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Trump Notwithstanding with Fellow Americans; Putin Now Holds More Cards Against Trump; Trump Considering Putin's Proposal to Interrogate Americans Including Former Ambassador Michael McFaul; FBI Director Wray Won't Say if He Has ever been Threatened to Resign, but Suggests He Has a Strong Spine; Asked Whether Russia Has Compromising Material on Trump, Putin Does Not Say No. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired July 18, 2018 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Don Lemon is here. There is some outrage over President Trump entertaining the prospect of caving to Russia's demand to turn over former U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul. You're taking it on. What's your take?
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it's absurd. And we're going to talk to James Clapper, by the way, at the beginning of the show, who has some idea about this. But I think it's absurd. I think what the White House said, Sarah Sanders' response, I though it was odd instead of just saying, no we are not considering letting you interview the former ambassador to Russia, no, we're not letting you interview any Americans.
Listen, Chris, Russia is not a democracy in the way of United States is. They don't care about the rule of law. They don't care about due process. And the fact that the President and his administration now are saying they might possibly entertain this, I just think it's really outrageous. And I think that most people do as well. Intelligence officials are responding, members of Congress are responding.
I just want to read one tweet. This is from Eric Swalwell, a Democratic congressman, he says, "Take this to the bank, at real Donald Trump, your turn -- you turn over U.S. ambassador -- former U.S. Ambassador McFaul to Putin--
LEMON: -- you can count on me and millions of others to swiftly to make you an ex-president."
CUOMO: Yes. He was saying he would impeach. And by the way, I still don't think it would happen.
LEMON: You don't?
CUOMO: I still don't think the GOP would move against the president. I think they like him there. He's advancing their agenda and I think they play to party before they play anything else. Now that doesn't make them unusual. I'll tell you why. When you fit into the mix where do you use, absurd,
is the same one that Heather Nauert, spokesperson, now she has a new title over at the State Department.
CUOMO: She said this is an absurd notion. They're not on the same page, the White House and the State Department, probably a good thing. But you know, I found it equally shocking, because I don't think this is going to happen. But when the president said that, you know, Putin made us a good offer, you know, he'll help us in our Russian interference investigation, you know, he wants to see where we got our proof, you know, he wants to look at it.
No kidding, the guy who you caught wants to see how you caught him. What a great idea. I was shocked when he said that. And this seems to be an extension of this kind of crazy talk that we're hearing when it comes to Putin and Trump.
LEMON: As the New York Post today said, that's like inviting, I think they said inviting an arsonist to help you put out a fire. By the way, have you read, and if haven't, you should, and the audience as well. "Red Notice" by Bill Browder?
LEMON: It explains all of this, everything that's going on, it explains how the Magnitsky Act came about, about how Sergey Magnitsky was killed in prison in Russia.
CUOMO: That's why he's on the bad list too.
LEMON: That's why he's on the bad list, because he reported all of this and it is a fascinating book. As a matter of fact I just read it. It came out in 2015. But I read it this past winter. "Red Notice" by Bill Browder if you really want to--
CUOMO: All this stuff that we're talking about raises this seminal question. At what price peace?
CUOMO: What is Trump willing to give Putin in order to get what he thinks he needs from him?
LEMON: Ambassador Clapper is waiting, so I got to run. Thank you, sir.
CUOMO: See you, pal.
LEMON: I appreciate this. Director Clapper, I should say.
This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. Now that he is two days and 5,000 miles away from Vladimir Putin, President Trump claims he was very strong on Russia's election hacking. Really? Let's call this what it is. Russia's attack on our democracy. In the cleanup to the cleanup to the cleanup, the president telling CBS News' Jeff Glor this about what he claims he said to Putin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF GLOR, ANCHOR, CBS NEWS: What did you say to him?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Very strong on the fact that we can't have meddling, we can't have any of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Well, that's what he says now. Days later, on his third, or is it his fourth or maybe his fifth try. Of course we didn't actually hear what was said behind closed doors in Helsinki. But we did hear this from President Trump today in the cabinet room. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is Russia still targeting the U.S.?
TRUMP: Thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Press, let's go. Make your way out.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, you don't believe that to be the case?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Press, let's go.
TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Make your way out.
TRUMP: We're doing very well. We are doing very well and we're doing well, probably as well as anybody has ever done with Russia. And there's been no president ever as tough as I have been on Russia. All you have to do is look at the numbers. Look at what we've done. Look at sanctions. Look at ambassadors not there. Look, unfortunately, at what happened in Syria recently. And I think
President Putin knows that better than anybody. Certainly a lot better than the media. He understands it. And he's not happy about it. And he shouldn't be happy about it, because there's never been a president as tough on Russia as I have been.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Sarah Sanders claimed the president was simply refusing to answer the question there. We also heard from her today that the White House is actually considering a proposal from Vladimir Putin that we just talked about, to interrogate Americans in exchange for assistance in the investigation into election interference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Russian authorities yesterday named several Americans that they want to question who they claim were involved in Bill Browder's, quote, unquote, "crimes, in their terms," including former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. Does President Trump support that idea? Is he open to having U.S. officials question by Russia?
SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is going to meet with his team and we'll let you know when we have an announcement on that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Even the president's own State Department calls that absurd. And just a little while ago the president's hand-picked FBI director, Christopher Wray, said this about Russia's election interference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, DIRECTOR, FBI: Russia attempted to interfere with the last election, and that it continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day. I do not believe special counsel Mueller is on a witch hunt.
[22:04:58] LEMON: You'll want to hear what the director, Director Wray said when asked whether he is ever threatened to resign. More on that in just a moment.
But President Trump has no problem dismissing the intelligence community when they tell him what he doesn't want to hear. So listen to him lashing out tonight at the former director of national intelligence which is James Clapper.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I have no confidence in Clapper. You know, Clapper wrote me a beautiful letter when I first went to office, it was really nice. And then all of a sudden he's gone haywire because they got to him and probably got him to say things that maybe he doesn't even mean.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: And CNN National Security Analyst, James Clapper joins us now on the phone. Director, I really appreciate you joining us here and kicking off our broadcast. Here is the reality. The president is speaking more critically about you, a patriot, than he has ever about Vladimir Putin. What does that say about President Trump?
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, that's a great question, Don. You know, not to blow smoke on myself, and I know John Brennan and Michael Hayden said the same thing. This is about the country. And this is another illustration of the president's insistence that shooting the messengers, particularly those messengers that don't genuflect at the altar of Donald Trump.
LEMON: I want to talk to you about the New York Times, it has a lengthy article out tonight about what happened at the briefing that you, when you were then CIA director, and John Brennan, I should say, the NSA Director Mike Rogers, FBI Director James Comey, gave the president that briefing you gave on January 6 of 2017, presenting evidence of Putin's involvement in the hacking.
"The Times" says it included information including from a source so sensitive it wouldn't even be put in the presidential daily briefing for Obama, that it had to be given to him in a white sealed envelope. So President Trump has known about this long before this recent incident. So, how did he react?
CLAPPER: Well, this is his refusal to accept information that he doesn't want to hear. And from the outset, when we presented our briefing on the intelligence community assessment, and we did go into some detail about the sensitivity of the sources which gave us such high confidence, and we've had insight into that by virtue of the special counsel's recent indictment of the 12 GRU officers, you read that carefully and you get some insight into the forensic detail that we had.
But nevertheless, the president could not and cannot yesterday accept that assessment of the extent, the magnitude, the depth, the aggressiveness of the Russian interference in our election, because it calls into question the legitimacy of his election. He cannot accept the bad news that we were trying to convey to him.
LEMON: Yes. And I misspoke there, I should say before this recent indictment, director. Director, do you think that the president cares if Russia is interfering, if it ultimately helps him?
CLAPPER: Well, apparently not. I think it's about him rather than protection of our system. And, you know, particularly how we conduct our elections, which is kind of an appalling and disturbing comment. But I think that's the case.
LEMON: The White House today says it is entertaining the proposal by Putin to interrogate Americans. I was speaking about that with Chris. Americans including the former ambassador, Michael McFaul. Turning over a U.S. diplomat to Putin, this seems -- I mean, it seems absurd, as his own State Department said, and completely outrageous. CLAPPER: It is that. I could not get over -- I'm still trying to get
my head around what I witnessed in Helsinki. And now to hear this, that he would even consider it, and that Sarah Sanders didn't reject it out of hand, is crazy. I've never heard of such a thing. To turn over a U.S., any U.S. citizen, particularly a former ambassador, for the Russians to interrogate him, you've got to be kidding.
LEMON: So I mentioned that the State Department said that it was, you know, absolutely absurd. That's a quote from them. But I want to read to you from the former Ambassador McFaul what he said.
He said, "I hope the White House corrects the record and denounces in categorical terms this ridiculous request from Putin. Not doing so creates moral equivalency between a legitimacy U.S. indictment -- I think he meant a legitimate U.S. indictment -- of Russian intelligence officers and a crazy, completely fabricated story invented by Putin."
[22:10:08] What's your reaction, director?
CLAPPER: Well, I completely agree with Ambassador McFaul. This -- you know, it means at all, Don, it just reflects that Putin does not take Trump seriously. He considers him an inferior, somebody he can manipulate. I don't think that Putin has any respect whatsoever for Donald Trump.
LEMON: Yes. FBI Director Christopher Wray tonight said he doesn't think Mueller is on a witch-hunt. Take a look at this, and then we'll talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WRAY: I've been consistent. I get asked this a lot. I do not believe special counsel Mueller is on a witch hunt. I think it's a professional 2investigation conducted by a man that I've known to be a straight shooter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Is that encouraging to you?
CLAPPER: It is. It's very encouraging, what Chris Wray said at Aspen, and what DNI Director Coats has said as well. So yes, this is important, that the current officials in charge of these critical agencies speak up, as they have.
LEMON: Listen, you have vast experience in government, in national security and intelligence. And your resume is completely respectable. Did you -- when you think about a U.S. president, the way he handled himself in Helsinki, when you think about possibly allowing a former U.S. ambassador to be interrogated or interviewed by the Russians and also possibly more U.S. citizens.
When you think about all of this, what goes through your head? Have you ever been in a position or ever thought that you'd be in the position that our country were? CLAPPER: Absolutely not. I -- I mean, I've seen a lot of bad stuff in
the 50 plus years, but I've never seen anything that approaches this. And it's just very, very disturbing. It's like the world is turned upside down.
And all the values, standards, the institutions that I and others have spent the major part of our professional lives defending and upholding are under assault by our very own president.
LEMON: What's your biggest fear here?
CLAPPER: Well, the biggest fear I have now is, I think because of Trump's performance at Helsinki, Vladimir Putin has got a path. And he can do just about anything he wants to do, internationally and certainly in our country. And he will continue to do what he's done unfortunately successfully, which is undermine the very pillars of this country. And he just got a pass from our president.
LEMON: So what do you say to the people who are watching?
CLAPPER: Well, the only way that this situation is going to be corrected, I think, is at the polls. So it is important, it's one word. Vote.
LEMON: Director James Clapper, thank you, sir. I appreciate your time.
CLAPPER: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: When we come back, President Trump claims nobody's been tougher on Russia than he has. So if he's so tough, why won't he say whether he thinks Putin lied when he denied attacking our election?
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: The White House in damage control mode, again, tonight. But the guy who keeps doing the damage, the president of the United States, is speaking out. Going easy on Vladimir Putin for his attack on our American democracy, and lashing out at his perceived enemies, the former leaders of this country's intelligence community.
I want to bring in now CNN Chief Political Correspondent, Dana Bash, CNN Political Commentator, Charlie Dent, a former congressman from Pennsylvania, and CNN Global Affairs Analyst, Max Boot. Thank you all for joining us.
Max, I want to ask you. Because the White House is considering today, they said that they're considering turning over an American ambassador to the Russians for questioning. And I want you to watch this exchange, this is during the briefing today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Russian authorities yesterday named several Americans that they want to question that they claimed were involved in Bill Browder's, quote, unquote, "crimes" in their terms, including former American ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. Does the president support that idea? Is he open to having U.S. officials question by Russia?
SANDERS: The president is going to will meet with his team and we'll let you know if we have an announcement on that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that a topic that came up in their conversation? Did President Putin raise this with President Trump?
SANDERS: There was some conversation about it. But there wasn't a commitment made on behalf of the United States. And the president will work with his team and we'll let you know if there's an announcement on that front.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: You know, I keep saying that this is, in fact, this is even being considered is outrageous in her respond. What do you -- you're shaking your head.
MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I mean, Don, there have been so many crazy, offensive things that have occurred in the Trump administration. But this may be the craziest and most offensive yet. I mean, it just boggles the mind that Vladimir Putin makes this absurd request to basically allow his agents to harass and persecute a former U.S. ambassador to Russia who has served this country honorably.
And instead of saying go jump in a lake, Donald Trump apparently says that we will consider this request seriously? This is yet more evidence that he is not doing his duty as commander in chief. He is betraying his oath of office, he is not protecting his country. This is so crazy, I can't even begin to say how crazy this is.
LEMON: Dana, listen, you call them like you see him. Your response to Max now was when he said this is just really outrageous?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I can't believe we're having this conversation.
BASH: I mean, we can play the what if game, which is always I think helpful. What if this were a Democratic president, or any other president, who said, you know what, Vladimir Putin, yes, maybe I will consider sending a former U.S. ambassador to Russia to you to be interrogated.
I mean, are we actually having this conversation? It's mind-blowing. I mean, I'm completely with Max. There aren't enough synonyms for crazy to explain how crazy this is.
[22:19:57] LEMON: Yes. Congressman, I have to bring you in because most of the response and the outrage that you see coming either on social media, through statements, they're from Democrats, not from your former Republican colleagues. Why is that?
FORMER REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, that's disappointing. Initially, you know, after the original comments in Helsinki, there were some pretty strong pushback. But then we saw all these walk backs or all these people going on mop duty to try to clean it up, only making things worse.
I can't explain it. I think it's a time like this that Republicans need to stand up and defend western values, defend NATO, defend the international order, and certainly push back on Vladimir Putin who is trying to undermine American power and influence anywhere he can in the world. What's so hard about this? This is easy.
Ronald Reagan would be ashamed right now. Dwight Eisenhower, the Bush's. What does George H.W. Bush think about this who presided over the reunification of Germany after the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall collapse? What are these guys -- I can't -- this dishonors the service of all these people, whether they're in the military, or civilians, administrations who did so much to build this order. And just to watch this president try to dismantle it, it makes me sick.
LEMON: But considering what you just said, Max, I know you want to jump in. Then why are your former colleagues, why are they so spineless when it comes to this? This is outrageous, it doesn't matter your ideology here, whether you're left or right. As an American, this is outrageous. What's going on? Congressman?
DENT: Me? I can't -- look, I don't know. Like I said, I've seen some pushing back. I have. To be fair, I mean, I've seen some Republican colleagues pushing back. I think they all need to speak up. If more of them speak up, I think that will actually affect the president's behavior.
You know, the president doesn't even agree with his own advisers on this issue. I mean, I wish -- you know, the president says things but you look at people like Secretary Mattis, he must be out of his mind over this. I mean, James Mattis is a fine man. He has a conventional view towards these issues.
LEMON: Go ahead, Max.
BASH: And if I might add--
LEMON: Max, and then Dana. Go ahead.
BOOT: OK. I just have to say, as a former Republican who quit the party after Donald Trump's election, I mean, the Republican Party is really a profile in cowardice right now. As I wrote today in the Washington Post, in my lifetime the Republican Party has gone from denouncing useful idiots to becoming useful idiots.
Donald Trump is effectively Vladimir Putin's useful idiot, he is wittingly or unwittingly serving the interests of Russia. And most Republicans are too cowardly to do anything about it because they're more concerned about their political future, they're terrified that Donald Trump will tweet against them or speak against them. They are not upholding their oath of office.
This is truly disgraceful, what's going on. And the disgrace is not just on the part of the president. It is also on the part of his enablers within the Republican Party.
LEMON: Go ahead, Dana.
BASH: Well, I was just going to say that the congressman talked about the fact that even his advisers have to think that this is -- this just not -- this is not just his idea of saying it's OK to send a former U.S. ambassador to be interrogated by the Russians. The president's own State Department made it pretty clear that they think it's nuts today.
LEMON: Absurd, they said.
BASH: They did it -- they did it in State Department-ese. But it didn't even -- it didn't even take that much to understand and interpret the diplo-speak that we're hearing from the State Department. So, I mean, that tells you a lot.
LEMON: So, Congressman Dent, I just want to play this. This is from FBI director Wray tonight. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LESTER HOLT, HOST, NBC NEWS: There has also been the suggestion from Putin that he would want to come have interview Americans. Is that something that you would support?
WRAY: That's probably even lower on our list of investigative techniques.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: It doesn't seem like they're taking -- that he takes his own president seriously. But go on, congressman.
DENT: Well, look, Director Wray is a fine man. And I'll tell you what, and by the way, the FBI is part of the intelligence community which the president threw under the bus in Helsinki. So I mean, it's clear that the president's own top advisers, his own top appointees, you know, again, are not on the same page as the president, at least the president's rhetoric, anyway.
It's interesting, you know, we have the president's rhetoric on the one hand, then we have the actions of the administration which in some respects, you know, can contradict what the president says.
So again, we're all -- I've never seen anything like this. I always thought the administration was supposed to follow the president's lead. At times, I'm happy for this, they don't seem to be doing with that. You know, I just was meeting with European parliamentarians this week.
They're also beside themselves can't -- they feel like they can't count on America. They feel like something's seriously wrong, that they're looking more inwardly now. And so everything is turned upside down.
LEMON: Yes. Well, the president now saying that he holds Putin responsible for election interference. OK. Now that he's--
BOOT: He's said so many things.
LEMON: -- many days and many miles away.
BOOT: He's said so many things, Don.
LEMON: Yes. We'll discuss when we come back. Don't go anywhere, we'll be right back.
[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: I'm back now with Dana Bash, Charlie Dent, and Max Boot.
So, Max, so, if he, if that's what he, you know, said on stage, right, I wonder, what did he say, and no one knows, to Vladimir Putin when they were alone in the room? Because I think this compromises a lot of people at the White House, including the press secretary.
She's not sure of what he said. And she could say, she can deny it, or say this never happened and then the Russians come out with a recording.
Secretary Mattis I'm sure is in a bind, the Defense Department is in a bind. Because who knows? I'm sure the Russians know.
LEMON: And there is a recording. But we don't.
BOOT: No, that's exactly right, Don. If Donald Trump was being this fawning, this obsequious to Vladimir Putin in public, imagine what he said in private. The only problem is, as you say, I don't think anybody in the U.S. government other than Donald Trump and the translator in the room actually know what transpired.
Pompeo doesn't know, Bolton doesn't know, Sarah Sanders doesn't know. They have to rely on Donald Trump to tell them. And what are the odds that he will give a complete and accurate recollection? Whereas, by contrast, I think it's almost a certitude that Putin surreptitiously made a tape recording of this conversation, so he probably has an actual transcript.
[22:30:06] And guess what? This gives Putin a potential to further blackmail Donald Trump by releasing excerpts of what he actually said in that private meeting. LEMON: Dana, he is now saying that he holds Putin responsible for election interference. Why should we believe that?
BASH: We shouldn't. We shouldn't, because he is said so many different things at different times. He has said at various intermittent times, in fairness that Russia did meddle, but he is also said that there was a 400-pound guy in his basement that did it. He also invited Russia to do this when he was a candidate, to hack into his opponent's e-mail.
So the answer is, we shouldn't. What we should look for and what some of Congressman Dent's former colleagues who are still in Congress have said to me today as I've talked to them is, it's about actions. What kind of action is the President going to take? Or what action are members of Congress going to take to further put the screws on Vladimir Putin and show him that they understand and believe the intelligence that they're saying right now, as we speak, Russia is doing the very same thing. And if I might just add, in the segment right before us, Don, when you were interviewing James Clapper.
LEMON: Yes, ma'am.
2BASH: To hear him, a man who for decades served this country, completely apolitically, completely apolitically, genuinely, to say Americans can answer by voting, I still can't believe I heard him say that. Now, obviously he has been in a kind of war of words with the President of the United States for the past year or so, but that really almost took my breath away.
LEMON: He basically said -- I think he said there was one word, and that word was --
LEMON: Was just to vote, yes. He said -- I said, what's your biggest fear? He said, the biggest fear I have now is I think because of Trump's performance in Helsinki, Vladimir Putin got a path and he can do just about anything that he wants and then he go on --
BASH: These are not political people. We have to remember, these are not political people. These are patriots who are served both parties. And it just says a lot.
LEMON: What do you say to people who are watching, I said? Well, the only way that this situation is going to be corrected, I think is at the polls. So, it's important. It's one word. It's one word, vote."
DENT: James Comey said the same thing. He said vote Democratic to hold Trump accountable.
LEMON: I want to play a little bit more of the interview. I'm coming to you after this, Congressman Dent. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He denies it. So, if you believe U.S. Intelligence agencies, is Putin lying to you?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want to get into whether or not he is lying. I can only say that I do have confidence in our intelligence agencies, as currently constituted. I think that Dan Coats is excellent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So Congressman, it stands to reason that if he believes the intelligence agencies, then Putin is lying. Why can't he just say that?
DENT: I mean, that is the $64,000 question. Putin is lying through his teeth. Again, this is completely inexplicable. Of course Putin is lying. Of course he is not going to confess to meddling in our elections. I mean, the President doesn't need to ask Vladimir Putin if he meddled. The President needs to tell him that he meddled and we're going to respond to it. And then see how Vladimir Putin responds. You can't assume that that man is going to be telling you the truth, it's just absurd.
LEMON: Yes. The FBI Director Christopher Wray was asked tonight if he has ever threatened to resign. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are also have been stories that you've threatened to resign. Have you ever hit a point on that issue of sources or methods or anywhere else where you said, this is a line?
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: You know, I am a --as I said, I'm a low key, understated guy, but that should not be mistaken for what my spine is made out of.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you have --
WRAY: I'll just leave it at that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So Max, if the answer was no, why not just say it?
BOOT: Well, he was suggesting that he has had to resist Trump's attempts to politicize the law enforcement and intelligence community. And that is hardly surprising, because there's a longtime pattern of Trump doing this at the same time, you know, most spectacularly of course in Helsinki, where he disavowed the intelligence community and embraced Putin. And he continues to do it today.
I mean just today, he was asked whether Russia is continuing its attacks on the United States. Just a few days ago, Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, said that all the warning lights are blinking red. And today, Trump said no, there are no Russian attacks continuing. He said that twice in the White House. So once again he is at odds with his intelligence community and takes this absurdly rosy view of Russia, he refuses to insult the president of Russia.
[22:35:03] Unique among all the people in the world, Donald Trump insults everybody else, he even insulted, you know, little rocket man before he embraced him, but he will not say anything bad word about Vladimir Putin. And as I said in the last few days, we are running out of innocuous explanations for his desire to kiss up to the despot of Russia.
LEMON: But the apologists will always apologize and always make up lies.
BOOT: It's a cult. It is a personality cult, Don. Evidence doesn't matter.
LEMON: They blame the facts of the matter and they will blame the media.
BOOT: I hold those apologists culpable on with Trump. They're undermining U.S. Security.
LEMON: Dan, this is important, because the President tonight was asked about whether he would sit down with an interview with Robert Mueller. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you more likely to sit for an interview now?
TRUMP: My lawyers are working on that. I've always wanted to do an interview, because, look, there's been no collusion. There's been no talk of Russia. There's been no phone call. There's been nothing. And I call it a witch hunt. That is exactly what it is. It's a vicious witch hunt. And you know what? It's very bad for our country. Very, very bad for our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Just to remind everyone, you know who isn't calling it a witch hunt? His FBI Director Christopher Wray tonight. I mean, it's still a big question, will the President sit with Mueller.
BASH: It is. And if it was just a question of asking about potential collusion, then his lawyers would say, OK. I mean, they have said that to us, but it's not. There are other things that Robert Mueller clearly wants to talk to the President about, like potential obstruction of justice and who knows what else. We don't know what we don't know.
It's been very clear in the couple of indictments that Robert Mueller has put out there that they have so many more details than we even realized, just about the Russians, never mind what potentially went on here in the U.S. So they seem to be at a stalemate. I'm not sure that this situation in Helsinki made that any better, but it certainly has been a very long negotiation with the President's lawyers and team Mueller on this very subject. LEMON: We asked the question last night about how much longer would
the explanations go on. Remember, after Charlottesville, it took three, four, five times for him, and he changes -- and the same thing is happening with this, and it's happened with so many other. I wonder how many more days of this that we are going to have to endure. Thank you all. And by the way, fascinating piece in "The Washington Post" today about Republicans' response to this or lack thereof, right? Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
When we come back, one of my next guests asks, what may have sounded like a pretty extreme question last week. Has President Trump been compromised by Vladimir Putin? What many labeled a conspiracy theory then, now has a lot of people wondering.
[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: No President that I can remember has publicly sided with an enemy of this country over his own intelligence community, as President Trump did standing side by side with Vladimir Putin. That has some people considering the unthinkable. Has President Trump been compromised by Russia? Let's discuss. CNN Politics Reporter and Editor-at-Large, Chris Cillizza is here, and Jonathan Chait, writer for "New York Magazine."
Thank you, gentlemen. Unbelievable that we're at this point. So Jonathan, I want to start with you, before the summit in Helsinki, you wrote a piece for "New York Magazine" asking whether President Trump has been compromised by Russia. I'm guessing nothing about this summit or the aftermath has changed your mind. In fact, I interviewed you about this. But nothing has changed your mind on this now?
JONATHAN CHAIT, WRITER, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: No, not at all. In fact, a lot of these episodes that happened during the summit and after have been worse than anything I would have predicted. I was pretty suspicious of what was going on behind the scenes with Donald Trump. The sight of him standing next to Vladimir Putin, endorsing Putin's word over his own intelligence agencies, and even worse, endorsing Putin's crazy idea that somehow the United States would allow Russia to interview American ambassadors that Putin doesn't like on Trumped- up charges, that we would merge our legal systems together, that was really beyond anybody's worst expectations. So again, I'm not certain that Russia has secret leverage over Donald Trump, but I think, if you assemble the pattern of evidence, there is a lot of reason to think he is. And the events of the last week just make that case look more plausible than ever.
LEMON: I remember asking you about the blowback you got, because some people thought you were being hyperbolic, correct? Do you feel in some ways vindicated by that?
CHAIT: Well, certainly I've heard from some people who are saying they're taking this more seriously now than they did when the story immediately came out, which is great to hear. Again, we still don't know the full story here. So, I'm not making any certain claims that Russia absolutely has financial leverage, blackmail leverage over Donald Trump, but you're hearing this increasingly, and you are hearing it as you have for the last two years mostly from the intelligence community.
And I think that is the thing that people are not really taking seriously enough. John Brennan, the former CIA Director, said he thinks Putin has something over Donald Trump. And lots of other people in the intelligence community say this is as well. Now, they have seen some of the evidence of Russian connections to Trump that the rest of us have not yet had access to. So we don't have to take their word on it, but maybe we should, you know, think about it. Maybe they really have seen something. Maybe they know what they're talking about.
[22:45:02] LEMON: A couple of things here, but first I just want to -- since you mentioned Brennan, Chris, I want you to respond to this. In the days of the summit, we are hearing a new word, right? He said it was treason, right? Most notably by the former Director of the CIA. Is this political hyperbole or do you think a lot of people in the Intelligence Community, you think a lot of people share this assessment?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think Jonathan is right in saying we don't know the answer to that. So I would say it is premature certainly, and therefore a little bit hyperbolic, to say we know that this was treasonous behavior. I do, however, think that it's hard to see the connective tissue here that explains all of this.
When he said one thing, but he meant another on "would" versus "wouldn't," the response of "no," being somehow about not taking questions when he goes on to take questions rather than being about whether Russia is targeting. This long-held belief, and this is not new on Monday in Helsinki, his long-held belief in skepticism, despite his Intelligence Community assessment, that he is not sure Russia meddled. He is literally the only person we know who has access to that information and I don't have it, Jonathan, you don't have it, Don that thinks that. That is why it keeps coming back to, why.
LEMON: Yes. Why would the intelligence community keep saying something that is not just true if they hadn't presented that to the President? But on the idea, Chris, of being compromised, CNN national security analyst, Steve Hall, I spoke to him at length last night. He tweeted this a short time ago. He said, from a counterintelligence perspective, something is going on behind the scenes. Before Helsinki I was less sure. Post-Helsinki, I feel sick now. He said, you know, listen, "I'm not the Manchurian candidate kind of person, but now I'm just wondering what the heck is going on," again, I'm paraphrasing there. He was the head of a Russian operations for the CIA. The idea that the Russians may have somehow compromised Trump does appear to be gaining some momentum publicly.
CILLIZZA: Well, again, John Brennan is not a guy off the street, as Jon Chait points out. Right, this is not random dude who just have an opinion on the internet. This is the former CIA Director, it is more than me saying it, John Chait saying it, Don Lemon saying it, I mean we should take it seriously.
LEMON: Steve Hall? CILLIZZA: Right, there are two basic options here. One is that, what
Steve Hall is worried about. The other is, Donald Trump is simply incapable of separating out anything that has the word "Russia" in it from some way, shape, or form, his insecurity about him winning the election fairly and squarely. And therefore he has a massive blind spot. I don't know which it is, candidly. I don't know that we have enough information to decide, but there's so many incidents here over a long period of time. It strikes me that it's not nothing.
LEMON: Yes. So Jonathan -- listen, hold it to the other side of the break, but I just want to talk about something that was written today saying that Putin was looking for whoever hacked into our election or influenced the election like O.J. Simpson was looking for a killer. We'll discuss that on the other side of the break.
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: So President Trump called it an interesting idea when Vladimir Putin suggested Robert Mueller's investigators could come to Russia to question Russians charged with interfering in the 2016 election. Moscow and Washington working together to investigate Russia election interference. Well, one New York tabloid says that like O.J. looking for the real culprit. That is like O.J. looking for the real culprits. Back now with Chris Cillizza and Jonathan Chait. Jonathan, I mean, let us look at the quote here, because he said during the press conference. Let us play what he said during the press conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I address directly with President Putin the issue of Russian interference in our election. President Putin may very well want to address it and very strongly. Because he feels very strongly about it and he has an interesting idea. 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 is an incredible offer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, here's the piece that I was referencing in the New York post columnist, Benny Albany described the offer like this. This is a quote. In other words, Putin like O.J. Simpson after his acquittal will be looking for the real culprits, unless Trump learns from the disastrous Helsinki performance and realized there is no good could come from working jointly with Putin. He will forever be an O.J. territory. Listen, I don't think it's funny, but I think it's, ouch, this is the President's favorite hometown tabloid, no less.
CHAIT: It's -- it's totally bazaar. And you have to remember this is the second time that Trump has endorsed a plan to essentially let Putin inside the American legal process. He said he was going to form a joint cyber security task force with Russia, the people who are attacking us that we would somehow together defend against the hacking that Russia has been committing and probably still committing, according to our own intelligence. So, once again he is either extraordinarily naive, which is I think the best case scenario or he is actually culpable in helping the criminal who is basically carrying out the crime carry out more crimes.
LEMON: So listen, now we know that Putin and Trump addressed the topic of formal ambassador Rick Wahl and White House is discussing it, they have some sort of announcement. How about, no way that we are going to turn over our ambassador-to-you, you meddled in our election and you attacked America. Chris.
[22:55:05] CILLIZZA: Yes, and our legal system is not going to play ball with your legal system, the end. What's remarkable is, Donald Trump State Department said that today. I mean, the disconnect between the State Department and the Department of Defense and the White House is not terribly new. But, it is remarkable that Heather now, at the State Department basically said that, Don. Which is, this is ridiculous. This is classic sort of Russian what about-ism. Well, if you guys come over here, then we get to come over there, you know, that is not how this works. And all note, just one other thing, the attention and credit Donald Trump is getting from some Republicans for saying in this interview that ran tonight, that he holds Vladimir Putin accountable. He had a very clear opportunity to do that with Vladimir Putin 5 feet away from him 48 hours ago. Why didn't he do it then?
LEMON: Yes. Listen, I think McFaul has it right. He tweeted tonight, I did appreciate the statement by this State Department spokesperson, yet again, Trump has one policy towards Putin, rest of the administration has a second policy towards Russia. So there you go. Thank you, gentlemen, I say appreciate it.
Yes, go ahead quickly.
CHAIT: You have to ask, why could Sarah Sanders say, this is a crazy idea. Either they were to organize to shoot it down or they think Trump actually likes the idea and haven't talked them out of it yet. Both of those are very disturbing possibilities.
LEMON: When we come back, will the President actually allow Vladimir Putin to interrogate a former U.S. ambassador to Russia? I am going to ask another former U.S. ambassador what he thinks about all of this. That is next.