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Woman Charged with Conspiring Against U.S.; Intelligence Community Reaction to Trump Siding with Putin; Mixed International Reaction to Trump's Summit with Putin; Garamendi Talks Trump's Comments, Attacks on Intelligence Community. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired July 17, 2018 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:30:06] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: We're learning alarming new details from the Justice Department on Russia's interference in the U.S. politics. One new focus, a 29-year-old Russian woman accused of being an agent for the Russian government. The U.S. charged Maria Butina with conspiring against the U.S. as a foreign agent. The FBI says she took steps to create a back channel into the U.S. government. Her mentor told her, quote, "Have patience and cold blood."
CNN political correspondent, Sara Murray, joins us now.
So what have we learned about her and her role?
SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, it does feel like it's straight out of a spy novel. As you pointed out, she's a 29-year-old Russian national. She attended a graduate program at American University. She founded a gun rights group in Russia, which is, of course, notable because Russia doesn't really have gun rights. She used this gun rights group to try to foster connections here in the United States, particularly through the National Rifle Association. She was trying to create this back channel to the U.S. government. She did that through trying to reach out to GOP politicians, to reaching out through the NRA, and she was even able through these various connections to get in touch with political candidates in 2015.
That included Candidate Trump. She asked him a very interesting question early on in the campaign at an event in Las Vegas. Here she is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARIA BUTINA, CHARGED AS RUSSIAN FOREIGN AGENT: I'm visiting from Russia. So my question --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ah, Putin. Good friend of Obama, Putin.
BUTINA: My question --
TRUMP: He likes Obama a lot. Go ahead.
BUTINA: If you would be elected president, what would be your foreign politics especially in the relationships with my country? And do you want to continue the politics of sanctions that are damaging both economy? Or you have any other ideas?
TRUMP: OK. Obama gets along with nobody. The whole world hates us. I know Putin, and I'll tell you what, we get along with Putin. I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin. OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: So you hear Maria Butina feeling out then-Candidate Trump's views on Putin very early on in the campaign.
Now, what she was trying to do, ultimately, according to CNN's reporting and these documents that prosecutors have filed, is she was trying to bolster Russia's interests in the United States by creating these relationships with politicians, with business leaders, and with Republican Party leaders. And according to the FBI, that's pretty dangerous. Here's what they said in their affidavit in this case: "Moscow seeks to create wedges that reduce trust and confidence in democratic processes, degrades democratization efforts, weaken U.S. partnerships with European allies, undermine Western sanctions, encourage anti-U.S. political views, and counter efforts to bring Ukraine and other former Soviet states into European institutions."
So essentially, Russia was looking to sow chaos. According to the FBI, Maria Butina was here to help.
SCIUTTO: It's been part of a pattern.
Sara Murray, thanks very much.
Now that President Trump blatantly took Russia's side over his country's own Intelligence Community, what does this mean for U.S. intelligence leaders, U.S. intelligence agencies moving forward?
Here to discuss now, CNN law enforcement analyst, Josh Campbell. He was a special assistant to the former FBI Director James Comey. And CNN contributor, Garrett Graff. He's director of national intelligence -- sorry. I know what you do. You write books and you're a smart guy.
Let's talk about what happened yesterday. For Dan Coats, the sitting director of National Intelligence, the senior-most intelligence official in the U.S., a former GOP Senator, appointed by this Republican president, for him to contradict President Trump very soon after those comments connected to Putin, Josh Campbell -- you advised a former senior U.S. intelligence official in James Comey -- how rare is that? And how consequential is that?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: So it's rare. We haven't seen a lot of our national leaders actually stand up to this president. All they can do is speak for themselves. Each leader at every juncture has to determine, am I representing my agency to the best of my ability? Am I really backing the men and women that go to work every day protecting national security in this instance? In this case, it looks like director Coats did that and said, look, what the president said is not correct. I'm going to go on record and indicate that these are the facts. The issue we've seen here is that -- and this is the cold, hard truth. In the United States of America, the Intelligence Community can't really check the president because the president is the boss. He's the commander in chief. These agencies, whether it's CIA, NSA, the 17 agents of the U.S. Intelligence Community, they're not policymakers, nor would we want them to be. Their job is to advise policymakers, in this case the president, and provide that information. The issue -- the big problem we see here is that implicit in that relationship has long been a norm from the president that he will both protect their information and that he will trust their assessments. Now, he doesn't have to agree or make decisions that actually, you know, square with whatever certain policy recommendations say or a piece of intelligence. That's up to him. But the fact that he's now diminishing and disparaging those intelligence assessments on the global stage makes it very difficult for them to do their job.
[13:35:05] SCIUTTO: Garrett Graff, Josh brings up a good point. There's been this from early on in the Trump administration, this sense of this firewall that the president will be checked by the adults around him, as some folks sometimes say, whether it's Mattis at the Pentagon, Coats at the DNI, or advisers in the White House. The fact is over the last several weeks and months, we've seen the president overrule, and whether it's on the Iran deal, on North Korean nuclear negotiations, military moves like cancelling the South Korean and U.S. exercises, this president has ignored those officials. What does that say? Is this a president acting alone, and are there substantive checks from the intel and defense community on this president?
GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We're getting a sort of terrible lesson in the frailties of American democracy with this president, in that what we are sort of coming to understand is the number of things that we have long treated as traditions and norms don't have any constitutional or sort of statutory authority behind them. And so a president is in many ways an unchecked power in the executive branch in ways that I think a lot of people didn't realize until we're watching this president sort of trample over long-held norms and standards. Traditionally, the Intelligence Community and the defense community, the law enforcement community have not had to be checks on the president, as Josh was saying, because normally for a normal president having the men and women of the Intelligence Community behind you is one of the most awesome parts of being president. You have all of these people who wake up every morning to try to make sure that you are the best informed, smartest person on the face of the planet. Today, Donald Trump, with his relationship to truth, just doesn't care about any of that.
SCIUTTO: Josh, you, of course, worked a long time at the FBI. I know you've stayed in touch with folks who are still in the business. What's their state of mind now? Do they feel relevant? Do they feel they have a role? Are some of them, many of them considering resigning, or do they feel sticking around is the better thing to do, the more helpful thing to do?
CAMPBELL: So at the ground level, I don't think there's serious talk of resignation because these people know they have a mission, they have a job. Now, when you talk about agency leadership, that's a whole different story. In order for someone to be effective, you know, and stand on principle, they have to sometimes have that conversation. When you're at a senior level, do I stay or go? For the men and women I've talked to today and yesterday at the ground level, I've seen a little bit of a shift yesterday. It was pure anger. Today it's essentially disappointment. The fact is, you know, someone described it today that for the U.S. Intelligence Community, their currency is credibility. They must be believed. As they stand in front of a policymaker, as they stand in front of a foreign intelligence service, as they sit before Congress, they have to be believed. If the president of the United States, their chief, number- one customer, can pick and choose which information he agrees with based on how it impacts him personally, that impacts their mission. That affects their work. It's not a good day for the U.S. Intelligence Community.
SCIUTTO: And affects their credibility with the public. Many of the president's supporters buy his attacks on them as somehow partisan, deep-state folks.
Listen, Josh Campbell, Garrett Graff, thanks very much for walking us through it.
Coming up, world reaction to the president's remarks on Russia. We'll take a live look at what people and governments are saying around the world about President Trump and Vladimir Putin.
[13:43:22] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Well, you've heard it here from Democrats and Republicans. At home, President Trump faces a growing backlash after siding with Russian president Vladimir Putin over his country's own Intelligence Community. As for the international reaction, it's been mixed.
For more, we go to CNN international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen. He remains in Helsinki. We also have CNN international correspondent, Atika Shubert, in Berlin. And international correspondent, Ian Lee, from Jerusalem
Fred, what are you hearing?
FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jim. Well, the Finnish press is pretty clear on who they believe came out on top. What we see is a little bit of a soccer analogy in the Finnish press. They're saying Trump, zero, Putin, one. So they're pretty clear on who they believe was better at this summit.
If you look at Russia, they seem to think exactly the same thing. Russian officials essentially taking a victory lap, calling the summit magnificent and saying it went better than good for Vladimir Putin. It's interesting because on Russian TV, we're already seeing analysts saying that now Moscow needs to foster and help President Trump as he tries to push through a pro-Kremlin agenda against what they call the American establish establishment. Now I'll throw it over to Atika Shubert, in Berlin.
ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, Germany and others were similarly unimpressed. "The Daily Mirror," in Britain, called him "Putin's poodle." France's "Le Monde," "Putin's best friend." And a Spanish newspaper had the headline, "Trump caves in." It's not a good look for a president who is really trying to project strength by threatening and attacking his own NATO allies in Brussels, only to be humiliated in Helsinki.
Now, as President Trump was preparing for his meeting with President Putin, Germany's foreign minister tried to brace the country by saying we can no longer rely on the White House after the fallout from this trip. That certainly seems to be the case, at least in Europe -- Ian?
[13:45:27] IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Atika.
Jim, in Israel, Netanyahu is seen as one of the winners of this summit. It's summed up by this headline here that says, "Trump stresses Israel security in talks with Putin." For most of the Western security establishment, they see Russia as a major threat. For Israel, they see Russia as a strategic partner in Syria, especially when it comes to Iran. Moscow has spent so much blood and treasure propping up the Assad regime and really stabilizing Syria. Israeli officials believe that Moscow would loathe to see Iran come in and undo those gains they made by destabilizing the region with some sort of conflict with Israel. So Israeli officials think that Moscow will keep Iran in check in Syria. We heard that from President Putin, when he said he wants to see this cease-fire continue -- Jim?
SCIUTTO: You might say by backing Assad, Russia has done its part to destabilize Syria. But there you have it.
Fred Pleitgen, Atika Shubert, Ian Lee, thanks very much.
Still to come, California Congressman John Garamendi will join me live from Capitol Hill, weighing in on President Trump's controversial comments on Russia as well as his attacking America's own Intelligence Community.
[13:51:16] SCIUTTO: President Trump is vehemently defending his meeting with Russian President Putin, saying it was even more of a success than his meeting with America's closest allies, those who lead the NATO nations. The president is facing fierce criticism for siding with Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies investigating Russian interference in the U.S. election. I should make it clear that that criticism is coming from both Democrats and Republicans.
I'm joined by Democratic Congressman John Garamendi, from California. He's a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
First, if I can, I'd like to get you to respond to what House Speaker Paul Ryan said earlier today. Have a quick listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN, (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Vladimir Putin does not share our interests. Vladimir Putin does not share our values. I understand the desire and the need to have good relations. That's perfectly reasonable, but Russia is a menacing government that does not share our interests, it does not share our values. Let's be very clear just so everybody knows. Russia did medal with our elections. Not only did Russia meddle with our elections, they're doing it around the world. They did it to France, to Moldova, they did it to the Baltics. Russia is trying to delegitimize democracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: You notice there, as I did, that Speaker Ryan, very strong words for Putin and Russia but did not mention the president. Was that a failure of leadership?
REP. JOHN GARAMENDI, (D), CALIFORNIA: Failure of leadership by the speaker, absolutely. By the president an astounding failure of leadership. The fundamental task of both of these gentlemen is to protect the American democracy and in a larger sense the security of this nation. President Trump absolutely abdicated, abdicated everything he swore to do. Our democracy was seriously undermined by Russia. There's no doubt about what they did. They hacked in. They stole the information. They weaponized that. They had a serious impact on the 2016 election as well as on elections in other countries. That is a theft. That is a crime. The president refused, three times given the opportunity in the press conference, refused to stand up and honor his commitment, his oath of office to protect this nation. It was despicable. Strong words have been used by former CIA Director Brennan. I'm not going to go there right now, but this requires a full blowback by the Congress. And the speaker of the House should have named names. This is the president who failed us. The speaker failed us by not naming the president here and hanging it directly on the president.
SCIUTTO: We've heard some critical comments from sitting lawmakers, Republican lawmakers, I should say. Certainly, a number of Democratic lawmakers. When you speak to your Republican colleagues privately, do they tell you that they're willing to act now legislatively to react to the president's comments, for instance bypassing further economic sanctions against Russia, sanctions that the president cannot stand in the way of?
GARAMENDI: Absolutely, we should do that. We'll see if they have the courage to come up with these additional sanctions. There also ought to be a censure motion. This action by President Trump is not repeated anywhere in the history of the 44 previous presidents. None of them have so abandoned their oath of office as to literally turn over to Russia the investigation, to turn over to Russia and Putin, former KGB agent, the future of this country. Keep in mind, that it was the military who put out -- the Department of Defense put out a document not more than seven months ago that said Russia is the principle adversary of the United States and here's the president standing next to that adversary who is documented, not only by the intelligence agency but by the Mueller investigation in what the president calls a witch hunt. And Mueller found 25 Russian witches who have involved themselves in the American election process illegally. So what did the president do? He simply abandoned the field and gave Putin everything he could possibly want. No wonder the Russians are crowing about the success. They have an American president in the palm of their hand.
[13:55:41] SCIUTTO: Congressman John Garamendi, thanks very much for those direct thoughts.
Any moment now, President Trump is going to address his controversial summit with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. His first time speaking out since leaving Helsinki in the face of all this criticism. We'll take it live. That's next.
[14:00:14] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin.