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Trump: Full Faith in U.S. Intelligence Agencies. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired July 17, 2018 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:30:10] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: We can report that the president is now speaking to members of the press. This is ahead of his meeting with Republicans at the White House happening right this very moment. And so as he's speaking to the press, full disclosure to you, we're getting bits and pieces of some of the news that the president is making. We have our first bit of information, which is this, the president is standing there saying that he has full faith and support for America's intelligence agencies.
So let me bring my panel back, Jim Sciutto, Jeffrey Edmunds. They're both still with me.
Jeffrey Edmunds, to you first, as former director for Russia national security council, former CIA military analyst, when you hear that -- Dana Bash back with us as well. When you hear that, when you juxtapose that from what we heard just yesterday in Helsinki, what are you thinking?
JEFFREY EDMUNDS, FORMER DIRECTOR, RUSSIA NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL & FORMER CIA MILITARY ANALYST: I'm thinking it seems rather incoherent to me. He said this yesterday, he trusted the Intelligence Community, but I don't see how you can have 17 organizations with thousands of people with incredible training, our nation's best people on this problem and get an assessment from them and then turn and say, well, Putin told me he didn't do it. It's just incoherent to me.
BALDWIN: Is this cleanup --
BALDWIN: -- Jim Sciutto?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: He didn't say that yesterday. That's not what he said yesterday.
BALDWIN: He said the opposite.
SCIUTTO: He said the opposite. He made the clearest statement possible he doesn't have faith in his intelligence agencies.
EDMUNDS: Later on in a tweet. SCIUTTO: Exactly. He stood next to the man who orchestrated the
interference and doubted those agency's competent assessment that that interference took place and, in fact, was orchestrated by the man standing next to him. The words don't match -- whatever words he's saying now, if that's the line he --
BALDWIN: Let me jump in.
BALDWIN: Jim, let me jump in because we're getting -- as I'm talking to you -- we're getting a little more information. This is how this is going to work. The president also has said, "I accept our Intelligence Community conclusion that meddling took place," and then he said, "There was no collusion."
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Two words, Brooke, damage control. This is about as far as you can maybe imagine with a president like this who tends to, as we're talking about before we started to hear some of the things that the president is saying, to -- to the pool, that he tends to double down, triple down on whatever it is that he has said that has outraged people in his party and around the world. And in this case, at least from what we're hearing so far, he's -- he's actually seems to be getting the crisis that is unparalleled probably in his presidency and even in modern times that he caused with those comments.
Jim, you're absolutely right. They completely fly in the face of what he said yesterday, of what he's apparently saying today. But that is why the term damage control exists, because a politician or somebody in a position of power realizes they messed up and this is -- sounds like this is about as far as we have ever seen or heard the president admit that.
SCIUTTO: What's more important --
BALDWIN: Too little too late. Jim?
SCIUTTO: The more important time, the more important time, the more consequential time, the more courageous time to express that confidence --
BASH: Of course.
SCIUTTO: -- in the U.S. Intelligence Community is when you're standing on the world stage --
BORGER: No question.
SCIUTTO: -- next to the leader of the world power. I know you are not disagreeing with me. I'm saying, whatever damage control the president or his team thinks they're accomplishing, the consequential moment was yesterday or, in fact, the previous week when he was meeting with U.S. allies who were concerned about the Russia threat and was singling out U.S. allies as somehow a threat to the U.S. That was the consequential time. So it's a difficult hole to dig yourself out from after missing that opportunity be at this.
BALDWIN: Let me add one more voice to this panel.
Gloria Borger is joining us from Washington.
Gloria, to recap the bits and pieces, the president says he has full faith and confidence in the U.S. Intelligence Community. He's acknowledging that Russia meddled in the U.S. election in 2016 but saying there was no collusion. Dana says total damage control. What say you?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think it's enough. He'll blame the media. We're waiting for that.
BORGER: I think, look, he understands that everybody, including his best friends, are saying that he was an embarrassment yesterday, and he doesn't like that. So he is saying, you know, I trust our intelligence agencies but, by the way, I'm not giving up on this, there was no collusion, because he can't get past his own nose. So he really -- I mean, it may be an attempt to try and walk things back and for Donald Trump, as Dana says, is probably a lot but, you know.
What good -- honestly, what good does it do? He stood next to Vladimir Putin. He said he was powerful in his denial of any election meddling and we should stop using the word meddling, by the way, because it was an attack on the United States of America, an attack on our democracy. Meddling makes it sound too tiny.
[14:35:20] BALDWIN: I think it's the word he used.
BORGER: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. That's the only word he will use.
BORGER: So I think, yes, it's an attempt to walk it back because everybody on his staff was flummoxed. They knew he had to do something but he can't quite get to the 100 percent, right? He can't mention -- he can't mention Russia hacking into the election without mentioning the word collusion because, when all is said and done, it just comes back to Donald Trump personally.
BALDWIN: Let me get more of an international perspective.
Nic Robertson is still live in Helsinki right where the president made those disgraceful comments standing with Vladimir Putin.
And I'm wondering, Jim Sciutto was absolutely spot on in saying it's one thing where he could have said, you know, that Russia, his word, meddled, the proper word, Gloria's word, attacked the elections. Should have said it standing next to Putin now is saying it to a closed-door room with reporters. Do you agree that criticizing Putin now just doesn't have the same effect?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It doesn't. The damage is done. What he said yesterday did the damage. Look, if we wind back a couple of days it was Theresa May. He undermined her in a tabloid newspaper criticizing her for failing to handle Brexit properly, utterly undermining her. He stood next to her and apologized and said he supported the prime minister. Yesterday, she had a vote and just got through changing her Brexit plan, 303 votes to 300. Only just got through. One of the reasons is because she was so undermined by President Trump days earlier. What he says has an impact. What he said yesterday has an impact. It resonated with his allies in Europe. Both Britain and Germany have had their elections attacked in the same way the United States had. If President Trump had said to president Putin, don't do it again, we know what you're doing, there would have been a round of applause from his European allies today. We were struck by the sound of silence. Why? Because there was nothing to applaud President Trump for there. There would have been plenty to applaud him for had he told President Putin not to do it again because the Europeans are being attacked in the same way. The United States allies woke today to the realization -- they've been talking about this today -- to the realization that if President Trump doesn't listen to his own national security advisors, why do they believe he could listen to them. Why should they believe that the United States will look out for their national security interests? That gulf of trust has been opened up. You just do not walk that back by standing next to somebody, as he did with Theresa May, or standing up as he will alone, and saying, actually, I meant something else. It's happened. The impact is there. The words have been said. You don't take it back from here.
SCIUTTO: By the way, whose interest does that division and that lack of confidence in the U.S. serve?
BALDWIN: Putin. Putin.
SCIUTTO: It serves Russia's interests.
SCIUTTO: They are, in fact, part of Russia's express strategy to do exactly that.
BALDWIN: No, I keep sitting here wondering, listening to Nic, Jeffrey, what must Putin be thinking now?
EDMUNDS: To Jim and Nic's point, the other part of this that President Trump missed was an opportunity -- opportunity to clearly communicate to Putin that if he does A, we'll respond with B. This is completely unacceptable. It's one thing for him to now come out and say, OK, gee, he accepts the assessment now. He totally missed the opportunity to deter the Russian leadership from doing what they're going to try do again, which is interfere with our internal politics. I think from Putin's perspective, one, like Jim said earlier, he already has -- the agreement to have the summit was a victory. Yesterday was even a bigger victory. I think they're going to continue to try to undermine Western institutions as much as they can.
BALDWIN: Go ahead, Dana or Gloria.
BORGER: Why would we consider it a huge deal that the president of the United States is finally saying that he has faith in his own Intelligence Community? I mean, it's kind of shocking that we now think, oh, this is news.
BALDWIN: How many days into the presidency are we? Who's keeping count?
BALDWIN: That this is finally happening.
BASH: It is stunning that it is news that any president says that he has support of his own Intelligence Community, never mind his own appointed director of National Intelligence. Of course. But that's the world we're living in.
SCIUTTO: True. And also --
[14:39:56] BASH: And there's no excuse and there's no question that the damage is done, and it's been done in a way that is absolutely irreparable. But the fact is that for those of us, and all of us have been, watching and studying and trying to figure out Donald Trump, the fact that he has at least a little bit moved backwards, a little bit made clear that he understands that the whole world thinks that he is an embarrassment, never mind his own country. I mean, it wasn't a given that this is the way he would react. I just want to say that. It was not a given.
Let me jump in with a bit more. We're getting more nuggets of what the president is saying.
Again, if you're just joining us, this is the president speaking right now in the White House to the press pool and so the president has also now said, "My administration will repel any effort to interfere in our elections." And then he said, I can tell you -- forgive me. I'm reading bits and pieces -- "I can tell you Trump apparently ignored this question will you publicly condemn Putin."
So those two bits of news.
But, Gloria, if we go back to the first point about repelling interference in our elections, again, that is news, right? Not only is he now finally saying he is agreeing with his own -- our country's Intelligence Community, now he's saying repelling any effort.
BORGER: I would say he had a huge opportunity the other day to repel efforts when he met with Vladimir Putin. This is why I think it's so important that Congress get a debriefing from the translator and get the notes and debrief the national security officials
BORGER: -- because I think that we -- you know, we need to know exactly what the president said to Putin privately. Because we know what he said publicly, which was so weak. Now he's backtracking, as Dana says, but what did he say directly to Vladimir Putin? I doubt he said we will repel you.
SCIUTTO: But also, Brooke, the thing is the words mean nothing without action, right? You know, repel would be significant because the president has not said that, but we also know that the directors of all of the intelligence agencies, NSA, DNI, FBI, testified before the Senate some weeks ago that they had not been directed by this president to take action to repel attacks. Has he now directed his intelligence chiefs to do so? What actions specifically? He can say it every day, but if the U.S. government is not being ordered to act as such, the president not issuing those orders, it doesn't mean anything. He can say he has confidence in his intelligence agencies, but his actions on a number of fronts belie that, frankly, for instance what he said next to president Putin, for instance, blowing up an Iran nuclear deal that his intelligence agencies advised him that he was complying with, canceling military exercises with South Korea. He's taken substantive moves that have indicated whether or not he has confidence or says he has confidence in intelligence agencies, he does not accept their recommendations. The question is, what does he do.
EDMUNDS: -- embolden the Russians when you think about it. There's no consequence here. He hasn't denounced anything so why would they expect him to do anything in the future.
BALDWIN: On the note of doing anything in the future, and of course, you have to imagine that Putin is absolutely emboldened. The mid-term elections are in a couple of months and this ongoing attacking of U.S. elections. Dana, going back to where we started and listening to the Senate
majority leader, to your point that is the strongest we've seen from him without mentioning Trump by name. I'm wondering if we heard the color that the president was fuming, hearing that a number of Republicans are, you know, coming out with these strong statements in the wake of what we saw, what can Congress, what can Republicans do to perhaps put some punch behind these words that Trump is delivering right now?
BASH: Well, they can -- going back to what Mitch McConnell said -- really pass the piece of legislation that looks forward to 2018 to this year's elections, November's elections, that threatens Russia, if you do this again, there will be further sanctions. That would be the way Congress would deal with that.
Now to Jim's point, Congress doesn't need to do it. I mean, the president could do it with the stroke of a pen right now preemptively instead of after the fact. I can't imagine that happening but, you know
BASH: Yes. And then the other thing that they can do is something that Gloria just mentioned. This isn't about action towards Russia. This is more information gathering, which is very important, which -- and that is to try to find out what exactly the president said to Vladimir Putin behind closed doors. That would be extraordinary. I would even go as far as saying probably unprecedented.
BALDWIN: How would they get that information?
BASH: Subpoenaing the translator.
[14:45:08] BASH: That would be -- as I said, that would be extraordinary and probably unprecedented but if there's that much concern and we know there's a lot of concern about what the president said to Vladimir Putin in private given the fact that he was so soft in public, to say the least, in public.
BORGER: You know, they could also -- by the way, they could also protect the Mueller investigation.
BORGER: They could also pass legislation that says the president is not allowed to fire Mueller or anybody else dealing with the full completion of the investigation into the Russian hacking of the election. And so, you know, there are Democrats who have wanted to do this. Well, Republicans can do this as well.
BALDWIN: Hang on, Jim. Hang on, Jim.
Nic Robertson has been patiently waiting. He's in Helsinki.
Nic, I think you wanted to jump in earlier in the conversation. Please, go ahead.
ROBERTSON: I did. One of the other things the allies are worried about -- Gloria and Dana are bringing it up -- what was said behind closed doors. President Trump, the best we know so far, he's only tried to walk back that that we know. The two hours and 10 minutes that we don't know about, we have no idea what might be necessary to walk back there, and that's troubling for the allies this time as well. I'm sure that the United States allies, the diplomats that represent these countries will have had conversations similar to what Jim has had and I have had with senior officials. One senior official recently told me that, you know, he was charged with determining and watching and trying to track cyber intrusions and attacks from China, from Russia, from North Korea into the United States. He hadn't been given guidance which of those countries to prioritize. There he is with a huge task and no idea what the administration would like him to prioritize.
I think one of the other fundamental points we're at, this is a much bigger issue, but it goes to the conversation that President Trump and Putin had at the G-20 last year. There was something that was a conclusion but nothing has been done about it, and that is for there to be an international determination on what is a cyberattack. We all know what an attack of war looks like. Big guns reining, missiles on civilians all forces. Cyberattacks are something that we haven't decided what is an attack, what is an attack on our national strategic security interests, what is an attack on our democracy. The red lines and consequences of those red lines have not been sort of formalized internationally. So, you know, there's a clear need to do that by the United States so the United States should be, in many people's opinion, leading the way on this, leading the way with President Putin, leading the way for the North Koreans, leading the way with the Chinese, to put up very clear markers, lines in the sand. Cross these lines and these are the consequences. That's where we -- that is where we're at. Cyberattacks are no longer a serious sci-fi potential. They're a reality. And they're undermining our democracy, and President Putin has been behind the worst of it so far.
BALDWIN: Here's what I'm wondering, too, in going back to could Congress or could people ever find out what was said between these two men during this meeting. Dana mentioned maybe this extreme effort of subpoenaing the translators.
Jim, do you think it would be possible? Again, he wasn't in the room but I assume he would be briefed, the Secretary of State, Pompeo, could he be called to the Hill to brief lawmakers on what happened?
SCIUTTO: Listen, he could be. But Secretary Pompeo was asked questions about the president's positions on a whole host of things and he, as CIA director, now secretary of state, and he's been very careful. I can't tell you a moment I've ever heard him criticize this president by name so -- and I could imagine him declaring executive privilege on some of those conversations. So I don't know that that would be the source where you would get a reliable indicator of what was said in that room.
I agree with Dana and Gloria. It would be a serious step to call a translator. I'll tell you, I've met and dealt with official translators in a number of contacts and they view that role as supremely apolitical, professional, et cetera, and private. They've been privy to a lot of private conversations but, boy, would that be a remarkable step. Is this the moment where you have a Republican controlled Congress take that step? Possibly. But I think a lot of what the president is trying to do now on this meeting is take some of the air out of that sort of pressure.
SCIUTTO: We'll see.
[14:49:56] BALDWIN: If you're just joining us, we have this great panel going and having this whole conversation as we're getting dribs and drabs of news being made by the president of the United States who's back home at the White House in the wake of what happened between the president and Vladimir Putin when they had that meeting in Helsinki.
So a couple of headlines.
Panel, stay with me.
A couple of headlines if you're just tuning in. The president has said to the press pool -- and we'll be getting this actual tape and we'll turn it for you so you can hear from Trump himself. The headlines, he says, "My administration will repel any effort to interfere in our elections." Apparently, a question was shouted about, will you publicly condemn Putin, and Trump ignored that question. Trump saying, "I have full faith and support for America's intelligence." Again, in stark contrast for what we saw yesterday in Helsinki. And then saying, "I accept our Intelligence Community's conclusion that meddling took place. There was no collusion."
Dana is saying, damage control.
We're one minute away from getting this tape, Dana. Just you'll make that point again for me and then we'll listen to the president.
BASH: Yes. That this is not a president who does anything conventionally in politics. And trying to clean up his messes is probably among the top things that he does unconventionally, meaning he doesn't do it. As Jim and Gloria have said very eloquently, there's no cleaning up this mess. He had the moment. He had advice from all corners of the globe on how to deal with Vladimir Putin in public.
BALDWIN: Here he is, the president. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, everybody.
Yesterday I returned from a trip from Europe where I met with leaders from across the region to seek a more peaceful future for the United States.
(TRUMPS SPEECH FROM 14:51:47 TO 14:59:59)
[14:59:59] TRUMP: So when I met with President Putin for about two and a half hours, we talked about numerous things, and among those things are the problems that you see in the Middle East -- we're very much involved. We're very much involved.