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Trump: Putin Was "Very Powerful" in His Denial of Meddling. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 16, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT -- 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.

So here you have secretary of state known in the past for his tough views on Russia, along with the national security advisor John Bolton, much, much tougher than President Trump has been on any of this. And here he is refusing to say anything about it. In fact, it was particularly pointed this morning when we heard -- we heard from President Trump but then before that he was tweeting about witch hunt and fake news and that it was the fault of the Mueller investigation why relations are so bad between the U.S. and Russia.

Well, Mike Pompeo during his confirmation hearing, he was asked, do you feel that that why relations are bad? And he said definitively, no, that's not why. It's because of Russia's bad behavior. But after this as he's traveling with the president, he chooses to have absolutely no reaction. Nothing to say, nothing from the State Department.

I think it's also striking that Hillary Clinton probably without knowing it had almost a prebuttal to this when she tweeted yesterday, you know, do you know -- President Trump, do you know whose team you're playing for? And today President Trump himself did not seem to know the answer to that question.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. I mean -- and they're certainly sharing the ball and they did on that stage.

Let's go to Manu Raju for some congressional reaction as we continue to monitor what, if anything, Republicans are saying from Capitol Hill. Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: We haven't heard a whole lot from Republicans yet, Anderson. And one reason why is because this is Monday and members are just starting to trickle in. We've heard some members on Twitter, some Republicans, the usual critics of President Trump voicing their significant concern. People like Ben Sasse calling it bizarre to say that the United States was involved and bear some responsibility for the deteriorating U.S. relations with Russia. Jeff flake, the retiring senator from Arizona calling it shameful.

But by and large, most Republicans have not said a whole lot. Darrell Issa is right here if he wants to weigh in.

Sir, Mr. Issa --

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: I wasn't intending to.

RAJU: What is your reaction to the president throwing cold water on the U.S. intelligence community's assessment that Russia was behind the interference in the U.S. elections?

ISSA: I think just last week in these very halls, we saw an example of the FBI not being trustworthy. We saw the downgrading of Hillary Clinton's criminal activity, the words being changed on Peter Strzok's own computer. So for the president to cast doubt is not unreasonable.

At the same time, we take those charges seriously and so I personally would neither rule in nor rule out the validity of a very interesting and odd-timed indictment of people who can never be brought to justice and for whom there's even a question of how do we know? Did we use spy technique in order to find out? Did we hack them in order to find out who they were?

So I think for the president to cast doubt is appropriate. I don't --

RAJU: Cast doubt on the U.S. intelligence community?

ISSA: Cast doubt on the validity of any number of these things, you know. That's fair. Having said that, Putin is an evil man who has killed many people in his own country. There's no question at all that Russia is still an adverse entity to the United States.

And so no different than Ronald Reagan. We have to work with them. At the same time we cannot trust Russia fully.

RAJU: So you're OK on the world stage the president of the United States not calling out U.S. election interference and also not calling for the extradition of those 12 Russians who were indicted by the Mueller probe?

ISSA: Well, I've said repeatedly that the calls for extradition are absurd, they're not going to happen. We don't extradite our spies when they get alleged or even caught doing things and vice versa.

Having said that, I want to see those indictment -- the information in those indictments go forward. The fact that they'll never be brought to justice doesn't change the fact that we should know more about what we believe they did and how they did it and that's where I stand is let's flesh this out and see if it's real.

Let's remember that we're more than a year into an investigation that claims there was inter -- sorry, that there was collusion with the Russians without a shred of evidence there was.

So, you know, doubting something until it's been vetted and verified is reasonable. Having said that, I'm going to repeat, I find Putin somebody we have to deal with but somebody who is obviously part of that old evil empire and hasn't changed his stripes. Thank you. RAJU: Thank you, sir.

So there you have it, Anderson. One prominent Republican defending the president. Back to you.

[12:35:03] COOPER: I mean, Manu, correct me if I'm wrong, he's speaking out of both sides of his mouth there. I mean, on the one hand he's raising doubts about the indictments of these 12 Russian agents. He's being very critical of Putin. But then he says he wants to see where that investigation goes.

He's raising concerns about how the intelligence was gathered on those indictments. It's an interesting tact that Representative Issa is taking there.

RAJU: Yes, and he's also saying it's OK for the president to sow doubt on the U.S. intelligence community's assessment that Russia was behind the attack that tried to help President Trump become President Trump. You're seeing some -- o his allies here in the House starting to rally behind him in a real split, Anderson in the Republican Party about Russia.

The usual critics speaking out, but his allies in the House are certainly giving the president some cover and feeling OK about what he said and just did on the world stage, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Manu, appreciate that interview you were able to grab right there with Representative Issa. I want to go to Gloria Borger and Dana Bash, they're also standing by.

Gloria, I mean, again, if we're looking for profiles in courage and folks in Congress standing up, I'm not sure, you know, we might want to get a magnifying glass out here.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, if it's kind of sounding. It's only the people who are leaving who are able to call this disgraceful and shameful, as Jeff Flake did, because, you know, just in trying to take all of this in this morning, and there's so much. Now I was sitting back and thinking, am I watching an American president appease Vladimir Putin, who admitted that he did want Donald Trump to win, even though as Jeff points out Trump said during the campaign, no, no, no, no, no, Putin would really want Hillary Clinton to win, not me.

He admits he wanted Donald Trump to win. He calls the American justice system and the charges against his intelligence officials utter nonsense. Utter nonsense. And the president just sits back and starts talking about the Democrats and Hillary Clinton. And I think this is a moment for people to decide not only members of Congress, particularly in the Republican Party, but also for people inside the administration. What are they going to do?

I mean, Jeff is pointing out they're all flying back right now and they're going to try and figure out some way to spin this. I don't know how they can. But if you're the DNI and you have just said that the red lights are blinking the way they were before 9/11 in terms of talking about Russian interference in American elections and you have every intelligence agency behind you and you've explained this to the president multiple, multiple times, how do you stay and do your job? How can these intelligence officials stay?

Mueller will no doubt continue, but I guarantee you he's not going to bring his evidence to Russia and share what he's got, as Putin might want. But I think it's a moment of decision for people who work for this president right now, people like John Kelly, for example, who have to sort of scratch their heads as they go back to Washington and say how can we -- how can we talk about this now when everybody around the world has seen the president stand next to Vladimir Putin and basically cave and say, yes, sure, fine. You know, there were problems on both sides. He caved.

COOPER: I want to bring in former director of National Intelligence James Clapper who is joining us by phone. Director Clapper, your thoughts on what you heard? I mean, what did you think? Have you ever seen anything like this?

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE (via telephone): You know, Anderson, no. You know, like everyone else, I'm struggling with, you know, some way to capture or describe what we just witnessed. It is truly unbelievable. And on the world stage in front of the entire globe, the president of the United States essentially capitulated and seems intimidated by Vladimir Putin. So it was amazing and very, very disturbing.

COOPER: Did it -- do you have any sense of why he -- I mean, in your words capitulated, why he seems intimidated by Vladimir Putin?

CLAPPER: You know, I really don't know. I've wondered that from the outset, whether he is just overwhelmed with -- or impressed with autocrats in general, but particularly Vladimir Putin, who seems to strike the image that our president unfortunately admires.

[12:40:02] But again, I just thought that was just an incredible, incredible performance.

COOPER: You know, Director Clapper, there are probably a number of people who support the president who watch that press conference and may be watching right now who say, look, you all are overreacting, what's the big deal. OK, maybe some of the things he said, you know, he wasn't Ronald Reagan telling, you know, Gorbachev in his speech to tear down that wall, it wasn't Ronald Reagan saying trust but verify. But, you know, it wasn't that -- all that bad. Can you just explain why you think it was so appalling, why you think it was so damaging?

CLAPPER: Well, here you have an arch enemy of the United States. Vladimir Putin's personal animus towards our country and everything we stand for. And he has got to be celebrating on the way home to Moscow. I mean, this is an incredible capitulation.

And he was determined to undermine our election and undermine our basic system. And he has to be, you know, displaying the big v right now with the president of the United States on a world stage like that basically throwing in the hat to Vladimir Putin. It's just incredible to me that he did that.

COOPER: It's interesting, Director Clapper, because Donald Trump as a candidate and certainly even as a president has prided himself on his quick analysis of people, that he's able to get the measure of a man or woman very, very quickly and act accordingly. He talked about that ahead of the meeting with Kim Jong-un, that he would know within the first minute or so. Has he misread Vladimir Putin?

CLAPPER: I don't think it's that so much as -- well, he could have. It's that he just is very reticent about direct personal confrontation. So just as he did in the U.K. with Theresa May, badmouth her in an interview but yet when faced with a personal confrontation, a personal engagement, he won't do it.

And it's even worse when it's our arch adversary, Russia, and his opposite person, Vladimir Putin. So, I think he has more to do with his -- while he likes to project the image of being a tough guy, he really isn't.

COOPER: I want to bring in our chief national -- Director Clapper, thank you very much for talking with us. I think we'll be talking to you throughout the day. I also want to bring in our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto and Crime and Justice Reporter Shimon Prokupecz.

I mean, the threat of Russian interference obviously still very real. Jim Sciutto, I know I saw some of your tweets about what was not said, what was said, what stands out?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Listen, the threat of Russian interference is not only still a threat, it's happening right now. Everybody has been briefed on the intelligence. You speak to folks on the Hill and this would include the president. He knows this because his intelligence briefers would have let him know that there is evidence of not only continuing Russian involvement in social media, divisive issues here in the U.S., but also probing attacks on actual voting system systems, which Russia did in 2016 as well although it did not act on those attacks, it did not interfere with the actual voting process in 2016. But it's continuing probing attacks on things like voter registration rolls, et cetera, to set up that possibility. And that is the great concern of intelligence officials today.

So for the president to stand there next to the Russian president, who it is believed ordered not only interference in 2016 but continues to order such interference in the U.S. and around Europe, for him to stand in front of him and say that he accepts his denials is both retroactively just indefensible but also today, because it's happening right now. And the concern is that Russia will take it to another level in 2018 and 2020 by actually interfering in the voting process.

The other thing I would say is this, Anderson. You know, the president raised something that you've heard on some far right websites over the last few months that, well, the assessment that Russia did this is wrong because, well, the DNC never turned over their server, et cetera. It's utter misdirection. So anyone who pursues this either is ignoring the intelligence or doesn't know the intelligence. For the U.S. intelligence community to make this assessment with confidence, they have a whole host of factors that go into it. Certainly electronic evidence that traces the actors who stole this information and distributed it. But also intercepted communications where you have Russian officials discussing this and their intentions in doing this.

In addition to that, they match those electronic fingerprints with previous attacks that they know that Russia carried out. And for instance, one reason the U.S. intelligence community is confident that these groups like the GRU, Russian military intelligence interfered in 2016 is that the same groups hacked the White House and State Department e-mail systems prior to the election so they can compare their m.o., as it were, to then make that assessment.

[12:45:16] So the idea that -- and you even saw Darrell Issa there to say, well, it's right to raise questions about this assessment. It's a remarkable thing for American officials and lawmakers to do in light of the depth of the evidence behind that assessment.

COOPER: Yes. Before we go to Shimon, I just want to go to Christiane because we're showing on the screen the president said all I can do is ask the question whether Russia meddled. I mean, that's just such a ridiculous statement. That's all he can do is ask the question. I mean, he can do what reporters do, which is actually arm themselves with facts. He has access to more facts and intelligence than anybody else on the planet and he can confront Vladimir Putin with that.

He can show, he can walk Vladimir Putin through exactly what the United States knows and he can demand that there will be hell to pay if this continues, which according to U.S. intelligence, it is continuing. So for the president to stand up on the world stage and say all I can do is ask the question and he was really strong in how he answered that question, it's just pathetic.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, you know, that is one word to use and one word to describe. I'm struck by, for instance, what Gloria was saying and the others have been talking about the president's psychological makeup. That he does beat up on people behind their backs but as soon as he's with them, he doesn't do that, he reverses course. Whether it's Angela Merkel, when he finally sat down with her after saying that she was controlled by Russia, Angela Merkel of all people controlled and captive to Russia. He did not repeat that to her to her face at least not publically and we don't think he did that.

And I'm struck also by, you know, just reading before we got here, you know, Donald Trump in the '80s took out big, big ads in the New York Times criticizing President Reagan's foreign policy towards Russia, calling it spineless. Calling Reagan spineless as Reagan was actually with Gorbachev actually winning the Cold War. I mean, it was of two- way (INAUDIBLE) between Reagan and Gorbachev. But you could say Reagan was winning the Cold War and Donald Trump took out this ad.

There's something strange about the inner makeup that he has very thin skin. He's obviously feeling a little bit maybe, you know, strange about the election.

COOPER: It's hard to get into his head.

AMANPOUR: But, you know, in the end you have to start trying to get into the head because the facts don't make any sense whatsoever.

COOPER: Jim Sciutto, I know you got some more diplomatic reaction.

SCIUTTO: That's right. This is from a senior Ukrainian diplomat who sent the following. I asked for his reaction to the president not calling out the Russian president for its invasion of Eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, et cetera, and just listen to these words. This is a diplomat prone to diplomacy but he says the following.

"I'm exploding here like so many people around the world who hold America dear." He goes on to say that for the president to say all this next to the criminal, describing Putin standing next to him, he just finds unbelievable. But I'm exploding here.

And to be fair, that's a Ukrainian diplomat. Few people have experienced Russia's interference more than Ukraine with the annexation of its territory in Crimea and ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine. But that fear is something in the last couple of weeks I've heard from other European diplomats, members of NATO close to Russia's borders who were concerned that in effect the U.S. president would throw them under the bus next to the Russian president. And it appears that that's what he did.

COOPER: Yes. And we will go back to Shimon, but I want to bring in Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen who's standing by. Senator, to the point that Jim Sciutto just made, I mean, for all those people who traditionally around the world have looked to the United States as a beacon of hope, would look to the United States as a beacon of strength to stand up for human rights, for democracy, the rule of law, I'm wondering what message do you think President Trump today sent to all those people who still may hold on to some sort of idea about the U.S. as a bulwark against darkness in the world.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Well, Anderson, just when you think it can't get any worse, the president of the United States manages to hit a new low. This time going into a meeting with President Putin and coming out saying that he believes Putin over his own intelligence agencies, over all the evidence that has mounted up with the 12 GRU indictments we saw Friday, the earlier indictments.

And the question people around the world are going to ask is, where is American credibility? We have always stood up for the rule of law. We have stood up for democracy. We have not stood up for catering to dictators and being their sort of right-hand person at a press conference.

So we already had some very dark days coming out of the NATO summit where the president threw our NATO allies under the bus, where he said that the European Community was our top foe. He singled them out first. [12:50:01] And now we have this today. The United States president throwing our own intelligence agencies under the bus and says he believes President Putin first.

COOPER: It's so interesting, Senator when you think of past statements that John Bolton, the now national security adviser has made about Russia, about Russia's meddling as an attack, as an act of war against the United States. What must he be thinking? How does he move forward on this -- in this White House administration?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Anderson, what we worried about John Bolton was, at the end of the day he would be a yes man to President Trump. He got rid of his earlier national security adviser who was willing to provide him with independent advice. President Trump doesn't like independent advice. He wants people who will do what he says. And that's what we've seen out of John Bolton.

I will say, Anderson, this lends urgency to a piece of legislation that Senator Rubio and I have introduced called the Deter Act, which would establish automatic, very severe sanctions on Russia if they get caught interfering in our 2018 elections or any future elections. It has bipartisan support. And since the president's not willing to defend our democracy, it's really incumbent upon the United States Senate to move on that legislation right now.

COOPER: You know, Senator, let me ask you then -- I mean, on that point, you know, there really haven't been, as far as I understand, a cabinet level meetings headed by the president of the United States about the interference, about what happened, and about how to prevent it. We have heard from Chris Wray and others testifying on Capitol Hill that efforts that individual agencies have done to try to combat ongoing cyber attacks from Russia and other players, state actors and otherwise and other attempts at interference, even in the upcoming midterm elections.

I mean, does -- given the president's attitude, which he has voiced now very clearly in front of Vladimir Putin, is there anything you see this White House being able to do or willing to do to try to strengthen our defenses for the midterm elections, or is it just going to be an ad hoc agency by agency effort?

VAN HOLLEN: No, I don't see this White House doing anything to protect the integrity of our elections. We just heard the president of the United States say he believed President Putin, that they have no reason to attack our democracy or our elections. I don't know how you then turn around and tell your administration to do something about it, which is why Congress really has to act here. We have as a Congress provided additional resources to try to harden our election systems around the country. But in my view, the best defense is to deter Putin from interfering again to begin with. Raise the cost so high that if he gets caught, he knows there will be severe punishment. That's why we call it the Deter Act. And it creates a trip wire.

If the director of National Intelligence finds that the Russians interfere in the next election or any after that, there would be automatic, very severe penalties on the Russian banking sector, the oil sector, and that would cause Putin to think twice because the costs of interference would become much higher than the cost of not interfering.

COOPER: All right, Senator, I appreciate your time on this extraordinary day. Thank you very much.

And I want to go to Jeff Zeleny. We're watching the presidential motorcade of President Trump leaving the presidential palace, which is right behind us, I assume heading to -- heading home.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The president apparently was planning on doing interviews with a couple Fox anchors. And we do believe that has happened, and he is now leaving with his entourage, going back to Washington, as people are trying to dissect this including his own team. I talked to a top U.S. official briefly involved in the planning of this who tells me this was not the plan. And this was -- it was widely expected that the president was not going to confront Vladimir Putin. We knew that going in that he was not going to suddenly change tunes. This was not the plan.

The plan, I'm told, was to try and pivot and then move on to bigger issues that he talked about this morning. So I think it's interesting and officials are --

COOPER: It's amazing that he's not capable of pivoting. He is not capable of not talking about Hillary Clinton at this term, in his election, on this world stage, in this moment.

ZELENY: Talking about electoral college votes. I mean, that's extraordinary. That's not what you would expect President Trump to say in front of Vladimir Putin.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: To say the least. Although what's interesting to me, you hear a lot of commentary already on Twitter about this. Are we sitting here today, are we surprised? And I think the answer is actually no in some ways. The shocking part of this is that President Trump restated his long-held views while standing side by side with Vladimir Putin. It's not that President Trump believes that this is a witch hunt. We're not surprised by that. It's not that we are surprised that he would say that the Mueller investigation is a disaster, to talk about Hillary Clinton or the electoral college.

[12:55:03] What's still stunning and I think does bear noting, even if it's not a surprise, is that it's a shocking thing to see the president of the United States basically say there's a moral equivalence between America and Russia. But to undermine his own intelligence agencies overseas somehow still has the capacity to cause all of us --

AMANPOUR: Because it is a surprise, and it is a shock, and we cannot accept this as a new normal.

GLASSER: I'm not saying -- AMANPOUR: We cannot accept this as a new normal. At any other

presidential trip, had we been anywhere else with any other president seem to throw the United States of America under a bus in a foreign country, standing by the key foe, the entire system would have been up in arms.

COOPER: Absolutely.

AMANPOUR: As a member of Congress said, in any other situation -- and this was just after NATO and Britain -- they would have been demanded a psychiatric revaluation. But no, today, it's whatever, it's Trump. We have to be careful.

COOPER: We have to take a break. Our coverage continues in just a moment.