Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Says He Misspoke in Press Conference in Helsinki Amid Bipartisan Fury; Trump Casts Doubt on U.S. Commitment to Defend All NATO Allies; Brett Kavanaugh in 2016 Wanted to Overturn Ruling on Independent Counsel; Indicted Russian Maria Butina Set to Appear in Court Today; Interview with Rep. Ted Deutch (D), Florida. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired July 18, 2018 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Our next hour starts now.

Top of the hour, good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Next hour we expect to see the president for the first time since his post-Helsinki do-over that came off more like a gloss-over. A full 28 hours after his news conference with Vladimir Putin where he vouched for Putin's extremely strong denials of election interference and called the U.S. probe of that interference a disaster.

The president issued a scripted clarification consisting of two letters and an apostrophe. You'll hear that for yourself in a second. Meantime we will not hear today from the White House, at least we're not expecting to. There's not been a daily White House briefing for 16 days now, since July 2nd. We've only had three in the past month.

Let's go to Abby Phillip at the White House. And Abby, the president, the White House, have a lot of questions to answer. We're not expecting to get a briefing today. And reaction from Helsinki ranged from serious mistake from a Trump ally to treasonous from a longtime Trump critic, John Brennan. Can he fix all of this with an N, a T, and an apostrophe?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Poppy. The fallout really is continuing today. Clearly the president's explanation given yesterday which seemed to hinge on just one word and one fraction of a word didn't really satisfy a lot of people who looked at the totality of what he said in that press conference and saw a president who continues to doubt the conclusions of the intelligence community that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.

But listen to what the president said on Monday with Vladimir Putin standing right next to him. And then yesterday to press reporters at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be.

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)

PHILLIP: And in a telling moment yesterday as the president read from that piece of paper where he tried to walk back his comments, he added one point that it could be Russia, but it could have been a lot of other people. That really led a lot of people to believe that perhaps the president was reverting back to some of his past talking points in which sometimes he might say he agrees with the intelligence community's assessment, but then question whether it was just Russia or other countries.

Poppy, this fallout is ricocheting not just in the United States but really around the world. The White House continues to have not a whole lot to say about this, but President Trump this morning on Twitter has been sending out several tweets, framing the summit with Putin as a wild success saying that Russia would be helpful on issues like North Korea and saying that the only people who denies that it was a success was the media, while a lot of other people, including his director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, disagreed. And President Trump will hear from him, as you just mentioned, within the next hour. And we'll see what more he has to say about that -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Right. He has that Cabinet meeting. Abby, thank you.

President Trump seeming also to waver on whether the United States is really committed to defending all fellow NATO allies. Listen to this exchange with Tucker Carlson of Fox News. They spoke on Monday before the president left Helsinki.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack? Why is that --

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

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

TRUMP: Right. No, by the way, they're very strong people, they have very aggressive people. They make an aggressive -- and congratulations, you're in World War III.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Called Article 5. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is with me now. Why is Article 5 so important and why is what the president said so significant?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Poppy, Article 5 is the part of the NATO treaty that the U.S. has signed up for nor nearly 70 years that's essentially a mutual defense pack, an attack against one member of NATO is an attack against all. NATO get together and decides how to defend another country in the alliance if it's attacked. But perception is vital that the U.S. would come to the aid of any and all NATO countries because it's that perception that keeps adversaries at bay.

They have to believe that the U.S. would engage, that the U.S. would respond under the NATO treaty with other NATO countries in some fashion. Why the president picked on Montenegro, even given the question, why he responded about Montenegro is getting a lot of speculation. Because of course many countries have -- including Montenegro, have long believed that Russia was behind an attempt a few years ago to basically take out the Montenegrin government.

And eventually Montenegro of course has now become a member of NATO. So the U.S. is obligated under the treaty to help defend that country if there was an attack. All of this really -- it's not that anybody really thinks the U.S. is going to pull out of its Article 5 commitment.

[10:05:03] The president has talked about being committed to Article 5. The question is perception. Why is he saying this, what does he really mean, and is this giving any wiggle room to that commitment that adversaries may see and may decide that they could take advantage of.

HARLOW: Well said. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you very much.

Let's talk more about this. With me now is Kristen Soltis Anderson, our Republican strategist, columnist for the "Washington Examiner," and retired major general James "Spider" Marks, our military analyst.

Nice to have you both here, and Spider, let me begin with you. Barbara Starr makes a very important point. It's not as though the U.S. is setting up to pull out of Article 5. Right? Or to say we are not committed to Article 5. But the perception that it gives and perhaps the green light that it indicates to Russia, go on, keep interfering, keep getting involved in Montenegrin politics, for example. How concerning is that?

JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it's very concerning. Look, NATO was set up primarily as a deterrent, as Barbara just absolutely beautifully described. It's a mutual defense pack. And the existence of NATO tells all potential adversaries, don't mess with this organization, we are here as a body coherent in what would be an attack against one, is an affront and an attack against all of us.

It's also a calling card as we've seen since the fall of the wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union over the course of the last 20-plus years. The number of nations -- we went from 12 nations in NATO to 29 nations in NATO. And Montenegro, which we are now talking about, it's in the headlines, it's the very latest one to join just last year. That's a calling card to all those other nations that if you want to be something -- be a part of something that's bigger than yourself, then you're going to ascribe to these values and, oh, by the way, there's cost of entry. You've got to meet the requirements. And so what NATO really does is

it provides a moderation and a measuring effect on all of its members so we don't have, as the president indicated, you know, the onslaught of World War III. Look, you've got 28 other members if one would decide to -- decided to be a little bit frisky. So the membership in NATO really provides a tremendous bulwark to all of those forms of aggression that are out there, and it's an example of how to do it right.

HARLOW: It seems, Kristen, as though, you know, he doesn't have a full understanding of how Article 5 and collective defense actually works. It's collective defense. It's not saying if one of the members aggressively went out and started a confrontation or a war that the U.S. would have to run to its assistance.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICANS STRATEGIST: That's right. And look, Article 5, the time that it's been invoked was to defend the United States after 9/11. It is something that is important, it is valuable, it's something the United States needs to be strong in affirming its commitment to.

What's been so frustrating for a lot of Republicans on the Hill around these sorts of issues is that foreign policy is one of the areas where Donald Trump seems to diverge the most from sort of Republican and conservative orthodoxy. On fiscal policy with the exception of trade, he's pretty much in line with where Republicans are.

HARLOW: Yes.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: On social policy, in terms of who he's picking for judges. That's fairly establishment. But it's foreign policy where he really goes off the rails. And that's why I think you saw a lot of Republicans, even those who tend to support the president a lot, coming out and criticizing him over the last day or two about the things that he said in Helsinki and the things that he says about NATO.

HARLOW: And so, Kristen, here's the thing. I just had Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota, a Republican, on with me last hour. He just got named to the Senate NATO committee that basically acts as a liaison to NATO. And when I asked him about this and played that exchange that the president had with Tucker Carlson for him, you know, he said well, I don't see that as the president wavering. What do you make of that?

SOLTIS ANDERSON: So first, I think a lot of Republican policymakers who are in roles where they feel they have the opportunity to influence the president, try to be very careful in their public remarks not to criticize him because by doing so, do you get yourself on the president's bad list and therefore lose the ability to influence him all together?

HARLOW: Yes.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: I think the other thing that a lot of Republican lawmakers think through when they hear the president say these things is, are these words going to be backed up by actions? And as long as it is just words, is that OK? Now in foreign policy, words matter a lot. Words often are the policy. But I think that's the other kind of hair-splitting that you're seeing done, where some folks who may really be critical of the words are still hoping that they won't be followed by detrimental actions.

HARLOW: General, to you about the president's attempt to clarify with an N and a T and an apostrophe. It was stunning listening to that in real time yesterday. Where does that leave us and what do you think Vladimir Putin is thinking right now?

MARKS: Well, I think President Putin is on his own agenda. He has his strategy. He often marches irrespective of what external pressures he might receive or he might perceive are out there.

[10:10:06] So I think he's in a very good place. I would suggest that when he left Helsinki, I mean, those boys were high-fiving on the aircraft heading back to Moscow thinking this was a tremendous victory on their part. The fact that the president of the United States now comes back the next day and feels like he has to walk back or at least describe what it is he really meant to say doesn't necessarily affect, as Kristin just pointed out, the activities and the ongoing measures that are in place, both within the State Department and within our broader national security apparatus, specifically DOD.

We have obligations, we have alliances, we have exercises, we have deployments, we have engagements at multiple levels. Those continue. So I think what we have is gaffes that are occurring at the very top level which are always terribly unfortunate. And now we have a potential resolution in our Congress to say the intelligence community, we love you --

HARLOW: We stand with you. Right.

MARKS: That's totally (INAUDIBLE). We should completely stay away from that. The message is to our friends, look, we produce intelligence, we have work to do, we want to share that with you, we want this alliance to be tight. That happens at the level below the president of the United States.

HARLOW: General Marks, thank you. Kristin, thanks. Nice to have you both here.

Still to come, following new details regarding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. We'll have the latest for you. Also a Russian national indicted for acting as a foreign agent is set to appear today in court. This as we get reaction from the Kremlin over her arrest.

And it was a miracle. Those words coming from one of the boys rescued in that Thai cave where they were stuck for more than 17 days. Hear more of what they said ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:16:06] HARLOW: All right. We're just getting some new information on the president's Supreme Court pick, Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Our Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill with more.

Manu, this has to do with something he said just two years ago but it could play a very big part of his confirmation process.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it. Two years ago Judge Brett Kavanaugh expressed a desire to overturn a three-decade Supreme Court ruling that upheld the constitutionality of an independent counsel. Now this is bound to get new scrutiny in his confirmation proceedings to sit in the high court especially since he's raised concerns previously about whether a sitting president can be indicted.

Now in this video that we're about to show you, he was raising concerns about a ruling known as Morrison v. Olson from 1988 that upheld the constitutionality of the independent counsel law under a law known as the Ethics in Government Act. That's actually the same act that governed the work of Ken Starr who of course investigated President Clinton and who Kavanaugh worked with for four years in the mid-'90s.

Now this is important today not just because of his previous skepticism about whether a president can be indicted, but also about whether Kavanaugh views the Mueller appointment as constitutional. But it's important to note there are distinctions between the special counsel like Bob Mueller and an independent counsel like Ken Starr. The special counsel is less independent as he reports directly to the Justice Department. And they're governed under a different set of regulations.

However, because of this Morrison ruling that Kavanaugh had concerns with, the special counsel Robert Mueller cannot be removed without good cause. So if it were overturned, presumably he could be removed for any or no reason whatsoever. Now in 2016 Judge Kavanaugh said this when speaking to a conservative group here in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: I think justices of all stripes agree that stare decis is important but not an inexorable command. It's not inflexible. It's not absolute. And if it were, we would have some horrible decisions still on the books.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you think of a case that deserves to be overturned?

KAVANAUGH: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you volunteer one?

KAVANAUGH: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pending confirmation hearings, yes, sir, right here.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.

KAVANAUGH: Actually I was going to say one, Morrison v. Olson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the independent counsel statute case.

KAVANAUGH: It's been effectively overruled but I would put the final nail in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So again the ultimate question is how that -- what that means about the Mueller investigation and how he views a special counsel and whether or not he views that as constitutional, given the special counsel is different than an independent counsel but undoubtedly, members of Congress are going to ask that question, especially since he did write a 2009 Minnesota Law Review article expressing some significant concerns and skepticism about whether a sitting president can be indicted.

And, Poppy, if issues like the subpoena to force the president to testify before the Mueller investigation get before the Supreme Court in which Kavanaugh, if you were a justice and is confirmed, how would he view the constitutionality of the Mueller probe. But the question also, how does he view that special counsel protection legislation that's pending in the Senate and does he view that as constitutional. Because of his skepticism of that ruling, perhaps he does not view that as constitutional as well. Another key question going forward -- Poppy.

HARLOW: The problem is, what's the answer going to be, Manu? Because, you know, if you believe history ever since Justice Bjork was up for confirmation, you're not going to get as candid an answer in these confirmation hearings as he gave at that, you know, Q and A session. Not anywhere close to it.

Manu, thanks. Appreciate it.

RAJU: Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. A Russian national indicted on two charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent set to appear in federal court in just a few hours.

[10:20:01] Prosecutors claim that Maria Butina was part of a plot to influence U.S. politics by immersing herself in conservative circles, including directly through the NRA.

With me now, again, Shimon Prokupecz, our crime and justice reporter. So we talked a little bit about her yesterday. Now the Kremlin's weighing in on all of this and what will happen when she is in front of that federal judge in just a few hours?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, Poppy. So we expect to learn more information in just about how she went about in her conduct here where the United States government is accusing her of being a foreign agent. So, you know, she was indicted. She'll have a presentment. We'll probably see some sort of not guilty plea. And then we'll probably could hear more facts.

There's going to be a bail argument, we expect. She's been kept in jail and her attorneys wants her to be released. The U.S. attorney here in D.C. does not want her released. Obviously there is concern that she may flee the United States because she is not a citizen. So they may argue that that could be a reason why the judge should keep her in jail and we may learn more about just -- about how she went about sort of making friends here in the United States to try and influence, try and peddle Russian government theory, feelings about how, what the Russians wanted.

And really what she did in this case, the U.S. government says, is quite simple. She just made friends. I mean, spent a good couple of years making friends here, people with connections to the Republican Party, to CPAC, certainly through the NRA. She made friends and she was able to learn information, she was able to perhaps, the government says, influence some of the ideas and some of the thoughts to those people who had connections to the Republican Party.

HARLOW: Shimon, while I have you, let me just ask you about what Robert Mueller, the special counsel in the Russia probe, signed off on when he asked a judge yesterday to sign off on. He's asking for immunity for five witnesses. Not saying who they are, unidentified witnesses, that are slated to testify in the Manafort bank fraud trial.

Why is that so significant? What can you tell us about it?

PROKUPECZ: Yes. So it's significant because these are five witnesses that they say we have not -- have not been made public. It's clear these are people who've been perhaps cooperating with the special counsel in some capacity. But what's important here is that these individuals are probably -- could probably be charged with crimes. And so they could come in to court and say well, we're not going to testify on behalf of the prosecution because anything we say could be used against us.

HARLOW: Right.

PROKUPECZ: So what they're trying to do is prevent these witnesses from coming in and taking the Fifth Amendment. And therefore, if a judge signs off on this immunity deal, then therefore they can't be prosecuted for it. And that's important because it's clear that the Mueller team wants their information, wants them to come in and be able to testify without the fear of being prosecuted.

HARLOW: Shimon, thanks for the reporting on both fronts. Again, we'll see that Russian woman who will exit the court in just a few hours.

President trump is trying to stop all the backlash over his comments on election interference with Vladimir Putin. My next guest says, you don't get do-overs on the world stage. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:27:41] HARLOW: We have just learned the White House will have a press briefing today at 2:00 p.m. Earlier we had reported they weren't going to because they weren't going to. That has changed. We will carry it for you live.

Meantime, President Trump has now walked back what he said at his summit with Vladimir Putin amid bipartisan backlash. My next guest says you don't get do-overs, Mr. President, on the world stage. That congressman is Ted Deutch of Florida, he joins me now.

Good to have you here, sir. Do you believe the president --

REP. TED DEUTCH (D), FLORIDA: Nice to be with you, Poppy.

HARLOW: Do you believe the president misspoke when he said --

DEUTCH: No.

HARLOW: -- "would" instead of "wouldn't"?

DEUTCH: No, I don't believe that. And you don't get do-overs. And if the president really meant to change the record, he would have said, I didn't mean to attack our neighbors -- our friends in the EU and call them a foe. I would have praised them. I didn't mean to question our commitment to Article 5, I would have re-affirmed it. And I didn't intend for everyone in the world watching that press conference to think that I was on the same side of Vladimir Putin. I would have worked hard to stand up for American security and American values.

HARLOW: All right, well, you --

DEUTCH: He didn't do any of those things.

HARLOW: You say you don't get do-overs on the world stage. But are you at least glad that he did do this part over? That he did try to clean this up instead of just leaving it out there?

DEUTCH: It's not a question of cleaning up one word. By the way, cleaning it up, the stories that have come out of the White House all make clear that the president issued that statement, he read it -- it looked like he was forced to read that statement about one word. That's not what this is about. It's about the president's alarming performance, the horrifying performance in front of the world stage with Vladimir Putin next to him.

That leaves open the question, who is the president working for? Is he working for our own national security or is he working with Vladimir Putin and for him?

HARLOW: Yes or no, and then we'll move on with the follow up. Yes or no, having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing?

DEUTCH: Having -- yes, having a good -- HARLOW: Yes, OK.

DEUTCH: -- open relationship with anyone is a good thing. But --

HARLOW: OK, so let me just --

(CROSSTALK)

DEUTCH: Go ahead.

HARLOW: Yes or no, let me follow up with you. Because I get the rhetoric. We all hear how the president sort of appeases Vladimir Putin.

DEUTCH: Right.

HARLOW: We don't hear him criticize Vladimir Putin. But would you concede that his administration's actions against Russia, be it the sanctions, be it the selling of anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, are tough actions on Russia. Arguably tougher actions on Russia some would say than the Obama administration.

DEUTCH: Poppy, we had to drag the White House kicking and screaming to impose sanctions on Russia.