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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Testifies Before Senate; White House Delays Invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to Visit Washington; New Polls in Swing States Show Low Approval Ratings for President Trump. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired July 26, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The president, as you know, had invited the Russian leader to Washington. He said, come over here in November, despite the blistering criticism he'd been taking for accepting Vladimir Putin's word over that of his own intelligence agencies. It is notable that Vladimir Putin never officially responded to the invitation to come over. Now National Security Adviser John Bolton claims that the president has decided to wait until, these are his words, wait until the Russia witch hunt is over.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo clashed with senators on Capitol Hill yesterday. They wanted to know exactly what President Trump agreed to behind closed doors, virtually alone, with Vladimir Putin. But the secretary of state refused to spell much out about that.

BERMAN: Here to help us break this all down, director, president, and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson Center, Jane Harman, and CNN political director, David Chalian. I just want to play, the central question that I think the world has is what was agreed to behind closed doors between President Trump and Vladimir Putin. These questions have existed now since last Monday when they stood side by side and the president raised so many questions about why he believes Russia as much as he believes his own intelligence agencies. And senators pressed the secretary yesterday. They wanted to know what was discussed. Let's just play a little bit of that again so people can hear the exchange.


SEN. BOB MENENDEZ, (D) NEW JERSEY: Has the president told you what he and President Putin discussed in their two-hour, closed-door meeting in Helsinki?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Presidents have a prerogative to choose who's in meetings or not. I'm confident you've had private one-on-one meetings in your life, as well. You've chosen that setting --

MENENDEZ: I just asked you a question. You can't eat up my seven minutes, Mr. Secretary. Did he tell you whether or not what happened in these two hours?

POMPEO: Yes, senator, the predicate of your question implied some notion that there was something improper about having a one-on-one meeting. I completely disagree.

MENENDEZ: I didn't ask you a predicate. I asked you a question. I hope we're going to get through it. Did he tell you what transpired in the two-hour meeting?

POMPEO: I have had a number of conversations with President Trump about what transpired in the meeting.


BERMAN: So Jane Harman, to you. You are a former Democratic member of Congress, but I know you also think that in many respects the secretary has done a good job since he's taken over here. How do you assess his performance yesterday?

JANE HARMAN, DIRECTOR, PRESIDENT, AND CEO, WILSON CENTER: Well, I think both sides did a good job. Bob Menendez had the testiest questions, but they both came ready to play, and the questions were illuminating. That's not always typical of a Congressional hearing. And I learned a lot from watching parts of the three hours about a lot of subjects. So I assess Pompeo's performance as very good. He has a tough hand.

On that private meeting between Trump and Putin, somebody knows what happened in there. Most of our intelligence folks guess that the Russians were able, somehow, to record the session, and I think we probably were able to get readouts of the session through means that we have. Therefore, people know what happened. I think it was a dumb idea to have a private session at that time. I think it's a smart idea to postpone Putin's second visit.

CAMEROTA: But Jane, just to follow up on that, did you get the impression that Pompeo knows really what happened in there? Because he seemed to be doing a bit of a defensive dance there.

HARMAN: Well, I think he played the hand that he has. And he said the president calls the plays and so on and so forth. And if he has the information, he doesn't want to share it in public with a committee. He also doesn't want to share his private negotiations with the North Koreans in public with that committee. But the point here is, I don't know what he knows. I don't think he's going to share that. I think he was put on defense because there was the private meeting. If, instead, there had been a proper meeting with the proper process with key people in the room, which followed the private meeting, I don't think we would be having this difficulty and these suspicions about what Trump and Putin talked about.

BERMAN: You also heard the secretary, David Chalian, say something that we have heard before. But now to hear it from an official so high up, it's notable, which is, the secretary of state basically said don't pay as much attention to what the president of the United States says. Pay attention to what the government has done. And he laid out what he thought were compelling cases of how the United States has been tough on Russia. You can argue whether or not it's as tough as he says it is. But he basically said, no words, actions here. It was interesting to hear that. DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: It was, although he then walked

it back a little bit, John, when pressed, that the president's words are indeed U.S. policy. But there's no doubt that pointing to the actions and not the words or the Twitter feed of the president has been a refrain from many officials inside this administration.

I agree with Jane that Secretary Pompeo defended himself OK, acquitted himself OK in that hearing. I also think he gave the kind of combative performance that his boss loves to see his folks give. So giving as good as he gets, I think, is important for President Trump to see, as well. And I think Secretary Pompeo is keenly aware of that.

[08:05:06] CAMEROTA: Jane, let's talk about the invitation from President Trump to Vladimir Putin to the White House, which was head scratching after the Helsinki summit that had gone so poorly, according to political watchers, that suddenly President Trump seemed to be doubling down and inviting Vladimir Putin to the White House. And nobody knew what that was going to be about.

Well, the reporting is that Vladimir Putin never responded to that, and now the White House is saying, well, we're going to put it off. We've decided that for political reasons, we're going to put it off. But mostly what I want you to address is John Bolton's about-face. So the national security adviser wrote something exactly a year ago about how he saw the Russian interference, their cyberwarfare on the U.S., and then we'll contrast it with what he said yesterday.

Here is a year ago, OK? This is what John Bolton wrote in an op-ed before he was part of the administration. "Attempting to undermine America's constitution is far more than just a quotidian covert operation. It is, in fact, a true act of war and one Washington will never tolerate." Yesterday, here is what that same man, now that he is part of the administration, wrote, "The president believes that the next bilateral meeting with President Putin should take place after the Russia witch hunt is over. So we've agreed it will be after the first of the year." How do you explain that, Jane?

HARMAN: Well, easily. Just the way I explain everything else that's been happening. I actually can explain it. First of all, now there is no question. It is a slam dunk that there was Russian influence operations in our 2016 election, possibly our 2014 election, and they're ongoing now. And Bolton didn't contradict himself on that. What he did say, however, was the president's view that the Mueller investigation is a witch hunt. So conflating the two, that means we need the witch hunt over so that we can then have the proper meeting.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but if you believe it's an act of warfare, as he said, why wouldn't you want that act of warfare to be investigated?

HARMAN: Well, yes, but why are you asking such a rational question?

CAMEROTA: I don't know. I don't know. When will I learn?

HARMAN: Let me just say one more thing. Politics is complicated, and it's not is a rational process. And right now the polls are dropping for Trump and the Republicans are panicking. And the pressure on him is one way -- get Putin offstage. We don't want to talk about this before our elections, because it makes us look terrible and we could lose. And they had no choice. Also, I wonder if Putin pulled out. Have you thought about that? We don't have the information, but Putin might not have wanted to be the spectacle here.

CHALIAN: It is certainly a rare moment of the president backtracking, right? We saw it a little bit with Theresa May when he was over there. That was a rare moment. And this is another rare moment of him trying to come out boldly with something and announce something quickly and try to own a news cycle on something. And then he is reversing course. That hasn't been a character trait overall of the Trump presidency.

BERMAN: Let me give you -- I don't want to interrupt you. Go ahead, Jane.

HARMAN: I was in Aspen last week when this was the surprise, the breaking news. And Andrea Mitchell was interviewing Dan Coats, and he handled it, I thought, very gracefully, because he was blindsided. But I'm just saying I think we're ending up in a better place. There is a lack of process in this administration, but there are some good people in this administration, and I think Pompeo is one of them.

BERMAN: And I think there are people who can read polls, frankly, at this point, because I think we have seen much of the reaction to these dramatic reactions, and it hasn't been good. And David Chalian, yesterday I thought of you after 5:00 p.m.

CAMEROTA: As he does so often.

BERMAN: As I do often when the NBC News/Marist numbers came out from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin here. These are fascinating. He won. The president won Michigan and Minnesota, but look at his approval rating now --

CHALIAN: He won Michigan and Wisconsin, John, came close in Minnesota.

BERMAN: I know. And of course Ronald Reagan also did win Wisconsin, which the president gets wrong repeatedly. But look at the numbers there -- 36, 38, 36 percent approval rating. That is really low. And there are some other numbers here, if you talk about 2020, whether or not the president deserves reelection there, more than 60 percent in each of these states wants to give a new person a chance. And then on the Mueller investigation, in all of these states, they all think it's a fair investigation by pretty substantial margins and not a witch hunt, which pertains to this discussion we were just talking about Russia here. These are tough numbers for the president, and it comes right after this big week with Russia.

CHALIAN: They are tough numbers. You may recall in 2016, we talked a lot about that blue wall. And Donald Trump talks a lot about how he shattered it. Well, it seems to be the building blocks of it are coming back in the moment in some way. These are bluish, purplish states. So if you look at his overall national approval rating hovering in the low to mid-40s, then it's not terribly surprising to see that in these more bluish states that he's a bit lower than that.

But I agree with you, the numbers on the Mueller investigation there, no matter how successful he may be with rallying Republicans and his base to his side on this, in the critical states, the building blocks he will need to get reelected, he's got a ton of work to do, even though in all of those polls, a plurality in each of them give him credit on the economy and say the economy is good and that it is due to him.

[08:10:15] CAMEROTA: And David, just one more thing. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems as though the Russia investigation, which has been going on obviously for more than a year, never has gotten as much traction with voters in polls until Helsinki. Something about Helsinki is what these polls are responding to.

CHALIAN: There's no doubt that what we're seeing right now is a response to Helsinki in these polls that have been taken in the last week. I don't know yet, Alisyn, how much people are connecting the two. You are right, throughout the entire Russia investigation, it really has been every poll where you stand politically is how you see it. If Helsinki actually changed that permanently, we have to wait for a little bit of time, I think.

BERMAN: And I will say, after 2016, Michigan polls, we'll have to be careful if we look at polls from Michigan I think going forward.

Jane Harman, you brought up Dan Coats and the performance at Aspen, which is notable. We had Thomas Friedman on at the top of the last hour, and he was talking about what he sees as the last line of defense for what he believes are problematic policies by this administration, the president. He looks at Christopher Wray and Dan Coats specifically to protect the country. Do you think that's what it's come to? Do you think Dan Coats needs to serve as this buffer?

HARMAN: Well, I heard your interview of Tom Friedman, who also says he sometimes agrees with the president, sometimes the president's right. But his team on foreign policy, by and large, certainly, I think Dan Coats, Jim Mattis, full disclosure, I serve on Mattis' defense policy board, and Pompeo are strong. And I think they buffer him in good ways.

What's missing here is the lack of process. If there were a good process, I think we would have much better statements on the front end. And somebody said that Trump asks all the right questions, he just doesn't have the right answers. We need a better strategy. And it's painful, and everyone at Aspen said this in different ways, to see America's preeminence as the leader of the free world eroding in various ways. You don't have to think America is the policeman of the world to think America's role, its moral role, the city on the hill, the Ronald Reagan phrase, is very important, and it's been all throughout our lifetimes. And if it goes away, it's a tragedy.

CAMEROTA: Jane Harman, David Chalian, thank you both very much.

HARMAN: Thank you. CAMEROTA: OK, so today the president is doing something interesting.

He's leaving for Iowa this morning. And that's where farmers are confused by his trade war, by his tariffs. So what kind of reception will he get? We'll speak with a Republican lawmaker from Iowa about all of this next.


[08:16:37] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump heads to Iowa this morning, a state where farmers have been hit hard by the retaliatory tariffs from China and the European Union. Yesterday, President Trump appeared to reverse course on his trade war with Europe after meeting with the president of the European Commission.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We agreed today, first of all, to work together towards zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods.

This will open markets for farmers and workers, increase investment, and lead to greater prosperity in both the United States and the European Union. It will also make trade fairer and more reciprocal.


CAMEROTA: All right. Joining us now to talk about all of this, we have Republican congressman from Iowa, David Young.

Congressman, you're the perfect person to speak to this morning so that you can give us a pulse on how Iowans are feeling. So what has the response been from the people in your district to the president's tariffs?

REP. DAVID YOUNG (R), IOWA: So it's been kind of mixed. And so a lot of agriculture folks, producers, farmers are hurting already and they say, you know, can it get any worse? Let's give the president a little bit more rope on this. And some, I guess, because of maybe the way they're just personally positioned are saying, this is overwhelming us already, we need help, and help for me, and in the end, and what farmers really want, they want trade, they want markets, and not necessarily any kind of bailout or aid. But these are the kind of the cards they've been dealt with.

CAMEROTA: So you are what? You support the president's attempt at tariffs or no?

YOUNG: I don't like tariffs at all. Tariffs are taxes. They increase the cost of goods and services on consumers and they can harm employers and employees as well. And so I don't like tariffs.

CAMEROTA: Here's what the president says about that. "Every time I see a weak politician asking to stop trade talks or the use of tariffs to counter unfair tariffs, I wonder, what can they be thinking? Are we just going to continue and let our farmers and country get ripped off? Lost $817 billion on trade last year. No weakness." Are you being weak?

YOUNG: Well, the question here for me is, who's my boss? The people of the third district or the president of the United States? And it's -- obviously the people of the Third District. So that's who I answer to. And when it comes to tariffs, I just think that's a bad place to start. I think the president should have started with maybe a World Trade Organization appeal, maybe sitting down with the leader of China, President Xi. Gaining allied support in isolating China on trade. Those kind of things.

And so there's no doubt China's been ripping us off in a big way. And we all want a better deal. What is a better deal in the end? I think the president, Secretary Ross, needs to define what the goals and objectives are here to get us where we want to get and land this plane on a runway sooner rather than later.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, they say that the objective is to get China's attention and to retaliate against China for what you've just spelled out. And if you don't see it, then you're weak.

YOUNG: Well, I think the president needs to sit down with a leader in China. At some point, I think that would be a good idea. I really am concerned about this, in the long run, and the short-term here as well. But the long-term effects, by just, you know, levying tariffs and not sitting down with the leader of China and not building that coalition of allies on this.

[08:20:09] And listen, with the E.U., that was a good start. We need to bring them in with us to isolate China on trade and get the NAFTA deal done sooner rather than later, being that Canada and Mexico have been such great and an important and strategic trading partners with us.

CAMEROTA: Are you happy about the announcement of a $12 billion bailout for farmers?

YOUNG: I'm not for bailouts. I'm not happy about that. And a lot of farmers aren't as well. It may be needed, though, because these are -- this is coming from the effect of what the administration has done. And it's an admonition that tariffs are harming agriculture and harming farmers. And so it's not what they prefer. They want markets. It's so easy to lose markets, Alisyn, and we're seeing that. It's so hard to gain them.

Sometimes it can take years, if not decades, to gain markets. And so -- and at the same time, we need to be looking at ways to get some bilateral agreements on the table. That's where the president prefers his trading agreements. Not the multi-lateral agreements, like NAFTA or the TPP, which was under President Obama, which I supported.

CAMEROTA: But the president has not done the bilateral agreements.

YOUNG: He needs to. He needs to. He's got to start opening up those doors and those relationships. CAMEROTA: It's hard for some people to understand the strategy of

imposing tariffs that hurt Iowa farmers and then giving Iowa farmers a bailout, a federal government assistance in the form of taxpayer bailout. We understand the strategy in terms of getting their votes or keeping their votes, but as a Republican, these are things that Republicans generally always disagreed with. And so in the halls of Congress, are you, you know, experiencing cognitive dissidence with your Republican colleagues about this?

YOUNG: I don't -- maybe I don't reflect everybody's opinion on the Republican side but for the most part, we've been a party of no tariffs, free trade. The president has always had a different approach on that. He campaigned on this, so it shouldn't be a surprise that he has more maybe a populist streak when it comes to tariffs on these things.

And so, you know, I can just argue against them, contact the president, let the voices of Iowans be heard. The president is in Iowa today, not in the third district which I represent. And I'm sure the president is going to be hearing a lot about trade.

CAMEROTA: Now to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Would you like to see him impeached?

YOUNG: Well, impeached is a -- that's a big word. Right? People have talked about impeaching the president, Rosenstein. When it comes to impeachment, I mean, that's an issue that you have to bring down to the floor, have serious debate about but I don't --

CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, your colleagues --


CAMEROTA: Just to be clear, and people have voted -- your colleagues, your Republican colleagues in the House Freedom Caucus have now voted on that.

YOUNG: Well, I was just going to say that I don't see a reason to impeach him at this moment. And I'm watching carefully and listening to leaders of the respective committees, oversight committee, Chairman Gowdy, Chairman Goodlatte as well. And so impeachment's a big deal. I think back home, as well, a lot of people aren't talking about this. This seems to be more of a inside baseball parlor games kind of issue that's popped up here before we go into our August work break.

CAMEROTA: So why do you think that your Republican colleagues, Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows, have launched this?

YOUNG: Well, that's -- you know, that's -- you know, up to each and every individual member of Congress, but I'm not there.

CAMEROTA: You don't support their move?

YOUNG: My name is not on that impeachment resolution, so --

CAMEROTA: Fair enough. Congressman David Young, thank you very much for joining us with your


YOUNG: Hey, I appreciate it. Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: We appreciate you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Very interesting discussion there.

The federal government reportedly has many more secret recordings by Michael Cohen. Is there anything that is in there that could hurt the president?


[08:27:59] BERMAN: "The Washington Post" reports that federal investigators have seized more than a hundred secret recordings from Michael Cohen, including the one we heard yesterday with President Trump discussing a potential payoff to silence a former Playboy model.

Joining us now, an investigative journalist who has covered Donald Trump's financial dealings for years, David Cay Johnston, editor of the, and author of "It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration is Doing to America."

David, thanks so much for being with us. I'm really curious, as someone who has covered Donald Trump for years and looked into so many of his dealings, when you heard this recording, this discussion between Donald Trump and his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, about a possible payoff, what did you take from that?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, AUTHOR, "IT'S EVEN WORSE THAN YOU THINK": Well, it didn't surprise me at all. Donald has been paying people off to be quiet many times. There are, I'm sure, numerous other cases that as this goes forward we're going to see come forward. And Donald has been doing this for the whole 30 years that I've covered him.

BERMAN: And one of the questions that has come up, and it's come up this morning on this show is, why would Michael Cohen ever record this conversation? Why would he record a hundred more conversations? Again, based on what you know of Trump world, why would someone record stuff?

JOHNSTON: Well, first of all, it's in New York City, not unusual that people tape you. New York state is what's called a one-person consent law. And when I was a reporter at "The New York Times," for example, I always assumed that I was being taped when I interviewed someone in person or on the phone in New York. But secondly some lawyers might tape a client now and then to make sure they get their directions straight. But the other logical reason is, this is insurance. If the boss is asking you to commit an illegal act and you have a tape of him, you have an insurance policy. And the question I think is interesting is how is it that the "New York Times" and CNN got the fact that there was a tape and then you guys got the transcript?

Most likely the federal judge indicated that attorney-client privilege did not apply to the tape and she was going to make it public and they didn't want a judicial ruling that the crime fraud exception applied. That is, this tape was about two people discussing a crime, John.