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Report: McConnell Says Indisputable That Russians Meddled in Election; Trump to Speak Soon on Meeting with Putin; McConnell Says to Our Friends in Europe The U.S. Values NATO; McConnell Says to Russia Election Meddling Results Better Not Happen Again. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 17, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there, I'm Brooke Baldwin. You are watching CNN on this Tuesday afternoon. Heads up. We are waiting for a critical moment in the Trump presidency. The president will be speaking on camera any moment now amid the fierce fallout from his own party over his summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin. For a full 24 hours now, he has heard many Republicans, including most of his ardent supporters, you see a ton of them on your screen here, condemning him for not backing American intelligence agencies when they say Russia has been and continues to attack U.S. elections.

Just yesterday as President Trump stood there in Helsinki next to Putin Trump said that he saw, quote, unquote, no reason to blame Russia. The outcry over those comments and more has been fast and furious and far reaching. In moments Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell is set to make remarks. We'll bring that to you. McConnell's counterpart over in the House, speaker Paul Ryan had this to say earlier today.


PAUL RYAN, (R), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Vladimir Putin does not share our interests. Vladimir Putin does not share our values. I understand the desire and need to have good relations, that's perfectly reasonable, but Russia is a menacing government that does not share our interests and does not share our values. Let's be clear just so everybody knows. Russia did meddle in our elections. Not only did they meddle in our elections but they're doing it around the world. They're trying to delegitimize democracy.


BALDWIN: How has the president responded to this Republican rebuke so far? Here's just one of his tweets today where he wrote, quote, well, 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. Let's start with our White House correspondent Boris Sanchez standing by as we wait for the comments from the president himself. All right. He's off the plane. He's back home. What do we expect to hear from him in terms of cleanup over what happened yesterday or tripling down on his comments?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN White House correspondent: Hey there, Brooke. Yes, president Trump expected to have this meeting with house Republicans on the ways and means committee in just a few moments. The White House confirms that he will be talking about his summit with Vladimir Putin, but as far as what his response is going to be, we don't really know. He may dig in his heels and defend his statements. He may try to clean up some of what he said. As suggested by even steadfast supporters like former speaker Newt Gingrich. Just judging from that tweet though, the president is obviously unhappy about the reception that his performance is receiving in the United States. Sources indicate that the president was actually upbeat when he walked off the stage in Helsinki. He felt like the summit was successful.

He apparently became furious once he was on air force one watching press coverage of the event where he stood side by side with Vladimir Putin. Apparently, he was fuming to aides about what he saw as the lack of support from certain Republicans. We should point out the White House put out some talking points to surrogates yesterday. CNN obtained a copy of them and they suggest that the president wants Americans to focus on the future of the U.S. relationship with Russia, not the past. So, we may hear the president try to go down that road today. We should point out though that just a few days ago the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, said the warning lights are blinking red. He believes that Russia is still a threat and will likely meddle in future elections, one coming up in just a few moments.

BALDWIN: Boris, thank you. We'll wait for the president and see if he does triple down or not, continue to dig in, use your words, as the president meets with Republican lawmakers. One of the big questions, will they tell Trump to his face what so many of their fellow Republican colleagues have been saying out in public? Here are just some of the Republicans slamming the president.


SEN. BOB CORKER, (R), CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: To create an equivalence between our intelligence agencies and what Putin is saying and then for the president to say, why would they do it, Russia? Well, I mean, it's just such a naive comment. The antics over the last ten days have been damaging to our country.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER, (R), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: President Trump was wrong yesterday in a major way, and I think it was a very embarrassing press conference. You cannot cut deals with the devil and you can never trust Russia.

REP. RYAN COSTELLO, (R), PENNSYLVANIA: You can say it's embarrassing, but I don't think that does it sufficient justice. I think it undermines our moral authority.

[14:05:00] REP. WILL HURD, (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I've seen the Russian intelligence and, you know, manipulate many people in my career and I never would have thought the U.S. president would be one of them.

REP. PETER KING, (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Definitely wrong to in any way be suggesting any mild equivalency between the U.S. and Russia. To me it's a terrible mistake and he's got to correct it.


BALDWIN: Let me add another Republican to that list. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, he just made comments. Watch.


MITCH MCCONNELL, (R), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Over the last few years, the annexation of Crimea, the invasion of eastern Ukraine not to mention the indisputable evidence that they tried to impact the 2016 election. So, make no mistake about it, I would say to our friends in Europe, we understand the Russian threat and I think that is a widespread view here in the United States senate among members of both parties.

BALDWIN: So, let's start there. I have two people joining me now. CNN's chief political correspondent Dana Bash and Jeffrey Edmunds, the former director for Russia on the National Security Council who also served as a military analyst for the CIA. Great to have both of you on here. Gosh, a lot to get to. Dana, first to you. You've covered capitol hill for years. I want to ask you about what we anticipate from the president in just a second, but how often do you actually hear Mitch McConnell, you know, repudiating the president and all of these Republicans, right, using words like shameful, disgraceful, name your adjective yet I'm wondering what they'll actually do about it?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's start with where you started, and that is the really remarkable moment we just had with the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying what he said. Not only repudiating the president saying Russia is not our friend and that the evidence is indisputable, but sending a direct message from the United States capital to European and other allies, NATO allies that the congress is behind them. I mean, just think about what that means.

BALDWIN: Which is in direct contrast from what the president said in calling them foes?

BASH: Exactly. Bingo. It is not so hard to read between the lines to say we know our commander in chief did what he did and said what he said, but we are with you because we understand that Russia is a potential or a real threat to you, to many NATO countries. That's pretty unbelievable. And there are a lot of questions about what the Republicans who run Congress can or should or would do, but the fact that the senate majority leader is talking to NATO allies effectively trying to make foreign policy around the commander in chief is significant.

BALDWIN: Making foreign policy around the commander in chief. Jeffrey, just to you on the intelligence angle of this. You heard the White House saying that the president has been, I think his word was fuming, as he's hearing these comments from his fellow Republicans, right? He thought he did a -- he thought the meeting was great with Vladimir Putin until he hopped on air force one and started seeing all of the press and these Republicans describing his meeting as disgraceful. What do you anticipate to hear from this president with regard to this country's intelligence community?


BALDWIN: You do?

EDMUNDS: I think what we're seeing consistently is President Trump boils down the health and welfare and national security interests of this country into his own personal issues. I mean, for him to reject the intelligence community assessment is to dismiss hours of work by selfless servants that are not political, that work very hard. Fortunately for us these individuals are going to continue to work to provide our leaders with good intelligence because the Russians are going to continue to try to meddle in our elections.

BALDWIN: If you are correct, Jim Sciutto, you could be, Jeffrey. Jim Sciutto is our CNN chief national security correspondent. If the president triples down, Jeff, we have no reason to believe he wouldn't based on the history of comments he's made with regard to the department of justice, what now? John Brennan, right, the former CIA chief was saying it's possible that, you know, covert information should be withheld from this president. Do you agree with Jeffrey, that this could just be worse?

[14:10:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Let's say here's the question because I just asked this question on the air 10 minutes ago, which is, is this moment different, right? Because we have been through many controversial moments with this president via his statements and actual decisions where you have had some rumbling of Republicans, set aside the Democrats or former officials, of sitting Republicans who are uncomfortable with or somehow criticize the president's remarks.

There does seem to be a qualitative level up this time around because to have both the House Speaker, Speaker Ryan, the senate majority leader who have, Dana knows this better than me, who have sometimes I don't want to say pulled their punches but qualified their punches, and to be clear, neither of them mentioned Trump specifically but they did vehemently contradict the president on Russia to say very quickly Russia is a threat, Russia interfered and felt the need to reassure their allies, that is remarkable.

Now I think the real measure will be is there binding legislation to back up those words. You've already heard some talk about this from our colleagues up on capitol hill talk of an additional round of sanctions by this Republican-led Congress. I think those are the steps in my view that would mark a significant change from where we have been in the past when Republicans have expressed their dissatisfaction with this president, but at least the statements are remarkable, particularly where they're coming from.

BALDWIN: Sure. Maybe additional sanctions. We're going to talk to a senator out of Florida who hopes so but, you know, reality check. You think of who's in the majority in both chambers and, you know, it sounds like from our folks on the hill, we'll get Dana to talk about this in a second, it sounds like maybe it's a resolution supporting the intelligence community's findings and that could be it.

SCIUTTO: That would be -- I mean, that's sort of like, as we used to say in New York, that and a token will get you on the subway.


SCIUTTO: The key with this president is not only has he embarrassed intelligence agencies and the justice department, et cetera, but he has made policy decisions overruling their advice on the Iran nuclear deal, on canceling military exercises with South Korea. If he's made a deal with Russia to withdraw troops from Syria, et cetera, the president's very powerful. He can do what he wants to do in the foreign policy sphere and if he does that, you know, all the -- all the non-binding censured resolutions in the world aren't going to get you anywhere.

BALDWIN: Let me hit pause on this conversation. Jeffrey and Dana, I'll come back to you. We're coming back with the comments from the president of the United States. 24 hours after the disgraceful summit, a word so many people are using, Republicans and Democrats alike, over what happened in Helsinki between these two men. Actually, I'm being told in my ear let's flip it back over to the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell still talking.


MCCONNELL: Painstakingly set up over decades that have worked to maintain world peace and to some process by which we can enter into trade agreements and other things, so I just think it was important for our friends and allies to hear from us. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a lot of chattering, talking about it, Rod Rosenstein, are you concerned about that? And of course, if there were to be a potential for a Senate trial, how would you handle that?

MCCONNELL: I'm not going to address a hypothetical like that. I think it's pretty farfetched and probably not worthy of comment at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you feel like there's trust between you and the Republican conference on how the president has approached Russia over the last ten days?

MCCONNELL: Look, I'm not here to critique anyone else. I'm here to speak for myself, and you've heard from others this morning who are standing behind me about our views about our friends and allies, and I want them to understand that in this country there are a lot of people in both parties who believe that these alliances painstakingly built in the wake of the end of world war ii are important and we want to maintain them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there anything that Congress can or will do to support those alliances or to push back on Russia or the president's comments about Russia other than just offering words of support? [14:15:00] MCCONNELL: Well, I mean, there's some possibilities.

Senator Rubio, for example, has got a bill that targets the 2018 elections, the cycle we're right in now with, as I understand t p it, potential penalties if the Russians do it again. There's a possibility we might take up legislation related to this. In the meantime, I think the Russians need to know that there are a lot of us who fully understand what happened in 2016 and it really better not happen again in 2018.

BALDWIN: There you have it again just to get the senator majority leader, Republican, significant that he is speaking to our allies like the president referred to, NATO was a foe earlier, or was it last week? And now you have Mitch McConnell saying, no, alliances matter but, again, not mentioning the president by name. We will be hearing from the president momentarily. Stand by for that. Quick break. You're watching CNN.


MCCONNELL: There are a lot of us who fully understand what happened in 2016 and it really better not happen again in 2018.

BALDWIN: We have Dana Bash, Jim Sciutto, Jeffery Edmunds back with me as we've listened to pretty stunning and significant comments from the senate majority leader there. Dana, to you. A couple of points I want to make on what leader McConnell has said. When he's saying, I'm not here to critique the president, brackets, right, he never mentions Trump by names, but he's trying to fix what Trump said when he's talking about allies, when he's talking about why allies matter, why isn't he taking a stronger stance?

BASH: Well, that's a very good question. He could. Knowing Mitch McConnell and how he operates, for him this is a pretty strong stance. I can't tell you how many times I have heard from McConnell and other Republicans that it's the president's job to dictate foreign policy, a president's job particularly when they have their own in the White House to dictate foreign policy. Obviously, the United States congress has a role constitutionally in a lot of ways, and he wanted to make that extremely clear. I mean, the way I just read that, and it was, again, underling pretty darn strong for Mitch McConnell that he spoke directly to Vladimir Putin from the United States Congress.

BALDWIN: Said you better not do it again.

BASH: Not just saying you better not do it again. Effectively saying he, the president might not want to admit that you meddled in our elections, interfered in our elections, but we got your number and we know you did and America is more than just one commander in chief. That's not how we work here. There's more than one branch.

BALDWIN: So, who is, Jeffrey, Jeffrey, to you, who is Putin and also our allies, who are they supposed to listen to? The president of the United States or leader McConnell?

EDMUNDS: I think that the Russian leadership perspective there is this recognition that this is a large body in Washington, DC, that is set against Russian meddling and is very serious. There have been some additional sanctions that have been thrown in place. There was an initial period of excitement where they thought President Trump had come in and certainly fixed the relationship. I think they've settled in on the best that they can do is get some kind of favorable view from President Trump at this point.

SCIUTTO: Brooke, let's not under estimate the importance. Putin got his propaganda. The leader of the free world stands next to him, doubt his country's own national security establishment and agree and trust the word of the Russian president. That really is a large part of what Russia wants to accomplish in the U.S. if you look at much of the way they interfered in the election and since then stoking division, Black Lives Matter, Take A Knee, NRA, finding divisive issues in groups to divide the country, Trump echoes many of those points. He does -- he does Putin's work for him in that sphere of division and undermining confidence in U.S. institutions. So, he got that victory already. Now --

BALDWIN: And he still has division in Washington.

SCIUTTO: Well, in the country as a whole, not just in Washington. Now in the Senate I do think is significant that the Senate Majority Leader in addition to saying, Russia, you better not interfere, the Senate may take up legislation related to this is significant. As Mitch McConnell, Dana knows this better than me, does not take up legislation easily that's not in line with the party orthodoxy. If they're willing to sanction Russia, which really does hurt Russia, those financial sanctions do hurt further, that will be consequential.

[14:25:00] BALDWIN: Let's talk about that. Dana Bash, give me the menu of options that this Congress has in punishing Russia?

BASH: Well, there's punishing, actually punishing, like Jim was just talking about, passing legislation the majority leader mentioned that Marco Rubio has legislation which is more forward looking saying -- but more of a threat, that if we find out Russia did meddle in the upcoming mid-term elections in November of this year, then there will be more putative sanctions. Some say we don't want to wait for that. We want to do more punitive sanctions now. There is a publication, "The Weekly Standard" I know you know this.

BALDWIN: Censuring the president.

BASH: It's historically conservative publication but has not been a Trump fan since the beginning of the Trump presidency, let me just say that. They are calling on Republicans, as you said, to censure the president for his behavior on the world stage and his remarks and his attitude towards his own intelligence agencies and so forth standing next to Vladimir Putin. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one. Then there are frankly the toothless options which are resolutions condemning Putin supporting the intelligence agencies and when I say toothless, it's because they have -- they have -- there's no law that they're going to pass. It would be, frankly, more words that we've heard but just in a more formal setting because it would be in the congressional record. BALDWIN: Let me ask everyone to stand by. We now know that the press

pool has entered the room at the White House where the president will be speaking. We'll turn that around. We'll get that for everyone as soon as possible here after his stunning summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Quick break. We're back after this.