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DNI Dan Coates" "Clear" That Russia Meddled; Putin: "Utter Nonsense" He Has Compromising Material on Trump; Schumer Holds Press Conference on Trump/Putin Summit; McCain Criticizes Trump Meeting with Putin. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired July 16, 2018 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:31:47] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We heard a response from Senator John McCain. I'll just give you the headline from his response. He called it one of the most disgraceful performances -- one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in recent memory.
Just in from DNI, director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, who the president referred to as giving him information about the Intelligence Community's assessment, Coats says, "The role of the Intelligence Community is to provide the best information and fact- based assessments possible for the president and policy makers. We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security."
DNI Coats, director of National Intelligence.
Again, the president was asked point blank.
Let's bring in Jim Sciutto, CNN's chief national security correspondent, and Josh Campbell, CNN law enforcement analyst, formerly with the FBI.
Jim, your reaction to DNI Coats' statement. Coats is particularly significant because the president referenced that Coats had came to him and said, well, we think it's Russia, which, frankly, they are more sure than they think it's Russia. Then when he was asked, who he believes, his own intelligence or Vladimir Putin, he went to the rain man-like rift about Hillary Clinton's 3,000 e-mails and the server.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's also important that this is an appointee of the president. Dan Coats, a former Republican Senator himself, appointed as director of National Intelligence by President Trump. So President Trump cannot loft the same balls at him as he does at Mueller and his team saying somehow they are playing for a different team here. This is a senior member of this president's intelligence team. That's one.
More importantly, I would say this is a remarkable brushback pitch from the director of National Intelligence, directly contradicting the sitting U.S. president. I will tell you, I was reaching out to intelligence officials this morning to ask for their reaction to the president's comments, and unanimously they were saying, listen, you know, we are not going to get public with this right now. We stand by the assessment. I would refer you back to that, et cetera. This is the director. And this would have to come from Coats himself saying, no, I want to make a public comment that one stands by our assessment backing up the Intelligence Community, but also delivers a very clear message to the president and to the world that the president's an outlier here. That's a remarkable division to have within this government in the face of the threat from Russia.
COOPER: Josh Campbell, you know, for those who may think, well, look, this is just politics, it's much ado about nothing this is media attacking the president unfairly, or Democrats attacking the president unfairly, can you just explain the importance of the president of the United States, the leader of the United States, being on the same page with the assessment of not only the Mueller investigation in terms of the indictments but also the Intelligence Community overwhelmingly, and coordinating a response to make sure Russian meddling in the next election doesn't happen again? Because we have heard from Chris Wray, of the FBI, in front of Congress, and others, who say, look, the FBI is working hard to make sure that doesn't happen again. How important is it that the president is overseeing and kind of spearheading of all of these efforts?
[14:35:15] JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well it's vitally important. I have been hearing from a number of colleagues, at the FBI, CIA, and the national security establishment, and there seems to be -- much of what they say I can't repeat on the air. It's that intense. But the theme throughout has been disgust, disgust in having the commander-in-chief sitting there, standing next to a former KGB agent who was responsible for many of the threats they spend their days countering, and then to go on and discuss he doesn't really believe what his Intelligence Community is saying, as evidenced by the fact he is giving credence to what Putin is saying right next to him. It sends a shock wave.
I have to tell you, one of the other themes seems to be - me, as a national security professional. I am alarmed. I'm not prone to hyperbole. I'm an optimist. I have no good news to report here because it is alarming to think that the president of the United States is saying and doing thing that run completely counter to American national security.
Now, we are going to talk a lot about what the president did today, what he did standing there at that dais. As intelligence professionals, we are looking at the why. We have to drill down on that both on the intelligence and the media side. What is motivating this president to do things that run 180 degrees opposite of what his Intelligence Community is telling him. A lot of the theories, there are theories out there, obviously, we don't know the answer but we have to keep drilling down because that is the issue here.
COOPER: I'm getting word from Kaitlan Collins. Her reporting that White House officials are saying they don't know, at this point, how to respond to questions about President Trump's striking press conference in Helsinki today.
Jim, the White House is going to have a lot to answer for, certainly, when they land, a couple of hours from now. I'm sure they will come up with something about how tough the president was behind the scenes perhaps.
What is extraordinary about this president, for a person who came to fame firing people, looking like a tough guy, portraying himself as a tough guy, who has no problem in an auditorium filled with thousands of people turning the attention on Jim Acosta or on reporters or on an individual protestor and portraying himself as a tough guy, but when he gets one on one with an actual tough guy, Vladimir Putin, it doesn't have the gumption. It doesn't seem like -- he almost seems almost obsequious.
SCIUTTO: Look at his public statements in the last week. His public criticism has been purely reserved for America's closed allies. He identified the E.U. as a threat. He took shots at the German chancellor. He has done it in the past to the Canadian prime minister, et cetera. While at the same time --
COOPER: By the way, I should point out not to their faces.
SCIUTTO: I get it. I get it.
COOPER: He attacked Theresa May in "The Sun" tabloid, and then when you are with her say, oh, she is a terrific lady.
SCIUTTO: Listen, that gets to issues of his personality I can't analyze. But I can look at the public comments. The pattern is reserve strong public criticism for your allies while praising -- it's not just one -- authoritarian leader. It is the Russian president, the North Korean dictator, and the Chinese president, who all share the quality, right, they were not freely elected by their people and they behave like and are authoritarians. It's a remarkable contrast for a U.S. president.
Anderson, on that point, that's not rhetorically important, or important because it is a Twitter headline of the day. It runs counter to the statements and policies of U.S. presidents of both parties for decades. In doing so, runs counter to the values that U.S. foreign policy has attempted to uphold by distinguishing between authoritarians and elected leaders. Our allies tend to be elected leaders, democracies. Our enemies tend to authoritarians. Yet, based on his statements, that's being reversed. The thing is, at the same time, Anderson, policies are being changed here. If the president doesn't believe Russia interfered, then the president is not going to lead a defense against those elections being interfered with. If the president raises the possibility that Russia has acclaimed annexing Crimea, then he may very well reverse U.S. policy of fighting that annexation. There's effect rhetorically but there's effect to the policy as well.
[14:39:28] COOPER: Jim Sciutto, Josh Campbell, I appreciate you both being with us on what has been really a difficult day for this country and, frankly, for much of the free world.
Ahead, one Western diplomat calling Trump's comments devastating. Did it confirm their worst fears? You will hear what else they have been saying. And if the Russian government even needed to spin what happened today, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sir, do you, does the Russian government, have any compromising material on President Trump or his family?
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translation): Let me tell you this, when President Trump visited Moscow back then, I didn't even know that he was in Moscow.
Let's take St. Petersburg Economic Forum for instance. There were over 500 American businessmen, the high-ranking, the high-level ones. I don't even remember the last names of each and every one of them. Do you remember? Do you think that we try to collect compromising material on each and every single one of them? Well it's difficult to imagine an utter nonsense of a bigger scale than this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: It is not that difficult to imagine wanting to get compromising material on high-ranking American businessmen.
Joining ne now is CNN senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, and Mikhail Fishman, a Russian journalist and a Putin critic who used to be the editor-in-chief of the "Moscow Times."
Appreciate both of you being with us.
Mikhail, let's start with you.
You are in Moscow. I'm wondering, how is this news conference being perceived now in Russia.
[14:45:04] MIKHAIL FISHMAN, RUSSIA JOURNALIST & PUTIN CRITIC & FORMER EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, MOSCOW TIMES: Well, it's probably too early to assess because it's late night in Moscow and night shows just started analyzing the press conference and the summit.
But it's quite easy to reconstruct the reaction. And the main point would be that, we got it, that Putin comes out as a respected global player and as a leader, global leader from this summit, and that Trump -- I think that would be one of the main points, Trump agreed with Putin. Not Putin agreed with Trump. But Trump agreed with Putin. This is, of course, very important. We have to understand that summits like this, for -- in the eyes of Russian audiences, are the pinnacle of Russian posture. They represent respect. And this is what Trump delivered. He delivered respect today. COOPER: Fred, I mean, that's such an important point that Mikhail
made, especially given the financial situation that Russia has been facing over the last couple of years and Putin's own standing.
FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely right. I mean, this was definitely one of the biggest wins I think that Putin has had in a very long time. We were analyzing this as it was unfolding. To the Russians, I don't think it could have gone any better than it did. At the beginning, we were talking about how Putin was late to the summit. He was not late at all. He was planning to arrive exactly as Russia's main political talk show was starting. That's exactly when his plane landed. You could see Putin going to the summit and Trump essentially waiting for him in Helsinki to then join him.
COOPER: It wasn't like there was a traffic jam --
PLEITGEN: There was no traffic jam.
COOPER: -- and he couldn't get there.
PLEITGEN: No, no, it was exactly staged, planned. You could see it on their show. And then afterwards, you have a lot of these analysts saying, look, President Trump has showed respect to President Putin. It seems as though he feels he owes President Putin something. It's clear to them who was in charge in the summit and who showed respect to who.
PLEITGEN: It's very interesting to see unfolding on Russia TV right now.
COOPER: Putin got the first question, of course, from Russian media.
Mikhail, just in terms of the moving forward from here, I mean, it is stunning -- I'm wondering your perspective. It is stunning from a U.S. perspective to hear the president of the United States seeming to capitulate so much just in front of Vladimir Putin and not in any way directly challenging him on what the United States says they have clear evidence of, which is meddling in this 2016 election and, frankly, meddling in other elections and our upcoming election.
FISHMAN: I have to say that it's as surprising to me as it is probably -- probably to you. Because it looked so much a victory for Putin, even given that he wanted the summit from the very start, before it even begun. But, still, how Trump delivered, and what he -- his comments on what he -- to give you an example of what he called an interesting idea in account of meddling in the American election is actually from our point of view, from those who follow Russian television and Russian propaganda, is basically a joke, what Putin said and proposed suggested of letting representatives of Mueller's probe to take part or to take part in the interrogations here in Moscow in exchange of letting Russian officials interrogating those -- he mentioned Bill Browder and those probably connected to them.
COOPER: Mikhail, I have to jump in.
FISHMAN: It wasn't the way it's use to.
COOPER: Mikhail, I appreciate that comment. Thank you for joining us.
COOPER: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is holding a press conference right now about the Helsinki summit. Let's listen.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Ending with his shameful performance at today's press conference, President Trump has strengthened our adversaries while weakening our defenses and those of our allies.
A single ominous question now hangs over the White House, what could possibly cause President Trump to put the interests of Russia over those of the United States. Millions of Americans will continue to wonder if the only possible explanation for this dangerous behavior is the possibility that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump.
[14:49:06] Like any patriotic American, I was absolutely appalled by the press conference that capped off the president's trip to Europe this morning. I didn't think it could get worse than his performance at the NATO summit, but it sure did. In just the last week alone, the president attacked our closest allies in NATO, calling the European Union a foe, meddled in the domestic affairs of an ally by undermining the prime minister of the United Kingdom. And that was all before he held a summit and down-right shameful press conference with the man who directed the interference in our 2016 elections and, according to all reports, continues to try and do so today. At every step along the way, the president is kneecapping our allies and offering a helping hand to our adversaries.
When it comes to the interference in our 2016 elections, the president has managed to point his finger at just about everybody except the culprit. It's inexplicable. Or maybe it's not. President Trump has blamed Secretary Clinton. He has blamed the DNC. He has blamed the FBI. He said that, quote, "Both countries are responsible for the state of relations between the United States and Russia." The one person he hasn't blamed is the person he stood shoulder to shoulder with this morning, Vladimir Putin.
On Friday, Rod Rosenstein and Bob Mueller handed President Trump the evidence that President Putin had requested. The 29-page indictment is a document of unparalleled work and is exactly what the president needed to stand up to Mr. Putin. He should have marched in, put the indictment on the table, and demanded justice. Rather than taking the opportunity to confront Putin, rather than taking the opportunity to demand that Putin hand over the named Russian intelligence agents indicted last week, the president sided with Vladimir Putin's denial over the unanimous, unanimous conclusion of the United States Intelligence Community. He took the word of the KGB over the men and women of the CIA. Rather than placing blame for what happened in 2016 on Russia, where it belongs, the president had the gall to blame both countries for the troubled relationship. The president put what's best for him over what's best for the security and well-being of the United States.
The question now looms, what, if anything, will Congress do in response to this awful trip? Where are our Republican colleagues? Where are the Republicans who roared approval when Reagan told Gorbachev to tear down the wall? Where are the Republicans who demanded a strong response when Putin annexed Crimea? Where are the Republicans who know in their heart the president is giving away the store to Vladimir Putin? Now is the time for our Republican colleagues to join us, bipartisan, and stand up. If we wait much longer, our global alliances will fracture. The institutions that America created in the wake of World War II will crumble, our allies will consider abandoning us, possibly for China and others, and Putin's Russia will emerge stronger for it. That's what he wants and that's what President Trump inexplicably is helping him do.
Our American colleagues can push back right now to push back against this slippery slope that the president has put us on. Speaker Ryan today said nice things. But talk is not enough. We need action, bipartisan strong action. And we need our Republican colleagues to stand up for the good of this country.
I am asking our Republican colleagues to do four things. First, they can start by refusing to water down and, instead, decide to ratchet up sanctions against Russia. In the House, there's right now an effort to ratchet these sanctions down. Given what Mr. Putin said today, given the indictments, given what Mr. Trump said today, that cannot happen. Sanctions should be ratcheted up. And as you know, the House Republicans have been pushing a provision in the defense bill that would create a loophole in sanctions targeted at Putin's defense and intelligence sectors. They should drop that immediately.
[14:55:01] Second, our Republican colleagues should demand, as we are, that the president's national security team that accompanied him to the Putin meeting immediately come and testify before Congress. What kind of briefings did they give him beforehand? What did they say to them afterwards? We need them to come before Congress and the American people immediately because there are so many troubling questions out there. And if you think the press conference was bad, imagine what happened inside when the president and Mr. Putin were alone. We need answers. We need them now.
Third, our Republican colleagues need to end, once and for all, their attacks on the Department of Justice, the FBI, and Special Counsel Mueller. The special counsel needs to finish his work. The president needs to sit for an interview with the special counsel. Now more than ever. Enough delay. Enough interference. It's time to sit down for an interview.
And fourth, our Republican colleagues must demand loudly and clearly that the president insist that the 12 Russians named in the indictment last night be sent to the United States immediately to stand trial. I am asking Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan, both friends, to make sure these four things are done. In fact, for the sake of our country, I am pleading with them to join us in making sure that these four things are done.
Senator McCain spoke out strongly. He's always been the conscience of the Republican Party when it comes to actually taking action on issues like these. A few of our Republican colleagues have spoken out and talked the talk. But it's time for the Republican Party to walk the walk, given the direness of this situation.
The president is doing grave harm to the standing of these United States while kowtowing to the number one enemy we probably have on the globe, Vladimir Putin. He'll continue to do so if he isn't checked. And the best people to check him are not Democrats, but his fellow Republicans. What the president has done is an insult to all Americans -- Democrats, Republicans, Independents. We all have to stand up together and push back.
I'm ready for your questions.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) -- the only explanation for the president's behavior here is that the Russians have something on him?
SCHUMER: His behavior is so inexplicable and so against the interests of the United States, so against what all of his advisors would tell him, that Americans are scratching their head and saying, if that's not the explanation, that Putin has something on it, what is it? What the heck could it be?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) -- Republicans to be the best check. What check can Democrats be? Your people whisper around the edges about impeachment. Some people --
COOPER: Senator Chuck Schumer giving his take on what we witnessed earlier today in Helsinki.
Standing by is our Gloria Borger.
Gloria, what do you make of the Senator's comments? We heard from Senator McCain saying this was one of the most disgraceful performances by a president in memory.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, John McCain's statement, also the director of National Intelligence statement saying they stand by their intelligence, and now Chuck Schumer will exert a whole bunch of pressure on Republicans to stand up on this. Chuck Schumer says, look, I don't know why he's doing this, implying, of course, that Putin has something on Donald Trump. But he did give them some things that Congress can do, which is ratchet up sanctions, demand that the people who were part of this team testify before the Congress. I'm surprised he didn't also say, I want the transcription of the notes made public of this meeting. I'm sure somebody is going to talk about that. But you can see very slowly, Anderson, the pressure starting to build. And Schumer coming out and saying, look, we can't do this by ourselves, but you guys need to stand up. And that's where the moral authority of a John McCain, I think, really makes a difference here. We will have to see what happens when Mitch McConnell speaks and when the rest of Congress gets to talk about what occurred today. I do think they will start demanding explanations and answers.
[15:00:02] COOPER: Yes.
Gloria Borger, thanks very much.
You can join me again at 6:25 p.m. Eastern time on facebook.com/andersoncooperfullcircle, a brand-new program we're starting today. Also, of course, on "A.C. 360" at 8:00 p.m. --