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Trump Says Putin's Responsible for Election Interference; Russian Proposal to Interrogate Americans; Dems Call for Translator to Testify. Aired 1:00-1:30p ET
Aired July 19, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: That's it for INSIDE POLITICS today. Hope to see you back here this time tomorrow. We're following President Trump's call now for a second meeting with President Vladimir Putin. Really? Wolf brings you that. He starts coverage right now.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
Up first, President Trump says he's looking forward to his next meeting with Vladimir Putin and declares his summit with the Russian leader a great success. But three days after his widely criticized news conference with Putin, there's still a lot, a lot of confusion. In a CBS News interview, the president did finally say that he holds Putin responsible for the attack on the 2016 presidential election, sort of.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 a country, you would have to hold him responsible, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And then there's this. Two weeks before his inauguration, President Trump, while he was president-elect, was briefed in detail on U.S. intelligence that Putin ordered the election attack. The former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, was involved in that briefing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Before we left the room, we started -- they started writing a press release about our encounter. And we're trying to say that the Russian meddling, the Russian interference had no impact on the outcome of the election. We didn't say that.
But I do think there was skepticism from the get go, from that day to this day, that indicated that anything that attacked the legitimacy or questioned the legitimacy of now-President Trump's election, he just couldn't get his head around.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring in our CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.
Kaitlan, we have had days of head spinning comments from the president about Russia and Putin. What's the latest you're hearing over there?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're continuing to see this divide between the president and his own administration officials continue to deepen over Russian meddling in the election. The president has been inconsistent at best on his statements about this, now telling CBS that he would hold Vladimir Putin responsible for this, even though he declined to do so when they were standing right next to each other during that press conference in Helsinki.
Meanwhile, the president's hand-picked FBI director, Christopher Wray, saying there is no doubt in his mind that Russia meddled in the election and will try to do so again, as well as the DHS chief, Kirstjen Neilson, saying that she also concludes and agrees with the intelligence community's assessment that Russia did meddle in the election. Now, she expressed some hesitancy over their conclusion that they meddled in the election to help President Trump. That is what they have concluded. But she did say that she does believe Russia will continue to target the United States.
Wolf, that comes after that fallout of the president's remark yesterday during the cabinet room meeting when he said that he did not believe Russia was still targeting the U.S. He said no in response to that question from a reporter twice. And then the White House later had to come out and clear up and say that the president was saying no to no more questions, even though he continued to answer questions after he said no, he does not believe Russia is continuing to target the U.S. Something that is in complete disagreement with the U.S. intelligence community.
So, Wolf, right now the president's still maintaining that he is going to be tough on Vladimir Putin, but also adding he doesn't know what all the fuss is about.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting because the White House also says that President Trump is considering a truly shocking proposal for Russia to interrogate Americans, including a former U.S. ambassador in Moscow, a proposal put forward by Vladimir Putin. What's the reaction within the administration to that idea?
COLLINS: Wolf, it is an idea that the State Department is calling absurd, but that the president himself said he believed was an incredible offer from Vladimir Putin. The Russian president supposedly proposed to President Trump letting Special Counsel Robert Mueller question those 12 Russian military intelligence officers who were indicted for interfering in the election in exchange for Russians being able to question some American officials who they say have interfered in their affairs. Now, that is simply something that is unheard of, Wolf. But yesterday,
when the White House was asked about the idea of this actually happening, Sarah Sanders didn't rule it out and instead said the president is going to discuss it with his team and then they would get back to us. That is an astonishing answer, Wolf, and it just simply is something that is not likely to happen. But the idea that the White House can't just rule it out as the State Department has done, of course, the administration's State Department, is just simply another confusing event regarding Russia here at the White House, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, it's truly shocking that they would even consider recommending that Mike McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, be allowed to be questioned by the Russians. Truly shocking indeed.
Kaitlin, thank you very much.
We have lots to discuss. Joining us right now, the staff writer for "The New Yorker," Adam Entous, a former member of President George W. Bush's national securities council, Michael Allen, former assistant attorney -- U.S. assistant attorney, Kim Wehle, and our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.
[13:05:17] Dana, let's quickly talk about this. The White House is considering allowing Mike McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, he served for five years in the government, to be questioned by Putin's regime? What's that all about?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't think it's the White House considering it. I don't think it's the administration considering it. I think it's the president of the United States not saying no. And his press secretary, because of that, not being able to say no because she speaks for him and he's watching the press briefing.
In about 45 minutes, a little under, the United States Senate is going to pass a resolution that has been proposed by the democratic leader saying under no circumstances would or should or could a U.S. ambassador or a U.S. member of the diplomatic corps be allowed to be interrogated by Vladimir Putin or anybody in Russia. The fact that the Republican leadership is allowing, as toothless as it is, a resolution for the Congress and for the Senate to be on record saying this tells you all you need to know.
BLITZER: You're a former assistant U.S. attorney. Have you ever seen the White House considering allowing a former -- a retired diplomat to be questioned by a hostile government?
KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: No, it's absolutely astonishing. I mean it's beyond comprehension. And the question really now has to do with, how is the system going to hold people accountable for this kind of compromised position with respect to the interest of the United States. And the fact that Congress is stepping up publicly in connection with some of the things the president's doing, the statements he made in Helsinki, in addition to this resolution, frankly gives me some hope that our system is actually going to function to hold people accountable in a situation where clearly, clearly there's no question this president is not putting the interests of the United States and American citizens first. And hopefully it won't break under the weight of this kind of problems at the upper echelons of government.
BLITZER: My only suspicion, Michael Allen, is that the president doesn't like the former ambassador because he appears a lot on TV and he makes comments critical of the current president. And that may be one of the reasons he's open to this possibility.
MICHAEL ALLEN, MEMBER, GEORGE W. BUSH NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: I think so. I think Putin put this to him in part because it seemed to have some political attractiveness to it. Hey, you know what, Obama's people made a mistake, don't you want to let us question the Obama people? But I think it couldn't send a worse signal to the U.S. government. It would be akin to us sending a war fighter, a U.S. troop, over to a rogue regime for a show trial. It has to be knocked down by the White House today. I'm so glad the Senate is going to knock this down probably 99-0 here in a few minutes. And so people wonder when the other branches of government are going to start to perk up. I think you're beginning to see it today.
BLITZER: Adam, you want to weigh in on this?
ADAM ENTOUS, STAFF WRITER, "THE NEW YORKER": Yes, I think also what Putin was doing in some ways was sort of taking advantage of Trump really just not having the experience to know that this is a nonstarter. I mean there's such deep distrust between our intelligence and law enforcement agencies and their agencies. Even though we cooperate in some ways, there's a fundamental distrust. And we're not going to be allowing them to question one of our former ambassadors. There's just -- it's something that would never be accepted. But, frankly, maybe Trump, you know, because he talks about getting along with Russia, just didn't really understand how deep that distrust is.
BASH: And when you say he took advantage, he's playing the president. And that is really one of the many reasons -- but one of the main reasons why the president's fellow Republicans are so upset about that performance in Helsinki, never mind what we absolutely know nothing about with regard to the two-hour private meeting is because they are concerned, because of the naivety, the inexperience, or the desire that the president has made very clear to be so solicitous to this dictator in Russia that he gets played.
BLITZER: You know, Adam, I quickly want to go to this "New York Times" report that two weeks before the inauguration, then President-Elect Trump received this highly classified briefing from the top leaders in the U.S. intelligence community at the time about Russia's involvement in trying to penetrate to attack the U.S. election, the presidential election. You reported that President Obama received the most sensitive information. Based on everything you know, did the same information reach the president-elect?
ENTOUS: My understanding is the same information reached the president-election. And, you know, it -- depending on, you know, when you talked to Trump, in some of these private meetings, according to the sources that I've spoken to, even though he emerged from the meeting with Clapper, and that's the one also that Comey attended, and Clapper felt like he was skeptical or he sensed a certain skepticism.
[13:10:09] I've spoken to other sources that have met with him after briefings in which he didn't sound as skeptical. So I think it just really depends on his moment, you know, after he gets the briefing. Maybe it depends on who's doing the briefing. Obviously he was very suspicious of the people that he was -- that he was being presented this information by.
Later, when Pompeo presented it to him, I imagine it's something that he would be more receptive to because the people are not posing a threat. The people who were involved in that presentation went on to become rather prominent critics of the president. And so you can sort of again understand a little bit why his reactions changed depending on who the briefer is.
BLITZER: He's been so reluctant, Michael Allen, over the past year and a half to accept the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community, either the leaders during the Obama administration or his own intelligence leaders that he nominated.
ALLEN: I think he does have a deep skepticism of what he calls the deep state, but it's really just patriots trying to do their job and present the best evidence up the chain of command. I do think it hurt a little bit in retrospect to have so many people who were at the top echelons of the Obama administration, whether it was deserving or not, come out as such harsh critics of President Trump because you can see it through his eyes. He would start to say, see, these people were against me from the beginning.
Having said that, I think the president's got to accept what everyone in the country accepts and move on.
By the way, he can have his bilateral agenda with the Russians. That's perfectly appropriate. I might not be in love with it, but that's his call. But we need to get past these issues that are plaguing us today, and then he can move forward with Putin on normal international relations issues.
BLITZER: You know, Dana, a couple sentences jumped out at me in his tweets. He was on a tweet storm this morning, the president. But this specifically, and I'll read it. The summit with Russia, he says, was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the fake news media.
So Russia is not the real enemy of the American people, it's the fake news media, which is the real enemy of the American people.
BASH: I would say give me a break if that weren't so dangerous because he is -- that sentence could have been written by and uttered by Vladimir Putin or any other dictator around the world where they're -- they don't have the constitutional, you know, safeguards that we in the press have in the United States. And it is dangerous. It's incredibly dangerous. Never mind the fact that it's just not true. I mean I've now spoken to several sources who are familiar with the president's thinking that he can't get past the fact that this was a deluge of criticism coming his way. And it wasn't the fake news media. It were -- it was his friends. It was his allies. It was his supporters who were aghast at the performance that he gave standing next to Vladimir Putin.
BLITZER: Yes, and it wasn't the only tweet going after what he calls the fake news media. He's been doing it not just today but for a long, long time. And it's clearly having an impact out there amongst some of his hard line supporters.
WEHLE: Yes, and that's what's really unfortunate. I think people are throwing themselves under the bus and letting the structure of our government falter in this way. And I would just say, I'm not so sure President Trump should get the benefit of naivety in this situation given what's happening in the Mueller investigation and the most recent indictment of someone for acting as a foreign agent for Russia, tenderals (ph) in the -- potentially into the National Rifle Association, members of Congress and lots -- you know, a number of indictments that have come down. This is a president who has close ties to Russia and has potential conscious points of view with respect to whether there should be diplomatic relations with Russia or relations with Russia that are not consistent really with the intelligence community's view on what's best for the American public. So I think that conflict is extremely serious.
BLITZER: Michael Allen, just button this up for us, because you worked for President George W. Bush. All presidents, and I've covered many of them, they're critical of the news media. They don't like the articles that some of us write and all of that. But have you ever seen a president go after the news media the way he does, calling the news media the enemy of the American people?
ALLEN: I haven't. I remember growing up and seeing a bumper sticker for George H.W. Bush that said, annoy the media, elect Bush. However, I -- and I'm a usual -- you know, I worked for President Bush for eight years. I'm usually, you know, sometimes I'm sympathetic to some media criticism. But here in Helsinki, the two reporters that got up and questioned the president sort of nailed it and sort of revealed this inner thinking that President Trump apparently has towards Russia. So, you know, this probably isn't the week to blame it all on the fake news media when it was sort of a good -- it was a very good moment for the news media.
[13:15:01] BLITZER: It was a very good moment for the wire services --
ALLEN: Yes, sir.
BLITZER: Reuters and the Associated Press.
ALLEN: There you go.
BLITZER: Those White House correspondents did an excellent job.
OK, guys, thank you very, very much.
Still to come, the White House is weighing a request by Russia to interrogate Americans, including a very distinguished former U.S. ambassador to Russia. But will this really happen? Plus, we'll discuss this and a whole lot more with Senator Mazie
Hirono. There you see her. She's live up on Capitol Hill. She's from Hawaii. We have lots to discuss with this member of the Judiciary Committee.
BLITZER: It's very hard to believe, but the White House isn't ruling out the idea of allowing the Russians to question two Americans, Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, and Bill Browder, a Putin critic. The proposal is something Putin brought up during his private two-hour meeting with the president earlier this week in Helsinki. The president later referred to it as, quote, an incredible offer, though not everyone sees it that way.
[13:20:16] I want to bring in our CNN military and diplomatic analyst, retired Admiral John Kirby.
John, tell us a little bit about these two men and why Putin would want to question them.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Thanks, Wolf. You bet.
Let's start with Mr. Browder. He is the CEO of a company called Hermitage Capital Management, which at one time was the largest foreign portfolio investor in Russia.
Now, in 2009, one of his lawyers, a man named Sergei Magnitsky mysteriously died in prison, which led Mr. Browder to successfully lobby Congress for the passage of what is now known, The Magnitsky Act, which allows the U.S. government to sanction Russian human rights violators.
A year after the passage of that act now in 2013, Putin's government convicted him of tax fraud and sentenced him to absentia to nine years in prison. And he is still considered under investigation.
The second individual is our well-known -- well, former well-known ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, also the author of a new book on Putin's government that's very critical. And while he was in office, he met with opposition members, which angered Putin's government. He now is considered a person of interest in the Browder investigation.
Now, Wolf, we have sound from both men reacting to this idea that they could be actually called back to Russia to answer to investigators in Putin's government. Let's give that a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL BROWDER, PUTIN CRITIC WANTED BY KREMLIN: Hand me over to Putin is basically to hand me over to my death. And I've been fighting for human rights. I've been fighting for justice for my lawyer, my murdered lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky. And to hand over a human rights campaigner from -- to a murderer, to his death, would be the most insane thing that this president could do. MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: This is yet another
tactic to intimidate me, like he has done with other people. And I wish -- I just hope my own president, my commander in chief, would understand it for what it is and push back, both in public and in private.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KIRBY: Obviously both men clearly, you can hear from that sound, are not interested in talking to Russian investigators and with good reason.
BLITZER: You know, the White House, John, and the State Department, they were both asked about the possibility of allowing these two American citizens to be questioned by the Russians. And listen to this, very, very different answer to that question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: The overall assertions that have come out of the Russian government are absolutely absurd.
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And while -- obviously 180 degrees difference between what Heather Nauert over at the State Department is saying and Sarah Sanders over at the White House is saying. How is it possible that they get such different analysis, and different reactions to this extremely sensitive question?
KIRBY: Well, Wolf, it's either a huge disconnect between the White House and the State Department, not that that doesn't happen. It does happen on occasion. But it could be also a calculated PR strategy to allow the State Department to push back on this ridiculous notion of sending these two men back to Russia to talk to investigators, and allowing Sarah Sanders not to get crosswise with her boss, President Trump, who clearly wasn't interested in entertaining much pushback to this idea itself. Either way, it speaks to an administration that once again cannot get on the same page to explain what happened in Helsinki.
BLITZER: Yes. My own since is Healthier Nauert over at the State Department was speaking for Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state --
BLITZER: Who recognizes this is a disaster if this were ever to happen. That's why she rejected it immediately.
John Kirby, thank you very much.
KIRBY: You bet.
BLITZER: Let's get some more on this and other related issues. I want to bring in the Hawaii senator, Mazie Hirono. She's a Democrat. She serves on both the Armed Services and Judiciary Committees.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: Aloha again.
BLITZER: Let me get your quick reaction to what we just heard from John Kirby. Very different responses from the State Department and the White House to this truly shocking proposal to let a former U.S. ambassador, another American citizen actually be questioned by the Russians. What do you think?
HIRONO: I think it's one of the most ridiculous and dangerous ideas from the president yet in a series of these kinds of horrendous ideas. The thought that we should be turning over our people to Putin for interrogation is, to put it simply, crazy and nuts. This is why a little bit later today I'm going to be on the floor of the Senate to vote on our Chuck Schumer (INAUDIBLE) says we will not be turning over people to Russia for interrogation. It's really untoward that we even have to have such a resolution to vote on.
BLITZER: Yes, it says a lot. And it's truly shocking. I assume the White House, at some point, is going to try to clean this up, but we'll see.
How do you think the inconsistent messages on Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election is now being received by U.S. allies around the world?
[13:25:08] HIRONO: I think that it should be expected that the fact that our president cannot seem to be consistent. One thing he is consistent on is his really inexplicable affinity toward Putin. But I don't blame our allies at all for questioning our willingness to stand up against Putin and to come to their defense, much less to come to the defense of our own democracy, which the president did not.
BLITZER: Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, as you well know, senator, they have no idea what was really discussed between President Putin and President Trump during that two-hour-plus private meeting with only their interpreters present. Now there's some growing calls among Democrats who want President Trump's State Department translator, Maria Gross, to appear before Congress. Do you support that idea?
HIRONO: I support the idea of finding out what the heck was discussed between Putin and the president. Some people are calling it the appeasement summit. And so it's also very untoward that we actually have to have the translator come and tell us what happened as opposed to the president of our own country telling us what he discussed, what he promised.
But if it's going to take the translator to come and tell us because we can't trust the president not to lie to us, then that's what we should do.
BLITZER: You think that's at all realistic that they would allow her to go and appear before, let's say, your committee or other committees, even behind closed doors?
HIRONO: Well, for an administration to say that this is not how we should do things, you know, this is the same administration that is actually contemplating sending our people to be interrogated by Putin. So, you know, in the absence of information that we can rely upon as the truth from our own president, then we have to take some extraordinary kinds of steps. And these are extraordinary times. And we have a president that we can't trust. He obviously promised something to Russia and the American people and we need to know what that was.
BLITZER: I want to quickly get your reaction to this tweet, this sentence the president tweeted earlier today because it is really shocking. The summit with Russia, he says, was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the fake news media. So he says Russia's not the real enemy of the American people, it's the fake news media which is the real enemy of the American people.
When you hear that from the president of the United States, what goes through your mind?
HIRONO: Totalitarianism. This is what totalitarian and dictators do, they go after the free press. That's what Erdogan does. You jail the media people. Or that's what Putin does in Russia. And I'm sure that if the president thought that he could get away with it, he would probably want to jail what he calls the fake media. So, you know, but for the First Amendment freedom of the press.
But this just, once again, reinforces this inexplicable affinity that the president has toward basically totalitarian dictators, but in particular to Putin. And this is why there are so many questions as to really what kind of relationship does the president have with Putin that causes him to be so much for Putin. And, you know, I served on the intelligence committee for two years and countries develop assets that will help them get news, et cetera. In intel language and parlance, it's -- the president is acting like he is the asset for Russia.
BLITZER: Well, what's your suspicion, because some have suggested maybe the Russians have some compromising details, compromising information on the president? What's your suspicion?
HIRONO: There have been all kinds of information about the president's sexual proclivities -- I can hardly say the word. But really I think there are some major economic ties. And that is why the Mueller investigation must continue. It must run its course. And they need to do their jobs. That's another issue that I would like to have the Senate bring to the floor the resolution or the bill that was passed unanimously -- not unanimously, I wish it had been -- in a bipartisan way that protects the Mueller investigation. That has never come to the floor of the Senate for a vote, although it emerged in a bipartisan way out of the Judiciary Committee. BLITZER: Senator Hirono, thanks so much for joining us.
HIRONO: Thank you.
BLITZER: Still to come, bipartisan efforts to express support for the intelligence community's findings on Russia, but rejected on the Senate floor just moments ago. We'll tell you what happened.