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Trump Stuns World by Siding with Putin Over U.S. Intel; Top Republican Lawmakers Break with Trump Over Putin Comments; Interview with Senator Ben Cardin; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 17, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:24] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. And this morning after President Trump committed what one staunch supporter of his calls the most serious mistake of his presidency and a former CIA director calls treason, he is lifting up one of the very few Republican lawmakers, really lawmakers on either side defending him.

Last hour the president wrote, "Thank you, Rand Paul, you really get it." This after Rand Paul defended the president's stunning press conference with Vladimir Putin, dismissing his own intelligence agencies, and calling the United States foolish.

Any time now the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, who yesterday reminded President Trump Russia is not our ally, is due to speak to reporters on Capitol Hill. You'll see it here live. At the White House, though, no one seems to know how the president will handle what for him was unexpected backlash to this summit, a summit where he accepted what he calls Putin's extremely strong denial of election interference, and said he holds both countries responsible for poor relations. Immediately after that post-summit news conference, the president told FOX News he sees vindication.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, he said there was no collusion whatsoever. I guess he said it strongly as you can say it. They have no information on Trump. One thing you know, if they had it, it would have been out. And so --

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: He said it was nonsense.

TRUMP: He said it's nonsense. He's right. And he also said there's absolutely no collusion which you know and everybody who watches your show knows and I think most of the country knows.


HARLOW: Let's go to the White House. Our Abby Phillip is there. And Abby, right after that stunning display in Helsinki, director of National Intelligence Dan Coats came out with a statement countering what the president said and not approved by the White House. Any word on whether he or any others plan to walk?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is the big question this morning, Poppy. There is a sense of uncertainty here in this building about what will happen next, what shoes are left to drop here. It's clear that the mood from the president and also in the White House is souring quickly. President Trump yesterday was supposed to have had a really triumphant moment, finally having this meeting he's wanted for a long time with Vladimir Putin. And sources tell CNN that he left the press conference that really shocked the rest of the world. He left it pretty upbeat. He was happy with what happened. But by the time he got on Air Force One and made it back home here to the White House around 10:00 p.m. last night, his mood had soured considerably.

There was constant coverage of this press conference, much of it critical, playing on the televisions on Air Force One. By the time the president came back to the White House, he walked off of Marine One to shouted questions from reporters asking him about this backlash. The president said nothing at all. But our sources tell us he is none too happy.

I think you can see it a little bit in his reaction this morning. He praised Rand Paul, one of the few people out on the airwaves this morning and yesterday defending him. But hasn't really said a whole lot more about this meeting with Putin. He is instead focused on other things. He is talking this morning about NATO, giving himself credit for what he says is strengthening NATO. But at the same time, the president is really having a difficult time with a lot of his allies.

Just to give you a sense of where the president was right after this press conference, listen to what he said in an interview with FOX News' Sean Hannity.


TRUMP: I think it's a shame. We're talking about nuclear proliferation, we're talking about Syria and humanitarian aid, we're talking about all of these different things. And we get questions on the witch hunt. And I don't think the people out in the country buy it. But the reporters like to give it a shot. I thought that President Putin was very, very strong.


PHILLIP: Well, we will see if the president has a change of tune today in response to some of this backlash. But just given his social media tweeting this morning, it seems very much that he's still on the same wavelength, calling this a witch hunt -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Abby, thank you. Let us know what else you hear from the White House and let's go to Capitol Hill now.

Sunlen Serfaty is there. And Sunlen, look, Rand Paul, sort of running to the president's defense yesterday, seems to be pretty alone on an island this morning. But he is getting praise from the president because of it.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. He is certainly in the minority up here on Capitol Hill. He is one of the very few voices that are coming out among Republicans to defend President Trump and that in large part is likely why we have seen President Trump really elevate Rand Paul's remarks on Twitter this morning.

[10:05:03] Here is first what Rand Paul said on CNN yesterday.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: It's all about partisan politics now. This is truly the Trump derangement syndrome that motivates all of this. But I would say is that instead of making this about everything is about Trump and accusing Trump of collusion with the Russians and all this craziness that's not true, we should try to protect the integrity of our elections.


SERFATY: And that is very different from what we've heard from the majority of Republicans up here on Capitol Hill who over the last 24 hours have spoken out against President Trump on this, many using pretty strong language, calling it disgraceful, a mistake, certainly a shock going through Republicans up here on Capitol Hill. Harsh words to the president and what he said in that press conference. Here is just a few of those Republicans.


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, I mean, it's just unacceptable.


SERFATY: But notable that absent from much of this criticism coming from Republicans up here is any sort of plan for action beyond just vocalizing their concerns about what President Trump said yesterday. And that certainly, Poppy, will be the question going to Republicans up here, especially those Republican leaders like Paul Ryan who we'll hear in the next few minutes and Mitch McConnell later today speaking out up here on what can, if anything, Congress do here.

There's been some few calls for some sort of hearing. There's been calls for potentially a resolution, a response to embrace the intelligence community. But that certainly lacks teeth. So that will be certainly the question for the leaders up here.

HARLOW: But to be clear, Sunlen, Ron Brownstein just noted a few moments ago to me, look, I mean, you have Corker who's so critical on camera, he is, you know, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, he could compel testimony. Right? About this. SERFATY: That's absolutely right. And we've heard from Lindsey

Graham saying look, we want to have hearings up here but we just don't see any evidence as of yet that they will do anything specific and to respond, though.

HARLOW: Sunlen, thank you. Appreciate the reporting.

So not everyone thought this summit went poorly. Just ask Russia. Russia's Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov calls it magnificent and better than super.

With me now, CNN contributor Jill Dougherty, former CNN Moscow bureau chief and now a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Also with me is Heather Conley, former deputy assistant secretary of state and now the director of the Europe Program for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Ladies, it's nice to have you. Jill, as someone who has met with Putin multiple times, knows the mind of the man, the strategy that he uses, was this as the home paper there in Helsinki put it this morning, Trump zero, Putin one?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'd have to agree. I think President Putin went to Helsinki knowing what he wanted to do. I think he figured out his approach to Trump. And I think he comes away with, you know, number one, just standing there on that stage, flags behind them, the big formal situation, I think symbolically, it put Russia back on the map as a leader. This is all in quotes, of course, leader of the country that can solve problems with the United States all across the globe.

And it's really notable. I mean, there's a certain triumphalism I would say on the Russian feeling that look, the United States-slash- Obama tried to keep us down, imposed sanctions, et cetera. It didn't work. Putin led us through that and look right now he is on the stage with Trump. And they agree on things.

HARLOW: So it seems, Heather, this morning as though the president is trying to make the case that despite that display we saw on stage in Helsinki yesterday, he actually is strong against Russia and that he is helping NATO and that is bad for Russia. Let me read you what the president just wrote. "NATO was weak but now it's strong again," in parentheticals, bad for Russia. "The media only says I was rude to leaders, never mentions the money."

I mean, he is saying that they're stepping up -- you know, NATO members are stepping up their spending on defense and so that's bad for Russia. They had been stepping up their money on defense over the entire last year before the NATO summit.

HEATHER CONLEY, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: So you absolutely have to see the NATO summit and the Helsinki summit together. While the president is correct, Europe must spend more on its defense spending, the methods and the approach that President Trump uses in fact sort of destroys what he is trying to accomplish. The NATO communique is very strong and there is resolve at NATO. But for the president to force NATO to go into an emergency meeting,

to suggest that the U.S. would go it alone if leaders would not meet President Trump's demands, set the stage for a divided NATO.

[10:10:14] And as the president went into the Helsinki summit, he seemed to suggest that Russia's preferred world view is the correct view. So we have these two extraordinary summits together where President Trump is weakening our allies, and he seems to be strengthening our adversaries.

This not a Republican or Democratic issue. It is about American national security, and the president's job, sole job, is to protect the United States. And he weakened it both in Brussels and in Helsinki yesterday.

HARLOW: He also trashed the Mueller probe and this indictment, you know, came down on Friday with 12 Russian intelligence officials in the GRU accused of these serious crimes. Watch this exchange as FOX News' Chris Wallace brilliantly and importantly tries to push Vladimir Putin on that.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: They say -- you smile. Let me finish. They say that these units were specifically involved in hacking into Democratic Party computers, stealing information and spreading it to the world to try to disrupt the American election.

May I give this to you to look at, sir?


HARLOW: And then he puts it aside, Jill, to the table and smiles and laughs. Do you see President Trump yesterday as in any way giving a green light to Russia to interfere again and to attack our democratic process again?

DOUGHERTY: Well, certainly, if President Trump had said, you cannot do this -- we know that you did it, here is the proof, and you cannot do it again or there will be very severe consequences, that might have been effective. We don't think that happened. We certainly don't know what happened in that meeting.

But I think it was really fascinating to see Vladimir Putin exploit that moment and say he brought up this idea, hey, we've got an idea, we will allow Mueller to come over to Russia, his guys come over to Russia. We -- they can question the agents, those Russian agents. We're happy to, you know, cooperate if you let us do the same thing coming to the United States. This is something that the United States could never accept.

HARLOW: Right.

DOUGHERTY: But it was a good bit of trolling, I think, by President Putin.

HARLOW: Jill Dougherty, Heather Conley, thank you both for being here very, very much.

Still to come, a Russian national accused of conspiring against the U.S. as a secret agent has ties to the NRA, the Trump campaign and at least one lawmaker. Details ahead.

Plus reports are some inside the White House are anything but happy with the president's performance in Helsinki. One person is defending the president, though. That is his vice-president, Mike Pence, and we will speak with his former chief of staff ahead.

And we're moments away from House Republican leadership speaking. We'll bring it to you live.


[10:17:32] HARLOW: All right. President Obama continuing his talk in South Africa. He is there for a Mandela lecture series. But listen to what he just said.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Russia, already humiliated by its reduced influence since the collapse of the Soviet Union, feeling threatened by democratic movements along its border, suddenly started reasserting authoritarian control. And in some cases meddling with its neighbors.


HARLOW: All right. That's the president commenting clearly on what we saw unfold in Helsinki between President Trump and President Vladimir Putin.

With me now is Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat of Maryland who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thank you for being here. And let me begin with this letter. This is the letter that you sent to President Trump just last week. And you call out Putin's what you call asymmetric warfare against democracy and you tweeted before the summit that you sent this to the president hoping that he would take it to heart. Did he?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, Poppy, first, it's good to be with you. No, he did not. What that report pointed out is that you give Mr. Putin an opening, and he's going to take it as far as we let him take it. We saw that in the invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. We saw that in the invasion of Georgia, the fact that Russia still has troops in Moldova. And now the attack on our election system with the president of the United States giving Mr. Putin cover. So what this at least points out to me is that we're extremely vulnerable to Mr. Putin's continued attack against our democracy.

HARLOW: So as you know, former intel chief John Brennan, within minutes after this press conference wrapping up yesterday, he said that this exceeds the threshold of high crimes and misdemeanors and was nothing short of treasonous.

Do you think that the president's actions rise to the level of treason?

CARDIN: I think what the president did in Helsinki compromised our national security. I think it compromised our national security because he gave comfort to Mr. Putin who is trying to bring down our democratic system of government.

HARLOW: So is it treasonous?

CARDIN: Well, I'm not going to characterize it one way or the other. I think that it was one of the dark moments of the presidency of the United States and it compromised the security of our country.

[10:20:00] HARLOW: You also said following this summit that Congress will need to play an even stronger role in order to keep our country and our institutions safe, in your words.

So what is that role? And what will your fellow Republicans do, do you believe, to get on board with you? For example, you know, Senator Corker, Republican, extremely critical of the president yesterday. He sits on the Foreign Relations Committee with you. He could compel -- hold a hearing, could compel testimony about what happened behind closed doors. Will he? Should Republicans?

CARDIN: Well, it first starts with speaking out. So that Europe and the global community know that what President Trump did and Mr. Putin doesn't represent where America wants to be. Secondly, we do have a role. We can have oversight hearings, we can bring administration officials before our committee in open session to explain the policies of this administration.

We can look at additional tools either through the appropriation process or legislation that we could work on. We passed a strong bill against Russia early last year that was bipartisan, passed by 98-2 vote in the Senate. There are things we can do but requires the Republican leadership to release its members.

HARLOW: So will they?

CARDIN: Well --

HARLOW: Well, it's a good point. You passed the sanctions legislation with a veto proof majority as you said last year, 98-2. But are your Republican colleagues in the Senate privately at least now, Senator, telling you, yes, this is a bridge too far, we will compel this testimony, for example, in oversight hearings?

CARDIN: It's not what they tell me privately. It's what they say to the American people that is going to be critical here. I can tell you, I have heard very critical comments about President Trump from Republicans. Will they go on record and will they allow us to use the congressional tools we have to hold this administration accountable? We are an independent branch of government. And we need to act as an independent branch of government. HARLOW: Let's listen to what FOX News' Chris Wallace asked Vladimir

Putin about whether or not the Russian government has compromising information on the president or his family. Here is how Vladimir Putin responded.


PUTIN (through translator): We don't have anything on them. And there can't be anything on them. I don't want to insult President Trump when I say this, and I may come as rude. But before he announced that he will run for presidency, he was of no interest for us.


HARLOW: Should the American people believe that?

CARDIN: No, I wouldn't believe anything Mr. Putin says. I would not believe -- I don't have comfort by the way he responded to that question. You know, he is a former KGB agent. He knows how to control information and what information he wants to release to the public. So no, he's certainly lying in regards to their involvement in our elections and I wouldn't trust anything he said yesterday.

HARLOW: So let me ask you about 2020. There's a new report this morning, I'm sure you've seen it in "The New York Times." And it notes just how much money the Trump re-election team has raised. $88 million so far. It gives them a dramatic head start on, you know, the Democratic competitors. On top of that, you have the Republican National Committee coming out and saying that it has raised in this election cycle more than $200 million. That is more than double what the DNC has raised during the same period of time.

Do you think, Senator Cardin, that should concern your fellow Democrats?

CARDIN: Well, I'm very concerned that President Trump spends more time it looks like at campaign rallies and trying to deal with the 2020 election than doing what he needs to do as president of the United States. Yes, it troubles me by the manner in which he is operating the presidency. In so many ways, including the use of --

HARLOW: But what about the amount of money, Senator, from American people supporting him and supporting the Republican Party right now?

CARDIN: He is the president of the United States. I imagine -- I know he can raise a lot of money. I think the American people, though, want to have a person as president who will stand up to people who are trying to bring down our system of government such as Mr. Putin and Russia. I think that's going to be the critical issue. What he is doing to our economy with an inconsistent trade policy, no one knows exactly what it is. It's going to be the economic and security issues that I think will drive the 2020 election.

HARLOW: Let's see what happens, though, to those economic numbers because right now they are still strong for the president. Senator Ben Cardin, appreciate you being here. Thank you.

The Department of Justice has charged a Russian woman with conspiracy. Here she is, 29-year-old Maria Butina. What do we know about her and the so-called backchannel that U.S. officials say she tried to set up, next.


[10:29:12] HARLOW: The president just taking to Twitter saying his meeting with Vladimir Putin went swimmingly. Let me read. "While I had a great meeting with NATO, raising vast amounts of money, I had an even better meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia. Sadly it is not being reported that way. The fake news is going crazy."

Here is a fact. The news played exactly for you what the president said on the world stage. You saw it here yesterday just about 24 hours ago. That's what the president said.

Federal agents meantime have arrested overnight a 29-year-old Russian woman that they say conspired to act as a foreign agent on behalf of Russia during the 2016 election. You see pictures of her here. Her name is Maria Butina. And she allegedly cultivated some very powerful allies in an effort to set up private communications between the Russian government and elected U.S. officials, and also tried to arrange a secret meeting between then candidate Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Joining me now is our legal analyst Paul Callan.

Paul, just walk me through. I mean, there's a lot here that's fascinating.