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Facing Bipartisan Backlash, Trump Says He Misspoke with Putin; Trump Casts Doubt on Commitment to NATO Members. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired July 18, 2018 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said the word "would" instead of "wouldn't." I think that probably clarifies things.

[05:59:32] REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Reading this statement like he's a hostage.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: It's 24 hours too late and in the wrong place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of us will misspeak. He's corrected it, which is what matters.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (D-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The Russians need to know that it really better not happen again in 2018.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's going to be a time in history when people ask, "Where did you choose to stand?"

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, July 18, 6 a.m. here in New York. John Avlon here with us this morning.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello.

BERMAN: We're going to begin with a moment of clarity.

CAMEROTA: Please.

BERMAN: Ready?

CAMEROTA: I look forward to this.

BERMAN: Apostrophes have no magical powers. Double negatives do not inoculate you against international embarrassment. And a walk back is not a walk back unless you actually walk something back. The president's non-apology, non-retraction, non-explanation might

best be described as nonsense. We're not going to spend much time parsing contractions here. There's an absurdity to the theater of the president's 28-hours-later claim that he really meant he sees no reason Russia would not attack the U.S. election process in 2016.

Not when he stood next to Vladimir Putin and refused to criticize him and actually said America shares the blame for the Russia attack and not when he said the election attack could be a lot of other people also. That's not siding with the U.S. intelligence community at all. Nor is crossing out a sentence that seems to talk about bringing anyone involved in that meddling to justice. Those were the president's prepared remarks. He crossed them out.

The big question is what now?

CAMEROTA: Will Congress take action? And what can they really do if they think the U.S. president does not have Americans' best interest at heart? One idea is to compel the testimony of the interpreter who heard what President Trump told Vladimir Putin behind closed doors.

Then there are the deals that Russia claims President Trump agreed to. Russia now says it is ready to pursue those military agreements made by both countries. But the White House and the Pentagon would not confirm or offer details about any potential deal.

Meanwhile, the president again seems to be questioning the U.S. commitment to NATO. When answering a question about why the U.S. should defend Montenegro, President Trump replied, "I've asked the same question."

BERMAN: Wow.

CAMEROTA: Let's start with CNN's Abby Phillip, live at the White House.

Abby, it's only Wednesday, I think. What's happening there?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is only Wednesday, and it's only six a.m., but it continues, this quest of President Trump's to quell the controversy from his Helsinki press conference with Vladimir Putin.

He admitted in a rare moment that he made a mistake, but that scripted meeting yesterday, in which he read from a piece of paper, correcting his remarks, really didn't do much to stop the controversy. And this morning on Twitter, he's already tweeting about it again, perhaps beginning the process of walking back the walk back.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word "would" instead of "wouldn't."

PHILLIP (voice-over): Caving to an avalanche of bipartisan furry, President Trump reading from a script, walking back one of his remarks, siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Russia's attack on the 2016 election.

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.

PHILLIP: The president giving no explanation for the other comments he made, criticizing the intelligence community and praising Putin.

TRUMP: I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial.

I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish.

PHILLIP: The administration also offering no explanation for why it took 28 hours to correct the record and why the misstatement was not mentioned in the White House talking points defending Mr. Trump's performance or any of the president's nine tweets or in either of the two interviews he gave after the news conference, where he again refused to call Putin an enemy.

TRUMP: I don't want to even use the word "adversary." We can all work together.

PHILLIP: Officials familiar with the matter tell CNN that President Trump decided to say that he misspoke after being flooded with calls from allies urging him to clarify his remarks.

MCCONNELL: 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.

PHILLIP: One driving factor: fear the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, or others would resign after being personally undercut.

The president insisting Tuesday that he does believe that Russia was behind the attack before undermining himself.

TRUMP: I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place. It could be other people also. There's a lot of people out there.

PHILLIP: The off-script comment reminiscent of repeated past remarks casting doubt over Russia's involvement.

TRUMP: If you don't catch a hacker, OK, in the act, it's very hard to say who did the hacking.

I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries.

[06:05:06] Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure. PHILLIP: Photographs of the president's notes show that he wrote in his oft-repeated phrase, "There was no collusion," and crossed out part of this sentence that read, "Anyone involved in that meddling to justice."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: President Trump this morning will host a cabinet meeting here at the White House where he'll be making some remarks. But one of the big things we're looking for today, he's going to have a sit- down interview with CBS, his first interview after the Helsinki press conference with a non-FOX News outlet, where he's likely to get a lot of questions about all of this controversy. Will he regret his walk- back? That's the big question that we're looking at today. We'll have plenty of opportunities to hear from President Trump -- Alisyn and John.

BERMAN: Here's betting yes, he does. This is what he happens. He walks back or doesn't want --

CAMEROTA: This is why he added the addendum.

BERMAN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: That weren't supposed to be part of the walk-back.

BERMAN: All right. Let's bring in CNN political analysts David Gregory and Margaret Talev. John Avlon here with us, as well.

And Margaret, you're sort of like our human Zelig, because you were there. You were along with the president on this trip, and most importantly, you were there along with the president on the way back from Helsinki, on the way back with the entire White House staff.

Did they take that opportunity while you were on board Air Force One with them or any time departing Helsinki to the point you arrived in Washington, to explain that the president really meant "wouldn't" when he said "would"?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, that's not what happened. It was a long flight back. There were no briefings on the way back. It would have been, certainly, an opportunity for the president to invite us up or to come back to speak in the press cabin. He did not. For any briefing to take place from the press secretary, from Sarah Sanders, or her assistant, Hogan Gidley. That did not happen. John Bolton was on the plane. He did not come back to brief us. Fiona Hill, the senior director for Russia, did not come back to brief us. The National Security Council spokesperson did not come back to brief us.

And there was a tremendous interest, as you can imagine. We had a lot of questions, ranging from "Oh my God, what just happened?" to some of the more particulars, such as "What was the very interesting idea that Putin and Trump were talking about? Is -- are they taking seriously this request to somehow get Bill Browder back to Russia?" None of those questions was answered. There was the tweet that he put out in air, and a copy of that was

brought back to the press cabin, because we don't have Internet, so that we could see it. But at no point during that long flight home was there an opportunity to actually have an exchange and shake some of this out.

CAMEROTA: And Margaret, one last question on that. Was there any sense, when you were on that long flight home, that they were aware of the damage, the ripple effect that was happening back at home, where people were astonished, including Republicans, that he had put Russia and the U.S. on equal footing and used this equivalency?

TALEV: Yes, and the main reason is because there is cable -- you can get cable news in Air Force One until you get a certain elevation. FOX News was on our screens, and we could see in real time this playing out on FOX, and we knew the president was watching, as well.

BERMAN: David Gregory, you were watching this along with the rest of us. I'm trying to pivot to move forward a bit here, but is there any reason that America should believe that the president of the United States trusts the product, the work product of the U.S. intelligence agencies, when he said at this sort of walk-back, which was not a walk-back, "Yes, it was Russia, but it could have been other people, as well"?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I certainly don't think there's any reason to believe that he has faith in the intelligence community as it applies to Russia or 2016. He probably does in other areas.

But this theater that we've been treated to is absurd. Completely absurd. The president spoke his mind in Helsinki, because all he cares about is how he appears, his legitimacy. And the reason he cannot stomach the reality of what happened in 2016 on the part of the Russians is that he thinks it makes him look bad. And he doesn't like to look bad. Which is why he blinked yesterday. He just doesn't like to look bad.

So he does this consistently, where he'll blink in the face of overwhelming condemnation, because he's treating the presidency as some sort of play pen, not very seriously.

And in the face of threats from abroad or the seriousness of our relationship with western allies, or how to forge a relationship with an adversary like Russia moving forward, where there may be areas of interest, but where you have to take seriously what an authoritarian regime is doing, the president seems not to care, because he's so infatuated with the idea of strong men on the world stage. That's the ultimate danger.

And beyond the clean-up attempts in his statements is what is the administration actually doing with regard to sanctioning Russia, preventing it from happening again? What's going to happen to arms control negotiations moving forward.

[06:10:00] And Congress still has this oversight role. What about his tax returns? What else is he going to do? What was said in that meeting? These things matter.

CAMEROTA: John, listen, I want you to dive into all of this. But also, I think it's so interesting that clearly, this one -- something changed yesterday and the day before. Because as we know, President Trump is so resistant to ever walking anything back. Generally, he doubles down. When there's some sort of conflagration that erupts, he doubles down. And I'm thinking of David Duke, and then he says, "I don't know him." And I'm thinking of all the sexual harassment claims, and then he goes after the women and is nasty to them.

And so something happened, OK, where this one -- somebody got to him, or he had some sort of crisis of confidence, where for the first time, we saw him actually have to do real -- attempt to do real damage control.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, well, I mean, I think he lost FOX, his official affirmation media organ, and he lost Republicans, who for the first time found a spine, because you cannot defend an American president kowtowing to Russian leader and against his own intelligence agencies.

But look, that's unavoidable. But what's really pathetic is the desperate spin to try to fix it. This wasn't a walk-back. This was an awkward side shuffle. This was -- this is something out of, like, an Armando Iannucci script, where it's just absolutely desperate. And the best they could come up with was a double negative and hope that, you know, everything's good, right? It was just a double negative.

But it contradicts what he consistently has said. He really does believe that there wasn't any meddling. And the most troubling part of that script we saw is the line crossed out.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

AVLON: A line where -- that is put in there --

CAMEROTA: Somebody would be held responsible.

AVLON: That is where there actually is something -- semblance of spine. We will take justice, we will insist on justice for the people who did this to us. And the president proactively crossed it out. He is not interested in justice. He is not interested in retribution for this violation of America's elections and national security. That tells you everything you need to know about where his head and his heart are.

BERMAN: Let me ask this question, though, David Gregory. Because John Avlon just said Republicans getting some spine here.

I think the president just snapped the spine. I do not think Republicans are going to say this is not enough. We've already heard from Marco Rubio, saying, "Well, I'm glad the president corrected himself." Newt Gingrich, "I'm glad the president clarified his remarks here."

This seems like it's going to be enough for the people in the president's party to say, "OK, he walked this back."

GREGORY: Yes, I mean, I don't think we have much evidence of the sustained attempt to really hold the president accountable. Mitch McConnell saying that, you know, the Russians need to know that we're not going to let this happen again. You know, how is that going to be done?

When you have the president, who's undermining any attempt to hold the Russian leader accountable, hold the Russian intelligence apparatus accountable, it seems very difficult to marshal the political will to do very much.

The president is never really going to give on any of this. If he acknowledges the depth of what happened in 2016, then it undercuts his arguments against the Mueller investigation and whatever the findings are of that. His whole effort has been to delegitimatize the investigation, as you know, this entire meddling was something that was just a very small thing.

AVLON: and I think that's where, I think Republicans, if they want to prove this is sustained, if they take seriously, want to be the adults in the room and, you know, a co-equal branch of government, they can take actions like protecting the Mueller investigation. They can actually start stepping up pressure on sanctions. They can not only denounce the statements but affirm their support for NATO and say the president can't unilaterally remove himself from it, anticipating that problem. There are things Republicans in Congress can do and should do to show that this isn't simply a problem with optics?

CAMEROTA: Margaret, what do you think happens next? Quickly.

TALEV: Well, I think two things are going to happen, and one is that the polling is going to sort of trickle in, and Republicans -- not just the president but Republicans will get a better sense of if and how this affect midterms. And a lot of what Republicans do next is going to spring from that.

And the second thing that's going to happen is that the president is going to continue to talk about this over the next couple of days, and that will give us a sense of whether he's decided to try to tamp this down or whether he is, indeed, going to do the infamous backlash to the backlash.

BERMAN: He is already on Twitter this morning, and it's not worth going into in depth. But he's giving himself very high marks, shockingly, on how he's handled this whole thing.

CAMEROTA: All right. Thank you, all, very much. We have much more to talk to, because the president also appears to question the U.S.'s commitment to NATO. Does he understand what the pledge of Article V in NATO is?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:18:24] CAMEROTA: In a new interview, President Trump questioned why the U.S. would defend a NATO ally? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

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're very strong people. They have very aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and congratulations, you're in World War III.

Now, I understand that, but that's the way it was set up. Don't forget: I just got here a little more than a year and a half ago, but I took over the conversation three or four days ago, and I said, "You have to pay."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: We're back now with CNN political analysts David Gregory and Margaret Talev and John Avlon.

David Gregory, it's impossible to know how the president feels about NATO. He's all over the map. He's said so many schizophrenic things in just the past half a week. So I guess Article V doesn't count or he wants to change that?

GREGORY: Well, what's interesting is that what the president appears not to realize, because I don't think he's taken a lot of time to actually think about this, the only time that Article V was invoked was to defend the United States, and that was after 9/11.

So to the notion that the United States set this up to, you know, be the world's policeman, to go, you know, defending Montenegro, I mean, is just so silly. I's actually a misnomer. It was only invoked to help the United States. And that's when countries like Germany actually sent forces to Afghanistan. So the whole thing is absurd.

And what you're seeing is, yes, the president, again, in his mind, in his infatuation with strongman politics, particularly Vladimir Putin who has never liked NATO's growing role. Never liked when President Bush got out of the anti-ballistic missile treaty.

[06:20:16] You know, now has an ally in President Trump, who says yes, kind of shares this world view. He doesn't seem to value the western alliance. Doesn't seem to value Europe, calls the European Union a foe. It's just not the case. And most Republicans don't believe that.

And Mitch McConnell saying yesterday it's important, you know, saying to the world, despite what the president of the United States says, it's important for our western allies to know that here in the Senate, we actually believe in the world as it was before Donald Trump and the importance of the alliance that was established after World War II.

And so there's a lot of cleaning up to do beyond the theater of yesterday and changing his statement.

BERMAN: Look, I'm not disagreeing with you, because I don't do that.

CAMEROTA: Of course. We know better.

BERMAN: But when you say it's impossible to understand where the president stands on NATO, I think we can know exactly where he stands, because he has told us repeatedly, he does not believe in the foundational aspects of NATO.

What he said about Montenegro there is not, like, some toss-away there. It is the central component to the NATO alliance. The president just told Tucker Carlson that he doesn't see a need to defend Montenegro. He doesn't see the need to defend a NATO ally.

And Margaret, you know, I think if you track back the last week and understand how the president behaved and discussed NATO while he was there with other NATO leaders here, perhaps that's not surprising.

TALEV: I mean, I do want to say, Montenegro is like smaller than Washington, D.C.'s population, the newest member of NATO. And also contributed, committed to troops to support the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

So if you're a very small country, and you look at what Russia did with Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, and then you hear the president of the United States say this, you're terrified. So that happened.

Also, you know, we heard the president last week. I asked him during the news conference in NATO, did he think that he could, if he were so inclined could he get the U.S. out of NATO without a congressional vote, and he said, yes, he thought he could, but that it wasn't necessary.

So he's made his views on NATO pretty clear, and then walked those back, and then seems to be going back to the original --

AVLON: He's always going to -- he's always going to default back to his original instincts. The teleprompter Trump is not the real Trump. That's the State Department or the Pentagon, trying to get him in line.

But what's really troubling about his statements about Montenegro in that particular interview is that he is again reciting Vladimir Putin's talking points. The specter that has been raised, as Margaret said, is all of these small countries, from the Baltic states to Montenegro, do you really want to go to war with them -- for them? Because that does cut to the heart of Article V.

And the question of Crimea suggests, if one of those states were pushed back on by Russia, as they have long desired to do, claiming ethnic overlap and religious and historical connections, that could be a test of NATO without the president of the United States willing to back the central purpose of the organization. That's the real danger.

GREGORY: Right. And the central purpose being, too, as a check on Russia --

AVLON: Russia.

GREGORY: -- on the Soviet Union. On the menace of the Soviet Union, which we are seeing in this surge of authoritarianism and ethnic nationalism that's projected by Vladimir Putin.

But the political potency is still the same. President Bush tries -- President Bush makes an argument that the Europeans can't get this free lunch. That America has got to start looking after itself. And even that -- and he's not the first president who thinks that there should be more of their defense spending dedicated toward NATO. And he has brought that issue to the fore, but he also creates false crises that he then claims to solve, while the underlying issue is the same, which is what is the commitment? That's the question the Europeans are asking, or maybe they started to just kind of wait for the time, when we're post-Trump to try to restore, you know, a world order. What happens in between is the critical question.

CAMEROTA: Margaret, we need to get to this next bit of nice, and that is that the Russian defense ministry put out an announcement that they are, I guess, excited about the new agreements, new military agreements between the U.S. and Russia.

TALEV: I bet you want to know what those agreements are.

AVLON: Surprise.

CAMEROTA: I am curious. And you were in Helsinki, and I'm just curious. Did President Trump mention any new agreements that happened in that tete-a-tete, one-on-one that he had with Vladimir Putin?

TALEV: We have not heard from President Trump or his team yet on what the Russians are talking about. We have a couple of potential clues from that news conference. And was the -- on the idea of election stuff, the idea of joint commission to look at, you know, whatever happened, and -- and -- or there could be some sort of discussion whether it's related to arms stuff, or whether it's related to military. There could be some discussion of information sharing, potentially, or some path toward an extension of arms control. But we just don't know.

[06:25:12] And given the complete reversal, and now semi undoing of the original reversal of the first position. There are a lot of questions about what actually happened in that one-on-one meeting with President Trump and President Putin.

I do think it's safe to say, after yesterday's rush to the White House from Secretary Pompeo and some other top folks, and then the president's remarks in the afternoon, that there will be been a lot of resistance inside the administration, as well as in Congress, to forging any kind of a PAC with Russia at this point. But we still don't know what conversations actually were had between the president and Putin to prompt the Russians to put out this very provocative tease of a statement.

BERMAN: Good thing there's a record, a solid record --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

BERMAN: -- of that meeting.

GERGEN: But I do think this is the importance of congressional oversight. Everybody's saying, well, what is it that Congress can do? This is where Congress must force some understanding of two things. What happened, what potential agreement there is. What is the policy right now? What is the relationship with Russia? Where are we working together? Where are we working at cross purposes, and why is there such a schism between the president's national security team and him? But that's what plays itself out over and over again, and that's what's so dangerous.

BERMAN: All right, guys. Thanks so much for being with us. We're going to be talking about this all morning, no doubt about that.

We're going to take one brief break for some really wonderful news. The survivors of that cave, those soccer kids who were trapped in there for so long, look at this picture.

CAMEROTA: Look at how much better they look.

BERMAN: They're going home from the hospital. We'll have a update -- this just happened -- next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)