Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Casts Doubt on US Commitment to Defend All Allies; Boys Describe Miracle Moment Divers Found Them; Trump Says He Misspoke with Putin Amid Bipartisan Fury; With Sen. Mike Rounds. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 18, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:26] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Top of the hour, 9:00 a.m. out East, 6:00 a.m. in the West, I'm Poppy Harlow in New York, and it is the question of the hour and maybe of the next two years.

Can a president who almost never admits a mistake fix a huge one with an N, a T, and an apostrophe? President Trump now says that at his post-summit news conference alongside Vladimir Putin he meant to say wouldn't instead of would on the question of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

We will play you both comments in a moment, but still this morning left unclarified, the president's other comments sympathetic to Putin and disparaging of America and of U.S. intelligence. Why his do-over took 28 hours, why he didn't clarify when he had a chance to in two separate FOX News interviews, and why he and this alleged misspeak wasn't mentioned in the White House post-summit talking points?

We will keep asking. Also this morning no one is clarifying a breathtaking comment from one of those interviews where President Trump once again appears to be less than fully committed to defending our NATO allies.

Let's go to the White House. Abby Phillip is there this morning.

So the president said then and he says now what?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, it's clear that the president caved yesterday to a lot of pressure from both sides of the aisle about his comments in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin. The president said he misspoke. That what he meant to say was that he wouldn't have any reason to doubt that it was Vladimir Putin but take a listen yourself to what he actually said in both meetings over the last couple of days.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be.

The sentence should have been, "I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia." Sort of a double negative. So you can put that in and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: A double negative. Well, that's an excuse that a lot of people are not really buying here and that's because the president said a lot of other things at his press conference with Vladimir Putin. He questioned some of the evidence that the intelligence community used to make their conclusion. He declined to confront Vladimir Putin about the election interference. He also bought into Vladimir Putin's desire to interrogate United States citizens and what a lot of people say is a sham investigation.

The president did not do it seems a very great job of explaining to people why he said what he said but this morning on social media he has been tweeting a different narrative. Talking about how successful the meeting with Putin was, saying that he's going to get Russia's help to help with other issues like North Korea, but of course there are now even more questions about what is the president's actual commitment to U.S. allies and whether or not he lost too much ground with Vladimir Putin in that meeting in Helsinki.

Meanwhile, here at the White House he's going to have a Cabinet meeting this morning where we are going to hear from him. He also, Poppy, importantly, has an interview this afternoon where he is undoubtedly going to be asked some questions following up on those scripted remarks that he read from the White House yesterday, seeming to walk back his press conference comments, Poppy.

HARLOW: An interview with Jeff Glor of CBS News who will undoubtedly ask all of those important questions.

Abby Phillips, thank you very much.

Dana Bash, our chief political correspondent with me. Dana, you had the tweet of the day yesterday. Let me read it for our viewers. "So this is all because of two letters, N and T. Seriously?" The president went over his attackers with that one?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No. Of course not. It's not just his attackers, I mean, this is the key here. This is his biggest allies who are absolutely flabbergasted and embarrassed by the performance that they saw and everything that the president said in and around the word would or wouldn't or whatever it is that he said that he messed up.

I mean, that is the key and Poppy, what is so interesting is that even this morning I'm talking to people who are familiar with the president's conversations that he had kind of calling around to allies and friends yesterday. He didn't understand, he really didn't understand what the big problem was and he made that pretty clear when he tried to do the walk back yesterday. That he was surprised but that was amplified in his private conversations according to the people I'm talking to.

What was the big deal? How did this happen so fast? How did the idea that -- you know, that people who are always behind me weren't behind me? [09:05:03] How did that happen in such a kind of whiplash kind of way?

He didn't get it. And that probably explains the halfhearted at best walk-back that you saw yesterday.

HARLOW: It does, but you also look at Republicans in Congress who are saying OK, now we have to take some action.

BASH: Yes.

HARLOW: People that are no fan of the president like Senator Jeff Flake. He is laying out what he wants to see passed. He hopes, you know, it will make it to the floor which would just be this resolution that would affirm Congress' commitment and support of the intelligence community. I mean, that's nice to see but it doesn't have any teeth. So -- but there are --

BASH: That's exactly right.

HARLOW: But there are things that Congress can do, right? You can have Corker who's so critical of the president call these oversight hearings, right? I mean, what are they willing to do, though?

BASH: So listen to what Marco Rubio, who obviously was a big competitor in a pretty aggressive way of the president back in the primary campaign. Listen to what he said about what happened yesterday but also more importantly what should happen in the future.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I'm just glad he clarified it. I don't -- I can't read his intentions or what he meant to say at the time. And suffice it to say that for me as a policymaker what really matters is what we can do moving forward.


BASH: So that speaks to the point of your question there, Poppy. What can they do moving forward? And what I am looking for in talking to Republican congressional sources is a pretty at least -- among some corners, pretty robust attempt to make it very clear to Vladimir Putin that what is happening right now will not stand. What I mean by that is there's an understandable focus on the protocol, the diplomatic, historical event that happened in a negative way of course with President Trump and Vladimir Putin.

But there is also very deep concern about what is happening as we speak in this election year. And I talked to people who say that that is where we should look for some robust legislation to try to punish Vladimir Putin for what he is doing now to try -- just because, look, as much -- as embarrassed as Republicans from Marco Rubio to, you know, even the president's closest allies are, what they say that they are concerned about is that giving Vladimir Putin a green light to keep going.

HARLOW: Right. BASH: And to double down on what he is -- on what the president's own

director of National Intelligence says that Russia is doing right now and that is where they're going to try to focus.

HARLOW: Yes. And do it again and then toss a soccer ball to the U.S. president, you know, and be all smiles afterwards.

BASH: Exactly. Exactly.

HARLOW: What did our parents teach us when we were 5? Actions speak louder than words so now what actions are actually going to be taken? The Republicans, what are they going to do about it? Dana, thank you.

BASH: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. So something else President Trump should clarify. In an interview that aired last night on FOX News he questioned whether the U.S. should defend all NATO allies. Listen to this exchange with Tucker Carlson when they spoke before the president left Helsinki on Monday.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack? Why is that --

TRUMP: I understand what you're saying. I've asked the same question. You know, Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people.

CARLSON: Yes, I'm not against Montenegro, or Albania.

TRUMP: Right. No, by the way, they're very strong people, they have very aggressive people. They make an aggressive -- and congratulations, you're in World War III.


HARLOW: Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby is with me. He's a former State Department spokesperson. Also Pentagon press secretary.

Admiral, here's how my colleague Jim Sciutto put it this morning on Twitter. Quote, "The U.S. president just questioned the decades old U.S. treaty commitment to defend its NATO allies as they commit to defend the U.S. arguably," Jim says, "more consequential than repeating his long-held doubts about Russian election interference."

How do you see it?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I think it's definitely troublesome. I think it's -- his comments will send a stronger message to Putin frankly than I think they'll send to our NATO allies. They're coming out of the summit as much damage as Trump did, at least he signed on to a communique which reiterated every allies' commitment to Article 5 which is the collectively defense article in that treaty. HARLOW: OK.

KIRBY: And Jim Mattis came out right after the summit and said, hey, 100 percent our commitment to NATO. So I don't know that he's going to send shockwaves through the alliance because of this because I think they don't believe there's much there-there, but I do believe that if I'm Vladimir Putin and I heard that interview to pick up on your conversation with Dana on election meddling.


KIRBY: I think Putin can say well, it's OK for me to start stirring up some geopolitical and territorial problems as well.

HARLOW: Well --

KIRBY: I mean, I'm not going to get stopped.

HARLOW: You know, Michael Hayden, former CIA director Michael Hayden on CNN just this morning pointed out to Alisyn that there is evidence that he said, you know, Russia is looking to Montenegro and meddling with politics there as well. So your point is well taken.

[09:10:13] When it comes to NATO allies believing this president and what he says, like what he said to Tucker Carlson, here's how a former CIA agent and now a congressman, Republican Representative Will Hurd of Texas, sees it.


REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: He didn't have a strategy and I don't think he should be doing one-on-one meetings with heads of state because too much is at stake.


HARLOW: He doesn't think the Republican president should be doing one-on-one meetings with heads of state. That is a significant statement, especially from a Republican member of Congress.


HARLOW: Do you agree?

KIRBY: I do actually. And I would say -- I'd caveat it by saying depending on who the head of state is. Like I'm not concerned if he has a one-on-one meeting with Emmanuel Macron or Prime Minister Trudeau, but when you're talking about states that are adversarial with us around the world whether it's China, whether it's Kim Jong-un, and certainly Vladimir Putin of Russia, it is fundamentally sound policy to have backup, to have support, to have a record of those discussions so that both sides coming out of there have no confusion about what was decided and what the policy decisions are going forward.

He has hamstrung his own national security establishment because they really don't know what to do next. You saw yesterday, Poppy, the Russians came out, the Russian Defense Ministry came out and said OK, we're ready to start executing on all the agreements that we made -- that Putin and Trump made about better cooperation between our two militaries and the Defense Department and the National Security Council could only say, hey, we're still reviewing the content of the meetings because they don't know.

HARLOW: Right. Right.

KIRBY: That's a real problem. So I do share the congressman's concerns writ large. Particularly when it comes to adversarial nations.

HARLOW: Admiral Kirby, thank you for being with me.

KIRBY: You bet.

HARLOW: A lot ahead for us this morning. The World Cup is over and now sources tell CNN Russian intelligence is planning to ramp up operations targeting Western countries. We're following the latest.

Plus, we're finally hearing from those boys trapped inside that cave in Thailand for more than two weeks. How they miraculously survived and what was going through their minds when they first got a glimpse of those divers coming to rescue them.

And former President Obama has a message for women when it comes to politics -- get involved.


HARLOW: Welcome back. Overnight, President Trump questioned a decades-old US treaty commitment to defend our NATO allies. Joining me now is Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota. Thank you for being here.

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: Thank you for the opportunity.

HARLOW: You're an important voice this morning because you were just named as a new member of the Senate NATO Observer Group. This is a bipartisan group that basically acts as a liaison to NATO.

Listen to this exchange from the president and Tucker Carlson of Fox News last night.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST, "TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT": Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack? Why is that -

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I understand what you're saying. I've asked the same question. Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people.

CARLSON: Yes. I'm not against Montenegro. Or Albania. TRUMP: By the way, they're very strong people. They're very aggressive people. They may get aggressive. And, congratulations, you are in World War III.


HARLOW: Just last year, Montenegro became a member of NATO. That's the president of the United States wavering on our collective defense of our allies. What's your reaction to that?

ROUNDS: I don't think that he's wavering. I think he makes the point that any time you have a large number of nations together as in NATO, you are putting yourself in with that group. And if one of the countries is attacked, you agree under Article V that you will defend.

NATO is very important to the United States. I don't see that as a problem. I see that as an asset for the United States. Our allies around the world -

HARLOW: Senator, then why -

ROUNDS: They're critical to us.

HARLOW: They are. So, I mean, Article V has only been invoked to help the United States after 9/11. An attack on one is an attack on all. So, when Tucker Carlson said, why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from an attack, the president said, "I've asked the same question."

He is questioning that.

ROUNDS: Well, to ask the question is one thing, to disagree with Article V would be another. It's a fair question to ask as long as the answer and the understanding is complete. So, ask the question, but make sure you get the right answer.

And the agreement is that NATO is critical to us and our national posture. We have allies. That's one thing some of our adversaries do not have is a good working relationship with our allies.

I think in the United States Senate, that's one of the reasons why we've restarted the NATO Observer Group again.

HARLOW: Would you characterize the Trump administration and President Trump's relationship with our NATO allies right now as strong.

ROUNDS: I think it is. I think he's questioned some things. And in doing so, he's actually brought the importance of funding on behalf of all of the other countries back into play again.

For a while, it seemed like we were spending a lot of the money, but the other guys were kind of relaxing a little bit in terms of what they were doing for their national defense.

HARLOW: Beyond the money, in the last week, he's called the EU a foe. ROUNDS: Two separate issues. First of all, with regard to NATO

itself, I think he did the right thing by saying, look, we are going to kick in - and recognizing NATO was created in the first place because of the Soviet Union.

And so, while he does get criticized because people think he can be soft on Russia, the reality is the actions that he's taking have been to strengthen NATO.

Now, he's had some disagreements with some of the leaders there and that's different than saying we're going to make NATO strong.

HARLOW: Just to put a button on this point, on Montenegro, Gen. Hayden, the former CIA director, was just on CNN this morning - and here's why Montenegro, for example, matters, right? He said, "there's good evidence that over the past year, the Russians have been meddling very powerfully inside of Montenegrin politics.

[09:20:09] So, the need to protect our allies like Montenegro, if you're going to be tough on Russia, plays right in there.

Let me get you on the president's explanation of what he says he meant to say standing next to Vladimir Putin on Monday in Helsinki. Here he is then and here he is yesterday.


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

The sentence should have been I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia. Sort of a double negative. So, you can put that in. And I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.


HARLOW: Do you think, senator, that it's a matter of an "n", a "t", and an apostrophe and the president truly misspoke.

ROUNDS: I think the president, when he said it should have been, I think he said that correctly because what he should have said was that basically Russia was involved. He should have said that.

HARLOW: So, you don't buy that he misspoke, right, on Monday? It sounds like you're -

ROUNDS: He did not say it, but that's exactly what he should have said.

And, look, there's no question, but that Russia clearly was meddling in our election and they fully intend to continue doing so if we don't do something about it.

HARLOW: So, you don't buy the president saying he misspoke. He had these two opportunities, senator, with Fox News - two sit-down interviews - to clarify it. Should he have clarified it then? ROUNDS: What I heard the president say was he should have said it.

And I agree with him. That's exactly what he should have said.

HARLOW: Should he have said it in the interview?

ROUNDS: It's not what he said, but he should have said it.

HARLOW: Should he have clarified it in the interviews?

ROUNDS: I don't recall the interview on it, so I'm not going to get into that one, but I can tell you this much. On four different times in the last year-and-a-half, the president has said Russia was meddling in our elections. I think it was Russia. They were meddling.

But on four different times, he said that. He should have been consistent in his message.

HARLOW: I hear you, senator. Why couldn't he say it to Putin's face? Why didn't he say it to Putin's face?

ROUNDS: I honestly think that what he was trying to do - and I'm not going to think that - I don't think the tactic was correct, but I think his goal was to try to avoid having a confrontation with Mr. Putin at that point.

And I think part of it was, we know that they were meddling. Mr. Putin knows that they were meddling. And Mr. Putin knows that we know he was meddling.

HARLOW: I hear you, Senator, but I don't get it because he has no qualms about having a confrontation with our allies, with the G7 leaders to their face. So, this is not a man that wouldn't stand up to a leader to their face just to be polite.

ROUNDS: And once again, I'm not going to agree with the tactic. And I think it should have been very, very clear.

Look, Russia is not our friend at this stage of the game. They're a nuclear power. We've got to find a way to be able to open communications with them, but it has got to be honest and direct communications. And anything they tell us, we've got to be able to verify.

HARLOW: I need a yes or no on this because I've got to wrap it up. But as you know, your fellow Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona would like to see on the floor by next week a resolution that would state unanimous support by members of the Senate of our intelligence community.

He feels this is necessary because the president denigrated the intelligence community on the world stage this week. Would you vote yes on this measure?

ROUNDS: I'm supportive of a resolution -- I think Sen. Kennedy actually has a resolution along that line. HARLOW: So a yes?


HARLOW: Sen. Rounds, appreciate your time. Thank you.

ROUNDS: Thank you.

HARLOW: An incredible scene has been unfolding in Thailand this morning. The 12 boys from Thailand and their soccer coach were rescued from deep inside that cave that was flooded and trapped for more than two weeks. Look at them.

They are now out of the hospital. Before they headed home to finally be with their families, they spoke publicly for the first time about what they went through, what it was like when they first saw those divers come to rescue them and pop out of the water.

Our correspondent Jonathan Miller is in Thailand for us. This is video that everyone has been wanting to see. It's miraculous.

JONATHAN MILLER, ASIA CORRESPONDENT: Isn't it great, Poppy? I mean, here is a real life-affirming story. And what a wonderful thing it has been to cover this. Although even as few as 10 days ago, we all had our hearts in our mouths looking at the prospects of these boys escaping from their cavern deep, deep inside that mountain.

But, tonight, we've heard their tales of camaraderie and survival. Now, just a few hours ago, they were taken from the hospital here in Chiang Rai where most of them have spent the past week or so, being checked over by the doctors who tonight declared them fit and well and ready to face the world. They said they were physically fit and mentally fit.

[09:25:01] Although I think some child psychologists would have reservations about preemptive judgments there, owing to concerns and experience of the Chile miners who were rescued deep underground eight years ago. And some of them are still showing symptoms of post- traumatic stress.

The boys seem very resilient for now. They've been laughing and joking, but also telling some remarkably sad stories too. One of the smallest boys, Titan, 11 years old, stood in front of a portrait of the former Navy SEAL who died during that rescue attempt and he just said, thank you, sir, for sacrificing your life for us.

We know the boys were deeply moved by this. And, certainly, many tears tonight among those in this hall.

Now, we also heard from Titan - from Ardoon who is - most of the boys are from Buddhist families. Ardoon is an ethnic tribal Burmese boy and he's a Christian. And he was the one who spoke English to those two British divers who first found them in the cave.

And here's what he said about that experience.


ARDOON, RESCUED FROM THE CAVE (through translator): When they got out from the water, I was a little surprised. So, I just greeted them. I thought this is really a miracle and I didn't know how to respond to them.


MILLER: Well, some of the stories that the boys were telling us tonight were - concerned their food fantasies. Some of them said we only survived down there for those 9 days in the darkness before they were found by not even thinking about food.

Now, they're dreaming of - wait for it - snake sausages. That's what one of them said. But there are others who will be going home tonight with their mums and dads and I think they're going to be hopelessly spoiled.

There are going to be big parties, celebrations. Rooms have been redecorated. Brothers and sisters have brought gifts. And then, after all of that is over, they'll be going on a big vacation all together to another part of Thailand. And it will be a very well- deserved holiday after this experience.

HARLOW: That is great. They should have a lifetime supply of snake sausages whenever they want them. I love that story.

Jonathan Miller, thank you so much for bringing it to us.

Still ahead, Russian intelligence agencies said to be ramping up operations targeting the West now that the World Cup and the Trump/Putin summit are over. Details next.