Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Backtracks for 'Misspeaking' at Helsinki Press Conference; Interview With Rep. Joe Kennedy; Trump Downplays Importance of NATO's Mutual Defense Clause. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired July 18, 2018 - 07:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- this is a leader who's really betrayed his role as commander in chief.

[07:00:08] REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: You cannot cut deals with the devil, and you can never trust Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He went there to engage with an adversary, to make sure that this doesn't devolve into an aggressive situation.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R-TN), CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: The antics from the last ten days have been damaging to our country.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The American people have a right to know what happened in that room.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. After all of the bipartisan backlash, the president had to change his story about whether he actually believes that Russia hacked into the 2016 election. He now claims he meant to say "why wouldn't it be Russia?" But it took him 24 hours to come up with that one, which makes it hard to swallow. Plus, in the next breath, the -- he said the hacking could be, quote, "a lot of other people also."

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And that is not siding with our intelligence agencies. In the meantime, Congress is considering its options. Republicans weighing a bill that would impose sanctions on any country that interferes with U.S. elections.

Well, some Democrats are calling for the president's national security team and the president's interpreter, who was also in the meeting with Vladimir Putin, to come testify before Congress.

And brand-new overnight, the president questioned the very foundational purpose of NATO, wondering why the United States would leap to defend its allies. This, no doubt, has world leaders very worried this morning.

Let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillip, live for us at the White House with the very latest -- Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, John.

President Trump this morning on Twitter is attempting to change the narrative about his controversial press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. After days of controversy, President Trump yesterday tried to walk it back. He read carefully from a written statement in front of him, saying that he misspoke, but that has done little to quell all of the firestorm coming from both sides of the aisle.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 fury, 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.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: 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.

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."


PHILLIP: And President Trump this morning is going to have a cabinet meeting here at the White House, where we'll hear from him this morning, but he's also in what will be, I think, a pretty big test, a sit-down with CBS News for an interview later this afternoon. It will be important to see whether President Trump is willing to repeat his comments in an off-the-cuff interview that he read off that piece of paper yesterday in that meeting with Republican lawmakers -- Alisyn.

[07:05:16] CAMEROTA: OK, Abby, thank you very much for all of that background.

Let's bring in now CNN national security analyst and former CIA and NSA director, General Michael Hayden.

General Hayden, I want to gauge your mood this morning, because you put out a tweet yesterday that I felt was a cry for help. Here it is. If emojis can speak 1,000 words, you have a lot to say. And here's what you did say. You said, "I'm not laughing," and you had crying, crying, crying emoji. Then you said, "Oh, hell yes I am." And then a million laughing emojis. How were you feeling when you put that out?

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Insulted. All right? I mean, if -- if that press op that you just showed the president having yesterday was supposed to set things right with the intelligence community, Alisyn, it just made things worse.

And so the laughing was who do you think you're kidding? Or maybe the more important question was how dumb do you think we are? And here I'm speaking on behalf of the American intelligence community. All that showed was that, once again, the president of the United States will say anything that he believe will suit his needs at the precise moment in which he is located. It is not anchored on anything outside of himself and his immediate needs. CAMEROTA: How do you think his statement made it worse?

HAYDEN: No. 1, as your reporter pointed out, he walked back the walk- back in the midst of a walk-back. That's one.

Secondly, it is totally unbelievable. The original sentence is absolutely consistent with all of the other things President Trump said wrapped around that particular sentence. It's consistent with what he has been saying over the course of the last two years.

And so what you had was, frankly, a hostage video, with the president under duress, saying what he had to say to meet the needs of the people who, off-camera, were making demands. And that was probably his immediate staff and, certainly, the director of national intelligence.

CAMEROTA: And just to be clear, this wasn't just a case of a missing apostrophe and "would" versus "wouldn't." I mean, just to remind people -- and I don't want to take much time, so I'll just read what the president said in terms of who was to blame for all the election hacking.

He said, "I hold both countries responsible." The U.S. and Russia. He said, "I think the United States has been foolish." That was his first instinct, was to insult and blaming the United States. He said, "I think we are all to blame."

And so where does that leave us, General? Those are his real feelings. I mean, he shared his real feelings in Helsinki. And so now what?

HAYDEN: And so when I talk to folks who are still doing the heavy lifting inside the intelligence community, from Director Coats on down, although I've not spoken to the DNI personally, I mean, they continue to do -- to do their duty, Alisyn. What you and I would expect them to do, to tell the truth to the president in a way best suited to communicate to this president, to get it inside his head. And that's a challenge we have with all of our chief executives.

CAMEROTA: And what is that? I mean, how do they phrase things to get inside his head?

HAYDEN: Well, that's -- that's the issue. How do you do it with this president, who seems to reflexively revert to his a priori narrative of how the world works? And in this particular case, "I won. The Russians didn't intervene. It had no influence on the election."

And even though occasionally you can force him to say something like "The Russians meddled" -- by the way, I thought it was striking. He said, "I agree with the intelligence community's assessment that the Russians meddled," but he didn't then go on to say what the rest of the assessment said, which was why they meddled and who benefitted. I'd have been struck and impressed if he'd have said that yesterday.

CAMEROTA: General, it's worse than we even know, because your friend, DNI Coats, has said that the warning signs, the warning lights, are blinking red right now that Russia intends to upend the upcoming midterm elections. And perhaps 2020. They are still at it, and they still have the goal of upending democracy and our process.

And then yesterday a photojournalist caught for us -- thank goodness, because the president would never have revealed this -- a line that he crossed out in his prepared remarks where it was "and we will bring whoever meddled to justice."

[07:10:00] Why would the president of the United States not want to bring the perpetrator to justice?

HAYDEN: The president read that clearly, in my mind. The president read that as an endorsement for what the Department of Justice, the FBI, the special counsel, Bob Mueller, is doing. And that runs counter to his narrative that this has to be a witch hunt for his own -- apparently, for his own protection.

And therefore, Alisyn, once again, it's everything in one Petri dish. It's a microcosm of the president putting self before country, putting his interests before the interests of the broader nation. And so we don't have that all-hands-on-deck response to what Director Coats warned us about was happening in '18 and in '20.

CAMEROTA: Is DNI Coats going to resign?

HAYDEN: I don't -- I don't know is the real answer, and I don't envy Director Coats's decision. You know, fairly, Alisyn, he's got three factors to consider, and all of them are genuine.

No. 1 is personal. What is this doing to his personal reputation?

Second is institutional. What does his departure or his staying mean for the community that he leads?

And then finally, you've got the broader effects on the nation. At some point in these circumstances, Director Coats simply has to decide, "Am I better serving" -- the interests I just described -- "better by staying or by leaving? At what point -- at what point does my leaving become necessary to send up a very dramatic warning flare? Or do I need to stay" and continue the kinds of things he's apparently, obviously, done in the last 48 hours, which were a great service.

CAMEROTA: What would you do?

HAYDEN: I'm fair, Alisyn, because if I answer that question, it would seem as if I'm passing judgment on what Director Coats does or doesn't do. So I would just prefer not to say that.

CAMEROTA: Can Director Coats do his job effectively without the endorsement or support of the president?

HAYDEN: The legislation that created the DNI job piles on far more responsibilities than it does authorities. The only way the DNI can do his job is if he is, and is perceived to be, deriving his power from the confidence placed in him by the president of the United States. And now, Alisyn, you've got another layer to the dilemma, don't you?

CAMEROTA: You do. And so what does that -- I mean, what does that mean? Can he do his job effectively or not?

HAYDEN: Well, he's working, as are many people, in the intelligence community, in unprecedented circumstances, to do the best they can.

And here is the goal, Alisyn: to create the left and the right-hand boundaries of legitimate policy discussion. It's not to command the president's intellect. It's not to shape, totally, the president's thinking. And so Director Coats' definition of success, "Am I still creating the boundaries?" And even under these dark circumstances, I can see where the director might believe, "Yes, I still am, and therefore, I should stay."

CAMEROTA: General, I want -- before we let you go, there's another topic that we want you to address. And that is how the president feels about NATO and about Article V of NATO. And he seemed to give us a window into his thinking, in an interview last night with Tucker Carlson, about Montenegro. Listen to this.


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

TRUMP: I know 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're 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."


CAMEROTA: Is the principle of mutual defense dead?

HAYDEN: The president just took on and expressed his doubt about the core requirement of the North Atlantic Treaty, the article that provides for common defense. An attack against one, an attack against -- an attack against one is an attack against all.

And Alisyn, there's pretty good evidence in the past year or so the Russians have been meddling very powerfully inside of Montenegrin politics. It has to do with the greater Slav emphasis of the Putin regime.

I would not be at all surprised that what you heard the president say to Tucker Carlson there last night is derived from what Vladimir Putin told him during those one-on-one discussions in Helsinki.

CAMEROTA: That's troubling. How will we know what happened in those one-on-one discussions?

[07:15:04] HAYDEN: Yes. I don't know.

CAMEROTA: General Michael Hayden, we always appreciate your candor, and your service, and your really extravagant use of emojis. So thank you very much.

HAYDEN: Thank you, Alisyn.


BERMAN: Look, it's interesting. You talked about how will we know what was said between President Trump and Vladimir Putin? Did they discuss Montenegro, for instance? Because that is exactly something Vladimir Putin would say.

Some Democrats in Congress have an idea about how they might find out. They think they should subpoena the interpreter who was in that room.

CAMEROTA: That would be interesting.

BERMAN: They think they should. There are some legal issues there, but that's what they're calling for. Congressman Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts, that is exactly what he wants to see. He'll join us next.


BERMAN: So what did President Trump and Vladimir Putin discussion in their one-on-one meeting. Some Democratic lawmakers, they want to find out. Congressman Joe Kennedy has a solution. This is what he wrote: "President Trump's translator should come before Congress and testify as to what was said privately immediately. If Republicans are as outraged as they claim, then issue the subpoena today."

[07:20:03] Congressman Kennedy is a Democrat from Massachusetts. He joins us now.

Congressman, thanks for being with us. How would this work?

REP. JOE KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Look, the first thing that should happen, is the White House should just tell the American public exactly what was said.

At the moment -- let's be clear about this, John -- the only read-out we've got, the only information we've got, is coming from the Russian government that released information late last night, early this morning, saying that they are ready to act on the agenda put forth in that meeting that the American public still knows nothing about.

So we need to understand what happened in that meeting, and with all due respect to the president, I'm not so sure I trust, given his actions over the course of the past 36 hours, exactly what he's going to say, to be forthcoming to the American public.

BERMAN: We've asked.

KENNEDY: Only one other person -- exactly.

BERMAN: We asked the administration to tell us what those alleged agreements were, and we've received no answers.

KENNEDY: So we are dependent on the readout from the Russian government to set the agenda between a private and unprecedented meeting for almost two hours between Vladimir Putin and the president of the United States, after which he refused to stand up for the American public.

So what I'm asking is just that the White House tell the American public what was said, and if they won't do it, that the translator who was the only other American official in the room, that they come before Congress and explain what happened. And if they refuse to, then Congress should subpoena it.

And look, this brings me no joy to say. I wish that the events of the last 36 hours did not happen. I wish emphatically that the president echoed former Republican president Ronald Reagan and actually challenged Vladimir Putin on what he's been doing and on what he's done to the United States. He didn't do that. And so now I think it's up to Congress to try to assert our role and make sure we know exactly what the president agreed to.

BERMAN: You know, it's legally murky territory as to whether an interpreter or translator. For instance, oftentimes attorney-client privilege will actually include a translator. You could see the White House declaring executive -- invoking executive privilege here.

KENNEDY: And the legal aspects of this are challenging, no doubt. We shouldn't have to get that far. One, the details of the summit never should have happened that way.

Two, the president should have -- President Trump should have been very clear about what his agenda was going into that meeting. Because remember, he told the American public he wasn't certain what that was going to be, but according to the Russian government, he had a pretty specific agenda after he got in that room, because they put out what they said that he's agreed to. We still have no idea what that is.

Now we are taking him at his word. And, look, every politician that speaks, every person that speaks, that's fine. "Would" versus "wouldn't" is a pretty big deal. The rest of the tenor of that news conference with Vladimir Putin made you -- there is no doubt about what he thought. He's walked back yesterday -- he walked back the walk-back in the next sentence.

He has -- this is a horrible thing to say. The president of the United States has no credibility when it comes to this issue in front of many members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, and the American public This is a serious national social security issue, on the roll- up to another series of midterms, and all that I'm asking for is that we understand what our president agreed to. And if he won't tell us, then we should try to find some other way to figure it out.

BERMAN: Some of your Democratic colleagues, and John Brennan, former director of the CIA, have used the word "treason." Now, you often are much more restrained in your choice of language in dealing with all things concerning the president. Do you think that word goes too far?

KENNEDY: Look, I'm going to leave the accusations and the threats of treason to the constitutional scholars that are far more knowledgeable about that than I am.

What I do know is that this was not a good day for our country. The fallout from this has not been good for our country. Congress has an opportunity here to reassert its authority over oversight of the executive branch and in foreign policy.

And most importantly, to get answers for the American public as to what the president of the United States just agreed to.

And I point to one other thing here. There was an interview that President Trump gave to another network shortly after this, and he literally cast doubt on the underlying strength of -- and the commitment of what NATO means, in mutual defense.

If that suggestion came from Vladimir Putin, then we all should be asking a lot of tough questions. I'm trying to ask those questions to make sure we know exactly what the motivations are and where this idea that the president of the United States just undermined the backbone of the most important national security alliance we have.

BERMAN: Just so people know what we're talking about here, this was an interview -- and I'll say it -- he did it with Tucker Carlson of FOX News, where Tucker Carlson asked, "Why should my son, basically, go to defend Montenegro, a member of NATO, if Montenegro were attacked?"

And the president's answer was, "I've asked myself the same question." And as you note, it is foundational to the North Atlantic Treaty, this idea of collective defense. The president did seem to question that. And you also note, did they talk about it -- look, Vladimir Putin has talked about Montenegro in the past. So perhaps the American people should know if it did cut up.

[07:25:04] KENNEDY: And John, just so that we're clear on this, the only time the mutual defense part, Article V, of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, has been enacted was after the attack of 9/11 on the United States. That's the only time.

So all of those other countries did come to the aide of the United States. Many of them still have their citizens in harm's way, fighting and assisting us in Afghanistan.

So this is not a question of an alliance that our allies are necessarily, you know, pilfering the United States off of. We have benefitted from this. This has been the backbone to the architecture that has provided safety and security for the United States for over 70 years.

This is also where I think he -- the president also seem to misunderstand some aspect of this. It's a mutual defense treaty. It does not mean that if a member state goes out and launch an unprovoked attack against another ally that we are obligated to get into World War Three, which is essentially what he said. That's not what NATO says.

BERMAN: Let me get you on the record on two things very quickly, if I can --


BERMAN: -- because we're almost out of time.

No. 1, you've been pushing to subpoena, perhaps, the interpreter. Aside from that, have you had Republicans be receptive at all to the idea of this oversight over the Helsinki meeting? Any action in Congress over the last 24 hours?

KENNEDY: No. They wring their hands, they -- many of them wring their hands, saying they were disappointed. Many were shocked, many of them surprised. Many of them were dismayed. But when it comes to an actual actionable step, I mean, there's been some rumors I've heard here out of the Senate of potentially ramping up sanctions, but out of the House of Representatives, look, the gossip here is whether the conservative wing of the Republican Party is going to try to impeach Rod Rosenstein. Frankly, it's not about -- it's not about oversight of Trump and Russia.

BERMAN: And just very quickly. On the idea of what the United States is doing to protect the next election, which honestly, should be the most important discussion here, what evidence have you seen the administration is taking this seriously? And what are you trying to do?

KENNEDY: Look, I haven't seen a whole lot about the administration taking that seriously. I do hope that that will be some of the consequence of this meeting.

There has been some outreach, I think, from the Department of Homeland Security, trying to reach out to some states. I don't think nearly enough.

I will say, I added a small amendment to a bill that went through last week, an intelligence bill, that tried to centralize reporting about a potential, any potential threat, including Russia, as to systemic threats to our national security so that these issues aren't -- don't continue to get stove-piped. That was adopted unanimously. So there are some -- there is some potential for some small steps forward here, but nowhere nearly as robust as necessary.

BERMAN: Always good when there is agreement on these issues, even if they are the smaller side.

Congressman Kennedy, thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

KENNEDY: Thank you.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right, John.

How are Republicans feeling today after the president's statements on Russia? We talked to one who was really outspoken in his criticism of the president's initial statements. How's he feeling today?