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Trump's "America First" Idea Doesn't Match His Message; U.N. Keeps Israel-Lebanon Border Quiet; Putin Passes Trump World Cup Ball as a Gift; U.S. Intel: Russia Sowing Discord And Divisiveness; Russian Media Praise Putin's Performance In Summit; Trump's Slams NATO Calls E.U. A 'Foe' On Trade; U.S. Accuses Russian Woman Of Being Foreign Agent. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired July 17, 2018 - 01:00   ET


JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: -- Chuck Hagel called it a sad day for the world. Former CIA Director John Brennan said it was nothing short of treasonous. There has been no shortage of outrage and criticism for the U.S. President after his joint news conference on Monday with Russia's Vladimir Putin. Mostly it seems to be sparked by President Trump meekly accepting Putin's denial of election meddling despite the overwhelming evidence which says otherwise.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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. 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. There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it. It was a clean campaign. I beat Hillary Clinton easily and frankly we beat her and I'm not even saying from the standpoint. We won that race and it's a shame that they could even be a little bit of a cloud over it.

VAUSE: CNN's International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson is in Helsinki. And Nic you were there as all this played out. I was told one Ambassador there in Helsinki watch that joint news conference dumbfounded, confused and in his words pained. What's the deep like fallout here especially in the context of Donald Trump's behavior in the U.K. and the NATO summit last week?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Sure. Number one you've seen their headlines here on the newspapers here in Helsinki describing this as Putin one, Trump zero. Perhaps an illusion that of a football match and it appears to indicate. They think that -- even the Finns here think that President Trump has capitulated to President Putin remembering that you know, Finland has been on the front line with versus Soviet Union and Russia and Putin's tactics and an ax against democracy in the west. They've been on the front line of that so they have a very keen sense of this. You know, for the United States allies and particularly those NATO and Theresa May in Britain where Donald Trump was last week. But he left Washington a week ago, he said that he was going to have a tough time at NATO, a tough time in the U.K. and an easy time with Putin.

I don't think anyone really quite understood what he meant but he came here and we've seen how his meeting went with President Putin, has even given a football by President Putin that he said he would give to his son a World Cup football. When President Trump went through NATO and Britain earlier in the past week he absolutely ripped through there and so this outcome here in Helsinki will leave his allies wondering, they are wondering if he cannot trust his own intelligence services which is clear that he can't by his -- by his words even though his retract since then saying he does have it lots of them, he does believe in his intelligence services.

European allies would be looking right now if he cannot trust his own intelligence services then how will he trust his allies of what they say based on what their intelligence services are telling him. So there will be and there is unease and concern here now based on the outcome witness in Helsinki. It's not just a troubling time the in the in the arena of U.S. domestic politics, it's a troubling time for all of the United States allies who realize that this was not going to be the same United States, same similar presidency to past presidencies that they would have to stand up for themselves more but there's a growing realization this is a more of an immediate threat than they realize, John.

VAUSE: Nick, is this getting close to what would be the worst-case scenario for the European allies, a confrontational President last week for NATO and if the U.K. turns into what some have described as Putin's poodle this week.

ROBERTSON: I think the worst-case scenario for Helsinki was to have had president Trump come out of his meeting and say that he decided to scale down NATO military exercises or cancel them in the Baltics, that he was going to take steps towards recognizing Russia's annexation of Crimea, both of things the president Trump's language in the past week hinted that he might do, that didn't happen.

His priority really seemed to be to clear his own name. But given his instincts, given his instincts to trust his own -- his own guts, if you will on President Putin, that his own instincts are trying to you know, scale down the amount of money, is spending on its military and create a new brighter future as he says with President Putin, there would -- those concerns will only be amplified although they didn't -- weren't vocalized yesterday about Crimea or about joint military exercises or a host of other issues for that matter, that concern will focus around that now, John.

[01:05:01] VAUSE: OK, Nic, thank you. International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson live for us there in Helsinki. Joining me now CNN Contributor and former Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty, CNN U.S. Security Analyst Juliette Kayyem, and CNN Intelligence and Security Analyst Bob Baer. Bob is also a former CIA operative. And Bob, I would like to start with you. This news conference was everything the U.S. President was willing to say publicly. What did he say during his alone time with Putin?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: That's what we would like to know. I mean, it's completely unprecedented not to bring somebody in. And the fact that Trump wasn't taking no's they're just going to have to rely on the translator. He clearly wanted to tell Putin something that he didn't want to become a matter of official record.

VAUSE: Jill, looking back now the past few months, apart from lifting the sanctions on Russia which Congress has refused to do, after this meeting in Helsinki, is there anything this U.S. President could do which with either intentionally or unintentionally benefit Vladimir Putin? Is there anything left?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, that's kind of a hard thing to answer. I mean, there is so much unknown about exactly what they talked about. I think, there's -- the Russians are giving the impression that there was more that they talked about substantively behind the scenes but again this is all you know, not reported and we don't know. I think definitely there's no question that Putin goes away having accomplished at least if not more than he wanted to because you know, I was looking at a treat by the Senator, Russian senator whose name is Aleksey Pushkov and it was so perfect because it describes precisely how the Russians look at this.

He said that here are the two Russia and the United States deciding the fate of the world and that these are the heads of the leading states of the planet. So that gives you the idea of you know, Putin's back on the stage. He is no longer isolated. He's out there, he is totally an equal of the U.S. President and they together are going to decide the problems of the world. It's exactly what they wanted.

VAUSE: So it was a good day for Vladimir Putin if it wasn't for anybody else. But after the summit, Putin appeared on Fox News who is again asked about the hacking of 2016 election. During his answer, he talks specifically about the e-mails which was stolen from the Democratic campaign. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was there any false information planted?

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT, RUSSIA: No it wasn't. And there was an information about manipulations conducted within the Democratic Party to incline the process in favor of a one candidate. And as far as I know, the entire party leadership resigned. They admitted the fact of their manipulations so that's one thing that manipulations were the public opinion should stop.


VAUSE: So Julia, to you, what he was essentially saying is because the information in the e-mails was accurate, it was real, it wasn't forged, that should be the end of it which is a similar line that I thought actually you know, from Dana Rohrabacher, the congressman from here in California who's considered to be Putin's Congressman, you know, it's been -- this is a talking point which has been out there for some time.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's exactly right. (INAUDIBLE) Putin and Russia have been saying for a while essentially that it was the Democrats fault that these things were said. And I think it just goes to show sort of the gravity of what happened today that essentially the United States President -- there's really no other way to put it. The United States President sided with a hostile foreign power in an assessment of a hostile act against the United States and its democracy. And so of course, Putin is going to be giving the line that protects himself. I think the thing that's so shocking all of us is President Trump is giving the line that protects Putin and I think in the end I think what you're seeing now in the response to the United States as well as the White House trying to do some clean-up is a recognition that Trump is you know, filling the verb is compromised, is paranoid, is you know, wants to protect his election sanctity, or is simply was just played by someone much more sophisticated than him.

VAUSE: And after Donald Trump threw the U.S. Intelligence Community under the bus and sided with Putin and his denials over the election meddling, the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a statement which read, "We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security. Above those are fairly tame statement but the Commander-in- Chief won't accept the findings of U.S. Intelligence what are the options which are left. Should Coats resign at this point?

BAER: No. We need Coats. Coats is telling the truth. We are currently under attack. We were attacked in 2016 by Russia. It's absolutely clear the evidence the intelligence doesn't get any better than that. And by the way, I'm going to use this word, I hate to do it but Trump's siding with Putin than Russian intelligence is flat-out treasonous and we need Dan Coats to tell the truth. We need the FBI to continue to arrest Russian agents operating in this country and frankly, I'm very proud of the American government now is standing up to this President and by the way, the Republican Party which is for the first time this has occurred since the election.

[01:10:38] VAUSE: Bob, can you actually be charged with treason outside a period of war or was that just a technicality?

BAER: No, anybody can know it and it stays -- in a state of war in the Cold War we were arresting spies. I mean, we simply do not know why Trump has sided with Russia. There's no easy explanation. He's been in business with the Russians. You look at Toronto, you look at Soho Trump and the rest of it and there's a lot of suspicious money coming into Trump. I mean, are they floating him? Are they carrying a note on? We simply don't know because the only person he has not criticized since he's been president is Vladimir Putin and he is an adversary of the United States. And by the way, he's just killed somebody in Britain with a fourth-generation nerve agent. He shot down airplanes, he's invaded the Crimea, he is not America's friend and this president has no explanation why he sided with Russia instead of his own government. This has just -- this never happened in American history period.

VAUSE: Again, here's Coats talking about security issues. This was over the weekend. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DAN COATS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: You know, it was in the months prior to September 2001 when according to then-CIA director George Tenet the system was blinking red and here we are two-decade nearly, two decades later and I'm here to say the warning lights are break blinking red again. Today the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.


VAUSE: Also the Secretary of Homeland Security says U.S. Intelligence has seen persistent Russian efforts using social media, sympathetic spokespeople, and other fronts to sow discord and divisiveness amongst the American people. They're not necessarily focused on specific politicians or political campaigns. So Julia, in light of the face of the November midterm elections are coming up, is there any possibility that any of that information has not reached the president?

KAYYEM: No. I mean, the President certainly knows of the ongoing attack is just his unwillingness to absorb it. So here's the good news about the fact that we are you know, a divided government in many ways state and local authorities, secretaries of state, local mayors, governors are taking this very seriously to try to protect their system. We've seen a little bit of movement on the you know, social media platforms although certainly not enough responsibility for them propagating of fake news or news that comes from Russia that disrupt elections. So there is activity but that activity can only go so far. You need leadership from the top -- from the top.

So while Coats is doing what he needs to do, when the Secretary of Homeland Security she's trying to do what she needs to do, they haven't been invested with the powers by the President to stop this from happening from 2018 and just getting back to what Bob said. That is why people like us you know, are you know -- you know, the red alarms are going off too because you know, if Trump is unwilling to stop this for 2018 to expose it, to admit that it happens, a shame and try to do things that stop Russia one has to assume because there's no other way -- there's no other explanation that he is welcoming it for the midterm elections in 2018. I don't come to that statement easily but I have no other data to analyze this than to say he actually welcomes it for 2018 because he's not stopping it.

VAUSE: Right. OK, so during that joint news conference are asked about you know if there's any chance that the Russians have gathered kompromat or compromising material on Donald Trump and after the -- that joint news conference Putin again made this appearance on Fox News. He said basically no we couldn't because when he came here as the businessman there are so many businessmen we couldn't actually blackmail them all. It's kind of what he said. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think that our special service is actually making organized surveillance on each and every of them?

PUTIN: Well, unlike you, unlike in the United States, we don't do this. We don't have enough resources, we don't have enough manpower to organize the total state of control. That's not part of our plans and it's clear that we did nothing of that kind against Mr. Trump.


[01:14:57] VAUSE: But Jill, is it fair to say Trump's ties to the Kremlin, and you know -- this is -- you know, suspect Russians go a lot deeper than your average businessman on a trip to Moscow?

DOUGHERTY: But you know, just on that point John, the President, President Putin was talking about a specific conference -- you know a business -- the -- I believe it was the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, where there were let's say 500 business people, and maybe it would be a little bit difficult to get agents on each and individual.

But -- you know, President Putin -- President Trump was in Russia back going into I think, in 1987. And certainly, he had to have been on their radar. I mean, I will -- I will tell you that I, as a student, many years ago in St. Petersburg, then Leningrad know that we were followed. And there was information collected on us. I mean, and we were kind of idiotic -- you know, young people.

It just doesn't make sense to me that they would not in some fashion or another have their eye on him. He was an important business person. He kept coming back, he wanted to do deals, and it just makes sense unless I'm totally wrong.

But you know, in this John, the president was -- that Mr. Putin was answering very specifically.

VAUSE: Right.

DOUGHERTY: And that is what he does. You know, he can take one point and he can be utterly correct. Whereas the entire picture, there are a lot of other facts that should be brought into it.

VAUSE: OK. Let's listen to the former FBI director James Comey, talking about the infamous Russian dossier and the salacious allegations it makes against the current U.S. president.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: Honestly, I never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don't know whether the current president states with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It's possible, but I don't know.


VAUSE: Bob, the former director of the FBI can't rule it out. But what was notable during that joint news conference is that neither Trump nor Putin with the question came up gave a definitive no, there's no compromise.

BAER: No, exactly he didn't. And let's keep in mind, Juliet is absolutely right. Donald Trump was under observation by the KGB in New York as far back as '86. 1987, he goes to Moscow. He was being cultivated by the KGB and the Russian Foreign Ministry. And they were looking at him to replace Armand Hammer, who was an agent of influence. Unwitting but, you know, this was a very close plan and the chances that he's not going to Moscow and being filmed are close to zero.

Now, we don't know what happened in that room, but that's what the Russians do. I have worked with the Russian intelligence service, and this is what they do for a living is blackmail. They incriminate people and that's how they control them. Whether they've done this with Trump or not, it's the -- you know, $64,000 question. And I certainly, don't have the answer. But Julie is absolutely right. They watch this guy on every visit he made to Russia. And we're looking to recruit him in some fashion.

VAUSE: OK, Bob and Jill, we'll ask you to stay around for -- after the break. In the meantime, Julie, I'd like to say thank you for being with us, most appreciate it.

OK, well, there is one place where the Trump-Putin summit is being described as an unqualified success that would be Russia. Our minister there, Sergey Lavrov, called the talks, magnificent, better than super.

On our Sam Kiley reports, Kremlin-friendly news outlets are portraying the American president as a friend of Mother Russia.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Russian pundits delighted. "No real challenge from Trump but Putin over Russia's alleged meddling in his election. An attempt to blame Russia, 12 people from Russia for the meddling in 2016 which was absolutely designed to tied Trump's hands, we had no room for maneuver and talks with Putin to turn the theme of meddling into the main topic of discussion between the two presidents, this attempt failed.

Well, can you imagine tomorrow's headline of the New York Times? It seems to me that it will be easy, I wanted Trump to win, this is what Putin, said."

In Russia, there were no surprises from the Helsinki summit. Here, people have come to expect to hear Putin and Trump sing the same tune. Take for example the North Atlantic Treaty Organization which was set out to defend against the Soviet threat. Donald Trump not much of a fan.

TRUMP: NATO is really there for Europe, much more so than us. It helps Europe with no matter what our military people or your military people say, helps Europe more than it helps us.

KILEY: Putin, happy to see frictions in the ranks of his rivals.

MEGYN KELLY, HOST, NBC: President Putin does all this squabbling over NATO help Russia?

PUTIN (through translator): Well, in a sense that maybe they should completely be falling apart, that will help. But we don't see that falling apart, just yet.

KILEY: A former U.S. ambassador laid out the arguments.

[01:20:01] ALEXANDER VERSHBOW, FORMER DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL, NORTH ATLANTIC TREATY ORGANIZATION: Putin sees NATO as kind of the main obstacle to his efforts to kind of re-divide Europe. And he doesn't like European Union for the same reason because it's spreading Democratic values to places like Ukraine and Georgia. And Trump seems to see these institutions as problems rather than bastions of the defense of freedom.

KILEY: When Eastern European nations flooded into the European Union following the end of the Cold War, Putin was furious, and he sought to undermine it ever since. Trump also names the E.U. as a rival.

TRUMP: I think, the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now, you wouldn't think of the European Union, but they are foe.

KILEY: A dozen Russian secret agents have been indicted by Robert Mueller's special council for trying to hack and disrupt the U.S. elections. Trump insists that this is a witch hunt and fake news. Putin agrees but admits that they did work for Russian interest.

PUTIN: Hackers are free-spirited people like artists. If they are in a good mood in the morning, they wake up and paint. It is the same for hackers. They wake up today, they read that something is happening in the interstate relations, and if their patriotically minded, they start making their contributions.

KILEY: But given this bromance between these world leaders, Trump's critics and America's allies remain fearful that the U.S. President himself has been hacked by a master of that dark art. Sam Kiley, CNN, Moscow.


VAUSE: Well, she was a graduate student from Russia, also a gun rights activist. Well known within conservative circles in the U.S. But now, she's accused of being a foreign agent who may have infiltrated the NRA. Details up next.

And later this hour, Donald Trump, facing some harsh criticism from within his own Republican Party. In particular, widens the self- described counter puncher stand up to Vladimir Putin.


VAUSE: A Russian woman accused of trying to establish back-channel communications between, then-candidate Donald Trump. And Vladimir Putin has been charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without registering as required under U.S. law.

Maria Butina appeared in federal court in Washington on Monday. According to the Justice Department, she received orders from a senior Russian official and allegedly was told to cultivate connections to the National Rifle Association, as well as, religious groups to promote pro-Russia policies.

Back with us now, CNN contributor and former Moscow bureau chief Jill Dougherty. CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer, former CIA operative.

OK, Bob, the significance here seems to Butina's connection to the NRA given the investigation of millions of dollars which have been felt through the gun rights group from Russia, allegedly, to the Trump campaign.

[01:24:53] BAER: Yes, that's the accusation. Now, the question is how do you trace this money down? Because her boss, Central Bank or Torshin is a mobster, frankly. He was intercepted in Spain giving orders to the Russian government. He is connected to Mob groups, and this is the whole problem with Russia's, this -- you know, organized crime in the KGB are one and the same. It's like an octopus, as somebody described it. You know, it's got multiple arms.

I think what's encouraging about this is the FBI, while the president is in the air, arrests a Russian agent. The FBI has basically told the president, we're going to cut -- we're going to run this down. And clearly, Bob Mueller, will as well. So, this is good news.

But, when the Russians were much more aggressive than just -- you know, getting Facebook ads and the rest of it. They were out actively, trying to recruit and subvert our political system. And I think, this is what the FBI and this arrest is telling us. VAUSE: Yes, back in 2011, Butina helped to establish a group in

Russia, it's called The Right to Bear Arms. A few years ago, John Bolton, who is now Trump's national security adviser, addressed that group via videos. This is part of what he said.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR OF THE UNITED STATES: Should the Russian people have the right to bear arms? I can share with you a word about what this particular freedom has meant to Americans, and offer you encouragement as you consider embracing that freedom which so many nations and cultures have found to be the essential defense for all other freedoms.


VAUSE: Jill, it seems that the last thing, Vladimir Putin, would want is a well-armed, well-regulated militia -- you know, in Russia. So, what is known about this -- you know, group Right to Bear Arms?

DOUGHERTY: You know, this is not an issue in Russia. This is very, very different. I mean, here we all know the role of the NRA in guns in the Second Amendment and everything. But in Russia, it really isn't. And that always struck me as kind of odd that this woman would start, or at least, be that I could -- one of the heads of this organization. It just doesn't seem to make sense.

There are, of course, some supporters that I think when you put this together in the allegations coming out from this criminal complaint from the Justice Department, that this was a way of currying favor with a -- and I believe, as I read it, it is not named as the NRA but as gun rights organization.

A way of currying favor and getting connections with political leaders of a certain party. Then, it begins to make sense. So, what she was doing kind of reminded me of the sleeper cells -- you know, the -- in the almost like the Americans at T.V. show where this woman who's 29 years old, graduate student at American University is having this kind of dinners, friendship dinners, dialogue dinners, she called them, and making contacts, getting people who would be influential, and then, talking to the man who allegedly controlled her which is this central banker et cetera. So, then, it begins to make more sense.

VAUSE: So, Bob, how this does -- this all fit into the -- you know, the Russian playbook?

BAER: Well, what they do is they send students here to spot and assess potential recruits Americans that the KGB can recruit. This is what it sounds like she was. She doesn't actually go out and -- you know, make a proposal to -- for an American to work for the KGB, but she -- once she finds somebody who's sympathetic, and there are a lot of people sympathetic to Russia in Washington, D.C. Then, she identifies them for the residency in D.C. or New York, and then, they get in touch separately.

The Russians are very good at this, a very good Intelligence Agency, and they're all over the United States. And I think, I -- by the way, I think there's going to be more arrests because there's a lot of FSB agents in Washington, D.C. operating.

VAUSE: Very quickly, during that joint news conference, the U.S. president talked about this often, he had from Vladimir Putin, to help with the investigation into the 12 Russians indicted last week for election meddling. This is what Donald Trump, said.


TRUMP: And what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that's an incredible offer.


VAUSE: Jill, Putin's tried this once before, they didn't go for it then. Why would he try a second time?

DOUGHERTY: You know, when -- actually, that was one of the lighter moments I thought in that news conference. Because when I heard that, the level of naivety is stunning. I mean, an incredible offer because it actually is incredible.

This is the classic -- I would say, Putin. I mean, he knows that there is no way that the United States or Mueller would ever accept an offer to come work with Russian intelligence agencies, let them in on some of the information that Mueller has. It's unthinkable, but apparently, the president thought that, that actually was kind of a great idea. I think -- you know, again, we have Putin who is very good at all of this, as Bob, said. And essentially, trolling or at least, leading on the president with this idea that would never take off.


VAUSE: -- and Pablo Escobar are now hoping to work with the DEA.

Jill and Bob -- thanks so much. We appreciate it.

BAER: Thank you.

Next on NEWSROOM L.A., slamming allies and embracing enemies. We'll look at what passes for foreign policy under the U.S. President.


VAUSE: Welcome back everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause with the headlines this hour.

Donald Trump is under fire for disregarding U.S. intelligence that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. He says Russian President Vladimir Putin offered a strong and powerful denial and he doesn't see any reason why Moscow would interfere.

Hours after the President's Helsinki news conference the U.S. Justice Department revealed the arrest a Russian national accused of conspiring to act against the U.S. as a spy. Twenty-nine-year-old Maria Butina is accused of working with two unnamed U.S. citizens and a Russian official to try and influence U.S. politics and infiltrate the National Rifle Association. Her attorney though says she denies the charges.

A Brexit victory but at a cost for the prime minister -- British Prime Minister Theresa May. He she won a series of votes in parliament after some amendments to her Customs Bill. It is designed to create an independent customs policy after Britain leaves the European Union. But junior defense minister Guto Bebb resigned, becoming the tenth in service (ph) to quit over the Brexit plan.

U.S. President Donald Trump has long touted America first but his actions say different. He slammed U.S. allies like the European Union and the U.K. and embraced Russia's president just days after the U.S. indicted Russian intelligence officers.

Jake Tapper puts it all in perspective.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's going to be only America first. America first.

TAPPER (voice over): Putting America first. It was a sure fire applause line. TRUMP: America first.

TAPPER: But when it comes to Russia, the President's priorities don't quite match his mega message.

TRUMP: I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we've all been foolish.

TAPPER: Ahead of his Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Trump took care not to offend, opting instead to attack his own countrymen in hopes of improving relations with the Kremlin.

[01:35:00] "Our relationship with Russia has never been worse, thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now the rigged witch hunt," the President tweeted mere hours before the meeting. Wrote Russian's ministry of foreign affairs -- "We agree," blaming the investigation into the cyber attack by the Russians and not the cyber attack itself.

America first, indeed.

Less than a week ago, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein announced indictments against 12 Russian military intelligence officers for allegedly interfering in the U.S. election. Today President Trump defended Russia's leader.

TRUMP: I have President Putin. He just said it is not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be.

TAPPER: Under President Trump, there have been serious moves contrary to Russian government desires, providing lethal weapons to Ukrainians, ejecting Russian diplomats from the U.S. and continued sanctions. But President Trump has allowed these moves reluctantly.

And the former reality TV star-turned-president knows the power of showmanship and his most public messages are "To Russia with love".

TRUMP: I called him a competitor and a good competitor he is.

TAPPER: Trump's arrival in Helsinki came after a tense visit to America's closest allies in Brussels and in the United Kingdom. A trip he tapped Sunday with this comment to CBS.

TRUMP: I think the European Union is a foe -- what they do to us in trade.

TAPPER: He gave the same distinction to Russia and to China but on state TV in Moscow, this was all portrayed as an unexpected gift.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is not USSR or Russia that is driving a wedge between transatlantic allies and the USSR tried to do that many times. But their chief -- Washington and the President of the U.S. were doing everything to break the foundation of the transatlantic alliance and union.

TAPPER: President Trump doing more to dismantle the U.S./NATO alliance than any Soviet leader had ever hoped to accomplish.

But should any of this really be a surprise? Throughout his campaign, President Trump constantly made a moral equivalence between the United States and Russia.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST: Again, he kills journalists that don't agree with him.

TRUMP: Well I think our country does plenty of killing also -- Joe.

Still, even with that campaign rhetoric, it was stunning today when President Trump sided with Putin over Americans, including over his own intelligence chiefs when asked who he believed.

Jake Tapper, CNN -- in Helsinki, Finland.


VAUSE: Well, for more on that Monday joint news conference in Helsinki, we're joined by the talk radio host Ethan Bearman and Shawn Steel, Republican National Committeeman for California. Thank you for coming back - guys.

Helsinki freezes over, I guess, for the second time. You like that one?

In as many months, the U.S. President has showered an autocratic leader with deference and praise just days after a tense and cantankerous meeting with American allies. This time it was Putin after the NATO summit and the U.K. Last month it was Kim Jong-un of North Korea and the allies meeting of the G-7.

Ethan -- is this the emergence of essentially a new world order? You know, this is the world according to Donald Trump?

ETHAN BEARMAN, RADIO HOST: Well, I mean that's the way Donald Trump is approaching it. It is an abject and disgusting hypocrisy on the part of the Republicans when it comes to their attacks on then President Obama for saying I want to meet with some of these leaders to try and negotiate. It viciously attacked him in the press.

Now that Donald Trump is doing it, somehow they're sycophants in agreeing with him. I don't like what is happening now. Of course, I want peace. I want a denuclearized Korean peninsula. But you don't put dictators on the world stage and make them look good for internal propaganda purposes that actually accomplish what you're setting out to accomplish.

VAUSE: Shawn -- do most Republicans support the President here in what appears to be an attempt to tear down the world order which the United States built in the wake of World War II? You know, essentially dismantling all of the institutions and sort of moving the U.S. away from western democracies toward these -- towards Russia, maybe towards China as well?

SHAWN STEEL, CALIFORNIA REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITEEMAN: Nothing has been dismantled. It was very unsettling to me personally to have anything good to say about Putin or not even to confront him because he is just nothing but a thug running, you know, the 19th most economically powerful country in the world. It's a second rate power. It's really not a threat to anybody. And I wouldn't give him any special honors.

But Trump was doing something that I haven't seen. I don't even have my hands around it. But he is meeting with these dictators from Saudi Arabia, from China, from North Korea -- talking about peace, peace, peace.

And I have to realize, he is not part of that conservative movement that was highly anti-communist that didn't like any these to totalitarian dictatorships when we always saw them as the enemy no matter what.

Trump is looking at this, maybe as some kind of a peacenik on a level that I'm not comfortable with. Now, what has come out of it? So far not much --

VAUSE: Nothing.

BEARMAN: Nothing.

STEEL: But on the other -- bad things haven't happened either. The Iranians are standing down. They're not attacking us. And during the Obama years, they were regularly harassing our ships. There are no missiles coming out of Korea.

[01:40:05] But I didn't like what Trump did. I think he went too far trying to be a peacemaker.

VAUSE: Ok. Well, there has been a lot of outrage and criticism from a lot of corners. But the harshest hands down came from Republican Senator John McCain. He issued a statement.

He begins with this. "Today's press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump's naivete, egotism, false equivalence and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake."

"President Trump proved not only unable but unwilling to stand up to Putin. He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script the President made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world."

We'll pick it up there.

So Ethan -- why did the U.S. President -- this guy who likes to rumble and mix it up with the best of them, why didn't he stand up to Putin.

BEARMAN: Well, there's at least a couple of reasons why. One it seems like he's afraid to actually stand up to somebody who can punch back. And that would be Putin in this case who would win that battle. And the entire thing was a psychological operation -- a former KGB intelligence officer who studied and played President Trump clearly from the moment by showing up late. He exerted his power. If you analyze the looks on his face, he was gloating as he was walking into the conference.

STEEL: He smirks, the smile --

BEARMAN: He winked at him. Trump winked at Putin.


BEARMAN: The whole thing -- they have something on Trump. I don't know if it's billions of dollars in loans since we haven't seen the tax returns yet. I don't know if there's something in the dossier that's actually true. There is something there that Putin has that he's holding over Trump and it is not good for America.

VAUSE: Before you go -- I want to read a little more from John McCain who's (INAUDIBLE) through all of this because it's well worth hearing.

McCain goes on in the statement. "It is tempting to describe the press conference as a pathetic rout, an illustration of the perils of under preparation and inexperience. But these are not the errant tweets of a novice politician. These were the deliberate choices of a president who seems determined to realize his delusions of a warm relationship with Putin's regime without any regard for the true nature of his role, his violent disregard for the sovereignty of his neighbors, his complicity in the slaughter of the Syrian people, his violation of international treaties and his assault on democratic institutions throughout the world.

Coming close on the heels of President Trump's bombastic and erratic conduct towards our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain, today's press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American presidency. The President was attended in Helsinki by a team of competent and patriotic advisers, makes his blunders and capitulations all the more painful and inexplicable."

Shawn -- does any of that resonate with you?


VAUSE: You hear this and what do you think?

STEEL: I think it's far too bombastic. Sadly, McCain suffers, like a lot of people in this country suffer -- about 45 percent actually -- TDS. It is possible --

VAUSE: Trump delusion syndrome.



STEEL: Yes, Trump delusion syndrome -- it is a serious pathology. It makes people go crazy. People get this. But let me tell you something's happening --


VAUSE: He makes the point that, you know --

STEEL: Congressman Collins is suggesting a military coup. Is that's something that you support in your party?


VAUSE: But one of the --

BEARMAN: How about an impeachment hearing starting tomorrow? Against a president who doesn't defend and follow through with the oath of the office he swore to protect and defend the constitution of the United States and he didn't do that.

STEEL: Wait a moment. Nothing happened today.

BEARMAN: We have been attacked. We've been attacked by Russia and the President capitulated --


BEARMAN: -- to Putin.


BEARMAN: He kissed his feet. He kissed his --

STEEL: Oh, come on.

BEARMAN: He laid down in front of Putin.


STEEL: You see that.

BEARMAN: It was a shame --


VAUSE: Ok. Let's finish up with this --


VAUSE: He finishes with this. "No prior president has ever abased himself more objectively before a tyrant. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary but speaking for America to the world, our President failed to defend all that makes us who we are -- a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad.

American presidents must be the champions of that cause if it is to succeed. Americans are waiting and hoping for President Trump to embrace that sacred responsibility. One can only hope they're not waiting totally in vain."

And Shawn -- that's the point. That's what makes this country so special. It's the values and the morals that this place holds so dear. That is so special that no other country really has that history of actually promoting those ideals overseas.

And that's one thing which is so troubling to so many people. It seems that this president doesn't understand what those values are and doesn't appreciate the power that they have.

STEEL: Too much on the polemics side. Clearly Trump is trying to exercise some kind of prudence, some kind of understanding. He walked back a statement earlier about the intelligence agency saying look, we've had conflicts in the past. We're trying to work out a nuclear arrangement and some kind of a peace arrangement in the future.

I'm not sure that I buy it. But this kind of rhetoric is symptomatic of a serious pathology --

BEARMAN: We're actively under attack.

SHAWN: -- that defies reason.

[01:45:00] BEARMAN: We're actively under attack. According to the Director of National Intelligence, we're actively under attack.


STEEL: Ethan -- I'm going to tell you something that's going to horrify you. I agree with you. We've been under attack for a hundred years and your party has been asleep for 10 of those --

BEARMAN: Oh, please. You're just pretending like it's not happening and just --

STEEL: -- for 90 of those years.

BEARMAN: -- abdicating responsibility --

STEEL: Countries have always been meddling with each other.

BEARMAN: -- does not. The Russians are in the cyber warfare that is occurring today with (INAUDIBLE) --

STEEL: And North Koreans and the Chinese.

BEARMAN: I can tell you it's continuing to accelerate and we're not doing -- we're not even acknowledging it to address and stop it.

STEEL: Of course, we are.

VAUSE: And time. Ok. And we should note that obviously John McCain is suffering from brain cancer and, you know, he still managed to put out a statement, you know, a statement which is certainly well read, and has been passed around. A lot of people have seen it and commented on that statement from Senator McCain. Shawn and Ethan -- thanks so much.

STEEL: Very good.

VAUSE: Ok, we will take a short break.

When we come back a dangerous mission along the Israel-Lebanon border. We'll have a rare look at a U.N. force maintaining a fragile quiet on a tense frontier.


VAUSE: There is an uneasy quiet along the border between Israel and Lebanon -- two countries technically still at war after more than 70 years.

CNN's Ben Wedeman has rare access to what is a critical peace keeping mission.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ok, sir, stay back. Go back, back -- please.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Guns drawn, Lebanese naval commanders board a ship off Beirut. They take no chances and cuff the crew. It is just an exercise.

The ship is the German navy's Braunschweig -- part of the U.N.'s largest naval force, the maritime component of the United Nations interim force in Lebanon or UNIFIL. Their main job is to help the small under-equipped Lebanese navy prevent the smuggling of weapons into the country.

Twice in 2011 and 2012, they intercepted arms shipments believed to have been destined for Syria. Without UNIFIL says Brazilian Rear Admiral Eduardo Vasquez on board the flagship Independencia, there would be little to stop traffickers.

REAR ADMIRAL EDUARDO VASQUEZ, UNIFIL MTP COMMANDER: If you are not here it is open door for everything.

WEDEMAN: CNN gained rare access to the activities at UNIFIL tasked with maintaining the peace and preventing the outbreak yet again of war between Lebanon and Israel.

[01:50:03] To the south an Italian peacekeeper surveys the sometimes tense frontier between Lebanon and Israel. They have been patrolling these dirt roads and paths since the late summer of 2006 when Israeli forces pulled out after the 34-day war with Hezbollah.

One of UNIFIL's tasks is to help clear the hundreds of thousands of land mines and unexploded ordnance. It's slow, painstaking and sometimes deadly work for these Cambodian mine clearers.

Patrolling the frontier, Italian Army Sergeant-Major Salvatore Alonci (ph) says they have one constant concern. "We're checking to see if there are mines that might have been washed down by the rains. Mines," he adds, "from past wars."

UNIFIL and the Lebanese army are keeping an eye on Israel's construction of a wall near the frontier. Lebanon has protested, but the U.N. says it's inside Israeli territory. Such disputes in this sensitive area always pose a danger of sparking wider conflict.

(on camera) This here is known as the blue line. It's the line set up after the 1949 armistice agreement between Israel and Lebanon. But because the two countries are in a technical state of war, it's not actually a border recognized by either side.

(voice over) There are no peace talks between the two countries, but they are talking. Across a simple table in this modest building in no man's land on the old coastal road, officers from the Lebanese and Israeli militaries along with UNIFIL representatives get together to make sure the uneasy calm remains intact.

UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti (ph) says contact has never broken down.

ANDREA TENENTI, UNIFIL SPOKESMAN: We had over 110, 15 meetings since 2006; even during tense periods, and no one ever walked out. We say that the last 12 years after the war in 2006, the south of Lebanon has witnessed one of its quietest period in recent history.

WEDEMAN: Quiet may not be a substitute for peace, but it's a start perhaps.

Ben Wedeman, CNN -- Gras-o-nokura (ph) south Lebanon.


VAUSE: Well next here on NEWSROOM L.A., in Helsinki, it was the day Donald Trump dropped the ball. But Monday was a good day for anyone called Vladimir Putin.


VAUSE: Barack Obama made a rare public appearance on Monday -- the former U.S. President opened a school in western Kenya. While he was there he urged the country's leaders to reject the ethnic politics that have frequently led to violence.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know that real progress depends on addressing the challenges that remain. It means rooting out the corruption that weakens civic life. It means no longer seeing different ethnicities as enemies or rivals, but rather as allies and seeing the diversity of tribes not as a weakness but as a strength.


[01:55:07] VAUSE: There are more than 40 ethnic groups in Kenya -- conflict among them and disputed elections in 2007 led to 1,200 deaths. Mr. Obama travels to South Africa next marking the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's birth. The former president avoided any mention of Donald Trump.

Speaking of which, Donald Trump and Helsinki -- it wasn't the best according to many of the critics -- he got a soccer ball from Vladimir Putin.

Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If there was a world cup for soccer compliments, President Trump would deserve it for the praise he heaped on Russia's hosting --

TRUMP: One of the best ever. Great job.

MOOS: And suddenly from the sidelines of the summit --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaking of the football actually.

MOOS: -- a ball materialized.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Mr. President, I'll give this ball to you and now the ball is in your court.

MOOS: President Trump seemed pleased. Patting it affectionately.

TRUMP: That's very nice. That will go to my son Barron. We have no question. In fact Melania -- here you go.

MOOS: The U.S. Ambassador to Russia got it on the bounce and passed it to Melania who held it in her lap.

But some saw a Trojan horse rather than a ball. Tweeted Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, "If it were me, I'd check the soccer ball for listening devices and never allow it in the White House." One reporter tweeted, "I just saw a U.S. Secret service agent put the soccer ball Putin gave Trump through a security scanner."

Some compared the ball to the reset button Secretary of State Clinton once gave the Russian foreign minister.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?


CLINTON: I got it wrong?

MOOS: it's hard to go wrong with a ball, though there were jokes, but at least nobody at this summit dropped the ball.

Jeanne Moos, CNN --

How could I miss that one?

-- New York.

Maybe you should stand further away.


VAUSE: You've been watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.

The news continues next with George Howell in Atlanta right after this.