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Senate & House Intelligence Committee Reports on Russian Interference Don't Match; Tillerson Not-So-Subtle Jab at Trump During Commencement Address; Trump Pushes Back on Report He Caved to China on ZTE. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired May 16, 2018 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:31:35] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Just as the Senate Judiciary Committee releases thousands of pages of transcripts on the 2016 Trump Tower meeting and interviews about them, the Senate Intelligence Committee has just finished its report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. And what's pretty interesting is that their findings do not at all match those of their counterparts in the House.
I want to turn now to CNN senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju. He's on Capitol Hill.
The conclusions couldn't be more different from the Senate Intelligence Committee compared to the House Intelligence Committee, both Republican led, Manu.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee say the Intelligence Community's assessment from 2017 that Vladimir Putin orchestrated a cyber campaign with the intention of helping Donald Trump win the presidency is accurate. That's the review of several Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Senator Richard Burr put out a statement after a hearing with several former Obama officials about how this assessment was put together. And Burr said this in his statement, "Committee staff have spent 14 months reviewing the sources, tradecraft and Analytic work and weep see no reason to dispute the conclusions."
That's different than what the House committee Republicans said. They believe the intelligence agencies did not do a good job in evaluating this and ultimately disputed the assertion that Putin was trying to help Trump win.
Not just Burr disagrees. Other the House Republicans, other influential Republicans do as well, Senator Cornyn, and a Republican Lankford on the committee said it's accurate. And Susan Collins as well, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee. We'll wait to see the details. Senator Burr told me to expect that to get out. He'll wait until that comes out to explain how they came to their conclusions.
The Republicans on that panel are more isolated in their insertion that it was not Putin's intention to help Trump win the presidency -- Brianna?
[14:34:03] KEILAR: Manu Raju, thank you.
Next, two months after he was fired, today, former secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, delivers a very interesting commencement address. The theme of his speech, "Defending truth in America." Was this a not-so- subtle jab at someone specific? More on that in a moment.
KEILAR: Two months after he was fired as secretary of state, today, Rex Tillerson delivered the commencement speech to cadets at the Virginia Military Institute. A major theme of his speech was about protecting truth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: If our leaders seek to conceal the truth or we, as people, become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in fact, then we, as American citizens, are on a pathway of relinquishing our freedom.
The responsibility of every American citizen to each other is to preserve and protect our freedom by recognizing what truth is and is not, what fact is and is not.
When we, as people, a free people, go wobbly on the truth, even on what may seem the most trivial of matters, we go wobbly on America.
If we do not, as Americans, confront the crisis of ethics and integrity in our society and, among our leaders in both the public and the private sector and regrettably, at times, even the nonprofit sector, then American democracy as we know it is entering its twilight years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Joining me now to talk about this, CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, and CNN counterterrorism analyst, Phil Mudd, a former CIA counterterrorism official and former FBI senior intelligence adviser.
That is amazing to hear them say that. Where he says if you go wobbly on the truth, you go wobbly on America. It's not even subtle.
[14:40:01] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Not even subtle. Talking about the truth, talking about facts, talking about ethics, talking about integrity. There's no question what he is talking about, there's no question the message he is trying to send. It is pretty remarkable. Now, if I'm sitting in the White House right now, I'm trying to figure out how to respond to this I'm thinking, OK, the guy got fired. Having said that, he came from way outside of Trump world, he came from the private sector, from where things were done very differently. And he clearly never fit into the world he described not but name, but it was pretty clear what he was talking about. Remember, he wasn't just any cabinet secretary. He represented the Trump administration on the world stage. So the idea of the truth being a fundamental of democracy, something he was representing around the world, clearly worries him in terms of America being a leader historically on the basis of that very fundamental thing.
KEILAR: What did you think listening to this commencement address?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think if you go back a couple of years when the president first started to campaign people thought that he was laughable, and as the campaign gained momentum, you recognized that he struck a chord with the American people. When he got into the office, you looked at some of what he said, everything from phantom voters, even Republican voters said we didn't see that happening. They wired the Trump Tower, we had the FBI director saying we didn't see that happening. Sean Spicer admitted he lied within 24, 48 hours about the inauguration size. I thousand the significance of what Tillerson said is going into conversations about the Iran nuclear deal and about what we think about North Korea, what do we believe and who do we believe? Do we believe the former secretary of state, the current secretary of state, the apparently incoming CIA director? Do we believe the vice president, the president who had systematically lied? Hope Hicks said she lied for him. Sean Spicer admitted he lied about the inauguration size. And significant issues beyond the sort of vague humor of how many people showed up at the inauguration, who do we believe? I'm not sure I know anymore.
KEILAR: I have about a dozen at least questions that I would love to see answered today in the White House briefing. We're actually waiting to see if they're -- what is up with the White House briefing. As you can see, folks are ready for it there in the briefing room.
Sarah Sanders spoke briefly this morning with reporters about North Korea, which is a huge, huge story today. And she hinted at the fact that there would be a briefing. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think so probably. I feel like we've covered it all now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: OK. Now we're waiting to see, right? And it's late in the day, 2:42 p.m. Eastern time. Normally, you'd have an idea of kind of what is going on here. We don't. We did not see a briefing yesterday. There was a briefing on Monday. It was not Sarah Sanders. It was her deputy, Raj Shah.
There's so much to answer for, between these Senate Judiciary Committee transcripts released about the Trump Tower meeting in 2016 and North Korea. Should we be seeing a briefing?
BASH: Sure. Absolutely And there's a nexus to what you just saw from the former secretary of state talking about truth and integrity and democracy. This is a basic tenet of democracy, a free press. The tradition has been for the White House to answer questions. So when you started covering the Obama administration, there was even more frequency of press briefings. There was one in the morning that was off camera and then in the afternoon. Same goes for the Bush administration that I covered. It changed later. But I think, at the end of the day, yes, it is something that we should demand, the ability to ask questions. Sarah Sanders noted that she did something impromptu in the Bushes or on the driveway, wherever it was, and then you also have to take a further step back and say we demand it but then we should also demand the truth when we get the answers.
KEILAR: That's right.
And sometimes you're watching the briefing, Phil Mudd, and you feel like it was just a practice in obfuscation. Certainly, on Monday, it was like that. What would you like to learn today? What do you think is to be learned today from a White House briefing?
[14:44:34] MUDD: How long do you want to go? Number one, are you comfortable or uncomfortable where the North Koreans are? Number two, where are we're going to go on the new CIA nominee? And what you think about her responses on what the president said during the campaign he thought was interesting, waterboarding? What do you think should happen in terms of the Iran nuclear deal? We see questions about where the Europeans and others are going to go on this. If you're looking at that from a White House perspective, why would you have the briefing? The president doesn't want to go to the Correspondents' Dinner because it's uncomfortable and they make fun of him, just like I'm sure they did in fourth grade. The president doesn't want to have press interviews and exchanges with the entire press corps, that was a hot mess. Sarah Sanders doesn't want to answer questions about did the president pay Stormy Daniels, which came up again today. Why would you do this if the president can speak directly via Twitter and the president's supports supporters say we don't care if he lies. And 40 percent of them think that's OK. Character doesn't matter.
BASH: Don't discourage them. Don't discourage them, Phil.
KEILAR: All right, Phil Mudd, Dana Bash, thank you so much.
MUDD: Thank you.
KEILAR: Stay with me, if you can.
Speaking of, President Trump's financial disclosures are out and we're learning the details on the repayment to his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, for the hush money, as Phil just mentioned, to the porn star, Stormy Daniels. What it's revealing. Just ahead.
[14:50:30] KEILAR: As the U.S. enters round two of high-level trade talks with China, the "Washington Post" obtained a list of demands from China to the U.S., and the president may have already caved on one of them. The president instructing the Commerce Department to help bail out Chinese tech company, ZTE, despite the fact the company violated U.S. sanctions and may pose a national security threat to the U.S.
The president lashed out against this report on Twitter this morning, saying, in part, quote, "Nothing has happened with ZTE except as it pertains to the larger trade deal. Our country has been losing hundreds of billions of dollars a year with China. We have not seen China's demands yet. China has seen our demands. There has been no folding as the media would love people to believe. The meetings haven't even started yet."
My panel back with me.
Do we agree we want to go back to 140 characters?
Do we agree on that? The long tweet.
OK. Dana, the president has accused China of stealing jobs in graphic terms. He said that China is raping the country. What do you make of this tweet now? Is this back peddling on what he said about saving ZTE jobs? What's your assessment of this?
BASH: He watches cable news and he sees the blow back from the fact that he is giving a very big concession to the very Chinese who, as you said, he has railed against for years. And this is something he's been consistent on. I mean, this way predates his campaign politically. He said this over and over as a private citizen, as a businessman, that China is just destroying the U.S. and should be dealt with appropriately. You know, you seem very uncomfortable with it, others say it's a game of chess and we have to see how it plays out, and that's what the president is doing. The potential problem for him is about whether or not it is just a negotiation or whether he has a potential for personal gain and for his companies -- a company in particular making money off of this. And that speaks to the big, big problem from the beginning of his administration, that he didn't distance himself from his company, and that that puts a lot of what he does policy-wise in question.
KEILAR: The timing is suspect. Because around the time that he agrees to this, China gives $500 million to back an Indonesia project that maybe the money doesn't go directly to a Trump property, but the Trump properties are part of the project, so it benefits from this infusion of money from the Chinese.
But, Phil, that, aside, the other issues, ZTE makes lower-priced cell phones and other products. DOD said they may pose a national security risk. They won't sell this stuff on military bases. They pulled this. They said this may be hurtful, damaging to the Department of Defense mission. Also that ZTE -- I mean, ZTE has messed up in so many ways here. Not only are they worried it a back channel for the Chinese government to monitor people but ZTE, using U.S. parts, sold their stuff to Iran and North Korea in violation of the president's very own sanctions.
MUDD: You're thinking way too hard. Just hold on a minute here. Before the election when you're speaking to the American population, you say the big, bad Chinese are stealing jobs, they're currency manipulators, I'm the tough guy on the Chinese. You go after the election, they're key to North Korea, now I realize the North Korea helpful. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. ZTE is helpful on the North Korea issue because I can tell the Chinese, I'll give you a break on something related to sanctions. Oh, but you guys manipulate steel prices so I'm going to hammer you. This is --
KEILAR: You think he just didn't pay attention.
MUDD: I think if you're talking to an American audience on jobs, you say the Chinese are tough and they're stealing our jobs and they dump stuff on the market that's too cheap. When you're talking to the Chinese premier on the phone, you say, OK, you're going to lose a bunch of jobs via ZTE. I think the president has very little idea about what that is. On that -- in that conversation, he says, we'll hook you up. Is it jobs or is it North Korea? The message changes depending on who the audience is.
[14:55:04] KEILAR: Phil Mudd, Dana Bash, thank you to both of you.
Just ahead, we have a whole lot more to talk about. The president's embattled EPA chief hammered by lawmakers over multiple scandals. We'll be right back with that.
[14:59:43] KEILAR: Top of the hour now. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Brooke Baldwin.
We're following the breaking news about the release of President Trump's 2017 financial report and what it says. That he repaid his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, expenses of at least $100,000. Also, what the report does not say, if the repayment was that hush money to porn star, Stormy Daniels.