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Russian Woman Charged with Being Foreign Agent; Trump Stuns by Siding with Putin; Putin Denies Dirt on Trump; Trump Praises Putin's Offer; Obama Talks About Strange Times. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired July 17, 2018 - 09:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:30:00] EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: 2016 and 2017, even raising the possibility that Vladimir Putin could attend the prayer breakfast. Now, an attorney for Butina says that she's not an agent of any government. That she's simply a student of international relations working to build better relations with the United States and Russia. Butina was arrested over the weekend, by the way. And a law enforcement sources tells us that the investigators were actually concerned that she was about to leave the D.C. area, that's why they arrested her. And, by the way, prosecutors told a judge, Poppy, that this is an ongoing investigation and that there are other subjects that are still under investigation.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Right, which means this could be a whole lot bigger than just this --

PEREZ: Right.

HARLOW: This one person.

PEREZ: Exactly.

HARLOW: Evan Perez, thank you very much for that.

Ahead for us, it was shocking but did it just shake the world order or was it more? We'll get more reaction to what people are saying around the globe about the Putin-Trump summit.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:34:58] HARLOW: Harsh headlines around the world this morning after the Trump-Putin summit in Finland. The front page of a major paper in Helsinki, you see it there, Trump, zero, Putin, one. The U.K.'s "Guardian" quotes critics calling the meeting, quote, nothing short of treasonous. And Frances "Le Monde" writes, Trump is Putin's best ally.

Joining us now from Finland, our international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson.

There is agreement around the world on the front pages this morning.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: There is. There's also the resounding sound of silence coming from the European leaders. Normally you would have expected if President Trump had stood up to President Putin and said don't attack our elections, the European leaders, particularly Germany, particularly Britain, who've had their elections attacked, you would have expected them to applaud President Trump. You would have been defending U.S. democracy, defending European democracy. There was silence because President Trump didn't do that. And that is causing consternation amongst European allies.

They have also got further insights now into what President Trump is thinking -- President Putin is thinking, rather, from his interview with Fox's Chris Wallace after the press conference that so astounded people yesterday on that fundamental issue of, was Russia -- did it have an interest in President Trump. This is how Putin responded to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We don't have anything on them and there can't be anything on them. I don't want to insult President Trump when I say this, and I may come -- come as rude. But before he announced that he will run for presidency, he was of no interest for us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: But he also, you know, sort of contradicted that, although there's certainly evidence that might sort of contradict that, that could come out later.

We also heard from President Putin pushing back on the attack, hacking the DNC computers, essentially sort of missing the point entirely that they'd done something illegal, hacking in those computers by essentially saying what he found on there was factual. This is how he explained that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PUTIN (through translator): Listen to me, please, the information that I am aware of, there's nothing false about it. Every single grain of it is true. And the Democratic leadership admitted it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: So it seems almost an admission of guilt on his part. Of course, that's not the way that he was framing it. But, you know, when you listened again, I will refer to that sound of silence coming from Europe. If united -- if President Trump seems not to be listening to his intelligence services, there's growing concern in Europe today that if he doesn't -- that if he doesn't trust his intelligence services, how can he trust his allies and their intelligence services. Therefore, the United States allies will be wondering at this time if President Trump isn't acting on the best interest of his own national security -- strategic national interest, how can it be acting on the interests -- the national strategic security interests of his allies? That is a very, very fundamental question. I say again, the sound of silence that should have been applause and praise for President Trump, none of it today.

HARLOW: Yes. That's a very important point.

Nic Robertson for us live in Helsinki. Thank you for that.

With me now Steve Hall, CNN national security analyst, formerly the chief of Russia operations for the CIA, and David Rohde, our global affairs analyst and online news director for "The New Yorker."

Let me just say about that 33 minute Chris Wallace interview, that was a master class in interviewing an adversary. I mean he kept going and going and asking all of the important questions. And as Nic points out, it does seem like an admission of guilt, David, from Putin saying, yes, but, you know, the e-mails that were hacked, that were actually -- that's what they actually meant. What?

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, it was a great interview, great job by Jeff Mason from "Reuters."

HARLOW: Yes.

ROHDE: It was a great day for journalism. (INAUDIBLE) biased.

HARLOW: (INAUDIBLE). Yes.

ROHDE: But he did seem to admit that. And the fact here that Putin's not mentioning is that there are suspicions that the Republican National Committee e-mails were hacked as well. And so this is why people are so sort of stunned and alarmed by President Trump's behavior because there could be e-mails that are embarrassing, their private e-mails of a crime (ph).

HARLOW: Right, just not released yet.

ROHDE: But this is what Putin could be holding over him.

HARLOW: Which, by the way, is what Republicans, like Marco Rubio, kept warning about during -- during the election in the final days.

Steve Hall, let's talk about the stunning statement and assertion by Vladimir Putin that, no, of course we have nothing -- no kompromat on Donald Trump, et cetera. I say it's stunning in that he's expecting Americans just to take that at face value. Should they?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, no, absolutely not. But Vladimir Putin, of course, is a professional intelligence officer. He understands the west very well. So he understands this very sort of quaint western approach that many people take. Maybe he has a point. Let's hear him out. Maybe, you know, we need to be fair and listen to all different views. He understands that and takes it to the bank every time.

Look, the Russian FSB, the successor organization to the KGB, as well as the other intelligence services, are expert at gathering information. And there's no doubt in my mind that they would have gathered as much information about Donald Trump as they could have when he was in Moscow, as well as all of his associates.

[09:40:06] HARLOW: Why, just because he's a rich guy?

HALL: It's a general principle. I mean whenever you've got somebody who essentially -- I think the best way to think about it is, Vladimir Putin and the intelligence services think about a guy like Trump, either in the 80s or later on, as an American oligarch. And so you need to collect information because you never know down the road when you're going to need an oligarch. Well, perhaps that time is now.

HARLOW: Our Manu Raju, David, is reporting that Republican lawmakers are talking right now, talking on The Hill, about sort of what they can do. What power Congress has to tie the president's hands when it comes to Russia. We know because they passed those sanctions last year with this veto-proof majority. But what else can Congress do and do you believe that Republicans will actually act to bar against election meddling -- you know, interference, another attack on our elections in 2018? What happened?

ROHDE: Well, there -- there's one bill that proposes immediate sanctions, very, very heavy sanctions on Russia if there is renewed hacking. Another thing that's come up, Democrats have backed this, is legislation protecting Robert Mueller. One thing Donald Trump did in this press conference was made it much harder for him to fire Robert Mueller. Republicans are under pressure --

HARLOW: But that wouldn't stop Russia.

ROHDE: It would not. But I do think yesterday, you know, the president insisted on the summit. It wounded him politically. Ronald Reagan was a proud defender of the free world. Listen to Nic Robertson. The fact that the American president didn't stand up and say, we are going to protect our democracies in the U.S. and Europe, you know, was just astonishing. That's so against, frankly, the Republican and the Ronald Reagan tradition.

HARLOW: Let's also listen to what the president said yesterday applauding Vladimir Putin for an offer that he made.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that's an incredible offer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: He's talking about the 12 Russians that were indicted on Friday. And Bill Browder, who is the largest foreign investor in Russia till 2005, then his lawyer, Magnitsky, was jailed and then died in prison after uncovering over $200 million in fraud by the Russian government, this morning in "Time" here's what he writes, in response to exactly what the president called an incredible offer. Quote, Putin offered to allow American investigators to interview the 12 russian intelligence agents just indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in exchange for allowing Russians to have access to me and those close to me.

He has had threats against his life, yet the president calls this an incredible offer. What's the significance of that, Steve?

HALL: It's another great example, Poppy, of the Russian manipulating western sensibilities. So it's like, sure, I'm going to make this offer. It sounds fair, right, we'll let you talk to some of our guys. Maybe we can talk to some of your guys. That's, of course, not at all how it works in Russia.

These 12, if they were -- you know, if we got access to these 12 GRU officers, military intelligence officers, to ask them how they did this, we would get nothing out of them. And the Russians, of course, really have no business coming in and trying to talk to anybody in the United States because there is no rule of law in Russia. I mean it's silly to presume that there's this legalistic approach that there would be some sort of fair adjudication or fair measurement. So, once again, it's Putin playing the west and, sadly, playing the president himself, who turned around and said, yes, sounds like a good idea to me. It's ludicrous.

HARLOW: It sounds like he didn't know the important background and the context here.

HALL: Yes.

HARLOW: Thank you both very much. Appreciate it.

Staffers at the White House urged the president, through our reporting, to be tough on Putin. So now that we clearly see that he wasn't, the White House faces condemnation. And the question this morning, will anyone walk?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:48:10] HARLOW: All right, so this morning the president, former president, Obama, is in South Africa giving a speech at a Mandela lecture series. And he seemed to address what we've seen unfold on the world stage in the last 24 hours.

Listen to President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Confession number three, when my staff told me that I was to deliver a lecture, I thought back to the stuffy old professors in bow ties and tweed and I wondered if this was one more sign of the stage of life that I'm entering, along with the gray hair and slightly failing eyesight. I thought about the fact that my daughters think anything I tell them is a lecture. I thought about the American press and how they often got frustrated at my long-winded answers at press conferences, when my responses didn't conform to two- minute sound bites.

But given the strange and uncertain times that we are in, and they are strange, and they are uncertain, with each day's news cycles bringing more head spinning and disturbing headlines,

I thought maybe it would be useful to step back for a moment and try to get some perspective. So I hope you'll indulge me, despite the slight chill. As I spend --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[09:50:09] HARLOW: All right, joining me now, Ron Brownstein and Matt Lewis.

Thank you both for being here.

And, Matt Lewis, to you.

Strange, head-spinning, disturbing, uncertain times. For the first time in a long time, I think a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill would agree in lockstep with President Obama. What do you say?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. If they're being honest, I think they would. We had lots of problems with President Obama, to be sure. I mean as a conservative, I think I can say that.

But what we saw yesterday with President Trump is really kind of a new low. And if you're a conservative who grew up admiring Ronald Reagan, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, William F. Buckley. What they talked about was, you know, American exceptionalism and moral clarity. And the people who attacked Ronald Reagan during the Cold War were arguing a sort of moral equivalency. Like, yes, we do -- Russia does bad things, but we do bad things, too.

Well, I never thought I would live to see the day when a Republican president echoes that sentiment. But what Donald Trump did yesterday was say a moral equivalency. We're -- yes, we're both at fault for this.

HARLOW: He said both sides, just like he said in Charlottesville.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Right.

HARLOW: And he said the U.S. has been foolish.

Ron Brownstein, did the United States, did the American people, from this America first president, gain anything yesterday?

BROWNSTEIN: The loss, I think, was really what you have to talk about. It was an enormous loss. And it was compounding the losses that we have seen from the G-7 meeting to the NATO summit to the efforts to undermine the domestic politics in Germany and Great Britain. The president has been a consistent wrecking ball through the western alliance that has been the foundation of America's influence in the world, in a way of magnifying and amplifying our power. And, you know, it's not only the words that he directed at Vladimir Putin, it is the contrast to the words and the deeds that he is directing at our allies.

If in fact he was trying to advance Putin's goal of dividing the west and undermining the alliances that have existed since World War II, what would he be doing differently? I think that is a very legitimate question for Republicans on Capitol Hill.

You know, and it is worth noting -- I mean I really do believe the Charlottesville analogy is exactly right here because this is the foreign policy equivalent of Charlottesville. It simultaneously tells us how far outside the boundaries of what had previously been acceptable or even imaginable behavior of a president and also how unwilling Republicans on congressional -- do hold him to account.

HARLOW: Since -- so, Ron, since the Charlottesville statement, the president has held on to a high popularity rating.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

HARLOW: At least within the Republican Party.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Yes.

HARLOW: And yet the condemnation from Republicans, Matt Lewis, to what we heard yesterday next to Putin was swift and broad. So as the president today goes to Capitol Hill, I wonder if you think anything changes in the wake of a, you know, a "Wall Street Journal" editorial that says that he was weak and a national embarrassment. Does anything change? What do Republican lawmakers say to his face today?

LEWIS: I mean it's so -- it's so -- it's so weird and this is such an unusual time.

Again, my disappointment is really not so much with Trump because he's who I always thought he was. I'm disappointed that we elected somebody who would say this, who would go and stand next to Vladimir Putin and blame, you know, blame America first. I'm disappointed that the party of Ronald Reagan has made this the standard bearer.

By the same token, it was one week ago that Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

HARLOW: Right.

LEWIS: And I think most -- most conservatives would say that that's a really good pick that's going to really make a difference for conservatism. Republicans and conservatives are basically being squeezed. I don't know at what point he crosses the Rubicon. I've certainly seen more public criticism than I had before. But there's a long way to go before he loses his party.

HARLOW: Right.

Ron, will Congress -- I mean will Republicans in Congress just talk and issue these statements and say things like, you know, Representative Turner just said on my show 45 minutes ago, or will they actually do something?

BROWNSTEIN: No, I -- HARLOW: I mean will they tie the president's hands with votes that are, you know -- you know, that the president can't veto, that are veto proof? What are they going to do about it?

BROWNSTEIN: I think the first thing to be clear about is, there is a lot they could do and they are choosing not to do. For example, Bob Corker yesterday criticized the summit. Bob Corker, remind me, isn't he the chair of a committee that could compel testimony from the administration and other experts about what exactly was agreed to in Helsinki, what the preparations were for Helsinki? Could not Republicans pass legislation to defend Robert Mueller? Could not a single Republican in the Senate refuse to vote for -- move forward key legislation until the president -- or the administration agrees to testify about what happened in Helsinki?

[09:55:13] They are voluntarily choosing to abdicate their responsibility for oversight, precisely for the reason I think that Matt alluded to, which is that, in essence, there is a bargain here. The president is giving them their judges, their tax cuts, the regulations they want that they did not have the power to achieve without the Oval Office. And in return, they are turning away from behavior that under a Democratic president, as (INAUDIBLE) said to me yesterday, there might have been discussion of impeachment hearings if Hillary Clinton had performed that way at the hearings (ph).

LEWIS: I don't think might -- I don't think might have been.

HARLOW: Or maybe -- maybe they --

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. At the summit.

HARLOW: Or maybe things change. Or maybe this is the straw. I don't know.

Ron Brownstein, Matt Lewis, thank you.

BROWNSTEIN: I don't think there's a straw.

HARLOW: Thank you both.

Top House Republicans are set to speak after they split with the president on his summit with Vladimir Putin. We're on it.

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