As impeachment frenzy continues to sweep the nation, CNN Newsroom co-hosts Jim Sciutto and Poppy Harlow welcomed CNN national security analyst Shawn Turner and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine from 1998-2000 Steven Pifer to their Tuesday show. Turner and Pifer tried to debunk the Administration's claims that they have been tougher on Russia than President Obama, because unlike Obama, Trump actually has sent the Ukrainians lethal aid in the form of Javelin anti-tank missiles and that Trump withheld the aid because, according to Mick Mulvaney, he was worried how Russia might react.
Sciutto began by asking Turner, "Do the facts back up the claim, Trump tougher on Russia than anybody, particularly when we look at this Ukraine story and how they pulled back efforts to stand up to Russia?" Turner replied, "Yeah, this is very black and white" and went on to explain why Trump putting the Javelins on hold was so disastrous, but ignored the main point that Obama also refused to do so.
He declared that under Obama, "more than $600 million in military aid flowed to Ukraine and there was no concern over how Russia would see that." What Turner neglected to mention is that aid was limited to "non-lethal" items such as night vision goggles, radios, and armored vests- not exactly useful against tanks. He concluded that despite Obama's failings, that under Trump, "it's really startling that Russia is dictating what our foreign policy is."
Harlow then asked Pifer if Obama Administration concerns about escalation were any different than concerns that "Russia would react negatively, not see the U.S. favorably?"
Pifer, being a good Democratic operative and donor, replied, "No, I think there's a big difference here." He went on to argue that, "I was part of a group that argued in early 2015 for provision of manned-portable anti-armor missiles such as the Javelin. The concern of the White House then and on part of the president is this could lead to an escalation that would work against Ukraine, but when you have Mick Mulvaney saying we don't want to upset the Russians, I mean, the point of providing these missiles to Ukrainians is in part to upset the Russians, to make clear, one, that the Ukrainians have a better capability to defend themselves against a Russian attack and then, two, also to signal strong American support for Ukraine."
In other words, the concerns weren't that different, both were concerned about upsetting the Russians, but only one decision is cited as proof that Russia is running our foreign policy. To be fair to Sciutto, he is one of the few, if not the only, former Obama official who appears regularly on TV to say that the Administration's response to the annexation of Crimea was not as swift and strong as it should have been. Hopefully someday the rest of the media can also revisit and honestly assess the Obama record on Russia and Ukraine, but unfortunately Tuesday was not that day.
Here is a transcript for the November 12 show:
CNN Newsroom with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto
9:17 AM ET
JIM SCIUTTO: And there's more. We also learned the president called his then National Security Adviser John Bolton earlier this year to complain that a U.S. naval operation in the Black Sea looked like the U.S. Was pushing back on Russia and so that naval operation was canceled. Trump tough on Russia? Let's ask the experts. Joining us, Steven Pife, he’s former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, currently the William Perry research fellow at Stanford University nd Shawn Turner, former director of communication for U.S. National Intelligence. Shawn, you served a lot in the intelligence community through the years but certainly through Russia's interference in the election as well. You've heard that claim from the president, Nikki Haley this morning, and others. Do the facts back up the claim, Trump tougher on Russia than anybody, particularly when we look at this Ukraine story and how they pulled back efforts to stand up to Russia?
SHAWN TURNER: Yeah, this is very black and white, Jim. This comes down to the facts. Look, ever since the intelligence community first made the announcement that Russia interfered in our election, the president repeatedly has shown that he is, you know, afraid to stand up to Vladimir Putin. Look, we have to remember, a lot of people forget this when we talk about Ukraine. A lot of people forget that Ukraine is an ally of the United States that's been embroiled in a conflict with Russia for several years now. And that conflict not only resulted in the invasion but also in the annexation of Crimea. And it's been a consistent theme for Ukraine that they've been threatened and constantly under pressure by Russia. So these Javelin missiles were critical to Ukraine's ability to send a message to Russia that the -- they stood with the United States and the United States stood with Ukraine. So, you know, the real question here is what's different with regard to this administration and the relationship with Russia and the previous administration, more than $600 million in military aid flowed to Ukraine and there was no concern over how Russia would see that and this administration not only have we seen the javelins held up but we've also seen, you know, restrictions and contingencies over investigating a political rival put on aid to Ukraine. So there's something very different here when it comes to Russia and the concern that this administration has with Russia. And it's really -- it's really startling that Russia is dictating what our foreign policy is.
POPPY HARLOW: Ambassador Pifer, help us understand the difference here because you just heard that congressman to Jim last month saying, yeah, yeah, yeah, but the Obama Administration didn't give those lethal weapons, didn't sell them to Ukraine, Javelins, et cetera. I believe the line from the Obama administration was they were concerned about retaliation from Russia to Ukraine should they have sold those weapons. Is that markedly an importantly different than Mick Mulvaney's -- Catherine Croft saying the concern was Russia would react negatively, not see the U.S. favorably?
STEVEN PIFER: No, I think there's a big difference here. But there's a broader question which is, you have this policy that's been conducted by the last 2 1/2 years by the Trump Administration which I think has been fairly supportive of Ukraine and has taken a tough stance towards Russia. The question is, it seems pretty clear that the president doesn't actually agree with that policy. So on the issue of the Javelins, the concern back in the Obama administration, and I was part of a group that argued in early 2015 for provision of manned-portable anti-armor missiles such as the Javelin. The concern of the White House then and on part of the president is this could lead to an escalation that would work against Ukraine—
PIFER: But when you have Mick Mulvaney saying we don't want to upset the Russians, I mean, the point of providing these missiles to Ukrainians is in part to upset the Russians, to make clear, one, that the Ukrainians have a better capability to defend themselves against a Russian attack and then, two, also to signal strong American support for Ukraine.