Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
White House Tries to Walk Back New Statement by Trump on Russian Interference; Dems Want to Question Trump's Interpreter on Helsinki Meeting; Suspected Russian Agent Denied Bail. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired July 18, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, cleanup. President Trump seems to directly contradict the U.S. intelligence community when asked whether Russia is still actively targeting the United States. The president says no as the White House attempts another cleanup, saying no doesn't mean no.
[17:00:22] Honey trap. The 29-year-old Russian woman charged with spying allegedly offered sex to get a job with a special interest organization here in Washington. Court documents also say she's been in contact with Russian intelligence, was moving money out of the country and is considered a serious flight risk.
Lost in translation. There are now growing calls up on Capitol Hill to learn what promises the president may have made to Vladimir Putin in that private two-hour meeting. Only interpreters were present, and lawmakers now want the American aide to testify.
And pricey parade. President Trump says the joint military exercises with South Korea were simply too expensive. But CNN has learned his plans for a U.S. military parade here in Washington this fall could be just as costly. Is this the best way to spend American taxpayer dollars?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news. When asked if Russia is still actively targeting the United States, President Trump says no, even though his own intelligence chief said the U.S. is literally under attack. Now the White House is once again forced to step in with yet another version of what the president meant to say.
I'll speak with Congressman Josquin Castro of the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees, and our correspondents and specialists are also standing by with full coverage.
First, let's get right to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, it's a tall order, but can you sort all of this out for us?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'll do my best, Wolf. The White House is doing another walk back today after the president told reporters earlier in the day that he doesn't believe Russia is targeting U.S. elections. The White House now says that's not what the president said. And aides to the president, they are struggling once again to clean up after the mess the president left behind in Finland. And today, you could all but hear the White House saying all at once, "Oh, no."
ACOSTA (voice-over): Over the shouting of White House aides trying to drown out reporters, a key question makes its way to the president. Whether he believes Russia is still trying to attack U.S. elections.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much. No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Make your way out.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't believe that to be the case?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go. We're finished here.
ACOSTA: The president appears to say no twice, but incredibly, press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted the president wasn't saying "no" to that question.
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president was -- said thank you very much, was saying "no" to answering questions.
ACOSTA: One big reason for the cleanup? The president's own director of national intelligence, as well as just about every other top national security official in Washington, all maintain Russia is still on the offensive.
DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The warning signs are there. The system is blinking. And it is why I believe we are at a critical point.
ACOSTA: The president has been on the defensive ever since he left his summit with President Putin, tweeting, "Some people hate that I got along with President Putin of Russia. They would rather go to war than see this. It's called Trump Derangement Syndrome."
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: And now, late last night and this morning the president is back to celebrating his meeting with Putin. He's walking back the walk-back.
ACOSTA: The White House is still muddying the waters on meddling after the president suggested Russia is not alone in attempting to interfere in U.S. elections.
TRUMP: I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people, also.
ACOSTA: The White House declined to offer any specifics.
SANDERS: Certainly, the president receives a number of briefings and has talked about this subject pretty extensively. We're aware of others that have made attempts, but I can't get into that here at this point.
ACOSTA: Aides to the president insist Mr. Trump has been tough on Putin, but consider how Sanders could not definitively say whether the president told Putin in Finland to stay out of U.S. elections.
(on camera): Did the president tell President Putin after the summit in Helsinki to stay out of U.S. elections?
SANDERS: Certainly, the president, as both he and President Putin said, discussed election meddling. I think we've made very clear what our position is on that front.
ACOSTA: I understand. Discussed election meddling. Did the president of the United States tell the president of Russia to stay out of U.S. elections? Did that occur?
SANDERS: The president -- the president has made clear to Vladimir Putin that he should stay out of U.S. elections.
ACOSTA (voice-over): It seems there may be no way to prove it.
(on camera): Is there a recording made of their one-on-one meeting?
SANDERS: I'm not aware of one.
ACOSTA: A week of missteps and walk-backs, calling into question the president's boasts and bluster.
TRUMP: We were doing very well, probably as well as anybody has ever done with Russia. And there's been no president ever as tough as I have been on Russia.
ACOSTA: Now, of course, the question remains whether Russia has a recording of that meeting between President Putin and President Trump.
And as for whether the U.S. translator at that meeting could be called to testify up on Capitol Hill, the White House and State Department aren't saying whether that could actually happen.
And one other development worth noting, Wolf: the White House did not close the door on allowing Russia to interrogate former U.S. ambassador to Russia McFaul in exchange for allowing the U.S. to question Russians indicted by the Justice Department for meddling. Wolf, that would be a highly irregular move, highly, highly irregular move for the White House to offer up Michael McFaul in exchange for those Russians the Justice Department wants to question -- Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, you're absolutely right. A very sensitive issue. A
lot of people, by the way -- a lot of experts believe that the Finnish government in Helsinki, the meeting took place at the presidential palace. You were there in Helsinki, that they probably have a recording of the meeting, as well. We'll see how all of this unfolds.
Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you very much.
BLITZER: As President Trump seemingly contradicts his own intelligence chief about Russian targeting of the United States, there are now growing demands to learn what went on during that private meeting with President Putin.
CNN's Tom Foreman is here. He's working the story for us.
What are you learning, Tom?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The math is simple here, Wolf. You have a president of the United States whom many, many, many voters do not think they can trust, meeting with another man whom almost nobody trusts. And they want someone else in the room to tell them what went on.
FOREMAN (voice-over): An unknown military deal, a secret pact about election interference? Something else entirely? Questions are swirling among President Trump's critics about what precisely he and Vladimir Putin discussed as they met with only a pair of interpreters for two hours in Helsinki.
SANDERS: A number of issues were raised, including Syrian humanitarian aid.
FOREMAN: The White House has its version, but some Democrats want the American interpreter in the room to tell Congress specifically what Trump said and heard.
SCHUMER: We're worried about what the president said publicly. We're even more worried about what happened in those two hours when the president was alone with Mr. Putin.
FOREMAN: And across the aisle --
SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I'm not saying it ought to be done in a public hearing. But we at least ought to get access to the notes that the translators keep.
FOREMAN: That interpreter is Marina Gross from the State Department. She's interpreted for former secretary of state Rex Tillerson in Moscow, for former first lady Laura Bush in Sochi; and a former U.S. ambassador to Russia who knows Gross believes she likely already passed on her take on the Trump/Putin meeting.
JOHN BEYRLE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Interpreters at that level understand their job is not just to interpret and also to keep notes and keep a record. I expect Secretary Pompeo will talk about that when he testifies before Congress next week.
FOREMAN: But the interpreter herself being grilled by lawmakers, that's another matter. Presidents often use interpreters in private talks, and a person who served in that capacity for many years tells CNN forcing one to comment on what he or she heard would set a horrible precedent. What's more, the American Translators Association insists interpreters should hold in confidence any privileged and/or confidential information.
JUDY JENNER, AMERICAN TRANSLATORS ASSOCIATION: When in doubt, we keep it confidential. Unless a judge orders me to talk about it, I probably wouldn't.
FOREMAN: The White House response to the whole idea?
SANDERS: That's something that would go through the State Department.
FOREMAN: So, the demand for her to speak is a long shot to begin with. No matter how concerned some are about the unusual nature of this private chat between presidents.
And remember, Democrats would need Republican support to make a hearing happen. The president would probably have to wave executive privilege, and even when translators have been subpoenaed in other government matters, the State and Justice Departments have vigorously fought to keep them out of the witness chair -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very interesting, indeed. Tom Foreman reporting for us, thank you.
Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas is joining us. He's a member of both the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Yes, thank you for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: So the president once again sat down with Jeff Glor of CBS News. Just moments ago, CBS has just released this excerpt from the interview. I want to play a clip for you and then we'll discuss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF GLOR, CBS NEWS: You said you agree with U.S. intelligence that Russia meddled in the election in 2016?
TRUMP: Yes, and I've said that before, Jeff. I have said that numerous times before. And I would say that that is true, yes.
GLOR: But you haven't condemned Putin specifically. Do you hold him personally responsible?
TRUMP: Well, I would, because he's in charge of the country. Just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country. So, certainly, as the leader of a country, you would have to hold him responsible, yes.
GLOR: What did you say to him?
TRUMP: Very strong on the fact that we can't have meddling, we can't have any of that.
Now, look, we're also living in a grown-up world. Will a strong statement -- you know, President Obama supposedly made a strong statement. Nobody heard it. What they did hear is the statement he made to Putin's very close friend, and that statement was not acceptable. Didn't get very much play, relatively speaking. But that statement was not acceptable.
[17:10:22] But I let him know we can't have this. We're not going to have it. And that's the way it's going to be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's the excerpt, Congressman. What's your reaction?
CASTRO: Well, it was amazing that President Trump didn't have the courage to stand there in front of Vladimir Putin and, to his face, acknowledge that Russia interfered with the 2016 American elections. And then to fly back to Washington the next day and realize that he had to do incredible damage control and basically say that he got a word wrong, it was -- I think the American people were stunned by that and found it to be a very, very bizarre episode, one of many for this administration.
BLITZER: Earlier in the day, over at the White House, the president said that Russia's no longer targeting the United States. That was in response to a question. It's simply not true. If you believe his intelligence community, Russia is still targeting the United States.
How can the president keep the country safe from the Russian threat if he simply doesn't believe it exists?
CASTRO: Right now, quite honestly, it doesn't look like the president is fully committed to keeping the United States safe from Russian interference. There's two things that the president should be doing right now.
No. 1, investing in greater election security. And having the Congress work with state governments to pass laws to establish at least a basic level of cyber security protection and election protection for our voting systems.
Right now, there isn't a single federal law, and I can't find a state law that does that. Ao we should be work on that domestically.
The second thing is, he should be engaging with our allies to basically form a version of a cyber NATO, where with our allies, our close allies, we agree to essentially mutual defense in cyberspace and, if necessary, mutual cyber response.
BLITZER: You accept the statement, the explanation from the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, that the president was simply saying "no" to follow-up questions in that photo opportunity? He wasn't saying no, that Russia no longer is targeting the United States. Do you accept that explanation?
CASTRO: I disagree. I think, if you listen to that audio, it's clear that he was responding to the question. Ad that's Sarah Sanders' job, is to make sense of what the president is saying.
But it's another example of how, on any controversial issue, you'll get three or four or five different answers, sometimes multiple different answers like this time from the president and then from his spokespeople.
BLITZER: Sarah Sanders also said that, in their private two-hour meeting, President Trump and President Putin discussed election meddling here in the United States. But she did not say if the president specifically told Putin not to interfere in future U.S. elections, including the midterms coming up in November. How concerning is that to you?
CASTRO: Well, we know that he didn't say it publicly. He said the reverse, which is that Russia was not responsible for interfering. So I hope that he said it privately.
And the way for us to know that would be for a transcript to be released or for that interpreter to come to Congress. And we don't have to do it out in the open. We can do it in a classified setting and let the interpreter tell us exactly what was said in that meeting.
BLITZER: That's clearly a difficult -- a difficult thing for an interpreter, given their various codes to do that. You'd have to -- you'd have to go forward and actually subpoena her, the interpreter, assuming the administration says she can't go and they can cite, you know, confidentiality or other factors.
CASTRO: No. You're right, Wolf. There's no question that it would be an unusual thing. But the stakes here are incredibly high. We're talking about an off-the-record closed one-on-one, closed-door one-on- one meeting between Vladimir Putin, a Russian president who helped elect the man who is sitting across from him who is president of the United States, a man who has refused to say a bad word about Russia or the Russian president, even though he's basically taken aim at so many of our allies around the world. So, yes, it would be unusual.
But look, this is a government employee that works for the American people, not for the president. For the American people. So I think in this case, it would be worth pursuing.
BLITZER: Very quickly, do you think the U.S. has a recording of that two-hour conversation between presidents Trump and Putin?
CASTRO: If I had to guess, I would say I doubt that the United States has a recording, although it's possible. I would be almost certain, based on everything that I have seen in the Intelligence Committee, that Russia has a recording of what happened. And also, that it becomes useful one day, they would release it. BLITZER: Yes. Maybe the Finnish government, because the meeting took
place at the presidential palace in Helsinki.
[17:15:05] BLITZER: Maybe they have a recording, and if they do, maybe they'll give it to the United States as a gesture. We'll see if any of that happens.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
CASTRO: Thank you.
BLITZER: Up next, the Russian woman accused of being a foreign agent allegedly offered sex to get a political job here in Washington. Court documents now reveal new details of her secret life.
And what's the meaning of "no"? President Trump is asked if Russia is still targeting the United States and says, "No." But the White House says he meant something else entirely.
[17:20:02] BLITZER: More breaking news. An alleged Russian agent is ordered to remain in jail pending trial, as court documents reveal stunning new details about her secret life here in Washington.
Let's bring in our political correspondent, Sara Murray, who's working the story for us.
Pretty amazing stuff. What's the latest?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is. Mariia Butina's lawyer was in court today, trying to argue that she was not a flight risk, but the government was making their case that this is a woman that they have said is essentially a Russian spy, someone who is trying to infiltrate Republican political circles, as well as the National Rifle Association. They said the only way to ensure that she did not flee the country was to keep her in jail, and the judge agreed.
MURRAY (voice-over): A federal judge ruling today Mariia Butina, the 29-year-old Russian national the government says is a covert agent, will await trial in a jail cell without bond.
Butina, clad in an orange prison jumpsuit, watched as the U.S. government argued in a Washington courtroom that her stint as an American University graduate student was little more than a cover for her work with the Russian government. The prosecutor telling a judge if Butina sought refuge at the Russian embassy or got in a diplomatic vehicle, U.S. law enforcement would be helpless to stop her from leaving the country.
Still, Butina's attorney argued that Butina was not a spy. ROBERT DRISCOLL, MARIA BUTINA'S ATTORNEY: She's not an agent of the
Russian government, the Russian Federation. She's innocent of the charges brought against her.
MURRAY: The government fleshed out its evidence that Butina's life in Washington was a cover for her work with the Russian government. At one point, the government showed the court a photo of Butina near the U.S. Capitol on inauguration day, which she sent to Alexander Torshin, the former Russian politician she allegedly reported to.
"You're a daredevil, girl. What can I say?" Torshin wrote.
"Good teachers," Butina responded.
The government also took aim at Butina's romantic ties to a 56-year- old man, saying it was a duplicitous relationship. In previous filings, U.S. officials say that man helped Butina make inroads with other U.S. political operatives and organizations.
Her boyfriend, not named in court proceedings, is South Dakota political operative Paul Erickson, according to sources who confirmed their romantic relationship and other activities and details that match those of Erickson. The government alleges the relationship was a sham.
Documents seized by the FBI show Butina complained about living with U.S. Person One and expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with Erickson.
She also offered to trade sex with another unnamed person for a position with a special interest group, according to the filings.
Butina was arrested over the weekend, U.S. officials say, because she was appeared ready to leave town. Her lease in Washington was up, and she intended to move money out of the U.S.
Her lawyer says he informed the government in June that she planned to move to South Dakota to be with her boyfriend. She pleaded not guilty on charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent.
MURRAY: Now, one of the arguments Butina's lawyer made in court is that this is not a spy case. He insisted, Wolf, that this needs to be treated differently than what is happening with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, what has been happening with those Russians. He says she should not be treated as a proxy for the very difficult situation the U.S. currently has with Russia.
BLITZER: Yes. If you read the 17-page document the government released today, government memorandum in support of pretrial detention, it does read like a spy case.
MURRAY: It certainly does.
BLITZER: A spy novel, indeed. All right. Thanks very much, Sara Murray, for that.
Coming up, after the White House is forced to clean up yet another one of the president's comments about Russia targeting the United States, President Trump goes on the record about what he told Russia's Vladimir Putin.
And asked if the U.S. is prepared to defend the newest NATO members, President Trump raises some new doubts, serious doubts about his overall commitment to U.S. allies.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:28:25] BLITZER: Let's get to the breaking news once again. Another day of confusion and contradictions over at the White House. President Trump gives yet another version of what he told Vladimir Putin in a new interview with CBS News. The president says he let Putin know -- and I'm quoting the president now -- "We can't have meddling."
Let's bring in our political, legal and diplomatic experts.
Nia, I'm going to play the clip that CBS News just released, this excerpt of Jeff Glor's interview with the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLOR: You say you agree with U.S. intelligence that Russia meddled in the election in 2016?
TRUMP: Yes. But -- and I've said that before, Jeff. I have said that numerous times before. And I would say that that is true, yes.
GLOR: But you haven't condemned Putin specifically. Do you hold him personally responsible?
TRUMP: Well, I would, because he's in charge of the country, just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country. So certainly, as the leader of a country, you would have to hold him responsible, yes.
GLOR: What did you say to him?
TRUMP: Very strong on the fact that we can't have meddling, we can't have any of that.
Now, look, we're also living in a grown-up world. Will a strong statement -- you know, President Obama supposedly made a strong statement. Nobody heard it. What they did hear is the statement he made to Putin's very close friend, and that statement was not acceptable. Didn't get very much play relatively speaking, but that statement was not acceptable.
But I let him know we can't have this. We're not going to have it. And that's the way it's going to be. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Yes, it's interesting he was willing to say that today over at the White House in his second interview with Jeff Glor of CBS News, but when he was standing next to Putin at that joint news conference he didn't say any of that.
[17:30:12] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL WRITER: Yes. He didn't say any of that, and that's what people wanted to hear from him, a very strong statement on the national stage, basically, call Putin out to his face. And it's something that this president hasn't been able to do.
I mean, when he talks about the Russia interference in the campaign and, really, the attack they launched on American democracy, there is really something for everyone, right? I mean, he's blamed the 400- pound guy. He's blamed Russia. He's blamed others. He's all over the place.
And I think what people want, including the intelligence community and folks who are looking at 2018 already and seeing meddling right now, they want him to consistently be strong, consistently call out Putin, and consistently say that -- that Americans are right now seeing this meddling and also trying to combat it.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: And be specific.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: And Jeff Glor -- hey, Jeff Glor, maybe you should ask him a tough question. Oh, my God. Is that the interview?
BLITZER: No. That was just an excerpt. That was just an excerpt.
TOOBIN: Oh my gosh. It's like, "Oh, well, I guess that settles it." Why didn't you ask him? Why didn't you say, "If you believe that Russia did the meddling, why didn't you say it when you were standing there?"
TOOBIN: I mean, you know, Jeff Glor looks, like, so terrified --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stay tuned.
TOOBIN: -- sitting there. I don't know what he was doing.
BLITZER: I'll -- I'll just point out, that was the minute or so excerpt that CBS News -- we haven't seen the entire interview.
TOOBIN: So that's the part -- that's the part CBS wants us to see?
BLITZER: That's the part they released.
TOOBIN: Oh boy. I can only imagine what the rest of it is like.
BLITZER: Well, we'll find out soon. We'll find out soon enough.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jeffrey Toobin --
BLITZER: Dana, let's talk about the only thing we've seen from the interview, the second interview that he got, that little excerpt.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, you know, we'll see what happens in the rest of the interview. But any question to the president at this point is and should be enlightening. I mean, we don't -- we hadn't heard what he, the president, allegedly said to Vladimir Putin behind closed doors. Hopefully, we'll get more information about that.
It does -- it seems as though the president is slowly but surely kind of getting it. That he needs to stand up to Vladimir Putin. Of course -- of course, Nia, you are 100 percent right, 1,000 percent right. The time to do it is next to Vladimir Putin. And it's not like it was a state secret that that is what everybody in the free world wanted him to do, to stand up for the free world, and he didn't do that.
You know, we'll see what happens with the rest of this interview, but you can kind of see the wheels turning finally, 48 hours or more later that, "Oh, this is something I can't mess up again."
BLITZER: Does it count, John Kirby, now that he's saying it? Didn't say any of this when he was standing next to Putin but he's saying now?
KIRBY: It counts at 5:32 on July 18.
KIRBY: But honestly, tomorrow and the next day, who knows? So I honestly don't think it counts for much, because as Dana rightly pointed out, this was basically -- this interview, too, was just part of the cleanup effort.
BLITZER: Let me play another little excerpt, what happened today, Jeffrey. And I want you to weigh in. Before the president sat down with CBS for that interview, he said he didn't think Russia was still targeting the United States. I'm going to play a clip from a photo opportunity that the president had. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CECILIA VEGA, REPORTER: Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?
TRUMP: Thank you very much. No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Make your way out.
VEGA: You don't believe that to be the case? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go. We're finished here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He said, "Thank you very much. No." That was his word, "no." And he was looking right at that pool reporter who asked the question. His intelligence chiefs say that Russia is still targeting the United States.
TOOBIN: We're now in a kind of surreal period in -- because if you -- then you got to Sarah Sanders's briefing where she said, "No, no, no. It wasn't -- he didn't mean no. He meant, 'No, I'm not taking any more questions,'" which obviously he didn't. And because he took more questions.
I mean, look, Sarah Sanders has a tough job but -- but -- I mean, it's just ridiculous that, you know, every time he has a chance to say something off-the-cuff, he says something that's pro-Putin. You know, when he does these hostage videos where they make him say, "Oh, you know, Putin did a bad thing," you know, I mean, how much convincing do we need that he is a Putin supporter? I mean, that's just the way he thinks, and that's who he is.
BLITZER: It sounded to me, and I assume to a lot of people, a lot of reporters, especially the reporters who were in the room, he looked right at her.
BASH: He did.
BLITZER: And said, "No." And then he took another question.
HENDERSON: Yes. That's --
BLITZER: So when Sarah Sanders said the "no" meant he isn't taking questions, well, he did take another question.
HENDERSON: Yes, because also, if he didn't want to take any more questions, he shouldn't have taken any more questions. And he could have also said, "I'm not taking any questions." Right? I mean, since when does "No" mean "I'm not taking any more questions"?
BLITZER: Because usually at a photo-op like that when --
HENDERSON: Yes. Yes.
BLITZER: -- he doesn't want to take questions, he doesn't say "no." He says, "Thank you."
HENDERSON: "Thank you."
[17:35:05] BLITZER: "Thank you." And then his staff pulls all the pool reporters out. 3
BASH: Cecilia Vega, who's a great reporter, tweeted out that he was looking at her directly in the eye. It's a perspective that we couldn't see, because there was no cut-away shot, so we couldn't see both of them together.
He said, when I asked -- she said in this tweet, "When I asked the question, he looked at me and directly responded to me."
So look, I mean, the White House got creative yesterday. And the president got creative in trying to clean up the - something that is not even remotely able to clean up, which is what he did with Vladimir Putin. So they thought, "OK, let's just try it again," and they did it on a much smaller scale today.
HENDERSON: And it works, because Lindsey Graham cane out initially and said he couldn't believe that the president said this and that the president -- there is meddling going on, there is a constant attack going on.
And then Lindsey Graham came back out and said he believes this version of events.
BASH: Because the White House had to call him, call him and say, "No, no, no."
KIRBY: If you need more proof that he didn't mean, "Hey, get out of the room, I'm not taking any questions," look at how Sanders dealt with it at the press briefing. She was asked repeatedly about whether there were ongoing attacks and wouldn't answer it in present tense. She said, "Well, this is what we've done to prevent. We know that the threat still exists." But she wouldn't answer the question directly, which is all the proof you need if you needed any at all.
BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey, you're a legal expert. They refused over at the White House to rule out the possibility that the U.S. might let Russia question a former U.S. ambassador to Russia as well as another American citizen, because they've got questions about these guys, and it wasn't simply flatly rejected immediately.
TOOBIN: Well, I mean, again, this is all this solicitude for Putin. Over at the State Department, they gave a briefing and the -- Michael McFaul IS the former ambassador that Putin hates. and the State Department quite properly said, "this is an absurd idea."
But over at, YOU KNOW, the Putin fan club at the White House, it's like, "well, we'll think about it. I don't know. You know, maybe." I mean, it is just -- every time they have an opportunity to disassociate themselves from Vladimir Putin, they don't.
BASH: And the question is, what's going to happen when the Republicans in Congress really start to move on a new sanctions bill? Because they will. And whether -- what the president is going to do on round two of the sanctions.
BLITZER: He reluctantly -- very reluctantly signed it. Round one.
BASH: Round one, reluctantly signed it. And then didn't implement it for a long time.
BLITZER: For a long time didn't even want to implement it.
All right, guys. Everybody, stand by. There's more news. Is President Trump really committed to NATO? He's now raising questions about defending its newest member, which was admitted on his own watch.
Plus, a new price tag for the Veterans Day military parade here in Washington ordered by President Trump. Is it really worth the money?
[17:42:21] BLITZER: Tonight, there's worldwide fallout after President Trump once again raised doubts about his commitment to NATO and whether the United States would defend the alliance's newest member.
Let's go to Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
Barbara, tell us more about this new controversy.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Wolf, here at the Pentagon tonight Defense Secretary Mattis remains a very passionate defender of the NATO alliance, believing it adds to U.S. security. The president sees only the costs.
STARR (voice-over): On the heels of a controversial meeting with NATO allies, President Trump once again questioning the entire point to one of America's oldest alliances.
TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Membership in NATO obligates the members to defend any other member that's attacked. So let's say Montenegro, which joined last year, is attacked. 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: By the way, they're very strong people. They have aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and congratulations, you're in World War III.
STARR: It may be no coincidence that Montenegro, a tiny country in the Balkans, has the American president's attention. Last year, President Trump visibly dismissed the prime minister of Montenegro when he shoved him out of the way at a NATO photo-op. And Russian President Vladimir Putin has been furious that Montenegro is the newest member of NATO.
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: He has seen multiple countries lean toward the west over the last 14 or 15 years who have asked to join NATO, to include many countries that used to be part of the Warsaw Pact that used to be part of the Soviet Union. And it irks him that he feels he's being attacked from the alliance and from the United States.
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I would not be at all surprised that what you heard the president say to Tucker Carlson there last night is derived from what Vladimir Putin told him during those one-on-one discussions in Helsinki.
STARR: Trump has never been happy that U.S. obligations to NATO could require U.S. troops to come to the defense of other countries. The worry? European allies will feel vulnerable now.
HERTLING: They have seen and heard the president question the collective security agreement which is NATO. They have seen the president suggest that U.S. commitment to NATO is conditional.
STARR: This year, Defense Secretary James Mattis making certain to congratulate the newest member of NATO.
JAMES MATTIS, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: -- the 29th nation and to see the confidence that they have from a NATO that is that open in discussion and honest in discussion.
STARR: Montenegro, about the size of Vermont, has a military force of just a few thousand. It's already sent 20 troops to Afghanistan to help with security and plans to send several more.
President Trump may also want to consider this. NATO invoked the Article 5 mutual defense clause after 9/11 for the first time, sending patrol aircraft to the U.S.
STARR: And since then, more than 1,000 troops from NATO allies of the U.S. have died in Afghanistan in a war that was designed to defend America -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And if the President had doubts about Montenegro's being a member of NATO, remember, Montenegro was admitted to the U.N. in June of last year when Donald Trump himself was President of the United States.
So let me get another subject -- another question to you, Barbara, while I have you. Tell us now about the Pentagon's latest cost estimate for the U.S. military parade that the President now wants to be held here in Washington in November.
STARR: Well, our very own Ryan Browne, Pentagon reporter, has been digging into this and come up with some very interesting information. The current estimate for that military parade on November 10th to commemorate a hundred years after World War I -- the estimate now is some $12 million to put that parade on through the streets of Washington. Why is that so interesting? Because President Trump recently canceled
military exercises with South Korea saying they were too expensive to do. The cost for those, $14 million, but $12 million to put on a military parade -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr over at the Pentagon, thank you.
Coming up, President Trump's new version of what he told Vladimir Putin after another day of a lot of confusion, a lot of cleanup, about what really happened during the summit in Helsinki.
Plus, new demands from lawmakers who now want to know if Putin has embarrassing or compromising information about Mr. Trump.
[17:51:41] BLITZER: President Trump's words and actions during and after this week's summit with Vladimir Putin are now fueling some new calls from lawmakers who want to know if Putin has compromising information and could blackmail the President of the United States.
CNN's Brian Todd is joining us.
Brian, what are you hearing?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at least one lawmaker is now calling for President Trump to release his tax returns. There are fresh demands for answers tonight because Putin and Trump both dodged the question in Helsinki on whether Putin does have any so-called kompromat on Trump.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Again, President Putin, thank you very much.
TODD (voice-over): The President's stunning embrace of Vladimir Putin in Helsinki has, again, fueled questions over Putin's possible kompromat or leverage over the President and has members of Congress and others looking for answers tonight.
Putin was asked about it flat out in Helsinki.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the Russian government have any compromising material on President Trump or his family?
TODD (voice-over): Neither Putin nor Trump ever answered no. Putin deflected when referencing Trump's now controversial trip to Moscow in 2013.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION (through translator): When President Trump was in Moscow back then, I didn't even know that he was in Moscow.
TODD (voice-over): Putin said, how could he possibly keep track of all the American businessmen in Russia at any given time? PUTIN (through translator): It's difficult to imagine utter nonsense
on a bigger scale than this.
SHAWN TURNER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We know that Putin did know that Donald Trump was in Russia during the event in question. We know that Putin was invited to the Miss USA pageant and that he ultimately declined to come. So we know that he knew that Trump was there.
TODD (voice-over): Trump's 2013 trip to Moscow was mentioned in an uncorroborated dossier by a former British spy, which contained a number of unproven and highly salacious allegations that Russian authorities might have recorded Trump watching prostitutes urinate in a hotel suite.
There's no indication such a tape exists and Trump has vehemently denied it. Former FBI Director James Comey said Trump asked him to investigate.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: He said, you know, if there's an even a one percent chance my wife thinks that's true, that's terrible.
And I remember thinking, how could your wife think there's a one percent chance you were with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow?
TODD (voice-over): But there could be other kompromat. Tonight, following the Helsinki exchanges, Republican Congressman Mark Sanford is calling on Trump to release his tax returns.
KEITH DARDEN, SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL SERVICE ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: The tax returns would have to show foreign earnings, so, you know, he has claimed that he earns nothing from contacts with Russia. That might not be the case. That would be something that would have appeared in his tax returns.
TODD (voice-over): There were attempts by the Trump Organization to develop properties in Russia. High-dollar sales by Trump of his U.S. properties to Russians, including this mansion in Palm Beach. Donald Trump, Jr. in 2008 saying, quote, we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.
All potential deals where Putin could have compromising information about the President, something which analysts say is a specialty of the former KGB operative and his intelligence services.
TURNER: We know that the Russians are very active when they identify someone who may be an influential individual, when they identify someone who could potentially -- they could potentially exercise leverage over. They go after that individual. They redouble their efforts to collect information.
[17:55:00] TODD: President Trump said if Vladimir Putin did have compromising information on him, it, quote, would have been out a long time ago.
But analysts say it's likely we may never know exactly what kompromat Putin may have on Trump. The whole point of having that leverage, they say, is to hold it over your rival, extract concessions for as long as you can, because as soon as Putin releases what kompromat he has on President Trump it, it's going to be useless to Putin -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Important point indeed, Brian. Thank you.
Coming up, breaking news. After seemingly contradicting his own intelligence chief and forcing the White House to make yet another cleanup effort, President Trump goes on the record about what he told Russia's Vladimir Putin.