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President Trump lowers expectations for Putin meeting

President Trump was greeted with protests when he arrived in Helsinki for his first formal meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. After calling the European Union, a long-time ally, a trade “foe” at an interview on Saturday, Trump downplayed his expectations for the summit, which starts Monday. NewsHour’s Yamiche Alcindor and special correspondent Ryan Chilcote join Hari Sreenivasan.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Joining us now from Helsinki where they are preparing to cover tomorrow's events are news our White House Correspondent Yamiche ALcindor and Special Correspondent Ryan Chilcote. I want to start with a basic question for both of you about what the parties want. Yamiche, let me start with you. What does the president want from this conversation with Vladimir Putin?

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    The president really hasn't given that much detail about what he wants from Vladimir Putin. What he said is that he wants to have this meeting that he likes having meetings that he wants to be around strong leaders and that he thinks it's important to have that communication be good and that our relationship with the United States should be strong with Russia.

    Sources inside the White House tell me that they also are waiting to hear what the president is going to do. There are a lot of issues that they could talk about. Among them are the situation in Syria, the military situation. There's reporting that the U.S. has been offered to possibly pull out of troops if they can get a deal with Russia to deal with other things.

    There's this idea that the annexation of Crimea could be a topic that the president could possibly recognize Crimea as part of Russia. That would be a big deal. But everyone says so far that the president doesn't want to do that. The other thing that the president said he to talk about is election meddling. That's a big deal not only because of 2016 but going forward is this idea that the midterm elections in the United States could be hacked by Russia.

    So a lot of people are very worried about that. But the president really just wants the optics, he wants to look like a strong man. And as a result, he wants to sit down with Vladimir Putin. They're going to be alone for an hour and it's going to be one on one, they're going to be translators there but essentially these two men are going to be the only people who knew what they said in that meeting — one on one and then it's of course going to be extended to top aides talking to them as well.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Ryan Chilcote, I want to ask you the same question. What does a lot of your Putin get out of this conference and what does he want out of it?

  • RYAN CHILCOTE:

    Look, I think that Vladamir Putin obviously would love it if President Trump was to say that he recognizes Crimea as an integral part of Russia. He'd love to see the sanctions decrease but I think realistically, he thinks, realizes that those things are unlikely. The very fact that this meeting is taking place is already an achievement enough, I'm pretty sure for the Russian president.

    If you think about it they've been asking for this meeting ever since President Trump's inauguration. And Russia really has sort of been in the cold for the last four years since the annexation of Crimea. So being here, next to President Trump allows President Putin to communicate to the people back at home that yes, you know we're paying a price for our foreign policy, for what we're doing in Crimea and Ukraine and our relations with the west.

    But as you can see, they respect us. Look at that meeting with me here, President Trump… That means we are a superpower, we are a force to be reckoned with. And that's a very powerful and useful message for President Putin to send to his people right now after so many years of sanctions and tensions with the west.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Yamiche, even before this meeting, before touching down, the president has sent out a series of tweets saying that we, the reporters, are again an enemy of the people and that he also, in a conversation with CBS's Jeff Glor, called the EU a foe. Why these sorts of comments before this conversation?

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    Well, it's very notable what the president is talking about the media as being an enemy of the people while he's on his way to meet the Russian President who has jailed reporters. Something like 58 reporters have been killed in Russia since 1998. Just this year alone, in 2018, 33 reporters around the world have been killed — that's according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. So journalists are really under attack all over the world and the president instead of saying, I back the media, we need a free press, we are not going to treat our media like Vladamir Putin does, he goes and doubles down on Air Force One and that's really remarkable.

    The other thing is that President Trump, when he was the candidate said he was going to take on Europe. He said that he was going to take on our European allies, on the campaign trail he said that he thought that the United States was being taken advantage of. So for a lot of in a lot of ways he's doing exactly what he said he was going to do. And as Ryan said, there are a lot of people who are very, very worried that his antagonism toward Europe really plays right into Putin's hands.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Ryan, let's talk a little bit about how President Vladimir Putin prepares for these type of things. You've covered him for a long time. What's his motive operandi?

  • RYAN CHILCOTE:

    Look, you know he has a very long view and as you pointed out there he's got a lot of experience. He's been in power now for 18 years. So, he's going to look at what can be achieved and I think you know President Trump represents a real unique opportunity for Vladimir Putin to do something. Not at this summit — this is just the beginning of a relationship. He will appreciate the fact that this summit is taking place because President Trump agreed to have it and that may have been at his political peril. So, you know, he's a very loyal guy.

    If you look at how he deals with his inner circle and he's going to want to reward him. Is he going to give them something today? I don't know. He's probably going to be a bit sensitive to the fact that people are going to be watching this saying, oh President Trump is President Putin's lapdog. He's not going to want to make it look like he's helping him out too much but he's going to appreciate that he needs to establish and wants to establish a long term relationship.

    Look, you know, if he's lucky, this is the best chance he's had for a while. If President Trump is in power for another seven years and that the annexation of Crimea, the sanctions — these are things that maybe wouldn't get solved this year but just think two, three, four, five years down the line Vladimir Putin still in power, and these are still problems. So he'd love to be able to work with someone to make them go away.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Yamiche, this is obviously in the context just a couple of days ago Special Counsel Robert Muller just indicted 12 Russian military officers, intelligence officers of hacking into the DNC, meddling with our campaign. But there seems to be a difference in how the Trump White House perceives this as not necessarily an attack on democracy but really just an attack on Democrats.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    Well, President Trump has spoken about these indictments in a very partisan way while members of his administration including the Secretary of Homeland Security have been saying that it was really about an attack on America. So, President Trump went out there and said that Democrats were weak that's why they were hacked that the Republicans were smarter, they were stronger and because of that they were able to not be hacked like the Democrats.

    So you have him really taking a partisan look at that and then you have the Homeland Security secretary saying, this is America, this is about American people, this is about American voters and why this all really matters is because now we're going into a midterm election where if Democrats are targeted by Russia or others whether or not President Trump wants to or not, it's going to be an American being attacked by a foreign country. So you're going to have to see whether or not the president will say, you know what, we need to make sure that all our elections, whether or not they're Democrats or Republicans that all are elections, all are candidates that they need to be safe and that's not what he's doing right now.

    The White House statement that they put out shortly after the indictment said the Trump campaign specifically is not being accused of anything. So the president quickly said,this is not my problem, I'm not the one being being attacked here, and there's no collusion here. And that's a very, very troubling for a lot of people.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right. NewsHour White House Correspondent Yamiche Alcindor and Special Correspondent Ryan Chilcote, thank you both and we'll look forward to your reporting tomorrow.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    Thank you.

  • RYAN CHILCOTE:

    Thank you.

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