Max Boot tells Stephen F. Cohen he has been a Russian apologist for the past 45 years in an explosive face-off on Monday's edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360:
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Well, it may be one of the world's greatest mysteries. What happened at the two-hour plus sit-down between Vladimir Putin and President Trump in Helsinki. The President brought this back into the news cycle today.
TRUMP: I had a great meeting, in my opinion. Of course the fake news didn't cover it that way. But I had a great meeting with President Putin of Russia.
COOPER: Says it great meeting. But didn't cover it that way because we had no idea what actually took place in that meeting. Max Boot is here, CNN global affairs analyst, and Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at NYU and Princeton.
Max, let's start with you. I mean, the President saying he had a great meeting with Vladimir Putin. The fact is, it's been two weeks now. We still don't know what went on behind closed doors between these two.
MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: That's exactly right, Anderson. And Trump is aggrieved that he's not getting the credit that he thinks he deserves. But we have no idea what the heck happened. And if you listen to Mike Pompeo's testimony last week, even Secretary Pompeo doesn't have a clear idea of what happened. This is not normal. This is not what normally happens when two leaders meet. You're seeing Trump continuing to praise Putin, and we don't know the substance of what they discussed. That's a scary scenario.
COOPER: Steven, I mean do you think it's problematic that we don't know what was said in that two-plus hour meeting between these two world leaders? And, you know, as Max said, it seemed like Mike Pompeo or even others maybe even have a firm grasp on what was said.
STEPHEN COHEN, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, NYU: I don't think it's unusual. We do have a pretty good sense of what was discussed both from what Trump's people have said. But equally from two or three speeches Putin has given. Let me just round (ph) them off, because I was looking at them today. They discussed trying to avoid a new nuclear arms race by keeping alive two treaties that exist. They talked about peace in Syria, including securing Israeli borders from Iranian forces. That would be very important to Americans, I think. They talked about the possibility of a joint alliance against terrorists who are in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. They talked about doing more business, which doesn't make much sense because of the sanctions. And they talked in some way about the United States becoming more involved in the Minsk Agreement, which is the only agreement we have to resolve the Ukrainian crisis.
COOPER: But how do you know that's what they actually talked about?
COHEN: That was saying (INAUDIBLE) those are good things.
BOOT: You have to take Putin's word this is what they talked about.
COHEN: This is what the Russian side has said.
COOPER: Right. So, you're going on the --
COHEN: Well, there's been --
COOPER: You're believing Vladimir Putin on this?
COHEN: But -- well, I don't want to shock you, but I believe Vladimir Putin on several things. But the point is, is this has been confirmed by a number of Trump's people. Trump himself made some statements, we discussed this.
COOPER: It hasn't really been confirmed, I mean --
COHEN: Yes, he doesn't talk like a normal diplomat.
COOPER: What President Trump actually said to Vladimir Putin is only known to Vladimir Putin and to President Trump. Even if Putin comes forward and says, I said this, or even if President Trump comes forward and says, I said this, we don't know for sure. The only thing we know for sure is what happened in that press conference. Did what happen at that press conference concern you at all, Stephen?
COHEN: Well, let me give you an example. I being older than both of you, maybe you don't remember. In early 1986, President Ronald Reagan met alone with then Soviet leader Gorbachev for a think about 2 1/2 hours. And everybody was very upset about it because Reagan was getting older in years and people were worried. When the guys came out, Reagan and Gorbachev, they said, we've decided to abolish nuclear weapons. And aides on both sides said, you can't do that just like that. So they backed off. But what happened one year later? Reagan and Gorbachev abolished a whole category of nuclear weapons, the intermediate range.
COHEN: So good things got done, and nobody else knew except the two translators what was said in there. So there's precedent.
BOOT: OK, Steve --
COOPER: President Trump today talked about meeting with the Iranian President, Rouhani, with no pre-conditions. Does that surprise you? Would that be wise?
BOOT: It's not surprising to me at all, Anderson. In fact, I predicted over a week ago when Trump came out with that semi-deranged tweet in all capital letters threatening consequences the likes of which you've never seen before to Iran. Based on his pattern, you can easily predict that after threatening these horrible consequences, Trump will then try to set up a meeting, glad-hand, and before long he'll probably be praising Rouhani for being credibly intelligent, smart, witty, warm, and reaching a deal that has no substance to it whatsoever. That's his pattern.
The striking thing to me is although he's willing to threaten North Korea, he's willing to threaten Iran, he never threatens Russia. And that's why a lot of intelligence officials think that there is something highly suspect in the relationship between Putin and Trump.
COHEN: I have no idea what Mr. Boot is talking about. He wants Trump to threaten Russia? Why would we threaten Russia? You've got two nuclear --
BOOT: Because they're attacking us, Professor Cohen. Russia is attacking us right now according to Trump's own director of National Intelligence.
COHEN: I've been studying Russia for 45 years. I've lived in Russia, and I've lived here.
COHEN: Excuse me. What did you say to me?
BOOT: I said you've been consistently apologizing to Russia in those last 45 years?
COHEN: Right, I don't do defamation of people. I do serious analysis of serious national security problems. When people like you call people like me, and not only me, but people more eminent than me, apologists for Russia because we don't agree with your analysis, you are criminalizing diplomacy and detente and you are the threat to American national security end of story. Why do you have to defame somebody you don't agree with? They used to do that in the old Soviet Union. We don't do that here, where we used to, but we need to stop it.
COOPER: So, finally -- just finally Stephen, you're saying Russia was not attacking the United States?
COHEN: I know what you're talking about. They didn't -- during the 2016 election, Russia attacked the United States. Yes, I don't think they attacked the United States.
BOOT: OK. And yet you just denied being an apologist for Russia. You're apologizing for Russia as we speak.
COHEN: Well, you haven't let me finish. You don't know what I'm going to say.
COOPER: Please go ahead.
COHEN: The meddling began, Mr. Cooper, and -- the meddling began right after the Russian revolution when Woodrow Wilson sent American troops to fight in the Russian civil war.
BOOT: Oh, please.
COHEN: The meddling began on the Soviet and Russians -- let me finish. On the meddling side when the communists formed communists international 1919, ever since then, Moscow has meddled in our politics. We have meddled in theirs. This is low level stuff that went on. It is not an attack. It is 9/11. It is not Pearl Harbor. It is not Russian paratroopers descending on Russia. This kind of hyperbole and attack on America suggests we need to attack Russia. So you've got Mr. Boot saying that Trump should threaten Russia. With what? Does he want to attack.
BOOT: Try sanctions.
COHEN: I think that Mr. Boot would have been happy if Trump had waterboarded Putin at the summit and made him confess. Trump carried out an act of diplomacy fully consistent with the history of American presidencies. Let us see what comes of it. Then judge.
COOPER: All right, Stephen Cohen, Max Boot, appreciate it. Thank you very much.
COHEN: Thank you.