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Democratic Sen. Reed Had Called For Trump To Cancel Putin Meeting

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump is in Helsinki, Finland. So is Russia's President Vladimir Putin. We just saw his plane land a short while ago. The two leaders are going to be sitting down one-on-one. Now, President Trump, we should say, has not exactly been building up expectations for this meeting. This is Trump talking to CBS News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I don't expect anything. I frankly don't expect - I go in with very low expectations. I think that getting along with Russia's a good thing, but it's possible we won't.

GREENE: This meeting of course follows a Department of Justice indictment of 12 Russian agents for interfering in the 2016 presidential election. Over the weekend, a group of Democrats called for the summit to be canceled, including Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. He is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And he's in our studios in Washington, D.C., this morning. Senator, welcome.

JACK REED: Thank you, David.

GREENE: So why not have this meeting?

REED: Well, the Russians attacked our country, attacked our democracy, did it systematically, are continuing to do it. And I don't think there's a lot of confidence that the president would use the meeting to call out the Russians in a significant way. He might mention the topic, but that's about it. If the meeting goes forward, it should not be alone, one-on-one with Putin and President Trump.

GREENE: Why not?

REED: Well, he's demonstrated, President Trump, a casual knowledge of the facts, kind of ill preparation. His meeting with Kim Jong Un was frankly a disaster. He canceled our military exercises. Not only that, but then he went ahead and described them in the terms of the North Koreans and Chinese as provocative war games.

GREENE: Although I don't want to get back into North Korea. But, I mean, is it going too far to call it a disaster now without seeing where the meeting and sort of the conversations since then have gone?

REED: Well, the conversations since then have gone very poorly. Secretary Pompeo showed up and essentially was given the cold shoulder after President Trump arrived back home after the meeting declaring that North Korea was no longer a nuclear power. So you're talking about someone who kind of has an image of he's won before he walked in and regardless of what's said he walks out winning. That's not sane, competent negotiation.

GREENE: But can I ask, Senator - I mean, President Trump has said that he is going to bring up the Russian interference in the election. I mean, maybe he doesn't want to show his hand ahead of time. But isn't this his chance? Isn't this his chance to sit down with Vladimir Putin and go through, say, these indictments, get more specific information from Putin about what he knows or doesn't know? Isn't this the opportunity for the leader of the United States to really push Russia's president on this?

REED: It is the opportunity. But he's indicated so far that, you know, this is perhaps a passing comment he'll make. I mean, he's already essentially said that he'll probably say he didn't do it and, well, we'll move on. You know, he suggested - or he did not suggest, but it was suggested to him that he'd call for the presentation or presenting these individuals who were indicted to the United States for trial. And he kind of thought about it, but I don't think he'll do that. I think, you know, we're talking about someone who is going to go in there without a real plan, without real technical support, and talk for about 90 minutes, and talking against someone who's very clever and has been doing this for much longer time than he has.

GREENE: Can I just ask, Senator, the - President Trump pointed out that the interference in the election happened during the previous administration. He says that it was on President Obama to have stopped this from happening. Is that a fair argument in some way? Should the previous administration have done more to stop this interference?

REED: The previous administration tried to do more. In fact, as you probably know, David, they asked all the major leaders, including Senator McConnell and Speaker Ryan, to sign a joint statement so it would not look like a politicalized attack by President Obama, and Senator McConnell refused. And as a result, they took certain steps. But they could not be as aggressive because, one, they didn't want to make it appear that the president was weighing in on the election. So there were - steps were taken. They were not sufficient. But again, in the president's view, President Trump's view, everything that went wrong is someone else's fault, and everything that succeeds is his fault exclusively and his...

GREENE: Let me just get the...

REED: ...Benefit.

GREENE: The few seconds we have left - I mean, you've said that Donald Trump calls things victories before they happen. Are you not calling this a failure before it happens?

REED: I'm just reflecting what I think is going to happen based upon evidence, the evidence of the North Korean negotiations, which are very similar.

GREENE: Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island - Senator, thanks for your time.

REED: Thank you, David.

GREENE: I really appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.