Bolton worried about leaving Trump alone with Putin

The former national security adviser discusses what he saw as the confidence and control exerted by Russian President Vladimir Putin during the 2018 NATO summit.
7:48 | 06/22/20

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Transcript for Bolton worried about leaving Trump alone with Putin
Condi rice, George W. Bush's national security adviser and secretary of state, said to me, "Putin only knows two ways to deal with people, to humiliate them or dominate them, and you can't let him get away with it." How would you describe trump's relationship with Vladimir Putin? I think Putin is smart, tough. I think he sees that he's not faced with a serious adversary here. I think Putin thinks he can play him like a fiddle. I don't think he's worried about Donald Trump. Hi, everybody. Welcome to Moscow. In the years before he was president, Donald Trump brought his miss universe pageant to Russia. Of course, the big man on campus, Donald Trump. Hoping that president Putin would attend. Through the years, his interest in Russia and Putin continued up to the 2016 election. I mean, he might be bad, he might be good, but he's a strong leader. But it was this comment on the campaign trail that raised questions. Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. He essentially called on Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton's emails. By the way, if they hacked, they probably have her 33,000 e-mails. I hope they do. Since he took office, trump and Putin have shared a complicated relationship. Putin struck me as totally in control, calm, self-confident, totally knowledgeable on Moscow's national security priorities. You say that president Putin plays Donald Trump like a fiddle. How does he do it? He knows the people he's talking to. And I think he looks at somebody like Donald Trump and says to himself, as an old kgb officer, "How am I going to get him to the place I want him to be?" And I can just see the smirk when he knows he's got him following his line. Well, actually, Putin did call me a genius and he said I am the future of the Republican party. So he's off to a good start. You wrote that on a few occasions, president trump was eager or even desperate, as you describe it, to meet with Vladimir Putin. Well, I think there was the same fascination with speaking with a leader like Putin that we saw with respect to Kim Jong-un. The president himself used to comment on how strange it was that in one trip he took to a nato summit, that he thought the easiest, most pleasant one might be with Vladimir Putin. July, 2018. And the two men were about to meet at a high-profile summit in Finland. Great to be with you. So here you have the president going to meet with Vladimir Putin, as the world has seen the evidence that people that work in Vladimir Putin's government were directly involved in the hack of the democratic party emails during the 2016 campaign. So it's an incredible cloud over this meeting of these two men. Donald Trump, as we say, sees himself as a dealmaker. What happened to the dealmaker in those situations? Well, the president may well be a superb dealmaker when it comes to Manhattan real estate but when you're dealing with somebody like Putin, who has made his life understanding Russia's strategic position in the world against Donald Trump, who doesn't enjoy reading about these issues or learning about them, it's a very difficult position for America to be in. I love to negotiate things. I do it really well, and all that stuff. Trump was not following any international grand strategy. His thinking was like an archipelago of dots, leaving the rest of us to discern or create policy. I would assume that Donald Trump would come back and say, "Look, we put very serious sanctions on Russia." And that he has been good with Donald Trump and you need to have good relationships. Certainly, personal relationships between leaders are important but they do not dominate what the national interests are. And I think Putin has a very acute knowledge of what Russia's national interests are and how he wants to accomplish them. You were worried about leaving him alone in a room with Vladimir Putin. Why? Because I didn't know what he would say. The president has said this will put him in a bad position with world leaders. If you were president, you certainly wouldn't want your former national security adviser to be saying that the Russian president could play you like a fiddle. Why does that not matter as he goes forward? Well, it's not telling Vladimir Putin anything that he doesn't already know. And it's telling the American people something they may not be aware of. At the end of the summit, trump and Putin held a press conference that would make headlines around the world. President trump and Putin have just concluded their one on one meeting. During today's meeting, I addressed directly with president Putin the issue of Russian interference in our elections. I felt this was a message best delivered in person. You said you were frozen in your seat watching that. I thought I wouldn't get up. I didn't know what to do. My people came to me, Dan coats came to me, and some others and said they think it's Russia. I have president Putin, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be. We had the famous press conference. And the equivalency that the president ascribed, he says, because he was misunderstood, to what our intelligence was saying about Russian interference in American elections and Vladimir Putin's denial. It was -- it was a stunning moment. So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that president Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. History was made and the reverberations were immediate. The president clearly appearing to choose Putin. Do you think president trump did not like to talk about election interference? Oh, I definitely think he did not like talking about election interference because he made what I viewed as the mistake of believing that if he accepted that the Russians had intervened in the 2016 election, that it legitimized the narrative that they had intervened to help him, hurt Hillary Clinton and that he would not have won without the Russian interference. I think Vladimir Putin and their strategy rests on the real perception that American politics today is very fraught, very tense, very difficult. Everything they can do to stir mistrust, to undercut the legitimacy of our democratic institutions helps to paralyze America. And a weaker, more paralyzed, more divided America is in Russia's interests. They're having great success at it. I think many of these foreign leaders mastered the art of ringing his bells. You say the term, "He was marked by some of those leaders." I think they knew exactly what they were looking at and they pursue their objectives. And this -- this is, in my view, the only way you can pursue a successful policy, is persistently, with the eye on your ultimate objective, and taking trump apart piece by piece by piece, which I'm afraid too often was the case.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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