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President Trump Walks Back Helsinki Remark; Trump Questions Defending NATO Allies; Obama Warns "Strongman Politics Are Ascendant"; Sluggers Shatter All Star Game Home Run Record. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 18, 2018 - 05:00   ET



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

I said it should have been, I don't see any reason why I wouldn't or why it wouldn't be Russia.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump trying to correct the record and end this barrage of criticism over the Helsinki summit. Now a new question -- did the president negotiate a security deal in private with Vladimir Putin?


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Let's say Montenegro joined last year, was attacked, why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?

TRUMP: I understand what you're saying. I've asked the same question.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Another shot to the longstanding alliance. The president appears to be questioning the commitment to defend NATO allies.

ROMANS: And an instant classic at the major league baseball all-star game. Ten home runs, ten innings. Who came out on top?

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It's Wednesday, July 18th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

We start with wouldn't-gate. More than 26 hours after President Trump sided with Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence community, Mr. Trump did something almost as astounding, admitting a mistake. Influential voices were telling the president he had to do something, even one "Fox & Friends" host.

It became clear walking back his Helsinki remarks via Twitter would not be enough, so he invited cameras into the cabinet room to record him backing the intel community, but even that came with a key caveat.


[05:00:10] TRUMP: Let me be totally clear in saying that, and I've said this many times, I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also. There's a lot of people out there. There was no collusion.


ROMANS: Just in case he forgot to say no collusion, he wrote it on to his script in black sharpie. Also on there he crossed out a line about bringing anyone involved in election meddling to justice.

As for why it took so long to launch any kind of damage control, one official told me the president is surrounded by aides who don't disagree with him or are simply afraid to.

As the White House scrambled to respond to the overwhelming criticism President Trump said he had misspoken even though he backed up his original statement by saying Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial.

More now from CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, the White House still in cleanup mode and damage control mode after the Helsinki summit earlier this week. President Trump, we are told, realized that this was a massive problem after, of course, seeing many of his friendliest advisers, from "Fox & Friends" to the conservative editorial pages of the "Wall Street Journal" to many supporters on Capitol Hill saying that he had to do something to address it.

So, we saw the president yesterday here at the White House trying to clean up what he said in Helsinki.

TRUMP: 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.

I thought it would be obvious, but I would like to clarify, just in case it wasn't. In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word would instead of wouldn't. The sentence should have been, I don't see any reason why I wouldn't or why it wouldn't be Russia.

ZELENY: I am told by some people close to this administration that the president decided to go out and talk about this because he was hearing that it was unpatriotic, that he sounded unpatriotic. That certainly got to him. So, the White House will find out if all the fallout is over or if it

lingers. So many questions here at the White House and on Capitol Hill -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: Jeff Zeleny, thanks, Jeff.

BRIGGS: Yes, perhaps we need a press briefing in that room where Jeff Zeleny is standing just.

Joining us this morning from Washington, CNN politics digital director, Zach Wolf.

Good to see you, sir.


BRIGGS: The golfer in chief should know you do not get a mulligan at a major. And even this one, he shank big time. I mean, this one was straight into the woods. What did you make of a clean up and what about everything else the president said including praising Vladimir Putin?



TRUMP: President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we've all been foolish.


BRIGGS: So, should we focus on would or wouldn't or everything else? All of the context there?

WOLF: Dave, you misheard one key sentence, the problem is the rest of the conference was also deeply flawed from the perspective of, you know, putting the U.S. up next to Russia.

So I don't think anybody grading this walk back, this claw back, this mulligan attempt as you put it is going to give it a very high grade, especially since he, you know, crossed out the words and wrote, you know, it could have been anybody else in the margins of the line and kind of on the fly, stepped on his own attempt to back up the U.S. intelligence community. I don't think that is ultimately going to accomplish what he wanted to.

It could give Republicans who are seemingly an open revolt over this, some breathing room and maybe give them back -- but it's not going to undo essentially what happened in Helsinki.

ROMANS: And the ad-libbing around the scripted remarks undid the urgency or weakened the correction even because he couldn't help himself. There could be others out there, too.

BRIGGS: Could be others. A lot of people out there. Yes.

ROMANS: A lot of people out there, too, and he had to write down just in case he forgot, there was no collusion in his remarks.

So, you talk about the Republican pushback here. The Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warning Russia very clearly, stood there yesterday and said, don't do this again. Let's listen to that sound bite.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: There's a possibility that we may well take up legislation related to this. In the meantime, I think the Russians need to know that there are a lot of us who fully understand what happened in 2016, and it really better not happen again in 2018.


ROMANS: Zach, does the GOP actually do something about it?

[05:05:00] Where do they go from here?

WOLF: Well, first, that was a pretty remarkable moment because that is about as stern and forceful as you will see Mitch McConnell get. And he is essentially clearly breaking with the president there, saying -- giving a warning directly to Vladimir Putin. That's not his style.

I think there's something different in this Russia story compared to other elements where Republicans might grouse or gripe about President Trump and then fall in line behind him. And, you know, Russia is the one place where Congress has essentially bucked the president. They forced sanctions upon him.

I don't know if that's going to happen again. They've already done it. McConnell was saying if it happens again, we'll do something. So, he's essentially giving Putin time to change his ways. I don't think anybody expects that to happen but, you know, Russia is a different beast for congressional Republicans.

BRIGGS: So we have Chris Wallace of Fox News and we have Mitch McConnell doing what we all need the president of the United States to do and now a Republican Congressman Will Hurd wants to know, hey, we can focus on would or wouldn't, and all of the things we heard publicly. But most importantly is what went on privately? What did the president agree to that we don't know with Vladimir Putin? Could it be arms reduction?

Here's Will Hurd last night with A.C.


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.


BRIGGS: Where does that discussion go from here, Zach?

WOLF: Well, I think it goes to the next summit that President Trump wants to have with some kind of a strongman. I don't think we're going to get any notes from translators. I don't think we're going to know exactly ever what happened behind closed doors when he was essentially alone with Vladimir Putin or even with Kim Jong-un a while back.

But, you know, he -- Trump has the ability to do a lot unilaterally. Those things will ultimately come out. So, if he agreed to something, we'll ultimately find out about it I supposed. It's just a strange situation to have the head of the free world behind closed doors like that with the leader of Russia.

ROMANS: Yes, it's not just Congressman Will Hurd. It's also the editorial board of "The Wall Street Journal", very concerned about, you know, President Trump working with Putin on issues like arms controlled. They call the president a neophyte who will be lured into reducing America's arsenal -- nuclear arsenal and doesn't have the chops to be able to be handling this on the world stage.

All right. Zach, come back in half an hour and we'll talk about all of this going on overnight.

Sources tell CNN the White House could have kept the indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers quiet until after the summit, but chose not to despite the clear possibility it could affect the Helsinki meeting. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had been mindful of the upcoming summit, briefed Mr. Trump before he left for Europe. And sources say after Trump consulted with top aides, the White House told Justine not to hold off.

BRIGGS: Now that the summit and World Cup are over, U.S. and British intelligence agencies are worried Russia will once again ramp up its aggression. A U.S. intel official tells CNN did not want any high profile incidents to mar the prestige of hosting the world's biggest sporting event.

ROMANS: Former President Barack Obama in South Africa, right now. You're seeing live pictures. He's giving a town hall speech, taking questions from students at the African leadership academy in Johannesburg.

Yesterday giving the Nelson Mandela annual lecture, Mr. Obama did not mention Donald Trump by name. But he did lament the loss of shame in political leaders. He repudiated the politics of fear and resentment.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: Strongman politics are ascendant, suddenly, whereby elections in some pretense of democracy are maintained, the form of it, but those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning. Don't you get a sense sometimes by -- again, I'm ad-libbing here -- that these people who are so intent on putting people down and pumping themselves up, that they're small-hearted, that there's something, something they're just afraid of.


ROMANS: President Obama also speaking at the, quote, head spinning and disturbing headlines we're seeing in these, quote, strange and uncertain times.

BRIGGS: Former FBI Director James Comey urging all who believe in this country's values to vote for Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections. The lifelong Republican tweeting last night this Republican Congress has proven incapable of fulfilling the founders design that ambition must counteract ambition. Policy differences don't matter right now. History has its eyes on us.

Comey continues to be the target of hash critic harsh criticism from the president and his allies over his role in the Clinton e-mail probe.

[05:10:02] ROMANS: Republican Congresswoman Martha Roby survived a primary runoff in Alabama last night. CNN projecting she's defeated former Democratic congressman turned pro Trump conservative Bobby Bright.

Roby had been viewed as vulnerable since the 2016 election. She insisted then nominee Trump step aside after the "Access Hollywood" tape came out. Since then, she has been a reliable vote for the Trump agenda and the president endorsed her on Twitter last month.

BRIGGS: The Trump administration is expecting North Korea to return the first group of remains of U.S. service members a week from Friday. July 27th is 65 years to the day after the signing of the armistice establishing the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Sunday the U.S. and North Korea agreed to restart the search effort to find the Americans who never returned from the Korean War.

President Trump made the return of remains a key pledge at the Singapore summit last month.

ROMANS: There were concerns about progress on this front because there had been a meeting the North Koreans didn't show up for.

BRIGGS: No show. Yes.

ROMANS: This is something that many families who lost loved ones --

BRIGGS: Nothing concrete from North Korea at this point.

ROMANS: Eleven minutes past the hour.

More than 1,000 survivors of the Las Vegas massacre are being sued by the company that owns the hotel the shooter used as his perch is filing suit against the victims.


[05:15:58] ROMANS: All right. As U.S. puts up trade barriers of key allies, the E.U. and Japan signed a big free trade deal affecting 1/3 of the global economy. The deal eliminates tariffs on nearly all goods like European cheese and wines, cuts barriers for Japanese cars and electronics. Japan and the E.U. exchange $150 billion a year.

The European Council president calls this agreement the largest bilateral trade deal ever and says both the E.U. and Japan stand together against protectionism. The stark contrast to the policies of President Trump. The Trump administration has hit America's biggest trading partners with tariffs and says more are on the way.

Both the E.U. and Japan were affected by U.S. tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum. The E.U. retaliated with tariffs on classic American goods like blue jeans, motorcycles and bourbon.

BRIGGS: New concern this morning over President Trump's commitment to NATO allies. Fresh off his European visit which included the latest NATO summit, the president chatted with Tucker Carlson of Fox News. He seemed to waiver whether the U.S. would come to the defense of all NATO member countries.


CARLSON: Let's say Montenegro who joined last year, was attacked, 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: By the way, they have very strong people. They have very aggressive people. They may get aggressive. And congratulations, you're in World War III.


BRIGGS: NATO treaty requires all members to help defend other member nations in the event they're attacked. It's been invoked just once, to defend the United States after September 11th.

ROMANS: The company that owns Mandalay Bay filing suit against Las Vegas massacre survivors, part of a strategy to shield itself from lawsuits against the hotel. In the lawsuit, MGM Resorts International argues it has no liability of any kind for the deadliest mass shooting in American history. The company is not seeking monetary damages. More than 2,500 people have filed or threatened lawsuits.

The attack last October left 58 dead and hundreds more injured. An attorney for hundreds of victims says MGM is absolutely liable, claiming Mandalay Bay was negligent for letting Stephen Paddock inside with so many weapons. Nine months later, police have still not found a motive.

BRIGGS: The Thai soccer team and coach rescued from that cave last week will be released from the hospital today, a day ahead of schedule. And in a few hours, they will make their first public appearance during a televised news conference. A Thai health official saying all 12 boys and their coach are healthy physically and psychologically. They spent 18 days trapped under ground.

ROMANS: I can't wait to hear from there. What a great story, and I loved it this week, they took a picture with the diver -- a picture with the diver who died.

BRIGGS: A story the world need, huh?

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: All right. No shortage of heroics at the all-star game. Andy Scholes has the long ball and all of the strikeouts in the "Bleacher Report".


[05:23:28] BRIGGS: It looked like home run derby all over again at the mid summer classic last night.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has the all-star highlights in this morning's bleacher report. Hey, Andy.


So, the all-star game, it was a great representation of baseball in 2018. It was basically all strikeouts and home runs. A record ten long balls were hit last night in D.C.

Now, before the game, Major League Baseball honoring 30 Medal of Honor recipients on the field. The Yankees' Aaron Judge getting the fireworks started in the second inning with his first all-star home run. The game would be tied into the tenth inning with a world champion Astros come to the rescue.

Alex Bregman with a solo home run to give the American League the lead. His teammate George Springer would follow him with a home run of his own. They go back to back. The AL wins for the sixth straight year, 8-6.

In his first all star game, Bregman win the MVP.


ALEX BREGMAN, ALL STAR GAME MVP: Being able to be on the field, let alone being able to go hit a homer, I don't know, I'm on cloud 9 to have my family here. It was really special, a dream come true.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCHOLES: For winning the MVP, you get a trophy and your choice of a sports car or a truck. Bregman said he's going with the sports car and giving it to mom.

All right. Tiger Woods making his return to the British Open for the first time since 2015. Tiger saying he didn't know if he would ever be back at the Majors.


[05:25:05] TIGER WOODS, PRO GOLFER: There are definitely points in time when I certainly thought I'd never play in this championship again and, you know, watching it on TV, it's great seeing it on TV but it's even better in person. And I remember how it feels to come down to the last hole with a chance to win it, and knowing that I am -- I may never have that opportunity again.


SCHOLES: All right. Finally, Phil Mickelson having some fun during his practice, just a few feet away from this guy. Phil lobs it over him. I look at it at every angle, guy, and I'm astonished with the courage that that 3457b had to stands there. I would not be able to do that and if I did, I would have flinched big time.

BRIGGS: He's got his hands in the right spot.


SCHOLES: You see viral videos all the time of things like that going wrong. I guess when you have one of the best golfers of all time doing it, you have a little more confidence. But not me.

BRIGGS: I'm not standing there. I trust the lefty, but not much.

Good stuff, Scholes, thanks.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: In Helsinki, the president said he doesn't see why Russia would have interfered in the elections. Now --


TRUMP: The sentence should have said, I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia. I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.


ROMANS: Is that presidential white out enough to quite critics, as members of Congress consider a more direct response to Moscow?