Return to Transcripts main page
Trump's Cleaning-Up Strategy; More Excuses After the Helsinki Summit; Former CIA Chief: Trump's Helsinki Remarks Nothing Short Of Treasonous; Russian National Charged With Being Foreign Agent; Mueller Seeking Immunity For Five Unidentified Witnesses Set To Testify Against Paul Manafort. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired July 17, 2018 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:00] (JOINED IN PROGRESS)
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Lawmakers, you say your care -- you care, hashtag, #doyourjob.
Don Lemon picks it up from here. Don, how are you doing?
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: I'm doing OK. That interview with Michael Caputo, listen, to me, I think it's just proof that he didn't really expect us to buy what he said today. I mean, it was such a lame, you know, response.
I think it's just to get the Republicans in Washington back onboard to say, listen, you know, he tried to -- he tried to -- he addressed it so let's move on. And I think Michael Caputo was essentially saying that just now.
CUOMO: He's making the case that it was a got you question. It was the simplest question he was asked--
LEMON: Can you believe it?
CUOMO: -- did Russia interfere.
CUOMO: That was his time to show how tough he is. Look, we all know it's easy to be tough talking about somebody.
CUOMO: When you're talking to them, that's what we saw yesterday and we saw which way Trump went.
LEMON: Yes. Well, this is the president of the United States. Those -- his words have consequences, and he's had so many that he's had to explain. He can't get damage control right. He makes a lot of excuses and people have to come back and explain for him.
So it's on and on. We're going to continue to discuss. See you tomorrow, my friend on my show.
CUOMO: I'll be watching.
LEMON: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. Thank you so much for watching.
It's hard to imagine that President Trump could have looked weaker than he did yesterday standing next to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Well, that was until today when he couldn't even pull off damage control.
It took more than 24 hours for the president to offer the weakest possible excuse for his unprecedented display of un-American behavior yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word would instead of wouldn't. The sentence should have been I don't see any reason why I wouldn't or why it wouldn't be Russians.
So just to repeat it, I said the word would instead of wouldn't. And the sentence should have been and I thought I would be maybe a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Not only does that defy logic it defies common sense. How dumb does this president think we are? He wants you to ignore what we heard with our own ears. He wants you to ignore the fact that in that same answer yesterday standing side by side again with Vladimir Putin, he went on to praise what he called Putin strong and powerful denial.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: 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.
So 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Now the problem is would versus wouldn't. Those were the president's own words right there. But today he was reading from a script. Something you know he really hates to do. He criticized the former president for reading off a teleprompter, and now he does the same thing. He reads off a teleprompter, but I digress.
We're learning tonight that it was the president himself who chose to put forward the claim that he simply misspoke. That didn't stop him from departing from the script to say this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also. There's a lot of people out there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Let's just be honest, this is the president who can't get out of his own way, right? He says he accepts the conclusion of his own intelligence community that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, but he can't mean that and then immediately say it could have been someone else, too.
And then there's this. President Trump adding his own hand written note to the script reading "there was no collusion," by the way misspelling the word. Just in case there was any chance that he would forget to tell us that.
One official telling CNN, quote, "he is consumed with talk of no collusion" and adding, "he thinks it's the answer to everything." But there's more. The president shockingly enough, crossing out a line that read "anyone involved in that meddling to justice." Honestly that happened. He crossed out the part, promising to bring anyone involved to justice. Didn't want to say that part.
Who would buy this lame excuse? Some of the president's Republican allies. Senator Marco Rubio saying this today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I'm just glad he clarified it. I don't -- I can't read his intentions and what he meant to say at the time. Suffice it to say that for me as a policymaker what really matters is what we can do moving forward.
[22:05:03] LEMON: Let's move bashes right now. Newt Gingrich who just yesterday called the president's remarks about Putin, quote, "the most serious mistake of his presidency," now said, the president, quote, "responded quickly and clearly once he realize he used the wrong language."
So was this about getting cover to the president's own party? Maybe we aren't supposed to believe it. Maybe it's enough that they say they do, right? And the most important point of all here, one that shouldn't get lost in the outrage over what the president said in public, we still don't know what happened behind closed doors.
We don't know what President Trump and Vladimir Putin said with only their translators present. We don't know what Trump and Putin might have agreed to. We don't even know why this summit happened in the first place. And if that doesn't worry you, I don't know what will. It should worry you.
So let's bring in now CNN Senior Political Analyst, Mark Preston, Political Analyst, Kirsten Powers, and Republican Strategist, Rick Wilson.
Good evening. I would say it's happy to see for you guys to be here, but I wouldn't be correct. I don't know. It's bad for I just did. Sorry.
Mark, you first. Would versus wouldn't. I mean, really? The president was behind this clarification, I would say how could he say this with a straight face. But, and everything else he said yesterday, right, what do you think of this?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, a couple of things. One is, I mean, what a display today of him basically reading line for line staring down at a prepared statement when if that is the case that if he really had misspoken they could have clarified it very quickly before they left to come back home yesterday. Instead, they waited for it to build up overnight, boil up overnight to realize that--
LEMON: Twenty six hours. Twenty six hours. A couple of interview, a lot of tweets.
PRESTON: Right. But here's the problem, Don, and let's just get down to brass tacks, and you know, I know Rick knows this all too well. You have a president with an approval rating of well over 80 percent with Republican voters right now. He's pretty much untouchable. And that's why there's been a lot of criticism lobbed at Republicans including from myself, the fact is there's not much they can do because they fear President Trump.
LEMON: What about that incredible offer, though -- getting back to that, let's -- that incredible offer he made saying that the Russian president, that they should sort of join -- he should join with the Mueller investigation and the intelligence community to try to figure out what happened. Putin made an incredible offer. I mean, that had nothing to do with would or wouldn't.
PRESTON: It certainly didn't. And what a ridiculous idea. You know, in fact, let's give Chris Wallace, you know, our competitor, you know, across the street at Fox News for trying to hand the indictment of the 12 Russians to Vladimir Putin which was in a very uncomfortable situation.
But you know what, good for Chris Wallace for doing so. You know who didn't do that, President Trump. You know who knew who is indicted before he got on that airplane going over to Russia? President Trump.
PRESTON: Knew the most important meeting -- person that was involved in that meeting at least for us now, it's that United States interpreter.
LEMON: Yes, so there could have been other people involved, Kirsten, in this according to the president. It wasn't on the notes that we saw, but other people could have been involved and meddled in the election. That in itself undermines his own clarification that he accepts the intelligence community's conclusion.
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, exactly. As soon as he said that he accepted it, he then went on to say or there could be other people, which is saying that he doesn't accept it.
LEMON: That's not -- that's not what the intelligence community said.
POWERS: The intelligence community never said it could be the Russians or it could be somebody else. They said that it was the Russians. So, I think you're right. He was giving -- he's clearly giving cover to Republicans. I think he underestimated that he would get some push back.
Because up to, you know, to date he really has rarely gotten push back from people of his own party and certainly people at Fox News to even have Brian Kilmeade at Fox and Friends contradicting him and challenging what he said. I don't think he banked on that.
And so once that happened it was clear he had to give them some sort of cover. But, look, I get that there is, you know, depending on which poll you're looking somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of Republicans who support Donald Trump.
But leadership is about leading. It's not about following. And sometimes you do have to say something that's going to upset the people that support your party. And this would be a really good time for Republicans to do that.
And we all know exactly what would have happened if Barack Obama had done this. The world would have exploded, Fox News would have burned to the ground. I mean, it just would have imploded. And so, I think that they, you know, they need to not let him get away with this. And even just the meeting alone, the way he met alone with Kim Jong-un, this is just unacceptable.
[22:10:00] LEMON: Yes. I've got to ask you, Rick, since you're wearing a tan suit. Remember the uproar about that. I mean, my goodness, you're wearing one right now. But was today just about--
RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I know. It's an affront.
LEMON: It's a mortal sin. I can't believe you did it. Was today just about giving Republicans on Capitol Hill something to point to with the media to say, hey, look, he fixed it, let's move on?
WILSON: Absolutely, Do. And the Republicans that I was talking to today and last night they were all, they had their heads between their knees and they were hyperventilating because they recognized what everybody else in the world recognized is that Donald Trump went over and humiliated this country and humiliated himself and was submissive to Vladimir Putin in ways that would normally not be seen outside of professional dominatrix facilities. This is a guy who gave up everything and God knows happened in that
room. The members of Congress I was speaking to today were in a panic on being caught in that wedge between Donald Trump, absolutely visibly screwing up. And the fear of his base -- you're absolutely correct about that. Mark is absolutely correct about that. His base is mortified and terrified of crossing Donald Trump.
They're terrified, the base, if they cross Donald Trump. And I think we're in a situation where, you know, Vladimir Putin got on a plane pop champagne, the party was lit on the way back to Moscow and he's laughing all the way, you know, having pulled off the greatest intelligence coup in all of history which was to suborns an American president to his will.
LEMON: Yes. But what about, you know, America first. We have the best intelligence agencies in the world that people who, everyday, think they are helping out the president to make him smarter and better and more knowledgeable and then he just undermines him.
Rick, another question for you. The president talked about going back to the transcript. So The Atlantic first pointed out that a key portion was missing from that transcript. And I just want to play what we all heard yesterday, watch this and then we'll talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election, and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: OK. So now I want you to look at this, all right? Because on the left is what we just heard. The key part being President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election, and then on the right is a transcript on the White House web site, it is missing that part. It only has the second half of Jeff Mason's question. By the way, Jeff was with us last night. Is this whitewashing of what happened or is this an honest mistake? What do you think?
WILSON: Apparently the White House doesn't remember we have that thing called the Internet and television. We saw it. We understood it. The context of yesterday was that Donald Trump went for his quarterly employment review with Vladimir Putin and was doing everything he could to kiss up to the boss.
And no matter what the White House does, no matter what gymnastics they try to pull off about this post-hawk revision of his would or wouldn't, it doesn't wash. No one believes it. Even his most passionate supporters have to go, yes, that one wasn't as convincing, Don. And the fact of the matter is they're looking for excuses for him
instead of reasons for him right now because this is a catastrophe for his administration. And he came very close I think to losing some senior officials in the last 24 hours. I mean, he read that thing about supporting the intelligence community like it was a hostage video.
LEMON: Yes, and you have to read that you support your intelligence community, which is what's fascinating to me.
I want to continue to talk with you, guys, so stick around. When we come back, why Russia may be getting ready to ramp up operations targeting the west and what that could mean for the midterms.
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Kirsten, Mark and Rick are back with me now. So I want to play what the president told Tucker Carlson in the interview that aired tonight. He's being asked about NATO's article 5, which is a clause that basically says that member countries consider an attack against one, an attack against all. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Membership in NATO obligates the members to defend any other member that's attacked. So let's say Montenegro that joined last year is attack--
TRUMP: That's right.
CARLSON: -- why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack. Why is that--
TRUMP: I understand what you're saying. I've asked the same question. You know, Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people.
CARLSON: Yes. I'm not against Montenegro or Albania.
TRUMP: Right. And by the way, they're very strong people. They have aggressive people. They may get aggressive and congratulations you're in World War III.
Now, I understand that but that's the way it was setup. Don't forget I just got here a little more than a year a half ago.
TRUMP: But I took over the conversation three or four days ago and I said you have to pay.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: All right. So, Kirsten, what is incredible about that is that NATO invoked article five for the first time in its history after the 9/11 terrorist attack against the United States.
POWERS: Yes. I guess, he, Trump is a pretty well known isolationist that was essentially a key part of his election talking about, you know, attacking U.S. interventions abroad.
It's very clear he doesn't want to get involved in anything that is, you know, involving the military because he thinks these interventions are not necessary, and I don't think he really cares that much about world affairs except for apparently meeting with really horrible dictators.
But, you know, and so I think and Tucker Carlson is also very much an isolationist so I think that they're both sort of tracking on the same page.
But it's pretty horrible for a U.S. president to be saying something like this considering that this is, you know, something that, again, is part of the Democratic world order that the United States helped to establish.
LEMON: Yes. I mean, Mark, maybe the guy who just got there a year and a half, that's a good while. But maybe you should brush up a little bit.
PRESTON: I don't even know what this -- I mean, the idea that it was like, they're really strong people and they're very aggressive, which leads me to believe I never want to get into a fight with anyone from Montenegro because clearly, you know, they're going to beat me up.
But you know, to the greater point, though, in a really serious issue is that Mike Turner who is a Republican, he's on the intelligence committee. He was on CNN earlier today and he was talking about why what President Trump did was so damaging.
And it's so damaging because for all these other countries, Montenegro, for instance, or Latvia, or Poland or Romania, Albania, any of these countries, how do we tell them to stand up to Vladimir Putin when we ourselves do not stand up? And this was coming from a Republican from Ohio saying this.
[22:20:03] LEMON: Yes. That was more interesting than during the Brexit answer, Rick. I don't know if you saw the hard Brexit thing. That was a -- anyway.
WILSON: He's basically incoherent on Brexit.
LEMON: Yes. So, listen, Rick, sources are telling CNN that Russian intelligence agencies they plan to ramp up operations targeting western countries now that the World Cup and the Helsinki summit have ended. Is Putin, do you think he's emboldened right now.
WILSON: I think Vladimir Putin is walking around wearing his, you know, wearing a, you know, the laurels of victory. Like I said this was the greatest intelligence coup of all history. He has suborned and controlled an American president.
And so he knows that he can deploy his people throughout the world to engage all the misbehavior Russia engages in, now including using chemical weapons to kill the citizens of an allied nation of ours in Britain.
And he knows that he is not going to get checked. He knows he can once again in 2018 and 2020 do the same things he did to help Donald Trump's team in the U.S. by manipulating our elections. He knows that nothing will happen to his people, you know, because Donald Trump is going to protect him for whatever reason and for whatever motivations Trump has to maintain this particular relationship with Putin.
Because it's not because Donald Trump is worried about nuclear war. We've done a very good job of keeping away from nuclear war for 70 years. He has something else in the stack here that we don't know about and that explains his behavior. And Putin, you know, in the famous word of Linden Johnson, Putin has his pecker in his pocket. There's no question about it.
Donald Trump's behavior is so suspect in this that no one can look at his performance in Helsinki and say this man is anything but compromised.
LEMON: Kirsten, when we compare Trump's response here to his response, remember in Charlottesville, you know, there's some good people on both sides and then he's saying both countries are, you know, have something to do with it, so much of the analysis was about Trump not wanting to alienate his base, right, in Charlottesville. Is it a stretch to ask whether at this point he doesn't want to alienate the Russians for the same reason that they help him and he wants some help again?
WILSON: Sure. Absolutely.
LEMON: Kirsten. That's for Kirsten.
POWERS: For who?
LEMON: Kirsten Powers.
PRESTON: Well, I mean--
POWERS: Sorry. Yes, look, I think -- I think that there's a lot of different reasons that Donald Trump could be doing this. But the easiest explanation if you look at the various ways that he has really taken a liking to authoritarian leaders.
And so, you know, we're talking a lot about how he met alone with Putin, he also met alone with Kim Jong-un. He also was flattering Kim Jong-un. And so I think there is a really basic fact here, is that he -- when he -- he identifies more with Putin than he does with the FBI or with the intelligence community in the United States. It's just very simple.
These are his people. These are the people that he identifies with. Additionally, the Russians probably have something on him. But I think even if they didn't he has a real affinity for these types of leaders.
LEMON: All right. Thank you all. I appreciate it. I got to cut it a little bit short because I've got to get some breaking in right now on CNN to tell you about.
CNN projects Republican Congresswoman Martha Roby will survive a primary runoff in Alabama defeating pro-Trump conservative Bobby Bright. Roby face a primary challenge after she called on then candidate Donald Trump to step aside. That was during the 2016 campaign following the release of that Access Hollywood tape.
But she also has been a reliable vote for the president's agenda in the House. Trump endorsed Roby on twitter last month. She will survive a GOP primary runoff in Alabama's second congressional district.
When we come back, former CIA Director John Brennan calling President Trump's comments about Vladimir Putin, quote, "nothing short of treasonous." Did the president's comment really rise to that level?
[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: The president siding with Russia over his own intelligence agencies about Russia's election attack prompted former CIA chief John Brennan to call the president's statement nothing short of treasonous.
So I want to bring in now CNN Presidential Historian, Douglas Brinkley, and James Fallows, the national correspondent for "The Atlantic" and also the co-author of "Our Towns: a 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America." Good evening, gentlemen. Thank you so much. Lots to talk about.
Douglas, you first. Article three, right, in section three of the Constitution says this, "Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort."
So no president has ever been charged with treason, Douglas. Do you believe the president's actions fall anywhere within that definition?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, we had a vice president, Aaron Burr in 1807 who was charged with treason. There was a famous trial, and they didn't feel they had the goods to bust Burr fully.
The problem with the enemy aiding and abetting, Don, is that Russia is not officially right now considered enemy of the United States. But we also know they had a cyber attack on us.
So Donald Trump has got kind of the slippery slope of legal language in his favor. But the spirit of what Trump did is clearly treasonous. It's a betrayal of the United States. He threw our U.S. intelligence services, flushed them away and it came off as being a puppet of Putin.
So the word treason like impeachment, like obstruction of justice, are going to be out there in public discourse louder and longer right now. But it's all going to come down in the end to what the Mueller investigation unearths. But certainly people are going to say that there's the taint of treason around this White House.
LEMON: So James, let's talk about the piece that you wrote in The Atlantic, OK? Because you say either Trump is an agent of Russian interest or he is so profoundly ignorant, insecure and narcissistic that he did not realize that at every step he was advancing a line that Putin hope he would advance, and a line that the American intelligence defends and law enforcement agencies most dreaded.
Fair to say that one of those possibilities could be treasonous and one is not.
JAMES FALLOWS, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTIC: It's possible. I personally avoid this word and would encourage others to do it too. I'm obviously not giving advice to former director of the CIA because I think it leads us into a train where it's really tricky, and as Douglas is saying, you know, the standards are hard to prove.
And it takes attention away from two other things that are very clear. One is what Donald Trump did two days ago was clearly disloyal. It was clearly putting the interests of Russia and Vladimir Putin above those of the United States, its intelligence services, its military services, the people working in its Justice Department, so it was disloyal plainly. Nobody can dispute that.
[22:30:10] The other is, that while Trump himself, it seems cannot help what he does, there are 51 Republican senators, and 230 odd Republican Congress members who have the power to do something about this.
They can hold hearings as they did for the -- you know, the FBI agent recently, they can have subpoenas, they can have motion of censure, they can get to the bottom of this. So, I think, it was clearly disloyal, and the people who can do something about it are the Republican of Congress who in the last 30 hours since this happened have been notable by their absence in this service.
LEMON: I know you want to avoid the world, but if you can just bear with me for this segment because we're going to talk about a little bit, both of you, because, Douglas, you say that President Trump walked right into a treasonous trap when he met with Putin. Did today's backtracking help, or hurt him, you think?
BRINKLEY: Well, I think it stopped the hemorrhaging. It maybe kept a couple of conservative Republicans from criticizing him the way John McCain or Paul Ryan did.
LEMON: Did you think that was believable? Did you -- was his excuse believable?
BRINKLEY: No, I did not think it was believable. I thought it was a complete, and ridiculous, and foolish moment. It was horrible theater, and it was just pure B.S., because what Trump said at the press conference is what he's been saying all along. He keeps confusing everybody about collusion and non-collusion.
But the bottom-line is he loves Vladimir Putin. He loves totalitarianism. He doesn't mine the trappings of, you know, calling press the enemy of the people. He doesn't seem to promote democracy abroad, or free, and fair elections because he hasn't read, and he's largely ignorant of history.
So, he's operating out of his gut, and his gut let him down, but, you know, it reminds me of Dostoevsky's novel, Crime and Punishment, in many ways President Trump is basically revealing guilt all the way. How many more times does he have to say the word collusion? That's probably because he feels he colluded.
And so it was a very bad seeing Helsinki is going to be known in history as another dark stain on the Trump presidency like Charlottesville. And I think now the Mueller investigation was empowered.
Trump was starting to nip away at it, Don, of kind of calling it a witch hunt. But nobody now is thinking the Mueller is on a witch hunt. It's -- actually we're recognizing more and more what a great service he's doing that we have a backup plan to at least try to get to the bottom of what President Trump was up to in undermining our election.
LEMON: James, I see you want to respond to this. But he says it's a witch hunt. If he believes the intelligence, then how it is a witch hunt? But, go on.
FALLOWS: So, I guess, you know, Douglas is the presidential historian here. But I think in my role of having a lead go on time. Also, I'll try to emphasize the historical consequence, we're living through that I've seen many of presidents who have misled the public in public.
You know, Lyndon Johnson during his Vietnam lies on T.V., and Richard Nixon, the same things with that, and Watergate, and others on matters who have matters personal, or public have misled the public.
I'm not aware of any case in American history of having doubts about the basic loyalty of the president, of which country he was putting forward, and his interests, and his negotiation. And so this really is new in our national history.
You know, Aaron Burr had his treason trial, but in the modern history of the presidency there have always been, you know, people who have been opposition figures who said, we think that John Kennedy is kowtowing to the Vatican. But there's never been credible doubt about the loyalty of the president, and now there is.
LEMON: I want to make sure I get this in. So I just want to play what the president said this was last February while he was in Ohio at one of his rallies. The president accuses Democrats in Congress of treason. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're up there. You've got half the room going totally crazy, wild. They love everything. They want to do something great for our country. And you have the other side even on positive news -- really positive news like that, they were like death, and un-American -- un-American. Somebody said treasonous. I mean, yes, I guess why not? Can we call that treason? Why not. I mean they certainly didn't seem to love our country very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, listen, James, its -- if you don't applaud enough it's treasonous. But yet, you know, if you sell the country out in front of Vladimir Putin maybe it's not. Go on.
FALLOWS: So you think of him as a pro-wrestling performer carrying that stick through all of his public life. And that's what he did in the campaign, and he is doing it now in office. And it is amusing. And it is horrific. Treason is among other things a capital offense.
[22:35:00] So to be saying to your political opponents for not cheering you deserve the death penalty, that is something. And he laughed it off, why not, because that's the rally persona.
LEMON: Yes. So, Douglas, listen, you were talk about how this would go down in the Trump presidency. I'm just wondering, if you see this as a real turning point for this presidency, it seems like it's more of the same pattern. So far only one Republican, and you were talking a little bit about this, and I interrupted you. But only one Republican has stepped down over this, and protest, one principle local GOP chair in Ohio.
BRINKLEY: It's possibly a turning point in the sense that I think a lot of the GOP senators, the ones that are serious are on notice right now. You can no longer think that it's just CNN, or the Democratic establishment that thinks something really rotten happened between Donald Trump and Russia may have been going on since the 1980s.
But we're going to -- the empowerment of Mueller is big deal. I think we just have to be patient and find out. Let's hope that our president isn't, and hasn't done treason. But this is all about the mid-term elections right now.
The Republicans are afraid of beating up on Trump because he's the leader of the party. They've got a Supreme Court justice to get through in their minds in the fall. So they'd like to kind of punt Trump criticism down further to get beyond this mid-term.
What's going to be interesting, Don, is when does the Mueller investigation become public? Will it be in September before the election, or after the election? That's going to be a big deal. And I think it's inflamed Democrats, and anti-Trump forces. Right now Helsinki, is -- it's like a battle cry. Remember Helsinki may help Democrats have something of a blue wave in November.
LEMON: That's got to be the last word. Thank you, Douglas. Thank you, James. I appreciate it.
BRINKLEY: Thank you.
LEMON: When we come back, a grand jury indicting a Russian woman accused of conspiracy, and acting as a foreign agent. Just exactly what was she up to?
[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Russian national Maria Butina is now facing charges from a federal grand jury of conspiracy -- of conspiracy, and acting as a foreign agent. The FBI says Butina, I should say, worked with Russian banker Aleksandr Torshin to develop back channels relationships with American politicians.
The case alleged links between Russian attempts to influence U.S. politics and the NRA. Putin's attorney tells CNN that she only wanted to promote a better relationship between the two nations. So I am joined now by Mike Quigley, a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. I appreciate it.
REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: Thank you.
LEMON: Before we get to this alleged Russian spy tonight, I just want to ask you about, this is a tweet tonight not so long ago from James Comey, and he wrote this. He says this Republican Congress has proven incapable of fulfilling the founder's design that ambition must counteract ambition.
All who believe in this country's values must vote for Democrats this fall. Policy differences don't matter right now. History has its eyes on us. So, look, I understand that you're a Democrat. I'm just wondering if tweets like this from Comey, by the way, who said during the hearings that he's a registered Republican, but no longer is now because of what's going on, does this make him appear partisan?
QUIGLEY: Look, I think there's a better quote, something about absolute power corrupting -- an absolute power corrupting, absolutely. It gets to the same message that Director Comey was getting to. The Republican Party can't handle controlling the White House, and both houses of Congress.
The fact of the matter is they're letting an autocratic president run wild. They don't have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the president. Yesterday, you heard tweets about how they disagreed with the president on Helsinki.
But they've done nothing in terms of showing their mettle in votes to show that they want to protect this country. They're going to give him a chance to do that this week. They're going to get a chance to vote for an amendment I'm introducing to provide election security so the Russians can't do this again. They zeroed out that, just this election cycle.
LEMON: Yes. So, let's talk now about Maria Butina, she is a Russian national indicted on those charges, which included acting as a foreign agent, and also conspiracy. I want you to look, this is some of the communications the FBI released from Butina.
In 2016, a Russian official told her via Twitter direct message, it is not about winning today's fight, though we are still striving for it. But to win the entire battle, this is battle for the future, it cannot be lost.
And to which Butina replied true -- and then Butina and official says. In another message after the 2016 election she wrote this, she says, I am ready for further orders. What do you think was going on here?
QUIGLEY: Let me tell you, she was high on our list on the democratic side to interview on the House Select Committee Intelligence investigation.
QUIGLEY: The Republicans refused to allow her to come testify. They refused multiple -- I would say there's probably 30 other key witnesses like her that they refused to bring before the committee.
LEMON: Why do you think that is?
QUIGLEY: Well, for the same reason they shut the investigation down, they didn't like where it was going. Thank God the Mueller investigation continues so the American public can get a glimmer through the indictments last week, and this indictment today of just what took place.
And it is in an execrable path towards the White House. More and more communications, more and more ties with the Russians involving politics, and finance, and personal dealings. The fact that we were shutdown, that subpoenas -- they refused to allow subpoenas to go forward involving the gun rights group that she formed in Russia, and its connection to the NRA.
[22:45:00] The fact that there were so many other documents they refused to subpoena. They refused subpoena anyone, and make them answer questions. They went along with the White House insisting that no one had to answer our questions. That sounds like they wanted to work with the White House to protect it politically, and legally not get to it the truth.
LEMON: In 2017, this woman tried to get Putin to appear at the National Prayer Breakfast reportedly demanding some 15 seats in a personal invitation from Trump. Putin didn't end up going, but Butina did. There's some video of her at this -- at the breakfast on-screen now. Do you have any idea why the Prayer Breakfast would have been so important to them? QUIGLEY: For the (Inaudible) I can't figure out the primary reason for what they are doing, but the more documents we read started to untangle this, I guess, tangled web they wove when they first attempted to deceive.
The connection with the NRA as a potential conduit didn't make sense to me. But, again, the fact is we weren't able to get LEMON: Special Counsel Robert to the bottom of it because they refused to bring her before us, or they've subpoena the documents that would have helped us understand the whole matter.
LEMON: Congressman Mike Quigley, thank you for your time.
QUIGLEY: Any time, thank you.
LEMON: When we come Back John Dean weighs in on the President's comments today. I'm going to ask him if he thinks President Trump just made things worse. Plus Robert Mueller asking for immunity for witnesses slated to testify against Paul Manafort. How worried should Manafort be?
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
Mueller making an intriguing request of the judge presiding over the first trial for Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman. I want to talk about this now with CNN Contributor John Dean. He is the former counsel in the Nixon White House. Good evening, sir. Good to have you on.
JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good evening.
LEMON: Robert Mueller is asking a federal court to provide immunity for five witnesses stated to testify against Paul Manafort at this trial. It's going to begin next week. The names of these witnesses are undisclosed at the time. What does -- what does this mean? What does this all mean?
DEAN: Well, it means a number of things. First of all, they are being disclosed, as we are told by the motion to prevent them from being harassed. We don't know who the harasser they have in mind, whether it's the White House, whether it's congressional people, whether it's the public at large. That isn't explained in the motion.
But the broader meaning, the request for immunity means these are not really friendly witnesses. If they were cooperating witnesses, they wouldn't have had to go to the Department of Justice, and get authorization to go to the judge, and administer immunity. There are two types of immunities. One is sort of transactional immunity where you're immune from everything. This is very narrow.
It's called use immunity they're asking for, that their testimony at trial cannot be used against them. And they clearly believe they have committed a crime, and they will plead the Fifth Amendment if not given immunity. So, that's what's forcing the issue.
LEMON: Do you have a sense of whether Mueller wants to-- whether he wants to make a deal with Manafort, or is he just focused on this trial next week, and squeezing him, or is it both?
DEAN: I think it's both, Don. I think he would love it if Manafort decided to fold, and make a deal. But he's going forward on the assumption that that's not going to happen. And that's what you have to do in a situation like this.
Manafort could literally go to the opening statements, and hear what the government has, and plead after -- make a deal after the opening statements. It could go up to the time the case goes to the jury. And they are all -- you know, we don't know when, or if he would ever make a deal. Or he may let it go to the jury, and see what they say.
LEMON: Today a judge also denied a request to move Manafort's trial, his defense team has faced one defeat after another so far. How much of an uphill battle does he have for this trial?
DEAN: Well, I think that it was a proper motion by the judge. He denied moving the trial from Alexandria down to Roanoke where Manafort clearly thought he would get a more sympathetic jury.
Federal juries, however, in areas like Alexandria, and northern Virginia, are very impartial. This can all be screened very well by the judge during the process of selecting the jury. So, I don't think Manafort is going to have the problem of a biased jury.
LEMON: I want to ask you about what's been going on the last couple of days, and especially today, the President attempted to clean up the stunning statements from yesterday's summit. But he seemed to make things even worse. How would you describe today's -- his explanation today?
DEAN: Weak. It was as weak, and as pathetic as his entire press conference. He just focused again on how bad that press conference was. He's rung the bell, Don. He sold the country short. And he can't unring it.
You can't change the word would to wouldn't, when the rest of the statement around it, and everything that precedes, and follows doesn't fit. So he's not going to sell this to anybody with any intelligence at all.
LEMON: He can't seem to help himself when it comes to talking about no collusion, no collusion, because he brings that up. But listen, you were the White House Counsel under Nixon. You have said that Trump makes Nixon look good by comparison. How is that?
DEAN: Well, certainly with what's going on right now, I can tell you one thing. Richard Nixon, I never had any thought in my mind that he might sell the country short. He's somebody who volunteered as a quaker to go in active duty in the navy.
[22:55:02] He asked to go to a combat zone, which he did. His entire life in government, he was always patriotic. He was an anticommunist. He really wanted to be known as a peacemaker. And he was willing to use any means, and methods to do that. But his final goal was unlike what we're seeing now, where we have a
lot of worry about what this president is doing, the country feels threatened, democracy feels weakened. These are very bad times.
LEMON: Always a pleasure, John Dean, thank you.
DEAN: Thank you.
LEMON: When we come back, the President says he just misspoke when he agreed with Vladimir Putin that Russia didn't interfere in the election,and went against the advice of his own intelligence agencies. But does he really expect you to ignore what you heard with your own ears?
LEMON: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. It's 11:00 here in the east coast, and we are live with all the new developments for you.