Return to Transcripts main page


Trump: I Let Putin Know "We Can't Have Meddling"; White House Considers Putin Proposal To Interrogate Former U.S. Ambassador; Montenegro Responds To Trump's NATO Comments; Alleged Russian Agent Linked To NRA. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired July 19, 2018 - 07:30   ET



There was nobody else in the meeting so there's no -- we have no knowledge of what went on, and that's one of the reasons that the whole thing is disturbing because it's starting to leak out. The Russians say this happened and we still haven't gotten anything from our government about what was agreed to or not agreed to.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Very quickly, do you believe that the translator or the interpreter should appear before Congress?

KING: Well, I don't about that but somebody should.

Mike Pompeo is going to be here next Wednesday. Hopefully, he's been briefed by somebody about this.

I can tell you one thing, the Russians know what went on in that meeting. The fact that -- I mean, it's almost -- in talking to intelligence people, that room was bugged. I mean, nobody's told me that but --

BERMAN: Well --

KING: -- this is Helsinki. This is Finland --


KING: -- and they know what went on in that meeting. But the question is, do we?

BERMAN: Do you believe -- the president told Jeff Glor overnight that he told Vladimir Putin not to meddle in U.S. elections. Do you believe that President Trump confronted Vladimir Putin?

KING: I don't know, he might have. I think he might have said -- it all depends on body language and whether it was a pro forma or whether he really meant it. I mean, again, there's no way to assess that.

But compare his conduct at the press conference with his conduct at the breakfast at NATO where he was absolutely aggressive -- one would -- some would say rude to his host and to Germany, and then later on to Theresa May in England. And then he treats Putin with kid gloves. I mean, that was what struck me was the contrast that you're willing

to bullyrag your allies and treat your -- our most serious geopolitical adversary like your buddy. It doesn't -- it just doesn't make sense.

BERMAN: Senator Angus King of Maine. Thanks for this wide-ranging discussion this morning. But I do want to point out this is all very much connected.

Appreciate your time, sir.

KING: Thank you.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, John. As you've been discussing, the White House entertains an offer to let Russia interrogate a group of Americans, including one former ambassador.

What was this all about? Is there a legal underpinning to an agreement like this? We'll dissect that, next.


[07:36:12] CAMEROTA: The White House says President Trump is still considering a proposal by Vladimir Putin for the Kremlin to interrogate Americans, including a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, in exchange for their assistance in the Mueller investigation.

The State Department spokeswoman, however, was not on the same page as the White House.


MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Does President Trump support that idea? Is he open to having the U.S. officials questioned by Russia?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president's going to meet with his team and we'll let you know when we have an announcement on that.

HEATHER NAUERT, SPOKESPERSON, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: What I can tell you is that the overall assertions that have come out of the Russian government are absolutely absurd.


CAMEROTA: Let's discuss this proposal with CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin and CNN global affairs analyst Max Boot.

Max, just when you think you've heard everything this week there is yet a new wrinkle. This -- we don't know much about what happened behind closed doors with President Trump and Vladimir Putin.

However, President Trump did feel the need to come out and make this grand announcement of what the great offer was that Vladimir Putin had proposed to him behind closed doors. Let me remind people, in Helsinki, of this moment -- watch this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that's an incredible offer.


CAMEROTA: OK, let's talk the president at his word, Max. He thinks that's an incredible offer. That wasn't a scripted response of his.

He liked that offer. He's a dealmaker. He thinks that that might just be a good deal.

Your thoughts?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST, SENIOR FELLOW IN NATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Alisyn, my thought is that he is right, this is an incredible offer as in literally not credible. I mean, this is nuts. This is crazy.

The Russians want us to turn over our former ambassador and Bill Browder, a British subject, so they can interrogate them on these phony, made-up charges designed to harass them?

This was not a serious offer from Putin. He was basically trolling Trump. This was a simple ploy.

CAMEROTA: But to what end? To what end?

BOOT: But he is --

CAMEROTA: What kind of ploy?

BOOT: Well, he was basically trying to suggest that the charges against the 12 Russian GRU officers who hacked into the DNC, which are amply documented -- he was trying to suggest that those charges are equivalent to these phony, made-up charges that Putin has concocted against people who criticize him, like Mike McFaul and Bill Browder.

And it was basically designed to deflect any pressure that he might have gotten from the U.S. to extradite these Russian military officers or to allow them to be questioned.

He knows -- Putin knows that no U.S. government could possibly accept such a quote-unquote "offer." He was probably stunned when Donald Trump did not reject it.

I mean, the proper response when you hear something like this from the Russian dictator is put your offer where the sun don't shine. That's what a normal president would have said. So, Putin was probably shocked. And we don't exactly what Trump said, but based on what we've heard since then he thought it was an incredible offer. He was -- he thought that was a good deal.

I mean, the level of naivety being displayed by Donald Trump -- even for him, this is shocking. The extent to which he is in the bag for the Russian dictator -- oh, my goodness -- I mean, this is just -- this is out of a horror movie.

CAMEROTA: Michael, is there any legal underpinning by which a deal like that could be made?


On the -- there is a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the United States and Russia. It was signed in 2002 by President Bush. It provides for comprehensive assistance in criminal matters between the two countries.

The United States, under this MLAT (Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty) -- under the MLAT, they could request Russia to cooperate with the ongoing Mueller investigation by gathering documents, interrogating witnesses, providing other information. And that would be an appropriate thing for the United States to ask for under the MLAT, in and of itself.

[07:40:06] CAMEROTA: OK.

ZELDIN: Maybe Russia will cooperate --

CAMEROTA: But what about the flip side?

ZELDIN: No, no.

CAMEROTA: Is that applicable?

ZELDIN: Right. So, I just want to give one half. So we could ask properly under the MLAT.

Now, on the way back, there is no provision in the MLAT that allows for the interrogation of a U.S. ambassador. In fact, in Article 4 of that MLAT it specifically excludes matters that would be of a national security -- other interests like this -- and so we would have a basis under the treaty to deny it.


ZELDIN: And in the case of Browder, as Max said, there aren't really criminal charges that have been filed in the United States against him as to which we could provide assistance.

So on the way in, it's completely bogus. On the way out, we have rights under this treaty which the president should be asserting quite independent of the quid pro quo if you will. CAMEROTA: OK.

So, Max, what was that --

BOOT: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- the idea that the president thinks that that was a great deal? What, other than just naked gullibility, could that be?

He announced it to the world. That's hardly a secret strategy. That's transparency.

So what else could it be other than that he didn't understand what Putin was doing?

BOOT: Well, that's the question that everybody is asking, Alisyn.

And I was struck by the fact that just a few minutes ago on this show, Jim Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence, said based on what I saw at Helsinki, I really do wonder if Putin has something on Trump. A lot of people are wondering that and a lot of them are former intelligence officers who have good cause for that speculation.

CAMEROTA: But again, he wouldn't be this public about this is a great deal if he had something secret on him. I mean --

BOOT: I wouldn't necessarily conclude that. I mean, you can conclude that he is not very artful, and not very subtle, and not very smart, and at the same time he could still be compromised by the Russians. And, in fact, those two things could easily go hand-in-hand.

CAMEROTA: Hey, Michael, the idea that Sarah Sanders says that the president and his team -- it's an interesting idea. She said -- I'm quoting -- "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."

I mean, surely his team understands the law as you've just laid it out.

ZELDIN: Right, and his team should be the Office of International Affairs and the Department of Justice and the parties in the Department of State that handle these requests under the MLAT or letters rogatory or other international mechanisms for sharing.

So, he well could go to DOJ or State and say what rights do we have in respect to the Mueller investigation that we should be forcefully asserting on our behalf.

On behalf of Browder and the ambassador, that should be full-stop, no way. It doesn't apply under the treaty. There's no basis for it and we're not going to cooperate.

But we do not expect these things to be tied. We expect you, Russia, to comply with your obligations under the treaty. The thing that -- the thing that's interesting, of course, is that Bill Browder, the guy who is of interest to the Russians, is the guy who when kicked out of Russia for phony tax charges hired a lawyer, Magnitsky, to investigate this. Magnitsky ends up dead in a Russian prison which leads to sanctions and leads to the adoption prohibition.

That's all of what was discussed on June ninth with Don, Jr. So if you have a conspiratorial bone in your body you look at this offer by Putin and you say ah ha, this relates back to June ninth and Don, Jr. and now we're coming full circle.

CAMEROTA: All right. Thank you for typing that up so neatly for us.

Michael Zeldin, Max Boot, thank you both very much -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Do NATO members have to be worried whether or not the United States has their back, including the tiniest of NATO nations, Montenegro -- the nation the president seemed to suggest the United States might not defend.

We have one of our reporters there. Stay with us.


[07:47:48] BERMAN: Montenegro is responding after President Trump cast doubt on defending this NATO ally.


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

TRUMP: I understand what you're saying. I've asked the same question.

You know, Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people.

CARLSON: Yes, I'm not against Montenegro or Albania.

TRUMP: Right. And oh, by the way, they're very strong people, they're very aggressive people. They may get aggressive and congratulations, you're in World War III.


BERMAN: Want to know how Montenegro is responding? We know the best way to find out.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh live in Montenegro with the very latest. I am sure this did not go over particularly well there, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think many people here are scratching their heads or trying to laugh this off as to how suddenly they are cast as sort of the Sarajevo of World War III where one originally began. We have after this sort of bizarre moment in Montenegrin history heard from their government and they've given a statement today after obviously being thrust into the global spotlight.

Now saying, "We build friendships and we've not a lost single one. At the same time, we're able to boldly defensively protect and defend our national interests. In today's world it doesn't matter how big or small you are but to what extent you cherish the values of freedom."

It goes on to talk about how the friendship between Montenegro and the United States is strong and permanent.

But this is the newest and smallest member of NATO John and frankly, at the moment, reeling from the tourist season -- the peak of airports here. A beautiful coastline behind me, much of it actually bought up by Russian citizens. There's a strong Russian influence here.

And people are also asking how suddenly after meeting with Vladimir Putin did Donald Trump find himself -- and it says in that response, "thinking so much about Montenegro."

As I say, the newest member of NATO joining in just June of last year.

And it's an issue for many Montenegrins that's deeply troubling because in the last four years they've gone through two separate attempts at a coup here which they blamed on Russian Intelligence Services, the most recent one in October 2016 involving a plot to potentially open fire on the prime minister at the time himself, take over government buildings.

It was extensively investigated and many fingers were pointed at Russian intelligence agents trying to foment it. Moscow was said at the time -- publicly, in fact -- very angry at the idea of Montenegro becoming part of NATO. The see the Balkans as kind of their backdoor if you like.

[07:50:11] And so the key issue here is exactly how does Montenegro retain that sense of being part of NATO and being defended by the U.S.? You never actually have to go to war, as Donald Trump suggested, on behalf of someone if you are a part of NATO. You just threaten to, and that should be enough.

So many questions still here, John.

BERMAN: Again, the issue of security there in no way an abstraction. Not an abstraction at all. Very, very real.

Nick Paton Walsh, great to have you on the ground in Montenegro. Thanks so much.

CAMEROTA: I'm with Montenegro. How'd they get involved in this? It does seem random until -- unless Vladimir Putin brought it up or was the seed just planted with Tucker Carlson and his question there?

How did they get involved? BERMAN: President Trump claims -- President Trump claims he's been asking himself this question for a long time -- why are we defending Montenegro.

CAMEROTA: All right, more on that.

Also, more on this -- the alleged Russian woman -- the agent -- foreign agent accused of infiltrating the NRA. What did she do to get involved with them, John Berman wants to know. We dig into that.


[07:55:18] BERMAN: Mariia Butina, a self-described Russian gun rights activist with links to the National Rifle Association, has been charged with acting as a Russian agent in an effort to infiltrate an American political organization or organizations.

Her ties to the NRA are being given closer scrutiny with some asking why was the NRA singled out to influence the Republican Party.

Joining me now is the president of the Brennan Center for Justice and the author of "The Second Amendment," Michael Waldman. Michael, thanks so much for being with us.

I know it might sound like a simple question but I do think it is worth exploring. If you want to get close to Republican leadership, why would one target the NRA?

MICHAEL WALDMAN, PRESIDENT, BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON, AUTHOR, "THE SECOND AMENDMENT": Well, this would show, at the very least, that the Russians have been paying attention to what goes on in American politics.

The NRA has been around for a long time but in recent years it has moved from being involved with both parties to very much tied to the Republican Party and is part of the conservative political movement. It's one of the biggest funders of Republican candidates.

It's a very vital place to get voters who are active and passionate Republican voters. And it is something that is bringing this issue not only to Donald Trump and his circle but closer to the heart of American politics.

BERMAN: Let's talk about Donald Trump, for instance. I'll ask the same question and just replace the word Republicans with Donald Trump. If you want to get close to Donald Trump, why would you target the NRA?

WALDMAN: Well, when he was first running, one of the earliest, strongest, and most loyal groups supporting him was the NRA.

And there are so many odd and otherwise unexplainable things here but the very first time, as far as we know, that he was asked at least in public about Russian sanctions was by this person who has now been arrested as a Russian spy when she was here supposedly being a passionate supporter of gun rights.

BERMAN: And, in fact, if you look at the fundraising from the NRA, NRA support from 2012 to Mitt Romney was about $13 million.

In 2016, it was $31 million to Donald Trump. And, Donald Trump brags about this and it is something that has been a source of pride for him -- the increased support and the solid support he has from the NRA.

WALDMAN: Well, it's part of the core genuine Republican base.

But one of the real questions raised by what you point out with the money is where does this money come from? We are in a situation right now, thanks to Citizens United and other Supreme Court decisions, where dark money -- undisclosed money is flooding into our political process. The NRA is a major practitioner of this.

And just this week, the Treasury Department, Sec. Mnuchin, changed a rule to say that a group like the NRA would no longer have to disclose to the IRS who its big donors are. This is a really risky thing for our country.

And we now see how easy it is for foreign governments, perhaps, for foreign interests, for malevolent forces to manipulate the American political process by funneling money into it without disclosure. It's very scary.

BERMAN: It would affect the NRA. It does affect the NRA and it also affects groups like Planned Parenthood. So it will affect groups on both sides of the spectrum.

However, the timing this week is something a lot of people pointed to.

WALDMAN: Well, these are nonprofit groups that are actually engaged in politics but are subject to different rules than say political campaigns or parties.

BERMAN: So let me as you again specifically about Mariia Butina who seemed to infiltrate, to an extent, the NRA. If you're looking at this big picture-wise -- you look at the NRA as an organization -- was this some top-secret sanctum? Did she have to work really hard?

WALDMAN: Well, based on her Instagram feed, not that hard. It seems as though there was a lot of enthusiasm for this Russian gun rights adherent who turned out, according to the U.S. government, to actually be a spy.

I thought of the new Sacha Baron Cohen show where's able to kind of waltz in and get people to say almost anything on this issue.

It just shows both some of the kind of questions about the extreme nature of the gun rights movement right now. Don't forget, they just named Oliver North as the chair of the NRA. But also, how much there's a risk to American politics of kind of the shadowy operations that go on.

BERMAN: Interesting to see. A lot more questions need to be answered about this. Mariia Butina, certainly a colorful figure that we're only beginning to learn about.

WALDMAN: That's right.

BERMAN: Michael Waldman, thanks so much for being with us. I appreciate it.

WALDMAN: My pleasure.

BERMAN: We are following all sorts of news developing this morning so let's get to it.


TRUMP: I let him know we can't have this. We're not going to have it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it really counted, he didn't stand up to Putin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's so convenient that no one other than the interpreter was in the room.

CECILIA VEGA, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "ABC NEWS": Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And the president was saying no to answering questions.