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White House And Kremlin To Announce Plans For Trump-Putin Meeting; Trump: Russia "Had Nothing To Do With Meddling In Our Election" Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired June 28, 2018 - 08:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: In retrospect, given what ultimately happened, should he have picked someone that wasn't seen as middle of the road? Would he have been better off to acknowledge --

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Would that have been made a difference in the outcome, I don't think so --

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: It may change the conversation afterwards. It might have been changed the conversation -- he's putting forth this pick, to your point, David, he put out there because this is going to please a lot of people, the country is divided, if it was perhaps more partisan or more controversial, would he have had a better argument afterwards?

AXELROD: I don't think so. I don't think Garland was an outstanding choice. The argument would have the same. Mitch McConnell went out of bounds to block this nomination and the argument would have been exactly the same.

No, I don't think that. It would have been satisfying to some in the base to have someone farther to the left than Garland. Garland was quite progressive, but I don't think it would have changed anything at the end of the day.

BERMAN: David Axelrod, always an education to have you with us. Thanks so much, sir.

We have a lot of news including breaking news on the international front so let's get to it.

Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Thursday, June 28th, 8:00 in the east. Alisyn off. Erica hill is here. John Avlon here as well.

We have all focused on the new vacancy on the Supreme Court and watching that very closely all morning all. But in the meantime, there is breaking news. The White House and kremlin moments away from announcing a meeting, a summit between President Trump and Russian leader, Vladimir Putin. The signs right now are that meeting will happen in Helsinki, in Finland after a NATO summit scheduled for next month. HILL: President Trump tweeting minutes ago before the announcement, Russia, he writes, "continues to say they had nothing to do with meddling in our election." You read that tweet which dismiss the conclusions of Americans own intelligence community and the fact that Congress overwhelmingly sanctioned Russia for meddling in the 2016 election.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Abby Phillip who's at the White House -- Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Erica. We are potentially minutes or seconds away from this announcement expected to come almost simultaneously from the White House and also from the kremlin.

It's a little bit of suspense for this potential third meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin that has been in the works for several weeks now. The president's national security adviser was in Moscow this week meeting with Putin to set up the details of this meeting.

And now we're learning that the meeting will be on July 16th in Helsinki, Finland, that just coming through moments ago in a statement from the White House. This would be after the NATO summit on what will be President Trump's trip over to Europe for several events on their budget.

Now, let me look at this statement. "President Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation will meet on July 16th in Helsinki, Finland. The two leaders will discuss relations between the United States and Russia and a range of national security issues."

That last line being fairly vague because perhaps the biggest issue on the agenda, according to a lot of people here in the United States, is Russian meddling and President Trump weighed in on that this morning on Twitter once again casting doubt that he believed that Russia did, in fact, meddle.

He wrote, "Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with meddling in the election. That directly contradicts the conclusion from the United States intelligence community on this issue.

It also contradicts the president's national security adviser, John Bolton, who this week said that would be one of the topics the president would talk to Putin about. This is astonishing, the timing of the president's tweet coming just before the announcement of the meeting with Putin.

It's not the first time President Trump has done this. Just after he met with Putin earlier this year in Vietnam, he talked to reporters on Air Force One and he said to them, he said, "He didn't meddle, and I believe him. I believe that when he tells me that he means it."

It's a really surprising thing for a lot of people here but going into this meeting it's clear the president and his national security aides not on the same page about whether or not this crucial issue is going to be a part of that meeting with Vladimir Putin.

BERMAN: Abby Phillip for us at the White House. It is gift wrapped for Vladimir Putin on the day of announcing a summit to say Russia continues to say they did not meddle in the U.S. election. The timing there so deliberate and so notable.

Other issues here now that the summit between the two leaders has been announced, how are U.S. allies and diplomats feeling about it? Remember, it will come right after the NATO summit.

Our Michelle Kosinski live at the State Department with much more on that -- Michelle.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the proximity to the NATO summit because we knew that this Trump/Putin meeting was coming. There were a couple of dates being looked at. We weren't sure if it was just before NATO or just after.

Many U.S. allies had a problem with it being just before, but they're telling us they don't love the idea that it's coming just after either.

[08:05:03] Basically, there are questions being raised over why does President Trump feel the need to meet with Putin so soon and so close to the NATO summit when he's supposed to be showing unity, at least that is the point of NATO, with some of the U.S.'s closest allies?

So, the White House will make the arguments that it's better to get along than not get along. The relationship is at such a rough point that it needs help. The president thinks that by having these conversations one-on-one, similar to Kim Jong-un, that he can help make things better and also there are pressing issues there.

I think the biggest one for the White House is going to be Syria, trying to counter Iranian influence and get the Iranians out of Syria. The president likely thinks that Putin will have sway on that and will be able to work with him on Syria, possibly on Ukraine.

But again, seeing this tweet now it almost seems as if maybe there's something coming next. Is there a but? Is he now going to tweet some hardline stance on believing that Russia it meddling in the election?

But we heard from the secretary of state yesterday who was asked directly by lawmakers, and he said he felt confident that the president would make clear to Putin that meddling in U.S. elections is absolutely unacceptable. Back to you guys.

HILL: Michelle Kosinski, Michelle, thank you.

We want to get some reaction from Russia as well. CNN's Frederick Pleitgen is live in Moscow with more on this announcement and of course, that tweet as we've been talking about as well -- Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erica, the kremlin actually came out with pretty much the same statement exactly the same time as was announced before that this meeting would take place in Finland in Helsinki on July the 16th. Obviously, the kremlin has a different set of priorities I would say than probably the U.S. has.

For the Kremlin, it's all about trying to what they call normalize relations with the United States and in the end their main goal is going to be to try and get some sort of sanctions relief. It was very interesting to hear before about Syria, for instance, being an issue.

I think that is going to be as hard as it is to say that, one of the simpler issues because I think there is an area where President Vladimir Putin and President Trump do seem to see at least to a certain extent, not maybe eye to eye but seem to see things similarly.

Ukraine is a much more difficult issue because that's one where the Russians have a very staunch and tough stance especially on the issue of Crimea. It was interesting at that press conference yesterday that John Bolton has, Crimea was one of the issues where he remained very tough -- Erica.

BERMAN: Frederik Pleitgen for us in Moscow. Always great to see, Fred. Big news from around the world. How does the president choose to greet it? By questioning the validity of U.S. intelligence agencies once again.

Let's bring in CNN political analysts, Josh Green and Jonathan Martin. The president wrote this moments before the White House announced the summit. Moments before the White House announced the summit between President Trump and Vladimir Putin.

The president chose to write, "Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with meddling in our election." U.S. intelligence agencies for well over a year have said, Russia meddled in the U.S. election, they did it to help President Trump, Congress has sanctioned Russia for meddling in the U.S. election.

There have been indictments against Russians for meddling in the U.S. election, yet on the day that they announce a summit with Russia, President Trump's chooses to say Russia denies it -- Josh.

JOSHUA GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: As long as the intelligence communities have been saying that Russia interfered on the election -- in the elections on behalf of Donald Trump. Donald Trump has denied that reality and insisted otherwise.

I think what he's doing here in this tweet 20 minutes before the announcement goes out is essentially trying to shape the news and the coverage by getting out ahead of it and saying, Russia didn't meddle.

And convincing every Fox News viewer in the portion of America that listens to Trump words and believes what he says that this is a nonissue and that all of the legitimate media coverage pointing out what is really going on and what the intelligence community really thinks is going to get drowned out by Trump's noise.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The president is parroting Putin's talking points. He's coming from a NATO meeting where he's been a tougher critic of NATO and he's going to meet with Russia in Finland, which, by the way, Russia has thrown brush back pitches at for being concerned about Russian incursion.

And the fact he's deflecting in that tweet blaming the victim asking questions about Democrats and politicizing it further. The president doing Putin's talking points about Crimea, saying it's Obama's fault that Russia invaded it.

You know, Russia considered Crimea part of its country for a long time. So, Bolton may talk tough on Crimea, the rest of the administration might recognize the reality of the intelligence communities' assessments, but at the end of the day, the president seems intent on parroting Putin's talking points about the election and so much more.

[08:10:03] HILL: What's interesting too, Pompeo said the president believes he's very serious on this, Bolton saying he's going to bring this up. Jonathan, we've seen a lot of this before too, not only things that we were told the president would bring up, may not have come up with Kim Jong-un.

We've also seen prior to that meeting almost a parroting of the same language or the same talking points as North Korea's leader.

JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it captures the gulf between the Trump administration and the president himself. The president is somebody who's not terribly interested in what Russia did in the election. He believes any conversation about that casts doubt on his own election.

He doesn't care. Meanwhile, his administration and the top officials have said that Russia did meddle, and they have taken all these steps to place sanctions and actually implement a fairly traditional hawkish Republican strategy when it comes to the Russians.

It's a fascinating division. There's the Trump twitter feed and the Trump personal -- how they deal with Russia as you mentioned and just take like Mike Pence, for example. He kind of, you know, parrots what you would typically expect about Russia or North Korea and their conduct.

But this president just isn't interested in the kind of conventional norms of diplomacy, of foreign policy, of national security. It's much more through this Trumpian prism. I've said it before. I'll say it again.

Trump is shaping the presidency much more than the presidency is shaping Trump and look no further than this latest tweet on Russia ahead of the summit to really illustrate that.

BERMAN: Look, summits are important things between U.S. leaders and Russian leaders. They're important things and often times you want to know what will come of it and one of the most serious issues that the United States has to discuss with Russia is the meddling in the last election, the idea it might meddle again. It seems to me this is an invitation to meddle. I'm going to believe you when you say you didn't. If I'm not going to pick on you for meddling, why would I pick on you for occupying Crimea? It doesn't set the stage for a tough negotiating process.

GREEN: No. Despite what Trump's aides say -- the other lesson from this is nobody in the Trump administration really speaks for Donald Trump's views on geo strategic issues except for Donald Trump himself. Pompeo doesn't. Bolton doesn't. Nobody does. Pence doesn't.

BERMAN: In fact, they go around the world correcting things that the president says. You know, Mike Pompeo had to correct that North Korea isn't denuclearizing yet. Mike Pompeo had to correct that North Korea is not returning the bodies of U.S. killed in the Korean War.

GREEN: Sure. But the other problem it creates is going into the summit, nobody has any idea what's going to come out of this because I don't think Trump himself has a specific geo-strategic agenda that he wants to discuss with Putin.

Trump's idea of diplomacy is this kind of mano-a-mano two strong men sitting down and facing each other, the same way he did with Kim Jong- un and his desire is to come out with a PR victory, looking strong, looking as though he's accomplished something whether or not he actually has.

So far, he hasn't in North Korea. I doubt he will in Russia either. But this is as much about the PR opportunity and the way he comes across as it is any specific issue.

HILL: It's about that photo op, John, right. We saw this. We saw it in the way that he went in, right? The way he was leaving Kim Jong- un, not the first time. It started with the handshake with Emmanuel Macron. But this is very much about the PR move and about the photo op, about look what I'm doing, I am meeting with leaders and summits are important.

AVLON: But this is not even photo op diplomacy because it's a summit. If the president's not standing up for American interests. Conservatives criticize Barack Obama and said he is embracing our enemies and alienating our allies. That was a campaign talking point.

That is a closest statement of fact with this president's actions with geopolitical dictators. If he can't see the national security implications, vital national interest in Russia influencing our elections is to an invitation to do it again.

HILL: But that's because this president will tell you that no one is tougher on Russia than me. You have to combat that as well.

GREEN: Those are just words.

BERMAN: You know, Jonathan Martin, I will say this, meeting with world leaders is a good thing. It's never bad to have a relationship. Maybe it will lead to progress here. We shouldn't rule out that possibility. It's a good thing they're meeting as opposed to not meeting ever.

What do you expect to hear from Republicans in Congress on this, the invitation to meddle in the election? This summit without necessarily clear agenda. I suspect we'll see a written statement from John McCain shortly and then after that I expect crickets.

MARTIN: I expect the president of the last 17 months to largely stay true to form, John, which is tweets, paper statements from staff and then moving on to whatever the next thing is. I mean, that's kind of the pattern here when Trump violates a norm that they can't ignore or that sort of challenges their policy principles like ignoring the intelligence community.

They're going to respond when either asked in the hallway of the capital or they'll put a statement on twitter or have their staff write a statement that they'll put out in a press release.

But beyond that, they're just not going to go that much further especially in a midterm election year. They have made their decision that basically, they've got to keep the party unified and consolidate GOP support going into the midterms.

And that creating a rift with this president, no matter what he says or does, is going to undermine they're hopes of retaining control of the House and the Senate this fall.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Marco Rubio has been saying recently he doesn't criticize the president because he thinks the media is too tough on him.

JOSHUA GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Exactly. Republicans go to the ends of the earth to find ways to avoid directly criticizing the Donald Trump. There are a few exceptions. Marco Rubio has put out a couple strong statements on China, on ZTE. John McCain certainly. Ben Sasse has called Trump's tariffs stupid repeatedly, but nobody gets in front of a camera. Nobody stops the procedure of the Senate in order to make this point --

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Or confronts him -- this is the party of the cold war and it's a dereliction of duty. Don't forget Donald Trump has been tougher on Harley-Davidson than Vladimir Putin.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: We'll have to leave it there.

Just ahead, there's another battle obviously brewing in Washington. This one to replace Justice Kennedy. Lots to say about that and you'll hear from Senator Richard Blumenthal next.




DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Remember this so we have a pick to come up. We have to pick one that's going to be there for 40 years, 45 years. We need intellect. We need so many things to go. You know, there are so many elements go into the making of a great justice of the Supreme Court. You got to hit every one of them.


HILL: President Trump has a historic opportunity to reshape the Supreme Court for a generation with the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying they will vote on the president's nominee in the fall. Democrats calling for a delay until after the midterms.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who serves in the Judiciary Committee. Good to have you with us today. Practically speaking, there is not a lot the Democrats can do beyond trying to delay. What else is there in terms of planning that you could do to stop this?

SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: The American people really deserve a voice in this decision and so the confirmation vote should take place after the election, after the new Congress is seated. A decision of this historic magnitude, probably the most important Supreme Court vacancy in a generation requires deliberate consideration that is simply not possible in the few months before the election.

The Republicans should follow their own rule, the McConnell rule that no vote on a confirmation should take place this close to the election, but here's a more fundamental fact. I was a Supreme Court law clerk.

I worked for Justice Harry Blackman on the court after -- right after he wrote the Roe v Wade opinion. I've argued cases for them in the United States before. I have deep respect for this institution.

I've never seen a time when the court is so polarized and politicized and I've never seen a time when it is more important that it act as a bull work and check against potential abuse and destruction of individual rights.

We're talking about a woman's rights to health care, reproductive rights, worker rights, gay rights. All kinds of fundamental rights and liberties where the Supreme Court will play a role and that's why deliberate consideration and peoples' voice is so important.

HILL: We know that they're not going to wait. That that's not going to happen. So, just real quickly, what is the plan? Is it simply to try to delay and to force Republicans to wait and if so, how long do you continue doing that, because we know the list of nominees that's going to be put forward.

BLUMENTHAL: This list of nominees is composed mostly of far-right fringe ideologs. The first point is to take it to the American people to say your health care rights and protection against precondition existing abuses is at stake, clean air and water that you use and breathe is at stake, the future of your rights to reproduction decisions is at stake and also to our colleagues.

Remember, that the Republicans have a razor thin majority. One vote going our way and they lose that majority. So, the appeal is also to our colleagues and then we have tools available. We'll make use of every tool in terms of parliamentary decision available.

HILL: When we talk about the election, we know there are ten Democrats up for re-election in Donald Trump areas. Five of them in states he won by double digits. This is tough in terms of voting. No matter what happens because they have a lot of things to consider as they're moving into November.

BLUMENTHAL: This decision will raise political issues, but it is far from the normal kind of political decision because we're talking about generations who will be affected, the potential is for a young, radical and probably far right fringe ideolog if the president chooses from a list.

And he said anybody on that list would automatically overturn Roe v Wade. I think regardless of the political difficulties that those 10 states raised, the women of this country are going to be outraged if the president chooses someone from that list.

HILL: We will look to see who he chooses. A lot of news to get through this morning. We have now had confirmation that President Trump will meet with Vladimir Putin on July 16th in Helsinki.

[08:25:06] The news of that summit coming just after the president tweeted this morning, once again saying and I'm quoting, "Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with meddling in our election."

We don't know what the agenda is for that meeting. We hear that perhaps Donald Trump will bring up meddling, but he seems to be putting out a Russian talking point here. Are you confident that this would be brought up at a summit?

BLUMENTHAL: This issue of Russian interference, their attack on our democracy must be on the agenda, because the Russians are continuing to meddle in our democratic process. They are continuing to attack us in the cyber domain. They represent a threat in space as well as undersea warfare.

They are a very hostile adversary and so for the president to befriend them and be cozy with them in the way that he's indicated in the run- up to this summit I think is highly perilous.

And he should be condemning Russian interference in our past election and saying we'll safeguard our election machinery as well as our social media world against them going forward.

HILL: We'll have to leave it there, unfortunately, Senator. Appreciate your time this morning, thank you.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you. BERMAN: The very morning the White House announces a summit with Russia's leader, Vladimir Putin, President Trump notes that Russia swears it didn't meddle in the election. Why message does that send to Putin? Coming up, we'll ask a key member of Congress.