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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

'Disgraceful Performance' by President Trump at Putin Meeting?; Interview With Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 16, 2018 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:01]

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: His people told him that it was Russia. This is a settled fact.

The intel community, American law enforcement, all 100 United States senators all agree on a fact, that Russia and named individuals that just were indicted that work for the Russian government attempted and indeed succeeded in interfering in the U.S. election in 2016 to help Donald Trump.

And he was standing at that press conference next to Vladimir Putin when Putin told him that he actually did want Trump to win, thus the motivation, the reason for interfering in the election.

Listen, my mouth is still agape at what I saw today, in part because the bar was so low for this press conference. All Trump needed to was offer some mild pushback against the election interference, say something about the need for Russia to withdraw from Eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

He couldn't do any of that. And today the country is stunned and the world is stunned, and America is a whole lot weaker than we were going into today.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump says that he's doing this because he wants the United States and Russia to have a stronger relationship. Take a listen to him talking about why that's important.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nothing would be easier politically than to refuse to meet, to refuse to engage, but that would not accomplish anything.

As president, I cannot make decisions on foreign policy in a futile effort to appease partisan critics, or the media, or Democrats who want to do nothing but resist and obstruct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, let me play devil's advocate here for a second, Senator.

He has a point, President Trump, in that there is consensus view that Russia is a geopolitical foe of the United States, and that there is a lot of good to be done, in his view, if Russia and the United States were to team up on some matters, even if that means rejecting that consensus view. How would you respond to that?

MURPHY: So, there are clearly places where the United States and Russia need to have a dialogue, but you have to enter into those discussions from a position of strength.

And what we saw today was complete capitulation. I don't know what his definition of a strong relationship is, but one version of it is in one which country is just a client of the other country.

And right now, it seems as if President Trump is willing to do and say whatever Vladimir Putin wants him to say. Whether it be doubting that the Russians interfered in our election or Trump's insistence over the weekend in helping to dismantle NATO and the E.U., which is, by the way, Putin's number one objective.

If you want to work with the Russians on counterterrorism or on the problems in the Middle East, they have to respect you. And right now, they don't respect us. Lavrov, the foreign minister, was cackling today in delight at how wonderful this press conference went for the Russians.

TAPPER: President Putin suggested today that Russia could help special counsel Robert Mueller in the investigation into the Russian election interference, inviting him to Moscow to potentially interview the 12 intelligence officers in the Russian military who were indicted on Friday.

Putin obviously said that this would come in exchange for Russians being able to interview people like Bill Browder and others, Bill Browder and others, who they find troublesome. What was your reaction to all of that?

MURPHY: Well, listen, this is all a game that Putin is playing. He's having a lot of fun, because he understands he's got a friend in Donald Trump and he understands that they are working together, frankly, to try to undermine this investigation.

And, remember, this isn't about what happened in 2016 alone. The Russians are right now, as we speak, attempting to interfere in the 2018 elections. And they're regularly using their army of bots, their army of Internet trolls to support Trump's agenda here in Congress.

Remember, Schumer shutdown was trending online about a year ago only because of Russian government bots. So this is a present and clear to the United States. It's not just about finding out what happened in 2016. It's about stopping it today.

And Trump basically invited, invited Putin to continue to interfere in U.S. elections and our political debate by refusing to side with everyone in the United States who knows what's going on.

TAPPER: So, Senator Murphy, I realize Democrats are in the minority, but there are Republicans who agree with what you're saying. What are you guys doing about this?

MURPHY: Yes, I think this is the $24,000 question and a really tough one, because Congress does not run foreign policy on a day-to-day basis.

Yes, there are some steps that we could take. We could levy another round of sanctions. We could make them mandatory, not permissive. We could take a look at some of the statutes undergirding NATO and take away from the president the power to try to weaken our commitment to NATO.

But, in the end, you know, Congress is kind of like the manager or the general manager of the team. President Trump is the one on the field every day executing foreign policy. We can't stop him from saying things to undermine the E.U. and NATO.

[16:35:03]

We can't stop him from giving the press conference that he gave today. He alone can make the decision to rectify this. I think there's limits to what Congress can do.

TAPPER: Is there anything Democrats can do? It seems like there's a lot of words coming from you, Senator Schumer and others. We have even heard people on your side of the aisle talk about President Trump being a Russian asset.

How do you convey to the American people that this is a serious issue and not just another partisan tug of war?

MURPHY: Well, listen, I do think, for Americans that are wondering whether or not the Mueller investigation is worthwhile, those that have been listening to some of the propaganda coming out of the White House, this is pretty clear evidence that we need to get to the truth.

There are a lot of Republicans scratching their heads as to why the president would do something like this. And then I think Democrats are going to have to spend some time with our allies.

I think we're going to have to spend some time traveling, talking to countries in the NATO, in the European Union hoping that they hold on to the alliance, just so that we can get through the next two-and-a- half years to make sure that the transatlantic alliance is still there when the Trump presidency is over.

TAPPER: Democratic Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut, thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.

MURPHY: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: For years now, we have heard the same mantra from President Trump, America first. But when it comes to Russia, is it really America second?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:40:52]

TAPPER: It is being called disgraceful, disgusting, treasonous.

Today, President Trump refused to throw his support behind the United States intelligence community, instead taking the word of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a KGB officer, when asked directly who he believes, a disturbing move, but, frankly, this is hardly the first time that President Trump has sided with Russia over the men and women of America.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: It's going to be only America first. America first.

TAPPER (voice-over): Putting America first? It was a surefire applause line.

TRUMP: America first.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TAPPER: But when it comes to Russia, the president's priorities don't quite match his MAGA message.

TRUMP: I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we have all been foolish.

TAPPER: Ahead of his Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Trump took care not to offend, opting instead to attack his own countrymen, in hopes of improving relations with the Kremlin.

'Our relationship with Russia has never been worse, thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now the rigged witch- hunt," the president tweeted mere hours before the meeting.

Wrote Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs: "We agree."

Blaming the investigation into the cyber-attack by the Russians and not the cyber-attack itself. America first, indeed.

Less than a week ago, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced indictments against 12 Russian military officers for allegedly interfering in the U.S. election. Today, President Trump defended Russia's leader.

TRUMP: I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be.

TAPPER: Under President Trump, there have been serious moves contrary to Russian government desires, providing lethal weapons to Ukrainians, ejecting Russian diplomats from the U.S. and continued sanctions.

But President Trump has allowed these moves reluctantly. And the former reality TV star turned president knows the power of showmanship, and his most public messages are to Russia with love.

TRUMP: I called him a competitor, and a good competitor he is.

TAPPER: Trump's arrival in Helsinki after a tense visit to America's closest allies in Brussels and in the United Kingdom, a trip he capped Sunday with this comment to CBS.

TRUMP: I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us on trade.

TAPPER: He gave the same distinction to Russia and to China, but, on state TV in Moscow, this was all portrayed as an unexpected gift.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It's not USSR or Russia that is driving a wedge between transatlantic allies. And the USSR tried to do that many times, but their chief, Washington, and the president of the U.S., who are doing everything to break the foundation of the transatlantic alliance and union.

TAPPER: President Trump doing more to dismantle the U.S.-NATO alliance than any Soviet leader had ever hoped to accomplish.

But should any of this really be a surprise? Throughout his campaign, President Trump constantly made a moral equivalence between the United States and Russia.

QUESTION: Again, he kills journalists that don't agree with him.

TRUMP: Well, I think our country does plenty of killing, also, Joe.

TAPPER: Still, even with that campaign rhetoric, it was stunning today when President Trump sided with Putin over Americans, including over his own intelligence chiefs when asked who he believed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Let's discuss.

Michelle Kosinski, you heard the woman from Russian state television crowing about the fact that...

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Of course.

TAPPER: ... where Brezhnev and Lenin and all the rest failed, President Trump has really destroyed or shaken at least what she called the transatlantic relationship.

But what she is talking about is the United States and NATO. Trump is doing what Yeltsin and Gorbachev and Brezhnev and all the rest could not do.

KOSINSKI: Right.

This is above and beyond the wildest dreams of U.S. allies, senior diplomats, who feared that is something remotely, vaguely approaching this would happen. I mean, they're saying things like they're speechless, they're gutted.

They hold the U.S. and have long held the U.S. to be this shining example of democracy and strength. And like one country that is strong enough to stand up to Russia. So to see this happen, it is stunning. I mean, I know we're saying this over and over but there was one time that Trump called out Vladimir Putin by name and that was for supporting as he put it in a tweet animal Assad. This is one time that he's standing next to Vladimir Putin, one chance he had to at least attempt to put -- if he wants to put it to rest, he could have put it to rest by calling him out once. He couldn't even do it. He has gone above and beyond, even the Kremlin's talking points. What we've heard from Putin on election hacking is the same thing we always hear from the Kremlin that show me the evidence. There's no evidence. Show me the evidence. It was President Trump himself who went further and further and further to criticize his own country right next to Vladimir Putin.

JOHN KIRBY, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: My first time at sea, my first deployment in the Navy back in the late 80s was to the waters right here, Jake, to the North Atlantic and the Baltic for NATO exercises and I don't think -- I think the damage that Donald Trump is doing to the Alliance is real and I think it's going to take some time to get over it but I don't think he can totally tear it asunder. I think NATO, that institution, that organization, the impetus behind it is going to remain. As a matter of fact, Jake, I'd say that that you see almost the same if not a greater spirit inside the alliance to push back on Russia as it was in 1988 when I was right here in the Baltic Sea.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: David, I want to ask you about Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates. On Friday, just on Friday, he was testifying -- or not testifying he was talking publicly about how there were all these cyber-attacks going on, on election infrastructure, regular infrastructure, etcetera. In a brand-new clip from CBS News from the interview with President Trump from Saturday, they just released this, President Trump is asked about that about how the blinking lights are going off just like before 9/11 as Dan Coates said and President Trump says he doesn't know if he agrees with that.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENTS NIXON, FORD, REAGAN, AND CLINTON: Well and that's pretty obvious from what he said today but yes, what Trump said was look, there we're getting attacked daily on cyber. There are four nations that are that there, one is Russia, one in North Korea, and others China, and others -- and there --

TAPPER: Iran, I think --

GERGEN: Iran, yes. But the number one attacker on a daily basis is Russia. And I thought Coates' statement tonight was very good, the one he put out saying we give the President the best intelligence we have. We are straight with him, what he does with it basically we leave to him. I don't think he's under pressure to resign because his intelligence wasn't accepted, I think he's more important than ever to stay at least through this you know, what could be a crisis period here now and see this through. I want to go back to one other point though right. What we've learned in domestic politics is the resistance to Trump has sparked a really strong pushback especially among women, we see that one candidate, women voters, and I think we're going to see much the same with the Europeans. Angela Merkel said, you know, a few weeks ago, we've got to learn how to become more independent and that may be a good thing. It is -- there's something healthy about the Europeans becoming more self and self-reliant.

TAPPER: One other thing that's interesting Kaitlan, and when we touch them -- try to touch this in the piece is President Trump -- I don't know if he believes that there's something special about America. He constantly draws lines of moral equivalence between the United States and Russia. Bill O'Reilly challenged him one time about how Putin's a killer and he said -- President Trump said something along the lines of you know, there's a lot of killers. You don't think we're killers? Then you saw the clip from a candidate Trump with Joe Scarborough about Putin killing reporters and the moral equivalence drawn there. I'm sure he loves his country and I'm not questioning whether or not President Trump loves the country but he certainly seems to think that we are as bad as Russia and I completely reject that.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course, we're not as bad as Russia but the President gets frustrated that he is constantly told that he's not tough enough on Russia that he needs to be harsher that he needs to confront Vladimir Putin on election meddling. You can see that in the way he answers questions about it. He can say well I asked him about it so many times and he keeps denying it you know, like it's this ritual that he just has to do, has to ask but he's not confronting him over it which is what everyone wants them to do. Not just ask, it's not just what you say, it's how you say it.

But that all goes back to the President cannot separate the investigation into Russian meddling in the election and the fact that all of these intelligence agencies have concluded that yes they did meddle in our election, yes they will do it again. He cannot separate that from the allegations that the President or some of his officials colluded with Russian officials. He cannot separate those two and you saw that there today when the President was asked you know, once and for all, this is your chance explicitly in front of everyone to confront him over meddling in the election and he immediately went to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee and their server that he said the FBI needs to go and get. He cannot separate the two and that all stems back to this frustration and it is a lot of why he feel -- he doesn't like being told what to do so he feels -- when someone tells him what to do -- what to do, he's going to do the complete --

TAPPER: Yes, he kind of say that when you bring up the DNC server, you are questioning whether or not the Russians attacked the DNC server. That's what that is. When you read people in the fever swamps of the internet talking about the DNC server, they're suggesting that it was not a Russia hack, someone else was involved. Everyone stick around. Our next guest was in charge of the Situation Room and a former CIA official. He's worked under two presidents and he says the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates, he could do one thing that would send a very clear message to President Trump. What is that thing? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. President Trump stunning, stunning current and former U.S. intelligence officials when he appeared to take Vladimir Putin's side on the question of a Russian election interference over his own Intelligence Community. Joining me now is Larry Pfeiffer. He's a former Senior Director of the White House Situation Room under President Obama and he was a senior official at the CIA under President George W. Bush. Larry, thanks for joining us. You tweeted that the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates should resign today and then you followed it up with this. "Nothing personal against Dan Coates, frankly a resignation by someone of his caliber and credibility would have greater impact. Why do you think there needs to be impact? What is the message that needs to happen here?

LARRY PFEIFFER, FORMER SENIOR DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE SITUATION ROOM: Well, we clearly had a situation today in Helsinki where the President United States repudiated the U.S. Intelligence Community in front of our number-one adversary, the man who directed the activities that are subject of the counterintelligence investigation being led by the FBI and being fed with data from the Intel Community. I don't know how somebody like Dan Coates can continue to serve when his -- the work of his institution has been such were so repudiated.

TAPPER: This information just in and asked about President Trump and his performance today a source close to the White House said quote everyone around him, everyone around President Trump is afraid to tell him he shouldn't do these things." What's your reaction to that as somebody who worked in The Situation Room under President Obama?

PFEIFFER: Well, that's a shame because I think we need people around our most powerful people to keep them honest and to keep them abreast of the information they need to do their job correctly. And when the emperor has no clothes, he needs to be told he has no clothes. So I think if a guy like Dan Coats were to resign today or tomorrow, it would send a message in a statement. It would focus a conversation, it would draw attention to this issue and it would force a debate at a minimum. We would have a confirmation hearing for a replacement that could be quite dramatic and quite contentious.

TAPPER: You worked in the CIA, you were senior official there during George W. Bush's presidency. What are your former colleagues in the intelligence world saying about President Trump's performance here today?

PFEIFFER: I think everybody you reflected it in your panel, everybody is stunned, gobsmacked, just almost speechless. It's just amazing to see that kind of commentary coming from the Commander in Chief. Just today, do you think change anything for U.S. Russia relations going forward?

PFEIFFER: Well, it clearly sends a green light to President Putin of Russia that he can get away with this kind of activity, that when the leader of the free world gives him a hall pass it gives him the -- well, I said the green light to move forward and I think we can expect to see more from Russia which will make it even more challenging for the good people of institutions like State Department and the Intelligence Community and the Department of Justice to do their jobs.

TAPPER: President Trump has been attacking the Intelligence Community since the end of 2016 when he likened intelligence officials to Nazi Germany. And to be frank, I don't -- you work for both Obama and George W. Bush so I have no idea what your partisan affiliations are even if you have them. But to be frank, we've seen a lot of tolerance for this kind of behavior among Republican officials, Republican officials who would be holding impeachment hearings had a President Clinton or a President Obama done what we saw here today.

PFEIFFER: Correct. And I think today's performance by the President should be a signal to many of those people that it's time to perhaps say publicly what you often say privately in the parlors and restaurants of Washington.

TAPPER: And do you think, sir, that that will happen?

PFEIFFER: I've seen some commentary today coming out of some Republicans that was that's a little bit harsher in tone than we've seen in the past but I think the -- time will tell.

TAPPER: All right, Larry Pfeiffer who worked in the Situation Room under President Obama and in the CIA for George W. Bush, thank you for your time. I really appreciate it. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage from Helsinki continues with Wolf Blitzer who has brought "THE SITUATION ROOM" to Finland. Stay with CNN.