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CNN TONIGHT

President Trump Leaving His Cabinet in the Dark; Trump Brags that He is Tougher on Russia; Trump Invites Putin for a Second Summit in Washington; DNI Chief Knows Nothing about One-on-One Meeting of Trump and Putin; Trump Calls Press "Enemy of the People." Aired 10-11p ET

Aired July 19, 2018 - 22:00   ET

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


[22:00:00] (JOINED IN PROGRESS)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: I will.

LEMON: You're right. But you know what -- but people have to remember, is that the presidency comes with, what, term limits. Right? Journalism does not come with term limits. We're always going to be here, so.

CUOMO: As long as we keep our hair.

LEMON: As long as -- well, we'll talk. Thank you, my friend. Always a pleasure.

CUOMO: You're welcome.

LEMON: See you soon.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

The White House under siege right now for a third day, trying to clean up President Trump's Helsinki summit debacle. So what does the president do? He invites Vladimir Putin to come to Washington for a second summit. What, because the first one went so well. And the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, his reaction is all of us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREA MITCHELL, HOST, NBC NEWS: The White House has announced on twitter that Vladimir Putin is coming to the White House in the fall.

DAN COATS, UNITED STATES DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Say that again?

MITCHELL: You -- Vladimir Putin coming to the--

(CROSSTALK)

COATS: Did I hear you? Did I hear you?

MITCHELL: Yes. Yes. COATS: OK.

MITCHELL: Yes.

COATS: That's going to be special.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Told you, it's all of us. Did you see him? He's like, you're kidding me, right? It's kind of everybody's reaction every day. Really? Is this happening? Wouldn't you think you would tell your top intelligence official that you're inviting the leader of an enemy nation to the White House? He was just caught off guard, flatfooted right there.

Maybe even, I don't know, ask him what he thinks of the idea. Not if you're President Trump. After all, Dan Coats admits he, like the rest of us, doesn't even know what happened in the last meeting between Trump and Putin. 2

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COATS: I don't know what happened in that meeting. If you'd asked me how that ought to be conducted, I would have suggested a different way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Well, and speaking of the cleanup, now three days after Vladimir Putin suggested it would be a cool idea for the Russians to interrogate Americans including the former ambassador to Russia, now President Trump says he disagrees. Just disagrees.

Remember yesterday, though, when Sarah Sanders said the White House was actually considering Putin's idea? Well now, they've apparently decided that allowing a foreign power to interrogate Americans doesn't look so good after all.

Remember, it's not about America. It's about them and the base. Especially when it's, you know, in exchange for Russian help with the FBI's Russia investigation. Otherwise known as the fox -- all of this, the fox guarding the hen house.

The White House would like you to know that Vladimir Putin's proposal was made in sincerity because Putin is known for his sincerity. Former Russian Ambassador Michael McFaul, the same ambassador Putin wants to question, tweeting this, he says "I don't consider it sincerity to falsely accuse U.S. government officials of being criminals."

The Senate apparently agrees with him, voting 98 to nothing today to reject sending Americans to Moscow to be interrogated by Putin. The through line in all of this, it's Russia.

President of the United States meeting behind closed doors with Vladimir Putin keeping what was discussed a secret. Even from his own top intelligence chief. Giving serious consideration to handing over Americans to be questioned by Putin. In exchange for his help with the investigation.

And inviting Putin to the White House. The White House. Honestly. What is going on here?

Let's bring there now CNN Global Affairs Analyst, Susan Glasser. A staff writer at "The New Yorker," for "The New Yorker." Maybe she can help us understand what's going on here. Good evening to you, Susan. Thank you so much for joining us. So let's talk about Vladimir Putin. Invited to Washington for a second summit. Are we in bizarre of world right now?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I have to say, listening to your opening remarks there, Don, it seemed to me that the White House had really helped you out there by almost writing your lines.

It's been one of those weeks that not only feels like a year, but feels like every day is filled with revelations you're having a hard time digesting and, you know, when the news came out this afternoon that the president was, in fact, having a second summit, wanted to have a second summit with Vladimir Putin here in Washington, I thought back to March when President Putin was actually invited here to the White House in March by President Trump.

The White House didn't admit it at the time, but in that famous do- not-congratulate phone call in which President Trump actually did congratulate Vladimir Putin, he also invited him to have the summit meeting.

[22:04:58] Now, interestingly, what my reporting has shown is that President Putin turned him down on coming to Washington. He thought that wasn't a good idea. And so that's how they ended up in Helsinki for this first meeting, but clearly, President Trump has personally wanted President Putin to come here to his White House for months.

LEMON: Susan, I want you to watch this. I want the audience to watch this. Two things. It seems surreal to watch a Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, learn, there he is, he winces, right? Look at that. When he learns about Putin coming to Washington -- on stage at an Aspen security forum, and, two, he still doesn't know what came out of the first summit. He doesn't know what went on behind closed doors. Why is he being left in the dark?

GLASSER: Well, you know, it's obviously a really key question, and my reporting today suggests that it's not just the director of national intelligence, it's State Department officials whose job it is to deal with Russia, people inside the government.

I was in contact with one U.S. ambassador in Europe today. I asked -- who has to deal with Russia. I asked what they know about the summit, completely in the dark, he said, completely, absolutely nothing.

Again, this is not normal. This is not how American diplomacy works. And interestingly, President Putin today actually held a briefing for Russian diplomats in which he disclosed that there had been what he called agreements, useful agreements, struck in the closed-door private meeting he had one-on-one with President Trump.

The day before that, the Russian ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, said the same thing. He said there were verbal important agreements that were struck between Putin and Trump one-on- one.

Our government has no apparent idea whether that's the case or not. Including senior people whose job it is who need to know that information. So, again, you know, putting aside the question of what deals were/won't struck, we don't know is the answer. And that in and of itself has made this week unprecedented, I think, in American diplomacy.

LEMON: There's a quote at the end of your -- what you wrote today that says, this is no way to run a superpower. I'll get to that. But I think I want to play this. You said -- I want to read this for you.

You said, this is from your piece, "There is no word on agreements a senior U.S. official told me. There is no information on the U.S. side about any agreements. So was Putin lying? Was Trump? Was it possible there was a misunderstanding and that Trump thinks he made no commitments and Putin thinks he did? It is terribly disturbing, the senior official said. The point is that we don't know. We don't know." Susan, that is stunning.

GLASSER: Yes, it is stunning. It is really stunning, and the thing that I've been struck by all along is that this is a stunning story of President Trump's own making.

He was the one who personally insisted upon the private one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin. It was not the Russians' request. And interestingly, all along, it's been the Russian government that has been far more forthcoming about the details of this summit including the preparations for it, and then what's now resulted from it, than the United States government.

And, you know, it just seems like it's an Alice in Wonderland kind of a world where the Russians are giving more information. You know, the other day in Helsinki, I was there, at the summit, it was the Russian government that gave reporters the information about how long the meeting between Trump and Putin had lasted. That it was two hours and 10 minutes. Even basic details and information are no longer coming out of this White House.

LEMON: Yes. Is it -- listen, is it -- do they need to get together and talk? Is it as simple as that, them getting together and talking?

GLASSER: You know, what people who follow Russia, who work inside the U.S. government, in both Democratic and Republican administrations will tell you, is that they're not opposed at all at this moment in time to having high-level meetings with President Putin and his advisers.

I think there's alarm in both countries that the relationship has deteriorated to levels arguably not seen since the early 1980s, and that that's not good for anybody. And so, you know, there's the germ of I think an idea behind President

Trump's desire to accommodate with the Russians that is widely shared, right, that the notion that it's not wrong to talk to your adversaries but, in fact, it might even be necessary.

That's not what people are arguing over. Even though you hear a lot of shouting from people defending President Trump saying you're against talking, I think it's important for people to realize that it's not an objection that professional Russia watchers have to meeting between President Trump and President Putin, but the manner in which this has been done is extraordinary.

[22:09:53] And it does seem in particular that President Trump is basically going up against his own government. He seems very distrustful of the government, his own advisers. And determined to defy them, as well as, basically the strong view in both American parties about how to deal with Russia right now.

LEMON: It's also knowing what you're talking about and having your information, being armed with information when you do go into those meetings.

But you know, there's the fallout also over the White House entertaining the idea, Susan, that they would hand over to Russia the former ambassador, Michael McFaul, for interrogation. And this is a White House statement.

It says "It is a proposal that was made in sincerity." In sincerity, they say, "by President Putin. But President Trump disagrees with it. Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt."

You spoke to Mike McFaul today. What did he say?

GLASSER: Well, you know, I should say first of all that I've known Mike McFaul since -- for nearly two decades since the very beginning when the Washington Post decided to send me and my husband, Peter Baker, to Moscow, and it was Mike McFaul, a Stanford professor at the time, who was a very generous tutor in all things Russia and has continued to be someone I've talked with and learned from even during his sort of unlikely tour as a high-level political adviser to Barack Obama on Russia.

So I happened to reach Mike by telephone minutes after that statement was released by the White House. He hadn't heard it yet so I read it out loud to him. He was driving in the car to the airport. And I said, well, you know, what do you think about this? And, you know, he was sort of silent for a second.

He said, that's not really much of a defense of us, is it? I mean, you know, there's a lot of other things. I said, well, listen, my article's going to talk about the fact that even people inside the U.S. government don't seem to know what was agreed upon in Helsinki on Monday.

And he made the point that I think is an important point, which is, look, this conversation about him, about Ambassador McFaul and the other Americans that President Putin said he wanted to question as part of his very interesting proposal to essentially also deal with the 12 indicted Russian military intelligence officers indicted by Robert Mueller last week.

So Ambassador McFaul said to me, well, listen, this is what we know about was discussed privately between President Trump and President Putin, this cockamamie allegation. What does that tell you about what we don't know in that meeting? And I think that's a very important point.

This is very, very worrisome to people who are worried that they just don't know what the president of the United States has agreed on behalf of the U.S.

LEMON: I'm going to leave with this, Susan, and our audience as well and this is from your piece. It is, "We are witnessing nothing less than the breakdown of American foreign policy." And then you spoke to the former senior National Security Council official who said this to you. "This is no way to run a superpower." Susan, thank you. I appreciate your time.

GLASSER: Thank you so much, Don.

LEMON: When we come back, Dan Coats, this country's top intelligence official, found out on live T.V. about Vladimir Putin's invite to the White House. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITCHELL: The White House has announced on Twitter that Vladimir Putin is coming to the White House in the fall.

COATS: Say that again?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Top intelligence official. Why is the president keeping him in the dark, and what does that say about how much the president really trusts his own intelligence community?

[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: A stunning admission today by Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence. He still doesn't know what happened behind closed doors in President Trump's one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin.

So let's discuss. CNN Law Enforcement Analyst, Josh Campbell is here. He's a former FBI supervisory special agent. And National Security Analyst, Shawn Turner, the former director of communications for U.S. National Intelligence. Gentlemen, good evening.

Josh, you're up. This is breaking tonight. The FBI confirming now that three top officials who worked specifically in cyber and national security planning to leave the bureau. They say they're retiring after long careers with the bureau, but what do you make of the timing here?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: So, I don't know if I would read too much into the timing at this point. I mean, there comes a point in one's career where looking back on a distinguished career, you're ready to move to the next chapter. I assume that's what's taking place here.

I have to tell you, Don, what a loss to the country. I mean, having known these three individuals, I didn't know Scott Smith very well. His reputation was stellar. With Carl Ghattas, and David Resch, the heads of the national security and criminal branches, respectfully, truly great leaders. Quiet professionals. Their departure is truly a loss for the country.

LEMON: Shawn, let's turn now to Director Coats in Aspen and the new reporting, it's from "The Washington Post" and here's what they write. They say, "Inside the White House Trump advisers were in an uproar over Coats' interview in Aspen, Colorado. They say the optics were especially damaging. Noting that at moments Coats appeared to be laughing, appeared to be laughing at the president, playing to his audience of the intellectual elite in a manner that will sure to infuriate Trump. Coats has gone rogue, said one senior White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide a candid assessment."

Well, a couple of things there, I mean, what's wrong with being smart the intellectual elite?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes.

LEMON: I mean, don't we want smart people in this country?

TURNER: Quite a swipe.

LEMON: Yes, so I don't know what that means. That's dumb. But will Coats suffer for telling the truth today? And after Helsinki as well?

TURNER: You know, I think we're going to have to watch the relationship between Dan Coats and the administration very closely for the coming days and weeks because Dan Coats has done what intelligence directors are supposed to do. He has had the courage to speak truth to power, and to make it very clear that he believes in the intelligence community that he leads.

You know, look, he was clearly stunned today when that announcement was made by Twitter and I think we all got a good laugh out of his reaction. What really concerns me is that it speaks to a broader issue with the administration and the relationship they have with the intelligence community. You know, I think it's a relationship that's broken.

Dan Coats is someone who understands intelligence. He understands the people that he leads. He understands what the intelligence community is supposed to do. And I think he has been emboldened to speak out and to make it known that he is not going to continue to be quiet. [22:20:01] As the DNI, he is the face of the intelligence community. He's the defender of the intelligence community. So I think this relationship is probably going to get a little more tense and I'll just -- you know, Don, one of the things I think is really important, is he said today as long as I can speak freely and continue to seek the truth, I'm in.

And I think that was a very interesting wording because typically people say I serve at the pleasure of the president. I think he's sending a clear message that if I leave, you know it's because I was, you know, I was silenced.

LEMON: Yes. So if we see him leaving soon, or his departure, then we'll know exactly what was behind it. Josh, you saw the director, Coats, today, you saw his reaction, you saw heard what he said. You think he has serious reservations about President Trump and his handling of Putin and the summit?

CAMPBELL: I think he does. But you know, if you look back at the statement that was put out by the Office of the Director of National intelligence, you know, that was the DNI essentially doing his job.

And I think the reason why it's so uncomfortable for the White House was because they're not used to having officials at that senior level that are actually speaking out and, you know, contradicting the president if necessary in order to correct the record.

With that said, I did talk to someone who was very familiar with the DNI's thinking kind of going into that. And this wasn't an intentional poke at the president. What it was a DNI understanding his job, his mission. Sometimes in the intelligence community their job is to tell us what's true, sometimes their job is to tell us what's not true.

The president of the United States out there saying something that was clearly counter to their assessments - what our intelligence community come up with and assessed with respect to Russian interference, it was his job to point that out. I think he's going to continue to do that.

Unfortunately, what I think we've seen far too often here, is that, you know, we had an administration that came to town, everyone said, well, you know, they get a little bit of a grading on a curve because they don't know Washington but they're going to surround themselves with great people, they surrounded themselves with people who have experience. Look at DNI Coats.

But unfortunately, I think too far, too often, they're not really treated as sounding boards, they're just treated as window dressings.

LEMON: Yes. He said I believe I needed to correct the record for that and that this is a job I signed up for and that was my responsibility. Obviously, I wish he had made a different statement, but I think that now that has been clarified. He's talking about the president.

And then he goes on to say this is a president that came from -- that didn't come up through the system. He didn't believe there was any nefarious attempt there to do anything wrong. But he said that was history at least according to him.

Shawn, I just want you to watch this from President Trump about Russia, and then Director Coats on Russia, specifically talking about the nerve gas attack in Britain. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think we will end up having an extraordinary relationship. I hope so. I've been saying and I'm sure you've heard over the years and as I campaigned that getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.

COATS: If you think the Russians are trying to be good neighbors, this is the kind of things they still do. By the way, the former director of the 2KGB is the one leading their nation.

I think anybody who thinks that Vladimir Putin doesn't have a stamp on everything that happens in Russia is misinformed. It is very clear that virtually nothing happens there of any kind of consequence that Vladimir Putin doesn't know about or hasn't ordered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Shawn, who has a better handle on what Putin is capable of?

TURNER: Well, I put my weighting on the director of national intelligence. Don, you simply cannot have a situation where you have such a large gap in understanding between your director of national intelligence and the president of the United States.

You know, I often remind people that, you know, when President Trump was learning about what the Russians were doing, and when he was getting his education on Vladimir Putin, for most presidents when you find out what they're doing, for most presidents, the consideration is what do I do about it now?

For President Trump, unfortunately, people have said to me his consideration was do I believe it? And so, you know, when you look at, you know, how far we've come in this administration, we're two years in and the president is still looking at this intelligence community and saying, you know, I'm not sure I believe what they're telling me.

And I tell you, that when we look at the president standing next to Vladimir Putin, across the intelligence community, people have to be wondering why is the president still equivocating and backing down when it comes to Vladimir Putin?

You know, I would say when I watched President Trump stand next to Vladimir Putin, for the first time it looked as though someone else was the alpha male in the room. He stood next to Vladimir Putin, and Putin was the big man in the room. And, you know, I can't help but to wonder why that is.

LEMON: Yes. Thank you. That has to be the last word.

(CROSSTALK) CAMPBELL: Don, can I add--

LEMON: I've got to run, Josh. Sorry. Next time. I appreciate it.

When we come back, President Trump resorting to attacking former President Obama in true -- I know you're about -- I know you are, but what am I style? Excuse me. I need to get that out. To deflect from his own disastrous summit with Vladimir Putin. David Axelrod is going to respond to that, next.

[22:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump claiming tonight in an interview that he's been far tougher on Russia than any other president and slamming former President Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Look at the sanctions I put on. Look at the diplomats I threw out. Look at all of the things that I've done. Nobody else did what I've done. Obama didn't do it. Obama was a patsy for Russia. He was a total patsy.

Look at the statement he made when he thought the mikes were turned off. OK? The stupid statement he made. Nobody does a big deal about that. Getting along with President Putin, getting along with Russia is a positive, not a negative.

Now, with that being said, if that doesn't work out, I'll be the worst enemy he's ever had. The worst he's ever had.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So, Trump was referring to the time President Obama not realizing he was caught on a hot mic told then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he'd have more flexibility to negotiate missile defense issues after the 2012 presidential election.

So let's discuss now with senior -- CNN Senior Political Commentator, David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Obama. So, good evening, sir.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hi, Don.

LEMON: With how weak the president looked this week in Russia, he's attacking President Obama for being a patsy.

[22:30:00] And I remember living that statement and reporting that statement. A big deal was made out of it by some in the media. But, I mean, it seems now it just seems completely benign calling someone--

AXELROD: Well, listen, we heard Vladimir Putin -- we heard Putin say, himself, the other day that he did favor Trump because he thought he would have a better relationship with Trump than he had had with Obama. Remember when Trump pushed into Crimea and eastern Ukraine, it was President Obama who rallied the allies to hit Russia with sanctions and I think everybody understands what the relationship was.

So, look, this is his go-to play when he is in an uncomfortable position. He'll hit Hillary Clinton or he'll hit Barack Obama, but there are more serious issues than that, Don, and I thought Susan Glasser's article and her -- that she discussed at the beginning of your show really speaks to how serious this is.

When you have a president of the United States meeting privately for two hours with Vladimir Putin and none of his senior national security advisers have any idea, much less his allies, of what was agreed to, and you have Putin telling his -- his diplomats that there were major agreements reached that we don't know about.

Now, unlike the president, I'm willing to say Vladimir Putin is a liar and he may be lying about this. But it seems to me this is what we should be focused on, not his diversions and evasions after four days of blunder busting around.

LEMON: Yes, he is the president now. There's a reason why we say former President Obama. It's because he is no longer the president. Listen, the director of national intelligence is caught by surprise by that news -- by the news that Trump invited Putin for a second meeting after saying he didn't know what happened in the first one. What does that tell you about decision making in this White House?

AXELROD: You know, the one thing about Donald Trump is I think sometimes he says things and we don't take him seriously. When he said during the campaign, for example, that he knew better than the generals, and I think if you extrapolate that he thinks he knows better than his intelligence officers. He knows better than his national security advisers that somehow he can get in the room with Vladimir Putin, who is a past master at manipulation on a global -- on a global stage and woo him and somehow win him over is really fine.

And the fact that the DNI had no idea what was said there, I guarantee you that Russian intelligence operatives probably know what was said in that room. They probably have a recording of what was said in that room. And the fact that the DNI had no idea that Putin was now being invited to the White House is also alarming. You have a president who believes that he can handle all of this on his own and he doesn't have the basis of knowledge for it.

You know, some people believe he's compromised, but even if he's not, he doesn't have the basis of knowledge. And I worked for a president and he worked closely with his national security team in every one of these interactions with foreign leaders and particularly leaders like Vladimir Putin. He didn't freelance. He didn't go rogue and it puts the country at risk.

LEMON: But then the White House is upset, especially his advisers in the White House, they're upset because of his reaction. If they didn't want a surprise reaction, maybe they shouldn't -- maybe they should have informed him, he should be in the know don't you think?

AXELROD: Well, beyond that -- beyond that, let's say a word about Dan Coats. You know, through all of these discussions we need to remind ourselves that everyone who serves in these positions takes an oath and that oath is not to the president of the United States. That oath is to the country and the constitution. Dan Coats understands what his duty is and he's doing his duty.

And he's telling the truth as he knows it and he's disclosing information that is important for the American people to know because we are still at risk of attack from the Russians. He should be commended for that. He shouldn't be judged, and I know the White House may judge him on the basis of loyalty. I think he should be judged on the basis of loyalty but he's showing great loyalty to this country and he should be applauded for that.

LEMON: Yes, I think he's very aware especially if you watched him today in his response since the summit. He's very aware who his allegiance belong to. So listen, on this week's "AXE FILES" you're going to sit down with my home boy, kind of -- we're both from Louisiana -- New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu. This is what he had to say about Trump's comments this week. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITCH LANDRIEU, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: You know what, I'm not interested in figuring it out anymore. President Trump has us all spinning around in circles trying to figure out why he does what he does.

[22:35:03] What we need to be focused on is what his behavior is and what his decisions are and ask ourselves whether it makes America stronger or make America weaker. And I think that he weakened us in a way that we've never been weakened before and he should be ashamed of himself for the way he handled it. More importantly, putting that issue aside, we need to start figuring out how to work around him as a country and how to contain --

AXELROD: Hard to work around the president.

LANDRIEU: Well, but actually it's not impossible and it is possible for the Speaker of the House to grow some courage and to start checking the president's power. And there are lots of different ways that we can do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: My mom is ready to remove mayor from his name and put president in front of it, but I'm just saying that, but tell us a little --

AXELROD: There are a lot of people who are interested in that. Well you know, that was one of the issues I took up with him and you know, there are a lot of people interested in him running. He was very clear that he's nowhere near that point and he made a big pitch for another candidate and people can see on Saturday night who that is. But let me make a point about that point that he just made.

You know, a poll came out today that said that 68 percent of Republicans felt that President Trump had had a successful summit with Putin. And so, you know, the president once said he could stand out on 5th Avenue and shoot someone in broad daylight and his base would stick with him. Well, there's something to that and his base is now the Republican base.

So, Mitch Landrieu's right that the Speaker of the House could grow some courage and he could take some significant steps to curb the president here, but that would be in defiance of the Republican base and the sense of self-preservation that a lot of these Republicans feel leads them not to want to take that position, which is really a shame.

LEMON: Yes, and, listen, I think there's a point. But look, I see it differently because what does he have, like 80 some percent, almost 90 percent support from Republicans -- overall from the Republican Party. If 21 percent disagree, I mean, I think that is -- that's pretty big considering how much support he has from Republicans. And look at the independents here, 29 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove.

AXELROD: Yes.

LEMON: That's important to know.

AXELROD: That's a big number. That is a big number. I don't think, you know, we should always go back to the reality that the Republican base, which is dominant in some Republican primaries, isn't enough to win a general election for president and it's not enough to win some of these swing districts that are going to be up for grabs in the fall. So I don't think the president's doing the Republican Party any good right now with all of these antics.

LEMON: I got to go. Thank you. I'm looking forward to seeing the "AXE FILES."

AXELROD: All right.

LEMON: Thank you, David.

AXELROD: Thanks. Good to see you.

LEMON: Next "Axe Files" -- David Axelrod, "THE AXE FILES," Saturday night 7:00 eastern here on CNN. He goes one-on-one with the former New Orleans mayor, Mitch Landrieu.

And when we come back, what's really behind the president's invitation to Vladimir Putin to join him in the White House? Well, my next guests have some pretty good idea about that.

[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The White House announcing that President Trump is inviting Vladimir Putin to Washington for a second summit this fall. That as team Trump is still trying to clean up the mess from a debacle in Helsinki where the president sided with Putin over his own intelligence community and complimented the Russian president as a good competitor.

Here to discuss, CNN Contributor, Frank Bruni of "The New York Times" and CNN Political Analyst, Mr. Carl Bernstein.

Gents, good evening. Frank, you have some idea what all this obsequiousness toward Putin might be about when it comes to this president. So, everybody wants to know. We're baffled. Tell us. What is it?

FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I mean, I have one theory among the many theories and I think that -- we use the verb normalize a lot when it comes to President Trump. I think he's trying to normalize Putin. I think this new invitation to come here, I think he feels that if he keeps saying there's nothing to see here, if he keeps presenting Putin as cuddly, then Mueller for going after the two of them looks deranged.

I think a lot of this comes back to the Mueller investigation and that's a really useful frame for analyzing a lot what Trump does.

LEMON: But people who know history and people who know geopolitics and people who read and people who have lived understand that you cannot, there's no way to normalize maybe Russia and --

BRUNI: Don, you're not describing a great many American voters when you say people who people who people who. No, I mean, let's be honest here. Most people choose their team, they choose their side in this time of incredible partisan and then they stick with it. And the more Trump appears with Putin, the more that he kind of, you know, sends that message there's nothing to see here.

The more his base, the more his people think, well, he must be right because they're inclined to believe him, they want to believe him. That's the nature of tribalism in American politics.

LEMON: Yes. Lots to discuss, Carl. So, the news Trump has invited Putin to the White House for a second meeting, is the president using his office to build a relationship with Putin, a relationship that maybe we are all in the dark about?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we are there the dark as we heard from Dan Coats. And I have no better answer than Dan Coats has had as to what is going on because we don't know. But what we do know is that this is an extraordinary moment in which very serious people in Washington, on Capitol Hill, both parties are questioning whether or not the president of the United States is a dupe of the president of Russia.

This is a moment for real sober consideration of the situation that we're in because the people who know the president best, many of them are saying including in the intelligence community around Dan Coats, that this president of the United States cannot be entrusted with the national security of our own country.

[22:45:00] So, what the president is doing here is he's doubling down. We have all watched in a horrific week, watched this president bash our allies, stand on stage and collude on stage in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin to our own eyes and ears. So now the question is, are Republicans in Washington going to be patriots or partisans? LEMON: Yes.

BERNSTEIN: That doesn't mean that they have to condemn this president, but they need to say we need some facts and we need to know what's going on and we need, Mr. President, for you to show us --

LEMON: Carl.

BNERNSTEIN: -- that this is not being done as Frank suggests out of fear of Mr. Mueller, because I think there's a lot of reason --

LEMON: But Carl, Carl --

BERNSTEIN: -- to believe that it is but this is being --

LEMON: I got to jump in because I don't have a lot of time.

BENSTEIN: -- because you know something we don't.

LEMON: I got to jump in because that word -- that's okay, but that word, collude, collude, collusion, that -- explosive. Why do you say we witnessed him colluding live on stage?

BERNSTEIN: Because watch what was said by both presidents. Watch what happened in terms of our president saying this may be a great idea to turn over to the Kremlin a former ambassador to the United States -- of the United States to Russia.

Look, we have seen over and over going back to what David Axelrod was talking about and this president during his campaign being among the few in this country that said, oh, let's remove the sanctions on Russia because of the terrible things they did in Crimea, because he has moved the borders in Europe, the immutable borders that were agreed on would never be moved after World War II. Vladimir Putin moved them in Crimea and Georgia and this president continues to be cozy with this --

LEMON: Maybe he --

BERNSTEIN: -- leader who was a thug, who was a murderer.

LEMON: Maybe he doesn't understand --

BENRSTEIN: Why?

LEMON: -- how significant that is. Why? That's a big question. Listen, I've got to get to the next block here.

BERNSTEIN: But that's why we go back to the question --

LEMON: I go to take a break though.

BERNSTEIN: -- of why people in Washington are asking about is he a dupe?

LEMON: Yes. And Frank Bruni has been hearing the same thing from current and former intelligence officials that they are starting to wonder whether he is compromised. Let's talk about that on the other side of the break.

BRUNI: Sure.

LEMON: We'll be right back.

[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Frank Bruni and Carl Bernstein are back with me now. So Frank, you know, we've been hearing it from retired intelligence officials. They've been saying it here on CNN. They've been saying it all over, but you think that current intelligence officials are starting to wonder how comprised this president could really be.

BRUNI: I think some of them are and I think even those who are not wondering how comprised he is are absolutely doubting if not disbelieving that he can do this job, you know, in the right manner. He seems to have whatever the reason, and we can speculate until the cows come home about why, whatever reason he cannot evaluate the Russian president correctly. He cannot behave correctly around him. He cannot stand up to him in the right way.

I mean, we're living in this extraordinary moment where this hostile foreign country led by a murderous thug, tried to undermine our elections and now the president is saying, yes, I don't see anything so bad here, let's just move on. We can't say that enough or pause often enough and take that in.

And think about what that means about the predicament this country is in. That a man is at the helm of this country who doesn't care about hostile foreign powers attempts to undermine our democracy. It's an extraordinary, extraordinary --

LEMON: And if you don't understand the severity of that then I'm not sure what if you could understand any of what's going on right now.

BRUNI: Well, 79 percent of Republican voters in a poll that came out today by Axios and Survey Monkey, 79 percent approved of President Trump's performance in Helsinki and 85 percent of them felt that the Mueller investigation and the probe into what Russia did or didn't do in the election is a distraction.

LEMON: Tribalism.

BRUNI: Tribalism galore.

LEMON: So, speaking of that, Carl, President is continuing to attack the news media today calling the press is the enemy of the people, a phrase historically used in Nazi Germany and the USSR under Stalin. Does the phrase enemy of the American people take on a different meaning after what we saw from President Trump in Helsinki?

BERNSTEIN: Look, the enemy of the American people is lying, non- transparency from a president of the United States who is under a cloud of suspicion about whether or not through the incompetence or through being compromised or nefarious conduct, why is he acting the way he is.

And the most important statement I think we've heard today is from the director of the FBI in Aspen, Colorado. He said this is not a witch hunt. To all who will listen, he sees what Mueller is developing. He knows that this is a very serious investigation about the possibility of obstruction of justice by a president about what the Russians did in an act of war, and how the president has responded to an act of warfare, cyber warfare by a rogue outlaw kleptocracy state, which is what Russia is.

LEMON: Yes.

BERNSTEIN: And we are watching the president of the United States deal with this kleptocrat and thug as if he is a friend and great buddy of our country. This is, you know, we are now watching with our own eyes in realtime and people on the Hill, this is where, you know, where rubber is going to meet the road, perhaps finally because Republicans --

[22:55:04] every reporter that I know is aware that Republicans on the Hill are now terrified of this president, as craving as they are and continuing not to take him on publicly, except for a few. They realize we are in a very difficult place because of the conduct of the president of the United States, not the press.

LEMON: Before I go I've got to ask you quickly here Frank. "The New York Times" where you work, they went back and looked at the times that President Trump has used that phrase, the enemy of the American people. It's at times of pique criticism. He says that when he has no other way to defend himself.

BRUNI: Well, yes. He's just changing the focus and choosing scapegoats. And one other thing about that phrase, you know, Donald Trump doesn't like anybody who doesn't give him consistent flattery. And one of the really scary things is murderous thugs like the leader of North Korea and leader of Russia figured out that if you just say nice things to and about Donald Trump, he will forgive you anything. We don't say nice things about him when they're not warranted and he will never forgive us for that.

LEMON: Well, the fist summit -- thank you gentlemen -- the first summit went so well. He has invited back or invited for a second meeting at the White House. That's according to the press secretary today and the president tweeting about it. We'll be right back.

[22:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)