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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Trump: Russia "Probably" Not Meddling in Elections; Clinton Attack Trump of Obama Birther Conspiracy; North Korea Tests the Most Powerful Nuke Yet; Up to 40 ISIS Paris Suspects Still At Large. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 9, 2016 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[11:00:02] MIKE PENCE, (R), INDIANA GOVERNOR & VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Vladimir Putin is a stronger president in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country.

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Vladimir Putin is an aggressor that does not share our interests.

DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is very much a leader.

RYAN: Violating the sovereignty of neighboring countries.

HILLARY CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Unpatriotic and insulting to the people of our country.

TRUMP: He says great things about me, I'm going to say great things about him.

CLINTON: It is scary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everybody. I'm Kate Bolduan.

From Russia with love, or is it "to" Russia with love. Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin's mutual admiration society renewed last night and put national security in the spotlight.

Today, Hillary Clinton will meet with a bipartisan group of national security experts in New York. This, as her campaign is touting 110 retired generals and admirals backing her.

BERMAN: Meanwhile, Donald Trump is taking his remarkable embrace of Vladimir Putin to Russian-owned air waves, declaring the Russian leader is probably not meddling in the U.S. election, contrary to what U.S. intelligence services say and contrary to what Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan says.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP (voice-over): I don't know -- I mean, I've been hearing about it. I've been reading about it. I think it's probably unlikely. I think maybe -- maybe the Democrats are putting that out. Who knows? But I think that it's pretty unlikely. But, you know, who knows. I hope that if they are doing something, I hope that somebody's going to find out so they can end it because that would not be appropriate at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

So the Trump campaign now claims they did not know this interview was airing on a "R.T.," "Russia Today," a Kremlin-owned television network. They say they thought it was just a podcast done as a favor for Donald Trump's friend, Larry King.

CNN Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, here with the very latest -- Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, guys. We've seen a lot of blurred lines in this campaign. But this is without a doubt a remarkable break from the traditions of American politics here now. So many Republicans alarmed, Democrats outraged, with Trump's embrace of Vladimir Putin and praising questions about American foreign policy on "Russia Today," as you said.

But Hillary Clinton is leading charge the in this criticism. Yesterday, on the campaign trail in Charlotte, this is what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: That is not just unpatriotic, it's not just insulting to the office and the man who holds the office, it is scary. It is dangerous.

(CHEERING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: With North Korea now in the news as well today, real events in real time are suddenly injecting themselves into this presidential campaign, certainly with the 15-year anniversary of 9/11 on Sunday. Hillary Clinton is now going to be at ground zero, we're told.

Presidential campaigns at this moment become real events and we're seeing how candidates are reacting to them.

BERMAN: Both candidates off the trail on Sunday, September 11th. Hillary Clinton, as of now, we just learned she's going to go for the ceremony. Not in a political capacity, just to be part of the ceremony or take part in the ceremony.

Jeff, stick around.

We have a lot to discuss. Joining us now, CNN political commentator, Christine Quinn, a Hillary Clinton supporter and vice chair of the New York State Democratic party; Carl Highboy, former Navy SEAL, Donald Trump supporter; Alex Burns, CNN political analyst and national political reporter for "The New York Times."

So, Carl, you heard Jeff talk about how some Republicans are alarmed by the language that Donald Trump is using about Vladimir Putin. One of those Republicans is South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Let me read you something he said. It's pretty dramatic. He said, "Other than destroying every instrument of democracies in his own country, having opposition people killed, dismembering neighbors through military force, and being the benefactor of the butcher of Damascus, he's a good guy."

Talking about Vladimir Putin right there. Your reaction to Senator Graham?

CARL HIGBY, FORMER NAVY SEAL & TRUMP SUPPORTER: I think Trump was clear. He doesn't support the type of government. He doesn't support how Putin is doing things. He says clearly he has been a good leader. And like Hillary Clinton has said, hey, we need to start building relationships. Imagine who's going to get a better response from Putin. Someone who said, hey, look, I don't agree with you on everything but you're doing a good job in your own right.

BOLDUAN: Why make the comparison? Why do you want to compliment anyone if this is the type of person he is?

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Can't you say in two different sentences I don't like the leadership of Donald -- I don't like the leadership of Barack Obama and you don't have to say anything about Russia?

HIGBY: But Russia's a huge power out there that we want to get along with somehow, some way. Donald Trump is building that relationship for when he's president.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: I don't think I've -- I don't know, maybe I missed it, but has he ever criticized Vladimir Putin for his crackdowns on the press, for the Russian takeover of Crimea? Has he?

HIGBY: He was very clear during the commander-in-chief conference, saying I don't agree with the way he runs his government but I think he's a great leader in his own style.

[11:05:07] BOLDUAN: But, Alex, in what universe -- are we missing something? In what universe does this help Donald Trump?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think like a lot of things Donald Trump does, it's not clear there's any immediate political benefit to him to behave like this but he does tend to see the world in a binary between strength and weakness and a binary between people who are nice to hip and people who are not nice to him so viewed through that lens Vladimir Putin is clearly a strong leader and clearly nice to Donald Trump so this is where you land. To be clear, to what Carl just said, Donald Trump didn't say he disagrees with the way Putin is running his country. He said they have a different system. I don't necessarily love the system. He's clearly been a very effective leader. What I know has offended a lot of Republicans, especially people who have been harshly critical of Barack Obama's approach to Russia and Hillary Clinton's handling of Russia as secretary of state, they see Putin as disastrous for his country, who has presided over the collapse of his country's economy and the deterioration of his country's moral standing in the world.

BERMAN: Christine, you're eager to get in here.

CHRISTINE QUINN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This man, the man we're talking about here, Vladimir Putin, is a dictator, a brutal dictator who has oppressed his own people. So, look, if you want to have a conversation at some point with the president and talk strategically from a military perspective or can you work with somebody on this and that, that may or may not be appropriate given who you're talking about at what time. To say a person who is a dictator, who has shut down the free press, who oppressed his people, has killed opposition, is one of the worst oppressors of the LGBT community out there, seems to imply the Donald Trump does not know the definition of dictator.

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN: You can oppress people and maybe they fall in line. But that's not what we do in American. And in America, we do not herald people who oppress their citizens relentlessly.

HIGBY: I'm so glad you said that, because why is Hillary Clinton receiving donations from the Clinton Foundation from oppressive regimes like you're talking about?

QUINN: We're talking about --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: -- Hillary Clinton campaign --

(CROSSTALK)

HIGBY: Oh, they're closely tied.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: But just stick on the question. Stick on the question.

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN: Well, that's the typical Trump pivot.

BOLDUAN: It's the typical Hillary Clinton pivot when she doesn't want to talk about something.

HIGBY: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: Welcome to presidential politics.

HIGBY: They're parallel. (CROSSTALK)

QUINN: How can the Trump campaign --

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN: stand up and say it's a good thing and double down on praising a dictator? And let's talk about --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Would you use another term other than strong leader? Would you prefer a different terms than strong leader? Because strong leader --

(CROSSTALK)

HIGBY: Yeah, if he --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: You were a Navy SEAL --

(CROSSTALK)

HIGBY: Yeah.

(CROSSTALK)

HIGBY: I have respect for Putin but I don't agree with him on virtually anything.

BERMAN: Respect in what way?

HIGBY: The fact he stands up for what he thinks is right.

BOLDUAN: Who cares if it's everything you disagree with?

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN: He doesn't stand up. He kills people if they don't agree with him.

HIGBY: The fact of the matter is Putin has a very tight rein on his people and his country. I don't agree with his type of government.

QUINN: Because he's a dictator. Dictators do by definition.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: -- leading the charge on this criticism. At the very same time, we're hearing from her campaign that they want to make a pivot to be more positive. How does that work?

ZELENY: They want to do both. Presidential campaigns are often about doing both things. They want to be positive because her likability is still really low. She's going to be giving a series of speeches starting next weekend, an economic speech on Tuesday in Los Angeles, other speeches about national service and other things, talking about what she would do and less of what Donald Trump, why he would be bad, that she's still going to keep calling him out, because that is the way both of these candidates have decided to win is by disqualifying the other person.

But it's a question of judgment. The commander-in-chief audition that's been going on all week and all campaign, and now will be anew with North Korea, a threat, and this Russia conversation, is a question of judgment. She's trying to show Republicans out there the who, you know, may be resistant to him that he is not -- he does not have the judgment and Putin is the latest example here of why she's making that statement.

BERMAN: Can I ask you, because I'm a little hazy on what's happening today. Today she's meeting with a bunch of people, national security leaders --

QUINN: Bipartisan.

BERMAN: Well, bipartisan, most of whom have supported her, but what's the idea here?

ZELENY: She's trying, again, to show that she is presidential and she has a bipartisan group of people around her. David Petraeus is one of the people. Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security secretary in the Bush administration, will be at the meeting as well. She will -- I assume, be talking about this Vladimir Putin episode, like she did yesterday, and North Korea. She's trying to show she has the chops already to be the commander-in-chief. And Donald Trump does not.

But interestingly, we'll be hearing from Donald Trump again today as well. And he so far has embraced Putin and we usually don't see him walk things back. But he may. We'll just have to see what he says.

(CROSSTALK)

[11:10:11] BERMAN: On the subject of walking things back.

BOLDUAN: On the subject of walking things back, here is the latest, one of the latest attacks from Clinton. She was at an event talking about her faith. She brought up Donald Trump pushing the Birther conspiracy. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: We are facing a candidate history of racial discrimination in his business --

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: -- who traffics in toxic conspiracy theories like the lie that President Obama is not a true American.

(APPLAUSE) CLINTON: If he doesn't even respect all Americans, how can he serve all Americans?

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: So, Carl, this morning, Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump's campaign manager, says that Donald Trump believes President Obama was born in the United States. Also Rudy Giuliani said the very same. Why hasn't Donald Trump said it? Do you think he needs to?

HIGBY: Literally, I have no comment on the Birther conspiracy.

BOLDUAN: Why?

HIGBY: I just think --

BERMAN: Do you think he was born in America, President Obama?

HIGBY: You know what, probably.

BOLDUAN: Probably?

HIGBY: Yeah.

BERMAN: Probably?

HIGBY: Yeah, probably.

BERMAN: Why probably? You've seen his birth certificate. What do you mean probably?

HIGBY: Probably.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Why are you --

(CROSSTALK)

HIGBY: I'm not going to put any effort into the fact that Barack Obama was born out of the country. I just don't care at this point.

QUINN: You really don't believe the president of the United States, the office to which you served and swore allegiance, that man --

(CROSSTALK)

HIGBY: No, I swore allegiance to America.

QUINN: But he is your commander-in-chief. I don't know which president you served under. They are the commander-in-chief. You do not believe the president of the United States, at the end of his second term, duly elected --

(CROSSTALK)

HIGBY: That's why I don't care, because it's the end of his second term.

QUINN: But do you -- you don't believe he was born in America?

BOLDUAN: But, Carl, it keeps going because people continue to have doubts. That's why it's still out there.

QUINN: And Trump won't answer the quote.

HIGBY: So it doesn't matter now. He's at the end of his second term.

BOLDUAN: It does matter, because Donald Trump is the one who really pushed it.

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN: You know why else it does matter --

(CROSSTALK)

HIGBY: He has every right to. He spent a ton of money doing it. If he wants --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: But once a birth certificate is produced -- actually, it was produced beforehand -- but once the long-form certificate is produced, to deny, to refuse to accept he was born in America, which he has not acknowledged to this day as far as I know, it is a statement.

Alex Burns, you covered the Trump campaign aggressively. Kellyanne Conway, the campaign manager, said President Obama was born in America. Mike Pence says it. What gives?

BURNS: I'm old enough to remember that Paul Manafort said Donald Trump is going to be a very different candidate.

BOLDUAN: You're a very old man.

(LAUGHTER)

BURNS: Old as the hills.

That immigration speech we heard from three different advisers. Ultimately, the only person who speaks for Donald Trump is Donald Trump. Clearly, the campaign wants to move into this direction. I don't know why Donald Trump hasn't come out and cleared it up himself. A mystery.

The notion that it's irrelevant at this point, for a lot of voter, especially for the black voters, who Donald Trump purports to want to court right now, this is seen as a grievous disrespect to an historic president. So not addressing that head on is a really puzzling --

(CROSSTALK)

ZELENY: Which is why Hillary Clinton raised it last night in Kansas City.

QUINN: Exactly.

ZELENY: I was there in that room. It was at a national convention of the Baptist church. She was raising it for a reason, to remind African-American voters there that Donald Trump has questioned this. It's one of the reasons that Donald Trump's support among African- Americans has fallen.

BOLDUAN: What happens if Trump comes out and says, I made a mistake, I now believe he was born in the United States. Is the Clinton campaign prepared for that?

ZELENY: I don't know if they're prepared for it. Maybe then and only then will we all stop talking about it. Average voters I don't think care as much about it. It is puzzling why he still hasn't taken this step.

BERMAN: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Kellyanne Conway said this. This election is not going turn on the Birther question. This doesn't mean --

Guys, we have to --

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN: The Birther question really shows how slow his African- American outreach is. If you were really concerned about bringing in African-Americans and making them part of your coalition, why would you stand by a patent he incorrect -- in my opinion, racist statement?

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: His campaign says he's not standing by that statement but he just isn't talking about it anymore.

Promise the questions will continue though.

Guys, thanks.

Disturbing new revelations about the terrorist attacks in Paris. Now getting word up to 40 suspects involved are still at large. Officials also saying the threat of plots only increasing. Details ahead.

[11:14:56] BERMAN: Plus, global outrage after North Korea said it pulled off its biggest nuclear threat yet. Breaking details. The earthquake, literally, it caused and the figurative one as well. What happens next? Come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: New this morning, North Korea is claiming to have successfully tested a nuclear device. This is the fifth since its program began. North Korea says this is its largest one yet.

BOLDUAN: The news is sending a new wave of concern across the globe on really what the hermit country might be up to, and up to next.

Let's bring in CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr; and Gordon Chang, the author of "Nuclear Showdown, North Korea Takes on the World," and also a columnist with "The Daily Beast."

Guys, great to see you.

Barbara, lay out what happened here.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the North Koreans are saying they tested a nuclear warhead. If they are telling the truth, it just doesn't get more serious, because this is the critical component they need, a miniaturized nuclear warhead, to put on a missile, to put on a launcher, that would be able some day to attack the United States, let alone Japan and South Korea.

We are seeing reaction across the Pacific. We are seeing a very interesting reaction from the White House. A short time ago, a statement, a very lengthy detailed statement from President Obama. I just want to read one part of it, where he says, "The commitment to provide extended deterrents guaranteed by the full spectrum of U.S. defense capabilities is going to be maintained." "The full spectrum of U.S. defense capabilities," my sources are telling me this morning, that means what you call strategic deterrents, and strategic deterrents means the president is signaling, don't forget, the U.S. also has nuclear weapons, that North Korea would be deterred, they would not be allowed --

(CROSSTALK)

STARR: -- to have this kind of program.

[11:20:35] BERMAN: So, Gordon Chang, this is a serious move, serious escalation in the program, if it's true, and a serious response from the United States. So big picture here, you know, what next?

GORDON CHANG, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST & AUTHOR: Well, I think what we need to do, first of all, is tighten sanctions because they're not as strict as they could be. Enforce what we already have on the books. There's a new sanctions act this year, as well as the Treasury Department on June 1 declared North Korea a primary money laundering concern. That means we can go after Chinese banks that help the North Korean weapons program. It also means we can go after Chinese entities which have been supplying North Korea with uranium hexo- fluoride and other components for their nuclear weapons program. This is a China issue as much as a North Korean one.

BOLDUAN: If it is China, where does the U.S. move next on this, do you think, Barbara? What are you hearing from your sources, if it's as much of an issue that China needs to really start applying pressure --

(CROSSTALK)

STARR: Right. Everybody talks sanctions. That doesn't seem to be deterring Kim Jong-Un, the leader of North Korea. The typical response by the Pentagon would maybe be to send ships, airplanes, as a show of force deterrent.

(CROSSTALK)

STARR: Right. Is that going to stop Kim Jong-Un? Not likely.

I always say, in the last couple of months, what U.S. intelligence is noticing is they -- the North -- is really on an aggressive weapons research and test program. They are testing time and time again and they are being successful.

BERMAN: Gordon, is there anyone who has any what Kim Jong-Un really wants to do? Does he want to attack the West? To Barbara's point --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: -- has he ever backed down from anything?

CHANG: The Chinese know what he wants, because on Tuesday one of the more senior North Korea nuclear envoys showed up in Beijing for talks. Of course, on Friday, they set off this nuke. The North Koreans wouldn't have done that if they thought the Chinese would impose real costs on them. So there must have been discussions about what the north was going to do. So the Chinese obviously know.

And what we need to do is start looking at China in a very different light. Not as a possible restraint on North Korea but as actually somebody that's complicit in all of this.

BOLDUAN: In the most immediate, what is the U.S. wanting? Are they looking for more tests, you know, in coming days? Is there a concern of that?

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Because this blindsided everybody.

STARR: Yeah. There's a lot of concern about it. I think the real issue for the U.S. perhaps and for the r White House is when does North Korea cross that line of being able to put all the parts together, a launcher, possibly a mobile launcher that's very hard to track, a missile, and a miniaturized nuclear warhead on the front of that missile. You put all that together, difficult for U.S. intelligence to track. It really cannot be allowed for stability in the region and for U.S. security to let them be able --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: How are you going to have --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Of course, how much pressure are you willing to put on China, if what Gordon is saying and what Barbara is saying is correct? But how much pressure will they put on the Chinese regime?

Barbara Starr, Gordon Chang, thank you so much for being with us.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you.

Great to have you with us.

CHANG: Thanks.

BERMAN: Brand-new this morning, ISIS said to be ratcheting up terror plots. Hear the reason why, and how dozens of suspects involved in the Paris attacks may still be at large.

BERMAN: Plus, how do Republicans feel about Donald Trump and his continuing to praise Vladimir Putin? CNN's Manu Raju tried to find out, chased them down.

We'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: What do you think about Trump praising Putin last night?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), ARIZONA: I don't have any comments to make on it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:28:27] BOLDUAN: First on CNN, European officials say 30 to 40 suspected ISIS terrorists who helped support the Paris attacks last November are still at large. And ISIS is now planning to ramp up attacks after big losses in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

BERMAN: Let's bring in CNN senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward.

Clarissa, what can you tell us about this?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John and Kate, this should come as no surprise to many of us who have been following this story so closely and combing through tens of thousands of pages of documents pertaining to the European investigation. I've spoken to several sources inside Belgium primarily who say 30 to 40 people who were directly involved in the network that facilitated the Paris attacks are still at large.

And so the question becomes, how is this possible and what does this mean? And a deeper look into how these networks reveal, essentially gives you a better idea of why this is a challenge for security services. Because what emerges is that ISIS is quite sophisticated in how it handles or manages its networks. And that means only a very small core group of people know the full picture, know the entire attack as it is planned. All other people who are brought in are brought in essentially on a need to know basis. So they might know something, that they have just been instructed to try to find some AK- 47s or just been instructed to find a safe house for a brother who is visiting from Syria. They don't necessarily have the full picture. They don't necessarily know the full scope. And that makes it very difficult for security services when they're trying to drill down on these networks, when they're trying to prosecute people for their involvement with these networks --