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Putin Says No False Information Was Planted in Hacking of Democrats; Trump, White House Attempt Damage Control After Helsinki Summit; Russian with Close Ties to NRA Charged with Conspiring Against U.S. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 17, 2018 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Disgraceful, played, bizarre, shameful. That's just reaction from Republicans. Allies from Capitol Hill to Fox News ripping the president's appeasement to Vladimir Putin. And how about Twitter today reacting with #TrumpTreason and #TreasonSummit?

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans, it is Tuesday, July 17th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East. We begin this morning with the president back in Washington after that summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin. It capped an overseas trip that could go down as one of the most damaging in American history.

The president fending off widespread condemnation that he sold out -- sold out the intelligence community with his answer to this question.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Just now President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did. What -- who -- my first question for you, sir, is who do you believe?

TRUMP: So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. Why haven't they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee?

With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me. Dan Coats came to me and some others. They said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be.


ROMANS: The president also holding, quote, "both countries" responsible when asked if Russia is to blame for anything.

The joint news conference met with condemnation. It was swift, broad, unrelenting even from voices normally in the president's corner.

BRIGGS: Dozens of Republicans spoke out against the president's comments including leaders of the House and the Senate. Among the strongest rejections was this, from gravely ill senator, John McCain. He called the news conference, one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. It is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a, quote, "tragic mistake."

ROMANS: The top headline at the "Drudge Report" giving Putin credit for dominating the summit. Newt Gingrich tweeting the president's comments were, quote, "The most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected immediately.:"

More of the same on Fox News. Sean Hannity spoke to the president. He didn't bring up Trump's earlier statement about election interference but many at the network did.


LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Trump clearly should not have created any semblance of moral equivalency between our intel community, even if it has its flaws, which it does, and the assurances of Vladimir Putin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the time and the place for the president to look Putin squarely in the eye and said you will be punished for what you did in 2016 and don't ever think about doing that again.

NEIL CAVUTO, FOX BUSINESS NETWORK ANCHOR: But he didn't. And that's what made it disgusting. That's what made his performance disgusting. I'm sorry, this is the only way I feel. It's not a right or left thing. This is wrong. A U.S. president on foreign soil talking to our biggest enemy or adversary, or competitor. I don't know how we define him these days. He's essentially letting the guy get away with this.


BRIGGS: Neil Cavuto there. Fox host, Abby Huntsman, the daughter of U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman who was at yesterday's meeting, tweeted, "No negotiation is worth throwing your own people and country under the bus."

And there was this perspective from Fox contributor Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary. He tweeted that, "Trump only sees Russian interference through the lens of whether he won or lost." Fleischer writes, "That shouldn't blind him to how wrong it was for Russia to interfere. I believe Mueller and the intel community. Trump should, too."

ROMANS: Intel community leaders standing by assessments of the Russian threat like Trump appointed director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, who said Friday the warning lights are blinking. He reaffirmed after the summit, "We have been clear in our assessment 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." Whether the president will read it and agree with it is another thing altogether. BRIGGS: Indeed. Response in the media almost as fierce like this

"New York Daily News" cover "Open Treason," with the president holding Putin's hand, shooting Uncle Sam on Fifth Avenue. "The Washington Post" went even further, quote, "In Helsinki, Mr. Trump again insisted there was no collusion with Russia, yet in refusing to acknowledge the plain facts about Russia's behavior while trashing his own country's justice system, Mr. Trump in fact was openly colluding with the criminal leader of a hostile foreign power."

ROMANS: Now the president attempted damage control on his way back to Washington. From the plane, from Air Force One, he tweeted, "As I said today and many times before, I have great confidence in my intelligence people." And as aides dealt with fallout from the summit, the White House e-mailed talking points to Republican surrogates. The talking point, "The president won't let a focus on the past get in the way of future progress."

[05:05:02] But it's the president, though, who kept going into the past, talking about servers and Hillary Clinton e-mails.

BRIGGS: E-mails and electoral college victories.

ROMANS: One U.S. official directly involved in the summit put it this way, this -- what you saw in Helsinki at that press conference, "This was not the plan."

BRIGGS: Vladimir Putin got a pass from President Trump, but not from Chris Wallace of Fox News.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: May I give this to you to look at, sir? Here.


BRIGGS: That was Wallace offering Putin a copy of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers. The exchange that followed was contentious.

ROMANS: Mr. Putin apparently trying to justify the hacking of Democrats by arguing the information that was hacked and disseminated was true.


PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): Was it some rigging of facts? Was it some forgery of facts? That's the important thing that I'm trying to -- a point that I'm trying to make. Was this any false information planted? No, it wasn't.

WALLACE: May I just say, you're indicating that they stole real money, not counterfeit money. So are you saying it's OK because the facts that they took from the DNC, from John Podesta, it was their real e-mails so it's OK to hack? PUTIN (through translator): The information that I am aware of, there

is nothing false about it. Every single grain of it is true and the Democratic leadership admitted it the first time. Now the second point. If you don't like my answer, you can give it to me straightaway and I'll just keep silence. And if you want Americans to listen to my opinion, could you please wait for a little bit?


ROMANS: Let's go live to Moscow, bring in CNN's Sam Kiley.

Sam, Russian authorities must be so happy with how this turned out. I mean, Russia's isolation from the global community over the past few years because of hacking and invading Ukraine and the takedown of MH- 17, isolated from the G8 and now standing there on the world stage, the president basically saying, yes, I believe -- I believe Vladimir Putin.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think that the reaction can be summed up by Sergey Lavrov saying it was better than superb. It was magnificent. He's of course the Russian Foreign minister who's had to deal with the fallout of Russian isolation on today of all days the anniversary of the downing of that aircraft on the Ukrainian territory with the deaths of nearly 300 people.

So in that context, of course, this is seen as a roaring success as far as the Kremlin is concerned. On top of that, and as people focus on the reaction of Republicans and others who are absconded at the performance of Mr. Trump at -- in Helsinki at that summit, think of the allies at the end of this trip which Donald Trump attacked NATO, said that the European Union was a foe. Embarrassed Theresa May. The special relationship bitterly undermined over his remarks about Brexit remarks.

Then coming out with this sort of line in Helsinki. That all plays very strongly into the hands of Vladimir Putin for whom chaos in the ranks of the enemy or rivals is victory.

ROMANS: All right, Sam Kiley, thank you so much for that from Moscow for us this morning.

BRIGGS: All right. Let's bring in senior media reporter -- Oliver Darcy, excuse me. Your first trip here to EARLY START at 5:00 a.m. Good to see you, sir.


BRIGGS: All right. So you were up late watching how this played in Trump country, in particular how the Trump-Putin summit played out in primetime on Fox News. How did they play it?

DARCY: You know, it was not too surprising on Fox News on primetime. You saw a lot of hosts come out in defense of the president. Sean Hannity did an interview with President Trump. Pretty much a soft ball. It's hard to say, it wasn't even an interview, right? It was more like a chat between two friends. They look both very comfortable with each other.

The interview actually started with Hannity complimenting how strong Trump he said Trump was at the conference.

BRIGGS: Let's take a look.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: You literally just finished the press conference with President Putin moments ago. A lot came up. You were very strong at the end of that press conference. You said, where are the servers? What about what Peter Strzok said? Where are the 33,000 e-mails? And there was this mystery answer that I think surprised a lot of people by the president of Russia as it relates to the Mueller investigation.

TRUMP: Right. First of all, he said there was no collusion whatsoever. One thing you know, if they had it, it would have been out.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: I don't think Russia is our close friend or anything like that. I think of course they tried to interfere in our affairs. They had for a long time. Many countries do. Some more successfully than Russia, like Mexico, which is routinely interfering in our elections by packing our electorates.


BRIGGS: Bravo, sir. I did not see Mexican election interference coming out of the Trump-Putin summit.

DARCY: Those are really stunning comments when you just take a moment to think about them.

[05:10:03] But again not very surprising. These guys have been on Fox News supporting the president day in and day out, crisis after crisis. So I'm not surprised that after this crisis they come in and they offer a shelter from this monsoon of criticism for the president. That said, the president did receive a lot of criticism earlier on Fox News from Abby Huntsman, you talked about earlier.


DARCY: And a number of others as well.

BRIGGS: Neil Cavuto, Shep Smith, as we've come to expect.

DARCY: That's right.

ROMANS: You know -- right, in the news afternoon of Fox News, you know, you heard John Roberts, the White House correspondent, say that the president threw America under the bus. I mean, that's what he said. And so there was criticism and there was straight news reporting for sure. You wonder if the president takes any of that to heart or if he just needs, you know, a sit-down with friends in the evening to really kind of bolster his -- let's talk about "The Wall Street Journal."

"The Wall Street Journal" has some slithering thing to say as well. The "Journal" has been critical of the president on trade and other things, but really taking him to task here. Details from the private Trump-Putin talks in Helsinki will spill out in the coming days. But Monday's joint conference was a personal and national embarrassment.

Does the president take these things to heart?

DARCY: I think he does. And I think he takes particular things to heart when it comes from allies and people who have been supportive of him in the past. So when "The Wall Street Journal" comes out and says this, when Newt Gingrich says, you know, you've made a serious error that needs to be remedied immediately.


DARCY: When the "Drudge Report" is putting a banner headline that says Putin dominated the summit, not Trump. I think those things, if the president does see them, are bothersome to him, and so he's going to need to figure out a way to remedy those things. And it's going to be interesting to see today how the White House and how Trump moves to clean up this mess that he's made in Helsinki.

Is he going to hold a press conference today? There is nothing on the schedule so far. But we'll see as the day moves forward and this crisis sort of plays out in day two and what the White House moves to do.

BRIGGS: It really depends on how it plays on that show 6:00 to 9:00 on Fox News. If he doesn't like what he sees, expect a press briefing from Sarah Sanders to go out there and defend him.

Let's bring in Philip Wegmann, commentary writer for the "Washington Examiner."

Phil, good morning to you.


BRIGGS: How does this play in Trump country? When you elected a president on one thing, America first, how should this play?

WEGMANN: Well, I think that what we need to look back to is the so- called Obama apology tour. We heard about this again and again on Fox News when President Obama went and talked about U.S. foreign relations and how this was supposedly a slap in the face back during his administration. He was going to apologize for the conduct of this country.

I think that there is something very similar here and this could back fire on this president because there is a visceral emotion here. Who -- you know, who is this president to go out there and draw a moral equivalent between our country and Russia?

ROMANS: Right.

WEGMANN: I think that this is something that those votes in Indiana, West Virginia, you know, North Dakota could scratch their heads and say, wait a minute, you know, we don't really care a lot about Russian meddling. What we certainly don't want someone to say that we're just like the Russians. I think that this is a very dangerous moment for the president.

ROMANS: We can play that sound of the apology tour where the president before the president said about that when he was a nominee. And then contrast that with what he said yesterday. Listen.


TRUMP: Instead of an apology tour, which you saw President Obama give over and over again, I will proudly promote our system of government and our way of life as the best in the world just like we did in our campaign against communism during the Cold War.

I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we've all been foolish. We should have had this dialogue a long time ago. A long time frankly before I got to office. And I think we're all to blame.


ROMANS: Oliver, we've heard that from him before. The president says I shouldn't even be in this position. So he tries to give himself a bit of a break for -- you know, this should have been fixed before me. But he also tells this, it's both sides are responsible, going back to that moral-immoral equivalence like he did with Charlottesville and white supremacy. The president just goes there.

DARCY: Right. And that seems to be his go-to rhetoric, right? When he wants to condemn something, but he really doesn't seem to want to condemn something. He's like, oh, well. You know, this has been bad but there is also this you have to look in. And like you said, we saw him do that in Charlottesville. And that really was a moment for the president that was not good. And we see him doing it today.

ROMANS: It was a media mess after that. Remember?

DARCY: Right.

ROMANS: There was backtracking and then the not the backtracking. I wonder how that's going to play for the president here today in the next couple of days before this criticism is not going -- is not dimming at all, Oliver.

BRIGGS: We will see, right, Oliver and Phil. We'll talk about this next half hour.

Republican senators who stepped up en masse on paper. Will they do it in front of the cameras where the president will listen and will the president hear it?

[05:15:03] That will turn the story for him. And we'll talk to you both in about 30 minutes. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Just when it couldn't get more bizarre, a Russian national is charged with conspiring against the U.S. in the lead up to the election.


ROMANS: Moments after President Trump gave Vladimir Putin a pass on Russia's election interference, the Justice Department was charging a Russian national with conspiring against the United States as a foreign agent. Prosecutors say her secret attempts to set up backchannels between influential Americans and Kremlin officials were designed to advance the agenda of the Russian federation.

We get more this morning from CNN's Sara Murray in Washington.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The latest piece in a dizzying spree of Russian news, the U.S. government charging 29-year- old Russian national Maria Butina with being a spy for the Russian government here in the United States. Butina was arrested on Sunday and appeared in court here in D.C. on Monday.

The Justice Department announced she was charged with conspiring against the U.S. as a foreign agent.

[05:20:01] According to court filings and previous CNN reporting, Butina spent years trying to make in-roads with Republican Party leaders, politicians and big league leaders to promote Russian interests. She and her mentor, Kremlin-linked banker Alexander Torshin, had close ties with the leadership of the National Rifle Association and appeared to use that group as their primary avenue of influence. The NRA didn't respond to a request for comment.

During the presidential campaign, she and Torshin even tried to arrange a covert back channel of communication between with then candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, although it doesn't appear they were successful. As for Butina, her lawyer insists she is not a Russia agent but rather a bright graduate student living in the U.S. and trying to foster a better relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.

ROMANS: Thank you, Sara.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, a thrilling end to the Homerun Derby. A hometown hero taking the crown at his final swing. Andy Scholes says the ultimate in the father-son bonding ahead in the "Bleacher Report."


[05:25:28] BRIGGS: Bryce Harper wowing his hometown fans winning the Homerun Derby.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." Hey, Andy. ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yes, good morning, guys. You know,

this may be the last season Bryce Harper plays in the nation's capital.


SCHOLES: He's a free agent this off-season. So if it is, he definitely gave the Nationals fans one last great memory. Harper coming through in the clutch in the finals of the Homerun Derby. So he was down nine homeruns before going yard nine times in a span of 10 swings to tie it up at the end of regulation. Then in bonus time, Harper hits this blast right here to center. And he knew it. He raised his hands in the air to celebrate.

Now Harper's dad Ron was his pitcher. And check him out. He looks like he could mash some homeruns himself right there. Harper says winning the derby was awesome, doing it with his dad made it even better.


BRYCE HARPER, WASHINGTON NATIONALS: I couldn't be more fortunate to have him throwing to me. You know, so blessed. And, you know, so I don't know. I mean, I got one of the best families in all of the world. And just so happy to be able to share that moment with him and share that moment with my family and, you know, this crowd and these fans. You know, it's -- wow, man, I mean, they did a great job here.


SCHOLES: I'll tell you what, guys, Papa Harper living my dream of pitching to one of my sons to win the home run derby. Maybe I'll get there one day.

ROMANS: You got to wait --


ROMANS: You got a few years to go.

BRIGGS: All-star game tonight in D.C. I think Scherzer and Sale, starting pitchers.

All right. Andy Scholes, thank you, my friend.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: All right. The "Wall Street Journal" calls the president's summit with Vladimir Putin a national embarrassment. Fury has erupted among his allies even at Fox News. Why did the president question the U.S. intelligence on Russian interference?