, for example, a lot of things that have actually continued. It was the press conference and the whole public displays that were really, really extraordinary unfortunate, humiliating, mortifying, pick your adjective.

So Putin can't do that same thing. And it was very smart on the part of this administration and President Biden and his team not to have a joint press conference but to do it this way, which is how we've done it in the past under previous presidents as well.

So, you know, once you get past the public spectacles, you know, I think that there's, obviously, a lot of continuity in the things that the Russians want and a lot of continuity in what we want.

President Trump actually did want to pull the Russians over to the U.S. side against China and also Iran. I mean that wasn't really going to happen. But we can also see that President Biden and his team have got a strong focus on, how do we deal with China? I think we all recognize that you can't put Russia in a box because Russia will basically shoot its way out of the box. You can't disregard Russia because Russia will make sure that you pay attention to it.

But what we're trying to do here I think continuously as the United States going back now until 2010 was China starts its rise after the great recession is try to figure out how we can at least manage the confrontation with Russia so we can focus on China and also the instability that's potentially there in the Asia Pacific.

SCIUTTO: And that's why we heard that word so often, predictability, stability of the relationship going forward.

Fiona Hill, always so good to hear your analysis on this.

HILL: Thanks, Jim. Thanks a lot.

HARLOW: Great to have her on.

All right, well, ahead, the U.S. Marshals are sounding the alarm. The agency tasked with protecting federal judges and finding fugitives says it's facing a major staffing shortage. Details ahead.



HARLOW: Welcome back.

Well, the U.S. Marshals Service is facing a critical staffing shortage while dealing with a rising number of threats. This is all according to a pretty alarming new report. A government watchdog warns that operational challenges could hinder the agency's ability to identify and to stop threats. The U.S. Marshals Service is responsible for protecting federal justice and finding fugitives.

Our Whitney Wild has more on this report.

What are the big takeaways of the report?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are facing real challenges here. And they -- they come down to mostly the inability or, you know, major challenges in identifying and stopping threats. This is a huge problem for the U.S. Marshals Service because, as we've seen, and other intelligence agencies have warned, we are in a heightened threat environment and will continue to be in that environment for some time.

Here's a direct quote from the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General report. We found that the USMS does not have the resources or proactive threat detection capabilities that the USMS has determined it needs to meet its protective service obligations for USMS-protected persons, including judges.

This is alarming, Poppy. The agency is responsible for protecting 2,700 judges. What they've -- what the OIG is saying that the agency needs is 1,200 more deputies. That's a 24 percent rise from what they have already. That's 1,200 more deputies to just fulfill the mission and to detect threats that are popping up on open source and actually be able to respond to them.

This is also coming at a time when the agency responded to more than 4,200 threats in 2020. That represents an 81 percent increase from 2016. It also comes, Poppy, less than a year after a heartbreaking example of the real threat to judges.

In July of 2020, the 20-year-old son of a federal judge named Esther Salas was shot and killed at her home in North Brunswick, New Jersey. That was, you know, affected the assailant in that case, the -- was -- and Andrew had been, you know, basically this hate-filled person who had appeared in her court and who zeroed in on her, again, killing her son, seriously injuring her husband.

So the threat is very real, Poppy, and this report is sounding very loud alarm bells.



HARLOW: Right. That case was such, such a tragedy and really connecting the dots here is important.

Whitney, thank you very much.

The brazen theft -- this brazen theft, look at this, is just one of many that are happening across San Francisco. Retail chains have been forced to close dozens of stores in the Bay area as a result. More on that ahead.


HARLOW: As California's economy fully reopens, businesses are now dealing with a surge in shoplifting, leave some retailers with no choice but to shut down their actual stores.


Our Dan Simon has more on what has become a brazen string of crimes being committed in broad daylight.

Watch this.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Shoplifters usually try to conceal their crimes.


SIMON: Not this one at a Walgreens in San Francisco. The thief grabbing items off the shelves and filling up a garbage bag, even as a security guard observes from feet away. Moments later, he bolts away from the store on a Lyft bike.

The guard attempting to grab the bag but the thief gets away with the large haul.

LYANNE MELENDEZ, KGO-TV: It's hard for me, as a journalist, to say, I won't be involved, I can't get involved, I have to be sort of neutral.

SIMON: The viral video captured by local ABC reporter Lyanne Melendez lay bare the lawlessness, further eroding the image of one of America's most beloved cities.

MELENDEZ: I live in the city and I see this constantly.

SIMON: Indeed it has happened so constantly that Walgreens says it has shuttered 17 of its stores in San Francisco over the past five years mainly due to theft.

JASON CUNNINGHAM, REGIONAL VP, WALGREENS: When you see the amount of theft in San Francisco for some of our average stores in the -- in the company, that -- that multiplier factor is really driven by the organized retail crime.

SIMON: A Walgreens executive telling elected supervisors last month that theft here is four times the national average, driven by organized crime rings. CVS says it's experiencing a similar surge. The city has yet to come up with an effective solution.

AHSHA SAFAI, SAN FRANCISCO BOARD OF SUPERVISORS: This has been out of control. And people are scared to go into these stores, seniors, people with disabilities, children, and it's just happening brazenly.

SIMON: And with few consequences. According to police data, less than 3 percent of theft cases this year have netted an arrest, which some believe only invites more criminal behavior.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ultimately, we do need more police officers. And it's important to make sure that we have the sufficient staff to walk the beat. There's no easy solution to this.

ADAM MESNICK, SAN FRANCISCO BUSINESS OWNER: I feel like the theft is outrageous, and it's obvious that people are taking advantage of the fact that there's zero consequences. SIMON: For business owners like Adam Mesnick, who has been documenting the city's woes, the chronic theft just adds to the disparity felt on the streets, aggravated even more by the pandemic. Visible homelessness surging as shelters thinned out due to the virus. Open- air drug use and dealing, common. Last year, overdoses, mainly from fentanyl, resulting in a record 712 deaths according to city data, more than doubling those who died of COVID.

MESNICK: There's a high amount of crime, safety concerns, and quality of life has seemed to shrink tremendously.

SIMON: As for whether that Walgreens shoplifter has been apprehended, the San Francisco Police Department told us it is aware of the incident circulating on social media and that it's being investigated.

Dan Simon, CNN, San Francisco.


HARLOW: Dan, thank you for that reporting.

Meantime, a dire warning from a former White House senior adviser. He says the delta COVID variant, first identified in India, is, quote, like COVID on steroids. Those are his words. Right now, the delta variant accounts for 10 percent of COVID cases in the U.S. That is expected to go up.

Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is with us this morning.

I mean Andy Slavitt not mincing words, saying it's like COVID on steroids. Do we know that the vaccines available in the United States protect fully against it?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: They protect against it. They protect quite well against it, Poppy. But not quite as well as they protect against earlier versions of this virus.

Let's take a look, first of all, at why Mr. Slavitt said it was like it was COVID on steroids. There's a reason he said that.

So, first of all, it is around 60 percent more transmissible if you look at this delta variant, the variant first spotted in India, versus the alpha variant, which is the variant first spotted in the U.K., which is also more transmissible. And this new one is even more transmissible than that one.

Also, early findings show an increased hospitalization rate. So this delta variant, this variant first spotted in India, it is not the dominant strain in the U.K. Let's look at what it looks like in the U.S.

If you look at the late April, early May timeframe, only about 1.2 percent of all of the COVID, all of the coronavirus in the United States was this India variant. But then if you look, mid-May, it got up to 2.7 percent. Now, if you look at late May, early June, it went up to 9.9 percent. So just in a matter of weeks it went from not even 3 percent to nearly 10 percent of all the coronavirus that's out there in the U.S.

Now, to get to your question, Poppy, about the vaccine. So, when they look at Pfizer, it's about 88 percent effective against this new variant. And AstraZeneca, about 60 percent effective.


Is that as effective as the vaccines were against previous strains? No. But that's still pretty good, 88 percent and 60 percent are still very effective vaccines. And they were even more effective at preventing severe disease, the things that would put you in the hospital.

So the vaccine is looking quite good against this variant. But, still, this is all the more reason why we need to have more people who are vaccinated to protect against variants like this one.


HARLOW: Right. Making the case once again. You're so right, Elizabeth. Thank you very much.

Ahead for us, a D.C. police officer who was severely injured during the Capitol insurrection tries to talk to a Republican congressman, the one who compared the event on that day to a, quote, normal tourist visit. Hear what happened during their exchange, next.



HARLOW: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.