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White House in Damage Control Mode after Trump's Continued Russia Comments; NYT: Trump Knew Details of Russian Interference in January 2017. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired July 19, 2018 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I let him know we can't have this. We're not going to have it.
[05:59:20] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it really counted, he didn't stand up to Putin.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: It's so convenient that no one other than the interpreter was in the room.
CECILIA VEGA, REPORTER, ABC NEWS: Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president was saying no to answering questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Russia continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vladimir Putin has got a path. The only way that's going to be corrected is one word, vote.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, July 19, 6 a.m. here in New York. John Avlon joins us on set.
Another big day with a lot of news. Let's get right to it.
Americans and the world are trying to figure out where the president of the United States stands on Vladimir Putin. In an interview with CBS last night, President Trump now claims that he believes Putin is responsible for Russia's interference in the 2016 election, but the president refused to say that Putin was lying when he denied that Russia was behind the election attack. For several days now, the White House has struggled to give a clear answer about what President Trump really thinks.
And we're also learning this morning from "The New York Times" that President Trump was, in fact, shown highly-classified intelligence indicating that Vladimir Putin had personally ordered the cyberattacks in order to sway the election. That intelligence included texts and e-mails from Russian military officers. So "The New York Times'" David Sanger is here to give us more specifics.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hanging over all of this this morning, what did President Trump give Vladimir Putin when they were all alone for two hours? What did he agree to? Senior U.S. military officials tell "The Washington Post" they really have no idea.
And this is especially important because the president appeared to answer "no" twice when he was asked if he believed Russia was still trying to attack the U.S. elections. The White House has a new excuse for that. We'll let you judge.
And behind closed doors, did President Trump agree to give up a former U.S. ambassador for Russian interrogation? The White House says it is actually discussing Vladimir Putin's proposal for Russian authorities to question a former U.S. ambassador. One serving diplomat told "The Daily Beast" that was -- he, rather, was at an "F-ing loss" over this, and he called this "beyond disgraceful."
Abby Phillip live at the White House, sorting through all of this for us -- Abby.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, John.
The White House spent two days cleaning up the president's comments at his press conference with Vladimir Putin on Monday, and then just yesterday, the president seemed to create more controversy, seeming to contradict his intelligence community by saying "no" when asked a question about whether Russia continued to meddle in this election this year.
All of this, John, is enough to give you whiplash.
PHILLIP (voice-over): After being widely criticized for not confronting Russian President Vladimir Putin over the attack on the 2016 election, President Trump now insisting he did.
TRUMP: 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: The president blaming Putin for the attack for the first time, although indirectly.
TRUMP: Certainly, as the leader of a country, you would have to hold him responsible, yes.
PHILLIP: But on Monday, President Trump had a different message.
TRUMP: President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial.
I, Donald John Trump --
PHILLIP: The "New York Times" reports that two weeks before his inauguration, President Trump was presented with direct, highly- classified evidence that Putin orchestrated the attack, including texts and e-mails from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top-secret source close to Mr. Putin.
Despite this, the president has spent the past year and a half dismissing the investigation into election interference as a witch hunt, a characterization rebutted by his own hand-picked FBI director.
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I do not believe Special Counsel Mueller is on a witch hunt. I think it's a professional investigation conducted by a man that I've known to be a straight shooter.
PHILLIP: President Trump telling CBS that he now stands by the intelligence community's assessment.
JEFF GLOR, CBS NEWS: If you believe U.S. intelligence agencies, is Putin lying to you?
TRUMP: 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 agencies as currently constituted.
PHILLIP: But earlier in the day, the president appeared to contradict his intelligence officers over the ongoing threat posed by Moscow.
WRAY: Russia attempted to interfere with the last election, and it continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day.
VEGA: Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?
TRUMP: Thank you very much. No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Make your way out.
VEGA: No, you don't believe that to be the case?
PHILLIP: Press secretary Sarah Sanders later saying the president was again misunderstood.
SANDERS: I had a chance to speak with the president after those comments, and the was -- said, "Thank you very much" and was saying "no" to answering questions.
PHILLIP: President Trump also coming under fire for entertaining Putin's proposal to allow Russia to interrogate two Americans in exchange for allowing questioning of Russians charged with interfering in the U.S. election.
TRUMP: He feels very strongly about it, and he has an interesting idea.
PHILLIP: The State Department forcefully rejecting Russia's request.
HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: The overall -- assertions that have come out of the Russian government are absolutely absurd.
PHILLIP: But at the White House, a much softer tone.
SANDERS: There was some conversation about it, but there wasn't a commitment made on behalf of the United States. And the president will work with his team, and we'll let you know if there's an announcement on that front.
[06:05:03] PHILLIP: As the process continues of unwinding what exactly happened in that one-on-one meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday, President Trump is going to sit down with his secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, today at the White House.
The White House is also going to try to turn the attention to worker retraining. They're having an event here at the White House this afternoon talking about job retraining efforts, led by the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump -- John and Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: OK, Abby. Thank you very much for setting all of that up.
Let's bring in now CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger; and former director of communications for U.S. national intelligence, Shawn Turner.
David, I want to start with you, because you have very interesting reporting that you are here to share with us this morning. And that is that two weeks before the inauguration, the intel chiefs went to Donald Trump before he was president but, obviously, president-elect, and they opened their files. It was highly-classified stuff. So highly-classified it couldn't even be in the daily presidential briefing.
And they revealed to him their evidence of how Vladimir Putin personally directed the cyberattack on the U.S. election. Can you tell us what specifics they showed the president-elect and what his response was then?
DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Sure, Alisyn. This -- this meeting was not only well-known, it was fairly public, and we reported at the time that four of the intelligence chiefs, all of whom were, of course, at that time working for President Obama, they went to Trump Tower, sat down with the president. It included, of course, Jim Comey, the FBI director.
And this was the same meeting where, at the end, Comey showed the president-elect the -- or at least told him about, the Steele dossier and its -- its salacious accusations about his behavior in Moscow, which of course, the president denied. But what they did during this meeting was run through the intelligence
that first allowed them to say that Russia was behind the hack, and second, that allowed them to say and that they said that day, publicly, that Putin himself had ordered it. And that included both the streams of signal intercepts, but also some individuals around Putin and one particularly highly-placed, very sensitive source, human source. So sensitive that John Brennan, the CIA director, would not, as you said, put any reference to this in the presidential daily briefing, which gets some wider circulation, but instead would bring reports about this over to the White House, just in an envelope for the president's eyes only and a few of his top aides.
BERMAN: Not to put too fine a point on this, David Sanger, but this is different. The president said to Jeff Glor last night, "Yes, I hold Vladimir Putin responsible" -- and he said this under duress, when Jeff pressed him -- "Yes, I hold Vladimir Putin responsible, because he's in charge of the country."
Well, your reporting is Vladimir Putin is responsible, and the president was told directly with supporting evidence that he ordered the attack on the 2016 election.
SANGER: That's absolutely right, John. There were three versions of this intelligence report. There was the public one that all of us saw. There was one for Congress, which was a bit more specific and had a little more on the sourcing. And there was a third very compartmented version which President Obama and his top aides had seen and which, of course, they had to share with the incoming president- elect, and did.
CAMEROTA: Shawn, you're steeped in all of this, obviously, all of this background. From where you sit, how do you explain how President Trump, in just the past four days, has been all over the map in terms of he trusts Putin, he doesn't trust Putin. Putin is responsible, Putin's not responsible. He thinks Russia did it, that maybe Russia didn't do it. Would/wouldn't.
How do you interpret what we're seeing?
SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you know, I've talked a lot about why this has been so difficult for the intelligence community, because as David points out, for a long time there's been this understanding that the president not only knew what the intelligence community had assessed with a high degree of confidence with regards to what Russia had done, but he had been shown the evidence in great detail, as the article points out.
So there's been this understanding that he is fully aware of this attack on our democracy. And so what we've seen over the last several days is more of what the intelligence community has been experiencing, with regards to a lack of understanding on why the president refuses to stand up and speak out against Vladimir Putin. You know, why -- why is he doing this?
What's really unfortunate about this is it lends some legitimacy to this question of whether or not Putin and the Russians have something that keeps our president in check. Look, a lot of people talk about the fact that the president conflates whether or not there was collusion with whether or not Russia meddled. Look, I get that.
[06:10:00] But what's really disturbing about that is that, if the president can't seem to make the distinction between accusations of collusion, which the Mueller investigation is working on, and the hard and fast facts that Russia meddled in our -- in our election, then that's a big problem for all of us.
So I think it's been a really difficult couple of days, few days, for the country. And I think the administration is really reeling to figure out how they're going to put this back in the box.
BERMAN: And it begs the question about what President Trump discussed with Vladimir Putin behind closed doors. They were alone for two hours with just interpreters.
We know what the president has said publicly about what was discussed, and it's muddled at best. I mean, that's a euphemism. Let me just tell you what "The Washington Post" is reporting this morning, John.
It says "officials at the most senior levels across the U.S. military, scrambling since Monday to determine what Trump may have agreed to on national security issues in Helsinki, had little to no information on Wednesday."
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. And it's part of a pattern. You know, after the summit with Kim in North Korea, the Pentagon found out that its military exercises with South Korea had been basically given away by the president. This is more serious because of the pitch of the tensions with Russia, the questions.
In an almost two-hour meeting where he is alone, and the Pentagon and the State Department is in the dark about what the president proposed. Now the White House said it might have been something about Syria, Israel, North Korea. Really gave sort of a buffet of world -- of world hot spots.
But President Putin, however, also resuscitated the idea of a joint cyber security command, which is right up there in the worst ideas ever offered in the history of the presidency. It's sort of, you know, inviting a burglar -- giving a burglar a copy of your keys and saying, "Let's talk about this over lunch."
So this is part of a pattern. It's part of a disturbing pattern. And I think the root of it all, which David's reporting shows today, is that in January of 2017, the president knew directly that Vladimir Putin ordered this. We know what the president knew, and when he knew it, but we still don't know why. And the idea it's simply a vacillation and confusion, this is not a communications problem; this is a presidential problem.
CAMEROTA: And there's another amazing element, David Sanger. And that is one of the things that we do know that President Trump is still entertaining that came up from Vladimir Putin, that he suggested, was allowing the Kremlin to interrogate Americans, including former Ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul, who Vladimir Putin has had a long beef with, and in fact, threatened. That somehow Donald Trump thinks that this would be a good idea: to turn over diplomats or to open up diplomats to Kremlin questioning. What?
SANGER: Well, this is all part of what happened in that sealed space when the two men were alone. So as you just heard from John, the Pentagon can't figure out exactly what was said, including by the way, if you believe the Russian announcements yesterday, some kind of verbal agreement they reached on whether or not to extend the new START treaties and the INF treaty, the two main nuclear treaties we have in force with the Russians, one of which the Russians appear to be in violation of.
But then you get to this, and so here, President Putin started off by saying, "You know, the Mueller investigation, they should all come over here to Russia. We'll help them out," which is, you know, a little bit like inviting al Qaeda or ISIS into your joint counterterrorism task force, right?
But apart from that, what we've now seen is that when Putin said, "I need, in return, to speak to some Americans," well, one of them is the former ambassador who has complete diplomatic anonymity [SIC]. And what the president simply needed to say was, "We don't do that."
BERMAN: That's what Jeb Bush -- Jeb Bush, you know, "Sleepy Jeb," as then-candidate Donald Trump used to call him, this is what Jeb Bush wrote about it overnight. "Not dismissing this absurd request out of hand is an extraordinary sign of weakness by an American president."
You know, Shawn, you look at this, and "The Daily Beast" reporting this morning that John Avlon's been talking about behind the scenes here with us all morning, that the diplomatic community is up in arms over this.
TURNER: Yes, this was an easy --
BERMAN: Yes, go ahead.
TURNER: This was an easy win for the administration. I mean, the right thing to do here would have been to point out the absurdity of this suggestion, and then to make very clear that, under no circumstances, would the United States entertain or indulge the idea that -- that Russia would be able to interview these individuals.
Moreover, what we haven't heard with regard to the things that are leaking out in terms of this meeting is we haven't heard whether or not the president actually raised the issue of the 12 Russians who have been indicted, and whether or not those -- the United States is going to have an opportunity to question or to hold those individuals accountable.
So the fact that we're talking about possibly letting the Russians interview Americans -- and look, I know Mike McFaul. I worked with him at the NSC. He is a patriotic -- he's a great American. The idea that we would -- we would entertain this idea is absolutely absurd, particularly when we haven't asked for any access to any of the many Russians who have been found to be responsible for interfering in our election.
[06:15:13] CAMEROTA: John, how about the difference between what the State Department said, the State Department spokesperson, Heather Nauert, versus what the White House, Sarah Sanders said about this very thing? Sarah Sanders was basically saying it's still around consideration.
AVLON: Right, where Heather Nauert --
CAMEROTA: We'll let you know when we have an announcement.
AVLON: Yes, and Heather Nauert at the State Department said, "this is absurd," dismissing it out of hand, because that's what it should be.
And the fact that the White House couldn't close the door, because apparently, it was something that was discussed, is itself disgusting and chilling and a total departure.
Imagine for a second the conservative reaction if President Obama had considered handing over a Bush-era ambassador to a hostile -- foreign power. Outrage, because it should be.
This is totally outside the bounds of anything acceptable in American history. And it is -- the fact it's even being considered and floated by the president is -- is a dereliction of duty.
BERMAN: Yes, and all the words matter here, from the State Department to the White House. You can't choose a la carte --
BERMAN: -- what you believe and not believe here.
CAMEROTA: In your buffet.
BERMAN: If you're from another country or you're, you know, in an embassy overseas, you have to see all of this and take it into account.
CAMEROTA: Gentleman, thank you very much for all of the information.
So in our next hour, we will discuss all of this with the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper. He was called out last night by the president. Why, and what's his response?
BERMAN: We'll -- looking forward to hearing from him.
CAMEROTA: Yes, we are. Very good.
[06:20:14] BERMAN: So where exactly does the president stand on Vladimir Putin and the Russian attacks on the 2016 election.
CAMEROTA: You want me to answer that? I can't.
BERMAN: Why not? Why not?
CAMEROTA: Because the past four days have been mind-scrambling in terms of the president's answer and the White House's message.
BERMAN: You know what? We have a visual and audio demonstration of just that.
CAMEROTA: Oh. I look forward to this.
BERMAN: Watch this.
TRUMP: My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others. They said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't know any reason why it would be.
In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word "would" instead of "wouldn't." The sentence should have been, "I don't see any reason why I wouldn't, or why it wouldn't be Russia."
I accept our intelligence community's conclusions that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place. It could be other people also. There's a lot of people out there.
JEFF GLOR, CBS NEWS: You say you agree with U.S. intelligence that Russia meddled in the election in 2016?
TRUMP: Yes, but I've said that before, Jeff. I have said that numerous times before, and I would say that that is true, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: All right. Here to discuss, CNN political commentator Errol Louis; and CNN political analyst April Ryan, who was in the White House press briefing yesterday.
Errol, I think it is a disservice to call this a communications issue.
ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Of course.
BERMAN: I think it's an affront to the issue of honesty to call this a communications issue. This isn't a communications problem. I mean, it is if you work at the White House communications office --
BERMAN: -- and you've got to clean it up. But the issue here is, fundamentally, the president believes what he believes, and the White House communications team has tried to explain it away.
LOUIS: That's right. He said what he said. The entire world saw it. When he's tried to sort of walk it back, and he's fumbling over this written statement. And then immediately undercutting it by saying, "Well, there's other people out there, too. There's lots of people in the world."
It seems very clear that there is a fundamental disconnect between what this president has been told by honorable, honest men, institutions that are dedicated to providing vital information, and he just doesn't accept it. I mean, that's, at a minimum, is clear.
Now, there are some people who politically think that he's right and that Russia has been misunderstood. This is the Dana Rohrabachers of the world, think that we've all been wrong about all of this.
But anyone else who's watching this knows that this president has an inability to criticize the Russian dictator and Russian policy. And he is acting as an instrument of that policy.
CAMEROTA: Every day, April, there's another installment in this confusion.
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
CAMEROTA: Just after he walked -- after the president has to walk it back because of the international outcry of him coddling or being seen to coddle Vladimir Putin, then something else happens.
And so yesterday there was this press avail where Cecilia Vega of ABC asked the president a direct question, and she believes that he looked right at here and gave her a direct answer. And that he's denying this also.
And so can you tell us more about the question that she asked. It was something to the effect of, "Do you believe Vladimir Putin?" Was that it?
AVLON: It was "Are the Russians still --"
CAMEROTA: Are they still interested --
AVLON: "-- influencing the election?"
CAMEROTA: Are they still influencing the election?
CAMEROTA: And he said no. And then they had to walk that one back, too, April.
RYAN: Right. Right. The president directly looked at Cecilia. He looked at her and said, "No," twice. He did not say anything about, you know, "Go away, press" or anything, like Sarah said. He said no.
But then Sarah -- Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, comes back and says, "Well, what the president meant, he was saying 'no' to no more questions."
So it can be interpreted that way. It can also be interpreted by the president directly answering Cecilia. There's so much of a vagueness in the air. And part of this is a communications issue. When a president cannot effectively and clearly deliver his message on something, there's a problem. But it's not just about communications. This is also a national security issue.
AVLON: That's right.
RYAN: Russia -- we have a very complicated relationship with Russia, and this is just causing Vladimir Putin to laugh at us.
And you know, the president has walked back so much. One thing he did not walk back in these last four or five days is the fact that he called Americans foolish. That's one thing he did not walk back.
There's so many things the president hasn't walked back that's still left on the table. This is very confounding, and Abby Phillip got it right. It's back -- there's whiplash. Yes.
AVLON: But again, I think whiplash, you know, connotes -- this isn't confusion, right? The president is not simply being inarticulate. He keeps gravitating towards his -- his real impulse, which is to not want to assign blame to Russia and Vladimir Putin.
[06:25:06] And the White House staff is left with a communications mess clean-up, and the best they've got is the "Three's Company" defense: "It's all a big misunderstanding." And they keep resorting to it over and over. And it's just as absurd as it sounds, because they can't explain it away. Because the problem is the president not wanting to clearly assign blame where everyone knows it belongs.
BERMAN: Who is Mr. Roper in this scenario?
AVLON: Who's Mr. Roper? Good question.
CAMEROTA: Who's Mrs. Roper?
AVLON: We're going to have to work on that. I think Chief of Staff Kelly is Mr. Roper.
BERMAN: I think there's probably no truer words ever have been spoken.
CAMEROTA: Errol, this isn't clean up on aisle nine. This is clean up on aisles seven, eight, and nine. And so what's the thinking, Errol, in terms of why, as John says, the president keeps gravitating to his natural impulse to defend Vladimir Putin?
Is it time to ask these tough questions? I mean, this is so uncomfortable, but why is he doing this?
LOUIS: I feel like -- I feel like the questions have been asked for, you know, going on three years now.
CAMEROTA: They have, but people -- what people often say, in terms of trying to explain, is well, he doesn't want to delegitimatize his win. Is that really what's involved?
LOUIS: No. No, no, no, no. When I say people have been asking this for three years, I mean that real-estate deals, both in the past and the present, financial ties between this president, who has still never released his taxes. Not the ones pre-presidential, but even after he's been sworn in. We don't know where his money comes from.
We do know that he's had ties. We do know that he was trying to negotiate a deal in Moscow while the election was going on. We don't know what anything related to that might be influencing him to think about. Who he owes, why he owes it, what he has done. Has there been money laundering?
You know, all of these questions have been raised. There are a lot of really good investigative reporters who had looked into this stuff.
CAMEROTA: Who are still looking into it.
LOUIS: Are still looking into it. There's been a lot of credible reporting that suggests that there is more than just smoke there.
BERMAN: I want to not overlook this point, because we saw it on the show yesterday, and we continue to see it. As convoluted and unbelievable as the explanations from the White House and the president is in all this point, it's working. I mean, it is working with many of his Republican supporters.
CAMEROTA: No, it's not.
BERMAN: Well, in Congress it is, April. We had -- we had John Kennedy, senator from Louisiana, on yesterday. He was perfectly willing to accept the president's response here.
Lindsey Graham yesterday, in a very Lindsey Graham-ism way, went from disbelief over the president's answer to Cecilia Vega to then being completely satisfied --
BERMAN: -- with the "No, the president misheard" explanation.
CAMEROTA: He looked skeptical.
BERMAN: I'm just telling you, it's enough for many of these Republican in Congress to say, "OK, we're OK with it."
RYAN: All right, John. Let me -- let me put this out to you. The public face is, "We stand with our president." But it took them days to pull it together.
You have to remember the moment that he -- once he walked off that stage in Helsinki, Republicans were very upset, and now they're trying to galvanize and find a public face. And also, they're trying to find blame, not on the president. But they're wanting people to fall on the sword so it will take the pressure off the president. But the problem is, the president continues to speak from his heart. As a man speaketh, so is he.
So let me say this: Republicans are not as happy as you would want to believe. They're hoping that this could be fixed soon, but as long as the president, again, continues to speak his mind and his heart without script -- a script, that he writes and misspells the word "collusion" on, it's going to be a problem. So this is not over, and Republicans are not happy. The public face is, but in their hearts, and in -- behind closed doors, they're not happy.
CAMEROTA: OK. April, thank you for all of the behind the closed doors information.
Errol, thank you very much for all of the analysis.
John, thank you.
Then, of course, there's this story. The Russian woman who is accused of being a Russian foreign agent and operating here in the U.S. --
BERMAN: Operating is a euphemism in this case.
CAMEROTA: Operating is a euphemism.
BERMAN: In this case it really is. I mean, it really is a euphemism.
CAMEROTA: It really is, and what I really mean is she's accused of offering sex for access. Who did she offer that to? That's what I'm interested in. We have details, next.