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Reporter who asked the question about accountability of Russia; Russian accused of seeking "back channels" between Trump and Putin. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 17, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, those are just a few words from Republican lawmakers describing the spectacle that was the Putin-Trump summit in Helsinki less than 24 hours ago as President Trump called Vladimir Putin, quote, "extremely strong and powerful," while turning his back on U.S. intelligence findings and calling America foolish.

The president did this, mind you, on the world stage.

Overnight the White House scrambled to issue talking points affirming the president's alleged belief in U.S. intelligence while warning against, quote, "an excessive focus on the past." So far those have been no match for headlines like this, quote, "Trump Just Colluded with Russia Openly," says the "Washington Post." The "Wall Street Journal" this morning decries the "Trump First Doctrine," while the "New York Times" asks, "Why Won't Donald Trump Speak for America?" Even Trump-friendly outlets like Drudge and Rupert Murdoch's own "New York Post" are being extremely critical this morning.

We will hear next hour from the speaker of the House who reminded the president yesterday that Russia is not our ally but for now the White House really isn't saying anything. No press briefing is scheduled.

Still we begin this hour at the White House. That's where we find our Abby Phillip.

Good morning, Abby. No tweets from the president at all this morning. What are you hearing?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The silence here at the White House is really deafening and it really highlights that some of this criticism is coming from some unusual places. Some longtime defenders of the White House are now criticizing President Trump saying he made a big mistake and saying that in fact he probably should try to rectify this in some way but so far you're not hearing any White House officials this morning or last night leaping to the president's defense. Meanwhile, President Trump leaving that interview with Vladimir Putin did sit down with FOX News' Sean Hannity in something of an exit interview, and here's how he characterized their one-on-one meeting yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought that President Putin was very, very strong. I think we're doing really well with Russia as of today. I thought we were doing horribly before today. Really, I mean, horribly. Dangerously.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Is that big -- that dramatic today?

TRUMP: I think it was great today but I think it was really bad five hours ago. I think we really had a potential problem.


PHILLIP: Well, clearly the president's view of that meeting is likely to change today. He might be the only one who thinks that relations are that much better today. Now the president doesn't have a whole lot on his schedule. He has a meeting with Republican lawmakers later this afternoon. As you mentioned, no White House press briefing but we will be looking to see if they taken an opportunity this afternoon to open up that meeting and have the president address some of this criticism because it is really reaching a fever pitch. The front pages this morning here in the United States and in Europe not being too kind to President Trump -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Not at all. Abby Phillip at the White House, thank you, and do let us know when you do hear from some folks inside.

Now the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says Vladimir Putin knows he gained a lot in that half-day summit in Helsinki and probably celebrated with caviar on the flight home. That is what Bob Corker said yesterday.

Lauren Fox is on the Hill with more.

So, I mean, look, pretty much you have Republicans united on this.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. More than three dozen Republican lawmakers have come out against the president's to performance yesterday in Helsinki deeply concerned about that comment that President Trump made, that he believes President Putin over U.S. intelligence communities' findings about the fact that Russia meddled in the U.S. election.

Senator John Cornyn, the Senate's number two Republican, told CNN yesterday that he's considering some kind of measure that lawmakers are talking about a way to reaffirm their support of the intelligence community's findings on the issue of Russian meddling. And a lot of Republican lawmakers just deeply frustrated. You can hear it in the their voices as they talk about the summit yesterday.

Here's Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee and lawmaker Will Hurd of Texas talking about their frustration with the president yesterday on Capitol Hill -- Poppy.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: The president's comments made us look as a nation more like a pushover.

REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: Vladimir Putin spouted many of his usual lines that were just completely wrong and he did it standing next to the leader of the free world and there was no rebuttal. Having the U.S. president side with Putin over U.S. intelligence is just unacceptable.


FOX: I think one of the issues here for lawmakers is that they viewed this meeting as already problematic. Yesterday Trump's performance, of course, seems like a worst-case scenario for many Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill -- Poppy.

HARLOW: All right, Lauren, moments ago I said the president hadn't tweeted yet, but then he tweeted, let me read you what the president just wrote. "Thank you, Rand Paul," of course that's Senator Rand Paul, "you really get it." Then he quotes Rand Paul saying yesterday on CNN with Wolf, 'The president has gone through a year and a half of totally partisan investigations, what is he supposed to think?"

[09:05:07] I mean, Lauren, Rand Paul is pretty much, pretty much on an island here. Right? Remind us what he's been saying.

FOX: Well, there were just a few Republican lawmakers who came out in support of President Donald Trump. Rand Paul was one of them. Mark Meadows was another. Here's what those two lawmakers had to say in support of President Trump yesterday.


REP. MARK MEADOWS CHAIR, FREEDOM CAUCUS: To draw far-reaching conclusions from a press conference I don't think is indicative of where we are as a nation, where this president is and certainly what actions are required on our part.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: We've made this all about the sour grapes of Hillary Clinton losing the election and it's all about partisan politics now. This is truly the Trump derangement syndrome that motivates all of this.


FOX: Strong support of course, Poppy, for the president but they are in the minority. We have to remember a lot of Republicans like we said earlier coming out with a strong rebuke of the president's performance yesterday in Helsinki.

HARLOW: But what will they say to his face? He's headed to the Hill shortly. That we will see.

Lauren Fox, thank you.

Joining me now is Republican Congressman Mike Turner of Ohio. He is a member of the Intel Committee. Thank you for being with us, sir. And let me just begin with the

words of your fellow Republican Senator John McCain in response to the press conference the president had with Vladimir Putin. Senator McCain says it is disgraceful. Do you agree?

REP. MIKE TURNER (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, it's certainly deeply damaging. And I serve on the Arms Services Committee and the Intelligence Committee, and I'm the liaison of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, I served as president of NATO Parliamentary Assembly. So let's talk about how damaging it is because I don't think that the president understands that.

We could lose it in the dialogue here. How can we ask Poland, Romania, Hungary, to stand up to Russia meddling in their own countries if the president of the United States, the leader of the free world, can't do it? How do we say to the Baltics, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, who have meddling and hacking that's going on from the Russians.

HARLOW: Right.

TURNER: That we don't believe the Russians are doing it? How do we say to the Netherlands who are concluding their investigation on the downing of the Malaysian Airliner where Russia murdered innocent civilians who were in a commercial airliner and came out and firmly pointed the finger at the Russians when the president of United States doesn't do that?

This deeply damaging statement that the president has made of not believing the intelligence community which clearly Congress is on record of believing the intelligence community needs to be reversed. The president needs to understand he has damaged national foreign policy.

HARLOW: Do you believe, Congressman, that the president has, in addition to what you say damaging, you know, our country, a country he says it's always America first, do you think that he gave a green light to Russia yesterday in that press conference to meddle in 2018, to meddle in 2020?

TURNER: Well, I think he's giving him a pass, which certainly gives them the ability to continue all of the things that we've seen. Meddling in the election --

HARLOW: That's a green light, right?

TURNER: Well, I -- you know, we don't have to do a traffic signal. I think I clearly said -- I think he's giving them a pass and certainly not holding them accountable for what they're doing and that's what we need from the president of the United States. You know, Congress certainly has identified clearly that Russia meddled, clearly identifying in the National Defense Authorization Act that's moving forward in Congress this month.

HARLOW: Right. TURNER: That Russia is an ally, but again when the president of the

United States cannot stand up to Russia our allies cannot, and they certainly don't have the strength that we do, to ask for the presidents of these smaller countries who are allies of ours to stand up to Russia when the president of the United States does not.

HARLOW: Right.

TURNER: It's certainly damaging to us and damaging to them. It allows Russia to continue. When you look to also what they've done in Ukraine, you know, invading them, they're continuing to have a hot war, people are continuing to die in Ukraine, the murderous actions that have been taking place in Syria. This is a country that does not deserve a pass. Russia needs to be held accountable and the president of the United States is the one to do that.

HARLOW: Congressman, is there anything, one iota of something, that America gained yesterday?

TURNER: Well, you know, this was a dangerous summit to begin with. The president didn't set out what his goals were. And in fact if you'd asked anybody in Congress what the purpose of this so-called summit was, which really was just a meeting, no one would be able to say. But certainly what we know now is the only thing that's come out of this summit is certainly dangerous policies, dangerous statements, divisiveness between of course the president and Congress.


TURNER: The president needs to make firm statements that he understands that Russia is not an ally, that Russia has meddled in the elections, that Russia is a destabilizing force, threatening our allies. And he just left Europe and chastised Germany for being too close to Russia because they buy their energy there, and then went and gave a complete pass to Russia and Vladimir Putin on everything he's doing on the world stage.

HARLOW: So this morning in the "New York Times," and I'm sure you already read it, but columnist Tom Friedman writes this. Quote, "Every single Republican lawmaker will be and should be asked on the election trail, are you with Trump and Putin or are you with the CIA, FBI and NSA?"

[09:10:03] So I will ask you, Congressman? Are you with Trump and Putin? Are you with the CIA, FBI, and NSA?

TURNER: You know, I think that's a very dangerous statement to make. You know, members of Congress are part of the democracy. Part of the democracy, the intelligence community is a creature of -- and was created by Congress and reports to the president of the United States. I don't think we ever want elected officials to say I'm with the intelligence community.

I'll tell you this, I believe the intelligence community and I certainly have voted so on the Intelligence Committee and have sent to the president of the United States a statement that Russia meddled, that Russia meddled and for the purposes of damaging Hillary Clinton, all things which clearly he disagrees with, but I think that, you know, we certainly don't want -- and it's a dangerous road to go down in a democracy to say we're going to elevate the intelligence community among our democratic institutions.

HARLOW: So in April you and your fellow members of the House Intelligence Committee released your final report on part of your more than yearlong Russia probe and the committee found no evidence of collusion and disputed the intelligence community's assertion, in part asserting that the interference in the election was done to help elect Donald Trump, but listen to what President Putin said yesterday when a reporter posed this question to him asking him if he wanted President Trump to win.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?

PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): Yes, I did. Yes, I did, because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.


HARLOW: "Yes, yes, I did." Does that change at all your belief and do you believe that that should change in part your committee's findings?

TURNER: It doesn't change my belief because in March of this year I said that I disagreed, that I did believe that Russia did so for the purposes of damaging Hillary Clinton and damaging her expected presidency, and this was absolutely meddling for the purposes of damaging her campaign. I think that's absolutely clear.

I think the report that you're referring to is actually different than the commentary that came out after it. The report itself which I did support says that the means and methods at which the intelligence community was looking at that intelligence was not up to the level of the other review that the intelligence community has done but my assessment, my belief is I agree with the intelligence community that this was done to damage Hillary Clinton and of course that is for the purposing of aiding Donald Trump.

HARLOW: But it did find -- but it did find, Congressman, just to put a button on it, that the belief of the Republicans on the Intel Committee was that the meddling was not done with the purpose of helping elect Donald Trump.

TURNER: Actually it does not say that.

HARLOW: But do you think --

(CROSSTALK) TURNER: No. But just a second because this is very important. Pull the report out because it does not say that. Mike Conaway, the chair of the Russia investigation, personally said that but the report itself does not.

HARLOW: Right.

TURNER: And I personally in March prior to the report being concluded and adopted by the Intelligence Committee firmly stated that it is my belief that he absolutely was doing it for the purpose of hurting Hillary Clinton, for the purposes of helping Donald Trump and that is certainly consistent with what we are seeing in the intelligence community and the intelligence.

HARLOW: I appreciate your time this morning, Congressman. Thank you for being here.

TURNER: Thank you.

HARLOW: Tough on Putin. Not the president. This guy. Reuters reporter Jeff Mason joins me next.

And when the president throws you under the bus on the world stage, how does U.S. intelligence recover and what does this mean for the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats?

Plus, no White House briefing today as backlash grows. This morning what we're learning is going on behind the scenes at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.



JEFF MASON, "REUTERS" WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Do you want Russia at all accountable for anything in particular? And if so, what would you consider them that they are responsible for?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I do. I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we've all been foolish. We should have had this dialogue a long time ago. A long time, frankly, before I got to office. And I think we're all to blame.

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.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: The person that asked that very important question was Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason, seizing on the moment, asking not one, but two tough questions on Russian election meddling to the president.

Here's the second. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MASON: Why should Americans and why should President Trump believe your statement that Russia did not intervene in the 2016 election given the evidence that US intelligence agencies have provided? And will you consider extraditing the 12 Russian officials that were indicted last week by a US grand jury.

TRUMP: Well, I would let the president answer the second part of that question. But, as you know, the whole concept of that came up perhaps a little bit before, but before it came out as a reason why the Democrats lost an election, which frankly they should have been able to win because the electoral college is much more advantageous for Democrats, as you know, than it is to Republicans. We won the electoral college by a lot.


HARLOW: If you missed it, that was the president sort of "running interference" as "The New York Times" puts it this morning to a question that Jeff Mason, who joins me now, posed to President Putin.

So, that in and of itself is extraordinary to see, right? You were asking Putin and then president sort of jumps to his defense. Thank you for doing your job, for doing it so well, for asking the important questions.

You got called on in Brussels and to ask a question at Chequers in the UK. Were you surprised when Sarah Sanders gave you a question here as well?

MASON: You always have to be prepared for questions with President Trump. And a journalist should be prepared anyway, right? So, I was prepared, but I was surprised. I just figured I had gotten a couple of questions on the trip already, so I wasn't expecting to be the first one.

[09:20:14] It's always a privilege to have an opportunity to ask questions. Certainly, in this case, yesterday, the fact that it was both the president of the United States and the president of Russia having such a historic summit, there were important questions to ask and I was happy to play a role in that.

HARLOW: Jeff, did it surprise you when the first sentence out of the president's mouth when you asked him if he holds Russia responsible for anything was a both sides answer once again, akin to Charlottesville? Both sides. And by the way, the US was, in his words, foolish. In the first sentence.

HARLOW: It did. Although maybe it shouldn't have. I mean, the reason I asked the question was he kicked off his day in Helsinki with that tweet in which he blamed - as I sort of said in that question - US foolishness, US - blamed the United States essentially and the Robert Mueller probe and US stupidity was the other word he used for the decline in relations between the United States and Russia. There is a whole list of things that he could have used when describing what he held Russia accountable for. And, in fact, his advisers would have prepped him for that because in the weeks going up to the trip, his advisers had said, on the record, that Russia was responsible for malign activity.

And the president just didn't - he not only didn't use that word, he didn't come up with Crimea, he didn't talk about election meddling, he didn't talk about Syria, he didn't talk about Ukraine.

HARLOW: Yes. I mean, to be clear, Dan Coats came out after the presser without clearing it to the White House just to reiterate exactly where the US intelligence community stands on all of this.

So, there is no White House press briefing today. Whenever the next one is, what are going to you ask?

MASON: Well, I'm sure that the White House is working on some damage control right now. I think they started a little bit with the president's tweet last night, although that didn't really change much what he said in that tweet.

I'm sure that they're working on their response and they'll continue to watch how Republicans in particular are reacting, in addition to Democrats and Americans across the country.

I think the next question for the White House, is the president reconsidering this at all, but it's kind of hard to imagine that he is because he would have been prepared or should have been prepared for those types of questions yesterday. Those are the things that we've been asking for months or a year-and-a-half. And that is genuinely what he believes.

HARLOW: Right.

MASON: And he's not somebody who is quick to turn around on that. Just look at Charlottesville. This, in some ways, is similar to that, I think, in that. If he starts to feel cornered, he's usually someone who will double down rather than turn around.

HARLOW: Except you have even more Republican lawmakers breaking with the president on this one than did on Charlottesville. So, will it be different when he feels that pressure, I think, being on the Hill today?

Jeff Mason, thank you. Good to have you.

MASON: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: A Russian woman's arrest potentially shedding light - new light on Russia's efforts to undermine America's democracy and interfere in the election.

Coming up, the powerful US groups the Russian national is accused of courting. And we are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. The Dow

set for slightly lower open. Earnings season in full swing. Tech stocks like Netflix dragging investors down.


[09:28:10] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Welcome back. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. And this morning, news that federal agents have arrested a 29-year-old Russian woman they say conspired to act as a foreign agent on behalf of Russia during the 2016 election.

You see her there. Her name is Mariia Butina. She allegedly cultivated some very powerful allies in an effort to set up private communication between the Russian government and elected officials here in the US and even tried to arrange a secret meeting between then candidate Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Court filings in her arrest revealed that the efforts were similar, frankly, to efforts that President Trump denied even happened when he stood side by side with Vladimir Putin just yesterday.

The FBI writes, in part, "Moscow seeks to create wedges that reduce trust and confidence in the democratic process, denigrate democratic efforts and weaken US partnerships with European allies."

Our Evan Perez joins me now. What do we know about this woman?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, Mariia Butina spent the last few years trying to make inroads within influential Republicans and conservative political organizations, including the National Rifle Association.

The goal, according to the charges that were filed in federal court, was to influence American politics to "advance the agenda of the Russian Federation."

Prosecutors said in court documents that there were Americans involved in actually trying to help her. Butina worked with a Russian official named Alexander Torshin, who's among a group of Russians that the Treasury Department put on the sanctions list earlier this year.

Now, CNN has reportedly previously that the two were part of an effort to set up a meeting between the Russian president and then candidate Donald Trump. That meeting did not happen back then.

The prosecutors said in court papers that there were many other ways that Butina tried to make connections with influential Republicans. She went to conservative political conferences, she attended the National Prayer Breakfast in 2016 and 2017, even raising the possibility that Vladimir Putin could attend the prayer breakfast.