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Trump Tries to Walk Back Comments From Disastrous Russia Press Conference; Interview With Florida Senator Bill Nelson. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 17, 2018 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:04]

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We talked about numerous things. And among those things are the problems that you see in the Middle East, where they're very much involved, we're very much involved.

I entered the negotiations with President Putin from a position of tremendous strength. Our economy is booming and our military is being funded $700 billion this year, $716 billion next year. It will be more powerful as a military than we have ever had before.

President Putin and I addressed a range of issues, starting with the civil war in Syria and the need for humanitarian aid and help for people in Syria.

We also spoke of Iran and the need to halt the nuclear ambitions and the destabilizing activities taking place in Iran.

As most of you know, we ended the Iran deal, which was one of the worst deals anyone could imagine, and that's had a major impact on Iran, and it's substantially weakened Iran. And we hope at some point Iran will call us and we will maybe make a new deal or we maybe won't.

But Iran is not the same country that it was five months ago. That, I can tell you. They're no longer looking so much to the Mediterranean and the entire Middle East. They have got some big problems that they can solve probably much easier if they deal with us. So we will see what happens, but we did discuss Iran.

We discussed Israel and the security of Israel. And President Putin is very much involved now with us in the discussion with Bibi Netanyahu on working something out with surrounding Syria, and -- Syria, and specifically with regards to the security and long-term security of Israel.

A major topic of discussion was North Korea and the need for it to remove its nuclear weapons. Russia has assured us of its support. President Putin said he agrees with me 100 percent and they will do whatever they have to do to try and make it happen.

Discussions are ongoing,and they are going very, very well. We have no rush for speed. The sanctions are remaining. The hostages are back. There have been no tests. There have been no rockets going up for a period of nine months. And I think the relationships are very good, so we will see how that goes.

We have no time limit. We have no speed limit. We have -- we're just going through the process, but the relationships are very good. President Putin is going to be involved, in the sense that he is with us. He would like to see that happen.

Perhaps the most important issue we discussed at our meeting prior to the press conference was the reduction of nuclear weapons throughout the world. The United States and Russia have 90 percent, as I said, and we can have a big impact. But nuclear weapons is, I think, the greatest threat of our world today.

And they're a great nuclear power. We're a great nuclear power. We have to do something about nuclear. And so that was a matter that we discussed actually in great detail, and President Putin agrees with me.

The matters we discussed are profound in their importance and have the potential to save millions of lives. I understand there are many disagreements between our countries, but I also understand that dialogue and the -- when you think about it, dialogue with Russia or dialogue with other countries, but dialogue with Russia in this case, where we have had such poor relationships for so many years, dialogue is a very important thing and it's a very good thing.

So, if we get along with them, great. If we don't get along with them, then we won't get along with them. But I think we have a very good chance of having some very positive things.

I thought that the meeting that I had with President Putin was really strong. I think that they were willing to do things that, frankly, I wasn't sure whether or not they would be willing to do.

And we will be having future meetings, and we will see whether or not that comes to fruition. But we had a very, very good meeting. So, I just wanted to clear up.

I have the strongest respect for our intelligence agencies headed by my people. We have great people, whether it's Gina or Dan Coats or any of them. I mean, we have tremendous people, tremendous talent within the agencies.

I think they're being guided properly. And we all want the same thing. We want success for our country.

So, with that, we're going to start a meeting now on tax reductions. We're going to be putting in a bill. Kevin Brady is with us. And I might ask Kevin just to say a couple of words about that, and then we will get back on to a private meeting.

[15:05:08]

But, Kevin, could you maybe just give a brief discussion about what we will be talking about?

REP. KEVIN BRADY (R), TEXAS: Yes, sir, Mr. President. Thank you for having members of the Ways and Means Committee here today.

Peace through strength is foreign policy that works, and it works best when America has a strong economy and a strong military.

Under your leadership, House and Senate Republicans are delivering on both of them.

Today is about how we can strengthen America's economy even more, and we think the best place to start is with America's middle-class families and our small businesses.

So, today, we're here to talk to you about making permanent this tax relief, one, so they can continue to grow, two, so we can add a million-and-a-half new jobs and, three, we can protect them against a future Washington trying to steal back those hard-earned dollars that you and Republicans in Congress has given them.

So, thank you very much for having us here today.

TRUMP: And the time of submittal, what would you think that would be, Kevin?

BRADY: So we anticipate the House voting on this in September and the Senate setting a timetable as well.

TRUMP: Well, that's great.

Thank you very much, everybody.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're done. We're done.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. I have got everyone standing by.

Let me just say three little words. This is ridiculous.

I want to hone in on one point. And we're all going to chat, because a lot of this is, however many days in his presidency, and now acknowledging that, all right, yes, it was Russia who meddled.

But it's the slip of the tongue -- or, I should say, apparent slip of the tongue that the president is honing in on, that the word would vs. wouldn't and when he was speaking about this in Helsinki.

In case, you missed it, let's hone in on the sound bite. Let's roll it.

And, Dana, I'm coming to you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word would, instead of wouldn't. The sentence should have been, I don't see any reason why I wouldn't or why it wouldn't be Russia. So, just to repeat it, I said the word would, instead of wouldn't, and

the sentence should have been -- and I thought it would be maybe a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video.

The sentence should have been, I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia. Sort of a double negative. So, you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Clarifies things pretty good by itself.

Dana Bash, what?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: If only that entire spectacle, unbelievably, historically embarrassing spectacle, could have been and could be fixed with an N and an apostrophe and a T.

That is about as far of a stretch as any one of us could imagine. I guess he gets points for being creative there. Maybe that was the one sentence that could have been different, but what about calling Vladimir Putin strong and tough?

What about not calling him out on the world stage, never mind interfering in American elections, calling him out on Crimea, calling him out on the poisoning of somebody in Britain? And the list goes on and on and on?

I mean, that was one sentence that they're trying -- that he is trying to clarify. OK. That's fine. That's all well and good, but I can't believe I'm going to say this, but what he just did almost makes what happened yesterday worse.

BALDWIN: Worse.

BASH: Almost makes it worse, because this is so not who he is. He is Mr., as we were talking about, double down, triple down. And he's reading from a paper that who knows who wrote for him, as Gloria and I were texting during this, maybe the entire White House got together to write for him.

He was trying very hard to go along with this damage control that he was told he needed to do. But saying that it was because he didn't say wouldn't and said would, never mind all the things, the other things he said, and, more importantly, all the other things he didn't say that he should have to and about Vladimir Putin.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's the old double negative defense, right? I mean, come on. This is absurd.

You know, give me a break here. This president looked like he was in a hostage tape, reading -- reading a script that others had written for him, that he did not -- he clearly did not want to read, but he was told, you absolutely had to read.

[15:10:05]

And at the few moments where he allowed himself to be Donald Trump, he said something that will give Republicans pause, because when he said he accepted the conclusion of the intelligence agencies, he then went on to say in his real Donald Trump voice, he then went on to say, it could be other people also.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Yes.

BORGER: There are a lot of people out there. Well, there we go.

So we're back to where we were during the campaign with the 400-pound person in the basement. So, you know, Donald Trump can't get over himself. It's clear this was forced upon him by his staff. It's clear they wrote this out for him, and the best they could come up that he would admit to was the use of a double negative.

I mean, I think it's -- it's embarrassing. It's more -- as Dana says, it makes it...

BALDWIN: It makes it worse.

BORGER: Yesterday worse, yes.

BALDWIN: Go ahead, Jim.

SCIUTTO: He's contradicted himself in the same sentence, as Gloria notes there.

BORGER: Right.

SCIUTTO: I accept the intelligence community's assessment, which is that Russia and only Russia interfered in the election. In that same sentence, he went on, as Gloria notes, but it could be other people also, there are a lot of other people out there, which hearkens back to the 400-pound man in his basement, other countries, et cetera.

He contradicted himself in that single sentence and therefore undermined whatever claim he had to be saying that he accepts that assessment, one.

The other thing to remember, he said several things yesterday that undermined the intelligence community's assessment, not just that line with the double negative on would or wouldn't. He raised the issues of the DNC servers repeatedly, as if that undermined the assessment. He said multiple things.

To zero in on the lack of a negative contraction is just remarkable, and we have used this word before, but Orwellian, right?

BORGER: Right.

SCIUTTO: You are trying to contradict a video record of something that happened less than 24 hours ago with a specious defense here on one word. And, listen, there will be people who buy it. There will. But all you have to do is repeatedly roll that tape again, both of yesterday and today, and where he contradicts himself on videotape. And if you don't believe that, then you will never believe the facts, I suppose.

BALDWIN: Jeffrey, will the intelligence community buy it?

JEFFREY EDMONDS, FORMER DIRECTOR FOR RUSSIA, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Well, the intelligence community knows, you know, has experienced this kind of rejection by him since the beginning. So, I don't know that they -- this was completely disingenuous. I don't think this is going to boost morale in any way.

As Jim was saying, when you look at the videotape, he didn't mean wouldn't. You can tell by his body language that he didn't mean that. And he turns around and says that, well, Putin gives him a powerful response. And just -- it's just completely disingenuous.

So, I don't think any of my friends in the intelligence community are going to buy it.

BALDWIN: It's like how gullible with a slip does he think Americans or the world is?

BORGER: I don't think he thinks about that. I honestly believe that he was forced into doing this by his staff and he didn't want to do it.

They probably got a transcript for him and pointed out the would, the wouldn't, and all that, and he said, all right, I didn't mean to say that. I will go with that.

And I think, you know, he read this like it was being shoved down his throat and couldn't get through an entire statement without mentioning the word collusion, because, of course, he had to point out there was...

BALDWIN: No collusion.

BORGER: ... no collusion, right.

This was a performance and it was one he didn't want to do, which was very clear. And he didn't do well because he couldn't help himself.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: I want to ask. I want to go to Nick. I want to go to Nick in Finland.

Your reaction to what we heard from this president and how you think that will play overseas, how it will play in Russia?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: You know, it's obviously not going to address the real issue. Everyone saw the body language inside the press conference yesterday. I think it was one of the European newspapers today had a cartoon, and

it had the French -- obviously this is playing off the World Cup -- the French holding up the World Cup and the Croatians holding up the runner's up cup, and President Putin holding up a little trophy Donald Trump, because that's the body language.

And that was all the messaging yesterday. That wasn't a slip of a letter and an apostrophe. That was all of the body language, that President Putin is a powerful man. President Trump was seen to be in that Romney as a supplicant.

That was the read in the Helsinki newspapers. And I'm also struck here. We were talking just before as well about what happened during the two hours and 10 minutes, two-and-a-half hours, as President Trump now characterizes that meeting.

He reeled through a lot of things, but yet again he seems incapable to understand what it is that so many people around him are saying, that this cannot be business as normal with President Putin. Whether you get the word would or wouldn't right, you cannot do business with him as you were before.

[15:15:15]

This man attacked the democracy of your country. And here is President Trump again, again today saying, we can do great things.

It doesn't add up. And the thing that he didn't say that he talked about in that room that he didn't bring up at all as he tried to recap and straighten things out, he didn't say once that he challenged President Putin. He didn't say once that he drew a red line for President Putin.

And we know he was given the opportunity to several times on the world stage with everyone watching yesterday. It didn't happen. He didn't do it again today. This lacks luster. It lacks -- it lacks convincement. It doesn't convince me.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Yes. No, the other thing I want to add, and this is something that our White House team has been reporting since this morning, and now we heard it from the president himself, he didn't get it.

He didn't understand when he saw all of the coverage and all of -- more importantly, all of his fellow Republicans, almost to a person, Rand Paul excluded there, saying that this was absolutely outrageous, embarrassing, weak. I mean, you name the adjective.

He says, I didn't understand. What was that about?

Like, really? To hear the president of the United States utter those words and express that amazement that the performance that he gave, Mr. Strength, the performance that he gave looking, to use Nic's word, like a supplicant, that he didn't understand? BALDWIN: And, also, if we -- if you take the president at his word

that he meant would, instead of wouldn't, or vice versa, you know, he went straight on -- after he was happy with his meeting with Putin, he went straight on to FOX News.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: And, you know, it was a victory lap, right, on the other channel. And then he had the opportunity, Jim, he had the opportunity. He has a whole staff who was listening to every word of what he was saying. He could have corrected it then.

It somehow took all the way flying back to Washington, getting in front of the press corps 24 hours later to say, whoops, I meant this instead of that.

SCIUTTO: The timing doesn't matter because the correction's preposterous.

BORGER: Right.

BALDWIN: I know it is. I know it is.

SCIUTTO: Because he said multiple things yesterday. Would or wouldn't, let that stand. Accept that.

He also said -- he also said that -- he raised this red herring about, well, the assessment can't be true because where are those DNC servers? He said repeatedly that, well, Putin denied so strongly.

Were there missing contractions in those sentences? No, because he's...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: And going back to outcome of the election.

SCIUTTO: It's just preposterous. It's preposterous.

BORGER: It is.

And can I just add one other thing?

BALDWIN: Yes.

BORGER: The president again, when he was ad libbing, when he -- they allowed him to ad lib a little bit, when he said, you know, there was no impact on the outcome of the election, declarative.

BALDWIN: Yes.

BORGER: A declarative statement. No collusion. No impact on the outcome of the election.

We're not -- we're not talking about that. We're talking about Russia attacking the United States. And, you know, he still had to say, you can't delegitimize me.

And you could see the fury, I think, in his face and the sort of disgust maybe is a better word, that he was disgusted that he had to come out and clarify this, because he thought it was just perfectly clear the way he said it.

BALDWIN: But why doesn't he understand that this is an attack on our democracy and not questioning the legitimacy of his presidency?

BORGER: Why doesn't he see it that way? Because he never -- he can't get beyond himself.

And then there are the other questions which are now being asked, which is, is this about whatever Putin might have on Donald Trump, which is a question that's now being openly asked, because everybody is scratching their head about it.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: OK.

All right, I have got a huge thank you to every single one of you for being with me for the past hour-plus on all of this that has just happened at the White House. Thank you.

It's just Tuesday, you guys. Thank you so much.

Coming up next, we're going to talk with Carl Bernstein on all of the above here, significant developments this afternoon, also new reaction from the president's comments up on Capitol Hill.

We also have a major development involving the special counsel Robert Mueller.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. And this is CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:23:58]

BALDWIN: All right. We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

The president of the United States in the White House speaking moments ago, saying that he misspoke when he was talking about Russian interference in the U.S. election just about 24 hours ago.

So, let me just play for you what he said yesterday and what he said just now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: 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. I said the word would, instead of wouldn't. The sentence should have

been, I don't see any reason why I wouldn't or why it wouldn't be Russia.

So, just to repeat it, I said the word would, instead of wouldn't, and the sentence should have been -- and I thought it would be maybe a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video.

[15:25:00]

The sentence should have been, I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia. Sort of a double negative.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

So, you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's get reaction to that.

With me now, Senator Bill Nelson, Democratic senator from the state of Florida.

Senator Nelson, welcome, sir.

And you heard the president say he misspoke, would vs. wouldn't. Do you buy that?

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Sadly, that is not believable, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Tell me why.

NELSON: Because, obviously, in the context of a long press conference, after a two-hour private meeting, and then with 24 hours lapsing, with his staff telling him that he made a big mistake, with Republican senators speaking out in vigorous objection, and some cases outrage, like John McCain's statement, obviously, the president is trying to find an excuse.

BALDWIN: What do you think this message is sending, A, to this country's intelligence community, now that, what, we're 543 days into this presidency, and now he's backing the U.S. intelligence, now?

NELSON: And, as of yesterday, he still wasn't backing the U.S. intelligence.

And that report, remember, came out in January of 2017. That's a year-and-a-half ago, that unanimous report of the American intelligence community that Russia interfered in the election.

And, by the way, they are in the election records of 21 states, including my state. And I have to worry in my election upcoming that now I not only have to be concerned about my opponent; I have to be concerned about the Russians trying to influence the election against me.

BALDWIN: Do you think the Russians are more emboldened based upon what the president stood up on the world stage and said yesterday?

NELSON: Not only are they more emboldened, but this is a pattern of Russian activity over the last several years, and not only in our own country, but in other countries as well.

Look what they did, attempted in France. And look how many other countries will step forward and say the Russians are attacking us in cyber, and they're trying to influence our governing and our elections.

BALDWIN: Senator, let's talk about where you are right now, up on Capitol Hill, and let's talk about your Republican colleagues, because I have read all of these quotes from all of these various Republicans using various adjectives to describe what we saw from the president yesterday. Disgraceful. Most serious mistake. Shameful.

You know, those are the words. I'm wondering about action. I'm wondering about what your Republican colleagues can do and what it is about this president that perhaps they're afraid of to not do more than simply speak those words?

NELSON: Well, what they're afraid of the president is that he's going to come in their Republican primary election and talk against them, and they are deathly afraid of that.

And, because of that, I think, if anything that they propose, it's going to be eyewash. It's not going to have much effect.

What we'd like to see them do is, what about some severe economic sanctions over and above what is already in place? Let's get to the very top levels of Russia. Let's start putting economic sanctions on people like the president of Russia and the prime minister. And then you would start to see some -- some squeals coming out of Russia.

BALDWIN: Last question for you, Senator Nelson.

That is, we have just learned that the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next Wednesday. Topics include Kim Jong-un and the meeting with the president, also, of course, this most recent meeting with Vladimir Putin.

What is your number one question that needs to be answered?

NELSON: Mr. Secretary, please come forward and tell us what it is that Putin has hanging over the head of Donald Trump. Why does Donald Trump continue to defer, to curtsy, to bow, and will never say an unkind word toward Vladimir Putin?

What is it that is going on with the U.S. president