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THE SITUATION ROOM
U.K. Lawmaker: Facebook Data Used By Cambridge Analytica Was Accessed from Russia; Russian Military Details Trump-Putin Agreements No Confirmation from White House Pentagon; Interview With New York Congresswoman Kathleen Rice; Interview With California Congressman Adam Schiff; Trump Tries to Walk Back Comments From Russia Press Conference. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired July 17, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But did an ad lib during his largely scripted remarks reveal his true feelings?
Seeking immunity. A new move tonight by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, as he tries to protect five secret witnesses set to testify against Paul Manafort. Who is turning on the former Trump campaign chairman?
Russian infiltration. We're now learning new details an alleged secret agent of Moscow and the steps she's accused of taking to create back channels between Vladimir Putin and America's political powers. How close did she get to the Trumps?
And Pearl Harbor moment? A retired U.S. general is warning that the Kremlin's attack on U.S. democracy was an act of war. How will Pentagon leaders respond to fears that the commander in chief has aided an enemy?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I am Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We are following breaking news on President Trump's attempt at summit damage control and the additional damage it may have actually caused.
Mr. Trump, under fire for his embarrassing public embrace of Vladimir Putin, now says he believes that Russia interfered in the election after all, but he undercut his own belated claim of support for the U.S. intelligence agencies by saying -- and I'm quoting him now -- others, others might have been behind the attack as well.
He also blamed the news media and a slip of the tongue for the firestorm consuming his administration tonight.
I will talk with the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, the president was clearly under pressure to try to fix this. What's the latest?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, no question about it, this is a firestorm unlike other -- any other that he has experienced in his presidency, both global and domestic.
He was hearing from a variety of advisers. Wolf, I am told that the president initially in the early hours of this morning was not inclined to respond like this, but he did hear from advisers, from lawmakers, from other supporters of his, including someone who said it made him look unpatriotic.
He listened to those and then he tried to clarify that. I'm told that he was leading this charge directly to say that he misspoke.
But ,Wolf, saying those words in the Cabinet Room of the White House certainly don't match the magnitude from that Helsinki summit yesterday.
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump in full damage control mode tonight.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I realize that there is need for some clarification.
ZELENY: Insisting he misspoke in Helsinki, accepting Vladimir Putin's denials of Russia's attack on American democracy.
TRUMP: 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.
ZELENY: Yet that hardly cleans up the spectacle of the Putin summit, which has become the most condemned and criticized moment of his presidency.
Standing alongside Putin, he said this Monday:
TRUMP: He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be.
ZELENY: But more than 24 hours later, his words don't erase what he said on the world stage, that he accepted Putin's word over that of U.S. intelligence agencies.
TRUMP: I have full faith and support for America's great intelligence agencies, always have. And I felt very strongly that, while Russia's actions had no impact at all on the outcome of the election, let me be totally clear in saying that, and I have said this many times, I accept our intelligence community's conclusion.
ZELENY: Yet the president continues to not fully embrace the detailed evidence his own government had produced, leaving the door open to other bad actors beyond Russia, and again insisting there was no collusion with his campaign, which is still the subject of a special counsel investigation.
TRUMP: Let me be totally clear in saying that -- and I have 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. There was no collusion.
ZELENY: Reading from scripted remarks today in the Cabinet Room of the White House, his words hardly taking away damage at home or abroad for saying this in Helsinki:
TRUMP: I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial.
ZELENY: It has been the most sweeping rebuke of the president from his own party. On Capitol Hill today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell addressed Moscow directly.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I think the Russians need to know that there are a lot of us who fully understand what happened in 2016 and it really better not happen again in 2018.
ZELENY: The White House shaken by the blowback, as the president awoke to headlines declaring treason.
The conservative "Wall Street Journal"'s editorial page declaring the Helsinki performance a personal and national embarrassment, asserting the president had projected weakness.
Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci not mincing words.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Loyalty right now requires you to tell the truth, and sit with him, and explain to him the optics of the situation, why the optics are bad, the strategy in terms of trying to get along with Vladimir Putin and deploying a strategy of going against the intelligence agency is very bad.
ZELENY: The criticism echoing across the GOP.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: President Trump was wrong yesterday in a major way, and I think it was a very embarrassing press conference. REP. RYAN COSTELLO (R), PENNSYLVANIA: You could say it is
embarrassing, but I don't think that does it sufficient justice. I think it undermines our moral authority.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: The antics over the last 10 days have been damaging to our country.
ZELENY: It was clear the criticism, particularly from inside the president's own administration and from loyal supporters, needed to be addressed. So, Trump made this statement today, trying to undo the damage. But, as he read from his remarks, this happened:
TRUMP: I have a full faith in our intelligence agencies. Whoops. they just turned off the lights. That must be the intelligence agencies.
ZELENY: So, Wolf, the lights eventually came back on, and the president finished his scripted remarks.
But you could tell when he was reading those remarks he was in fact reading them. And there were other top advisers in the room as well following along, as our videos and other pictures show.
It was carefully stage-crafted for the president to try and essentially move beyond all this. But, Wolf, it is the suggestion here that he is saying there was other people potentially involved that is still raising questions with the intelligence agencies here.
And I talked to one official a short time ago who says the president is wrapped up by no collusion, he thinks that answer is the answer for everything. But, Wolf, clearly in this matter this did not erase what we saw yesterday in Helsinki.
BLITZER: Absolutely, because the U.S. intelligence community concluded it was Russia who interfered in the elections, not other people, a lot of other people, anything along those lines. The president clearly still in disagreement with his own intelligence community.
Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.
After the summit in Helsinki, Vladimir Putin may be even more emboldened to launch attacks aimed at disrupting the United States and other Western nations.
We have breaking news on that.
Let's bring in our justice correspondent, Evan Perez.
Evan, what are you learning?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Shimon Prokupecz and I have been talking to the intelligence and law enforcement officials both here and in United Kingdom. And they tell us that the intelligence has been coming in that
indicates the Russians are looking to ramp up some of their anti- Western activities with the end of the World Cup and obviously now that the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki is behind them.
This is something they had noticed there was a lull in some of the activity they had been doing, and the reason why we were told by officials was simply the Russians didn't want to do anything that would detract from the prestige of hosting the world's biggest sporting tournament, which is the World Cup.
And so the belief was that once that tournament is over, and they have intelligence that indicates this, that once that was over they would begin ramping up some of their activity. What type of activity are we talking about? We have seen everything from influence campaigns on social media, on propaganda outlets to some of the more aggressive things, which is like the Novichok poisonings in United Kingdom in the last few months.
Everything like -- every one of those things is what the concern is among the intelligence agencies. That's what the Russians could be trying to do in the coming months.
BLITZER: Very interesting. You're also getting some new information on Robert Mueller making a new request in connection with the Paul Manafort trial that's about to begin?
PEREZ: That's right. The trial is set to begin next week, and the special counsel has now asked for the federal court to give permission for five unidentified witnesses to provide testimony.
Again, these witnesses would not be -- their identities would not be released, and they would be given immunity so that any statements they used could not be used against them. Again, this is sort of an unusual thing, but the special counsel explained in court filings that this is in order to get this testimony from these important witnesses who are going to be testifying against Paul Manafort, and allowing them to speak freely, and also to avoid -- for them to avoid harassment or any other things that happen to them because of their testimony that they might provide to the trial.
Again, this trial is supposed to begin next week. But we also, Wolf, just in the last hour or so learned from the judge who is going to be overseeing the trial next week that he's rejected Paul Manafort's request to move his trial from Alexandria, Virginia, to Roanoke.
If you remember, Paul Manafort had argued that the Alexandria area, which voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, was a hostile area for him to go on trial and that there would be better media climate in the lower part of Virginia for his trial. The judge said that that was not a very good enough reason for him to move the trial.
BLITZER: Only eight days away, the start of that trial by the president's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Thanks, Evan, for that report.
Also breaking tonight, a federal grand jury has formally approved a criminal indictment against a Russian woman charged with acting as a foreign agent of the Kremlin in a conspiracy against the United States.
Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, has been digging deeper into all the charges.
Jim, prosecutors say Maria Butina tried to create what they described as secret communications channels between Vladimir Putin, what, and Donald Trump?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, that, among many things, in fact.
And, as you know, the standard for a criminal indictment is even higher than the standard for an intelligence assessment. So to file these charges, they would need quite a lot of proof about what this Russian woman was up to here.
And at a time when the U.S. president continues to raise questions about how much Russia interfered at all in U.S. politics, this is another example of a different kind of interference, not targeting the 2016 election by itself, but a whole host of political organizations here in the U.S., including and, crucially, a very powerful one, the NRA.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): The allegations against a 29-year-old Russian Maria Butina further substantiate a sustained effort by Russia to infiltrate and influence U.S. political organizations and operatives, all this to shape U.S.-Russia relations.
According to CNN and court filings, Butina's primary avenue of influence appears to be the National Rifle Association. She leveraged her relationship with the NRA leadership to foster relationships with Republican Party leaders, American politicians, and business leaders.
She even helped in an effort to establish a covert communications channel between then candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, an effort that was rebuffed.
In 2015, Butina had publicly asked candidate Trump a question about sanctions at an event in Las Vegas.
QUESTION: If you will be elected as the president, what will be your foreign politics, especially even in relationships with my country? And do you want to continue the politics of sanctions that are damaging both economies, or you have any other ideas?
TRUMP: OK. Obama gets along with nobody. The whole world hates us. I believe I would get along nicely with Putin, and I mean where we have the strength. I don't think you would need the sanctions. SCIUTTO: She also spoke briefly with Donald Trump Jr. at an NRA
dinner. Trump Jr. said that he spoke a only few minutes with her, and did not talk about colluding with the Russian government.
Leading up to the 2016 election, Butina had sought to introduce Russians to Americans. And she proposed acting as a go-between herself, powerful Americans and the Russian government. Court documents for the first time reveal direct Twitter messages between a Russian official and Butina.
The official reflected on his spycraft with Butina in 2016, writing -- quote -- "It is not about winning today's fight, although we are striving for it, but to win the entire battle. This is a battle for the future. It cannot be lost." Butina responded, "True."
In another message after the 2016 election, Butina wrote to the Russian official -- quote -- "I am ready for further orders."
Butina's attorney has denied the charges, calling them overblown in a statement, and describing her as a bright, recent graduate of American University in Washington. Her attorney insisted she only wanted -- quote -- "to promote a better relationship between the two nations."
SCIUTTO: Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee attempted to subpoena Butina for an interview. They say that that request was blocked by their Republican colleagues on the committee.
Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee also attempted to subpoena documents and an interview. Butina refused that request, among other things, citing Republican opposition to it.
A missed opportunity, you might say, Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly is.
Jim Sciutto, reporting for us, thank you.
Let's talk about all the breaking news on Russian interference and President Trump.
We're joined by the ranking Democrat of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
Let's get right to the sensitive issues. The president now says he meant to say yesterday he has no reason to believe it wouldn't be Russia behind the 2016 cyber-attack on American democracy.
Do you buy that explanation from him today?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: No, it is not the least bit credible, because what the president said at the summit with Putin about his not questioning whether Russia had any motive, he didn't think Russia had any motive, was completely consistent with everything else he said at the summit, that Putin was very strong in his denials, and he didn't know who to believe, but why would Putin lie to him?
So, no, I don't believe this at all. It is simply not credible that the president somehow misspoke. What the president said not only was consistent with what he said at that meeting, but it has been consistent with what he is saying all along.
Indeed, this retraction today is not only too little, too late, but too equivocal. Even now, when he is reading the statement prepared for him like he is a hostage forced to read something, he has to add that, yes, he thinks Russia is responsible, but maybe others. There's a lot of people out there.
Well, it wasn't the conclusion of the intelligence community that it could have been a lot of others or there are a lot of people out there. The conclusion was this was Russia. And the president simply can't bring himself to admit it, and that's obviously a real problem for our security and our efforts to create some deterrent to Russian meddling in the future.
BLITZER: And what is also interesting, I don't know if you have seen this, but the president clearly seems to have watered down those prepared remarks by his aides by ad libbing.
Look at this picture. We will show it to you and our viewers there. You see it there. You can just make out that he crossed out a line that read -- and I am quoting now -- "anyone involved in that meddling to justice."
How do you interpret that?
SCHIFF: Well, I think it is pretty clear that he has no interest in bringing the Russians responsible to justice and he doesn't want to see justice done to anyone in the United States that may have been responsible for working with the Russians.
After all, the president likes to repeat as a mantra, this is a witch- hunt. Well, when you read that indictment, when you read any of these indictments, and you see the specific evidence that is alluded to, you can see how much weight is behind these charges.
But it is not surprising at all that the president would cross this out. If this statement came about because of a threat of resignation by members of the president's staff, and I don't know that this is the case, but, frankly, they got very little for their efforts, because this half-hearted statement that even then was crossed out in part and ad libbed in part isn't worth the paper it was written on.
BLITZER: What concerns do you have, Congressman, about what happened behind close doors in Helsinki yesterday, when President Trump met alone with Putin?
SCHIFF: Well, this is the thing. We don't know. But if he was willing to say things so damaging to the United States in public, you have to imagine that what he said in private was a lot worse.
And I would say two things about that. The Russians are likely to have a recording of this. They would have been foolish not to make one, and I have to expect that the Americans don't have a recording, because, after all, the president didn't want anyone else in the room with he and Putin.
And why on earth would he bless our taking a recording of that conversation? So the Russians now have that, which may be another powerful form of kompromat for the Russians. Should the president say something inconsistent with his private representations, they could always make that public.
BLITZER: So, I just want to be precise, Congressman. What you're suggesting is that Putin, when he went into that private meeting with the president, either he was wired with a microphone for recording or his Russian interpreter was wired? Is that what I'm hearing you say?
SCHIFF: I would fully expect the Russians have either a fully accurate transcript or a pretty complete breakdown of everything that was said in that meeting.
And, yes, my expectation, and the president would have been advised, you should expect everything that you say is going to be recorded. I think it would be negligent not to advise the president of that, and probably negligent of the Russians not to make provision for that.
And I would be very concerned with anything the president represented during that meeting later being held not just against the president, but indirectly against the United States of America.
BLITZER: That's interesting. You don't believe the president necessarily was wired or the American interpreter was wired. I'm sure we will learn all about this down the road.
Congressman Schiff, thanks so much for joining us.
SCHIFF: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead: Is President Trump dropping the ball on national security with his praise of Putin and now his forced and possibly failed attempt to clean up the mess?
I will ask a key member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Kathleen Rice.
And former Vice President Joe Biden speaks exclusive to CNN's Juan Carlos Lopez. He is warning that Mr. Trump is bolstering Putin by undercutting NATO.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He would much rather deal with 28 individual countries, none of whom have the capacity to challenge him individually, than he would a united front. This is what this is all about.
And whether it is witting or unwitting, the president is helping him with his agenda.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news on President Trump's response to the huge backlash over his summit with Vladimir Putin.
The president now declaring that he supports U.S. intelligence agencies and their conclusion that Russia attacked the 2016 election. It was an attempt at a reversal of what he had said in Helsinki and what he said throughout his presidency, until, until he threw in an ad lib suggesting others could be responsible as well.
Joining us now, Congresswoman Kathleen Rice. She's a Democrat, serves on the Homeland Security Committee.
Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. KATHLEEN RICE (D), NEW YORK: Thanks for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: Do you believe the president's clarification today fixed all these matters?
RICE: No, not even remotely.
The president had an opportunity, Wolf, on two separate occasions, when he was interviewed by reporters on FOX News, to fix any inconsistency or any factually incorrect statement or grammatical error that he made in his very clear and unequivocal answers to the questions at the press conference.
And he didn't do it until today. And he did it in the most ridiculous way ever. If you look at the two sentences that he said that preceded the sentence that had the word would in it, it makes sense that he meant exactly what he said.
And to try to backtrack now in a way that -- and then to add that kind of disclaimer, and then there are other people, maybe he's talking about the 400-pound man in his basement. I don't know what he is talking about.
But I have to tell you, Wolf, I speak today as an American, not as a Democrat. This is a very difficult time for us now in this country. And my question is, what are we going to do, the 535 of us who are here on both sides of the aisle, first and foremost, Americans? Second, we are politicians.
But right now, we need everyone here to be an American, to be a patriot. What are we going to do to bring this president in?
BLITZER: Well, let me play that clip. You mentioned it.
The president of the United States, he says he supports the U.S. intelligence community, their assessment, but then he added something that the U.S. intelligence community does not believe. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Let me be totally clear in saying that -- and I have 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. There was no collusion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You know, the U.S. intelligence community does not believe it was other people, a lot of other people out there. It believes Russia did it.
What does that tell you?
RICE: Look, you read the indictment, which I have done, it is unequivocal that it was the Russians. There's no question about it.
And let me just also clarify something else the president said, Wolf. He said in that clip that he's always adopted the findings of the intelligence community.
Nothing could be further from the truth. From the very beginning, he has said that it is a witch-hunt. And he has thrown questions out about the credibility of every single intelligence agency in our government. So that's a ridiculous claim as well.
But, you know, it is so ironic when the president talks about this being fake news or that being fake news. What the president is doing right now is creating his own fake news, right? He said -- he had that freewheeling press conference with Vladimir Putin, where he, incredibly, stood next to a tyrannical despite who kills his own people, not only in his own land, but in foreign lands, and acceded to him on every single point.
And now he is trying to backtrack and call everything he said before, that's fake news, I never said that?
We have got to stop this nonsense. And there are things that we can do here in Congress, Wolf, right now to address this crisis that the president has thrown us into.
We can create another sanctions bill. The first one we did, the president has yet to implement all of the sanctions that were in that bill. We need to pass a bill that protects special counsel Mueller. That's -- if the president can do a press conference like that, he could fire Mueller tomorrow. There's no question about that.
And we have to create an election security czar, which is something I think we should be doing on a bipartisan basis.
BLITZER: And it is interesting, because we now know that, when the president spoke in the Roosevelt Room a little while ago, he actually -- and we have evidence of this, we spotted it -- he crossed out a line.
You can see the video there. You can see the picture. He crossed out a line saying -- quote -- "anyone involved in that meddling to justice," suggesting that he wanted to bring anyone involved in meddling to justice, but he crossed it out and didn't utter those words.
How concerned are you, Congresswoman, about what the president might have said in private with Vladimir Putin, with none of his advisers even in the room, except a Russian and an American interpreter?
RICE: We should all be concerned.
And, quite frankly, I think it was a complete dereliction of the duty of his top aides, whether it be the secretary of state or his national security adviser. You know, someone, was there any adult in the room to say, "Mr. President, you are not going in that room alone"?
I think it's very likely that there is a recording. Unfortunately, we don't have it.
But there's no -- I don't know how we can prepare any -- to keep ourselves safe in any respect when it comes to national security when we have a president who spent over two hours in a room alone with Vladimir Putin, and he has every reason not to tell us what was said in there. But unfortunately, I think Putin knows, and that, once again, could probably and will be used against the president in the future.
The other thing about what he -- the most amazing thing to me -- you know, Wolf, I'm a former federal prosecutor. It is frightening to me that the president talked the way that he did about someone like Vladimir Putin. It just begs the question what is he afraid of? Why do you butter up to someone who is not our friend; they're worse than a foe? They are -- have been, in historical times, our biggest enemy. That begs the question.
And that's why I think we have to protect Mueller. Because at this point, I think he's the only one with the backbone to actually dig deep enough to find out what's at the heart of -- of Trump just wanting to be best friends with Vladimir Putin.
BLITZER: Representative Rice, thanks so much for joining us.
RICE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, the president says the world got the wrong impression of his views on Russia, because he made a verbal gaffe, he insists, during his news conference with Putin. Our analysts, they're standing by to weigh in on whether his so-called clarification was convincing. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In 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."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[18:36:48] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. President Trump trying -- trying to quell the outrage he sparked by siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies. With the White House facing furious fallout, the president read a statement saying he misspoke about Russia's attack on the U.S. election. Then he said he does back the U.S. intelligence community.
Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and analysts. How effective was his so-called explanation today? What do you think?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It was preposterous. There's no other word for it.
First of all, he contradicted himself in one sentence. Started the sentence by saying, "I accept the assessment," ended the sentence by saying, "could be other people; there are a lot of other people out there." The fact is, the assessment is that Russia did it. No one questions that, Republicans or Democrats. So there's that.
And the idea that the "would"/"wouldn't", you know, mistake somehow explains the whole thing, it's just belied by the truth and the videotape. Because the videotape yesterday, Trump repeatedly undermined the assessment in the intelligence community. It wasn't just the "would" or "wouldn't" sentence. He cited this DNC server conspiracy theory, which has often been cited, really, with no basis, as somehow justifying his questions about the assessment. He repeated, as he has in the past, said that Trump [SIC] -- said that Putin has forcefully denied this, as somehow therefore undermining the assessment.
So if he truly wanted to make it clear that he has faith in his intelligence community, in his country's intelligence community and has faith in that assessment, he would have said, in no uncertain terms, without those qualifiers, and would have ticked off, you know, would have contradicted the many times yesterday and prior to yesterday that he undermined the intelligence community and the assessment, and he didn't do that.
BLITZER: We're also learning, Dana, more information about how this decision to issue this so-called clarification today came about more than 24 hours after the news conference, including some -- some reports out there they were deeply concerned there could be resignations as a result of what the president said and did yesterday from someone like the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats. DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. I mean, Dan
Coats, the DNI, was being encouraged, along with other members of the intelligence community, to consider resigning by colleagues who were going on television. So it's hard to imagine they weren't hearing that from colleagues or former colleagues on the phone, as well, and that was a consideration. Our Jeff Zeleny has been doing excellent reporting on it. That was one of the concerns.
The other was the fact that he is hearing -- I'm hearing similar from Republican sources, that the core of the -- of the Trump support has been that he is going to do what's great for America, make America great again, right? That's the hat. But that he looked unpatriotic standing next to the president of Russia, the dictator in Russia, and looking like he's kowtowing to him. And that was a big, big problem.
Look, he heard -- he, the president, heard from friends, from colleagues, from members of Congress, you know, far and wide that this was a very, very big problem, the biggest yet. He was hear -- I know that he was hearing and watching some of his friends on television and taking that into account. Because we know it's one thing for him to pick up the phone; it's another thing for him to watch people he respects giving him messages on cable news.
[18:40:06] BLITZER: Dana, you make a good point. You know, Ron Brownstein, yesterday Newt Gingrich, who's a supporter of the president --
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
BLITZER: -- the former House speaker, said what the president did with Putin, it is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected immediately. Now the president issued his clarification earlier today. Newt Gingrich said the president responded quickly and clearly once he realized he had used wrong language.
The president did put a lot of Republicans in an extremely awkward position.
BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Yes, he did. And I think, in many ways, this is the foreign policy equivalent of Charlottesville, when the president defended white supremacists last summer, in two respects.
First, as Jim Sciutto was saying, there's no question that what he originally said is what he meant and that today he was reading, perfunctorily, words that were written for him to try to clean it up. I don't think anybody has a lot of faith that he will now have -- has turned a corner, and you know, unequivocally believes that Russia did, in fact, meddle.
And I think the other revealing that's thing, though, is the limits of -- as in Charlottesville, the limits of the Republican willingness to confront him over behavior that would have been unimaginable for any previous president.
I think of the example of Bob Corker, who was quite critical yesterday. Bob Corker sits in the same chair as William Fulbright once did, who was the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1966, when he held landmark hearings on Vietnam that changed the national debate over the war, over the strenuous objections of a president from his own party, who deeply didn't want him to do it, and yet he did.
Bob Corker, you know, can complain, but the fact is that he is not and no one else, none of the other Republicans that have complained are moving to hold hearings, to summon the people involved in the summit to give testimony about exactly what was agreed to, what was -- what the planning was. I mean, there are things they can do other than carp. But to carp without consequence, I think, is to send a message to President Trump that, in the end, they will back down.
BLITZER: Do you think, David Swerdlick, this could be a turning point? Or are we back to where we were in so many earlier occasions, including Charlottesville last year, when the president said very fine people on both sides?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So many events are happening so fast, Wolf. I mean, it was just a week ago that we were talking about Brett Kavanaugh being nominated to the Supreme Court. And now that seems like ancient history. So I'm not sure that this is going to last that much further into the future.
It may not be a turning point, but I think, if we get to a turning point, this will be a step toward that turning point because of the position the president has put Republicans in.
BLITZER: Yes. Very significant moment, indeed. We'll see what follows.
Just ahead, an alleged Russian connection in the Facebook user data scandal.
Plus, what Russia's military is now saying tonight about the agreements reached by President Trump and President Putin.
[18:47:25] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: There's new information tonight about Cambridge Analytica, that was the company that helped Donald Trump get elected president. CNN has learned the Facebook user data gathered by Cambridge Analytica was accessed from within Russia, according to a British lawmaker.
Let's go to our senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin, who's been working this story for us.
Drew, this potentially, potentially has some very big implications here in the United States.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Because if true, Wolf, it could explain how the Russian intelligence agents that attempted to disrupt the 2016 presidential election were so effective in how they targeted the U.S. population.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): It was marketed as a breakthrough in how to motivate, change people's minds, and manipulate them to vote or not vote in an election, using personal Facebook data of tens of millions of Americans, Cambridge Analytica developed a voter targeting technique, aimed at specifically targeting individual voters who would receive messages on their Facebook feeds, group chats, and even personal communications.
Critics would label the technique as the political weaponization of data. And it turns out the Russians were paying attention.
DAMIAN COLLINS, BRITISH PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE CHAIR: The information commissioner in the U.K. saying that she believes the Cambridge Analytica Facebook data was accessed by people in Russia. And we don't yet know --
GRIFFIN (on camera): In Russia?
COLLINS: In Russia in Russia. We don't yet know who they were, and what they accessed, and whether they took that data or what they did with it, but that link was established with the investigation. So, clearly, it would be really important to understand exactly what the level of access was for people in Russia to this Facebook data and what they did with it.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Damian Collins is a British member of parliament for the conservative party whose committee is running an almost identical investigation as is U.S. counterparts looking at Russian meddling in the 2016 Brexit referendum. It has focused largely on controversial Facebook user data. The data analytics firm of Cambridge Analytica and a data scientist named Alexander Kogan.
COLLINS: Well known for the man who created the tools and apps that allowed Cambridge Analytica to get a large amount of Facebook user data.
GRIFFIN: Aleksandr Kogan delivered the data to Cambridge Analytica. And now, CNN has learned he may have perhaps unwittingly allowed access to the same Facebook data to Russian actors, although it is unclear what kind of information could have been accessed. Kogan began working four years ago on a joint project at Russia's St. Petersburg University sponsored by the Russian government.
[18:50:03] Kogan, who was a U.S. citizen, did not want to do an on camera interview but told CNN: On my side, I'm not aware of any Russian entity with access to my data.
He questioned anyone's conclusion that someone accessing his data in Russia means actual Russian agents were involved.
It could have nothing to do with the Russian authorities, he told us, it could just be someone checking their mailbox. To British investigators, it is just one more unexplained link between the Russians, Cambridge Analytica and the targeting of voters by Russians in both the U.S. and the U.K. COLLINS: So, is it possible indirectly that the Russians learned from
Cambridge Analytica and use that knowledge to run up in America during the presidential election a swell? That is something clearly that would be of huge interest, and -- but it's still the subject of ongoing investigation.
GRIFFIN: Wolf, among those interested is Facebook. They are interested in the British information commissioner's investigation. The social media giant even reached out to the ICO asking what evidence there is that Facebook data was used in Russia.
Facebook itself largely prevented from finding out. British authorities told Facebook to stand down on its own audit of this company Cambridge Analytica, while the U.K. government finishes its investigation -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good report, Drew. Thank you very much. Drew Griffin working that story for us there.
More breaking news we're following. Russia's military reveals some of the agreements reached by President Trump and Vladimir Putin while the U.S. stays silent.
[18:56:14] BLITZER: There's more breaking news.
Russia's military now saying it's ready to implement agreements reached between President Trump and Vladimir Putin. There is no confirmation of any agreements from the White House or the Pentagon tonight, but a Russian military spokesman says they include extending the START treaty and cooperation in Syria.
Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
Barbara, the president's embrace of Russia is a sharp contrast to the stance of the Defense Secretary James Mattis. Update our viewers.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Well, that's absolutely right, because Defense Secretary James Mattis has been publicly very critical of Russia for months, a tone very different than the president's.
STARR (voice-over): President Trump's overwhelming optimism in Helsinki about Russia.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Constructive dialogue between the United States and Russia affords the opportunity to open new pathways toward peace and stability in our world.
STARR: As he attacks America's NATO military alliance. TRUMP: NATO has not treated us fairly.
STARR: All in stark contrast to his very skeptical defense secretary who says Russian President Vladimir Putin is an adversary.
JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Putin seeks to shatter NATO. He aims to diminish the appeal of the Western democratic model and attempts to undermine America's moral authority.
STARR: James Mattis taking a very different view of Russia.
MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: He's an immensely gifted, very talented, incredibly brilliant guy who has a perspective of Russia that is now flying in the face of what the president just said.
STARR: Mattis, when asked if Russia interfered in the 2016 election?
MATTIS: Yes, I believe they did.
STARR: On the very day of the Helsinki press conference, a highly respected retired four-star chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff weighed in tweeting: The reasons dictators try to undermine democracy, to deceive their own populations, to discredit alliances, to create the illusion that they are protectors, the world should not be a competition in which only the strong matter.
There's no indication Mattis will resign. Instead, he is standing firmly on his criticism of Russia.
MATTIS: They have chosen to come in and to undermine the democratic fabric, whether through false news reporting, economic strictures, and interventions. They are not seen as helpful would be the polite way to describe it.
STARR: President Trump is hoping for progress with Moscow on nuclear arms reductions, but even know Russia is developing new nuclear weapons that could attack the U.S., and there is little belief at the Pentagon that Putin would back off.
JOHN ROODD, UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR POLICY: Certainly we've seen in the recent past some statements, whether from Russian officials in the public domain talking about threats to use nuclear weapons.
STARR: So, now if both sides go for these new round of talks that the Russians appear to be discussing tonight, Wolf, the theory is that they will discuss extended military contacts between both countries, arms control and other military security issues. But as you point out so far, the White House not being very specific about what these next steps may be -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Barbara, could we see an updated nuclear arms agreement emerge out of this? STARR: We saw the president, President Trump really try and look for
that opening in Helsinki. Whether the Russians are going to agree to that given the money they are spending and the modernization they are doing of their nuclear arsenal, very much remains to be seen -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr, good reporting. Thanks very much.
And thanks to our viewers for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.