'This Week' Transcript 4-2-17: Ambassador Nikki Haley, Ash Carter, Sen. John McCain, and Dmitry Peskov

PHOTO: John McCain talks with debate moderators, Oct. 10, 2016, in Phoenix. Ash Carter at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Oct. 8, 2015. Nikki Haley at her confirmation hearing for US Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) on Capitol Hill, Jan. 18, 2017.PlayAP Photo|Getty Images
WATCH Ambassador Haley: Trump 'not stopping me from beating up on Russia'

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT FOR 'THIS WEEK' on April 2, 2017 and it will be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Starting right now on THIS WEEK with George Stephanopoulos, the Kremlin Cloud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not fake news.

ANNOUNCER: As the former national security adviser asks for immunity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the president think that Mike Flynn is guilty of a crime?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He believes that Mike Flynn should go testify.

ANNOUNCER: The president calling it a witchhunt and not taking any questions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any comment on Michael Flynn, Mr. President?

ANNOUNCER: Will Flynn strike a deal and sit before Congress? What could be revealed about a possible Russian connection? How much damage has this done to President Trump's agenda?

And --

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: We will never reveal sources and methods.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why all the cloak and dagger stuff?

ANNOUNCER: Is the leader of the Russia investigation too close to the White House?

Top questions ahead for Trump's U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, former Obama Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, and a top Republican critic, Senator John McCain.

From ABC News, it's THIS WEEK.

Here now, co-anchor Martha Raddatz.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS: Good morning. In the tenth week of his presidency, after that disastrous collapse of the Obamacare repeal, Donald Trump desperately needed a rebound. But instead of bouncing back, Trump is still stuck in the Russian mud.

The endless questions, the shapeshifting investigations, Mike Flynn's attempt to cut an immunity deal. The swirl of suspicion and distraction.

And now that gray cloud looking more and more like an oncoming storm.

By Saturday, instead of moving forward with his America First agenda, Trump was right back where he started, digging in deeper on his baseless charge that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, asking when the media will start talking about the Obama surveillance scandal and stop with the fake Trump Russia story.

All this comes as Trump prepares to face a week of serious and urgent global challenges. From the raging battles in Syria and Iraq, with U.S. lives on the line in the fight against ISIS, facing a full-blown crisis with North Korea, and wit ha critical meeting with China's president now just days away, this hour we'll dig into the dangers the Russia investigations pose to the president, and we'll confront how Trump's struggles could affect America's place in the world, with three influential foreign policy voices.

Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter joins us exclusively. He's the highest ranking member of President Obama's cabinet to speak out since Trump took office. And Armed Services Committee chair Senator John McCain, now breaking with Trump on a range of critical issues.

But we begin with the first Sunday morning interview with a member of Donald Trump's core foreign policy team, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.

Ambassador Haley, thank you for joining us this morning.

AMB. NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Good morning, Martha.

RADDATZ: I want to start with Russia. President Trump has been tweeting again this weekend, calling the Trump-Russia story fake news. Do you think fake news, phony, a total scam, as the president says?

HALEY: Well, Martha, I can tell you that things are very busy at the United Nations, and what I'm focused on the chatter that the international community is saying, not the chatter that is going on in D.C. And so what I can tell you is I talk with countries, whether it's the Arab states or in the Middle East, and they talk about how they're glad to see us fighting against Iran. I talk with different countries in reference to Syria, and we talk about how we can get the Iranian influence out. We're talking about North Korea and what we need to do and the pressure we need to put on China. They're happy that we're finally beating up on Russia for what they've done in the Ukraine.

So those are really the focuses that I've had and the conversations that I've had. No one's talking to me about the D.C. chatter. What they are talking is that they're very happy to see the United States lead again.

RADDATZ: But Ambassador Haley, this has to affect the U.S. relationship with Russia. What are you seeing?

HALEY: Well, I can tell you that in my dealings with Russia in particular at the United Nations, you know, we beat up on them because we thought that what they did with Crimea and what's happening in Ukraine is wrong. And we called them out for it. And what we've said is that they are not being helpful in the way that they and Iran are covering up for Assad. We don't think that's helpful. We need their pressure when it comes to dealing with ISIS, and we also need their pressure when it comes to dealing with China and North Korea.

So there's certain things that we do work with Russia on and then there's certain things when they do something wrong, I have no problem calling them out on it.

RADDATZ: What do you think should happen to Russia for hacking into the U.S. election, for trying to influence the U.S. election?

HALEY: I think that, you know, first of all the facts need to come out, that whole process needs to take place. And if there were some --

RADDATZ: But what facts haven't come out? Seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies said that they did that. Do you believe them?

HALEY: If -- well, certainly, I think Russia was involved in the election. There's no question about that. And I think when they finish with all of this process, yes, they need to address Russia. They need to act. And they need to make sure they are (inaudible) about it. We don't want any country involved in our elections ever. And so once that information comes out, I expect that that will be handled accordingly.

But again, Martha, nobody is talking to me about that at the United Nations.

What everybody is talking about at the United Nations. What everybody is talking about at the United Nations is what's going to happen with North Korea? How are we going to deal with the crisis that we're seeing in Syria? What are we doing to wage the war on ISIS?

RADDATZ: Let's stay on Russia for a moment, and you mentioned this, President Trump has said he respects Putin, but you say you don't trust him.

You've said the U.S. needs to take hacking seriously. President Trump has been dismissive of it. Which one of you should our allies and adversaries believe?

HALEY: I think we're both saying the same thing, it's just being reported differently. If you look at what Russia -- about Russia and us call them out, President Trump has agreed, and this administration agrees, that Russia's involvement in Ukraine is wrong. And I think that if you listen to what he said about the elections, of course we don't want any country involved in our elections. And so that's going to happen.

I think that Russia is very aware that they are on notice when it comes to certain issues. They are very aware that we do want to try and defeat ISIS together, if that's at all possible, along with our allies. But there's no love or anything going on with Russia right now. They get that we're getting our strength back, that we're getting our voice back, and that we're starting to lead again.

And honestly, at the United Nations, that's the number one comment I get is they're just so happy to see the United States lead again.

RADDATZ: You really think that you and President Trump are saying the same things? Let me tell you one thing President Trump recently said. He defended Putin after Fox News' Bill O'Reilly called him a killer, saying there are a lot of killers. Do you think our country is so innocent?

So, how does the U.S. maintain its role as the moral conscience of the world, to use your words this week, if the president won't condemn what's happening inside Russia?

HALEY: Well, Martha, this is what I can tell you, the president has not once called me and said don't beat up on Russia, has not once called me and told me what to say, has not once...

RADDATZ: But he isn't beating up on Russia. Should he be beating up on Russia, again?

HALEY: I am. I am beating up on Russia...

RADDATZ: So he doesn't need to?

HALEY: Well, it's -- of course, he's got a lot of things he's doing. But he is not stopping me from beating up on Russia. He's not stopping me from talking about the pressure that China needs to be putting on North Korea. He's not stopping me on how we're working together to defeat ISIS.

Right now, General Mattis and I are working on peacekeeping reforms and stability with those issues. So, the president has not disagreed with one thing I've said. And that means he supports everything that I'm saying. And I'm going along with everything that I know this administration believes in.

RADDATZ: You know, you take over the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council this month. And let me read some things you say you want.

You say you want to emphasize the role of human rights, that you intend to challenge members, not just to talk the talk, but walk the walk. Russia is going to be at that table having supported Syria's President Assad in killing Syrian civilians, what you have called war crimes. Putin has jailed and kiled dissidents in his own country. You talk tough. But again, doesn't President Trump have to start talking tough?

HALEY: He has his people talking tough. And that's what we're doing is right now we're saying whatever we need to say.

Look, he's the president. He can say what he wants whenever he wants, but the direction we've gotten is to do our jobs, make sure that the United States is strong, and that's what we'll do.

Human rights is something that's very important. If you look at the Syrian conflict, how did it start? It was a group of teenagers that were the ages of 10 to 15 that went and spray painted graffiti about their government on a wall. With that, the police came in, picked up those boys, beat them up, pulled their nails out, kept them overnight and returned them bloodied to their parents.

Their parents went out to the streets and protested. Other parents saw that and responded. That is what is led to the overall conflict in Syria was all because the government wasn't treating their people well.

And so what I'm trying to bring attention to is that human rights is a big important part of how to prevent conflict in the first place if we focus on how the governments are treating their people.

RADDATZ: So what will you do about Russia? What will you do about them not just walking the walk but -- not just talking the talk, but walking the walk? How will you hold them accountable? You say you have a results oriented team. How will that manifest itself with Russia?

HALEY: The way that we already have. We've called them out on what they did with Ukraine. We're having this human rights hearing. There will be, I'm sure, a vote of who wants it and who doesn't, but we fully expect to watch and see which countries don't want to have it and we fully expect that this hearing is going to take place.

This is not about keeping countries happy, this is about keeping the United States strong. And in order to do that, we have to have the backs of our allies, we have to call out wrongs when we see them, we have to try and move policy in the world. And that's what we're doing at the United Nations. It's a new day at the United Nations in the way that we're not afraid to talk. We're going to say what we think and we're going to move the ball.

And that's what this is about. And I'm very excited to be taking the presidency of the Security Council, because I think we can even more push how the United States feels about issues in the world and we can show how strong we are.

RADDATZ: Let's talk about Syria a little more.

You and Secretary Tillerson, secretary of State, have said that Assad leaving power is no longer a priority.

So let me return to your comments about human rights and your charge that Assad has committed war crimes.

Do we just let that go?

HALEY: So Assad is always a priority. That is not an issue. He is a war crime. He has done terrible things to his own people. He has used chemical weapons on his own people. He continues to be a hindrance to peace in Syria. And that is something the administration strongly believes.

But in addition to that, we need to start putting pressure on Russia and Iran in terms of the fact we need to get Iran out of there. We need to get the Iranian influence out of there. We need to...

RADDATZ: But if Assad...

(CROSSTALK)

RADDATZ: -- can stay in power. Assad can stay in power?

That's not a...

HALEY: If we can...

RADDATZ: -- priority?

HALEY: No, our goal is we want to bring Assad to justice. We want them to pay for the crimes that he's done. We're going to continue to let Russia know how dangerous it is to keep Assad in power.

In addition to that, we're going to fight ISIS. We're going to try and bring stability back to the area. You don't have to have one or the other. We've got a lot of important issues. Assad is not going away, but we're not going to stop beating up on him. We're not going to stop saying that the way he treats the people in Syria is wrong, that he has actually killed his own people and America will never stand for that.

RADDATZ: That sounds like talk, Ambassador Haley. That sounds like talk, not walk.

HALEY: I don't -- oh, no. The walk is there. If you go and you look at what we're trying to do in Syria, it's only been two months. Look at how much of a difference we've made at the United Nations just in the last two months.

We are calling out Russia when we need to. We are working on making sure we push Iranian influence out when it comes to Syria. We are talking about the pressure on China that needs to happen with North Korea.

But then we're also moving things. We've changed the Israel bias that's happening at the United Nations by making sure that we call out anyone that focuses on that as opposed to focusing on the conflict. We made sure that a ridiculous report that came out comparing Israel to apartheid state, we had that report pulled down, the director resigned.

We are now changing the culture at the United Nations. And with that, we're changing the culture in the world in the discussions that we're having.

We are going to be strong. We have already started leading as it comes to this administration. And we're going to continue to do that. And I'm very confident, because I walk the halls of the United Nations. I talk with my colleagues. I know what the ambassadors are saying.

And what they're saying is they're happy to see us leading against Iran. They're happy to see us putting pressure on China when it comes to North Korea...

RADDATZ: Lets...

HALEY: -- they're happy to see us...

RADDATZ: Let's just end...

HALEY: -- work toward that.

RADDATZ: -- we just have a couple more minutes here, Ambassador.

Sorry to interrupt you there.

But I do want to get to North Korea.

North Korea is supposedly just about to do its sixth nuclear test.

What should we do about North Korea?

HALEY: No longer take the excuses from China that they're concerned, too. They need to show us how concerned they are. They need to put pressure on North Korea. The only country that can stop North Korea is China.

And they know that. And I think that you saw when Secretary Tillerson went to Beijing, that was a way of putting pressure. You're going to see President Trump meet with President Xi and a lot of conversation and the most important conversation will be how we're going to be dealing with the non-proliferation of North Korea.

RADDATZ: And if China doesn't cooperate?

HALEY: Oh, no, China has to cooperate. This is now down to do we want to continue to see these ballistic missile attacks from North Korea or does China want to do something about it?

And this is all about the fact that they need to have action. And we're going to continue to put pressure on China to have action. That will be shown in multiple ways.

But what we are going to do is say China, you know that you're the only one that's doing this. We appreciate that you stopped coal going into North Korea, but we know it's going in other ways.

At some point, we need these definitive actions by China condemning North Korea and not just calling them out for it.

RADDATZ: How do you view China?

I know President Trump, in the past, has said he views China as an enemy, at least an economic enemy.

HALEY: I think what you have to look at is, you know, China and Russia play very different roles. They both are getting involved across the world in all different pockets. Their tentacles are everywhere.

Russia is doing it through elections and through military actions and through trying to get involved in conversations. China is doing it economically. If you look at their infrastructure, they are everywhere in the world now and they want to continue to do that so that they have a stronghold.

And what we need to do is say that's fine, if they're going to continue to do that, they're also going to have to be accountable for the things that they are responsible for. And we do think North Korea is one of those that they need to be held accountable for.

RADDATZ: Thanks so very much for joining us, Ambassador Haley.

HALEY: Thank you, Martha.

Thanks so much.

RADDATZ: Let's take all of that to former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, the highest ranking member of President Obama's cabinet to sit for an interview since Donald Trump took the oath of office.

He's now a professor of technology and global affairs and the director of The Belfer Center at Harvard University.

And Secretary Carter joins us now. Good morning, Secretary Carter.

ASH CARTER, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Good to be here.

RADDATZ: Great to have you here.

Let's go right to the interview with Ambassador Haley. You heard Ambassador Haley talk about what to do in North Korea. She says China has to take steps to contain North Korea. But does the president's criticism of China, putting the THAAD missile in South Korea, make this more difficult to get China to take action?

CARTER: China -- I've been working on the North Korea problem since 1994. And we have consistently asked Chinese leaders, and I've spoken to Chinese leaders from Jiang Zemin through Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping today, because they uniquely have the historical and the economic relationship with North Korea to make a difference.

They haven't used that influence, and so it's hard for me to be optimistic with that.

RADDATZ: It didn't work for the Obama administration.

CARTER: China -- and nor with the Bush administration before, or the Clinton administration before. And this is on China, and there's a reason why they don't do that. But I think because I am rather pessimistic that they will take that course, I think we need to stand strong with deterrence and defense there.

We have 28,500 U.S. troops there. Our slogan there is Fight Tonight. We don't want that but we need to be ready to do that.

RADDATZ: But they've been there the entire time.

CARTER: And also defenses like THAAD, like you -- in order to defend ourself and the territory of our friends and allies. So we --

RADDATZ: Back to the question about what the Trump administration is doing. They clearly are being quite aggressive about this. I mean, Donald Trump has essentially made a red line, saying that North Korea will not get a nuclear-tip missile capable of reaching the United States. So what do you see happening from here because of that aggressive stance?

CARTER: Well, I -- we're not the cause of North Korean aggression or their missile program. I mean, we're not the cause of that. This has been going on for quite some time.

We have to protect ourselves. At the same, I think it's worthwhile to put pressure on China to play this role it's been unwilling to play. Now, the reason it's unwilling to play this role is even though they see that in the long run this leads to danger, in the short run they're -- they're fearful of the collapse of North Korea or a war on the Korean peninsula, which would result in -- since we will defeat North Korea and would destroy the North Korean regime -- a unified Korea allied with the United States on their border.

RADDATZ: Would you -- would you support military action, a preemptive strike by the Trump administration? Is that a good idea?

CARTER: If it comes to our -- the necessity to protect ourselves, we've always had all options on the table and I wouldn't take any off.

RADDATZ: But preemptive strike we're talking about.

CARTER: And we had -- in 1994 I worked on a preemptive strike plan, which we did not need to carry out on that time, on the Yeonpyeong research facility. We have those options. We shouldn't take them off the table.

RADDATZ: And how do you think North Korea would respond?

CARTER: To a -- ?

RADDATZ: A preemptive strike on a launchpad site.

CARTER: It's quite possible that they would, as a consequence of that, launch an attempted invasion of South Korea. As I said, I'm confident of the outcome of that war, which would be the defeat of North Korea.

But, Martha, I need to caution you. This is a war that of -- that would have an intensity of violence associated with it that we haven't seen since the last Korean War. Seoul is right there on the borders of the DMZ, so even though the outcome is certain, it is a very destructive war. And so one need to proceed very carefully here, and that is we're emphasizing so strongly our own deterrent posture and deterrent strength, so that North Korea knows that, and also our defenses.

RADDATZ: I want to turn to Russia. You heard Ambassador Haley say President Trump says what he wants, whatever he wants, because he has his people talking tough. These two different messages coming from Ambassador Haley and others in the administration, and President Trump.

What do you think about what President Trump says about Russia and his constant tweets?

CARTER: Well, I think in strategic affairs, clarity and consistency are very important. And so I hope that over time things settle down and one sees more clarity and consistency here.

I mean, at -- this is our government and our foreign policy, and we all need to wish it success.

But there does need to be clarity and consistency. And with respect to the Russians, they need to hear that from the United States. We have for decades now, and I've dealt with the Russians for 35 years, we have from time to time been able to, even though we have different interests, to align them. That alignment has become more and more difficult under Putin. You see that in Ukraine, you see it in the Middle East. To an extent where he actually defines Russian success as thwarting the United States.

It's very difficult to build a bridge to that motivation, by far.

RADDATZ: Let me go to something. George Stephanopoulos talked to Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov this week and asked him if we're in a new cold war. This is the response he got.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DMITRY PESKOV, KREMLIN SPOKESPERSON: New cold war? Well, maybe even worse. Maybe even worse taking into account actions of the present presidential administration.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: Worse than the cold war?

PESKOV: Well, of course, of course.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RADDATZ: Do you agree with that?

CARTER: Well, I came up during the cold war, and during the cold war it was always possible with the then Soviet Union -- the Russian leaders behaved carefully and predictably. They didn't engage in nuclear saber rattling. They were able to work with us and align their interests where possible...

RADDATZ: Do you think the Obama administration bears responsibility for this low in relationship?

CARTER: This goes back to the beginning of Vladimir Putin taking power a long time ago. It seems to be in his nature, as I said -- and I've actually -- when I was working -- and Boris Yeltsin was the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin was in the room when we had meetings there. I think it's part of his nature to define Russian success in foreign policy as thwarting the United States. That's in his nature. And that is very difficult to align with strategically.

RADDATZ: We just have a couple of seconds here, but I have two quick questions. Do you have any concerns about the president, or any of his advisers', relationship with Russia? I know you know Mike Flynn.

CARTER: I do know Mike Flynn. I worked with him in Afghanistan. We worked very hard together.

What we know is that Russia meddled with, and attempted to influence the outcome of our elections. We know that. The intelligence community did a very careful, painstaking job...

RADDATZ: We know that. Do you have concerns about his advisers?

CARTER: What's being -- what people are launching investigations now on is whether there were Americans involved in that. I don't know and can't say. We have a law enforcement investigation going on by the FBI, and another one in the senate, a bipartisan one. And so I'm sure the answer will...

RADDATZ: Very quickly, we really have 10 seconds here, sir, and I know you're doing important stuff at Harvard and trying to light a fire under the tech industry.

CARTER: It is. It's a fire that's already there. I want to get the tech industry as they were in World War II and after World War II and the next generation to take more of an interest in public purpose, not just defense -- of course I tried to build bridges between the Pentagon and the tech world, because I thought it was important to defense's future. I think it's important to America's future and to the future of the American dream and our people and the unity and purpose and cohesion of our society that everybody feel like the pace of change isn't just dizzying, but it can work for them and not against them.

A younger generation needs to hear that.

RADDATZ: So more than the dating apps, right? We're going to have to leave it there.

CARTER: Not just apps, but public purpose. And there's a hunger for that in the innovative community. I want to build a bridge to that on behalf of all of us.

RADDATZ: OK. Thanks so much for joining us.

CARTER: Thanks for having me.

RADDATZ: Mr. Carter, good to see you.

Coming up, much more on Trump's Russia challenges. We'll hear from Putin's right-hand man again in Moscow. And one of Trump's toughest Republican critics in congress, Senator John McCain.

Plus, in the shadow of his health care defeat, what affect will the questions about Russia have on President Trump's agenda? Our special panel is standing by to weigh in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARY BRUCE, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Are you suggesting that then Candidate Trump made the Russian tactics more effective?

Clinton Watts.

CLINTON WATTS, SENIOR FELLOW, FOREIGN POLICY RESEARCH INSTITUTE: Absolutely. President Trump makes these more effective because he uses a system very similar. He cites conspiracies. He cites falsehoods and he uses them in a political way against his adversaries.

As long as he continues to do that, not only can we not counter Russian active measures, we're actually promoting them.

BRUCE: You think he's using the exact same tactics as the Russians?

WATTS: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RADDATZ: Clinton Watts, a veteran of the army, FBI and West Point's Combating Terrorism Center delivered some explosive testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee this week echoing what he told our Mary Bruce there, that President Trump parroted Russian propaganda and made it more effective.

I'll talk to Senator John McCain about that allegation and much more, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It's very clear that Vladimir Putin has decided that he will eliminate his opponents and anyone who stands up for democracy and freedom. And he does so with relative impunity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RADDATZ: Senator John McCain with strong words about Russian President Vladimir Putin. Senator McCain will join us in a moment, but his accusation is fiercely denied by Russia, as is the finding from U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia sought to undermine and influence the 2016 presidential election.

My THIS WEEK colleague George Stephanopoulos spoke Friday with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitriy Peskov and they started their conversation with Michael Flynn's request for immunity.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANOPOULOS: General Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security advisor is now seeking immunity to talk to the FBI and also the investigating committees in the Congress. His lawyer says he has a story to tell.

Are you concerned about anything he might say about his contacts with Russia?

PESKOV: No, we’re not. No we’re not. Listen, we insist that any blaming that Russia could have been interfering in domestic affairs of the United States is slander. And it has no evidence at all.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, General Flynn did have documented contacts with Russian officials, including the ambassador, Kislyak. And it’s now been reported that they discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia.

You initially denied that. Do you now accept that they did in fact discuss sanctions?

PESKOV: Well, listen. Our ambassador in Washington is performing his job from 100 percent. And he’s a brilliant diplomat, but he’s not a spy. And this is a perverted perception of ambassador’s job to say that every contact with a Russian ambassador is potentially dangerous and potentially can put in a line of activities interfering in domestic affairs.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It was rather unusual for President Putin not to retaliate after the sanctions were imposed by President Obama because he -- following the conclusions that Russia did interfere in our elections.

Did that failure to retaliate have anything to the message that General Flynn gave to Ambassador Kislyak?

PESKOV: Listen, sanctions or issue of lifting sanctions or imposing sanctions, any promises could not be an issue of those contacts. Because none of them, neither Ambassador Kislyak nor General Flynn, could have been involved in decision making.

STEHPANOPOULOS: You said that President Putin and President Trump are very much alike in their basic approach to international relations, how so?

PESKOV: This is really how it looks alike. They both insist on their priority as national interest. And they both understand pretty well that sometimes it is in your national interest to conduct good relationship with your counterpart, ensuring that those relationships are mutually beneficial and ensuring that -- that you are really ready to take into account each other's concern.

This is a great similarity between them.

STEHPANOPOULOS: That now infamous dossier prepared by Christopher Steele said that the Russian Federation President Putin has compromising information on President Trump, your response?

PESKOV: Well, it’s against -- again it’s slander, it’s nothing else.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, how can U.S. Russia relations get back on track?

PESKOV: I think if two presidents meet each other, if they exchange views, then there will be a chance for our volatile relations to get better.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Peskov, thanks for your time this morning.

PESKOV: Thank you very much. It was my pleasure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RADDATZ: So let's bring in the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican Senator John McCain. Welcome, Senator McCain. Good to see you. You were smiling through much of that interview with Mr. Peskov.

But the Russians are essentially saying that sanctions imposed by Barack Obama are worse than a nuclear standoff, that it's worse than the Cold War right now. And yet, as George pointed out, there was no public retaliation after the sanctions were imposed. What does that tell you?

MCCAIN: I don't know what it tells me except that they're succeeding. They're succeeding in continuing their dismemberment of Ukraine, they're succeeding in exerting enormous influence in the Middle East, which they never had before. They are succeeding -- they have succeeded in interfering with our election, and we know that they continue that in the French elections and other elections. And so far they have paid a little or no penalty for all of this misbehavior.

The pattern -- listening to that guy, watching him, that's echoes of the Cold War. They just tell flat out lies. You know, that's the way it is.

RADDATZ: And how about President Trump's response? And his tweets?

MCCAIN: Well, look, I hope that the president will respond, but Mr. Tillerson's statement that the Syrian people will determine their own future, that is one of the more unusual statements I've ever heard. I know that Mr. Tillerson was busy, but did he miss the barell bombing? Did he miss the Iranian Revolutionary Guard? Did he miss the Russians striking with precision weapons in Aleppo, deliberately killing people in hospitals?

RADDATZ: And you heard what Ambassador Haley said about Syria.

MCCAIN: And to say now we're going to turn our backs on these people? What about the thousands that we trained and equipped? What about those people? What signal do we send people who struggle for freedom around the world? That Syria is determining its own future?

Let's go back a few years, Bashar al-Assad was on his way out the door before Hezbollah came in with the Iranians sponsoring them and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. How can the Syrian people determine their own future?

RADDATZ: Very tough to do that right now.

I want to go back to Russia. And I -- obviously Syria is very important, but President Trump just tweeted the real story is the surveillance. Find the leakers. Is the real story is the surveillance or what's going on in the investigation?

MCCAIN: I think all of it needs to be examined. Obviously, if there was intentional disclosure of names of people who were in the Trump campaign, that has to be revealed.

But the fact is that we know for a fact the Russians tried to change the outcome of our election, attacking the very fundamental of democracy. We know they did that.

We need to know how, we need to know why, and most of all we need to know what to do to prevent this kind of activity, which they continue to carry on in free nations around the world.

RADDATZ: Peskov made no secret that Vladimir Putin preferred Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton. You've heard the kinds of things that President Trump says and tweets about the Russians and Putin, some very positive remarks. Do you think there is a possibility that the Russians are still trying to help President Trump?

MCCAIN: I would be astounded.

And by the way I think the national security team that the president has assembled is outstanding. And I hope that he listens to them, because they don't have any illusions about Vladimir Putin and Russian behavior.

But this is why we need a select committee, Martha. Every time we turn around, another shoe drops from this centipede, and we need to examine all of the aspects of it -- President Trump's priorities and the other priorities that many of us believe exist.

RADDATZ: Sean Spicer said what Congressman Nunes did, the intelligence committee, when he received the secret information at the White House was both routine and proper. What he did, what he saw, and who he met with is 100 percent proper. Do you think that's true?

MCCAIN: It's hard to respond, but the fact is that these committees, especially intelligence committees, and armed services committees, we work closely together as Republicans and Democrats. We have to. It's for the good of the security of the nation and the men and women who serve us.

I'm happy to see the Senate intelligence committee, Senator Warner and Senator Burr working closely together. This is obviously a schism between Republican and Democrats, let alone that bizarre fashion with which all of this happened. If we're really going to get to the bottom of these things, it's got to be done in a bipartisan fashion. And as far as I could tell, Congressman Nunes killed that.

RADDATZ: OK, thank you so much for joining us. It's very good to see you. We'll talk more about Syria in the future. Very serious problem indeed. Thank you very much.

Up next, ABC's Bob Woodruff is inside North Korea with an eye-opening report. Plus, insights and analysis into the Russian question from our special panel. And what kind of fallout the Trump administration could confront politically.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you comment on your commitment, the FBI's commitment, to pursuing to its ends, whatever ends those are, the investigation that you commented on in front of the HPSE (ph) involving Russian involvement in the U.S. elections?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are, what are the facts?

We really don't care whose political ox is gored by our work and that is the passion at the heart of the FBI. We will always be that way and that can make us annoying in different circumstances. I hope it's comforting to the American people.

We are competent, honest and independent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RADDATZ: FBI Director James Comey sitting down last week with Michael Leiter, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

Comey sounding confident that the FBI will run a thorough, unbiased investigation.

But should the American people share that confidence?

Michael Leiter joins our panel to offer his thoughts just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RADDATZ: We heard the Trump administration's take on those growing tensions over North Korea's nuclear program and its provocative missile tests. This morning, ABC's Bob Woodruff is reporting inside the reclusive country where he's just had a rare interview with the top North Korean official for U.S. affairs.

Good morning, Bob.

BOB WOODRUFF, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Martha. Yes, these tensions have just never been as high as they are right now. That top North Korean official that I spoke with, who's Vice Foreign Minister Han Sung-ryul, told me he thinks there's a strong possibility for a preemptive strike against his country's nuclear program.

He says that the army here is at the highest alert, much of this because of that joint South Korea and U.S. military exercises nearby. And also more nuclear assets in the peninsula.

Now, concerns here also about U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's calling for an end to the policy of strategic patience with North Korea. He says it has failed. But Mr. Han responds that the strategy to isolate North Korea has not worked. And that never will.

He of course has never met Mr. Trump himself but he says he understands that he's a good businessman, but also very unpredictable, so they are just preparing for everything.

We'll never know exactly what is happening behind the curtain here in Pyongyang, only what we see on these rare trips inside the country. Certainly the capital city right here is growing, a lot more construction. In fact, they are building entirely new neighborhoods that we've seen, in less than a year. We went to their new ski resort actually today, with beautiful construction and amazing lifts, but not many people are there. And despite all of the new sanctions by the U.S., China, and the U.N., we didn't see anything getting worse.

But of course what they never show us is what's happening in the countryside. That is certainly true. And the impact on North Koreans who are living out there.

What is obvious is that U.S.-North Korea relationship has been getting worse and there is a lot of talking.

Now, in our interview, Mr. Han's last words were very interesting. He said if you bring out a knife to attack us, we will take out a sword. If you come out at us with a gun, we will pull out a cannon.

Now, when it comes to diplomacy, while the Trump administration talks about putting pressure on China to deal with North Korea, this top official told us that in terms of nuclear talks, North Korea only wants to talk to the United States.

Martha?

RADDATZ: Thanks very much, Bob.

Now let's bring in our panel. The director of the National Counterterrorism Center under Presidents Bush and Obama, Michael Leiter; "Washington Post" correspondent Anne Gearan; and ABC News chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl.

I want to get to the politics in just a moment, but I want to turn first to you, Michael Leiter, and your reaction to Bob's report. Pretty extraordinary, inside that country, and hearing what they're saying about what's happening.

MICHAEL LEITER, FMR. DIRECTOR, NATIONAL COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER: Yes, and the language of North Korea is always bombastic. But what has really changed is the acceleration of their nuclear program, the likelihood that they have more and more weapons, and the acceleration of the testing of ballistic missiles in very, very aggressive ways towards Japan.

And I think it's absolutely right that we have to work with China, but we have, as Ash Carter said earlier, we have not really had great success on that for more than 30 years. So that is not a silver bullet.

RADDATZ: And let's turn back to what happened to what's happened this week in Washington. And the FBI has made, and you talked to Comey, the FBI has made very clear that Trump Tower was not wiretapped by Barack Obama. But if in fact Trump associates were picked up on that incidental collection, what does that tell you about what's going on?

LEITER: Well, if they were picked up, or if they were talked about, it tells me more than likely the U.S. intelligence community is doing what it is supposed to do. Imagine that you intercept, after the election, the -- we'll say the Israeli ambassador talking to an Israeli intelligence officer, and they're saying, ah, we know Rex Tillerson. He's going to be Secretary of State. We should go talk with him.

That's relevant information. It's helpful information to the intelligence community. It's helpful information to Rex Tillerson. So, that seems to be what Chairman Nunes has been talking about. And I think that that sort of activity is entirely appropriate. And it's really dangerous, I think, to conflate that with inappropriate, illegal surveillance, targeting members of the incoming Trump administration.

RADDATZ: And the Trump administration has talked about this unmasking, though, as a serious.

LEITER: Unmasking can be, because you absolutely have to protect the identity of U.S. persons. But sometimes it's appropriate to know who that person is so you can understand the intelligence that is being collected. So there needs to be an investigation of this. That's what the president asked for. What does help is further obfuscation through these really, as others have said, bizarre interactions with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

RADDATZ: And Jon Karl, let's turn to the other big news of the week, which was Mike Flynn. You've done some great reporting on this this week asking for immunity to testify. Trump encouraging him to do that. Do you think that will happen and what kind of story do you think he'll tell?

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think we're a long way from Mike Flynn way from Mike Flynn getting any kind of immunity, if he ever does. I mean, first of all, the investigation needs to figure out exactly where it is going. Investigators are just really at the beginning of this process. And the big question is what does Mike Flynn have to say? They're not going to give him immunity unless he's got something big on somebody higher up than he was. And there aren't many people involved in this that are higher up than he is.

Now, the White House insists that they've got absolutely nothing to fear, that they want Mike Flynn to testify. They have no problem with it. But, you know, that seems to be at this point a little bit of posturing.

RADDATZ: And it was also reported, of course this week, that Devin Nunes got his information allegedly from two national security council aides. Where does that go?

ANNE GEARAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think it really upended a lot of where this whole thing looked like a week ago. It looked like this was, you know, in the hands of congress and you could certainly – Democrats could on the outside criticize the appearance of some sort of partisanship in both committees. But Nunes really handed them, you know, I think a big weapon that they'll be able to use going forward to challenge the fundamental premise and credibility of his leadership and now there are calls for him to step aside, which he says he won't do. And it – you know, I think it sort of takes the whole House investigation out of serious contention here and leaves the senate investigation as the one that people will be watching.

RADDATZ: You hinted at this a little bit, Michael, but do you think what Nunes did was 100 percent proper as the White House says?

LEITER: No. I think when you're conducting an independent investigation and congress is Article 1, president is Article 2, that's an independent House investigation, that should be done through that committee.

And the really important thing about this, Martha, is it pulls away from the real strategic challenges the U.S. has. Russian involvement in our elections. And it furthers our looking inside at our own problems, which is exactly what Russia wants. Russia wants to diminish our role in the world. And this is doing that. This is doing – with our allies...

RADDATZ: What does President Trump do with this? He keeps tweeted about it. He keeps bringing it up. He blames the news media, and yet you see the constant tweets about Russia. He tries to turn the focus, he did again this morning, to the surveillance not the story about Russia and the investigation.

KARL: I mean, this is to the frustration of his own top advisers. But, you know, on this Nunes thing. I mean, you've got to understand, there's a certain absurdity to what happened. And just step back for a minute. He went to the White House, received some information with the help of the president's own aides. And then came back to the White House the next day to brief the White House on what he had found out at the White House.

I mean, it's really just kind of...

RADDATZ: I can't believe you even got through that sentence.

KARL: And if you talk to top Republicans on Capitol Hill, including Republicans that are positively inclined to this White House, that are allies of this White House and of this president, there is just – they throw their hands up and say this is just bizarre. And you know it's clear that this investigation will go forward, but the emphasis will be in the Senate.

RADDATZ: And, Anne, I want to turn to you. You had a front page story in The Washington Post this morning on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with the headline, an uneasy atmosphere at State under Tillerson saying he's isolated, walled off from the State Department bureaucracy and diplomats around the world.

I know the State Department wants a retraction of a part of that story, but tell us more about what you found out about Tillerson and your reaction to the State Department.

GEARAN: Yeah, I mean, my colleague Carol Morello and I really wanted to look at what's happened at the State Department in the early weeks here and how Tillerson's initial reception, which was quite warm and optimistic among a lot of career diplomats, you know, kind of how that has faded and the rising frustration among the career foreign service officers, who, of course, serve presidents of both parties, usually for many, many years and the senior ones across numerous administrations and lower ranking officials at the State Department who really feel cut off from their leader, feel like they're not being listened to and consulted.

And we had an example of some of that this week when Tillerson had to remake his schedule and attend a rescheduled NATO foreign ministers meeting.

He had initially told -- he didn't even tell the ministers directly, it was leaked elsewhere that he was going to skip that meeting.

This would be the first NATO meeting he was to attend. Obviously, this president's attention to NATO is seriously under question. And if he was going to not attend that meeting, it would send exactly the opposite signal he'd been trying to send in private meetings.

RADDATZ: And quickly, Anne, on the retraction of the State Department and your reaction to that?

GEARAN: Yes, I mean we stand by our story. We had multiple people telling us that they're -- this happened.

RADDATZ: OK, thanks very much.

Jon, you have 20 seconds, and I know you'll keep to 20 seconds...

KARL: Yes.

RADDATZ: -- because you're in TV, you know?

The latest Tweet -- who thinks that the repeal -- anybody who thinks that the repeal of ObamaCare is dead does not know the love and strength in our capital R party.

Now you have 10 seconds. I took half of it.

KARL: The president needs to get back on track. And the way he gets back on track is to find a way to get points on the board with Democrats. He needs to find some kind of an -- maybe an infrastructure bill, something to work with Democrats. I don't think this is going to go anywhere right now.

RADDATZ: Despite what Paul Ryan said?

KARL: Yes.

RADDATZ: OK, thanks very much to all of you.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RADDATZ: And now, we honor our fellow Americans who serve and sacrifice.

In the month of March, three service members died oversees supporting operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

(ON SCREEN)

In Memorium

SFC Robert R. Boniface, 34

U.S. Army, san Luis Obispo, California

SSgt Alexandria Mae Morrow, 25

U.S. Air Force, Dansville, New York

SSgt Austin Bieren, 25

U.S. Air Force, Umatilla, Oregon

RADDATZ: We'll be right back after this from our ABC stations.

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RADDATZ: That's all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT." Have a great day.