Return to Transcripts main page


White House Discussions Underway for Putin to Come to DC This Fall. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 19, 2018 - 16:30   ET



[16:30:35] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Coming to America? The White House announcing this hour that President Trump is making moves to invite Vladimir Putin to Washington in the fall.

And moments ago, the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, well, he responded to that news.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have some breaking news. The White House has announced on Twitter that Vladimir Putin is coming to the White House in the fall.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You -- Vladimir Putin --

COATS: Did I hear you?






TAPPER: Again, that's the director of national intelligence.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House for us.

And, Kaitlan, the president earlier called the first summit or whatever it was, a great success on Twitter. Apparently under that impression, he wants a repeat.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It does. He does want a repeat, Jake, and it seems it can come sooner than we think. And that reaction from Dan Coats, the intelligence chief for President Trump, is just stunning. Clearly, he was learning right there on the stage that Vladimir Putin has been invited to the White House.

Sarah Sanders tweeted just a few moments ago saying that while in Helsinki, the president agreed to ongoing dialogue between the security staffs for the two countries and saying that the president asked his national security adviser John Bolton to invite Vladimir Putin to Washington this fall. She says those discussions are already underway but, Jake, that comes while there are still questions about what happened during that first meeting.


COLLINS (voice-over): The divide in the Trump administration growing deeper today as president Trump is changing narratives about what happened in his meeting with Vladimir Putin clashed with what his own officials are saying about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Following days of changing statements from Trump, his hand-picked FBI Director Christopher Wray making his view clear.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: He's got his view. He has expressed his view. I can tell you what my view is. The intelligence community's assessment has not changed.

COLLINS: And Department of Homeland Security Chief Kirstjen Nielsen leaving no doubt.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I don't think there is any question in the intel community or at DHS that Russians attempted to infiltrate and interfere with our electoral system.

COLLINS: Trump now insisting he holds Vladimir Putin personally responsible.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.

COLLINS: A statement completely at odds with how he acted when he was standing right next to the Russian leader.

TRUMP: They said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia.

COLLINS: Despite the bipartisan outrage following his press conference in Helsinki, Trump telling CBS News --

TRUMP: I don't know what the fuss is all about.

COLLINS: -- and refusing to label Putin a liar.

TRUMP: I don't want to get into whether or not he is lying. I can only say I do have confidence in our intelligence agencies as currently --

COLLINS: But once again blaming the press, writing on Twitter: The fake news media wants so badly to see a major confrontation with Russia. They hate the fact that I will probably have a good relationship with Putin.

It is a statement strikingly similar to what Vladimir Putin himself said today.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We see that there are forces in the United States that are prepared to casually sacrifice Russia/U.S. relations, to sacrifice them for their ambitions in the course of an internal political battle.

COLLINS: "TIME" magazine releasing its new cover today, morphing the faces of the two leaders.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, if Vladimir Putin does come to Washington this fall as Sarah Sanders said he's been invited to do so, you can't ignore that that would come just right around the time of the midterms which Mike Pompeo was still at the CIA, he is now secretary of state, he said there was no doubt in his mind that Russia would once again try to interfere with the election. It would be stunning timing, Jake.

TAPPER: Maybe he can come and see what his guys are doing and what they are accomplishing by interfering in the election for the midterms.

Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

Joining me now is the former director of national intelligence, retired Air Force General James Clapper.

General, the White House says that President Putin might visit Washington to meet with President Trump in the fall.

[16:35:01] What's your take on that idea?

GEN. JAMES CLAPPER (RET.), FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE (via telephone): Well, I guess I kind of have the same nonplussed reaction as Dan Coats did. I'm not quite sure what to make of it. You know, I mean, there should be dialogue between the two countries. I guess the issue is the content of that dialogue. You know, we are still trying to get our heads around the first encounter.

TAPPER: Speaking of the need for dialogue, there doesn't appear to have been any between the White House and the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats when it comes to inviting Vladimir Putin to the White House. I covered your White House. I covered the Obama White House. And I would be stunned to find out something like that would have happened without you at least being informed of it if not consulted.

CLAPPER: Yes. This is clearly unconventional, unorthodox White House. There's no question about that.

TAPPER: Obviously, no one knows what was said in that private meeting except the respected translators. The Director of National Intelligence Coats said moments ago that a private meeting is not the way he would have done it and he suggested that it is possible Putin recorded it.

What do you think? Do you think that Putin, the Russians, the Finns, anyone might have recorded that conversation?

CLAPPER: Absolutely. I'm quite sure that, you know, the Finns did it. I would be amazed if their intelligence service didn't do that. And I'm quite that the Russians, on their part, have a very accurate accounting by some means or other of exactly what transpired in that private meeting.

TAPPER: Your successor DNI Coats said he would tell intelligence officials to put their heads down and do their jobs. How difficult is it for intelligence officials to do their jobs when they hear these types of comments from President Trump doubting their work openly?

CLAPPER: Well, it's not helpful, obviously. But I don't think we overblow the impact on moral and that sort of thing. I think most people in the intelligence community, the rank and file and the great men and women in the intelligence community are going to put their heads down, just as Dan Coats said, and do their jobs. And it's up to him.

That's why the position he is in is so important as well as others like Chris Wray, director of FBI, to provide as much as they can to the extent that they can so that the crucial work in the intelligence community can go on.

TAPPER: There is a "New York Times" story out saying that President Trump when he was President-elect Trump I believe had been briefed by you and others about the direct involvement in the election and cyber attacks and interference campaign by Vladimir Putin.

You are quoted in that story. What do you want to say about that? What can you tell us?

CLAPPER: Well, the fact that we briefed him, then President-elect Trump on January 6th, 2017 about Russian interference and it was directed from the top, meaning Putin himself, is not a startling new revelation. This is the first key judgment and the unclassified intelligence community assessment that we issued that very same day.

I want to make clear and I appreciate the opportunity to bring this up, that some of the things in that "New York Times" article are not accurate and I don't want to be associated with confirming or denying anything that is in it. But I'll just say for right now that it's not completely accurate.

TAPPER: You are not going to go into detail? There was one juicy tidbit about a source close to Putin being one of the intelligence sources in the "New York Times" story.

CLAPPER: I'm not -- I'm not going to go there. I can't affirm or deny any of that. What I have said, though, is if you want to have some sense of the fidelity and the reason why we have such high confidence in our findings is read the indictment that special counsel Mueller on the Internet Research Agency and the more recent one on the 12 GRU officers to get some insight into why we have such high confidence.

But I'm not confirming or denying any details in that "New York Times" article because some of it was inaccurate.

TAPPER: General Clapper, thanks for your time. We appreciate it.

CLAPPER: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: He has his own flag, his own seal. Now, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke might have his own scandal. Thanks to what CNN's investigative team just found out. You'll see it first on THE LEAD.

Stay with us.


[16:44:05] TAPPER: It was the environmentally unfriendly straw that broke the camel's back for Scott Pruitt. Right before he was canned, CNN and others reported that Pruitt had staffers alter and scrub his schedules, a possible violation of laws against hiding or falsifying public records.

Now, this smoke and mirrors approach to transparency may still be alive and well in the Trump administration however. As CNN's Sara Ganim reports, the latest offender is Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.


SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wants you to know what he's doing, he knows how to get your attention, riding a horse to work, raising a flag to show he is in the office.

But the interior secretary notorious for public stunts has also been keeping his schedule discrete. A CNN analysis has found about a dozen instances where Zinke's calendar omits or obscures important details about who he the cabinet secretary is meeting with and why, leaving the public in the dark about meetings with lobbyists, lawmakers and groups with business before his department.

CNN even found vague terms like personal or hold used regularly and in one instance describing a meeting with a federal contractor.

NORM EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's critically important for cabinet secretaries to keep accurate calendars. He works for us the American people.

GANIM: CNN compared e-mail conversations between Zinke and his schedule are made public through Freedom of Information requests to the actual calendar to the interior department keeps. We found troubling instances. In one case, a seemingly standard entry in May of 2017 meeting with Rep. Collins was revealed to include three executives from Delaware North. A contractor that does a lot of business with Zinke's national parks. That same month Zinke's itinerary for a trip to Alaska notes a meeting with Mayor Harry Brower, North Slope Borough. But a briefing packet we found notes that two lobbyists were present from a firm that represents the borough in a lawsuit against the department.

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA (D), ARIZONA: This is not an accident.

GANIM: Democrat Raul Grijalva's committee oversee the interior department and he wants an investigation.

GRIJALVA: The kind of entitlement sensed that they brought into their position -- I'm not going to worry about these little ethics issues. That doesn't apply to me. To hell with them. They shouldn't get the calendar and I can meet whoever I want and nobody needs to know about it.

EISEN: Particularly given Secretary Zinke's checkered history on ethics, the many allegations that have surfaced about him, it raises the question is there something to hide that is forbidden that he's engaging in under our federal ethics laws.

GANIM: Now just moments ago, Jake, interior got back to us with this statement. They say the immediate office of the Secretary complies with all applicable laws rules and regulations. We always strive towards transparency which is why we include additional information in briefings that are made available to the public. Additionally, it's very common for schedule items to be canceled the day of which is why something could be referred to in an e-mail or briefing and not be on the calendar released. And Jake, Ryan Zinke is facing investigations too with about a dozen federal probes now piling up looking into his actions.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Ganim, thanks so much. My gang is here with me. I want to talk about a different cabinet secretary today because the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is also at that Aspen Security Summit. She was asked about the conclusion by the Intelligence Community that the Russians not only interfered in the election in 2016 but they did so trying to help President Trump. Take a listen.


KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, UNITED STATES HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I haven't seen any evidence that the attempts to interfere in our election infrastructure was to favor a particular political party. I think what we've seen on the foreign influence side is they were attempting to intervene and cause chaos on both sides. It was in an effort to attack certain political parties that we know about right, more than others.


TAPPER: But just to be clear, the U.S. Intelligence Community found "Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-Elect Trump and of course just three days ago we heard Vladimir Putin say that he wanted Trump to win. We should point out that later on at the summit secretary Nielsen said she agreed with the U.S. intelligence assessment full stop but it's also clear that there's a lot of question this administration about what to say because a lot of people frankly don't want to run afoul of the boss.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's the whole thing. I mean, that is -- this is the second time this has happened with her. A couple of months ago, Manu Raju, our reporter asked her the same thing and she was equivocating as well in terms of what -- you know, what was Russia actually trying to do? Was it to just sow discord or did they have a particular candidate. And as you said, the intelligence -- I'm very clear on this so this you know, whole idea of just being wishy-washy and not being firm it's because it comes from the top. This is what Trump does.

MICHAEL ALLEN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL UNDER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: He's not a Russia denier. I think she was trying to make a distinction between influence and infrastructure that may have been lost on the crowd and she came back later and cleaned it up and said she believes in the ICE assessment full-stop as you said so --

TAPPER: Well, she doesn't deny that the Russians interfere but she has equivocated a couple times of whether they were trying to help Trump as opposed to just foment dispute.

ALLEN: Yes. I think she was trying to say in the influence like the way they did things on Facebook, they were perhaps doing that but as far as her mandate was concerned, election machines and the rest -- look, I wouldn't have tried to make that distinction. It's confusing. It's hard for me to explain it. I think that's why she cleaned it up later. I don't think that she is in the camp of people that believe Russia wasn't involved.

JOSH HOLMES, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF FOR MITCH MCCONNELL: I totally agree with that. And I think she clearly said there's infrastructure and you're right. I mean it's a nuance. It probably is lost on the crowd that she was making it to but she did -- I mean, where we accused the president of not having precision with words we should probably apply the same standard to ourselves looking at what she said. What she said was the infrastructure didn't -- any kind of attempt to compromise the infrastructure didn't appear to have a candidate preference.

[16:50:09] TAPPER: But she did also talk about the information campaign as you pointed out in which there were people trying to film at this court both pro and anti-Trump Hillary Black Lives Matter etcetera but we do see this situation going on where people in the Trump administration don't want to run afoul of the boss and they're not as strong as Director of National Intelligence codes.

ANGELA RYE, FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS: Here's my issue. I have a sneaking suspicion that there's going to be a statement she makes tomorrow where she says, I said -- I said "haven't seen," I meant to say "have." I have seen and I just -- the frustration is if you haven't seen it, if that is in fact what she meant to see say that means she's not reading, like she's not reading anything. And for me that's a very dangerous spot to hold as a former Committee on Homeland Security staffer, right, to read the Secretary on National Security not reading, like I need you to read.

TAPPER: I want -- I want to take one second just to note that the President also tweeted today, "the summit with Russia was a great success except with the real enemy of the people, the fake news media. I just want to know, President Trump did not say that Vladimir Putin was the enemy of the American people. He did not say that the 12 Russian military intelligence officers who were indicted by his own Justice Department and a grand jury were the enemy of the American people but I'm the enemy of the American people. Everybody around this table is an enemy of the American people.

HENDERSON: Yes, and he never will say that. I mean he clearly has an affinity for Vladimir Putin. Nobody really knows why is it the issue that you raised.

TAPPER: Angela mentioned those, yes.

HENDERSON: Or is it he seems to have an affinity for an autocratic dictator --

TAPPER: He does like --

HENDERSON: So it looks like we're going to have Putin over here in the fall or so how that goes. We don't know what the agenda is right? I mean, we don't know what's the kind of point --

TAPPER: We still don't know what the agenda was on Monday. All right, thanks everyone. We're learning that the woman killed by the poisoning in the U.K. actually applied it to her skin thinking was perfume and now police are also revealing a key break in the case. Stay with us.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: We're back with our "WORLD LEAD." The current headlines about Russian cyber-attacks and election interference in the U.S. are just one battlefront. In the aggressive way Russia has been targeting the West. Another example came this week the -- with the arrest of the accused Russian spy Maria Butina who prosecutor say infiltrate the Republican political world. And we learn more information today about the poisoning earlier this year of a former Russian double agent and his daughter in the U.K. Scotland Yard telling reporters today about a new trail of footprints leading right back to Moscow CNN's Nic Robertson filed this report.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: A break in the mysterious poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter. After months and months of waiting high-tech answers to the lingering question who did it. The police ground zero in the Skripal's poisoning their house for months on it remains a cordoned-off crime scene under active investigation and a potential danger to the public.

The new breakthrough may help speed investigations using facial recognition technology and intercepted coded Russian messages to Moscow. Police have determined that the pair left soon after the attack and that neither of them were known to British intelligence authorities clean skins.

Just days after the poisoning police at Heathrow briefly impounded a Russian (INAUDIBLE) flight to Moscow. But a big breakthrough in the case has been elusive. Two weeks ago two more people became contaminated by the Soviet era nerve agent Novichok believed to have been discarded following the attack on the Skripals. One of the victims Dawn Sturgess dying a few days later turning the poisoning investigation into a murder investigation adding urgency to police efforts.

KIER PRITCHARD, WILTSHIRE POLICE: As you're aware last night the Counterterrorism Policing Network confirmed that they will be taking primacy for this investigation.

ROBERTSON: In Salisbury, several locations remain cordoned off like this restaurant where the Skripals ate shortly before collapsing. Police say they scrutinize several thousand hours of security video and recovered hundreds of objects but what's really slowing them up, they say, is the dangerous and complex nature of this investigation.

Despite the new revelations, Russia continues to deny British government accusations they are responsible for the death and the poisonings.

ALEXANDER YAKOVENKO, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.K.: These are the reports of the media. Unfortunately, we don't have an official statement that we can share. I want to hear that from being a Scotland Yard or from the Foreign Office.


ROBERTSON: So the Skripals are now out of hospital, in protective custody. The other person who was contaminated a couple of weeks ago is doing slightly better. But sources have told CNN new details late this evening about how the woman came in contact with it. She discovered a perfume bottle and dab some of it on her skin. That's how she was the only one so far to get a deadly, deadly amount of this in her body, Jake?

TAPPER: Yet another crime that the Russians are accused of perpetrating against the West. Nic Robertson, thank you so much for that report. You can follow me on Fa4cebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our cover continues -- our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, second summit. President Trump says the summit with Vladimir Putin was such a great success that he wants another one.