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DNI Coats Surprised by Trump's Invitation to Putin; Lawyers Fear Trump Summit Stumble Benefits Mueller; Michael Cohen Recorded Trump Discussion on Paying "Playboy" Model; 17 Confirmed Dead Missouri Duck Boat Capsizes. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired July 20, 2018 - 13:30   ET



[13:30:00] DAN COATS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: But that is the president's prerogative, if he had asked me how that ought to be conducted. I would have suggested a different way. But that's not my role. That's not my job. So it is what it is.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: He seems to be suggesting, what a lot of people suggested, that the president should have his national security advisor, the secretary of state, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, someone in a meeting like that to make notes and to be able to brief the national security community afterwards. But the president decided he only wanted a translator there.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY & FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: This is absolutely unheard of in terms of the presidency and our foreign policy, to have the president of the United States sit down virtually in secret with our prime minister adversary, Russia and Putin, not have anybody else in the room except interpreters. And furthermore, then not come out and really brief the American people and the world as to what was discussed in that meeting. So now we're getting different interpretations. Putin is describing what they agreed to, what they talked about. At the same time, this president has really not presented any kind of summary as to what he discussed behind closed doors. That puts the United States at a terrible disadvantage in terms of the relationship, not only with Russia, but with the rest of the world. I think the rest of the world is growing increasingly distrustful of this president and what he's up to. And that means that it undermines our foreign policy and undermines our leadership in the world that is so important to the interests of this country.

BLITZER: You know, there's a lot of speculation if there's a recording of that conversation that took place. A lot of experts suspect the Russians definitely recorded the meeting one way or another. A lot of experts suggest that the Finns themselves -- that was held at the presidential palace at Helsinki, in one of their rooms -- they probably or may have recorded the meeting. Do you think the U.S. in some way has a recording of that conversation between Putin and the president of the United States?

PANETTA: Well, I don't know the answer to that, Wolf. But, you know, I can tell you that our intelligence people would certainly want to know what the president of the United States said to the president of Russia behind closed doors. There's not much question in my mind that the Russians would have a recording of that meeting. They had plenty of time to wire that room. The Finns probably could have wired it. We don't know exactly whether or not our intelligence people wired that room as well.

But the problem here is that there should not be any necessity to do that because the president should have sat down with the Russian leader, with his secretary of state, with his national security advisor, with his key advisors, so that they would know exactly what the president was saying. This is a situation that raises, I believe. tremendous concern about this relationship between the United States and Russia. If two leaders go behind closed doors, have a meeting, and then we, the American people have absolutely no idea what was discussed, in my mind, that undermines the trust that is absolutely essential between the American people and their president.

BLITZER: One final question before I let you go, Mr. Secretary. Put on your hat as the former CIA director. And I know that the U.S. has very close intelligence cooperation with a whole bunch of countries and I assume it has pretty good intelligence cooperation with Finland. If the U.S. Intelligence Community were to ask the Finland Intelligence Community, do you have a tape and can you share it with us, what do you think their answer would be?

PANETTA: Let me put this way, if the Finns or others recorded that conversation, it's only a matter of time before, through the intelligence circles, we get an indication that that was the case. We have a very good relationship with our intelligence comrades not only in Finland, but across the world. And as a matter of fact, you don't really get good intelligence without the cooperation of other intelligence agencies and other countries. That's the way it works. And so if there's something here, then I think it's just a matter of time before we'll find out. If there isn't, then obviously it's up to the president of the United States whether he wants to be honest with the American people as to what exactly took place in that meeting. One way or another, one way or another, I think ultimately history will find out what happened in that room.

[13:35:34] BLITZER: I suspected you're absolutely right.

Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.

PANETTA: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Up next, the president, President Trump's legal team concerned right now, we're told, about his statements in Helsinki that they may be giving Robert Mueller, the special counsel, the upper hand. We have new information. We'll share it with you when we come back.


[13:40:37] BLITZER: President Trump's widely criticized performance at the Helsinki summit last Monday is raising serious concerns, we're now told, among his lawyers. Sources say his legal team is deeply worried that the president's poor showing may benefit the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Back with us once again, CNN legal analyst, Carrie Cordero, our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Gloria, you and Dana have been talking to sources about how the summit could actually impact Robert Mueller's investigation. What are you hearing?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: We're hearing they're a little concerned that it could impact them in a bad way.

BLITZER: That would be Trump lawyers.

BORGER: Trump lawyers are feeling that way. And before the summit -- let me set the scene, before the summit, they were feeling pretty great, because don't forget, you had public opinion turning on Robert Mueller, thanks to Rudy Giuliani, who's been out there talking about this as a witch hunt, the president as well. You had an inspector general report that was deeply critical of the FBI, which raised all kinds of concerns about the onset of the Russia investigation. So they were feeling pretty good.

Once Donald Trump spoke at Helsinki and his performance was universally or nearly universally panned, what we're hearing is that the lawyers are saying, you know, wait a minute, it's harder to make the witch hunt case in a way when you have so many people who were appalled at the president's performance.

We should also say that he enjoys a 90 percent approval rating with Republicans, and 68 percent of Republicans believe he did fine in Helsinki. But they think this is now a concern of theirs. And the question, of course, is whether Mueller could be slow walking now in terms of an interview.

BLITZER: Because going into the summit, the president's team, his lawyers, his political guys, his supporters were really attacking Mueller and the entire investigation as a witch hunt and all of that and seemed to be having a pretty good impact on the president's base.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The president's base, but even beyond the base, even among Independent voters. The polling in general showed that the public support for the Mueller investigation really took a hit and that was no accident that that was in and around when the president and Rudy Giuliani were going after it.

But the question also, in addition to that, and you heard Gloria, and one of the questions that they're asking inside the legal team is whether or not public opinion and sort of the tide will turn a little bit because of Helsinki. But also the question is about people asking, why did the president do that? Before they could say, oh, my gosh, it's a witch hunt, but now it's an open question.

On the issue of an interview, the Trump legal team --


BLITZER: Interview, the president and Robert Mueller.

BASH: The president and Robert Mueller. The Donald Trump legal team -- and we have reported this many times, for many, many months -- they have been in talks with the Mueller team, but they have hit a bump. There's not a lot going on right now. They're communicating, but not getting very far in these talks. And I was told by one source that they, meaning the Mueller team, don't seem to be expressing any tremendous desire to expedite this. So this is very opaque. There's not a lot that we really know about what's going on inside the Mueller investigation. But some of the concern is, one, that they're just -- they're gathering more information that could be obviously more hurtful to the president. But also they could just be giving up inside the Mueller team. And they might be preparing a subpoena. They, meaning the president's legal team, they don't know the answer to that, but it's the sound of silence.

BLITZER: I'll play a clip from the president, Carrie. This is earlier in the week. He told CBS News about the possibility of an interview, sitting down with Robert Mueller and his team. Listen to how he responded.


UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: I mean more likely to sit for an interview now?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My lawyers are working on that. I have always wanted to do an interview because, look, there's been no collusion. There's been no talk of Russia. There's been no phone call. There's been nothing. And it's -- I call it a witch hunt, that's exactly what it is. It's a vicious witch hunt. And you know what? It's very bad for our country, very, very bad for our country.


[13:45:16] BLITZER: Very bad for. Even Christopher Wray said it was not a witch hunt. He's the FBI director that was named by the president of the United States.

So the president's performance in Helsinki, how do you think it would affect a sit-down interview that the president would grant the special counsel.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: What happened in Helsinki really goes to -- and I'm not surprised that his lawyers are concerned. But it goes to the heart of what the Russia investigation was about, which is, what was the extent of the Russia effort, the actual things that Russia did to influence the election, and whether or not the Trump campaign coordinated in some way with them or conspired with them, and whether or not Donald Trump or people in his circle knew about it. And why that matters is, what motivation would he have to act towards Russia the way in which he does. I think what was on display for the entire world this week, which has been apparent to those of us in the national security community for the last couple of years, but dating back to the campaign, is why is his policy, for example, of accepting Intelligence Community assessments one thing when it's with respect to everything else in the world, and then something different when it comes to Russia? Why when he was with Vladimir Putin, was he not able to say that he accepts the Intelligence Community assessment? Even in his corrective, later in the week, he ad-libbed and changed what he said and said it could have been other people that influenced the election. So if I was the Mueller team looking at these events this week, just like the rest of the country and the rest of the world, they'll say, why is it that he's acting in this way, what is the motivation? And that goes to the heart of their investigation.

BLITZER: That's a good question, and we don't know the answer to that.

Gloria, let's go back to the breaking news this hour that there's now a tape, that we confirmed, that Michael Cohen, the president's long- time lawyer and fixer, recorded of a phone conversation he had with Donald Trump involving the "Playboy" model, Karen McDougal. This is an apparently significant development.

BORGER: It is. And what you have are millions of documents that people have listened to, the attorneys have listened to them. Dana spoke to Rudy Giuliani and he seems to think it's exculpatory in a way because --

BASH: He argues that it's exculpatory.


BORGER: That's right. That it proves that Donald Trump wasn't going to do anything wrong. And I think -- this was first reported by "The Times." So in our reporting and following up, we have discovered that there are other tapes of either the president and other people.

And you can talk about what you know about the other tapes of the president.

BASH: That they -- well, when it comes to the president, the thing that I'm told is that this one tape, which is very short, about two minutes max, is the only one of substance. There are other recordings. Michael Cohen did record then-candidate, then-client Trump other times, but they were very insignificant, I'm told, more like what time is the meeting, when can we meet, things like that. It is still noteworthy that he made a pattern, I think, to --


BASH: -- to make a pattern of recording his client. And then, in addition to Donald Trump, I'm told there are other recordings of other significant individuals, powerful people outside the Trump orbit.

BORGER: If I'm Trump, by the way -- and Dana reported this -- that was the president was upset and Dana's reporting was, "I can't believe Michael would do this to me," was Trump's reaction. I think that's a very natural reaction. Don't you? That suddenly, you have discovered that your attorney was recording personal conversations? I mean aren't they privileged?


CORDERO: It's not standard practice. As I said at the top of the show, there are certainly ethical considerations for lawyers. It's not the way lawyers do business, to record conversations with their clients. It's not the way you work. And it's also probably plays into the privilege review --


CORDERO: -- whether these communications really were privileged or whether they were just about other types of things.

BLITZER: You heard Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniel's lawyer, tell us earlier this hour, when he was being interviewed by me, that Michael Cohen should immediately release all the tapes, have full transparency.

[13:49:53] CORDERO: Here's the thing about that. Important point Dana made about Rudy Giuliani as well. When these lawyers are speaking, they have a client. When we're listening to what Rudy Giuliani says, it is because he is representing Donald Trump, so his public statements are in Donald Trump's interest. When Michael Avenatti is speaking, he is the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, who has these different lawsuits, and is arguing against the president and trying to get out of an agreement that she made. When Michael Avenatti is speaking publicly, I think it is important that we point out that he has a client. His calls for Michael Cohen to release these tapes are not in Michael Cohen's interest necessarily. Those interests are going to be determined by Michael Cohen's lawyers. And Michael Avenatti has a client he is giving a public presentation for.

BLITZER: Great analysis, guys.

Thank you very, very much. Carrie, Dana and Gloria, appreciate it.

There's more news coming up. A tragic scene unfolding in Missouri after a duck boat capsizes leaving 17 people dead. We'll be right back.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's the water.


UNIDENTIIED FEMALE: Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, no.





BLITZER: Seventeen people are confirmed dead after a duck boat carrying tourists and two crew members sank near Branson, Missouri. The deceased include children, adults and the elderly.


DOUG RADER, SHERIFF, COUNTY, MISSOURI, SHERIFFS DEPARTMENT: Again, like I said, it has been a long night and been a very trying night.

JIM PETTISON JR, PRESIDENT, RIPLEY ENTERTAINMENT: We have boats out there, it was perfectly calm, then we had a high-speed wind system that just came out of nowhere and out of that storm front.


BLITZER: Did the wind come out of nowhere? A severe thunderstorm warning was, in fact, issued for surrounding areas 15 minutes before the last duck boat tour was scheduled to start. Another warning was issued for the lake about a half hour before reports came in of the boat sinking.

Joining us now, Colleen Johnson, a former duck boat captain, and was with Boston Duck Tours for more than a decade.

Such a sad story. Let's talk a little about this, Colleen. Wind gusts on the lake reached 63 miles per hour. Is it normal to be on the water during a storm warning along these lines?

COLLEEN JOHNSON, FORMER DUCK BOAT CAPTAIN: Well, I mean, to be out on the water during storm warnings, probably not that abnormal I guess. The 65 miles per hour winds, sounds like they came pretty quick. I would have to imagine that that came once they were already in the water. I can't imagine anyone would have gone in the water with 65 miles per hour winds.

BLITZER: I agree.

We understand there were life jackets on the boat that capsized, but no regulation requiring they actually be worn. Why not?

JOHNSON: I mean, on a normal day, the water is so calm. Generally, not a problem. It is standard procedure to don life preservers in the event of an emergency. Otherwise, if you're on a duck on a 100-degree day, you don't want to put a life preserver on.

BLITZER: The boat did have two crew members, a captain that survived, the driver who died. Is it normal for there to be two crew members on a boat like this?

JOHNSON: Yes, it is now, especially here in Boston. That changed a couple years ago also. Used to just be one. Now for safety reasons there are two. I am just heartbroken for the family of duck people down in Missouri. If they're anything like Boston, they're 100 percent a family and I just can't imagine.

BLITZER: It is an awful, awful situation. Clearly, our heart goes out to all of them.

Tell us a little about what are described as those plastic flaps on the boat. The company that operates the boats said they were lowered at the time of the accident. Does that make the boat safer?

JOHNSON: My guess is the flaps were down due to weather. I don't know if it was raining, that's generally why the flaps would be down, and I can't speak to how they are in Missouri but here in Boston they both zipper and Velcro from the outside, so if there's an issue, you could push on the plastic curtain and it would fallout.

BLITZER: Would it make it more difficult for people to get out?

JOHNSON: I mean, yes, if the flaps are down, but like I said here in Boston there are two different ways for the flaps to be dealt with. I can imagine if there's water up against one of the sides, that would be probably hard to push it out. There's also the windshield of the duck, of our ducks, can lower for another exit point in an emergency. And then the back of the duck by the ladder would also be open.

BLITZER: What kind of certifications must these duck boats go through?

JOHNSON: As a captain of a duck, you're U.S. Coast Guard certified. So it takes a course and passing an exam, passing a physical. It is renewed every five years. There are different hoops to jump through to upgrade your licenses, too. So I would assume the captain of the duck is a coast guard licensed captain. My heart just breaks for him.

BLITZER: Yes. We're all in shock as a result of what happened. An awful, awful situation.

Colleen Johnson, thanks so much for your expertise.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. Our special coverage will continue right now. Stay with us.

[14:00:14] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Wolf, thank you so much.