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Trump and Putin Talk about Meeting; Putin Responds to Election Meddling Question; Trump Talks Election Meddling; Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 16, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Putin was asked that question by Jonathan Lemur of "The Associated Press" at the very end there whether or not the Russians had compromising information on President Trump. I thought it was very interesting that Vladimir Putin paused for a few moments, seeming to understand the question but not exactly sure how to answer it. And there was some nervous laughter in the room. I don't know if you could hear that on the microphones in the room, but there was some nervous laughter. It took all of us by surprise. It sounded as if Vladimir Putin was trying, at that point, to come up with a good answer and he didn't really have one.

I thought it was striking, Anderson, that the Russian president did offer to allow Robert Mueller's team to come over to Russia and to continue his investigation. I'm not sure that would be greeted very well by President Trump, given that that would probably extend the life of the Russia investigation.

But I will tell you, it was astonishing, just astonishing to be in the room with the U.S. president and with the Russian president on this critical question of election interference and to hear the president of the United States retreat back to these talking points about DNC servers and Hillary Clinton's e-mails when he had a chance right there in front of us, right there in front of the world to confront Vladimir Putin and tell him to stay the hell out of American democracy, and he just didn't do it. It was one of those moments, I think, obviously we all think this is a very big deal right now and sometimes these sorts of things can fade away. But I don't think this is one of those moments.

This is one of those moments, Anderson, I think really crystallizes a very critical problem for the United States right now in that you have the president, the leader of the free world, taking the word of Vladimir Putin, who, from all accounts inside the U.S. government, the U.S. intelligence community, the law enforcement community, attacked American democracy in 2016. You know, when Vladimir Putin was asked whether he wanted Trump to win, that might have been the only honest moment of this news conference when Vladimir Putin said, yes, he did want President Trump to win, and then shortly after that handed him that soccer ball. They came across as playmates on a soccer field more than they did international rivals, Anderson. The president of the United States very much yielding the field on this day to Vladimir Putin.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Susan, have you ever seen anything like this?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: You know, it's really -- I think we are going to remember this day for a long time. You know, sometimes there are indelible images that come out. Certainly George W. Bush talking about Vladimir Putin's soul. I think this moment is going to go down with that moment, for me at least, to hear the president of the United States attacking Robert Mueller's investigation, questioning the U.S. intelligence agencies, the work of his own Justice Department, while standing literally next to Vladimir Putin. He called the probe a disaster for our country as Russia's leader looked on.

He began the summit meeting this morning with that extraordinary tweet in which he said that essentially the United States is to blame for the bad state of relations with Russia. Crimea and the illegal annexation of territory in Europe, the first such armed takeover since the end of World War II, was never mentioned until the very last question of the press conference.

I think this is one of those moments where, you know, we heard Rod Rosenstein on Friday say, this is not partisan, this investigation. Well, President Trump has made the most partisan press conference I've ever seen between an American leader and the leader of Russia.

COOPER: He was tougher on Democrats and the intelligence community in this press conference. I mean he was given the opportunity by an American reporter to just turn to Vladimir Putin and say something to him about Russia's meddling in the United States democracy, which is ongoing, and he refused to do that. And, instead, went after Democrats.

GLASSER: This was a worst-case scenario going into this. You know, many people were hoping the Hippocratic Oath would apply here, do no harm. And at the first half of the press conference, the two leaders' statements made it clear they didn't actually come out with some grand new bargain, there were no major initiatives that would cause alarm back on Capitol Hill among Republicans or Democrats.

And then President Trump basically exploded all of that in the second half of the press conference. And, you know, one year ago his national security advisor wrote an article in which he said the Russian election interference was an act of war against the United States.

Well, John Bolton was in the room today at lunch with Vladimir Putin. Does he still think that's an act of war? How can he serve a president who spoke the way that he did today?

COOPER: Yes, I mean, how can John Bolton remain in that position if he truly believes this country was attacked in an act of war and the man he's now working for clearly does not?

Dana Bash is standing by as well.

Dana, your thoughts.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: John Bolton is one. How about the president's own director of national intelligence who the president of the United States effectively just threw under the bus in favor of the Russian president on an issue that has to do with Russia interfering in American elections. I mean if you just kind of take a pause and think about that, and that's just one example of the -- David Gergen is right, it's almost hard, all of us speak for a living, to put into words what we just saw and how astonishing it is.

[12:05:25] I also just want to say, Anderson, beforehand you were questioning whether either of these men would go after a free press. They didn't. And I think we saw -- I know we saw a prime example of how we need a free press and what a free press can do. Jeff Mason with Reuters, "The Associated Press" reporter, they asked the questions of Vladimir Putin that the president of the United States failed to do. And that is something. It is really something. It is -- you know that is -- if there is an upside of having this summit, aside from, you know, the basic idea of having diplomatic relations, it is the fact that they had this press conference and Vladimir Putin had to face real reporters.

And the one thing I also want to say is, this is according to the transcript, and we have to go back and really listen to the translation. Jeff Mason followed up about whether or not Vladimir Putin directed his officials to help sway the election. Putin responded, yes, I did. Yes, I did because he, the president, talked about bringing the U.S./Russia relationship back to normal. If this is accurate and if the translation is accurate and if he understood the question accurately, he just stood there next to the president and admitted what we all know. Admitted that the U.S. intelligence agencies, which unanimously say this is what happened, are right.

COOPER: Gloria Borger, I mean Dana makes such an important point, that it was two American journalists who were asking -- who were tougher to Vladimir Putin face to face than the president of the United States was.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean the president -- it was surreal to me, Anderson. I mean the president is standing on the world stage next to Vladimir Putin and he is not blaming him for the things his intelligence agencies have told him that he's done.

Also, by the way, I will tell you that what Putin did in a way was confirm what went on in that Trump Tower meeting with Don Junior. He started talking about Bill Browder (ph) and he started, you know, and the Magnitsky Act, which is about adoptions. But he made -- you know, he took on Browder, made it very clear that they had dirt on Browder, who was, he says, allegedly funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to Hillary Clinton. So now we have a little bit more of an insight on the dirt that they were peddling to Don Junior.

I cannot say how astonishing it was to be sitting here and listening to a president equivocate, kind of like he did after Charlottesville, well, he said, oh, you know, there are good people on both sides or bad people on both sides, whatever it was. This was a president not being able to get in front of himself and in front of his own election and blame -- you know, blaming the Democratic National Committee for not having better servers or not locked up their servers, when Bob Mueller put out this indictment on Friday that was open and shut, full of detail, and then saying, just as a -- as the cherry on the topping, to say, oh, yes, we'll have a joint cyber security task force, which was already proposed, and then --


BORGER: Once thrown away or maybe -- or maybe, as Putin said, well maybe, you know, we'll meet with Mueller's people and we'll get involved in the American judicial system. And the president -- and the president sits there. I mean -- I can't believe it.

COOPER: As -- I think -- yes. Certainly the president calls the reporters the enemy of the American people. As an American citizen, I just personally think today is just an incredibly depressing --


COOPER: Moment in our time, in our history as an American.

Former CIA Director John Brennan just tweeted, and I quote, Donald Trump's press conference performance in Helsinki rises to and exceeds the threshold of high crimes and misdemeanors. It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump's comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican patriots, where are you?

And that is a very good question, is, what are Republicans on Capitol Hill, a co-equal branch of government, what are they going to be saying about what we have just witnessed and heard today?

GLASSER: Well, what's striking is that there's been this enormous flip-flop in Republican sentiment towards Vladimir Putin and towards Russia, taking their cues from Donald Trump. You've seen, of course, a dramatic change in opinion polling. And even in the behavior of Republicans on Capitol Hill who one year ago were willing to raise more concerns. Remember that the Senate voted 98-2 to oppose and to codify into law the sanctions against Russia when there were initial worries right after President Trump's inauguration that he might lift the sanctions on Russia. Basically Congress did step in.

[12:10:12] Flash forward a year later, and I think we've heard remarkably little from Republicans. You saw Senator John McCain, an increasingly isolated voice in the Republican Party after those indictments on Friday, he was basically the only senior Republican elected official to come out and say President Trump should consider cancelling the summit. But, you know, it strikes me that President Trump actually just had the summit he wanted to have. This was his initiative.

COOPER: I mean, David Gergen, you think if, you know, if Ronald Reagan, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall, saying to Gorbachev, you know, trust but verify, there was -- I mean they're tossing a ball around to each other. There is nothing -- there was absolutely no backbone publicly on the part of the president of the United States in the face of Vladimir Putin.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. The central drama, we said again and again coming into this summit, was whether the president was going to hold Putin accountable as a price for coming back on the international stage. And that was not only going to include questions of the interference in our elections, the effort to steal the election, but it was going to include the Crimea, it was going to include what's going on in Syria, it's going to include the poisonings in London. You go down that lost list, you have a -- you had that list earlier. And as far as I can tell, he didn't hold him accountable for anything. And there may be something I missed.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, no, I mean you haven't basically on this accountability. And what we've been talking about a lot, this sort of Me Too ism, or more relative-ism (ph) when he was asked about the foolish tweet, he said -- he blamed the U.S. for being -- our side for being foolish. He doubled down on that. He said, I hold both countries responsible. We're all to blame. We should have had these conversations a long time ago, which is a Donald Trump style. He did it after Charlottesville. He did it after a whole note (ph) of things. It's holding each side, including his own country, responsible for, for instance, the annexation of Crimea.

COOPER: The European -- the European Union is a foe. He calls Russia a competitor, a good competitor, and he means it as a compliment.

AMANPOUR: The real question also, apart from what he's just done about the, you know, the interference in the election, is what are the allies going to think now because they were hoping that at least the Hippocratic Oath would prevail and that you wouldn't see a weakening of this western front.


AMANPOUR: But this is a weakening of that.

GLASSER: Well, and not only that, it comes literally within days and hours of the annual NATO summit meeting at which there was a very strongly worded statement, you know, by NATO essentially restating the western position on Ukraine and on all these associated issues. And I think it reinforces once and for all that President Trump doesn't support the policy of his own foreign policy team, he doesn't support the policy of his allies, and he really -- he takes a view that is closer to Vladimir Putin's view than perhaps Putin himself.

COOPER: Let's listen just a -- this is something the president said. Remember, he particularly goes -- focuses on the idea that there's no collusion, which again the Mueller investigation is not over, but he continues to focus on that, and then -- but made no mention of actually -- or no confrontation with Putin about Russia's meddling in the election. Nothing about the indictments, nothing supporting the U.S. intelligence community when point blank asked, who does he believe, Vladimir Putin or the U.S. -- his own U.S. intelligence community, which is his intelligence community now. He didn't say -- in fact, he went on to talk about Hillary Clinton's server.

Let's listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. Why haven't they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I've been wondering that. I've been asking that for months and months and I've been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media.

Where is the server? I want to know, where is the server? And what is the server saying?

With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said, they think it's Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server. But I have -- I have confidence in both parties.


COOPER: All he can do is ask the question.

John King is joining us from Washington.

John, it's extraordinary that the most powerful leader in the world publicly is claiming in front of the Russian president that all he can do is ask the question of Vladimir Putin if he meddled. That's not all he can do. He can actually confront Vladimir Putin. He can stand up to Vladimir Putin. He has no problem standing up to Angela Merkel. He has no problem standing up to Theresa May, not face to face, of course, but in the pages of the tabloid "Sun," a Rupert Murdoch publication. When he's face to face with people, he does seem to have a problem to stand up to somebody, particularly to Vladimir Putin. But he doesn't even stand up to Vladimir Putin when he's giving interviews or, you know, behind Putin's back, as he does with most world leaders. I mean, John, I'm wondering what you thought of this press conference.

[12:15:16] JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm shaking my head like everyone else you've spoken to in the last 30 minutes or so because I've been here for 30 years. I came to Washington in the final months of the Reagan administration and I have never seen an American president simply surrender to the leader of Russia. You should call this the surrender summit.

To that point there, he could have said, we're not going to resolve what happened in 2016. President Putin says he didn't do it, but I am here to say, if this happens on my watch, there will be sanctions, there will be penalties, there will be hell to pay. That's all the president had to say to stand up at least for the current actions, but he didn't do that. I'll repeat what everyone else said. He never specifically mentioned Ukraine. He didn't specifically mention the nerve agent attacks in the U.K. He didn't mention the anniversary of the MH-17 airliner being shot down. And not only that, he stood there while Vladimir Putin said, let's work together on cyber security, insert laughter here. Let's work together on transnational crime. Insert laughter, ludicrous, here. And he also said -- stood there while Vladimir Putin voiced compassion for Syrian refugees.

Russia is as responsible as anybody on this planet for the Syrian refugee crisis. And the president of the United States stood there and let him sound like a voice of compassion when he is a leader who has been a sponsor of reprehensible conduct.

COOPER: I come back to the panel.

He sat in the chair of Winston Churchill in London just the other day, was photographed, outraged many in London about that. A man who stood up to the worst forms of aggression. His own national security advisor has said this was an attack on American democracy. And he completely slunk away.

AMANPOUR: Well, he did. I mean he really did. And you're going to have many, many, many days, weeks and months of analysis on this.

But to John's point about Syria, insert laughter here, I mean it is an absolute disgrace. It's a parody of a disgrace that. And particularly since the two of them, both presidents, did talk in very elliptical ways about this bizarre deal that may be being cooked up over Syria to protect Israel. Insert what other people have been potentially saying, that they will let this butcher, Bashar al Assad, stay if they can figure out how to prevent Iran from threatening Syria. That's --

COOPER: Israel.

AMANPOUR: Israel, rather. That's what's apparently in the works. So the idea that they're now -- and Putin has done this for years. The poor people of Syria, we'll help them out, humanitarian. I mean it's Putin who stood in the way, along with his clients in Syria, of any kind of resolution, including a political resolution.

COOPER: I want to read a tweet from Lindsey Graham. He just tweeted, missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections. This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves.

Dana Bash, not exactly a blast by Lindsey Graham against President Trump, but, you know, one Republican at least mildly criticizing, I guess.

BASH: Right. The first Republican, aside from Ben Sasse, who is also a Republican senator who is not a fan of President Trump, also sent out a statement saying that this press conference was bizarre and flat wrong. The U.S. is not to blame.

Jeff Flake just texted me and also just tweeted that, I never thought I would see the day when our American president would stand on the stage with the Russian president and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression. This is shameful. Jeff Flake is retiring. Ben Sasse has been a long-time never Trumper.

Lindsey Graham was critical but certainly not as critical as probably he would have been if this were a Democrat.

But to your point, when you came to me, so far we have not heard from the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. We have not heard from the House Speaker Paul Ryan. I've reached out to both of their offices. We'll see what they're saying. I'm guessing they are trying to figure out exactly how to put, you know, put lipstick on this pig, frankly, and try to figure out how to, you know, explain the inexplicable. And, you know, what should happen is this should be a non-partisan situation. That people who have a lot of support and love for this country, who have said that there is no question that Vladimir Putin and the Russians interfered in American elections. If they just saw what we all saw, that it shouldn't take very long for them to release a statement giving their thoughts, if their thoughts are going to be consistent at all. We'll see.

[12:20:00] COOPER: You know, it's so interesting, Dana, because, you know, President Trump is obsessed with the idea of other countries laughing at him, laughing at the U.S. He's talked about this time and time again. He's talked about it on the campaign trail. He's talked about it as president. Oh, they're laughing at us because of bad trade deals. They're laughing at us.

I can only imagine what Vladimir Putin and his cast of characters and oligarchs in the limos right now as they're on their way back to the airport, I can't imagine that they are not chuckling about what just happened.

BASH: Look, he is a -- has a poker face, Vladimir Putin, but even for him, you could see it on his face, which tells you something. You could see on his face that he kind of couldn't believe that he was standing next to a U.S. president who was really just complimenting him left and right and flat-out refusing to hit a softball, frankly, from an American reporter saying this is something bad. And he --

COOPER: Well, also, Dana --

BASH: Yes.

COOPER: Yes. Well, also, Dana, I mean for Vladimir Putin, who studies a lot and has -- you know, reads a lot and has studied U.S. politics clearly, and not only that, meddled in U.S. politics but studied Donald Trump very clearly, I mean to hear -- I just can't imagine being Vladimir Putin and actually hearing the president of the United States go back to the well of Hillary Clinton's server and the 30,000 e-mails and all this stuff, which he's been, you know, like rain man going back to time and time again for years now. But to hear him on the world stage doing that standing next to Vladimir Putin, I mean with all the research Putin has done, it's got to have been a surreal moment for Vladimir Putin to actually hear him return to something he has just -- it's like a -- some sort of -- I mean it's like rain man, going back to this thing time after time.

BASH: Right. I mean this is -- it's his -- it's his go-to, the president's go-to, because it speaks to what Gloria was saying and we cannot emphasize enough that in the president's mind he hears Russia, he hears election meddling, he hears my presidency is illegitimate and that's why the president does that.

But, you're right, even before this press conference, Russia was winning. Russia had won. I mean it -- take the NATO situation with the president going after them and really splitting the alliance and so many other examples, Russia had already won. Now, the president argues that Russia is winning because of the political tumult here because of Mueller's investigation. But we can't let that stand. I mean Mueller's investigation is trying to get to the bottom of what Russia did and whether any Americans were involved in it. It is not helping -- that is not helping Russia win until and unless President Trump calls the investigation illegitimate. That is what gives Vladimir Putin a victory.


I want to go to our CNN senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, who's based in Moscow.

Matthew, you obviously have watched Vladimir Putin in a lot of press conferences. I'm wondering what stood out to you?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, insert the sound of champagne corks popping on the presidential plane flying back to Moscow later on today because that's exactly what's going to be happening, you know, symbolically at least, because that was an absolutely extraordinary display. Even Vladimir Putin, who came to this meeting, this summit in Helsinki, knowing he'd already won, knowing the fact a summit was being held was already a political victory for him. He basically had been invited to this summit to speak one-on-one with the president of the United States, despite the fact that he hadn't changed any of his behavior, he hadn't even apologized for any of the behavior that has been described as maligned activity across the world from the Ukraine, to Syria, to MH-17, the shooting down that of that civilian airliner, to the Novichok poisonings in the United Kingdom recently, which was, by the way, on President Trump's watch, to use his phrase. He didn't have to change any of that behavior.

More than that, he got a pass for it. He got a pass for all of the activity from the United States president. And that is absolutely extraordinary. And I think it's something that even Vladimir Putin, flying back to Moscow this evening, and all the oligarchs in Russia and all the other politicians in that country will be celebrating and chuckling and, again, you know, toasting President Trump this evening.

COOPER: I want to also go to CNN's Nic Robertson for your perspective.

Now, Nic, you talked about the last time -- the first time these two world leaders met in Hamburg, that essentially the U.S. got played on Syria and the creation of some of these safe zones that were anything but safe for the people who actually were lulled into the false sense of security of being there. They have now been under attack systematically. I'm wondering what you make of how the U.S. fared in this meeting?

[12:25:06] NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Anderson, look, I think you have utterly dissected it on point, on message. I mean you -- the last time President Trump was played on Syria, he's been played on everything here. I mean the idea, as John was saying, that Russia could be some part of the investigation into its own malfeasance if they just sort of -- if the United States just sort of hands over Bill Browder in advance of that is just ridiculous. The idea that Syria -- that Russia could be the benefactor for all those Syrians that along with Assad it's been starving, starving, starving them out of these villages and towns. They haven't just been bombing them, they've been starving them out. That's why these people have been forced to flee. The idea that he could essentially hint to the Europeans that I can help you with your Syrian refugee problem, he's been helping create that Syrian refugee problem.

But I think the bigger point that I try to look at, at the moment is to look forward to what does this really mean? When President Trump left the White House last week, he said that NATO was going to be tough, that Britain was going to be tough and that it would be easy when he met with President Putin. None of us had any idea what he really meant. He absolutely ripped a hole through all his European allies, NATO, tearing them apart, Angela Merkel, on to Britain, undermining the British prime minister and he comes here and gets a football from president Putin that he says he'll give to his son.

For his European allies right now, one can only begin to imagine their level of concern. The indication from this will be that President Trump will go on his own path, be it on Crimea or on Syria or whatever it is without looking to them. It does seem at the moment that their concerns must be manifold and magnified by everything they will have heard at this press conference today.



Christiane, I mean interesting to hear the -- Matthew Chance talking about the idea of the Russians, you know, popping champagne on the way back.

AMANPOUR: Champaign corks, yes. Look, you know, going back to what Dana said about Jeff Flake's tweet, that never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined an American president saying and doing what he did, you know, standing right side by side, his principal adversary right now, who's just been indicted, at least his military intelligence, 12 of them have been indicted and thoroughly, you know, detailed indictments returned by 16 American citizens. This is not just some, you know, some sort of authority who's done this. It run -- you know, that's exactly the words that came out of Russia the other day on Russian state television.

A Russian said, never in my wildest dreams would I imagine the president of the United States doing Vladimir Putin's work for him as he has done. And she was referring to what had happened in Britain and in Brussels and this beating over the head of allies. And we've said it over and again, President Trump feels more comfortable beating up on allies than beating up on foes. He feels more comfortable cozying up and sucking up to foes. Who knows why, but it's absolutely clear that he does not believe in alliances, he does not believe in the liberal world order of peace and prosperity. That the United States has birthed and midwifed for 70 years and led and this is going to be what all the allies are thinking now, did President Trump come here to expand and solidify American world leadership or is Brussels, London, Helsinki the death nail for the moment of American leadership.

COOPER: Yes. Jeff Zeleny is joining us as well.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And I've been talking to some White House officials and one senior White House official, who's actually back in Washington watching this, sent me a text, how bad was that? They are watching this and viewing this. A Republican who is close to and friendly with the White House says this. We now know why he wanted to meet one on one. So these are the early reactions.

And the worry from the White House is the president and his team are flying back to Washington now. They'll be in the air, you know, for some seven or eight hours, unable to spin this, but there's very little spinning of this. We heard from the president's own words what he was saying there.

And I think the most extraordinary thing, I can't remember the number of Trump rallies and speeches I've heard where he has always said that they wanted Hillary Clinton to win the election. That Russia wanted Clinton to win because he would be tough on Russia.

We heard from Vladimir Putin's own mouth when Jeff Mason of Reuters asked the question, did you want Trump to win? He said, yes, I did.

COOPER: I want to go to Michelle Kosinski for some reaction from the State Department.


MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well that reaction is typically and especially extraordinary in this circumstance. No reaction at all. We couldn't get any reaction from the State Department on Secretary of State Pompeo's meeting that he had privately with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. Now after this press conference, we asked the question directly, is Mike Pompeo OK with this? No response. Pompeo then on location is faced by reporters asking questions specifically, is the U.S. going to be OK with Russia playing a role in interrogating suspects in this Russia probe? Pompeo said, each president said his piece. I'm not going to take any questions.