Return to Transcripts main page


Report: White House Briefing Amid Mueller's New Offer for a Trump Interview; Intelligence Heads Say Russia Not Trying to Interfere in Elections; White House Briefing Turns Contentious Over Attacks on Media People; The U.S. Is Prepared to Conduct Operations Against Russian Meddling; Trump's Position on Russia Contradicts Intelligence Heads; White House Says Russia Trying to Divide and Weaken Us Ahead of Midterms. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 2, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We want a thorough evaluation, but we don't want a taxpayer fishing expedition. I'll take a last question, Jordan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Thanks, Sarah. I want to follow up on the third part of Bill's question earlier on North Korea. We are nearing now the two-month mark from the Singapore summit. So, as a president of satisfied with the progress North Korea is making toward the denuclearization?

SANDERS: The president won't be completely satisfied until all of Korea has been denuclearized. We'll continue to move forward. We've seen steps of progress and continued cooperation. We're incredibly grateful and thankful for the remains of the service members that were returned yesterday. And we're going to continue to work with North Korea. I think that's a great place to close out. Thanks, so much guys, have a good day.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: All right, let's take it. You have been watching an extraordinary press briefing, I'm Brooke Baldwin, you're watching CNN. We begin with this really, this was a true show of force there at the White House right before the president begins his ten-day summer vacation. You have all these different federal intelligence chiefs individually standing there at the podium of Russian interference both about past and upcoming U.S. elections. To assure Americans that the Trump administration is actively confronting those cyber security threats.


DAN COATS, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: We have subsequently made the determination to make this a top priority that it doesn't happen again. We're throwing everything at it and we will have and will be discussing that here today. Relative to my discussions with the president on whatever issue it is, those I do not go public with that. I don't think that's the right, proper thing to do. Our focus here today is to tell the American people we acknowledge the threat. It is real. It is continuing.

And we're doing everything we can to have a legitimate election that the American people can have trust in. In addition to that it goes beyond the elections, it goes to Russia's intent to undermine our Democratic values, drive a wedge between our allies and do other nefarious things and we're looking at that also. But today we're here to talk about the elections coming up and what we're doing and ensuring the American people --


BALDWIN: The disparity between that message and the message that comes directly from the president and his press secretary is enormous. Just remember one day ago the president said his attorney general should end the Russia investigation. And didn't at all acknowledge the active interference and today the "New York Times" is reporting the president wants to try and convince Special Counsel Robert Mueller that his own investigation is a witch-hunt.

So, let's go to Kaitlan Collins, our senior White House correspondent to catch some of this. Watching that, how extraordinary to have all of those different intel chiefs standing up. Seems almost like bizarro world given what we normally hear from that podium with regard to the Russian investigation and to hear director coats say Russia is trying to interfere, the threat is real stunning.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: When the White House brings out these guests at the beginning of the briefing it almost seems as they are filibustering to avoid tough questions that they know are coming from reporters. Today quite a show of force with most members of the national security council, most people who regularly attend those meetings coming out to the briefing today, each one taking time to come up to the podium to speak to reporters about the threat they believe is real, is happening, saying democracy is in the cross-hairs because there's still efforts to affect the election.

We got details of the director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, say it's more misinformation campaign this fall than attack on election infrastructure. We got details like that from them. The over arching effort is yes bad actors will continue to interfere in our election and they will do everything to stop that. That comes with a very obvious backdrop here of those comments not being echoed by president Trump himself and certainly not being echoed as strongly as they just were by the secretary of Homeland Security, the National Security adviser, the president's chief intelligence officer, the director of the FBI and the head of the NSA as they did just there.

Just last week on Friday the president met with his national security council to discussion election interference. A meeting that didn't even last over an hour long which raised criticism about whether or not the president is taking this seriously. Of course, that comes after the president's press conference in Helsinki with the Russian president, the leader of the country that attacked our last election, the presidential election when he declined to stand up to him and to confront him over that election interference when the entire world was watching.

[14:05:00] This was a way for the White House combat that. There were several moments in that briefing that really stood out. When was when Director Coats was asked and said he didn't know or could speak or understand what happened during that one-on-one meeting between Trump and Putin.

That's something that's a concern for most experts and reporters have been asking those questions about whether or not the president fully briefed anyone on what was said when it was just he and Vladimir Putin one-on-one in that meeting. Also, the FBI Director Christopher Wray was asked about the president's tweet yesterday that said Jeff Sessions should end the Russia investigation. Of course, that's the investigation into Russian interference in the election that touches on whether any Trump officials colluded. But the president said the investigation should be shut down and then having these officials come out here and argue why election interference is a real thing and needs our attention is quite a contrast. Wray was asked about Sarah Huckabee Sanders herself saying there is corruption in the FBI and in that investigation instead of directly addressing that he said everybody at the FBI including him the director are going to make sure that they are doing their jobs and doing their jobs correctly.

BALDWIN: Kaitlan, thank you for that. All of that happened. There was also quite the exchange between our colleague, our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta and Sarah Sanders. We all remember what happened to Jim and I know this has happened to some degree at all kinds of rallies he's been at. Jim is with me now. First, no one of called for the press secretary to be choked or harassed from this network, number one. And number two, why can't this White House acknowledge that the media is not the enemy of the people?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Sadly, Brooke, I think what you saw happen here at the end of that briefing was the true feelings of the president, the true feelings of many of the people that work in this administration laid bare. They believe, it appears in their heart of hearts that the journalists who cover this White House, the journalists who work in this city, who were just trying a few moments ago to hold some of these officials accountable about attacks on our democracy, that the people here who work at this White House all the way up to the president evidently believe that journalists are the enemy of the people. Literally the enemy of the people. And I gave --

BALDWIN: Except for Ivanka Trump.

ACOSTA: Except for Ivanka Trump. I tried to pose that question to say, listen the president's daughter, his own daughter said no, she doesn't think that we're the enemy. And you saw it unfold there -- I was giving Sarah several opportunities to set the record straight and she flat refused. What you can obviously see she's taken a lot what she's experienced very personally. I think what you can obviously see she's taken a lot of what she has experienced very personally. I don't blame her for that. My goodness, she has taken on a lot.

But at the same time, she also has come up here to this podium on a regular basis and continued to tell the American people, you know, provable falsehoods, lies, and so on and, unfortunately, our job as journalists as you know, Brooke, we have to call that stuff out. We have to fact check them. We're fact checkers in real-time with this president because he tells falsehoods and lies so much. And, it's unfortunate the position that we're all in right now. And I'm standing in this briefing room right now.

There's no government official here but I'll say that the press is not the enemy of the people. And, you know, I think maybe we should make some bumper stickers. Make some buttons, you know maybe we should go out on Pennsylvania Avenue like these folks who chant CNN sucks and fake news, maybe we should go out, all journalists should go out on Pennsylvania Avenue and chant we're not the enemy of the people because I'm tired of this.

Honestly, Brooke, I'm tired of this. It is not right. It is not fair. It is not just. It is un-American to come out here and call the press the enemy of the people and Ivanka Trump knows that. I don't know why her father doesn't. And I don't know why this press secretary doesn't. I mean she got yelled at a restaurant in Virginia. I feel sorry about that. I feel badly for her that happened. That comedian at the correspondence dinner said some unpleasant things about her. I'm sorry about that.

[14:10:00] She ought some of the things that were said to me the other night in Tampa, she ought to read some of the things that are said about my colleagues on CNN on a regular basis. It would be nice if we all lowered the temperature a little bit but at the very least, I think we should all be able to agree on one thing, and that is the press is not the enemy of the people. Fellow Americans are not the enemy of fellow Americans. And, you know, forgive me for going on a rant. They lost sight of that here at this White House.

BALDWIN: Let me say amen and also let me say what took Ivanka Trump so long to say that the press isn't the enemy of the people. We'll come back to all of that. Jim, I appreciate you standing there. I know it's personal for you. Appreciate you and all the work you do for us covering this White House. I want to come back to that conversation. Let's pivot back to these intel chiefs in the room, show of force at the top of the briefing. Jim Sciutto, first of all, listening to Coats and Wray and their message the threat is real maybe not as robust as what they saw in 2016 but incongruous from what we've heard from that very room.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The FBI director also made some hard news in this press conference. Christopher Wray revealed there are open investigations under way today of what he called foreign influence nexus. This is foreign influence operations that expand beyond the kinds of thing we've been talking about a lot, social media, et cetera. It includes people who are attempting to influence this election here in the U.S. and he mentioned specifically illegal campaign financing, something he's looking into. That of course is significant. Are they discovering evidence that Russia is funneling money into campaigns? He said they are investigating that. When you speak of a foreign influence, that nexus, think about beyond the internet.

Think about Maria Butina who was a Russian intelligence operative who was making connections with politicians here who it appears was funneling money to the NRA. So, it's something to be clear that, you know, when they talk about election interference not just meddling as often has been talked about, not just social media, it's a coordinated attempt to interfere in the election and he may, Christopher Wray made clear they have investigations under way today of exactly that kind of broad based activity.

BALDWIN: Just turning to Asha. Hearing him say not only open investigation with a foreign influence a nexus spanning fuel offices across the country, he said we are prepared to conduct operations against said meddling. Talk to me about that.


BALDWIN: You speak that language.

RANGAPPA: Yes, I do speak that language. You know the good news is when it comes to domestically within the United States the FBI's counter intelligence mandate allows them to not only investigate foreign intelligence but do undercover. To disrupt, expose or find out what these intelligence services are doing. And they can do that within the United States with the approval of the attorney general. They don't need the president's approval to do that. Whereas, for example, to do operations abroad, the CIA, the NSA, they need approval from the president of the United States and their hands are a little tied right now because the president is unwilling to even acknowledge this problem let alone find a strategy to counter it looking outwards. This was good news from Director Wray for us at home.

BALDWIN: Good news for him and you also say about time we heard from all of these people and the numbers that we did. Max Boot, what did you make of what we saw?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I was thinking back to a headline that was posted just last night on "The Washington Post" where it says as mid-term elections approach a growing concern the nation is not protected from Russian interference. Obviously this press conference was designed to counter that impression and to deal with the lingering fallout from the humiliation in Helsinki where Donald Trump did not stand up to Vladimir Putin and clearly this is a bit of political theater I would I guess on the part of Bill Shine, the new White House communications director, to send a signal no we're on top of this, we got it, we're mobilized, were countering the Russian attack.

[14:15:00] But the reality is, sort of. There's no question that those individual agencies that were represented there are doing the best they can. I don't question the professionalism or dedication of Chris Wray or Gen. Nakasone, the other people up on that stage. But the fact that you had a multiplicity of those agencies represented makes clear what you need is coordination. There has to be very close integration of those efforts and it has to take place in the White House. Does anybody think Donald Trump is actually making this a top priority when he himself says it's a hoax to claim that the Russians attacked us or denies that the Russia attacks are continuing? So clearly there is a major disconnect.

BALDWIN: That's the part so confounding. That you have this president -- I mean just even the word adversary, we were noting, using, hearing a word adversary when Jim Sciutto referenced to Russians versus, again, what we saw on that stage in Helsinki when clearly the president of the United States seemed to be siding with Putin over this country's intelligence agencies.

BOOT: This is another example of how you basically have two different foreign policies in the United States. You have the foreign policy of the Trump administration and then you have the foreign policy of President Trump himself and ultimately, you know, not to coin a phrase here but Trump trumps his administration. What the president says and does is ultimately more important than people underneath him are doing even though they are trying to do a great job, they are not getting a consistent message out because the president is at completely odds with his own government.

SCIUTTO: Brooke, on that point, before those intelligence chiefs went to the podium, both John Bolton and Sarah Sanders said in their words that the president has been very clear, he's made it very clear how election, preventing election interference is his priority. The fact is he's not been clear, right, because as you said, Brooke, he's been all over the place. A couple of weeks ago he stood next to the Russian president and said not certain Russia was behind it. The contrast with his senior most intelligence officials there is very clear, and by the test, if the U.S. has been sufficiently clear to Russia and other adversaries about election interference and raised the cost to a point where it, you know, it was sufficient, then the election interference wouldn't be continuing today as it is.

That's really the key test here. I speak to numerous intelligence officials and Republicans and Democrats, frankly who say the costs have not been raised enough for Russia to stop this and the proof is in the pudding. If they are continuing that kind of interference today it seems whatever the policy is to this point and the previous administration it's failing.

BALDWIN: Noted. Also, from it was from director coats, that when he was asked specifically about the 2016 meddling and comparing it to what's happening ahead of the mid-terms in November, which is more intense. He said it's not the kind of robust campaign from 2016. They really stepped up their game big time in 2016. We haven't seen that kind of robust effort from them so far in 2018. Will that assuage concerns of Americans heading to the polls hearing that?

RANGAPPA: When Director Wray spoke he mentioned this isn't just about the election. This is a long-term strategy to essentially erode the social trust that we as Americans have in each other.

BALDWIN: Sowing discord.

RANGAPPA: Making us fight against each other. Making us lose faith in our institutions and the system. And this is where it ties back to what Acosta said, which is that, you know, there are certain pillars that bind us together regardless where we are on the political spectrum. Freedom of the press being one of them. Liberty. Tolerance. All of these fundamental values. And when you have messaging coming out from the White House that it's fake news, enemy of the people, that is actually aligned with Putin's goals to erode some of these fundamental values.

BALDWIN: It's working.

RANGAPPA: He said I'm tired that's a part of the game. Make you so tired you give up.

BALDWIN: Max I want to hear from you on that as well. You heard my conversation with Jim Sciutto. Was it a conversation the back and forth between Sarah Sanders and Jim? Jim was saying can you stand up there and say, now, press is not the enemy of the people which is what we've heard over and over from this president. We've just heard that Ivanka Trump has said no they are not. Only now. I would love to hear you weigh in on that.

[14:20:00] BOOT: Asha really nailed it when she talked about how this is really serving Putin's interest because as Dan Coats said there's a pervasive messaging campaign designed to divide and weaken Americans and guess what? Donald Trump is the most important player in that pervasive campaign whether consciously or unconsciously that's exactly what he's doing. He's dividing Americans and weakening our institutions. He's attacking every pillar of our society that can stand as a check and balance upon his misbehavior starting with the press and that very ugly display that Jim Acosta was subject to at that Trump rally which seemed something like some kind of authoritarian regime from the 1930s.

But it's not just that, it's also the fact that Trump, for example, daily attacks the integrity of the Department of Justice, attacks the integrity of the FBI. Keep in mind, Brooke, the official White House designation for the Robert Mueller Special Counsel Investigation, a lawful duly appointed investigation set up by Department of Justice is a rigged witch hunt.

Not just president Trump, Sarah Sanders, John Bolton says it, they all call it a rigged witch-hunt. That's scandalous. That really serves Putin's interest in hiding his machinations and dividing America and undermining the integrity of our institutions. And I thought a very telling moment was when John Bolton said we all know what the president's priority is. Maybe he meant the president's priority was to protect us from Russia.

But no, I think we all know that's not the president's priority. The president's priority is actually to protect himself from political harm and he doesn't care how many institutions he takes down with him, how much he divides America, how much division and hatred he sows. It's all about protect Donald Trump not about protecting the country in the way the intelligence chiefs standing up there are trying to do.

BALDWIN: I want everyone to stand which. We'll take a quick break. We'll have much more on this huge breaking news. Here we are months from the mid-term elections and hearing these intel chiefs standing up there saying Russia is trying to interfere, the threat is real. I'm Brooke Baldwin and this is CNN.


[14:25:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The issue was discussed and, in fact, President Putin said, I thought at the press conference but certainly in the expanded bilateral meeting when the two leaders got together with their senior advisers, President Putin said the first issue that President Trump raised was election meddling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess the question is, at the press conference, the president didn't highlight any of the maligned activities that you have and that his advisers have. And so, should Americans believe that he's listening to your advice or that he's going his own way when he's having meetings like he had with the president of Russia?

BOLTON: The president made it abundantly clear to everybody who has responsibility in this area that he cares deeply about it and he expects them to do their jobs to the fullest of their ability and he supports them fully.


BALDWIN: We're back. You've been listening at the top of the show we took stunning White House press conference where you had these intel chiefs all standing up there and essentially saying that this is, they say, this is a priority of this president to stop this Russian interference in the elections, not just from what we experienced in 2016 but into the mid-terms this November, and saying quote, the threat is real. So, Tim Naftali, we haven't heard from you yet and you were making the point we were chaptering during commercials Russians have been attacking for a while, but to quote, to quote Director Coats, they stepped up their game big time in 2016.

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: We have to keep in mind that a large part of the Russian effort is a disinformation campaign. This is not just simply the actions of Russian intelligence officers in our country, it's also an attempt to shape our national dialogue. So, it's very important that the White House not forget that it's not enough to make sure that machines are secure and that we have good counter cyber capabilities. We also must not be sending a signal from the White House that is doing the Russian work for the Russians. Because if the White House isn't careful, the president is going to be a mouthpiece for Russian disinformation.

We'll leave his motives to Mueller and others. But the fact of the matter is the themes the president emphasizes every day serve to help those countries that would like to divide us and to weaken us and weaken our commitment to international allies. That's why this is a bigger deal than simply a cyber problem. This is a question of keeping our democracy safe from those who would divide us.

BALDWIN: It was just yesterday that the president, you know, tweeted that his own attorney general should end this witch-hunt, this Russian investigation. Just yesterday. What did you think of what we just saw?

[14:30:00] BERIT BERGER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: I mean, it's kind of amazing to hear on one hand them say this is a priority of the president to look at what's happening with respect to the next election when at the same time he's consistently and repeatedly undermining the investigation into these very same actions that happened in 2016. If you want to look to the type of things that could happen with respect to the next election all you have to do is to look at the documents that the counsel's office has filed. You can look at the type of crimes that we can expect to see with the new election and types of operations that the FBI would be doing in advance of this election to try to stay on top of these crimes.

BALDWIN: Again, the FBI listening to Director Wray, quote, we have open investigations of foreign influence nexus spanning field offices across the country. Tell me exactly what that means.

RANGAPPA: That means that they are monitoring -- there are three goals in the counter intelligence operation which is to identify who the actors are, monitor what they are doing and do what's called neutralizing their activity. Neutralizing can to be done in a number of ways. You can flip human sources, get them to be double agents for you. Or particularly to Tim's point with disinformation, the way to neutralize it is to make it transparent.

BALDWIN: How you mean?

RANGAPPA: That means if you're being bombarded by propaganda, the way that we as a free society, we're not going to shut down the outlets there are first amendment barriers to it. What we do is say, hey, you need to know the source of this information. So, Wray said the FBI's trying to work with tech companies to expose where certain things are coming from Russian actors --