Face the Nation May 28, 2017 Transcript: Secretary Mattis

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

CBS News

JOHN DICKERSON, CBS HOST: Today on FACE THE NATION on this Memorial Day weekend: an exclusive conversation with Defense Secretary James Mattis.

President Donald Trump's first foreign trip is in the books. It ended with a pep rally for U.S. troops stationed in Italy.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This will be nine days, and I think we hit a home run, no matter where we are.

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DICKERSON: But ,along with the hits, there were some diplomatic errors, and some not-so-happy allies were left questioning the president's commitment to NATO and a global pact on climate change.

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TRUMP: All of us will be more safe and secure if everyone fulfills their obligations the way they are supposed to, right?

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DICKERSON: But with last week's suicide bombing at a concert in Manchester came a new sense of unity and urgency among allies to fight terrorism, but how?

We sat down with Mr. Trump's secretary of defense, James Mattis, in his first formal interview since taking the job.

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JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We are going to move in an accelerated and reinforced manner, throw them on their back foot.

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DICKERSON: And the secretary's thoughts about the threat from North Korea?

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MATTIS: It would be a catastrophic war if this turns into combat.

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DICKERSON: We will have a report from Iraq.

And we will look at another war with filmmaker Ken Burns, who will preview his upcoming project, "The War in Vietnam."

Plus, the president returns to new questions about son-in-law Jared Kushner's contacts with the Russians and his own effort to influence the investigation.

We will have plenty of analysis on all of the news coming up on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. I am John Dickerson.

We begin with an update on the war in terror, as Iraqi forces continue their final push to get ISIS out of Mosul.

Our Charlie D'Agata is on the front lines and filed this report earlier.

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CHARLIE D'AGATA, CBS NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: More than seven months into the battle to recapture Mosul, and it has come down to this, Iraqi forces closing in on the Old City from three sides, but, as they advance, the progress is being measured by feet, rather than full city blocks.

Iraqi and American forces have been firing heavy artillery and mortars. This came as a surprise, considering the U.N. estimates there may be as many as 200,000 civilians still trapped inside densely populated neighborhoods.

More than 700,000 people have already fled since the offensive to retake Mosul began last October. In January, the Iraqi government declared that Eastern Mosul had been recaptured. The campaign to take back Western Mosul began a few weeks later with joint Iraqi forces pushing in from the north, south and west, now finally encircling the Old City.

It is at the very heart of the ISIS stronghold here in Mosul, home to the al-Nuri Mosque, where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi first declared the caliphate, the so-called caliphate, nearly three years ago.

U.S. airstrikes, so crucial in the fight so far, have become less effective in the maze of narrow streets and apartment blocks where ISIS gunmen open fire from homes, with residents effectively held prisoner, trapped inside.

A team of American medical volunteers told us they are bracing for a surge of patients as this new offensive gets under way. While the defeat of ISIS at this point seems inevitable, the only question now is how much fight is left for the militants.

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DICKERSON: Charlie D'Agata reporting from Mosul.

The offensive in Mosul is taking place as American forces are picking up the tempo against ISIS in all theaters.

We sat down with Defense Secretary James Mattis at the U.S. military academy at West Point Saturday and asked him about the new strategy.

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MATTIS: Our strategy right now is to accelerate the campaign against ISIS. It is a threat to all civilized nations.

And the bottom line is, we are going to move in an accelerated and reinforced manner, throw them on their back foot. We have already shifted from attrition tactics, where we shove them from one position to another in Iraq and Syria, to annihilation tactics, where we surround them.

Our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to North Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia, to Africa. We are not going to allow them to do so. We are going to stop them there and take apart the caliphate.

DICKERSON: Explain what it means to be moving in an annihilation posture, as opposed to attrition.

MATTIS: Well, attrition is where you keep pushing them out of the areas that they are in, John, and what we intend to do by surrounding them is to not allow them to fall back, thus reinforcing themselves as they get smaller and smaller, making the fight tougher and tougher.

You can see that right now, for example, in Western Mosul, that is surrounded, and the Iraqi security forces are moving against them. Tal Afar is now surrounded. We have got efforts under way right now to surround their self-declared caliphate capital of Raqqa.

That surrounding operation is going on. And once surrounded, then we will go in and clean them out.

DICKERSON: One of the things you mentioned in this new accelerated tempo is that the president has delegated authority to the right level. What does that mean?

MATTIS: When you are in operations, the best thing you can do at the top level is get the strategy right.

You have to get the big ideas right. You have to determine, what is the policy, what is the level of effort you are willing to commit to it, and then you delegate to those who have to execute that strategy to the appropriate level.

What is the appropriate level? It's the level where people are trained and equipped to take decisions, so we move swiftly against the enemy. There is no corporation in the world that would, in a competitive environment, try and concentrate all decisions at the corporate level.

But I would point out here that we have not changed the rules of engagement. There is no relaxation of our intention to protect the innocent. We do everything we can to protect the civilians. And actually lowering, delegating the authority to the lower level allows us to do this better.

DICKERSON: After the annihilation has been done, does that mean you can't let it fall back into ISIS hands?

MATTIS: Once ISIS is defeated, there is a larger effort under way to make certain that we don't just sprout a new enemy. We know ISIS is going to go down.

We have had success on the battlefield. We have freed millions of people from being under their control. And not one inch of that ground that ISIS has lost has ISIS regained. It shows the effectiveness of what we are doing.

However, there are larger currents, there are larger confrontations in this part of the world, and we cannot be blind to those. That is why they met in Washington under Secretary Tillerson's effort to carry out President Trump's strategy to make certain we don't just clean out this enemy and end up with a new enemy in the same area.

DICKERSON: You served under President Obama. You are now serving President Trump. How are they different?

MATTIS: Everyone leads in their own way, John.

In the case of the president, he has got to select the right people that he has trust in to carry out his vision of a strategy. Secretary Tillerson and I, we coordinate all of the president's campaign. We just make certain that foreign policy is led by the State Department.

I inform Secretary Tillerson of the military factors. And we make certain that then, when we come out of our meetings, State Department and Defense Department are tied tightly together, and we can give straightforward advice to the commander in chief.

DICKERSON: President Trump has said, to defeat ISIS, he has said that there has to be a humiliation of ISIS. What does that mean?

MATTIS: I think, as we look at this problem of ISIS, it is more than just an army. It is also a fight about ideas.

And we have got to dry up their recruiting. We have got to dry up their fund-raising. The way we intend to do it is to humiliate them, to divorce them from any nation giving them protection and humiliating their message of hatred, of violence.

Anyone who kills women and children is not devout. They have -- they cannot dress themselves up in false religious garb and say that somehow this message has dignity. We're going to strip them of any kind of legitimacy. And that is why you see the international community acting in concert.

DICKERSON: When should Americans look to see victory?

MATTIS: This is going to be a long fight.

The problems that we confront are going to lead to an era of frequent skirmishing. We will do it by, with, and through other nations. We will do it through developing their capabilities to do a lot of the fighting. We will help them with intelligence. Certainly, we can help train them for what they face.

And you see our forces engaged in that from Africa to Asia. But, at the same time, this is going to be a long fight. And I don't put timelines on fights.

DICKERSON: What about civilian casualties as a result of this faster tempo?

MATTIS: Civilian casualties are a fact of life in this sort of situation.

We do everything humanly possible, consistent with military necessity, taking many chances to avoid civilian casualties, at all costs.

DICKERSON: Under this new aggressive posture, what can be done that would not have been done, say, six months ago?

MATTIS: Probably the most important thing we are doing now is, we are accelerating this fight. We are accelerating the tempo of it.

We are going to squash the enemy's ability to give some indication that they're -- they have invulnerability, that they can exist, that they can send people off to Istanbul, to Belgium, to Great Britain, and kill people with impunity.

We are going to shatter their sense of invincibility there in the physical caliphate. That is only one phase of this. Then we have the virtual caliphate that they use the Internet. Obviously, we are going to have to watch for other organizations growing up.

We cannot go into some kind of complacency. I am from the American West. We have forest fires out there. And some of the worst forest fires in our history, the most damage were caused when we pulled the fire crews off the line too early.

And so we are going to have to continue to keep the pressure on the enemy. There is no room for complacency on this.

DICKERSON: A hundred civilians were killed after a U.S. bomb hit a building in Mosul in Iraq. Is this the result of this faster tempo? Is this the kind of thing Americans needs to get used to as a natural byproduct of this strategy?

MATTIS: The American people and the American military will never get used to civilian casualties. We will -- we will fight against that every way we can possibly bring our intelligence and our tactics to bear. People who had tried to leave that city were not allowed to by ISIS . We are the good guys. We are not the perfect guys, but we are the good guys. And so we are doing what we can.

We believe we found residue that was not consistent with our bomb. So we believe that what happened there was that ISIS had stored munitions in a residential location, showing once again the callous disregard that has characterized every operation they have run.

DICKERSON: Help people understand what a conflict with North Korea would be like and how it would be different.

MATTIS: A conflict in North Korea, John, would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people's lifetimes.

Why do I say this? The North Korean regime has hundreds of artillery cannons and rocket launchers within range of one of the most densely populated cities on earth, which is the capital of South Korea.

We are working with the international community to deal with this issue. This regime is a threat to the region, to Japan, to South Korea, and in the event of war, they would bring danger to China and to Russia as well.

But the bottom line is, it would be a catastrophic war if this turns into combat, if we are not able to resolve this situation through diplomatic means.

DICKERSON: North Korea has been testing missiles. Are they getting any better at their capability?

MATTIS: We always assume that, with a testing program, they get better with each test.

DICKERSON: You say North Korea is a threat to the region. Is North Korea a threat to the United States?

MATTIS: It is a direct threat to the United States. They have been very clear in their rhetoric.

We don't have to wait until they have an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear weapon on it to say that now it has manifested completely.

DICKERSON: What is the line in North Korea that, if the regime crosses that line, in your view, the U.S. should take action?

MATTIS: I would prefer not to answer that question, John. The president needs political maneuver room on this issue.

We do not draw red lines unless we intend to carry them out. We have made very clear that we are willing to work with China, and we believe China has tried to be helpful in this regard.

DICKERSON: Give me a sense, if you can, of the time when you think North Korea gets to the point of no return.

MATTIS: We consider it a direct threat even today, the North Korean threat.

As far as that specific threat, I don't want to put a timeline on it. At this time, what we know, I would prefer to keep silent about, because we may actually know some things the North Koreans don't even know.

DICKERSON: Let me switch to NATO.

The president recently met with NATO leaders. He didn't mention the commitment in NATO, the so-called Article 5 commitment, an attack on one is an attack on all. Why not?

MATTIS: I think, when President Trump chooses to go to NATO personally and stand there alongside the other more than two dozen nations in NATO, that was his statement, not words, actions.

DICKERSON: But the president seems to need convincing on the power and importance of the NATO alliance. Do you have to convince him of how important NATO is?

MATTIS: We have had good talks about it, John.

In my initial job interview with the president, he brought up his questions about NATO. And my response was that I thought that, if we didn't have NATO, that he would want to create it, because it's a defense of our values, it is a defense of democracy.

He was very open to that. Obviously, he had to make a decision about whether or not he was going to nominate me to be the secretary of defense. And although I immediately showed him that my view on that was rather profoundly in support of NATO, he at that point nominated me.

DICKERSON: What do the Russians want?

MATTIS: Beats me.

Right now, Russia's future should be wedded to Europe. Why they see NATO as a threat is beyond me. Clearly, NATO is not a threat. But, right now, Russia is choosing to be a strategic competitor, for any number of reasons. But the bottom line is, NATO is not a threat. And they know it. They have no doubt about it.

DICKERSON: You have said that Russia is trying to break apart NATO. Is there -- is the United States going to take any action to deal with Russia as a threat to NATO, either in helping in the Balkans or any other way?

MATTIS: Right now, we are dealing with Russia, attempting to deal with Russia under President Trump's direction, in a diplomatic manner. At the same time, while willing to engage diplomatically, we are going to have to confront Russia when it comes to areas where they attack us, whether it be with cyber, where they try to change borders using armed force.

And that is admittedly a strategically uncomfortable position, engaging diplomatically, trying to find a way out of this situation, but confronting them where we must. And we are going to continue in this mode, and, hopefully soon, our diplomats will work their magic and start moving us out of this quandary we find ourselves in.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you about the Paris climate accords. The president is going to make a decision on this.

MATTIS: I was sitting in on some of the discussions in Brussels, by the way, where climate change came up, and the president was open, he was curious about why others were in the position they were in, his counterparts in other nations.

And I am quite certain the president is wide open on this issue as he takes in the pros and cons of that accord.

DICKERSON: What keeps you awake at night?

MATTIS: Nothing. I keep other people awake at night.

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DICKERSON: Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

We will have more of our interview later in the broadcast.

And we will be back in one minute with filmmaker Ken Burns.

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DICKERSON: And we are back with filmmaker Ken Burns, whose new documentary, "The War in Vietnam," will air starting September 17 on PBS.

Ken is here to give us a preview on this weekend where we honor those who were lost in the service of their nation.

And, Ken, I want to do something we don't normally do, which is, we're going to take a look at the trailer first, and then talk about it. So sweeping and powerful.

I want to ask you about the journey you took in making this. Did you go in thinking, oh, it is this way, and come out thinking, no, it is really this way?

KEN BURNS, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: I think every film that we tackle is like that, where you have that conventional wisdom, the superficial sense of what took place.

You know, you say the 1920s, you think flappers or gangsters, and if you go into it, it is a little bit more complicated than that.

For those of us who worked on this project, and particularly Lynn Novick, who is the co-director with me, we go in confident that we know something. And I think the 10 years that we spent working on it is almost daily humiliation of what we didn't know, John.

And that's a good thing, because then you free yourself from the tyranny of that conventional wisdom, the tyranny of the kind of binary yes and no that besets our current media culture and our larger computer world, that we think it is all black, all right or all wrong.

And what you find out in war is that it is possible for a thing and the opposite of that thing to be true at the same time. And it is not saying that the dates of the Battle of Gettysburg change from July 1, 2, and 3. It just means, if you have the passage of time, you have perspective.

And with perspective and new scholarship, you can gain new insight. And if we think, as I believe we do, that a good deal of the divisions we experience today in our country were born, the seeds were planted, the virus started in Vietnam, then it may be possible, if we can get off that binary sort of position that we are all in, to be able to kind of unpack and then relearn the war, we might be able to address some of the things that beset us today, this lack of civility in civil discourse, the things that threaten us perhaps greater than any enemy.

DICKERSON: A huge dose of perspective is what you are talking about.

BURNS: This is what history offers.

I mean, we think of documentaries as all about the urgency and fuss and fire of a contemporary issue, but it is often histories, that -- that tortoise that keeps going and comes going as the hare gets tired and sits down and sleeps.

And I think you find -- if I said, well, John, Lynn and I have been working for 10 years on a film about mass demonstrations taking place all across the country, it is about asymmetrical warfare, in which the greatest military on earth is having a hard time figuring out what to do, it is about a White House concerned about leaks, it is about huge document drops in front of the American public, and an activated free press, you would say, you have abandoned history and you are talking about the contemporary moment.

But those are just a handful of the themes that are about Vietnam, so they offer us a prism through which to see where we are now, as well as what happened then.

DICKERSON: I want -- you and Lynn Novick talked to so many people, including members of the Vietcong. And I want to play a clip of one of those perspective-enhancing moments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I witnessed Americans dying. When one was killed, the others stuck together. They carried away the body, and they wept.

Americans, like us Vietnamese, also have a profound sense of humanity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DICKERSON: What was amazing in watching this is that you have the sense of humanity from perspective, and then you have soldiers, American soldiers, who said how much they hated in the moment.

BURNS: So, I think what happens, the first casualty of war, people say, is the truth.

But it is also, we have to objectify the enemy and turn them into nothing. We have to say that they are subhuman.

And what we felt is that the Vietnam story is the story about three countries, the United States, our enemy, North Vietnam, and a third country, which, oh, by the way, disappeared in the course of this story, which we still really don't like to talk about them.

But we felt, if we could go back and interview dozens and dozens of Americans across the spectrum of beliefs and geography and experiences, but also talk to Vietcong guerrillas and South Vietnamese marines and South Vietnamese civilians and diplomats and protesters of their own government, and then North Vietnamese civilians and North Vietnamese soldiers, you would have the ability to triangulate the story of this most important event, I think the most important event in the second half of the 20th century for Americans.

You could triangulate this story and come to some better understanding. And there's -- and it is not just policy. It isn't just the binary stuff. It is also the emotional stuff, the deeply -- this is like Shakespeare's Rialto speech, you know, in which someone is -- you don't expect a Vietcong soldier to be saying that about Americans.

We expect Americans to say the same thing.

DICKERSON: Ken, I'm going to have to stop you there.

But we're lucky enough to be looking forward to seeing you and your co-director, Lynn Novick, again in September to hear more about the film right on the eve.

Thanks so much for being with us.

BURNS: Thank you.

DICKERSON: Back in a moment.

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DICKERSON: You can keep up with the news of the week by subscribing to the FACE THE NATION Diary podcast. Find us on iTunes or your favorite podcast platform.

We will be right back.

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DICKERSON: And we will be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION.

Stay with us.

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DICKERSON: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION.

President Trump's nine day trip to five countries has come to its conclusion. In his first overseas travel as president, Mr. Trump made some new friends, but had some uncomfortable moments with the old. In Jerusalem Mr. Trump became the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism. Tuesday, the president condemned the suicide bombing attack in Manchester, England.

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TRUMP: So many young, beautiful, innocent people, living and enjoying their lives, murdered by evil losers in life. I won't call them monsters, because they would like that term.

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DICKERSON: Intelligence about that attack was leaked by the U.S., which infuriated the British Prime Minister Theresa May.

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THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I will make clear to President Trump that intelligence that is shared between our law enforcement agencies must remain secure.

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DICKERSON: Wednesday, President Trump visited Vatican City, where he and his family met with Pope Francis, someone he'd clashed with during the campaign. As for pope, he lobbied the president on climate change. And it was off to Brussels, where the president, who had made a point of not lecturing in Saudi Arabia, delivered a lecture to NATO allies.

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TRUMP: NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations.

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DICKERSON: Foreign leaders who had gathered at a 9/11 memorial commemorating when NATO members stood with America didn't know quite what to make of it, or what to make of the handshake with the French president, which turned into some kind of a contest, or the president's moving aside the prime minister of Montenegro, the newest member of NATO, to get the front spot in a photo-op.

The final stop on the overseas tour was Sicily, where President Trump met with leaders of the G-7 Friday to talk terror and climate change. President Trump was the odd man out when he refused to bow to pressure to keep the United States in the Paris climate change agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The president says he'll make an announcement soon on whether to pull out of the Paris agreement.

To talk about the president's trip and the problems he is facing on his arrival back in Washington, we're joined by Susan Page. She's the "USA Today's" bureau chief in Washington. Jeffrey Goldberg is an editor and is the editor in chief of "The Atlantic." Michael Morell is the former deputy director of the CIA and a CBS News senior national security contributor. And Margaret Brennan, our White House and senior foreign affairs correspondent is just off the overnight flight back from the president's trip.

We have extra coffee and the first question goes to you, Margaret.

Let's go back to Saudi Arabia. What was -- what was the president's goal there with that speech, that choreographed visit?

MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That was fascinating. I flew in on Air Force One to Riyadh with the president and saw what was amazing pomp and circumstance. I mean he was welcomed as if he were a king by the king of Saudi Arabia. Trumpets, jets, you know, with flags everywhere, children greeting him. And this was really Saudi pulling out all the stops because they are embracing him in a way that, because, in fact, they so deeply resented President Obama. And President Trump's message clearly throughout those two days was, I'm not him. And so a lot of that resentment goes back to the outreach to Iran, it goes back to the failure to take military action in Syria, it goes back to calling for Hosni Mubarak to step down in Egypt. A lot of deep-seated anger there.

To the extent that these Saudi allies, who are in many ways the protectors of Islam, are willing to overlook some of the president's rhetoric when he has said at times, Islam is at war with us. He has said he wanted to ban Muslims. All of that was put aside. And in this room full of more than 50 Muslim leaders from all around the world, the president said, our values and interests are aligned here. We see Iran as our enemy. We are with you on that and you need to help us win this war on terror.

And it contrasts so -- so deeply with what President Obama did back in 2009 with his outreach to the Muslim world in Cairo, where he reached out to young people, President Trump reached out to the leaders.

DICKERSON: Right. And, Mike, what do you make of that strategic shift, that all focus now on Iran based on this strategy?

MICHAEL MORELL, FORMER ACTING CIA DIRECTOR: So I think it's positive. I -- I think he accomplished something on this part of the trip. He reassured Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Arab allies there that we will have their back on Iran, which they see is an existential threat to them. They didn't believe that President Obama had their back. They now believe President Trump does. That's a huge change. That's positive for U.S. influence in the region and for our national security in the region. I think that was a success.

DICKERSON: Jeffrey, your thoughts?

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, "THE ATLANTIC": There -- there's a flip side to this, of course, which is that the Arab leadership, after so many years of Obama, they're positively giddy about the arrival of Donald Trump. And when they are giddy, like any other leaders, they might over step. And the danger, of course, is initiating a confrontation with Iran that the U.S. really doesn't want to be involved with at any given moment. They have enough to worry about on the North Korea file.

And so -- and so the trip inadvertently maybe has -- has -- has upped the chances of a confrontation sooner rather than later with Iran in the Gulf, where -- which is already essentially an American lake where -- where -- where the American Navy is in charge of security for the Gulf nations. The Gulf nations want a confrontation between Iran and the United States.

BRENNAN: The other thing I would say is a risk there is the -- President Trump saying, I'm not going to lecture you.

DICKERSON: Yes.

BRENNAN: And has made this virtue his policy of not lecturing on human rights. And when you are selling $110 billion in weapons, not the first U.S. president to sell heavy weaponry to Saudi, it also comes with this implicit -- when he's saying, we're with you against terrorists, who exactly are all these leaders calling terrorists and are we going to be happy necessarily with the use of force?

DICKERSON: Susan, one thing that struck me about the president's speech and also the contradiction that Margaret mentioned in terms of what candidate Trump had said, I mean he had said that basically the 9/11 attackers came from Saudi Arabia. He pointed at Saudi Arabia as the -- as the origin point now in a very different place. That seems like the message, which is, he's very transactional. He's willing to put aside things he may have said in the past because he's got a new focus. That seemed to be the core of this, this is a transaction.

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": That's right. And willing even to temper his language. You remember how often he ridiculed Barack Obama for refusing to say "radical Islamic terrorism," a phrase that he didn't say on this trip, and in his willingness to confront Iran, not to acknowledge the elections in Iran last week, which were in effect really positive for the United States. The moderate Iranian candidate, the incumbent won big in Iran, a sign that Iran may be willing to live up to the nuclear agreement, wants to get closer to the -- wants to get closer to the west. That was -- that was not acknowledged. And clearly a sign that human rights concerns that Barack Obama would raise in a place like Saudi Arabia, off the table.

MORELL: We -- we -- it's just important here that we remember that the Iranians, for years, and probably now more than they ever have before, are messing with the region. They are -- they are funding, training, providing counsel to terrorists, to insurgents throughout the region. This is -- this is a serious threat, not only to the nations there, but to the United States, right?

So it is time that we pushed back and it is time that we worked with our Arab allies to push back. There are risks, right, that we're going to have to face and that we're going to have to mitigate, but doing nothing, as we were doing before, just gives the Iranians open running room.

GOLDBERG: The -- there's a -- a quick point on -- on Iran. There's a way of calibrating our relations with this part of the world. We don't -- we want to stand with our allies, the Saudis, et cetera, against Iran, because Iran is the prime state sponsor of terrorism in -- in the world. That's the State Department. That was Barack Obama's State Department saying that. You want to do that without -- without creating conditions for unnecessary war.

We also have to recognize that that election was a reality TV show version of an election. The people who were running were picked by the unelected supreme leader of Iran to run. So it is no -- it may be slightly more democratic than Saudi Arabia, but not by much.

DICKERSON: Margaret, let me ask you, let's go over to the NATO meeting. This was a -- a much different kind of reception.

BRENNAN: Yes.

DICKERSON: And the president, after not lecturing and making a point of not lecturing with the Saudis, was -- nevertheless had a few lessons and things he would like the NATO leaders to do.

BRENNAN: Exactly. There were protests in Brussels, a city that on the campaign trail the president called a hellhole. People were not giving him a warm reception in Europe and I think all of the people planning this trip very well knew they wanted the president's first trip abroad to begin with a warm embrace instead of the outcry that -- that resulted when he went to Europe.

But at the NATO meeting, I think, you know, what the president is saying is essentially a more blunt version of what Barack Obama said and before that, that NATO members need to spend more on their own defense. But his mischaracterization of exactly how that funding mechanism works and his very blunt words from the podium there will also, while it may prod and get that result he wants, it may also make it politically more difficult for the leadership there, the people who are leading the democratic nations that we are aligned with militarily here, to convince their own public to stand and support the U.S. in the same way. There is a political cost to some of that.

But I did -- you know, it was notable that the president didn't really talk about Russia, which, of course, countering Russian power in Europe was the premise for the foundation of NATO.

DICKERSON: Mike, the -- one of the things that came up on this trip after the bombing in Manchester, there was this information that was leaked. How damaging was that to the information and intelligence sharing between the United States and Great Britain?

MORELL: So now we've had two leaks of intelligence information provided to the United States by our allies that has been -- that has been given to others, right? This leak, given to the public, and President Trump's briefing to the Russian foreign minister of -- of the previous intelligence information. So we now have two. We have two data points. Now we have a line, right? Now we have a trend. And the rest of the world is watching this. And the rest of the word provides us intelligence information. And if they have a concern that we're not going to be able to protect that, they are going to be careful in what they provide. In fact, they'll -- they'll -- they'll hold back their most sensitive information. So this is very damaging, right?

GOLDBERG: But they're also dependent on our intelligence, though, to a great degree. Isn't it -- it's a two-way street.

MORELL: It's a two-way street. It's a two-way street, but they will hold back, I guarantee you. Absolutely, this is damaging, right? And there's two aspects of it. One is, a president who -- who apparently didn't know what he was doing, right, wasn't careful, wasn't properly briefed, whatever.

DICKERSON: In the Oval Office.

MORELL: In the Oval Office. And then, a week, right, from -- from -- from law enforcement or intelligence or somebody in the White House, right, there is a leak that -- that caused the second damage. And -- and the president is absolutely right, these leaks, which have -- which have grown in number -- I mean it's always been a problem but -- but they are bigger now than they've ever been before in number -- is a very serious problem.

DICKERSON: Susan, let's look at the trip in its totality before we come back home. It was a nice break for the president because things were going -- it was a pretty tough ten days before this trip. Now he faces them. Put the trip in context with the rest of the Trump presidency.

PAGE: People in the White House say it was the most effective, best nine days he's ever put together in a row, and it was in part because he was able to change the conversation from the conversation that he left in Washington and the conversation that he comes back to. You know, it was during the -- the flight over when Margaret was on Air Force One that the story broke that he had called FBI Director Comey a nut job and said that -- and said that he was relieved by -- some of the pressure on him from the Russian investigation had been relieved by -- by firing him. And when he came back the first question he got when he got off the plane was about the stories -- the stories about Jared Kushner have -- trying to establish a back channel communications with Russia. So this was an opportunity to change the conversation there. He didn't change the conversation here.

DICKERSON: He's back now and seems to have a buffer on his Twitter stream. He's had -- went from not tweeting to having about ten launched this morning.

Jeffrey, why not create a back channel to the Russians? We have common interests in Syria. Jared Kushner -- why isn't that just kind of what you do when you're a --

GOLDBERG: You know, sometimes thinking outside the box is overrated, as -- when you're -- when you're actually dealing with your adversaries. The idea of going to the Russian embassy to establish a channel that's outside the -- the realm of -- out of the American national security apparatus or a transition official is -- I mean, let's put it -- put it bluntly, if you put this in a satirical novel people would say, t hat's a little bit too much. It's a bad idea for any number of reasons. Even the Russians understood how bad an idea it was and were probably thinking this is not plausible. This is an attempt by the Americans to spy on us, because, remember, the Russian embassy is an intelligence base of operations for the Russians in America, so why would you possible do that.

Also, there's an assumption that -- that -- that this was meant to talk about Syria. That that's -- that's their assertion. I don't know what the purpose of this -- this outreach was, but it just seems to be a foolhardy endeavor.

DICKERSON: Mike, the administration officials are saying, look, this was an attempt to get around kind of the clotted normal relationships, have a conversation with the -- with the Russians. Planes are flying at the same time in Syria. Maybe we can work something out so we're not bumping into each other.

MORELL: Yes. So I didn't see this as an attempt to open a back channel. I think that's a misnomer. It was an attempt to open a front channel. It was an attempt to have Mike Flynn talk regularly to the Russian ambassador. That seems appropriate to me, the incoming national security advisor talking to our allies and adversaries. That seems OK to me.

What's -- what's strange here is why ask for the secrecy. Why ask for the security of using their communications? What are you trying to hide? And was this -- was this -- was this approach blessed by the president-elect and the vice president-elect? Was there a strategic discussion? Was Jim Mattis involved? He was nominated already, I believe, or he was on the verge of being nominated. So was there a strategy to do this? Those are the questions I would like to have answered.

DICKERSON: Margaret, final question to you. There are stories and reporting about changes in the White House. What can you tell us about the staff changes, if there are any, coming?

BRENNAN: Well, there's a lot of talk, but I feel like there always is.

DICKERSON: Yes.

BRENNAN: And when we come back from this trip and the president now back at the White House, we are expecting him to not only speak with his own lawyers, but we are expecting him to make some of these decisions that they said were punted, not only the Paris climate change agreement, but what happens with his own communications team.

On this trip, we heard very little from them. They weren't front -- in front of cameras. They weren't explaining things. They actually didn't even put the president out there for a press conference. Very unusual. He was the only one of the seven G-7 ministers, or heads of states, to not answer questions. They are really trying to rein in communication.

So whether Sean Spicer remains the spokesperson, whether they changed the method of communication, which they have been recently, putting orders, advisors to the president out there to try to change the topics back to more substance, less about headlines, that may be an approach, but, frankly, it only goes so far because someone needs to answer those questions. And that level of secrecy that we keep gesturing to inhibits what they would like to see as ending the story.

DICKERSON: Right. And the chief communicator is always still the president.

Thanks to all of you.

And we'll be right back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DICKERSON: Former FBI Director James Comey is expected to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee next month and will -- and hopefully will be able to answer some of the questions that have been raised about his dealings with the president.

We turn now to Benjamin Wittes, editor of -- of the legal blog, Lawfare at the Brookings Institution.

Welcome.

Let me start before we get to the Comey testimony about the Jared Kushner story. Just, what's your take of it? Put it in some perspective for us.

BENJAMIN WITTES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, it's hard to know what to make of it. I mean it's a -- it's a -- it's a shocking set of allegations. It's not clear what they thought they were doing or what it means. If I were an FBI counterintelligence agent, I would be very interested in it. And it -- it is the latest in a long series of revelations that put the president's claims that there's nothing between him and Russia in a kind of head scratching relief.

DICKERSON: Yes. The -- and -- and the -- what Jared Kushner seems to be doing was getting around the existing order of things. Get your -- give me -- back to the question of James Comey, who's somebody you've known for a while. What if the president was just saying -- the president just didn't know the rules. Was trying to get around the -- you know, he's got this investigation going on and he just says to James Comey, you know, it was just -- not obstruction, but just a president who is unfamiliar with politics, just didn't know what was going on.

WITTES: Well, so, you know, one -- one possibility here is that we have, you know, a series of interactions that are each in and of themselves just expressions of the president's frustration with, you know, the circumstances he finds himself in with respect to the press and -- and an investigation and -- and interests in -- in the Russia stuff.

As a general matter, you're actually not allowed to obstruct investigations, even when you don't believe that they have merit. And so the question of whether the aggregate of those interactions amounts to an obstructive pattern of behavior really doesn't depend on how the president feels about the merits of the underlying claim that there's something untoward about his relationship with Russia.

DICKERSON: And does it matter about whether he knew this is just not the thing -- the kind of thing you're supposed to do when you're a president with your FBI director?

WITTES: Well, so, look, I mean, obstruction as a general matter is a -- is a specific intent defense. So it actually really does matter what he meant to do. And I -- I think we should all be careful about making assumptions about what the president meant. What we have right now is a series of press accounts that are mostly, with the exceptions of the one that are based on conversations with me, they're -- they're mostly, you know, anonymously sourced. And so I think it's the better part of valor for everybody to reserve judgment until we have, you know, some set of -- of clear facts given under oath. And that's actually the significance of the fact that -- that the Senate Intelligence Committee wants the former FBI director's testimony.

DICKERSON: And that testimony, is there any chance that might bump into the special counsel and, therefore, former Director Comey might not be able to say everything he knows?

WITTES: Well, so, look, I -- I think that the former Director Comey, I am certain would not want to say anything that would impair the investigation, and I -- I suspect he would have -- he would sort of de-conflict with Mueller about any investigative equities that might be ongoing. I say that not having, you know, talked to him about it or -- or -- or inquired specifically. So I -- you know, I'm really sort of speaking my own opinion there, but that's the kind of thing he would do.

In addition, he, while in office, has been very careful not to, you know, divulge anything classified in the context of his testimony. And I would expect he would do the same thing here. With, you know, the -- so -- but then I actually don't believe that there is a broad problem from Mueller's point of view with his testifying.

DICKERSON: His testifying. All right.

WITTES: That's just a guess, but that's what I think.

DICKERSON: All right. Ben, we've run out of time, I'm afraid. Thanks.

We'll be right back with our -- a little more of our interview with Secretary of Defense Mattis.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DICKERSON: Finally on this weekend where we honor sacrifice and duty, we return to our conversation with Defense Secretary Mattis. We asked him about his concerns that one of the biggest challenges facing America today is its lack of unity.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DICKERSON: You mentioned in "The New Yorker" what you were worried about political -- the lack of political unity in America.

MATTIS: Well, you know, I'm at West Point is where we're talking together, John, and you -- you look at these young people that graduated today, over 900 of them, from all walks of life, every religion probably in America is represented, every state is represented. And these people come together with an enthusiasm for protecting this experiment in democracy that we call America. And it takes people, I believe, with a fundamental respect for one another, with a fundamental friendliness toward one another that I worry is starting to slip away in our country.

We still have it in the military. It's a diverse force. It's a force that can work together under the worst conditions. And I -- I just hope we can find our way back to engaging with one another, arguing strongly with one another, and then going down and having a root beer together or something and -- and having a good laugh about it as we work together for the best interests of the next generation of Americans who are going to inherit this country.

DICKERSON: More than 40 years ago you enlisted and then today you speak as the secretary of defense at West Point. What's that like going from those two different ends in your -- in the span of your career?

MATTIS: You know, it's a -- it's humbling, to tell you the truth, because as you go up, you realize how little of an exercise good judgment you really do, that it falls on the shoulders of very, very young people to carry this out inside the Department of Defense. I was an infantry officer in the Marines and the infantry are named because they're young infant soldiers, young soldiers, how they got their name. They're very young. And so it's really a humbling sense of just how great our younger generation is, how selfless it is, and what they are willing to commit, basically, signing a blank check payable to the American people with their very lives to protect it. And that's really what I've come away from this job with, is a deeper sense of -- of just being humbled by the commitment of others.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DICKERSON: Our full interview with Secretary Mattis is available on our website, facethenation.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DICKERSON: That's it for us today. Thanks for watching. See you next week.