Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Former Director of National Intelligence Responds to Trump Slamming Past Leader of U.S. Intel Community; Dems Demand Kavanaugh Recusal from Mueller Cases; Interview With Oregon Senator Ron Wyden; Interview With Ohio Congressman Michael Turner; Russia's Secret Agent?; Does President Trump Believe Russia No Longer Targeting U.S.? Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 18, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:05]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: Cleanup, take three.

Tonight, President Trump is trying to sound tough on Russia, after he seemed to deny that the Kremlin is still targeting the U.S. Are the new attempts to spin his summit with Putin more convincing than the one we heard a day ago?

Flight risk. A federal judge refuses to let an alleged Russian secret agent out of jail, as prosecutors now say she used deception and sex to carry out a conspiracy against the United States. We're learning more about her connections to Russian power players and to Republicans.

Squeezing Stone. New evidence tonight that the special counsel's office is still investigating Trump ally Roger Stone. Is he likely to be charged in the Russia investigation?

And the final nail. CNN has learned that the president's Supreme Court nominee has said he wants to overturn a ruling in favor of independent counsel. Would Brett Kavanaugh try to put the final nail in Robert Mueller's investigation?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news.

President Trump now declaring that he holds Vladimir Putin responsible for interfering in the U.S. election and that he told Putin in person that -- quote -- "We can't have any of that anymore."

His tough words in a new interview, in stark contrast to what we heard from the president as he stood shoulder to shoulder with the Kremlin leader in Helsinki. The administration has been on damage control ever since the Trump-Putin meeting, including a very awkward new effort to clean up the president's remarks earlier today.

I will get reaction from Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden. He's a Democrat. And House Intelligence Committee member Mike Turner, he's a Republican.

And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the damage control clearly continues.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

It was another day of confusion for the White House. Two days after President Trump made it clear he accepted Vladimir Putin's denials over the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community, the president now says, now says he wants the Russian leader to knock it off when it comes to meddling. The question now is whether that will stop the hemorrhaging to the president's already damaged credibility.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): A full two days after the president's disastrous summit with Vladimir Putin, the cleanup work continues.

In an interview with CBS, the president finally says he wants to the meddling to stop.

QUESTION: Do you hold him personally responsible?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.

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.

ACOSTA: Earlier in the day, over the shouting of White House aides trying to drown out reporters, the president was asked whether he believes Russia is still trying to attack U.S. elections.

QUESTION: 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?

TRUMP: No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go. We're finished here.

ACOSTA: The president appears to say no twice. But, incredibly, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders insisted the president wasn't saying no to that question. SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president was -- said, thank you very much and 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 top national security official in Washington, all maintain Russia is still on the offensive.

DAN COATS, U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: The warning signs are there. The system is blinking. And it's why I believe we are at a critical point.

ACOSTA: The president has been on the defensive ever since he left his summit with Russia's Vladimir Putin's, tweeting: "Some people hate the fact 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.

HUCKABEE 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 any of that here at this point.

ACOSTA: Aides to the president insist Mr. Trump has been tough on Putin. But consider how Sanders cannot definitively say whether the president told Putin in Finland to stay out of U.S. elections.

(on camera): Did the president tell Vladimir Putin at their summit in Helsinki to stay out of U.S. elections?

[18:05:04]

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. ACOSTA (voice-over): And it seems there may be no way to prove it.

(on camera): Was there a recording made of their one-on-one meeting. Does that exist?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not aware of one.

ACOSTA (voice-over): A week of missteps and walk-backs calling into question the president's boasts and bluster.

TRUMP: We are 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Of course, the question remains whether Russia has a recording of that meeting between President Trump and President Putin.

That is obviously critical, because a recording of their conversation would help confirm what the president told CBS, that he has said to Vladimir Putin that he wants the meddling to stop.

And as for whether the U.S. translator at that meeting could be called to testify, Wolf, up on Capitol Hill, the State Department and the White House are not saying exactly whether or not that could actually take place.

And one other development worth noting tonight, Wolf, the White House did not close the door on something very interesting earlier today. That is allowing Russia to interrogate former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul in exchange for allowing the U.S. to question Russians indicted by the Justice Department for meddling.

Wolf, that would be an extraordinary step, to see the U.S. somehow turn over a former U.S. ambassador like Michael McFaul to the Russians in exchange for those Russians coming here to the U.S. and being interrogated by special counsel investigators -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that's pretty amazing, indeed.

All right, Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Also breaking tonight, a Russian charged with being a secret agent of the Kremlin has been ordered to remain jail law here in the United States after prosecutors warned she was likely to flee the Washington, D.C., area.

We're getting some new information on Maria Butina, her court appearance, and the charges against her. The charges read like a sexy spy thriller.

Let's bring in our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, for us.

Jessica, a lot of new and rather sensational details tonight by federal prosecutors. JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You got it, Wolf, sensational indeed.

Prosecutors say Maria Butina's web of lies included alleged attempts to exchange sex for political access, seducing an American who helped pay for her graduate studies, according to those court filings, and also getting Russian oligarchs to fund her lifestyle in the U.S., which included cozying up to the right political players.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): This 29-year-old Russian redhead who came to Washington under the guise of being a graduate student after she founded a gun rights group in Russia.

MARIA BUTINA, DEFENDANT: This is all Russian public organization. We promote gun rights.

SCHNEIDER: Isn't who she claimed to be.

Court papers paint Maria Butina as an illegal agent of Russia with ties to the Russian intelligence services, whose plan was calculated, patient and directed by a Russian official. Butina even allegedly offered sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization here in the U.S.

ROBERT DRISCOLL, ATTORNEY FOR MARIA BUTINA: She's not an agent of the Russian government, the Russian Federation. She's innocent on the charges brought against her.

SCHNEIDER: She allegedly kept in touch with members of the Russian FSB, the spy agency that succeeded the KGB, and prosecutors say Butina was well connected to wealthy businessmen who were Russian oligarchs.

And sources tell CNN she had a romantic relationship with Paul Erickson, a former board member of the American Conservative Union who attempted to make inroads with the Romney and Trump campaigns, but was never particularly successful.

While the court filing did not name Erickson and referred to him only as U.S. Person 1, the details match Erickson's activities. Butina allegedly lived with him, but treated the relationship as simply a necessary aspect of her activities, since Erickson previously told McClatchy News he co-founded a company with Butina to help fund her graduate studies.

CNN affiliate KELO-TV asked Erickson if he tried to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin.

QUESTION: I was wondering if you would be willing to talk to us about what "The New York Times" is reporting about you setting -- trying to set up a meeting between President Trump and Putin.

PAUL ERICKSON, CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL OPERATIVE: Oh, I -- it didn't exactly happen that way. SCHNEIDER: The man who mentored Butina, Kremlin-linked banker Aleksandr Torshin, who has been sanctioned by the U.S., messaged her on Twitter one month after that breakfast, exclaiming, "You have upstaged Anna Chapman," referencing the Russian spy who was arrested and deported in a prisoner swap in 2010.

Butina earned a 4.0 at American University, all while making the most of Washington, D.C. Torshin called her a daredevil girl when she took a photo near the U.S. Capitol on President Trump's Inauguration Day. Butina posed with a pistol for a risque spread in "GQ" magazine, but also buttoned up for political events.

[18:10:04]

She is seen here with Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker and sitting just feet away from former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Butina also got close to Donald Trump. At the FreedomFest event in Las Vegas in July 2015, she announced she was visiting from Russia and then asked then recently declared candidate Trump this:

BUTINA: If you would be elected as the president, what will be your foreign politics especially, even in relationships with my country?

TRUMP: I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin, OK?

SCHNEIDER: And Butina and Torshin managed a brief encounter with Donald Trump Jr. at a private dinner on the sidelines of the 2016 NRA Convention in Kentucky.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: and the FBI had been keeping a close eye on Butina for months.

She was arrested last weekend after agents spotted her trying to get a U-Haul moving truck and also saw her sending a wire transfer for $3,500 to an account in Russia.

Her lawyer, of course, says she's cooperated in recent months with both Congress and the FBI and says there's no reason she shouldn't be released. But, of course, Wolf, for now, she is behind bars until trial -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, she is.

All right, Jessica, thank you. Good report.

Now to Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and new signs tonight that he is still investigating Trump ally Roger Stone.

Our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, is here for us.

What can you tell us, Shimon?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

So today in court, while Butina was there, in a separate court proceeding, five prosecutors from Robert Mueller's team spent some 90 minutes inside a closed courtroom. It was a secret proceeding with lawyers who are representing a close associate of Roger Stone, a man by the name of Andrew Miller, who was doing work for Roger Stone during the 2016 election, was around during the RNC.

And what we know is that the special counsel has been trying to get information from this individual, a grand jury subpoena. He was given a grand jury subpoena there.

And it's likely what was going on in court today was that his attorneys are trying to fight some of what the special counsel wants. What's most significant in all this is that while we have had some two -- at least two major indictments that have come out of the special counsel's office, including the one last week of the 12 Russian agents, that they are -- that the special counsel is still working on trying to figure out exactly what Roger Stone's role was in all of this.

Of course, as we know, Roger Stone communicated with someone from Russian intelligence, thinking perhaps it was a person who had hacked into some documents, Guccifer 2.0.

But this is clear. It's clear to us based on this today that that investigation, associates that are attached to Roger Stone and perhaps even Roger Stone himself, that investigation is still ongoing.

BLITZER: We should point out that Roger Stone did tell CNN today -- quote -- "They got nothing," referring to the prosecutors. We will see what happens on that front.

Shimon, thank you very much.

Let's talk more about all of this, Russia and President Trump.

Senator Ron Wyden is joining us. He's a key Democrat who serves on the Intelligence Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, let's get to that comment, the latest comments from the president in this late interview with CBS News.

An excerpt was just released. The president says he told Vladimir Putin that we can't have any meddling against the United States from Russia.

But just hours before he sat down with CBS News anchor Jeff Glor, the president was asked if Russia is still targeting the United States, and he simply said one word. He said no.

Which version of the president's comments do you believe? WYDEN: Wolf, the fact is, with the stories changing almost every

couple of hours, the president's credibility on these matters has really shrunk to zero.

What we know is, when it really counted, he didn't stand up to Putin. And I think that what is on the mind of the American people right now.

BLITZER: Why couldn't he simply say at that joint news conference with Putin in Helsinki, with Putin standing right next to him, what he said today in this interview with CBS News?

WYDEN: Wolf, you're being logical.

And I think it reflects the fact that what the president actually said are his real feelings. He has never been willing to take Putin on when it counted on these key issues.

And even, apparently, when his staff is explicit about how serious the meddling is, he walked it back.

BLITZER: The president, as you know, at least in public, when he was standing next to Putin, didn't say what he said in the CBS News interview.

But do you trust that, at least in the private two-hour session, the one-on-one session he had with Putin, he was tough on him on election meddling?

WYDEN: There is no reason to believe that he actually was tough.

What we have seen, when you really get a chance to unpack his true feelings, when he speaks spontaneously, when he talks to others who record it, you find that he really thinks that his intelligence agencies, while he's not going to call them wrong in public, he's just going to disagree with them.

[18:15:18]

BLITZER: What information would you want from the president's interpreter, the Russian interpreter, the only other American who was in that room with President Trump and Vladimir Putin, and a Russian interpreter on the Russian side as well?

WYDEN: Well, of course, I would want to know specifically what was discussed with respect to Russian meddling in elections.

Then we want additional information about Crimea, Ukraine. But we have got to have that information with respect to Russia meddling in our elections.

And I have just got one other thing to say on this point. I think my colleagues here in the Congress ought to stop making excuses for our president on this. That's number one.

Number two, we ought to move forward with serious sanctions, so as to hit Putin in the energy sector, in his financial assets. And then the Congress should pass my bill to have every single ballot in America, a paper ballot, so that Putin couldn't hack our elections.

BLITZER: The director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, says the warning signs of more Russian cyber-warfare are similar to the lead-up to the 9/11 attack.

Is this country, the United States of America, Senator, prepared for that? And is President Trump taking steps to keep America safe?

WYDEN: I obviously can't get into classified matters.

But the reality is -- and one of your colleagues in the press, David Sanger, said, cyber is essentially the perfect weapon, practically the omnipresent kind of weapon. So, yes, I really have serious questions about our country's capacity to deal with the array of threats.

And I'm particularly troubled about the fact that, every single time -- you saw what happened in the question of Montenegro, which is a NATO ally. The reason we support the efforts of NATO in Montenegro is that makes it less likely our soldiers will be in harm's way.

Putin made light of that. And I think the way Trump handle it makes conflict there even more likely.

BLITZER: Senator Wyden, thanks so much for joining us.

WYDEN: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Just ahead, where does the president stand on Russia's election interference? It seems to depend on when he's talking, where he's talking, and with whom he's talking. Which version should we believe?

And the U.S. interpreter who knows for sure what Mr. Trump told Putin in private, will Democrats get the chance to question her?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:22:42]

BLITZER: We have more breaking news this hour on the fallout from the Trump-Putin summit and concerns about what the president said behind closed doors.

Democrats say they want to question the U.S. interpreter who sat in on that one-on-one exchange with Putin.

Tonight, the State Department says there's no formal request for that to happen, at least not yet.

Let's bring in our senior national correspondent, Alex Marquardt.

Alex, this interpreter has crucial information. What are you hearing? What's the latest?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that's at least what many in Congress believe, because the White House is offering so few details.

This was a more-than-two-hour meeting between these presidents, Trump and Putin, witnessed by just two other people, their interpreters. On the American side, it was a veteran named Marina Gross, who many now in Congress, including several Republicans, now want to hear from directly, not trusting the White House's version of events, worried about what President Trump may have agreed to.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Inside President Trump's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, one aide, Marina Gross.

TRUMP: President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

MARQUARDT: And the calls are growing to find out what happened behind those closed doors. After Moscow said military agreements were made, the White House offered a list of subjects the presidents discussed.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: A number of issues were raised, including Syrian humanitarian aid, Iran's nuclear ambition, Israeli security, North Korean denuclearization, Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea, reducing Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals, and, of course, your favorite topic, Russia's interference in our elections.

MARQUARDT: But not enough detail for Capitol Hill.

REP. JOE KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: This a serious national security issue, on the roll-up to another series of midterms. And all that I'm asking for is that we understand what our president agreed to. And if he won't tell us, then we should try to find some other way to figure it out.

MARQUARDT: Which could mean subpoenaing Gross to testify before Congress, something being discussed on both sides of 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 translators keep.

MARQUARDT: For interpreters, discretion is paramount, expected to not reveal what they see or hear.

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. And this is a legal issue, not so much an interpreting issue, right? If you get subpoenaed by Congress, I don't think there would be any code of ethics that would supersede that obligation.

[18:25:03]

MARQUARDT: Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle Wolf that Gross, a highly experienced Russian interpreter at the State Department, almost certainly took notes and likely briefed other top officials.

JOHN BEYRLE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Interpreters at that level understand their job is not just to interpret. It's also to keep notes and keep a record. And I'm sure that she has been debriefed by Mr. Bolton, maybe by Fiona Hill, the president's chief adviser on Russia. So, I think we probably have a pretty good sense of what was said in that meeting.

MARQUARDT: And there are questions about whether the Russians secretly recorded the meeting as well.

The ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee telling Wolf:

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I would fully expect that the Russians have a -- either a fully accurate transcript or a pretty complete breakdown of everything that was said in that meeting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: Of course, it's possible that the American side could have recorded it, as well the Fins, who were hosting the meeting.

Wolf, when it comes to a subpoena for the interpreter to testify before Congress, we haven't found any examples of it happening before. And just a short time ago, the State Department said they too are looking for precedent.

Then there's the question of invoking presidential executive privilege or using the Justice Department, as has been done before in legal cases, to block any congressional testimony, something many in the White House and the diplomatic community would like to see done -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Alex, thank you very much, Alex Marquardt reporting.

Joining us now, Republican Congressman Mike Turner. He's a key member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. MICHAEL TURNER (R), OHIO: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: CBS News has released an excerpt of the interview Jeff Glor, their anchor, had with the president earlier in the day.

Let me play a little clip about what the president now says he said to Putin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: 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: You believe him? TURNER: Well, I know that this is certainly what we would all hope

that the president would say.

The one thing we know is that we know he didn't say that in public. And that's really where the failure was, and the cleanup had to happen.

This is very serious. I mean, we're talking about meddling in our democracy, penetration of the election apparatus in the various states, meddling in the various campaigns. This is something that you would want your president to be very strong on.

And, clearly, the president in public was not. I would hope that he certainly would believe that and certainly would make that statement more strongly and directly.

BLITZER: Why couldn't he? Why couldn't he, the president, say, when he was standing next to Putin at that lengthy news conference, what he told Jeff Glor of CBS News today, that, yes, Putin is responsible, that Russia meddled in the U.S. election?

TURNER: I can't imagine.

And what's really important about him having stood next to Putin and to have said it would have been that the world would have heard it, because Putin got a pass. The world knows that Putin and Russia is meddling in other countries.

We need to have the American president stand strong, when we're asking our allies, presidents and leaders and prime ministers, to stand strong. And here we have the president in front of the world not having stood strong against Putin and against meddling in elections, and really their -- the aggressiveness that they're showing throughout the world.

BLITZER: So why not do it? Why do you think he didn't do it?

TURNER: I can't imagine why he did not.

I certainly know that I think that the president is hearing us and hearing all of us who are loudly saying that this is something we expect our president to say, that it defends our democracy, he needs to be doing so, and that we're all incredibly disappointed that he did not.

So I think that this beginning of a process where he's making these statements hopefully will change the tune of this administration and of this president.

BLITZER: But maybe late. They're celebrating in Moscow. If you look at Russia TV, they're drinking champagne right now. They think this wasn't just a good meeting. It wasn't just a great meeting. It was a super meeting. It was beyond super, they're saying.

TURNER: Well, it is a meeting and it certainly is a press conference. What has to happen now is to see, where does policy go? We still have

very strong sanctions against Russia. We still are arming the Ukrainians against Russian aggression. We still are continuing major support for our allies in NATO.

And that has not changed, regardless of the statements that were made in Helsinki. And that's what I think Congress and certainly this administration have to dedicate themselves to.

BLITZER: A lot of people are worried about whether or not the United States is safe right now from the future Russian meddling going into the midterm elections.

You're speaking out boldly. You're a Republican. But so many of your Republican colleagues, they seem to be on the side. They're afraid, for whatever reason, to speak up. Why do you think so?

TURNER: Well, I don't know that they were afraid.

I do think, though, that...

BLITZER: Well, why are they silent?

TURNER: Well, I can't explain their silence.

I can only tell you about why I believe it's important to have this dialogue. I mean, this certainly -- from serving on the Intelligence Committee and the Armed Services Committee, working with NATO, I can tell you that the importance of the president's role here goes directly to the heart of our national security and that of our allies.

And the president needs to stand strong. If Russia sees any weakness, they fill that vacuum, and you get instability and an impact lessening our national security.

BLITZER: You wrote a letter to Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. You're a member of that committee.

You wrote a letter to Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. You're a member of that committee. You wrote a letter to Nunes, saying, quote, "There is no dispute that Putin intended to harm our democracy and hurt Clinton's campaign."

[18:30:18] Why did you feel it was necessary to remind the chairman of that?

TURNER: Well, when the report came out from the Intelligence Committee, there were a number of people who made statements that were sort of contrary, actually, to the context of the text of the report.

The report itself did find that Russia meddled in our election, and it did find that Putin was doing so for the purposes of damaging Hillary Clinton's campaign and, of course, the end result being in helping Donald Trump's campaign. We wanted to make certain -- I wanted to make certain that was no question, in my opinion, that that was the case. And certainly, I think the president is backtracking himself, and hopefully he'll stay focused on that that happened, that occurred, and we need to make certain it doesn't happen again.

BLITZER: A quick question on Montenegro, and I know you've been there. You're a strong supporter of NATO. The president seemed to question America's commitment to NATO, specifically the latest member, the 29th member of NATO, Montenegro, in an interview with FOX News. Let me play this clip.

(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: By the way, they're very strong people. They have very aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and congratulations, you're in World War III.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You're the chairman of the U.S. delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. What's your reaction to what we just heard from the president?

TURNER: Well, first of all, it's demeaning of Montenegro. And certainly, Montenegro is not going to start World War III. Who would start World War III would be Vladimir Putin, who he stood next to and gave a pass on his meddling in U.S. elections and meddling in our allies and his aggressiveness in Europe.

The issue with Montenegro is, you know, Article V under NATO, where we have joint defense, has only been invoked once, and that was to defend the United States after 9/11 in Afghanistan.

Montenegro is in Afghanistan with soldiers on the ground, helping defend the United States. It is part of your mutual alliance. It enhances our national security, and it certainly enhances all of Europe. We're glad Montenegro is in NATO. And yes, they're defending us; we'll defend them.

BLITZER: But that's not what the president seems to say, even though Montenegro, as you well know, was admitted formally, officially, to NATO in June of last year when he was -- it was on his watch. He was president of the United States. If he didn't want Montenegro to be a member of NATO, he could have taken actions to stop.

TURNER: You know, one thing else that the president's missing in this is that getting nations to join NATO doesn't just take them out of neutrality. It also takes them out of the sphere of influence that could be Russia and Vladimir Putin.

Montenegro has an important coastline that, if we had a Russian base in the middle of Europe, we would be outraged. Montenegro being our ally, being in NATO helps Europe and our national security.

BLITZER: Congressman Turner, thanks so much for joining us.

TURNER: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: I'm glad you came on the show and told us how you feel. Appreciate it very much.

Just ahead, more on the latest attemps by the White House to explain the president's views on Russia. It sure sounded like he was denying the Kremlin is still targeting the United States. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CECILIA VEGA, REPORTER: Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much. No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:38:03] BLITZER: the breaking news tonight, President Trump now saying he holds Vladimir Putin personally responsible for interference in the 2016 election here in the United States. And he says he told Putin -- and I'm quoting him now -- "We're going -- we're not going to have it" when the two leaders met Monday behind closed doors in Helsinki.

Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and our analysts.

Gloria Borger, let me play this clip. The president had this exchange earlier with Jeff Glor, the anchor at CBS. And they were talking about some deep-state accusations some of the president's supporters have made about the U.S. intelligence community.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF GLOR, CBS NEWS: Do you think any intelligence agencies, U.S. intelligence agencies are out to get you?

TRUMP: Well, certainly, in the past it's been terrible. You look at Brennan; you look at Clapper; you look at Hayden; you look at Comey; you look at McCabe; you look at Strzok and his lover, Lisa Page. You look at other people in the FBI that have been fired that are no longer there.

Certainly, I can't have any confidence in the past, but I can have a lot of confidence in the present and the future. Because it's getting to be now where we're putting our people in.

But in the past, no, I have no confidence in a guy like Brennan. I think he's a total low-life. I have no confidence in Clapper. You know, Clapper wrote me a beautiful letter when I first went into office and it was really nice. And then all of a sudden he's gone haywire, because they got to him and they probably got him to say things that maybe he doesn't even mean.

But no, I certainly don't have confidence in past people. You look at what's happened. Take a look at all of the shenanigans that have gone on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: John Brennan, a career intelligence official. Served for Republicans, served for Democrats, became the CIA director. James Clapper spent 35 years in the U.S. military. It's pretty shocking to hear the president talk about these guys like that.

[18:40:00] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, honestly, it's disgraceful. I mean, these are career public servants, who have devoted their lives to this country. And the president lists them, you know, going down the line as if they have all hated him, personally.

The one name he didn't mention that I was kind of listening for, by the way, is Bob Mueller, the special counsel. He kind of left him off that list. But, you know, the president is taking on people who have made it their career to protect America. And, you know, for him to come out and say that these people were all out to get him personally, is -- is just kind of depressing and stunning.

BLITZER: Yes. David Axelrod what do you think?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all I served with John Brennan. I served with Jim Clapper. And I have to say, they are really outstanding public servants. They've devoted their lives to this country, true patriots.

And so, you know, I second what Gloria had said.

I also point out that these people that he's deriding helped uncover what he grudgingly, just today, acknowledges, which is that the Russians subverted our election. He didn't say it, but we know that they subverted it on his behalf or on his side.

And you know, they did that in furtherance of protecting this country from what was a really, really profound attack on our democracy. And rather than worrying about that, the president carries on his personal grudges.

Now, you know, they have been outspoken since about how he's handled this, I suspect becaus they're alarmed about the fact that the Russians continue to do what they're doing, and the president is not doing anything about it.

BLITZER: Yes, Mark Preston, let me play another clip from the CBS News interview just released. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLOR: He denies it. So if you believe U.S. intelligence agencies, is Putin lying to you?

TRUMP: I don't want to get into whether or not he's lying. I can only say that I do have confidence in our U.S. intelligence agencies as currently constituted. I think that Dan Coats is excellent. I think that Gina is excellent. I think we have excellent people in the agencies, and when they tell me something, it means a lot.

GLOR: Coats says the threat is ongoing. Do you agree with that?

TRUMP: Well, I'd accept that. I mean, he's an expert. This is what he does. He's been doing a very good job. I have tremendous faith in Dan Coats. If he says that, I would accept that. I will tell you, though, it better not be. It better not be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Why would he refuse to say that Putin is lying? Because he now says, in this -- in his latest comments, that yes, the Russians interfered in our U.S. election. Putin denies it, so he is lying.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, he is. And look, the short answer is with President Trump, is he wants you to believe whatever he says at the moment in time.

But if you listen to what he said right there, and I just wrote some things down. And he was directly asked about Dan Coats. Now, Dan Coats, very well-respected, former senator, former ambassador to Germany, somebody who knows his way around Washington. He said, "I have confidence in Dan Coats."

But he later says, when addressed that Dan Coats says that, in fact, Russia continues to do so, and Trump says, "If he says that."

No, Mr. President, he does say that, and he hasn't just said it to us. He has said it to you, and you are choosing not to listen to him. And the bottom line is we don't know why -- we don't know why that he is capitulating, that being Donald Trump, with Putin.

BORGER: Can I ask a question? Hasn't the president looked at the intelligence? Can he make a judgment on his own? I mean, David Axelrod has worked for a president. You know it's not just that your DNI comes in and says, "We have evidence." I mean, if you're at all inquisitive -- and this, one would assume, is important -- you would be looking at this intelligence yourself, and you would be saying, "I have seen the intelligence. I can tell you for a fact myself that they're still at it."

BLITZER: Sabrina, do you want to weigh in?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Yes.

AXELROD: Well, I don't think there's any question. Do you think there's any question --

BLITZER: David, hold on one second. Sabrina, go ahead.

AXELROD: Yes, sure.

SIDDIQUI: Just, you know, the fact that it's taken the president several days and several tries just to make a definitive statement on whether or not Moscow interfered in the U.S. election, I think that, within itself, is telling with respect to how he has approached this issue.

And he has not listened to his intelligence leaders. DNI Coats earlier this year testified before Congress that Russia is actively trying to interfere in the upcoming midterm elections, that the intelligence authorities here expect that they will proliferate more they can use in propaganda. And that not enough is being done by this administration.

At the same time, the president's then director of the National Security Agency said that he had not been given authority by this president to disrupt the Russian cyberattacks at the source. And said clearly, we are not doing enough.

So if the president is, in fact, serious about this issue, and he is saying, "Well, it better not be true that they're trying once more," there are steps he can actually take to deter this from happening again, and he has yet to prove that he's willing to do that.

BLITZER: David, go ahead. You wanted to weigh in.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I just was going to say this was -- I mean, to your original question, Wolf, this isn't -- this is a binary choice, if you accept what the DNI is saying, then Putin lied to his face, OK? And the president stood up there on Monday and he said he gave a strong and extremely powerful rebuttal, he lied to his face, and even now, he won't say that he lied.

What signal does this send the world, what signal does this send Putin? There's no wonder they're stepping up their efforts, he's basically opening up the backdoor.

BLITZER: You know -- do you to say something?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, no, no -- I just think that -- just on the whole issue of the deep state because this is what really is the 50,000-foot packaging that Donald Trump has put on all of Washington, D.C. Let me just tell to everybody out there about the deep state in Washington D.C., the bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. would never allow a deep state to work, let alone work effectively. And personal ambition in politics in Washington, D.C. would never let it to happen, it's just -- it's impossible.

So this idea, and I know it sounds good, and I know it's a good conspiracy theory to say over and over again, but it's wrong.

BLITZER: You know, Gloria, there was another exchange that the president had with Jeff Glor of CBS on whether or not he might be willing to sit down and answer questions from the special counsel Robert Mueller. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF GLOR, CBS NEWS: I just want to ask you sir, you said you'll sit with the special counsel before. Has anything changed in the past six months to change your mind? Or are you more or less likely to?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's no collusion, I didn't deal with Russia, I have nothing to do with Russia with respect to my race. I won that race rather easily. And I can tell you that I think, frankly, 20/20, I think it's going to be even better than we did in '16.

GLOR: Would you be more likely to sit for an interview now?

TRUMP: My lawyers are working on that. I have always wanted to do an interview, because, look, there's been no collusion. There's been no talk of Russia. There's been no phone call. There's been nothing.

And it's -- I call it a witch hunt, that's exactly what it is. It's a vicious witch hunt and you know what? It's very bad for our country, very, very bad for our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think his lawyers don't want him to sit down with the special counsel. And I know from my own reporting that they're kind of a standstill right now. The president has expressed an interest, you know, in sitting down with the special counsel. But he sure seems a lot less interested in it today than he did maybe six months ago.

And I don't think it's going to -- I don't think it's going to happen and I think in fact, when you look at what happened in Helsinki, I'm wondering what will happen with public opinion on the so-called witch hunt, because now we -- the president has confirmed about election hacking, et cetera, et cetera. And, you know, I think his lawyers have a hard time answering the question when reporters asked, is there a witch hunt after you've heard the president in Helsinki and you see indictments like one that came down today about Russian spying.

BLITZER: He calls it a witch hunt often, and then he calls it a rigged witch hunt. I haven't heard him call it but he now says a vicious witch hunt. He's escalating his rhetoric a little bit.

AXELROD: If you were his lawyers, would you, having watched the last three days, said, yes, why don't we let him sit down with the special counsel?

BORGER: Yes.

AXELROD: If anything, the last three days should have persuaded him that there's no way in hell they're going to put in him that room.

BORGER: I think they're already there, David. I think they're already there. AXELROD: Just in case it needed any affirmation.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: You heard what the president in the CBS News interview said about the leaders of the U.S. intelligence community before he took office.

General James Clapper is joining us right now on the phone.

I want to get your reaction, General Clapper. I'll play the clip once again for you and then we'll discuss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLOR: Do you think any intelligence agencies, U.S. intelligence agencies are out to get you?

TRUMP: Well, certainly in the past it's been terrible. You look at Brennan, you look at Clapper, you look at Hayden, you look at Comey, you look at McCabe, you look at Strzok, and his lover Lisa Page, you look at other people in the FBI that have been fired or are no longer there. Certainly, I can't have any confidence in the past, but I can have a lot of confidence in the present and the future, because it's getting to be now where we're putting our people in.

But in the past, no, I have no confidence in a guy like Brennan, I think he's a total low life.

[18:50:00] I have no confidence in Clapper. You know, Clapper wrote me a beautiful letter when I went into office, and it was really nice. And then all of a sudden, he's gone haywire because they got to him and they probably got him to say things that maybe he doesn't even mean. But no, I certainly don't have confidence in past people.

You look at what's happened, take a look at all the shenanigans that have gone on. Very hard to have confidence in that group.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. General Clapper, go ahead and respond.

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE (via telephone): Well, thanks, Wolf, for having me. It's reached the point, and I think I'm speaking for my case and in John Brennan, it's almost a badge of honor when the president sees fit to go after individual, private citizens. And I think I can speak, as well, for all of us to say -- and include Jim Comey in this.

The only reason we've spoken out about all of this is our genuine concerns about this president and this presidency, and who is assaulting values and institutions and standards of this country, which collectively we've spent decades defending.

As for the beautiful letter that I wrote to then President-elect Trump, it was a note that accompanied the first presidential daily brief that he received after he became president-elect. One of the things that I made a point of in that letter was to join him or ask him to abide by, support and protect the principle of truth to power, which Dan Coats, to his great credit, is doing.

And so, anyway, I'll stop there if you have more questions.

BLITZER: I do have. General Clapper, he's basically accusing you and John Brennan, general Hayden and others of plotting against him during the campaign while he was running for president, trying to undermine him. This is the president of the United States making an accusation like that.

CLAPPER: Well, it's an absurd allegation. There's no basis or evidence for that. Our concern -- now I'm speaking specifically, Jim Comey and John Brennan and Mike Rogers as well. What is it the Russians were doing to interfere in our political processes? As I said before, I've seen a lot of bad stuff in my 50-plus years in my intelligence but nothing that disturbed me as much as this.

So, it was about the Russians. And there was no attempt to undermine president-elect and later President Trump. It's an absurd allegation.

BLITZER: Why do you think it's taken the president so long to finally, finally acknowledge that Russia was, in fact, behind the cyber attack of the 2016 presidential election.

CLAPPER: Only because he was kind of forced to. Again, to Dan Coats' great credit, I think his forthright statement about the threat that Russia poses to this country sort of, I think, helps force him to at least grudgingly or reluctantly agree, although he always caveats it as he did when he read his statement the other day -- yesterday, I guess it was. Of course, he does his ad lib, it could have been others.

Well, no, it wasn't others. It was the Russians. Nobody else. It wasn't the Chinese. It wasn't the 400-pound guy in his bed in New Jersey. It was the Russians and the president is always ambiguous about that.

BLITZER: Do you trust (AUDIO GAP) that private meeting with Putin (AUDIO GAP) to meddle in future elections?

CLAPPER: Well, I would like to hope he did. But I wonder why he didn't say that on a world stage when he was standing next to him. And he didn't seem -- frankly, he seemed to be intimidated by Putin. And so I don't know. I hope he did.

BLITZER: Bottom line, have you ever seen anything like this before?

CLAPPER: Absolutely not. There's no reference, in my -- again, my 50-plus years of service to this country that I can -- I can recall that comes close to this.

BLITZER: General Clapper, I know you served, what, 40 years in the U.S. military, becoming a general. You were the director of national intelligence on behalf of all of us, we want to once again thank you for your service to our country over these many, many years. Thank you very much for that.

We're going to continue to follow all the breaking news.

[18:55:02] But there's other important news we're following right now up on Capitol Hill. Democrats -- they're demanding that President Trump's U.S. Supreme Court nominee recuse himself from any future cases involving the special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is joining us.

Manu, Democrats are deeply concerned now about Brett Kavanaugh's disdain for the ruling upholding the constitutionality of an independent counsel.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right. That's was from 1988, that ruling. But we've uncovered video from two years ago in which Kavanaugh expressed his desire to overturn that ruling that upheld the constitutionality of the independent counsel. Now, this is different than the special counsel which governs which Robert Mueller is and has a different way of operating, but if that ruling were overturned, it could have implications for how easily it could be to dismiss a special counsel like Robert Mueller.

Taken with his views of a sitting president can in the be indicted, some Democrats are worried that this may have implications of how he may rule on key issues involving the Mueller probe, if it were it to come to court. Now, two years ago, Judge Kavanaugh speaking to a conservative group said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

JUDGE BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you volunteer one?

KAVANAUGH: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pending confirmation hearing. Yes, sir, right here.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.

KAVANAUGH: I'm going to say one. Morrison v. Olson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the independent counsel case.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: Now, after we reported this, reaction came down along party lines. Democrats demanded that he recuse himself from any case involving the Mueller probe if it did come to the court. Republicans saying it is a common and normal position to take the one that Judge Kavanaugh expressed.

This is what two key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee said earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Brett Kavanaugh thinks the president is above the law. No one is above law. For a United States premium court justice nominee to say, in effect, the president is above the law, should be exempted from investigation, should be able to fire the special counsel, is really dangerous.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Independent counsel have serious problems if we weren't in this hyper politicized word, everyone obsessing about the Mueller investigation, a comment about the Scalia dissent in Morrison against Olson, which virtually everyone agrees was the right legal position would be not remotely newsworthy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Undoubtedly, Wolf, this will be questioned, a serious question that he is going to face at his confirmation hearing, and with his meetings with Democrats, which have not started yet. He'd been meeting with Republicans on Capitol Hill. When he meets with Democrats, they're going to push him on this.

The question is, how does he view the Mueller probe? Does he view that as constitutional? And what will he do if any of those issues involving the Mueller probe come to the Supreme Court if he becomes justice? Wolf?

BLITZER: It's interesting. All this could eventually be winding up before the Supreme Court. We just heard in this new interview with the president that he still hasn't decided whether to answer questions from the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

RAJU: Yes, and no question about that. That's another big question going forward.

If he decides not to do that and there's a subpoena and his legal team decides to fight that, Wolf, and it goes to the Supreme Court, how will he ultimately come down on that decision, too, if Judge Kavanaugh becomes Justice Kavanaugh? And some legal experts believe his position raising concerns about the independent counsel and raising concerns about a president not being able -- not being -- shouldn't be indicted. That may make him skeptical about a subpoena demanding he testify before the Mueller investigation.

So, expect that also to be a significant line of questioning that Democrats will push him on. The question, of course, Wolf, will he be able to answer any of this? Nominees typically tend to avoid these types of answers to get pinned down. We'll see if he decides to reveal anything in his thinking when he decides to have -- to come to Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: Well, very quickly, Manu, where do Republicans up on Capitol Hill stand on this right now?

RAJU: The nomination right now is very close. We expect it to come down in a party line vote, almost certainly. But a handful of Republicans and Democrats in the middle are uncertain where they're going to come down. This is going to be a very close vote. That's why key questions like this are important going forward.

And a lot of members that I spoke to today want more answers, even those in the middle like Joe Manchin, a red state Democrat, uncertain where he stands in the Mueller investigation, wants to know more about that as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.

And to our viewers, I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.