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Soon: Trump Speaks At Cabinet Meeting Amid Summit Fallout; Trump Casts Doubt On U.S. Commitment To Defending All NATO Allies. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 18, 2018 - 11:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much for being with me today. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. "AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN" begins right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. In just moments, the president will face cameras, and we may see another presidential clean-up. What does a clean-up of the clean-up look like? Well, stand by to stand by to find out.

And here's why, in the face of massive blowback from his shocking performance in Helsinki, the president yesterday sought to clarify what he said and tried -- what he said and also tried to silence criticism from the leadership of his own party over where his loyalties lie and what he believes when it comes to Russians hacking the U.S. election. The clarification President Trump offered yesterday, two letters and an apostrophe.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: 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."


BOLDUAN: But two letters and an apostrophe don't explain the president's immediate ad lib in those very same remarks -- like this.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: Could be other people, also. There's a lot of people out there.


BOLDUAN: Two letters and an apostrophe. Also, don't correct this from Helsinki.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: But I have -- I have confidence in both parties.


BOLDUAN: And two letters and an apostrophe weren't mentioned in his two interviews two pages of White House talking points, and just short of a dozen tweets after the press conference. A correction of two letters and an apostrophe also doesn't take 30 hours to come up with.

One thing is clarified though. It will take more than two letters and an apostrophe to protect the U.S. elections going forward from interference from Russia and it will take more than two letters and an apostrophe for the president to get out of this crisis.

But are two letters and an apostrophe just enough for Republicans who broke from the president after Helsinki? For some, it appears -- yes.


SENATOR JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: I buy his clarification about what he said at his press conference.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I'm just glad he clarified it. I can't read his intentions or what he meant to say at the time. Suffice it to say that for me as a policymaker, what really matters is what we do moving forward.

SENATOR ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: He should have said it in front of President Putin and the world yesterday. But I take him at his word. If he says he misspoke, absolutely.


BOLDUAN: So, this hour we are watching and waiting to see if the president will offer more than two letters and an apostrophe. Today, CNN's Ryan Nobles is at the White House. Ryan, what are you expecting to hear from the president this hour?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, as you accurately lay out there, it seems as though the White House did do a bit of an effort here to stop the bleeding from the fallout from this press conference with Vladimir Putin.

It seems as though Republicans are falling in line, happy with what was a very narrow correction with the length of this very long press conference that he had with Vladimir Putin, specifically only addressing this issue having to do with his reliance on the intelligence community versus his reliance on Vladimir Putin's words.

But it seems as though the White House is now shifting from defense to offense. Clearly, the president wants the American public to believe that in general this meeting with Vladimir Putin was a good idea.

The president taking to his Twitter account this morning suggesting that people who have very high intelligence would recognize and interpret that this meeting in general was a good thing.

So, now while the president did walk back some of his comments very gently yesterday, it seems today that they're going to head in a much different direction and today trying to convince people that in general, there's a better opportunity here for the United States to have a good relationship with Vladimir Putin.

And we'll see if that offense is on full display in two different occurrences today. The president set to meet with his cabinet at around 11:30 this morning Eastern Time. It's expected that we will hear from the president at that point.

And then for the first time in quite some time we'll hear from Press Secretary Sarah Sanders at 2:00 where she'll face some tough questions about what exactly the white house's policy going forward, and how does that impact the Republicans in the United States Senate, and in the Congress?

Will this keep them from pushing forward with any kind of substantive legislation to curb the president's power as it relates to Russia? That's something we'll have to still wait and see -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: That's right. All right. Brian, thank you so much.

We are all waiting for that moment when the tape comes in. We will bring it to you immediately.

Until then, this guy is with us, CNN politics reporter, editor at large, Chris Cilizza, and also joining, CNN national security analyst, former senior adviser to President Obama's National Security Council, Samantha Vinograd. Great to see both of you.

So, all right, Chris, first to you. If the Republicans that criticized him yesterday say they accepted attempt to clean up, what more is there then for Trump to clarify today, is one of my questions?

[11:05:03] CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: OK, the thing about it, Kate, is that he didn't really, as you point out in the open, clear anything up. He says I believe the intelligence report. Could have been other people, lot of people out there.

Let's be clear, the intelligence community report in 2017 said Russia was involved in an active effort to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump. I think you hear what his aides told him to say, followed by what he really thinks. He said it many times, he just cannot get out the words. Russia actively interfered in the election, period, full stop.

BOLDUAN: So, Sam, if you're advising the National Security Council, did Donald Trump make you feel better with his clarification yesterday?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That clarification yesterday actually made me feel worse. We're focused on these two letters and an apostrophe, would versus wouldn't. Let's talk about the whole rest of that statement yesterday.

It was full of misinformation and disinformation, which doesn't help national security. President Trump likes to paint this picture that he's the first person to engage with Vladimir Putin, that he wants to talk to him and that talking is better than not talking.

First off, President Obama actually talked a lot to Vladimir Putin. And when he came into office, he started something called the reset which came under a lot of criticism for. But the whole idea was to talk more to try to get rid of differences, and to try to avoid miscommunication.

The difference with this president is, he talks to Vladimir Putin, he talks with Kim Jong-un, and he seems to confuse probably fake signs of affection with actually productive relationships. These leaders know that by talking to him, by flattering him, by stroking his ego, they get away with murder in many cases.

BOLDUAN: So, you guys aren't buying it. I'm getting a sense of that. Chris, there was real talk yesterday among Democrats and Republicans about Congress taking action. Marco Rubio pushing a bill to sanction Russia if it -- immediately if it meddles -- if it interferes in future elections.

Chuck Schumer wants a hearing with Trump officials who were at the Helsinki meetings. Paul Ryan even said yesterday he was open to more sanctions. John Cornyn wants a resolution to state support of the intel community's assessment, even though they already said it. But he wants to restate, strongly, in a non-binding resolution. Do any of these things happen now?

CILIZZA: I don't want to say none of them happen, Kate, because I think there is a stray one that may happen. Do any of them -- but let me say, I think most of them do not happen. I think what you heard -- you played this, John Kennedy and others, saying, well, I take him at his word, and he did clarify and say he meant wouldn't as opposed to would.

Well, that is saying, we're going to move on. We're going to ignore it -- to Sam's point, we're going to ignore all the rest of the stuff that he said yesterday. We'll focus on that little piece, even though five words after he said, "I believe and have full faith in the U.S. intelligence community," he said, "could have been other people, also."

We're going to ignore all that and just focus on that one little sentence because it still is bad politics for Republican politicians to fight with Donald Trump. It doesn't change Donald Trump's behavior. Nothing does. And it gets the Republican base mad at them so they're looking for a reason not to do it.

BOLDUAN: But there was something different with what happened in Helsinki that the calculation changed for some Republicans for a 24- hour period. Do you think -- I'm struck with -- you already said it's more than this, but just go with me -- two letters and an apostrophe. Is it really the difference between putting the country smack in the middle of a national security crisis, and all's well, we're moving on?

VINOGRAD: Of course, not but we have two different things here. We have bipartisan support for countering Russia and that's something we had strong bipartisan support for sanctions against Russia. Montenegro's assess to NATO passed 97-2. So, Republicans and Democrats agree on the need to do more to contain Russia and stop their attack on the United States. OK.

But then we have this issue of the president's role in aiding and abetting a hostile foreign power's attack on our country in that press conference in Helsinki.

BOLDUAN: You see it as aiding and abetting?

VINOGRAD: In the press conference, yes, I do. I think that the president has full knowledge of what Russia's doing across the full trot matrix. It's not just election interference. They are using chemical weapons in the U.K. They are helping Al-Assad, to use the president's words and not mine. So, the president knows what's happening. He stood on the world stage and knowingly supported Vladimir Putin by not mentioning any of these items --

BOLDUAN: You're saying, he can't unsay what he said.

VINOGRAD: He can't unsay what he said, and he didn't unsay it yesterday. I'm going to bet he's not going to unsay it today. So, the question is, not whether members of Congress feel like we should counter Russia.

[11:10:05] But whether members of Congress, on a bipartisan basis, feel like they need to do more to press the president to be more vocal about what Russia's doing to actually deter Russia.

BOLDUAN: I can assure you, they would like it. They say it in private and they say it in public. But how much can you do other than put the words on paper in front of them, then he crossed them out with a black sharpie. Great to see you, guys. I appreciate it.

CILIZZA: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Another key question is, will the president today also address this head-scratching statement coming from the Russian military that an agreement was reached between President Putin and President Trump in their one-on-one meeting and Russia says is now stands ready to implement -- whatever that agreement may be.

CNN White House correspondent, Abby Phillip, is joining me now. Abby, what is going on here?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is going to be the difficult part of this post-summit period where the United States is trying to figure out what exactly happened in that one-on- one meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Remember, there was only the president and a translator on the American side, Putin and a translator on the Russian side in that meeting for over two hours, as far as we know. Now it seems that the Russian military is saying they're ready to implement some kind of agreement on a range of issues, including Syria, the Start Treaty and others. But the United States isn't saying anything of the sort. The White House wouldn't comment. The National Security Council spokesperson said that they're still reviewing the details of the meeting.

This is all so important because there are some questions growing now about what the president's real position is on NATO allies. Listen to what he said in an interview that aired on Tucker Carlson last night.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Let's say Montenegro, which joined last year's attack, why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I understand what you're saying. I've asked the same question. Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people.

CARLSON: Yes, I'm not against Montenegro or Albania.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: They're very strong people. They're very aggressive people. They may get aggressive. And congratulations, you're in World War III.


PHILLIP: Now with the president seemingly questioning Article 5 in that interview, that's the underlying problem that countries like Montenegro might want the United States to commit to defending them against Russian aggression and destabilizing forces in their country.

So, there are some real questions about how the United States can be engaging in military cooperation with Russia at a time like this when allies are looking for reassurances that they might be protected in the case of some kind of aggression in that region -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Still, what happened in that meeting? What was agreed to in that meeting? Maybe we'll learn from the cabinet president. Abby, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Joining me now is CNN military analyst, Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, he is a former commanding general of the U.S. Army in Europe. General, thanks for coming in.

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You're welcome, Kate. Thank you for having me.

CABRERA: Of course, what is your reaction to the sound bite that Ably Phillip brought to us, what's your reaction to what the president said about NATO and Montenegro?

HERTLING: I switched from the all-star game last night to listen to the Carlson interview with the president and was just -- there's no more words to describe the kinds of things that we're seeing.

You know, when you're talking -- I heard your previous interview with Sam and Chris. When you're talking about communication, it's not only what someone says, but it is what other people hear. It is a two-way street.

In that particular communication, what the president basically did, and what people in Europe heard was, he was questioning our collective security agreement with the members of NATO. He was also suggesting in that interview that U.S. commitment to NATO is conditional.

He specifically brought up -- or I guess Tucker Carlson brought up Montenegro. That was not by accident. Montenegro was the last member to enter NATO. They're the 29th member. Before they entered, they had a great deal of pushback from Russia for entering.

It is a former Yugoslavian republic. All of these things sent a signal to a lot of people in NATO. I got to tell you it was just another one of those interviews that was head-scratching, especially given that it came just a few hours after the so-called walk-back, because it goes back to what he probably had in conversation with Mr. Putin during that one-on-one.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about that because we don't really know, right?

HERTLING: We don't.

BOLDUAN: We know what Russia is now saying on the record what the Russian military is saying. The Pentagon and White House are not commenting, not confirming any military agreement was reached between Trump and Putin during the meeting. The Russian military says though that an agreement was reached. If you're in your old post, General, what questions are you asking today?

HERTLING: Well, that was the other thing I had last night. You know, when you see an announcement like that, whenever you have an engagement where two people sit down, two heads of state -- and I've been in those kinds of meetings before.

[11:15:01] The note taker gets the message out very quickly. You become very transparent. It is usually classified. There's a lot of "here's what we agreed upon," "here's what we're going to do," "let's get it out to the people who need to know this."

I just got to believe Russia got it out first, as they have done so many other times before when there is a meeting or a phone call. They've always been the first one to get it out.

Having dealt with Russia before, it is hard to walk back and say, wait a minute, no, we didn't agree to that because they got it out first. We've experienced these multiple times.

BOLDUAN: What are the chances --

HERTLING: -- we should be learning from it.

BOLDUAN: What's your gut and your experience tell you that some military agreement was reached or that Russia's just doing what Russia does?

HERTLING: No, I'm thinking some agreement the Russians thought they reached an agreement because Mr. Putin probably said something, and Mr. Trump probably shook his head or said, sure, yes, let's do that. That's the problem with having an amateur going into a conversation with an individual Mr. Putin who really knows what he's doing.

He's pushing key bullets. It's innuendo. It's nuanced. When he gets what he thinks is a yes, his military is going to subscribe to it and we call it in the military, engagement fratricide. You agreed to something you didn't think you agreed to and when the other side gets it out first, it's really going to be tough.

I said, last night, you know, if I was the supreme allied commander, General Scaparrotti or the U.S. Army Europe commander, and I saw that or even some of the commanders in Syria or Iraq, suddenly we are agreeing to do something with Russia and we don't know what it is?

Because everything we've done with Russia so far, contrary to what the president said, they are not our good friends. The militaries do not get along. We do work together, but they certainly have a different way of doing things than we do and they've been tough to deal with. I've experienced that one-on-one.

BOLDUAN: This is a huge question right now at this very moment. I think it truly deserves much more attention because the word -- the U.S. government right now is we are still reviewing the details of the meeting and what comes out I think -- this is a very important moment I think for everyone here in the U.S. and those stationed overseas. General Hertling, great to see you. Thank you so much.

HERTLING: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, we are going to hear from President Trump any moment now when he meets with his cabinet at the White House. Live pictures of the White House now. What are we going to hear? What are you going to hear? A clean-up 2.0 to his comments in Helsinki? We'll find out together.

Plus, a new report on the president's Supreme Court pick. How his past comments on the legality of an independent counsel could now be coming up as a very key question in his pending confirmation hearings. What he has to say. Stay with us.



BOLDUAN: Any moment now, President Trump will be speaking to cameras once again. Will the president offer anything besides more clean-up to the clean-up after what Republicans have even described as a mess that he left in Helsinki? One former Republican governor has now made it clear it is going to take more than two letters and an apostrophe to convince her everything is OK.

Christine Todd Whitman, former Republican governor of New Jersey, former EPA chief under President George W. Bush, joins me now. Governor, thanks for coming. I appreciate it.


BOLDUAN: All right. So, after the press conference in Helsinki, it was very noteworthy that you called on Donald Trump to resign. Why was that the last straw for you?

WHITMAN: Well, because when you take that oath of office, you swear to uphold the Constitution and protect the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. It is very that Russia has not been ally of ours. It's been an enemy trying to undermine us for decades now.

And for him to stand up there next to the president of that nation, prime minister, president, whatever you want to call him -- dictator -- he could be anything -- and basically say, we're on the same level.

We both could be to blame for this be with it is really the Democrats' fault that they allowed themselves to be hack, and I really don't trust my own national security advisors and my intelligence. That's just unacceptable for a president of the United States.

BOLDUAN: Then Governor, he says he clarified yesterday. He said he misspoke. He says he has full confidence in the intelligence community's assessment, even though in the next breath he says when it comes to the election hack, could have been a lot of other people as well. That is enough for some Republicans to hear. They say they'll take him at his word. Why is that not enough for you?

WHITMAN: Because he's got to stop. This has happened time and time again. He gives an interview to a very favorable paper in London before he meets with Theresa May, the prime minister, and disses her and says her recently resigned cabinet minister, Boris Johnson, would make an even better prime minister.

Then he stands up next to her and says it was fake news. It wasn't! You said it! We see this again and again and it has to stop. When you're the president of the United States, when you're in any position of authority or responsibility, what you say matters and it really affects how people look at things.

You can change markets with a word. You say something about steel, gee, I don't think we want to increase tariffs on that, it will change the whole dynamics.

BOLDUAN: But Governor, reality is -- reality is, Donald Trump is not going to resign. He will not leave by choice. He will not be taking your advice.

WHITMAN: No, he won't.

BOLDUAN: What are you trying to accomplish in saying it though? Because your words matter, too.

WHITMAN: I am trying to remind people that this has long-term consequences. We've got to remember that 29 percent of the American people identify as Republicans, 30 as Democrats, and 40 as unaffiliated or independents. [11:25:09] Those are the people who need to be reminded again and again that elections matter. They need to participate in this next round. And, by the way, you don't have to wait until November.

You can start getting in touch with your elected officials now saying hold it man accountable. If we're not imposing all the sanctions that Congress has already passed on Russia, make them enforce them. Demand to know why he's not. Do something more than just apologize.

BOLDUAN: You brought up the election. So former FBI Director James Comey's come out with a tweet. Life-long Republican. Come out with a tweet saying that folks should vote -- there it is. Folks should vote for Democrats this fall. You're a life-long Republican. Is that what you want to see people do in response to this?

WHITMAN: I want to see people vote for those running for office who say I'll work with the other side to get something done, I'll be a member of the problem solver's caucus.

BOLDUAN: You're not giving up on the Republican Party.

WHITMAN: Not totally.

BOLDUAN: Are you close?

WHITMAN: I'm getting closer. As it is defined out of Washington. There are so many people out there that I have met who are Republicans who just can't take that step to being a Democrat, especially now that they're starting to see the same kind of pressure from the left that Republicans have had for the right.

And they're floundering in the middle. I'm an Eisenhower Republican. That's the kind of Republican I am. I want to get the party back there. I don't think I can get the party back there by standing on the outside or saying I'm unaffiliated and not participating in primaries because that's where you really make a difference.

BOLDUAN: Thinking about running again?

WHITMAN: No, not me.

BOLDUAN: Just checking. Great to see you, Governor. Appreciate your time.

WHITMAN: My pleasure.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for coming in. Continue the conversation.

Coming up for us -- could a two-year-old statement by President Trump's Supreme Court pick create a snag now for his confirmation? What Brett Kavanaugh said and why Democrats are jumping on it. That's next.