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Corker Critical of Trump at Summit with Putin; Ryan, Others Criticize Trump's Summit with Putin; Trump Says U.S./Russia Relationship Better in Last Few Hours; Putin Acknowledges Wish for Trump to Win Election. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired July 16, 2018 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:30:00] SEN. BOB CORKER, (R-TN), CHAIRMAN, SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I felt like that everyone who's dealt with Putin understands fully that the best way to deal with him is through strength. I just felt like the president's comments made us look as a nation more like a pushover. I was disappointed in that. When he had the opportunity to defend our intelligence agencies, who work for him, I was very disappointed and saddened with the equivalency he gave between them and what Putin was saying. So I was very disappointed in that.
You know, Congress has spoken strongly. Very few bills around here pass 98-2, but we led on pushing back against Russia for many of the things they've done, which have been counter to U.S. interests. I just felt like the president should have been more forceful in talking about those grievances. Again, Putin only understands strength. I did not think this was a good moment for our country.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He said he doesn't believe there's any reason to believe whether or not Putin interfered in the United States election. What's your reaction to the president casting doubt on the U.S. intelligence agencies?
CORKER: Yes, I just don't know where that comes from because there's no question that Putin interfered in the elections. I was just in the region, I think you know, in four countries that are near or on the border of Russia. They experience it nonstop. They definitely interfered in our election. That's not debatable. Again, I just don't know what it is about the president that continues to deny that that occurred.
I get the feeling -- I mean, I've seen it first hand, actually. Sometimes the president cares more about how a leader treats him personally than forcefully getting out there and pushing against things that we know have harmed our nation. I thought that's what we all experienced today.
RAJU: Do you think he's made the country weaker?
CORKER: Our country? I certainly would not say that.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is there a role beyond speaking out for congressional Republicans now? Should you do more in the face of this?
CORKER: Yes, I think, look, there are many people who feel like the actions that we took were too strong, just for what it's worth. I don't believe that. But I think we spoke very clearly and very strongly. Again, we worked very hard to get it into the right place. So again, we pass laws and that's what we do. And I think we've done an outstanding job of that, actually. It is, in fact, affecting -- it is affecting Russia. The sanctions that went in place prior to that in conjunction with Europe on Crimea and Eastern Ukraine is affecting Russia. So I think we've spoken very, very strongly, very effectively. By the way, in a most unusual way for Congress to come together in such a strong manner.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Would you want to see Secretary Pompeo or John Bolton or one of the other folks who was in this bilateral meeting come to your committee and explain to you what, if anything, the U.S. got out of this?
CORKER: Well, he is coming to our committee. I think he's coming -- I think, let me underline that, I think he's coming on the 25th. Currently, we're planning on doing that in scale so we can have a wide-ranging conversation about North Korea, this, and other things.
But look, I actually had hoped that nothing much came out of this, OK. I've been concerned about it, as you know. Hopefully, there were no dealings that were discussed. Hopefully, this was just a beginning meeting. And, hopefully, Pompeo and Bolton, who I know, know well how Russia operates, will now help take the ball and move it ahead.
RAJU: How much do you think that Putin gained from this meeting?
CORKER: Oh, I think he gained a tremendous amount. I mean, here he has been ostracized on the world stage. As many difficulties as Europe is having right now, one thing they've stayed together on has been continuing to push back on the rules, the international norms that he broke in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. I felt like -- no, I think he gained a lot. There's nothing -- he gained a tremendous amount. It was almost an approval, if you will, a public approval by the greatest nation on earth towards him. He knows he gained a lot. I would guess he's having caviar right now.
[13:35:21] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How concerned are you about what happened in the private, one-on-one meeting? We heard what happened publicly. What could have President Trump even said? Will you find that out from Secretary Pompeo or others?
CORKER: Again, I hope on the 25th we'll have a wide-ranging discussion about all that's occurred. It would be difficult for something that really mattered to happen without us knowing about it. No matter what may have been discussed behind closed doors, tone-wise and all of that, you know, still you've got Mattis and Pompeo and Bolton that are carrying out these activities. They're visible. We can see them. We can touch them. We know what they are. We will know how hard it's being enforced. We know what they are. We will know how hard CAPSA (ph) has been enforced. So there are things that can give you a strong indication whether anything's changed or not.
But, again, I think this was a very good day for --
RAJU: Some critics say the president has engaged in almost treasonous comments. Would you go that far to call it treasonous?
CORKER: No, I think what happens here, people say things over the top and lose a degree of credibility saying it.
I will say this again. It was saddening and disappointing to see our intelligence agencies on parody with the words that were coming out of President Putin's mouth. You know, these people work for the president. You understand that. These intelligence agencies work for the president of the United States. And for him not to defend their activities, to me, was a very sad point.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: In the interview, President Trump called Europe a foe. What do you make of that?
CORKER: You know, I've been with him many times when he -- he does believe the European Union was created, you know, to -- at our expense. I look at them as a trading block that shares values and common interests with us and think we should do everything we can to really strengthen the transatlantic relationship. There's no doubt that today, in a way, this helped to continue to undermine that to a degree. So I don't view them that way. There are imperfections in the European Union, there's no question, in how they're able to consider themselves a union without having the fiscal union and having the differences that, you know, the central bank creates within those entities. They've got tremendous issues. But look -- and they're going to have to sort them out themselves. And the whole migration issue is a difficult issue for them.
Look, they are our friends. They are our allies. They're going through a very difficult period of time right now. You know, our role should be to help the stability of that area and know that they are people who share our values.
You look at where the world is today -- I just read a book by Hans Riesling (ph), I think his name is, a Swedish writer, called "Fact Ability." I just heard a talk this week by someone else saying the world has improved tremendously. People don't realize this. So much of it is because of the institutions that we have put in place post World War II. We need to continue to build on a world that shares our values. I think that things like what was done last week, and I'm talking about more about the NATO situation, even though, again, I like the way it ended, along the way we're damaging that relationship. It's a relationship again that has stood well for the American people. So it's been a week of calamitous types of events.
Today's event, which, again, I thought the presentation before the questions was actually pretty good, I thought. When we moved into Q&A, I found it deeply disappointing.
RAJU: You've said in the past that Republicans --
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did the United States get anything out of this today?
[13:40:02] CORKER: Well, I don't know. I know they did mention the area in southwest Syria. You know, if you remember, several months ago, we said if certain activities occurred, we were going to intervene. Those activities occurred, we didn't intervene. So we -- it's just difficult to tell. Again, I want our relationship with Russia to improve. I want us to end up having a good relationship with Russia, but we all know that Putin does not respect someone who does not push back strongly against what they're doing. And I felt today that did not occur. Again, I can't speak to what took place privately, but what took place publicly to me did not --
RAJU: Senator, you said Republican leaders --
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right, Senator Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a strong statement. Very, very critical of the president of the United States.
I want to read a statement we just received from the House Speaker Paul Ryan, another tough statement. Quote, "There's no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world. This is not just the finding of the American Intelligence Community but also the House Committee on Intelligence. The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There's no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals. The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy."
That statement from Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House.
And more statements are pouring in right now, so many of them condemning President Trump for this moral equivalence, in effect, siding on so many sensitive issues with the Russian president as opposed to his own U.S. Intelligence Community and law enforcement community.
Let's take a break. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We're continuing our special coverage, the breaking news of today's summit between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin right here in Helsinki, a meeting that included this characterization of the relationship between President Trump and President Putin. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed as of about four hours ago. I really believe that. 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. Constructive dialogue between the United States and Russia affords the opportunity to open new pathways towards peace and stability in our world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[13:45:27] BLITZER: I want to bring in John Beyrle, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, spent many years there.
Ambassador, thanks so much for joining us.
Have you ever seen anything like this before?
JOHN BEYRLE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: No. I think I really share the sense of shock and dismay that all of the previous speakers and the statements rolling in from around the world expressed. I've been involved in U.S./Soviet, U.S./Russian relations for my entire diplomatic career. I helped prepare President Reagan and Gorbachev for their summits, sat in with President Bush on his first meeting with Putin, many Clinton/Yeltsin meetings. Wolf, we used to worry a lot about over-personalization of the U.S./Russia relationship that, Bill and Boris, or Reagan and Gorbachev were too close, and that we need to somehow broaden the relationship. I think we need, at this point, to look very, very seriously at broadening this relationship away from any more meetings between President Trump and President Putin.
President Trump's inability to deal forthrightly with the major issue between Russia and the United States, the election interference, it's the major issue now in American political discourse, I think really raises questions about the wisdom of continuing to invest a lot in leadership of this relationship from the top.
BEYRLE: I thought it was interesting, I heard Mr. Kirby say earlier that he wondered what was being discussed on the plane going back. I think that there's an opportunity here, based on some of the things that I heard come out in the press conference, and of course, we don't know at all the full measure of what was discussed in the two-hour one on one. But there does seem to be an opening for Secretary of State Pompeo to build a better relationship or at least some sort of dialogue with his counterpart, Secretary Lavrov. My understanding is that they were meeting in Helsinki at the same time the two presidents were meeting. Secretary Mattis, obviously, with his counterpart. My understanding is that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dunford, has a good working relationship with his Russian counterpart. We need to invest more in that dialogue right now, because the U.S./Russia relationship -- BLITZER: Ambassador? Ambassador?
BEYRLE: -- is in dangerous shape. And we need to work to improve that.
BLITZER: We're going -- we're going to see how these senior U.S. officials react and if any of them decide it's time to move on. This is a very, very sensitive moment in American history right now.
We're going to continue this conversation down the road.
But our special coverage will continue right after a quick break.
[13:52:53] BLITZER: Welcome back. We are continuing our special breaking news coverage, an extraordinary moment in American history today here in Helsinki, the joint news conference between the president of the United States and the president of Russia.
Phil Mudd is with me.
Phil, I want to play for you a clip when Putin acknowledged, confirmed publicly, that, yes, he wanted Donald Trump to beat Hillary Clinton in the U.S. presidential election. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA PRESIDENT (through translation): Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S./Russia relationship back to normal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What's your reaction, Phil? I'm anxious. You served -- you had a career in the CIA and the FBI. When you heard what the president said today, how did you react?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: My first reaction is Vladimir Putin rarely makes a mistake. He made a mistake. You heard Republicans, time and again, and presidents among them, saying none of the interference in the election was favored towards me. You heard during the debates, when the president was debating Hillary Clinton, actually, Vladimir Putin wants her. Putin today came out and said not true, I wanted -- I wanted Donald Trump to win.
The second thing I heard was, in my experience in 35 years of doing this, foreign policy stops at the oceans, the Atlantic and the Pacific. What the president has said in the last couple of days is it's actually the Democrats' fault, that their servers were so vulnerable that they could be exploited, and it is the fault of the Department of Justice, the FBI, the director of National Intelligence, the CIA, the NSA to be telling me that the Russians are interfering, I believe the former KGB agent. I don't remember seeing anything like this.
BLITZER: I haven't seen anything like this either.
Jim Sciutto, what is the reaction from your sources in Washington?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Listen, in a word, shocked. I have been speaking to the people closest to the Russia problem. These are their neighbors, Ukraine, the Baltics. I want to share what one senior Ukrainian diplomat said to me following the press conference. He said, "Like so many people around the world who hold America dear, I am exploding now, feeling thrown under the bus as Russia, of course, annexed Crimea, continues to occupy and perpetrate a war in Eastern Ukraine."
I have heard from former Ukrainians who are in touch with the White House about their policy. They described their reaction as the following, "stunned, outraged, saddened." Those are no mealy-mouthed criticisms, Wolf, as you can tell. There's great fear here. It was the fear I was hearing from the leadup to this summit from senior European diplomats that the president would give the keys away, in effect, on the principle European conflict of this time, and that is between the West and Russia. They are feeling like those fears were confirmed today.
[13:55:42] BLITZER: Evan Perez, you cover the justice debt for us. The FBI, the president clearly not accepting their decision in the Russia election attack?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. The president essentially siding with the Russians over the FBI. The curious part of the press conference where Vladimir Putin said that the Special Counsel Robert Mueller can simply send information over to the Russians on those 12 indicted Russian intelligence officers and they can is a conversation, whereby, the Russians could have the same thing with the Americans. We reached out to the special counsel's office and they declined to comment about the press conference. But there's some -- they spoken in court filings in the last few months. I'll say this. They said, back in February, after the Russians were indicted with regard to the troll farm operation, the special counsel sent summons over to the Russians to the Office of the Prosecutor General in Russia. The Russians declined to accept those summons, Wolf. So we know the answer from the Russians, which is they don't want to do anything about this.
BLITZER: Truly an amazing moment in American history unfolding as we speak.
We will continue our special live coverage right after a quick break.