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'Disgraceful Performance' by President Trump at Putin Meeting?. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired July 16, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You can join me again at 6:25 p.m. Eastern time on Facebook.com/AndersonCooperFullCircle, a brand-new program we are starting today, also, of course, on "AC360" at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time from live here in Helsinki.
Special coverage right now, though, continues now with Jake Tapper and THE LEAD -- Jake.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Played like a fiddle. Unmitigated disaster. Embarrassing. These are the words of a national security expert who has supported President Trump responding to Mr. Trump's comments here in Helsinki.
Welcome to our special coverage. I'm Jake Tapper live from Allas Sea Pool in Helsinki, Finland.
And the ripples of the event that just took place behind me are cascading around the world. As you know, President Trump just met one on one with Russian President Vladimir Putin for two hours.
Before the event, President Trump blamed the United States for the state of bad relations between the two nations. After their meeting, the president stood next to Putin and drew a moral equivalence between the United States and Russia and told the world that he cannot be sure who to believe, the United States intelligence community or the Russian president, on the subject of Russian election interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
President Trump stood next to Putin and said he didn't see any reasons why Russia would have done it. Of his own Justice Department's announcement of 12 indictments of Russian military intelligence officials just on Friday, President Trump said the probe was -- quote -- "a disaster for our country."
It was a stunning moment.
Republican Senator John McCain called the press conference "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory," saying that President Trump -- quote -- "proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin." Former CIA Director John Brennan was even harsher, saying President Trump's performance -- quote -- "exceeds the threshold of high creams and demeanors." It was, Brennan said, "nothing short of treasonous."
Minutes ago, Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said this to CNN:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I just felt like the president's comments made us look as a nation more like a pushover. I did not think this was a good moment for our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Let's go straight to CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, the president was given the tune to condemn Russia's actions. Instead, he attacked Democrats, he attacked journalists and he attacked the U.S. intelligence community.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, it was extraordinary, as you said.
And he did all of that here in Helsinki on foreign soil. Perhaps not surprising the president again rejecting the growing, rising evidence from the U.S. intelligence community and his own Department of Justice, but even his own advisers and people within his government surprised that he did so on foreign soil and made the focus of this summit so much on election meddling.
If he had an unkind, harsh word for Vladimir Putin, boy, we certainly did not hear it in public either before the meeting or after the meeting at the press conference.
But, Jake, this is what he said earlier in the Presidential Palace as Putin watched.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I have great confidence in my intelligence people but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.
All I can do is ask the question.
My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it's Russia. 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: Well, of course, there are many reasons why it would be. In fact, many of them have been laid out in indictments from his own
Jake, the reality is, the president really didn't change his tune much at all. He was sharper in his questioning of this than he was last fall in Vietnam, when he said believed Vladimir Putin's denials. That's the last time he met him, of course.
But, Jake, certainly, there is considerable evidence out there. The president seemed to ignore all of that today here in Helsinki.
TAPPER: Jeff, is there a sense from the White House officials you speak with that they have any idea just how horrified so many Americans and so many people around the world are by what President Trump said today?
ZELENY: Jake, the White House officials I have spoken to know it's bad, but they are not sure quite how bad it is. They are still assessing the fallout it.
In fact, just shortly after the press conference, I was speaking with one senior administration official who is back in Washington who sent me a note saying, how bad is this, wondering on the ground how bad it was here.
The president, of course, is flying back to Washington. He will return there this evening. He is likely watching news coverage of this, of course, so I wouldn't be surprised if he weighed in, in some respect.
We are hearing from people inside the president's own government, namely, Dan Coats, his director of national intelligence, who just put out a statement a few moments ago saying unequivocally Russia that did meddle in the election and is trying to undermine democracy.
Jake, I cannot recall a moment since this president has been in office where Republicans actually have stepped up and raised questions about this across the board.
We are just hearing from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell as well on this saying the president is flatly wrong. We will see what happens from here.
I guess we have to wait to see what the president says about all this criticism, Jake. But there is no question Vladimir Putin heading back to Moscow a happy man -- Jake.
Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.
Let's bring in my panel of experts.
Phil Mudd, I want to read something from Congressman Will Hurd. He's a Republican. He's also a former CIA agent, CIA officer on the ground. And he just tweeted a number of things.
But one of the things he wrote was -- quote -- "I have seen Russian intelligence manipulate many people over my professional career, and I never would have thought that the U.S. president would become one of the ones getting played by old KGB hands."
Obviously, Vladimir Putin is a former lieutenant colonel in the KGB. Your response? Do you think that President Trump got played by Vladimir Putin?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: No. President Trump said, I'm going to walk in and play a pair of deuces and then he laid down a pair of deuces.
We knew by tweets beforehand that the president was going to say, if you want to get, Vladimir Putin, just say you didn't do it, because I'm not subject you to a cross-examination. That's what the president said.
I am a trained CIA guy. I spent 25 years there. I am reading this as a junior genius saying, if the president tells me I have a get out of jail free card, I'm going to take it. So Putin said, all right, I didn't do it.
And the president could easily have said, look, we had a conversation, we will have continuing conversation, I am going to hold him accountable. We have other issues in Syria, issues in Eastern Europe.
The president saw a pile of dog crap and stepped into it. It is not that complicated. It wasn't Putin. It was the president's choice. He chose to do it.
TAPPER: Susan Glasser, you have been talking on the phone and getting e-mails and texts from U.S. officials, European officials. What are you hearing?
SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, look, I mean, there is no secret of the fact even before this meeting that President Trump was in some ways a party of one when it comes to Russia, right, that even many Republicans, of course, have been very concerned about Russia's essentially revision of the existing world order over the last decade-and-a-half.
So President Trump has really not had a group of people around him who support what he is doing. But I think we are going to see a lot more people like the person who just e-mailed me, a senior U.S. official in Europe. He said this is a dark day for any patriotic American.
And the question, of course, rightfully, is what is Congressman Will Hurd going to do about it? What is this unnamed official going to do about it? These are fair questions to ask, because I think it's been interesting, hasn't it, Jake, to watch Europeans experience the Trump whirlwind news cycle that we have been living in, in Washington for the last couple years.
We're not surprised on some level to hear President Trump call it a witch-hunt, to hear President Trump say that Mueller is a disaster for the country. It's still shocking to see him do it here in Helsinki standing literally right next to Vladimir Putin.
TAPPER: Always surprising, but never shocking, but is it the other way around?
GLASSER: Always shocking, yes.
TAPPER: Always shocking, but never surprising.
Michelle, President Trump said something very interesting in that press conference. He said, all I can do is ask the question of Vladimir Putin.
That's not true. He can do any number of things and say here the is evidence and this is your punishment.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: He could warn him. He could threaten him. He could say, we can't have cooperation on any number of things that would benefit you or would benefit both of us unless we do this, or even what strikes me as incredible is he somehow managed to get everybody around him to agree that he would sit down with Putin for this 90 minutes.
And within that time, he couldn't say at the very, very least, look, this is my chance. I'm uncomfortable with all the criticism I get. And we know from all of his tweets that Trump is uncomfortable being criticized over Russia. He could say this is my name. Here's what I'm going to say about you. I need to criticize Russia. I need to say this, get it out. And then maybe we can move on.
I need to get something out there on the table.
But even as shallow as that could have even been, even that didn't happen. I mean, President Trump and what makes people around the world so incredulous about this is that he sold out the U.S. intelligence community so thoroughly that he suggested it would be great if the U.S. and Russia could really work together on cyber- security.
He suggested that it would be an incredible idea, he said, if Russian law enforcement and intelligence interview people indicted in the U.S. He sold them out so thoroughly that he said it would actually be better if things happened in Russia, because their justice system would have handled it differently.
TAPPER: One of the other thing that was surprising is when I think it was Reuters reporter Jeff Mason -- I have to say, the American reporters, Jon Lemire from AP and Jeff Mason from Reuters, did a great job, and also demonstrate why tough interviews and tough questions of President Trump are necessary, and the weak sauce interviews we often see are a disservice to the United States.
But one of the things that Jeff Mason said, Phil, was, you put out that tweet saying the United States is responsible for the bad state of relations. Is there nothing you would hold Russia accountable for?
And President Trump didn't list anything. He didn't list one thing, not Ukraine, not Crimea, not the poisoning in the U.K., not the election interference. Nothing.
MUDD: He is violating a basic rule.
Let's make sure we are clear on what we are talking about here. When he goes into North Korea after five hours of meetings and comes out and says, I think we are safe, people like me are scratching our head saying, can you show me the money, show me the eliminated missiles, show me the eliminated nuclear material?
That's a question about his judgment. In this case, you're going overseas and there is a fundamental difference between questioning his judgment on North Korea and questioning his judgment today.
He's going overseas. It's not just the intelligence community. It's the secretary of homeland security. Homeland Security comes out this week, says, we continue to see activity in the United States. That's not the Obama administration. That's this week.
You're talking about the secretary of state having to deal with the Russians and expressing reservations in his confirmation hearing. You're talking about the entire Cabinet, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself because he is concerned about Russian activity during the campaign.
And the president goes overseas and says, I, passing over the Atlantic Ocean, am going to throw the United States, not just the intelligence community, American citizens, under the bus and say, I trust the KGB agent.
I don't know what to say.
TAPPER: It's astounding.
Everyone, stick around. We have got a lot more to talk about.
There's fury from Capitol Hill after the summit, of course. It's coming from both sides of the aisle. But the big question, will Republicans actually stand up to President Trump?
Stay with us.
TAPPER: And we are back from Helsinki with breaking news.
The U.S. Justice Department revealing just minutes ago that they have charged a Russian national with being a spy for the Russian government in the United States. The U.S. government alleging that Maria Butina was developing relationships with Americans and infiltrating organizations that have influence in U.S. politics. Butina was involved with a Russian gun group that the NRA, the National Rifle Association, supported. She was arrested Sunday and appeared in court today, according to the Justice Department.
We will bring you more on that story as we get it.
This, of course, all comes as Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are reacting and in some cases blasting President Trump for siding with Vladimir Putin over his intelligence community on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today saying in statement -- quote -- "Russia is not our friend." And he agrees with the findings of the intelligence community regarding Russia's efforts to interfere in our elections. "Those positions have not changed."
CNN's Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill.
Phil, the top Senate Democrat, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, he had some strong words.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it, Jake.
Schumer going as far as to question whether or not Russians and President Vladimir Putin actually had damaging information on the president, but more pointedly saying the president picked sides here, and he did not choose the United States' side. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: He took the word of the KGB over the men and women of the CIA.
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: But, Jake, as you noted, the real question now is, where are Republicans on this?
Obviously, you read Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's statement on this issue. You have seen strong denunciations, stronger than we have seen in the past on most issues from Republicans from the leadership level on down.
But the real question becomes, what do they do from here? Schumer requested hearings. He requested a ratcheting up of sanction. He requested that the 12 individuals that were indicted on Friday, that pressure from Republicans go to turn those individuals over.
Whether or not that will happen or whether Republican leaders will stop at statements, well, history would show it is probably more the latter than the former. But I can tell you behind the scenes what has been going on throughout
the day as senators and House Republicans came back to Washington, D.C. They were flabbergasted. I was getting texts from aides during the press conference, one of whom said it was surreal, another who said it was Bizarro World.
You heard multiple senators trying the figure out exactly what the president was trying to do here. Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Bob Corker trying to figure out if perhaps he was just trying to be nice as a negotiating strategy.
But perhaps the best kind of overall summation of where things stand came from a senior Republican aide to me just a short while ago, saying, plainly, Jake, there is no defense.
That's where both Republicans and Democrats almost entirely across the board seem to be at this point on Capitol Hill.
TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly, thank so much.
President Trump basically said he believes Vladimir Putin over his intelligence community. Should the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, resign in protest?
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back.
It was music to Vladimir Putin's ears, no doubt, the president of the United States suggesting that he sides with Putin and Russia over the United States' own intelligence agencies on the subject of whether Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, the cyber- attacks, and more.
That all stands in stark contrast to the conclusion of President Trump's own director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, who just released a statement saying it is abundantly clear Russia interfered and it was orchestrated from the top.
Joining me now is CNN chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, along with former FBI supervisory agent Josh Campbell.
Jim Sciutto, let me start with you.
What are your sources telling you about Coats releasing this statement?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I'm told the following, Jake.
One, that it was the director's decision himself to put the statement out under his name. And a reminder, he is, of course, President Trump's appointee to be the director of national intelligence, the senior-most intelligence officials overseeing all of the intelligence agencies. He's also a former Republican senator himself.
I'm told that it followed internal deliberations this morning, Jake, that, when Coats and his team were presented with the president's comments, comments that they were not prepared for, did not expect, they were faced, I'm told, with a choice, to decide if and how to respond and that the director chose to respond with his name on that statement.
Finally, Jake, I asked if the DNI ran this statement by the White House before releasing it or had it cleared, rather, by the White House before releasing it. I'm told it was not cleared by the White House, though I imagine normal practice would be to at least give them a heads up that it was coming out.
But they did not clear the wording of this statement or the statement itself with the White House.
TAPPER: Josh Campbell, that's not the only choice facing Dan Coats, of course, the director of national intelligence.
Larry Pfeiffer, who is a former CIA officer, he ran the Situation Room under President George W. Bush, tweeted this afternoon -- quote -- "With Trump's repudiation of U.S. intelligence, director of national intelligence, Director Dan Coats, should resign in protest and disgust" -- unquote.
Do you agree, Josh?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: There are two parts there.
There is the principle and then there's the idea of can I be effective in this position? On one hand, you have the president of the United States, who is undercutting the United States intelligence community and the director of national intelligence by going out and standing next to Vladimir Putin and telling the entire world that I believe this person, a former KGB agent, over my own intelligence community professionals.
I think, personally, it would be very difficult on principle to stay in the job when the commander in chief is doing that. Then we get to effectiveness. How can the director of national intelligence or any senior level official who has stood behind these assessments be effective when you have the president that is undercutting them?
I have been hearing from a number of former FBI and CIA professionals that I worked with when I was in national security, and that seems to be the theme, that this is going to cascade beyond this one issue. This will now undercut us on a host of issues. I don't know how someone stays in the job under those circumstances.
TAPPER: Speaking of criticism of U.S. intelligence, Jim Sciutto, I want you to take a listen to something President Trump said in which he seemed to take a shot at the Mueller investigation and blaming it for the bad state of relations between the U.S. and Russia.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I do feel that we have both made some mistakes. I think that the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it's kept us apart, it's kept us separated.
There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Now, to be clear, the probe is into the Russian interference in the campaign in 2016 and whether or not there was any conspiracy by any Americans, including those in the Trump world.
But President Trump doesn't seem to be able to separate this overall investigation into the cyber-attack from the part that has to do with whether or not anybody close to him corresponded in any way with the Russians. What do you think?
SCIUTTO: Well, listen, it's odd logic there to blame an investigation into Russian interference in the election for the tensions, right, when it's obviously the Russian interference in the election that is the essential spark or one of many sparks for the troubles between the U.S. and Russia right now.
And keep in mind, that's from a long list, Jake, as you well know. We have discussed this many times. Russia has also annexed Crimea. It's propagating a war in Eastern Ukraine, a whole host of bad behavior that is not only contradictory to U.S. values, but also contradictory to U.S. interests in those places.
And yet, as you say, the president always conflates this with how it affects his own view of the perception of his election victory, which is what he brought it back to.
TAPPER: And, Josh, President Trump praised President Putin for offering special counsel Mueller the opportunity, kind of, to come to Russia, request evidence, potentially meet with some of the Russian military intelligence officers who were indicted.
Of course, there was a catch to that offer.
Josh, your response?
CAMPBELL: Oh, I'm sorry. I thought we had video of that.
Yes, this whole thing is an entire farce, Jake, when you think about it. We have an FBI legal attache that is sitting in Moscow. You have a CIA chief of station. You have an ambassador. You have people that are already in place in order to share information, in order to provide a two-way street, if you will, what the Russians know, what the Americans know.
This is an additional aspect of this whataboutism that we continue to see. It was on full display throughout the entire press conference, where any time the leaders got uncomfortable, they would pivot to something else.
I think this whole idea of Mueller going over and being able to now engage in some type of cooperation and this joint cyber-initiative, it is all a distraction.
There is no way that either leader really has in their own interest and their own mind the ability or -- or, you know, that they want to really focus at this issue, because I think they are afraid of where it's going to lead.