Leon Panetta: Americans entitled to know what Trump said to Putin

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," July 20, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It's incredibly valuable to the people of the United States of America that President Putin and President Trump continue to engage in dialogue to resolve the difficult issues that our countries face between each other. I think this makes enormous sense.

And I'm very hopeful that that meeting will take place.


NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: All right, so better to talk than not, despite the criticism that the president maybe could have done better in Finland?

From the secretary of state, look, if they meet again, better that than not talking at all.

Former CIA Director Leon Panetta.

Leon, always good to have you.

What do you make of that argument, better to talk than not?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Neil, I would feel a lot better about a second meeting if I knew what happened at the first meeting.

I think the problem is that, because they met without anybody present in the room, and the president has never really provided an explanation to the American people about what was discussed in that meeting, I think it's very difficult to go ahead with another meeting without at least knowing what was talked about and what was agreed to.


CAVUTO: Wait a minute. Wait. Wait a minute.

When Bill Clinton met with Boris Yeltsin or others in the past have met one-on-one with Soviet and later Russian leaders, why should that be blabbed to the world anyway, especially those private conversations?

PANETTA: Neil, the president United States represents the people of our country and our national security.

When the president sits down with an adversary, I think the American people are entitled to know what that president discussed, particularly with Putin and Russia.


CAVUTO: Did Bill Clinton share every little...

PANETTA: We're entitled to know.

CAVUTO: I'm sorry to keep doing this, but this is an important point.

Everyone's jumping on the president on this particular aspect and whether he kowtowed to the Russians or not. We don't know what happened in those private meetings.

But having said that, why would you want to share that? And why would you want to get into the details of that? And when Bill Clinton would meet privately with Boris Yeltsin, I don't remember the world jumping to find out what they were discussing when they were on a bench in Hyde Park at the Roosevelt estate.

So that's why I'm asking why -- are we being fair? Because there are a lot of your colleagues, Leon, who are saying, not only that. We want to get the interpreter who was in that room later on and question her. That -- that's a very slippery slope. Even interpreters in the past are saying, that's nuts.

PANETTA: Neil, let's just talk about the basics here.

The president of the United States for the first time has a meeting with Putin of Russia. And Russia is not our friend. They do everything they can to undermine our security in this country.

If they have that kind of meeting, I think the president owes it to the American people to talk about what was discussed at that meeting, period.

I know -- I don't think it's too much to ask that that happen. President Clinton presented to the American people what was being discussed with individuals. And besides that, he had people in the room. He had no note takers that were there that could summarize what they talked about.

Here, we don't know what went on. And I think we're entitled to know. And, frankly, if this was a good meeting, why wouldn't the president of the United States discuss with the American people what happened?

CAVUTO: All right.

PANETTA: Why do we now allow Putin to basically summarize what happened in that meeting? That's wrong.

CAVUTO: Do you find it a little overzealous then to say, all right, we want to see the notes, we want to talk to the interpreter, we want all this detail?


CAVUTO: I just realized, we have never had...


PANETTA: I don't think...

CAVUTO: Leon, think about it. We have never had a fuzzy, warm relationship, productive one with the Russians ever.

PANETTA: That's right.

CAVUTO: I mean, a lot of people wanted to know, JFK, how did you screw up your one-on-one with Nikita Khrushchev? Tell me what he said that just railroaded you.

Or even with George Bush Sr., how did you stumble in those opening negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev? We want to know what happened there.

I mean, if you start going through meeting by meeting by meeting, I mean, you can make a case to justify it. But you can also make a case to those leaders who will ever meet with an American president, don't meet with the guy, because they're going to -- it's going to be publicized to the world.

PANETTA: Neil, you're wrong.

When others meet with the president of the United States, they usually have people in the room. They're willing to talk about issues that are familiar with each side, and they're willing to publicly go out and say what they talked about. That's always been the case.

So, please, don't say that somehow this is the usual behavior for presidents meeting at summits. It's not.


CAVUTO: Leon, with all great respect, think about what you're saying here, that you are saying, then, there is a move -- we want talk to the interpreter in that room, and we want to question her what was said.

PANETTA: I'm not saying that. I'm not saying that.

CAVUTO: I know you're not.


CAVUTO: So, you are against some of these leading Democrats who are pushing that? You think that would be a mistake, right?

PANETTA: I'm not -- I don't think we ought to talk to the interpreter.

I think we ought to talk to the president and to the secretary of state about what was discussed in that meeting. That's what I'm saying.


So, would you -- just think about this, and as far as consistency, you say this is very unusual what's going on right now. When -- when John F.


CAVUTO: ... was talking to Nikita Khrushchev and communicating, even through independent channels, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, should the world have been in on those discussions?

PANETTA: Well, the fact is, we know what went on in those discussions.
And here...

CAVUTO: Much later. Much later, we knew what went on.

PANETTA: Yes, but that was -- that was in the middle of a major crisis.

This discussion took place in Helsinki, not in the middle of a major crisis, but two individuals coming together to discuss various issues -- various issues that affect our countries. We're entitled to know what they talked about.

CAVUTO: All right, so, the big issue seems to be that a lot of people, with a wink and a nod, think that the president is beholden to Vladimir Putin, and his behavior seemed to indicate that he was being exceptionally nice, exceptionally generous to him.

So are you saying that, because of that, and that behavior, that that alone warrants more of an investigation, more -- more studying because something isn't up here? Is that what you're saying?

PANETTA: Well, I think you and a lot of other people were very concerned, like myself, when the president stood up and said he trusts the Russians more than he trusts own absolutely intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

CAVUTO: Absolutely, Leon. Absolutely. I thought -- absolutely on that.

But I'm not quite comfortable going to the degree you are here, because I worry about the precedent this sets and what's been done in the past, where we start examining notes, where we start talking to people in the room.

Not everything is volunteered in these summits. I mean, we didn't learn every single detail from Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan in their Reykjavik discussions.

So I'm just wondering, at what point do you say, this is worthy of examination, this is not?

PANETTA: I saw President Putin stand up. He has had 20 years of experience on Mr. Trump. He presented a clear set of talking points and made a clear case for what he thought was discussed and what was arrived at.

I didn't hear that from the president of the United States. And I think he should have presented, what were the points they talked about and what he agreed to.

I mean, the fact was, here is Russia saying, we agreed to be able to provide our own diplomats for them to question them. President Trump indicated that wasn't a problem.

And then, of course, after opposition came out to that point, they retracted that. What was agreed to on that issue? Aren't we entitled to know?

CAVUTO: You don't worry about what this does in the future for presidents or leaders of countries talking privately? You're suspicious because of their demeanor and how they carried themselves in that public venue.

That that's a justifiable concern, Leon. But you're not worried that -- what you're setting in stone here?

PANETTA: I served -- Neil, I served in the White House. There's not a president that I served with that, when he met with a major adversary, a major person, didn't sit down with his policy-makers, didn't have note takers in the room to take down the notes from that kind of meeting.

That's all I'm asking for.

CAVUTO: All right.

PANETTA: And it's not too much to ask for, particularly when it involves our adversary.

CAVUTO: All right, we will look at that, examine that, debate that, because it is a hot debate, at that.

Leon Panetta, thank you very, very much.


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