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Interview With Rep. Chris Collins; Trump Tries to Clarify his Words From Helsinki; Aired 9-10p ET

Aired July 17, 2018 - 21:00   ET


[21:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right. Thank you, my friend.

I am Chris Cuomo, and welcome to PRIME TIME.

From bad to verse. Was Trump really just a word away from what he meant to say? I know everybody's talking about this, but we believe we can show you the truth of would versus wouldn't. We have it all laid out and then you can judge.

So with Trump's clumsy cover story comes his staunchest defenders. We have a Republican lawmaker here to make the case that Trump is on your side.

Now, many on the left are saying there's a deeper, darker truth about Trump and Putin. Like what? We vet what's out there and advance the case.

Maybe a longtime Trump loyalist can help us crack the secret code. We have one of his former top campaign aides back with us tonight.

What do you say, my friends? Let's get after it.


CUOMO: The big news today, President Trump says he misspoke. He messed up. Just one word. And that's why he got it so, so wrong in Helsinki and gave an answer that was a betrayal of our country.

Now, there aren't many Republicans standing with Trump on this, but one who is, is New York Republican Chris Collins, and we welcome him back to PRIME TIME.

REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: Always good to be with you, Chris.

CUOMO: Pleasure is mine. Thank you for taking the opportunity.

COLLINS: Happy to be here.

CUOMO: It matters.

Why do you believe that the president was a word away?

COLLINS: I think this comes back to President Trump's focus on keeping America safe and making the world a safer place. And when you look at Iran, when you look at North Korea, when you look at Syria, there's only one person that can help us make this a safer world, and that is Vladimir Putin, who has got his fingers in all three areas. We are going to need to get to some resolution in all three of those hot spots with Vladimir Putin.

Donald Trump, the negotiator, President Trump certainly understand that and strategically meeting with Vladimir Putin is opening the door much like he's doing with Kim Jong-un --

CUOMO: Right.

COLLINS: -- to make this a safer place.

And when it comes to those three areas, if we're not in consultation and pushing Russia --

CUOMO: Right.

COLLINS: -- where we can, this is not going to be a safer world.

CUOMO: But --

COLLINS: And that's what his focus is.

CUOMO: But why does that mean it's OK to lie about the state of the investigation and the truth of being attacked by Russia during the election? He said he misspoke. You're saying he didn't misspeak. He just hid the truth because it's more helpful for the future?

COLLINS: No. It's actions speak louder than words. When you look at how tough Donald Trump has been when he expelled 60 of their diplomats over the death of those two agents, when you see the sanctions that he's loaded up, when you saw now today, he's the one that approved the indictments of the 12 individuals coming out before he went to Russia -- or went to Helsinki. He has been taking the steps with sanctions and things well beyond anything President Obama did.


CUOMO: Well, hold on a second. Let's take it point by point.

COLLINS: He's said time and again that he does understand they meddled in our election.

CUOMO: All right. But he said the opposite on the world stage in Helsinki.

COLLINS: That's why he misspoke.

CUOMO: So now you are saying that he misspoke?

COLLINS: Oh, yes, I'm saying he misspoke.

CUOMO: Before you were making the case he didn't want to deal with it because it's better for peace overall.


CUOMO: Now you're saying he got it wrong and he believes that Russia meddled. That's what you're saying now.

COLLINS: Absolutely. He believes Russia muddled.

CUOMO: OK, we're going to take that on. But just one by one -- one, you guys in Congress voted 98-2 on those sanctions. The administration slow walked it. We got a hundred sources on that.

You know Trump was against doing the sanctions. You know he complained --

COLLINS: I disagree with that.

CUOMO: He complained about the bill and said it was a gross overextension you were hurting his ability to negotiate. When more sanctions were offered up, he said no to doing them. When it came to getting rid of the diplomats, he thought that and it was slow walked through the Treasury. Those are the facts. It happened.


[21:05:00]CUOMO: If you're saying here tonight, Chris, that the president told Rosenstein to put out the indictment, is that what you're saying?

COLLINS: I am. I am saying that.

CUOMO: So you're saying the president contacted the deputy attorney general and weighed in on how the investigation into Russia was being conducted?

COLLINS: No. The deputy attorney general contacted Trump to get his opinion on whether this should be before or after the summit?

CUOMO: Really, that's not how it was reported. It was reported that Rosenstein gave him a heads-up, not that he asked the president whether or not to go public with the indictment. Are you sure on that?

COLLINS: Well, I was not in the meeting, but it's my understanding that Trump weighed in, and he was fine with it coming out.

CUOMO: So the president has influence over what happens in the Mueller probe and when it happens?

COLLINS: Not in the Mueller probe, but in this case when you have a president, the leader of the free world going to meet with an adversary such as Vladimir Putin.

CUOMO: Right.

COLLINS: The timing of the indictment wasn't going to change whether it was today, tomorrow, or four days from now. I would expect the Department of Justice, out of a courtesy to the leader of the free world --

CUOMO: To give him a heads-up.

COLLINS: To give him -- and also to ask if there was any issues they should be aware of that would say they should delay it. What was the rush? It wouldn't matter whether they did it --

CUOMO: Hold on. That's a separate consideration. I want to nail this part down and get back to the main part of the conversation. It is my understanding that the president did not tell Rosenstein when to put out the indictment, that Rosenstein told him. It is very important for us to know if that's not the dynamic.

If Rosenstein said to the president is now a good time to put this out because that would show that the president very much has influence over what's happening in the probe.

COLLINS: You're using the word influence in a negative context.

CUOMO: No, no. Straight. Did he tell Rosenstein, put it out now?

COLLINS: I believe he said to Rosenstein, I approve it going out now. I suspect Rosenstein did tell him he would want to or intend to, and by taking it to the president, who is getting ready to go on a historic summit.

CUOMO: Sure.

COLLINS: I think that's a courtesy you would give --

CUOMO: It's good to know. I just want to nail it down so when the president says I don't know what they're doing, I don't have anything to do with it, we know there's an exchange back and forth.

COLLINS: This was not the Mueller probe.

CUOMO: Well, it is the Mueller probe. It is an indictment that is an offshoot of the probe, a product of the probe, but I understand your point.


CUOMO: Your bigger point that you're making, Chris, is the president agrees with his own government, with the intelligence community, that Russia is responsible, and he misspoke.


CUOMO: If that's the truth, then why did he say this?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I accept our intelligence community's conclusion of Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also. There's a lot of people out there. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Can't be other people. If it's Russia, it cannot be other people. The I.C. says it is nobody else.

COLLINS: Why would you say that?

CUOMO: It is nobody else. That's the conclusion.

[21:10:00] COLLINS: Hey, we -- I serve on the telecommunications and the oversight committees on energy and commerce, and let me tell you. We are being hacked hundreds of thousands if not millions of times a day, people probing from any countries, whether it's Iran, North Korea --

CUOMO: But that's not the context of the discussion. This is who attacked us during the election. The answer is Russia, not or somebody else. You know what he's doing. He's casting doubt on the conclusion, and why he does that is the big question.

COLLINS: I think he's stating factually every country that is an adversary to ours is probing us whether it's our elections, whether it's our electrical grid, whether it's our banking, whatever it may be. They are probing all the time, and I wouldn't doubt for a second there were other folks playing around in our election, and it was Russia, absolutely, 98 percent. But I wouldn't be surprised either if you didn't have China or Iran or North Korea or some other country --

CUOMO: But don't you understand that as a hedge against the main conclusion? Especially in conjunction with these other statements. Let's play the mash-up.


TRUMP: I will tell you that president Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial.

I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we've all been foolish.

Where is the server? I want to know, where is the server? What happened to Hillary Clinton's e-mails? Thirty-three thousand e-mails gone, just gone.


CUOMO: Does not sound like he is agreeing with the intelligence community.

COLLINS: Oh, no. I'm convinced that he absolutely agrees with the intelligence community.

CUOMO: Well, if he absolutely agrees then why did he have to correct it today, and why were we the embarrassment of the international stage? COLLINS: Hey, we all misspeak on occasion, but I will tell you when

you look at our standing in the country today, a lot of it has to do with the news media. When I watch folks use terms like "treason," oh, my god, Chris, that was --

CUOMO: That was Brennan who said it, the former CIA director. It wasn't the media. It was the former CIA director. So how is it the media?

COLLINS: Well, because it's being reported now and pushed like this guy's got some level of credibility. There's no credibility for someone --

CUOMO: It's the former head of the CIA. The president of the United States stood on the world stage next to Vladimir Putin, who until Trump, you guys all hated by the way. I grew up with a generation of Republican leadership who saw Russia as the absolute inimical force to freedom around the world.

COLLINS: And they still are.

CUOMO: And now he stands next to him. He shakes his hand. He says he's a good man. He agrees with him against his own government, and you say it's the media? Thank god for the media testing power, Chris, or maybe we wouldn't be in this situation today of trying to get the president to clarify where he is.

COLLINS: They are missing the long game, which is peace in this world with North Korea, Iran, and Syria, and you're not going to get there unless Vladimir Putin is negotiating with I think the best negotiator in --

CUOMO: So you have to let him get away with attacking during the election?

COLLINS: He's not get ago way with it.

CUOMO: So you have to let him think that you don't believe he attacked the election?

COLLINS: Here's what we don't know. There was a lot of one-on-one time between Vladimir Putin and President Trump.

CUOMO: You're right about that.

COLLINS: And I have spent one-on-one time with President Trump. He does not mince words. He knows what's going on. You'll never meet a sharper, smarter individual than President Trump.

CUOMO: But he misspoke on the most important statement that he had to make yesterday in front of the entire world.

COLLINS: Well, any and all of us will misspeak. He's corrected it, which is what matters. He has said --

CUOMO: Has he? COLLINS: Yes, he has. He has said he absolutely believes our

intelligence community when they said they meddled in the election, and to say others were as well, I'm sure others were.

CUOMO: If you don't have the truth, if you're not standing for that, you're never going to have peace, especially where Russia is involved. You know that. That's why we're checking it, and that's why I appreciate you coming on to make the case.

COLLINS: Always be good with you, Chris. Good to be with you.

CUOMO: Chris Collins, congressman, Western New York, thank you.

All right. I want to go back to a question I asked at the top of the show. Was the president just a word away from what he meant in Helsinki as he claimed today? You heard Chris Collins make the case.

We're going to break out the magic wall. A PRIME TIME show and tell, and then you decide, next.


CUOMO: All right. Facts first.

Here's what we know: Helsinki is being called the surrender summit. Why? The president had an epic fail in front of the world. He chose Vladimir Putin's lies over his own country's truth.

Now, today, the president says he misspoke.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I realize that there is a need for some clarification. In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word "would "instead of "wouldn't." I said, it should have been, I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia. Sort of a double negative.


CUOMO: All right. It isn't a double negative, but let's make the case, OK?

Here is what the president said yesterday about Dan Coats, OK? Here's the main line where the president says the truth will be found. I don't see any reason why it would be Russia. That's what made everybody so upset. He says he meant to say wouldn't.

And as long as you take it that way, he agrees with the intelligence community, and it's all good.

So what's the truth? The truth is found in what follows, OK? Let's go back to this a little bit more clean. What follows?

[21:20:00] This is the best piece of proof for the president that he was a word away. Why? Because, but I really do want to see the server seems to be a balancing statement, all right? So I think it's Russia, but I want to see the server. That would be the best piece of proof that the president was a word away.

But here's the problem. It falls away with what follows. How so? OK.

I really do want to see the server. I have confidence in both parties. Do you see that? That fights the conclusiveness of believing the investigation. How?

Because you don't believe both parties if you believe one. If you believe America and you believe your government and the conclusion that Russia attacked us, then you don't believe in both parties. So, he wasn't a word away.

And how do we know that this is what he meant? We know because he said it again yesterday. Take a listen.


TRUMP: I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we've all been foolish. I do feel that we have both made some mistakes.


CUOMO: No. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia when United States was victimized by them. So that again shows that his true intention was to be inconclusive, to be sympathetic to the Russian cause here. I really believe that this will probably go on for a while.

All right. What does that tell you? He means it's not over. It's inconclusive. Again, that tells us that he wasn't a word away, that he meant to make it doubtful, OK?

Then what does he do after that? Then he did something that was really shameful on the world stage, and he brought up this hollow meme about the DNC server. Why did he do that? Because he believes if he makes this about Hillary Clinton, it's better for him.

Can I prove it? Yes and quickly.

The server is not missing, has never been missing. Why would he say that? Because it's deceptive and manipulative and it works for his cause. But it's not true. The server was never subpoenaed. So, the DNC violated no request.

[21:25:00] James Comey testified that he got the proof he needed from the DNC about the server having been hacked. How? CrowdStrike, a third-party forensic outfit that they used, gave him the information. So, that's the stuff about the server.

Why did Trump lie about this situation? Why? Why did he say, we don't really know? Why did he say Vladimir Putin is right? Because he believes the attack on the election delegitimizes his win.

But how could he do something like that as president? Because if it comes down to what is best for Trump or what is best for you, you're going to lose. And the world saw that yesterday, and it was shameful.

Now, is that just Cuomo conjecture? No. How do we know? Listen to what he said today when he was trying to clean it up.


TRUMP: Let me be totally clear in saying that -- and I've said this many times. I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also. There's a lot of people out there.


CUOMO: What? This is your cleanup effort. You're reading off a page of prepared remarks that other people told you you need to say to fix it, and he still insists on spreading doubt.

Why? Because of what we showed you. Everything that he says is a check on his own legitimacy. He has to undermine the attack. He has to conflate collusion with Russian interference. It doesn't work for him, but he insists on it even today.

And the proof in the remarks themselves. These are his prepared remarks from today. It is also the most authentic piece of proof about what this is about.

He wrote: There was no collusion. Why? Even though it has nothing to do with saying it is true that Russia attacked us, it's what he cares about and you know it's authentic because he misspelled collusion. That is something he does. He misspells words.

There's also something else. The cross-out. I know this is a little hard to read, but if you examine it, it says, anyone involved in that meddling to justice -- he strikes that. Why? Because he hates the notion that there could be any sense of justice, fairness under law, that involves punishing him or anyone around him.

The insistence on covering for himself cost our country a lot of legitimacy in Helsinki.

So, our conclusion is this. Based on what he said and what he meant through the context of other statements, Trump can say he misspoke, but he definitely wound up saying what he meant. OK?

Now, politically, will the cleanup be enough for his party, for the base, maybe even beyond, or has his luck of being forgiven for his words run out?

That is the making of a great debate, and we're going to have it, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [21:30:00] CUOMO: One thing's for sure, the president's perfidy in Helsinki broke the ice separating right and left, at least in Washington, D.C. You got lawmakers from right, left, and reasonable coming together to say no to Trump's efforts to undermine the findings of Russia's attacks on our country.

Trump says he fixed it today. Did he, or is there something bigger coming his way?

We have Angela Rye and Charlie Dent for a great debate.

Angela, we start with you. Did Trump fix it?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, he did not fix it. In fact, I'm still trying to wake up from this nightmare that I've been in since the election in November 2016. He definitely demonstrated that a bully can cower too, and I thought it was shameful.

I think the one thing that we can definitely count on Trump supporters for is liking him and approving of him when he's tough. He didn't look very tough. And if that's the only reason why they didn't support his actions and his behavior yesterday, maybe that's it.

But finally, we agree on something. He definitely did the country a disservice, and I would argue he jeopardized our national security.

CUOMO: Charlie Dent, do you agree with what the president said today?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I don't think he said today really clarifies much of anything either. He's been very clear about this. He has ill feelings towards NATO and the E.U. He's been very conciliatory and had kind words toward Vladimir Putin. That's what we saw again yesterday and all last week. And this clarification really doesn't change much of anything as far as I'm concerned.

CUOMO: So why are Ryan and McConnell trying so hard to not say what you just said?

DENT: Oh, well, I can't explain that.

CUOMO: I can, but I'm asking it in the form of a question. Go ahead.

DENT: Look, I think what's happened is our politics have become so tribal. You've heard this before. It's so tribal that people are afraid to speak the truth. And they're -- you know, they're afraid to state the obvious.

And in Washington, D.C., let's face it, Chris -- stating the obvious can be a revelation or a gaffe, and that really is I guess what's most disturbing.

But I think people are worried about base politics, and it's time to set that aside and just deal with the fact that we have to protect this nation's interests. Russia is a hostile actor.

CUOMO: Right. DENT: It's that simple.

CUOMO: That's what made it interesting, though, yesterday.

You know, we saw some recent polling, Angela, that within the Republican Party, Vladimir Putin is ticking up in popularity. You're very young. I am not.

This is crazy talk to somebody who grew up with a generation of Republican leadership who thought that Russia was as inimical as it gets and the idea of Republicans polling any kind of favorability on Putin is like unimaginable to me, but here we are.

And Chris Collins made the case to us, congressman out of Western New York, Republican, that you're missing it, Angela. You got to make a decision. Do you want to rub Putin's nose in the past, or do you want peace in the future because you need Russia to do it, and that's what Trump was doing in Helsinki, and you are making a mistake by trying to make him fix it.

RYE: Yes, no. I actually don't agree with that. I would say at what cost? Peace at what cost, right? Not at the sake of truth.

I think that we owe this country the opportunity to hear truth from the commander in chief and the commander in chief has an obligation to first serve the country, and he can't do that by continuing to peddle this lie that Russia was not -- didn't interfere with the election whether he thought it was a double negative or not. You already proved that point in the last segment.

He also has an obligation to stand up for what's right, whether that comes in the form of strength or it comes in the form of more diplomacy as we saw with President Obama. We just have an obligation.

Congressman Dent, when you were serving on the Committee on Homeland Security, I was a staffer there. You talked about tribalism and politics. I would definitely agree with you. I remember a point in time when we worked together to solve issues dealing with homeland security, especially dealing with national security.

So, I don't understand the point where we will forsake truth and say this is my side no matter what. I don't see another option. I don't see another opinion.

CUOMO: Well, we saw a little break in that yesterday, Angela. Let's bounce it back to Charlie on that idea. I was very surprised. I'm over there in Helsinki. We're kind of living it in a moment. This kind of like universal gasp when President Trump said what he said.

But then you heard lawmakers who at a minimum have been quiet, right? They got their voice up, and in unison, people said, no, no, no. They attacked us. Trump shouldn't have said that. This was a mistake.

McConnell put out a statement through a spokesperson, then said something himself. Subtle, which is his way. Ryan even kind of said something, even though he's retiring. You think he would man up about hits. But he took a step.

Do you that believe there's any momentum on the part of R and D working together to take back some power from the executive?

[21:35:00] DENT: Oh, Chris, absolutely. In fact, I met this morning with European parliamentarians and a German parliamentarian to discuss this issue.

But I believe absolutely that Congress right now should pass a bill to protect Mueller. I introduced a bill in the House. Coons and Tillis introduced the same bill in the Senate.

CUOMO: You think it passes?

DENT: Well, yes. If it ever gets to the floor, I think it would pass, whether the president would sign it, of course, a different matter.

CUOMO: Well, you need two-thirds, right? You need a veto-proof majority.


CUOMO: You don't think it's a better chance, Charlie, that they would do something along the lines of sanctions? That you only have the power we give you basically, Mr. President, and we're telling you right now, don't take any away, and don't try to do anything else without coming to us first, we're going to apply the sanctions, we're taking it back?

DENT: Well, we could enhance sanctions. We did pass a pretty strong sanctions bill not so long ago.

But I would also recommend that Congress not only deal with these two issues of Mueller and sanctions, but also on trade. The Congress should take back its authority and simply say that no tariff shall be imposed without an affirmative vote of the Congress.

CUOMO: Right.

DENT: Or maybe that the president will not be able to withdraw from a trade agreement this country enters into without the approval of Congress. Take back that authority under Article 1.

CUOMO: Well, in the statute that gave him the ability to do the tariffs he most recently did, there was a national security trigger clause, and he never made the case.

We hear he made it to Congress sotto voce, like in private, but he never made it to the country about why it's national security and the Congress echoed thereupon because they had ceded that authority. We'll see if they take it back.

DENT: They can do it (ph).

(CROSSTALK) CUOMO: That's true.

Let me get one last point from you, Angela. The Democratic side of this ball, I couldn't get Schumer. I couldn't get Warren or any of the big shots to come on tonight and make the case for what they're going to actually do.

Do you think the Democrats will make this a cause? Is there real momentum, or is there just talk?

RYE: No. I think that this has been the cause, right? If you listen to what everyone said going into the 2016 election, people were sounding the alarm well before he was even the nominee. So, I think that folks should have listened. It's not a partisan debate. This is one about human decency and it's about national security, and folks have to start listening to that.

If the Democrats don't take over the House or the Senate, they're still limited in what they can do, Chris. That's the bottom line. This is a numbers game, and unfortunately, it's not one we should be playing with.

CUOMO: Angel Rye, Charlie Dent, thank you very much.

But you know what? These two people, they're too reasonable, and that's why we have to examine what happened in Helsinki from a little bit of a difference lens.

I'm not being facetious. Those are reasonable people. Charlie is not in the game anymore, so he's a little bit more open about where his head and his heart come together. Angela Rye is giving you a take about we can progressive.

But the hard bitten partisans that are still in there, the base that responds so well to the president, how are they taking what happened? That's a key part of the analysis. We have a gift tonight. We have somebody who understands the base very well, who talked to Trump about how to cultivate it, and will understand what it will mean. He's coming up later in the show.

We also have one of the few independents in the Senate, Angus King. Does he believe anything will happen because of Helsinki? Next.


[21:40:00] CUOMO: Twenty-four hours plus after what happened in Helsinki, the president says, I just misspoke. Would versus wouldn't. Everything else is settled.

Now, earlier in the show, we demonstrated for you why that doesn't make sense in context and it will be out online. You can look at it for yourself.

Now, did Trump with his explanation mollify the mortified lawmakers? If he didn't, what are they going to do now?

Independent senator from Maine, Angus King, joins us.

Thank you for being a part of PRIME TIME.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Always a pleasure, Chris. Welcome home.

CUOMO: Thank you, sir.

Three questions. The first one, are you OK with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein asking the president if it's OK for when to release an indictment?

KING: I'm not sure of exactly how that came down, and I'm not sure asking is the proper term. I think notifying is probably a more accurate term, and in that sense, I don't see any problem with it. I don't think he was asking permission, and the fact that they went forward, I think says all you need to know.

CUOMO: OK. Angus is on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Obviously his take on this is important.

So, to the would versus wouldn't, do you believe that explanation in context of this other sound?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also. There's a lot of people out there.


CUOMO: A lot of people out there, Angus. You think he's a word away from getting it right?

KING: No. I think what you saw today was an attempt to get it right, but he blew it at the end. He started to make the speech he should have made a year and a half ago, which is, our intelligence community has concluded unanimously and without doubt that the Russians tried to interfere with our elections in 2016. Instead of saying that, he's been denying it for a year and a half.

Today, he had the script in front of him, and then he strayed from the script at the end and said, well, it could have been other people too. And my read of him is if you want to really know what he thinks, it's when he's looking at you and looking at the camera. If he's reading, it's something that somebody else prepared, and I think that happened today. They had a statement in front of him, and I guarantee that that statement didn't have on it "or it could have been other people too."

And that got us right back into the place where we've been for a year, where he continues to deny the fact. And one of the things that struck me yesterday, he said Dan Coats and

the intelligence committee told me they think the Russians did it. I'm quite sure that's not what they told him. They told him the Russians did it.

This is an absolutely categorically established fact, and if he could separate the collusion issue from the Russian interference with the election issue, they're two separate issues. But he can't seem to separate them and tell the American people what the Russians did, how dangerous it was, that we're not going to let them do it again.

That would be a tremendous service to the country. He can't quite get there.


KING: I don't -- I think because -- and I think I've heard some of your guests earlier today. He views this whole issue as somehow denigrating his election victory, and he just can't bring himself to admit that the Russians did, in fact, involve themselves in the election.

CUOMO: Do you subscribe to this thought that's percolating up mostly on the left that it's something darker than that as the truth, that there is something there with Putin that we need to be afraid of?

KING: I don't -- you know, I'm an evidence kind of guy, and I'm on the intelligence committee. We're searching through all the evidence we can find. If we find evidence of that, then it will certainly become known, and we'll work from there. Right now, I'm not prepared to say that.

I think it goes back to the very beginning where he just can't admit that something might have had something to do with helping him get elected. But he just -- the problem is, Chris, we're not going to be able to defend ourselves until the American people understand what's being done to them.

CUOMO: And we know the president won't give Dan Coats the green light to go forward with a real comprehensive plan to stop it in the next election.

So the last question for you, Senator, is this: Will anything happen because of Helsinki?

KING: I think there's several things that might happen. I think people have sort of coalesced around the fact this is a very serious problem. One, I could see more restrictions on the trade powers as Charlie Dent just mentioned.

Certainly, our Senate Intelligence Committee investigation is going to continue. We just have a three-hour meeting this afternoon on that very subject.

I think we're going to see calls -- greater calls to protect Mueller. The problem is, Chris, all of those things I mentioned other than our investigation, but any legislation requires bipartisan support and probably two-thirds in order to overcome a likely veto. Now, we did that with the sanctions last summer.

CUOMO: Yes, 98-2.

KING: I think -- and I think that could happen again as a result, at least as a partial result of what happened yesterday. But I just wish the president could separate these two issues, tell the American people what happened, and then we can set about trying to solve it.

But right now, we're trying to solve it with one hand tied behind our back, and that's the president because he isn't providing the national leadership that's necessary to put this issue behind us, and there's nothing to deter the Russians from doing it again. That's the real problem. We're a cheap date. And until they feel that there's some penalty to be paid for doing this, there's no reason they're not going to come back at us.

CUOMO: Well, two comments. You're from Maine. You're no cheap date. You only eat lobster.

And second, if you have one hand tied behind your back and it's the president, in this regard, he is a very big hand.

Senator Angus King, thank you for being on the show. Come back soon.

KING: Yes, sir.

CUOMO: All right. So, we were told that President Trump wanted the one-on-one with Putin. Why? To show he was the big dog. Well, if that's true, he left with his tail between his legs, or did he?

Former Trump adviser Michael Caputo says not so fast. How Helsinki is seen depends on how you want to see it, next.



CUOMO: Trump is all about that base. That was a popular song, but is it a less popular political play after Helsinki?

Let's get after that part of the story with a man who is one of the originators of the base play for Trump. Former senior adviser on the campaign, Michael Caputo.

Welcome back to PRIME TIME.


CUOMO: So if the play was, I'm a patriot. I love America, not like that Obama guy, then you go to Helsinki. You stand next to Putin, and we saw what happened. Does it hurt him with the base?

CAPUTO: I don't think it really does hurt him with the base. As you know, Chris, I've long believed and argued that this was Russia all along, all this chicanery with the e-mails.

I spent a lot of time in Russia, lived there for seven years. I know the way the Russian government works. I know the way Putin works. I was pretty sure of this two years ago.

But the fact of the matter is the president and a lot of the people in his base see the Russia meddling story as interwoven with the Russia collusion story. And, you know, when the president went to visit with -- in Helsinki with President Putin, he didn't go there to gain patriot points. He went there to engage with an adversary to try to make sure that this doesn't, you know, at some point devolve into an aggressive situation.

But the fact of the matter is, Chris, this story of collusion and, you know, meddling in our election is completely political, and we exported that with reporters and --


CUOMO: Hold on, Michael. How is it political?

CAPUTO: -- and the president.

CUOMO: It's factual. It's not meddling.

CAPUTO: No, I understand that.

CUOMO: It was an act of war. It was a cyberattack on our campaign that you just said happened. So, how is it a political war?

Trump is the one making it political by the conflation, by your own definition. The president is politicizing what should be simply factual.

CAPUTO: Well, I --I don't know that it's an act of war, but it certainly was a military attack on our country.

CUOMO: Well, when the military attacks another country, how -- when is that not an act of war?

CAPUTO: I understand that, Chris. But I don't want war, and that's why I want my president to engage with Vladimir Putin.

CUOMO: Do you want him to lie about what happened?

CAPUTO: No, of course not, Chris. But I don't think the president is the only one in this political system in the United States that's guilty of conflating the two issues of meddling and collusion. I think the media does that constantly. I think the resistance does it constantly.

And I think they do it because they've kind of cracked the code. They know it really sets the president off, and the media didn't go to Helsinki to find out what's going to happen with Ukraine and Crimea or Syria or Kaliningrad, or even nuclear proliferation or nuclear modernization. They went there with a gotcha question. They went there and they got

exactly what they were looking for, and it was disappointing for me.

CUOMO: Well, hold on a second, Michael. What's disappointing is you excusing what the president said as if he were baited, that he couldn't avoid it, he was set up by all these others who know how to push his buttons. He was on the world stage next to another man who everybody else wants to antagonize also.

He didn't say anything that threw his own country on the bus. Trump did, and he did it for the same reason --

CAPUTO: I don't think he threw the country under the bus, Chris.


CUOMO: He didn't? By saying that I agree with Putin, not my own government.

CAPUTO: Understood. I think he's clarified that. I satisfied with it. I was not happy yesterday. As an old cold warrior who spent a lot of time to defeat the Soviet Union --

CUOMO: He said today it could be somebody else. Right after he said, I agree with the intelligence guys, he said, but it could be someone else. How can you be satisfied?

CAPUTO: Right. We also know Chinese cyber actors were accessing Democratic campaign e-mails as well. We suspect in recent intelligence reports that they may have accessed Hillary Clinton's emails.

CUOMO: He could have said Chinese. He could have said North Korean. He could have said here's something I know that you don't.

He didn't. He wanted to throw some stink on it, like he did yesterday, like he does every time, Michael.

CAPUTO: I understand, Chris. But you understand as well that the president is a stubborn man. He's in stubborn in negotiations. It's one of the aspects of his personality that not even I like, because he's not going to back down as quickly as let's say Obama did in these kind of situations.


CUOMO: He put his arms around Putin over his own government.

CAPUTO: No, he did not.

CUOMO: He said it word for word. He said the intelligence guys --

CAPUTO: I believe he was stubborn on this issue. I believe he was too stubborn on this issue.

(CROSSTALK) CUOMO: Well, hold on, let's just speak the truth about this, Michael, just for the audience's sake, OK?


CUOMO: He wasn't stubborn or tough or strong with Putin. He was none of those that we could see. Now, he did a one-on-one meeting whom there was only a translator who I hope gets subpoenaed to testify or at least invited so we know what happened in the damn meeting because now we know we need to know, OK?

CAPUTO: Same thing Obama. Same thing Obama did.

CUOMO: But Obama did come out of it and lie about the reality of an investigation involving Russia and take their side in the matter. And this president did, Michael. That's what he did.


CAPUTO: Chris, let me ask you a quick question, though.

CUOMO: Please?

CAPUTO: OK? I mean, as the president and his base and is someone who is caught up in the jackpot of this Russia investigation myself, you can understand his reticence to believe every word that comes out of the mouths of people from the past who were involved in trying to stop him from being president and trying to get him out of the White House. Now, he's talking about his own intelligence apparatus.

CUOMO: Dan Coats was trying -- Dan Coats was trying to keep him from being president?

CAPUTO: Understood, let me finish.

CUOMO: All right.

CAPUTO: He's talking about his own intelligence apparatus now. And I think the fact he did --

CUOMO: It's not his. It's ours, Michael. It's our apparatus, OK? This is not a kingdom.

CAPUTO: You understand I'm talking about his own appointees.

CUOMO: And he still threw them under the bus. He still said Putin was strong. I really -- he really made a great case. I know my guys say it was Russia but he made a great case, and there's trouble on both sides, Michael. Because there's moral equivalence between Russia and the United States, right?

CAPUTO: I know there's not. I think the moral equivalence --


CUOMO: But he said all of those things. You must speak truth to power.

CAPUTO: I think that was a mistake.

I think the moral equivalence argument is a loser. I think that the idea of conflating the two, the collusion and the meddling is a loser. It's a loser for Republicans. It's a loser for Democrats.

But I was pleased with the way this thing was going from his opening statement all the way until the gotcha question came up.

CUOMO: Don't blame on the question, Michael.


CUOMO: He's the president of the United States, all right?

CAPUTO: I was hoping the president of the United States could resist it, but he couldn't. And I think that's a stubborn mistake and one he tried to clarify today.

I'd like to see that something happen in retaliation to this. We're sitting here talking about this, twiddling our thumbs talking about whether the president of the United States is a traitor --


CUOMO: Dan Coats says the president -- no, no, I haven't used the word. I never made the suggestion. If anything I've thrown cold- water on it when it does come up.


CAPUTO: You're good at it. But I'm watching social media, I'm watching --

CUOMO: You watch me on social media and you let me know when I step away from what I'm saying right now.

CAPUTO: I know that, Chris. I'm not accusing you. I'm saying this is what the president is listening here.

CUOMO: Dan Coats says, the head of the DNI, Trump's guy, says, I don't have a plan in place to fight this next time because the president hasn't asked me to do that.

So, let's end on that. Let's see if it's better going forward. Otherwise, it will happen again.

CAPUTO: I think the president should do it and now because it's happening now. And we should be hacking into Vladimir Putin's united Russia as we speak.

CUOMO: Well, let's see what happens.

Michael Caputo, thank you very much.

All right. One thing we know for sure -- let's bring in Don Lemon. His show is coming up. Don? No Don? No Don. Forget about Don.

All right. So, here's what we know. This is about word choice, OK? It's about a choice that the president made to put himself before you and the truth, all right? In the last 36 hours, really the last year and a half, we've all had to deal with a situation that leads up to a couple of vital questions.

What are they? We'll tell you next and then we'll go to Don.


CUOMO: All right. Earlier tonight, we laid out the facts why President Trump was not a word away. He meant what he said yesterday.

So the question becomes well, what now?

So, what are we seeing? We're seeing that the extremes a making a move. Trump's friends on Fox and the far-right, they're yammering about how the outrage over Trump's betrayal is outrageous. That's nonsense.

Now, on the far left, they're calling for impeachment, potential prosecution, it's not going to happen.

But there are many inside those polls including lawmakers on both sides asking very hard but important questions, why did Trump turn on the truth and what must be done about it?

Now, the first question has two potential answers. Trump denies the attack because he's convinced it hurts his win, but there are others, maybe right now on TV saying that it could be something darker, is Trump a Russian asset?

Now, look, here's my take. I see zero proof of that. We'll see what Mueller has, but I only know what I can show and what I can prove. That's what this show is about.

So, this is what I do know, it's the job of lawmakers who are right now talking the talk of accountability to get to the bottom of it. And key will be transparency.

What happened in that meeting with Putin? We know we've got to know now. Ask the translators.

And is it time for Trump to open his books and his taxes? We've never seen them. I don't know what Mueller has and what access. But Congress at least needs to know.

Talk got us into this mess. It will not get us out. Lawmakers, you say you care, #doyourjob.

Don Lemon picks it up from here.

Don, how are you doing?