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Poll: 68 percent of Republicans support Trump's handling of Putin summit; Source: Suspects identified in poisoning of ex-Russian spy. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 19, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] BERMAN: -- with Poppy Harlow.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Got to love that. All right. Good morning everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. I'm so glad you're with me this morning. And it is a busy one. The post-Helsinki clarification campaign at the White House continues, but clarity this morning, no, we don't really have that.

To bring you up to speed President Trump says in a new interview that he accepts that Russian agents did interfere in the election and he would hold Vladimir Putin personally responsible. He further claims he gave the Russian president a very strong warning not interfere again but that can't be checked because no one was in the meeting except for translators.

And that's now a problem for the Pentagon which is scrambling to figure out this morning what, if anything, the president actually committed to on the military front? Because Russian officials now say there were, quote, "verbal agreements" between Putin and Trump, agreements that U.S. officials know nothing about. And that's a very big deal.

The State Department meanwhile is flatly rejecting a proposal that the White House says it's considering, allowing Russians to interrogate American citizens whom Moscow loathes. Among them, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia. Even now the president tells CBS News he doesn't know, quote, "what all the fuss is about" from his one-on-one summit with Vladimir Putin and the post-summit news conference.

Meantime, this is the cover this morning of "TIME" magazine summing it up in a single image, a merged image of Trump and Putin's face. This morning the president still predicts that he and Putin will have a good relationship and even in that network interview where he went further than ever before in blaming the Russian leader for hacking the election and attacking U.S. democracy, he wouldn't call him a liar. Listen.


JEFF GLOR, CBS NEWS: But he denies it so if you believe U.S. intelligence agencies, is Putin lying to you?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want to get into whether or not he's lying. I can only say that I do have confidence in our intelligence agency as currently constituted. I think that Dan Coats is excellent.


HARLOW: Our Abby Phillip is at the White House with more this morning.

Good morning, Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Poppy. I think a lot of people had wondered what President Trump would do once he was sitting down in an interview setting, not reading from a script, and whether he would reiterate that he accepts the -- the findings of the intelligence community that Russia did in fact meddle.

Listen to what he had to say when asked at length about this issue.


GLOR: You say you agree with U.S. intelligence that Russia meddled in the election in 2016.

TRUMP: Yes. And I've said that before, Jeff. I've said that numerous times before and I would say that that is true. Yes.

GLOR: But you haven't condemned Putin specifically. Do you hold him personally responsible?

TRUMP: Well, I would because he's in charge of the country just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country so certainly as the leader of the country you would have to hold him responsible, yes.

GLOR: What did you say to him?

TRUMP: I'm very strong on the fact that we can't have meddling. We can't have any of that. Now, look, we're also living in a grownup world. Will a strong statement -- you know, President Obama supposedly made a strong statement. Nobody heard it. What they did hear is the statement he made to Putin's very close friend and that statement was not acceptable. Didn't get very much play relatively speaking but that statement was not acceptable, but I let him know we can't have this. We're not going to have it and that's the way it's going to be.


PHILLIP: And getting to that answer only took about two days for President Trump but we're also learning a little bit more information about what exactly President Trump knows about this. The "New York Times" is reporting that the president was briefed in January, 2017, with integral details about what -- how the United States intelligence community knows that Vladimir Putin directed and was behind this attack. According to the "Times" the president was presented with top-secret

intelligence showing text messages from these Russian agents discussing the strategy for meddling and also information from a top- secret source close to Vladimir Putin talking about the plan here.

So, Poppy, it's clear that President Trump has had this information for quite some time but he's still struggling to get his story straight on the public stage.

HARLOW: Abby Phillip, at the White House, thank you very much.

So we did hear from the White House press secretary about this broad list of topics that the two presidents discussed behind closed doors on Monday but that's not really helping many leading the U.S. military who are trying to answer reporter questions about these supposed important verbal agreements that Putin and Trump made on the military front.

Our Ryan Browne is at the Pentagon.

So, Ryan, the Russian ambassador says they have these important verbal agreements but according to your reporting, you know, U.S. military leadership has no idea what those agreements were.

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, that's exactly right. I think we're still learning the U.S. military is still not clear what exactly came out of Helsinki.

[09:05:02] We just actually heard moments ago from the top U.S. general in the Middle East who overseas U.S. forces in the region. He said he's received no specific direction following the Helsinki summit between Putin and Trump.

Now again the Russian Ministry of Defense issues a statement saying that one of the topics that have been discussed between Trump and Putin had been the issue of Syria. Now in Syria the U.S. military and the Russian military operate in close proximity to one another and they've long held a de-confliction hotline between the two forces that allow them to avoid accidents or things of that nature.

We're being told that continues but in terms of boosting that into anything more, something the Russians seem to suggest was on the table, the U.S. military has received no direction and no guidance. A Pentagon spokesperson saying when we have something to announce, we will, but in the meantime the Department of Defense is focused on the defense of the country. So not much information yet being talked about here in terms of what exactly was agreed to in that summit.

HARLOW: Ryan Browne, that's very important reporting this morning. Thank you for bringing it to us.

An extraordinary statement as well from the White House. The White House confirming that it is considering this proposal put forward by Vladimir Putin for Russia to interrogate prominent Americans. Among them former U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014 Michael McFaul and American-born financier Bill Browder who successfully lobbied the United States to impose new sanctions on Moscow during the Obama administration.

In exchange the Kremlin says it would help, it would provide assistance in Mueller's Russia's probe. The White House says it's considering this. The State Department calls it absurd. Listen.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He said it was an interesting idea. He didn't commit to anything. He wants to work with his team and determine if there is any validity that would be helpful to the process. But again, we've committed to nothing. I mean, it was an idea that they threw out.

HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: What I can tell you is that the overall assertions that have come out of the Russian government are absolutely absurd. The fact that they want to question 11 American citizens and the assertions that the Russian government is making about American citizens, we do not stand by those assertions that the Russian government makes.


HARLOW: To give you a sense of how extraordinary it is that the White House is even considering this, Ambassador McFaul tweeted even during the Stalin era the Soviet government never had the audacity to try to arrest U.S. government officials. Just think about that.

Joining me now is former U.S. ambassador to China, Max Baucus. He's also former Democrat senator for many terms from Montana.

It's nice to have you. Thanks for being here.


HARLOW: Let's just begin with that -- for Americans this morning waking up trying to wrap their heads about this offer from Putin, the president, President Trump, called it an incredible offer.

BAUCUS: Well, I was ambassador to China and I had very confidential classified conversations with President Obama. If President Xi, the president of China, were to somehow force the United States to turn me over to him that would have such a chilling effect that I could not be effective as an ambassador. And that would send the same signal to everybody in the diplomatic corps. It's preposterous. It's just a nonstarter.

HARLOW: Former ambassador, I mean, McFaul is a former ambassador.

BAUCUS: Right.

HARLOW: And let me be clear how much Moscow and Putin specifically loathe Bill Browder and loathe Michael McFaul because of their work together, the Magnitsky Act was passed, implementing these --

BAUCUS: Right.

HARLOW: Strong sanctions.

BAUCUS: I was very involved in that. I was very involved to passage of that act.

HARLOW: Right.

BAUCUS: Frankly it's even worse than that because we tend to assume when we have all these discussions that we're dealing with an ordinary other country. We're not, this is Russia. This is an authoritarian country. There's no due process, there's no rule of law. Putin will just manipulate this for all his purpose. And don't forget, it's a one-way deal. It's only -- it wants our former ambassador --

HARLOW: Right.

BAUCUS: Transfer of Russia, not the Russians actually coming here.

HARLOW: What would happen to them do you think if in some world this actually happened and if the president could actually extend his executive power and legal authority that far? What do you think would happen to Bill Browder and Michael McFaul?

BAUCUS: Well, first of all, it's not going to happen. It will not happen. And don't forget, too, there's also a due process procedure in the United States.


BAUCUS: That as any American citizen before you send over it has to go through due process in the United States. It's not going to happen. And it should not happen.

HARLOW: Well, the significance in the divide between the State Department, Heather Nauert calls it absurd and Sarah Sanders says we'll get back to you, we're thinking about it?

BAUCUS: That shows that President Trump is on some other planet. He's not really part of the ordinary State Department foreign service establishment by making such statements.

There's so many questions here that question his legitimacy as president, frankly. I think it's time frankly for the American press to be much more candid. Don't forget, the basis of our First Amendment is transparency.

[09:10:03] The fourth estate is -- under the First Amendment is to -- they've got to investigate, find the facts, and report the facts. And Trump's lying.

HARLOW: I mean --

BAUCUS: He's a flat-out liar and --


BAUCUS: I think the press needs to say more about that. HARLOW: We -- all my colleagues in media call him out on it every

day. Take, for example, the "New York Times" reporting this morning, all right? Digging up something very important, David Sanger's piece in the "Times" this morning we find out --

BAUCUS: I saw that piece. Yes.

HARLOW: We find out importantly, right?

BAUCUS: Right.

HARLOW: That two weeks before the inauguration President Trump was shown classified information by John Brennan, by Clapper, et cetera.

BAUCUS: True. True. Right.

HARLOW: That showed him e-mails and text messages proving that Putin had personally, personally ordered these cyber attacks on the 2016 election.

BAUCUS: Correct.

HARLOW: What do you think that new reporting teaches us about the president's mindset and the subsequent statement he's made?

BAUCUS: Cannot be trusted. You cannot trust this man and he will more likely than not if he wants to transfer classified information to a foreign power. He can't be trusted. It borders virtual treason, frankly.

HARLOW: You know -- but we'll get into this polling more later but there's new CBS polling out on how people, Americans think the president handled this summit with Putin and the press conference and only 21 percent of Republicans disapprove. So he still has the strong backing of the party.

BAUCUS: Well, the party -- but don't forget because there's still a party and Republican senators. Republican senators have an obligation to their own states to uphold the Constitution, and frankly it's not easy for me to say this because I'm no longer in the Senate but frankly they should stand up.

HARLOW: Or do something. It's one thing to say something, it's another to do something.

BAUCUS: Exactly. Exactly.

HARLOW: Appreciate it, Ambassador. Thank you for being here.

BAUCUS: You bet. Thank you.

HARLOW: It's nice to have you.

With me now a very smart man to answer a very important legal question this morning. Our chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey Toobin, to you it's strange credulity to think that the

president could stretch his executive power this far and could actually some way, somehow hand over Ambassador McFaul and Bill Browder who's no longer a U.S. citizen to be questioned by the Russians. Could this happen?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, as a technical legal matter it's unlikely but probably not impossible. There are -- as the senator said, there are legal -- there is a due process requirement within the United States but the real obstacle here is political. I mean, as you saw the State Department, there would be a revolution in the State Department if --


TOOBIN: -- the president made any move in this direction. One of the bedrock principles of our foreign service is that we will not cooperate with politically motivated investigations of our personnel overseas which is precisely what this is. So I don't think it's going to happen but if the president were to push it legally I suppose there is some universe in which it actually could.

HARLOW: All right. Jeffrey Toobin, stick around. I have a lot more to get to with you in just a few minutes.

TOOBIN: OK, Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. Don't go to breakfast, don't go anywhere, stay here.

We have a lot of breaking news this morning. British police have identified two suspects in the poisoning of an ex-Russian double agent and his daughter. We have the latest from the UK on that.

And here in the United States a judge says an accused Russian spy was too big of a flight risk. Orders her to stay in jail without bond. This as prosecutors say Mariia Butina has ties to Russian intelligence and tried to exchange sex for political access.

Plus a powerful moment last night at the ESPYS. Look at that. More than 100 survivors of USA gymnastics Doctor Larry Nassar's sexually abused stand up and take the stage.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: New this morning, most Americans disapprove of how President Trump handled that summit with Vladimir Putin. Fifty-five percent of Americans say he mishandled it.

But when you look at just Republicans, look at this number, 21 percent - just 21 percent of Republicans disapprove of how the president handled it; 68 percent approve.

With me now, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor and columnist for "RealClearPolitics"; Rachel Bade, our political analyst; and Shawn Turner, CNN national security analyst. It's nice to have you all here.

And, Rachael, let me begin with you. I think that that 21 percent Republican disapproval number is so stunning because of the outcry we heard from nearly every Republican lawmaker. How do you see it?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. This really highlights sort of the difference between beltway Republicans, Republicans here on Capitol Hill, here in Washington, and Republicans across the country who obviously are sticking with Trump and don't see this whole press conference with Putin and his agreeing with Putin - or rather taking Putin's word about not interfering in the US election as a big problem or a reason not to support the president.

And I think that that's why on Capitol Hill this week, we're going to see Republicans take a very cautious approach when it comes to this. Republicans on the Hill are very concerned about the president's tone toward Russia and they want to do something about it.

And from talking to them, they really feel like they're sort of separate from him on this and that, if the president is not going to push back on Russia, they need to do something, whether it's passing resolutions supporting the intel community or a resolution that would increase sanctions on Russia should they interfere again in 2018, which a lot of them think Russia will.

But they're not going to attack the president personally on this. And they're going to do it very cautiously, I think. It's all because of these polls. It's clear the base is with the president.


HARLOW: So, then, A.B. Stoddard, if you look at - let's pull up the "TIME Magazine" cover, right, this week, which is sort of this merging of Trump's face with Putin's face. OK, that speaks to the beltway, I guess, and that speaks to these lawmakers.

But to Rachael's point, the White House has to be looking at these numbers this morning and smiling.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, "REALCLEARPOLITICS": Oh, absolutely. They really have indicated in recent days across several reports that they didn't really frantically head to Capitol Hill to assuage everybody who was panicking because this happens a lot and they genuinely don't believe that Republican senators and congressmen will push back in a meaningful way that poses a real challenge to President Trump, who will attempt to sweep this under the rug and move on, like he does with other controversies that he creates.

So, the interesting thing for Republicans - Rachael is right. When I speak to them off the record or on background, they cite his popularity numbers with their primary voters in their districts.

They admit that it's about hanging on to power and not necessarily doing what they fought for their whole careers, confront Russia, shrink government, pare down the debt. So, you see this on tariffs and you see this on Russia where they genuinely don't believe what their voters believe, but they're waiting for a signal from their voters who follow Trump down every path.

And so, changing the subject just quickly from, oh, we honor and respect and believe the intelligence community, we will assure our Russian allies and we will confront the Russians which is what you hear out of Republican lawmakers right now to actually what happened in those two hours and whether or not a deal was made with the Russian president, that's going to be very tricky terrain for Republicans in these coming days.

HARLOW: So, then, Shawn Turner, to you, as our national security expert, as someone who has worked in communications with the intelligence community, maybe that's why President Trump thinks it's fine for him not to answer Jeff Glor's question when he says, do you think President Putin is a liar; if you believe our intel, is Putin is lying.

This, in the face of last night, the FBI Director Christopher Wray saying in this interview at the Aspen Security Summit that not only did Russia do this, it continues to interfere and it is the main aggressor.

You have him doubling down on this. You have Coats saying it once again. But yet, the president won't call Putin a liar.

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. Poppy - and I've talked a lot about why this is so difficult for the intelligence community because intelligence professional have known for a long time, going all the way back to the beginning of the president's term in office, that the president not only knew exactly what the Russians did to interfere in our elections, but he knew where the order came from.

HARLOW: Right. That's "The New York Times" reporting this morning from David Sanger that, two weeks before inauguration, he was told Putin personally ordered this.

TURNER: Right. So, there's been this kind of sense of bewilderment over why the president continues to equivocate and deny the facts here. But on this issue of what we were talking about here in terms of the numbers, the president has been critical of a lot of different groups.


He's been critical of the intelligence community, immigrants, of our partners and allies, but what the president did when he was in Helsinki is he stood on the stage next to Vladimir Putin and he was critical of the United States.

And I think that, for most of us in national security, we thought if there's anything that's going to cause people in his base to take a step back and say, OK, stop, I can't get behind you, it would have been when he stood on that stage next to Vladimir Putin and was critical of the US. But those poll numbers indicate that, to some degree, not even that had an impact.

HARLOW: He called the United States foolish. And we heard our Kyung Lah, who was in Wisconsin in a state Trump won, and we had her reporting yesterday, some of them - some of the Trump supporters have turned. It has made some turn, but it doesn't look like clearly the majority of them from this polling.

Talking about our allies and talking about NATO, US officials say, look, our allies didn't like the optics of this, Rachael, they didn't like coming off a NATO summit and a G7 where the president was so critical of them and their leadership, but here's what one senior White House official told our Elise Labott.

"There isn't a lot of cleanup because there doesn't seem to be a lot of spillage. The feedback we're getting from the Europeans is that they're relieved. They were worried he was going to give away the store and he didn't. So, they aren't thrilled with the optics, but they are fine."

What do you make of that?

BADE: Yes. Sounds like a hefty dose of spin right there. I can tell you from my perch on the Hill, Republicans have said they have talked to our European allies and they have heard a lot of concern about his tone toward NATO.

I was speaking to one Republican on the House Armed Services Committee who said he would sleep a lot better if the president would take the same sort of approach that he took toward NATO, toward Putin. Obviously, he was very disappointed from the press conference.

Look, Capitol Hill right now, they're just totally baffled by this. They don't know what to do. They want to act, but they don't want to turn off the base. They've got this really tough election coming up this fall and they know they need the president because the base still supports the president.

They're in a real pickle here. They're going to have to tread carefully to not alienate their base, but also find a way to stick up for their principles that they have had all along.

HARLOW: Shawn, the fact that the White House is even considering Putin's request to have American citizen, former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul be interrogated by them, and American-born Bill Browder, the investor, both of whom Moscow despises and Putin personally loathes, that's astonishing in its own right that the White House would even consider handing them over for that.

But the offer that the president called in incredible on Monday with Putin was that Putin would then help Mueller in the Russia probe. Can we talk about that part for a moment? How on earth could Putin be a reliable aid in Mueller's probe?

TURNER: This morning, someone said, that would be kind of like inviting Al Qaeda into your counterterrorism center.

I mean, the idea that we would bring the Russians into help figure out what we already know the Russians did in interfering in our elections, it's completely nonsensical.

And, look, I know Mike McFaul. I worked with him at the NSC many years ago. He's a patriot. He's a great American. And this was an opportunity for the administration, for the White House to have an easy win and to say under no circumstances are we going to indulge or entertain this ridiculous idea that we would offer up Americans to be interviewed.

And, moreover, what I didn't hear - as Sarah Sanders said that this was something that was under consideration, what I did hear was whether or not the actually president said anything to Vladimir Putin about the 12 Russians who are indicted and whether or not the United States would get an opportunity to talk to those individuals.

HARLOW: We do have a new tweet in from the president which I will bring up here for you as soon as I have. All right. Here is what the president writes.

"The summit with Russia was a great success except with the real enemy of the people, the fake news media. I look forward to our second meeting, so that we can start implementing some of the many things discussed including stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear..."

So, this is going to go on.

A.B., final thought on this?

STODDARD: Like I said, I think the determination has to be made from his own Pentagon, which, right now, is in the dark about what happened in that meeting.

Two lawmakers on Capitol Hill in a separate and co-equal branch about what was promised to Putin and what was received in exchange for those promises in a two hour off-the-record meeting that no one knows anything about. It's going to be the most important thing.

HARLOW: Thank you all very much, A.B., Rachael and Shawn.

New this morning, CNN has learned the British police have identified two suspects in the poisoning of that former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Nina dos Santos is following these developments. She joins me live from London. What's the latest?

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN EUROPE EDITOR: Thanks very much, Poppy. Well, as you said, it seems like these two identities of - part of what would have been - what authorities and the British have always said they believed it was a Russian hit squad that targeted Sergei and Yulia Skripal back in March have been identified.

[09:25:00] I should point out that sources tell us that they believe that these two individuals who were recognized by using facial recognition software, combing through hours and hours of CCTV footage at around about the time of the attack were actually potentially using false identities and that their identities have been found on a passenger manifest of the plane that left the United Kingdom.

Poppy, we know that back in March/April, RAF Cyprus, a listening post of the British army, had managed to intercept a coded message in Russian back to Moscow saying that these individuals had safely exited British airspace.

So, that's the latest that we have. No identity kits revealed so far, photographs of these individuals or indeed their names. But, so far, authorities believe that they have made some step forward. No official comment, though, from the Metropolitan Police and also from Downing Street or the Foreign Office for now.

HARLOW: OK. Nina, thank you for bringing us to speed. I appreciate it.

Ahead, translator in the spotlight. A growing number of lawmakers calling for President Trump's interpreter in that meeting with Putin to appear before Congress. New reaction from Capitol Hill ahead.

We're also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. The Dow expected to fall at the open. Earnings season is underway. It has some investors unsettled. They will be watching and hearing today more about these tariffs from the commerce department, what will that do to markets. We're on it.