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Supreme Court Nominee Wants to Abolish Independent Counsel?; Does Trump Believe Russia No Longer Targeting the U.S.?; White House Press Briefing. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired July 18, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You're not going to answer me?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: John, go ahead.
RYAN: That's all right. Fine.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.
I wanted to ask you about the immediate reaction to the president's comments that he made at that joint press conference in Helsinki. It was immediate. Every cable channel, FOX, NBC, CNN, reacted immediately to the suggestion the president made that he did not believe that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election.
I got my inbox inundated with e-mails from Republican members of Congress with their reaction immediately. And 24 hours -- it took 24 hours for the president to correct the record.
Why did it take so long for the president to clarify the comments that he made at that press conference?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, the president put out an initial tweet after boarding Air Force One that clarified his comments on the intelligence community.
He wanted to make sure that was clear. And at the very first chance he had in a public setting the following day, he clarified his comments. And I don't think that it was that long for that to be the very first public appearance that he had following arriving back to the United States.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) actually. It's a pretty long time, and it was out there for quite a bit.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: It wasn't actually 24 hours before he responded at all. Again, he put out an initial tweet from Air Force One.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) comment on this, to clarify his remarks, to change the would to wouldn't -- or the wouldn't to would.
And I think that a lot of people would argue that there was ample time for the president. He tweets all the time from Air Force One. HUCKABEE SANDERS: And he tweeted that night.
QUESTION: To put out a statement which clarified what he meant to say during the joint news conference. And he didn't do that. What took so long, is my question.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Once he reviewed the transcript, he wanted to publicly -- he wanted to publicly address the clarification, and which he did.
QUESTION: There are currently efforts within Congress to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Is that something that the White House would support for the lack of cooperation in turning over documents to Congress?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president has made clear he'd like all documents to be turned over, but we're continuing to work with our Department of Justice. I don't have anything further.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Jim. Jim, go ahead.
QUESTION: To follow up on that, would the White House denounce that effort then? Do they have the -- do you have confidence within the deputy attorney general?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president would like to see the documents turned over. When the president no longer has confidence in someone in his administration, we will let you know.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Sarah, on Friday at the press conference with Prime Minister May, I asked the president as he was leaving whether or not he would tell Vladimir Putin to stay out of U.S. elections.
As he was leaving with the prime minister, he said yes. Did the president tell Vladimir Putin at their summit in Helsinki to stay out of U.S. elections?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly, the president, as both he and President Putin said, discussed election meddling. I think we have made very clear what our position is on that front.
ACOSTA: I understand that you're saying that they discussed election meddling. But did the president of the United States tell the president of Russia to stay out of U.S. elections? Did that occur?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president -- the president has made clear to Vladimir Putin that he should stay out of U.S. elections.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Sorry. I'm going to keep moving.
April, go ahead.
ACOSTA: Was there a recording -- was there a recording made?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Sorry, Jim, I'm going to take a couple last questions.
QUESTION: Was there a recording made of their one-on-one meeting that exists?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not aware of one. I'm not aware of one.
RYAN: So, Sarah, since you keep saying that the president is very concerned about the election process, you talk about what he's doing.
You did not -- you did not mention voter suppression in that. Voter suppression has been an issue for decades, and particularly in these last few elections.
Is voter suppression now on the table? When he was talking about voter fraud, people were talking about voter suppression as well. Is voter suppression on the table as well?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: We want to do everything within our power to protect the integrity of our elections. And we're going to look at that on a number of fronts. The reason I addressed these specific issues is because of Russia's involvement in our elections in the past.
I'm going to take one last question.
QUESTION: Sarah, I want to change topic a minute, if I may, and go south.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Sure, I think that would be fine.
QUESTION: Thank you.
So, the incoming president of Mexico has made two very bold suggestions. Number one, he's looking at giving amnesty to the drug cartels operating within there.
Today, they come out and say they're seriously looking at legalizing all drugs in Mexico. Now, if they do that, obviously, it's going to have a tremendous
impact on the incoming amount of drugs into the United States. What is the president's position on that, and are they going to do anything to stop that from happening in Mexico?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly, we're going to continue engaging with our Mexican partners.
I don't have a specific policy announcement on that front. However, I can say that we would not support the legalization of all drugs anywhere and certainly wouldn't want to do anything that would allow more drugs to come into this country.
Thanks so much. Have a great day.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: OK.
Let's all back up, because a lot of -- yesterday was about would and wouldn't. Today, it is about this word no.
So, I have got a great panel standing by to digest exactly what we just saw. And we can all be the judge here as well.
So, it is a six-box day, plus one.
BALDWIN: So, that's what we're dealing with.
Let's all roll the tape. So, the key question, when the president was sitting in his Cabinet meeting, and he was earlier asked, is Russia still targeting the United States, you hear the word no.
Let's watch. And we will hear Sarah Sanders' response to the word no as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all very much. Appreciate it.
QUESTION: Is Russia still targeting the U.S.? Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?
TRUMP: Thank you very much. No.
QUESTION: No, you don't believe that to be the case?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go. We're finished here
QUESTION: Earlier, Cecilia asked, is Russia still targeting the U.S. He said no. Is that what the president actually believes? Did he understand the question? And his position that, no, Russia is not doing anything to interview or meddle in the 2018 election?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I had a chance to speak with the president after those comments, and the president was -- said, thank you very much and was saying no to answering questions.
The president and his administration are working very hard to make sure that Russia is unable to meddle in our elections, as they have done in the past, and as we have stated.
QUESTION: So, despite the video that shows the president looking at Cecilia and answering no to this question about whether Russia is still targeting the U.S., and despite multiple people in the room understanding that the president was responding to that question, and despite the president having never before said the word no, no repeatedly to usher reporters out of the room, you're saying it's reversed.
QUESTION: You're saying the president...
HUCKABEE SANDERS: First thing that the president says after the question was asked was, thank you very much. And then he said, no, I'm not answering any more questions.
And even further, I think even Cecilia didn't realize what the answer was, because she asked for a clarification. And he didn't answer the follow-up, right?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Right, because she wasn't sure. I talked to the president. He wasn't answering that question. He was saying, no, he's not taking questions.
And I have stated what our position is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: All right, Dana Bash, you're at bat first.
We're back today with two little letters. And this matters because, if you listen to the director of national intelligence and others, they say, without a doubt, Russia is still interfering. And to hear the president saying, no, and then continue to take questions, does that -- does that add up to you, this explanation from Sarah Sanders?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I have to say this one is a little bit more murky than the press conference, where the entire theme of that press conference was sort of, I want to say bowing to Vladimir Putin.
BASH: But bowing to his will and to his wishes on these issues.
But I think that the important question to focus on, the important issue to focus on here is that it is even a question that has to be asked to this president, whether or not there is currently an effort by Russia to affect this year's election.
And that it is even a question whether he would say no or yes, and that speaks to where we are right now. And it speaks to where his colleagues on Capitol Hill are right now, working on legislation. Maybe in some cases, some of them are looking at it in the future. If we find out that Russia has done something in 2018, they will be sanctioned.
Other -- others looking at it more immediately. And the fact of the matter is, this should not even be on the table, because his own director of national intelligence has said definitively it is happening and it is happening now.
And it's a snapshot and a real indicator of the concern that a lot of people have about the president's real desire and his administration, or at his direction, their desire to deal with the here and the now and to really confront Russia.
Never mind about the past, but about what's happening now.
BALDWIN: Gloria, how did you see it?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Here we are talking about words again. Look, I looked at the videotape, just as you did.
And it seemed to me he was answering her question twice. And I think that's why Sarah Sanders had to go back to him, and then he explained what he apparently thought he was doing.
So I can't get into the president's head here, nor can I get into Sarah Sanders' head. But just in watching it, it seemed to me he was saying no.
And then he of course, went on today to talk about how strong the administration has been against Russia. And, yes, they have done things. And Sarah Sanders was careful to point out today, because she knew that she was going to get -- that she was going to get this question.
But there should not and cannot be any confusion about the president's answer to that simple question. And yet there is. And it's kind of stunning. I mean, I we could re-rack it many times, and I still heard him say no.
BORGER: I wasn't in the room. Yes.
BALDWIN: Right, right. We weren't in the room, but obviously other reporters were in the room.
BALDWIN: And it is confounding a tad.
And you also -- even Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, right, he tweeted earlier, noting the discrepancy in his own interpretation. He too thought the president was saying no, that -- on Russia vs., no, I'm not answering more questions.
And the thing is, you could understand if he's saying no, get out of the press, like, I'm not asking questions -- or answering questions.
But he keeps -- Brian Stelter, I wanted to ask you about this, if we can pop another box up on the screen. There we go, two-shot.
He does keep answering questions.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: He did.
And I think we should go back to a question he was asked on Saturday. CBS News Jeff Glor said to the president, your DNI says this country is susceptible, our American digital infrastructure is susceptible to an attack. He says it's at a critical point similar to pre-9/11. Do you agree with that?
President Trump said, "Well, I don't know if I would agree with that."
So even back on Saturday, the president was wishy-washy about whether he really believes that Russia is continuing to try to meddle in our elections or that other actors are trying to meddle in our elections. His answer on Saturday was, I don't know if I agree with that.
Now, Glor has a second interview and it's happening as we speak and the president has a lot to answer for. This is his first real interview since Helsinki, since that disaster in Helsinki. So he has a lot to answer for. And this is going to have to be one of the questions that he's asked right now.
BALDWIN: David Gergen, just for you and your perspective and all your years with various administrations, the wishy-washiness, to use Brian's term, how dangerous is that for a president to be perceived as wishy-washy, walking back, the need to clarify?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's very dangerous in the sense of two things.
One is the declining trust that people have in what he's saying, because especially he veers back and forth and you're never quite sure which interpretation is the right one.
And, secondly, there is this -- the White House -- even in the Sarah Sanders interview -- and I must say I found that -- the conversation on tape from a distance to be muddling. I didn't -- I didn't think it was extremely clear that the president was saying no to the issue. But a normal White House, knowing that the question is the controversy, that question is in play, would have come into this kind of pressure briefing and say the president believed emphatically in what did D.I. said, and that is the Russians are targeting us now, the red lights are blinking, we take it very seriously.
But I would think that the White House, in order to protect itself, but also they have a cyber-security position in the White House for a senior person that is vacant. My understanding is that there has been a resignation at the FBI in that area that is vacant.
If you really thought we were anything close to a 9/11 situation...
BALDWIN: They would fill those jobs.
GERGEN: Yes, you would have filled those jobs. You would be aggressive. You would be doing things.
And it just sounds lame. They make up these wordy answers that are -- they create these cloud of words that you can't really tell what they're saying sometimes, as opposed to sort of taking quick, simple, decisive action that is more credible than these word games.
BALDWIN: Go ahead.
JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I think -- I think they think learned the right lesson from yesterday, with the would, wouldn't.
Hey, let's just play a little linguistic Olympics here. And so we will just say, we will say, well, no, that wasn't what he was answering.
If you want proof that he really was answering the question, look at what Sanders said. She never answered the question, is the threat ongoing? She talked about what they're doing to counter it. And she said we believe the threat exists, but she never actually in the present tense said the threat was ongoing.
And to me, that's proof right that that's exactly what he meant to say.
BALDWIN: Not only did she say, we all think a threat exists. She -- when Jim got a question in, Jim Acosta, and he was asking, will he tell Putin -- did he tell Putin to stay out of the U.S. elections flat out, and she said he and Putin discussed election meddling, right?
She doubled down on that, but wouldn't full-out say -- yes, go ahead.
KIRBY: So, as a former press secretary, I'll tell you, one of the tricks of the trade is when you don't want to talk about the content, you simply give the list of the chapters of the book.
Well, they talked about Ukraine and Syria. And you don't talk about -- because you don't want to talk about the content, because she can't talk about the content, because they don't know.
BORGER: But let's not forget the president came out in Helsinki and said that Vladimir Putin made what he called a powerful case that they did not...
STELTER: Very strong, very powerful.
BORGER: Very strong, very powerful.
So, the reason all these questions are being asked, and the reason we're parsing words today, and the reason we're parsing words yesterday, is because of the president's own words in Helsinki that everybody heard.
And so that is the reason that we're trying to figure out what no means. And, again, we can watch it, we can watch it, we can watch it. She knew that it was going to come up. She went to the president and asked about it because she knew that reporters were writing stories about it, saying that the president was disagreeing with his intelligence community yet again.
KIRBY: I'm sorry, Gloria. Go ahead.
BORGER: No, go ahead. Go ahead.
KIRBY: I was going to say, I will bet the question she asked the president wasn't, what did you mean, sir? It was, how do you want me to spin this? How do you want me to square the circle?
BORGER: Exactly. Exactly.
BALDWIN: David Gergen, final word, final word from you, sir?
GERGEN: Look, I just think he's -- the president is back in hot water again today. It's lukewarm compared to where he was coming out of Helsinki, but it's still a mess.
And they need to clean these things up. It's important for American foreign policy and for an American leadership to be firm in the commitment to NATO, to clear up that question, to clear up the question of whether the red light is really blinking on these attacks, to clear up what actually happened in that meeting, and were there secret agreements.
And on all of those issues right now are in play, in confusion. I think it's bad for the country. BALDWIN: All right, everyone, thank you so much for all of that.
Also part of the back and forth with Jim Acosta, he was asking her, was there a recording made, meaning between Putin and Trump? And her response, "I'm not aware of one," which brings up this idea that's gaining a bit of traction up on Capitol Hill, whether to subpoena the translator, that interpreter who was in the room, the U.S. interpreter who was there, part of that conversation for two-plus hours.
Stay tuned for that.
You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
BALDWIN: A newly surfaced video is raising concerns about Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court justice.
Speaking to a conservative group two years ago, Kavanaugh said he -- if he could overturn any Supreme Court ruling, it would be Morrison v. Olson, which upholds the constitutionality of an independent counsel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you think of a case that deserves to be overturned?
BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you volunteer one?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pending confirmation hearing? Yes, sir, right here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.
KAVANAUGH: Actually, I'm 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 -- I would put the final nail in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: So these comments will certainly come up in Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings expected a little later this month.
Let's go straight to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.
And, Manu, since Kavanaugh was nominated, we know Democrats have been very concerned, right, about his views on executive power. How will that, what we just listened to, play into all that?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Democrats want more answers, in particular because Judge Kavanaugh has expressed other concerns about whether or not the president himself could be indicted, believing the president perhaps cannot be indicted.
And that's an issue that presumably could come up before the court if he were a justice, and he could potentially rule on other matters relating to the Mueller probe, if there's a subpoena, for instance, issued forcing the president to testify, and the president's legal team fought it all the way to the Supreme Court.
How would he rule on this key issue?
Now, what he wants to overturn in that case Morrison v. Olson. It refers to the independent counsel. And that's different than the special counsel, which is governed under a different set of guidelines. But if that Supreme Court precedent were overturned, it could have implications for a special counsel like Robert Mueller.
So, Democrats today pushing back and asking more questions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY WHIP: In many instances, he has come down on the side of a strong executive who would somehow be protected from the ordinary investigation and prosecution that other Americans are subjected to.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: We're talking about a dangerous and potentially profoundly damaging appointee to the highest court in the land who believes that the president is above the law and can, in effect, override the Supreme Court.
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: I don't think it carries much weight at this point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: And that last comment coming from Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, who is aligning himself with other Republicans who do not believe this is as significant as the Democrats so far are saying.
They say, well, look it's already -- this independent counsel law has already expired. There have been other concerns about the constitutionality of the independent counsel and it has nothing to do with the special counsel.
But, as I mentioned, it could have a potential impact on the Mueller probe if that Supreme Court ruling was overturned. And you're already hearing some Democrats, including Chuck Schumer, Brooke, say that he needs to recuse himself, Judge Kavanaugh, if he becomes a justice, from any matter involving the Mueller investigation if it were to come before him.
Republicans not going that far, but expect that to be a line of criticism from the Democrats going forward, Brooke.
BALDWIN: We will.
Again, those confirmation hearings expected later this month. Manu, thank you so much.
Still ahead here on CNN, President Trump's summit with Vladimir Putin was part of what led the Republican chair indeed one Ohio county to quit his job. He will join me live to explain why this was his breaking point.
And, later, we hear from -- the first time from these 12 boys rescued from that cave in Thailand and their coach, why he says they were there in the first place and how they survived for days without food.
BALDWIN: Bottom of the hour.