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Russian Targeting Elections; Trump Answers No to Russian Targeting Elections; Trump Considering Russian Proposal; Putin Says Useful Agreements Were Made. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 19, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:10] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

The president says his summit with Vladimir Putin was a huge success. Russia says important agreements were made. One giant problem, no one at the State Department or the Pentagon can explain what the Kremlin is talking about.

Plus, 18 months on the job and the president finally says he holds Putin responsible for the 2016 election attacks. But he won't call Putin a liar and there's new bipartisan outrage as the president entertains, get this, a Kremlin request to interview Americans who are Putin critics.

And Democrats say it's not just the president turning a blind eye to Russian meddling. A House spending bill vote later today does not extend funding to help states with election security.


REP. STENY HOYER (D), MINORITY WHIP: We have sworn an oath to defend our Constitution and our liberty --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman's time has expired.

HOYER: Against all enemies foreign and domestic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman's time has expired.

HOYER: You have the opportunity to do that today.

CROWD (chanting): USA. USA. USA. USA. USA.


KING: The Russia debate across the Capitol.

But we begin today with the president, who now says he wants another, a second meeting, a second summit with Vladimir Putin. The president's morning tweets mention implementing agreements reached in Helsinki with the Russian president and a second meeting TBD.

So what are those agreements? The Pentagon says it's awaiting guidance from the White House. State Department offers no specifics. The Russians say arms control and Syria are among the areas where the two presidents had some common ground. But, again, nothing direct from the administration. All we have is the president's vague tweets.

If you're confused about Russia policy, you have plenty of company. Even in the Trump cabinet. This just minutes ago from the Homeland Security secretary. She's in Aspen.


KIRSTJEN NIELSON, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I don't think there's any question in the intel community or at DHS that Russians attempted to infiltrate and interfere with your electoral system. They don't think there's any doubt that they did it. And I think we should all be prepared, given that capability and will, that they'll do it again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Russia still targeting the United States?

NIELSON: I think we would be foolish to think they're not. They have capability. They have the will. We've got to be prepared.


KING: So, if you listen there, Secretary Nielsen says the threat is very real and very current. So does the FBI director.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: Well, I can tell you what my view is. The intelligence community's assessment has not changed. My view has not changed, which is that Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and that it continues to engage in maligned influence operations to this day.


KING: To this day. Their boss, though, even in the middle of his Helsinki clean up mission, uses words like "if" and "maybe," even though his director of national intelligence has told him there is zero doubt.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Putin lying to you?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want to get into whether or not he's lying. I can only say that I do have confidence in our intelligence agencies as currently constituted. I think that Dan Coats is excellent. I think that Gina is excellent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coats says the threat is ongoing. Do you agree with that? TRUMP: We'll, I'd accept it. 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. And if he says that, I would accept that. I will tell you, though, it better not be.


KING: If he says that, I would accept that. He has said that.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is live at the White House.

Kaitlan, you forgive me for raising the question, but you have sort of a who's on first, who's in charge question when you listen to the very different tone, very different specificity, very different directness. The president says if Dan Coats tells me that, the FBI director Dan Coats, the secretary of homeland security says, yes, it's happening, it's real, it's now, we need to do something about it.

COLLINS: John, a very different tone indeed. We are seeing as the days go by this disconnect getting larger and larger between the president and his own administration. You heard from the president's hand-picked FBI director, Chris Wray, they are saying, well, the president has his view and he's expressed his view, but in my mind there is no doubt that Russia meddled in the election.

Then you hear from the DHS chief saying that she also believes Russia meddled in the election. She wouldn't agree with the intelligence community's assessment that they did interfered in the election to help President Trump and to hurt Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, of course, but she did say that, yes, Russia is going to continue to target the U.S. There is no doubt in her mind that they are going to continue to do that.

Now, the president would not say that yesterday when he was asked during that meeting in the cabinet room, do you believe that Russia is still targeting the United States? He said no twice to that reporter's question, John, but then the White House came out two hours later and said, no, he was saying no to no more questions, even though he continued to answer more questions during that session there in the cabinet room.

[12:05:04] But what's clear here, John, is the president's officials, who he has picked to work in this administration, are unwavering in their belief that, yes, Russia did meddle in the election. The president is now saying that, yes, he accepts the intelligence community's assessment that they meddled in the election. But his statements on it have been inconsistent at best. And though he is now talking tough on Vladimir Putin in that CBS interview, he declined to do as much when he was standing right next to him there in Helsinki on the world stage for everyone to see.

John, in the president's mind, he doesn't see what all the fuss is about.

KING: Kaitlan Collins live at the White House, appreciate the reporting as we try -- try to clear up the difference in tone anyway if not in substance.

With me in studio here to share their reporting and their insights today, Rachael Bade with "Politico," CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Perry Bacon with FiveThirtyEight, and Jackie Kucinich with "The Daily Beast."

Kaitlan mentioned a couple of key moments. Let's go back to the one yesterday inside the cabinet room when the president was asked this question. First, let's just play it -- and we watch these events all the time. The president is asked the question, is Russia still targeting the United States?


QUESTION: Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Press, let's go. Make your way out.

QUESTION: No, you don't believe that to be the case?


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


KING: Now, the White House says he was saying no more questions. He twice said no. And then after that he went on to answer another question. He didn't stop talking there. So if he was done talking, he could have stopped talking.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No doubt about it. And the White House said he was saying no to more questions about three hours later after an alert went out on every major newspaper. We, of course, were broadcasting it. Every other network was broadcasting it. The White House came up with the answer of, no, he was not doing it during the briefing.

So, if this was the first time, you may give the president the benefit of the doubt. But I've been in those rooms many times and he locked eyes with Cecelia Vega, the pool reporter of ABC News, and said, no. And said, no. So that, to me, I've seen -- I mean I've had him do that to me several times. He was answering her question.

It was sort of confused because there were aides shouting in there, as they often do, because they want to get the reporters out. They don't want the president to step in it or answer any questions at all.

But it was, you know, you could see Sarah Sanders when she was trying to clean this up, it was a tortured explanation. It just was.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DAILY BEAST": Yes, our reporter was the print pooler in the room --

ZELENY: Right. KUCINICH: "The Daily Beast" was. And he saw the exchange. And, yes, he said there was crosstalk, but it was very clear the president was answering Cecilia Vegas' question. So there wasn't -- I mean for people in the room, reporters in the room, there wasn't a question.

And it's almost -- you could see it took them, what, 36 hours to clean up contraction-gate and then now this. And both of those explanations really don't make a whole lot of sense really.

KING: But you have a White House staff and a White House cabinet, a presidential cabinet, constantly cleaning up what the president of the United States says, or just flat out disagreeing with what the president of the United States says and say, look, we're going to have this Russia policy despite what the president says. So let's continue this with the CBS interview in which the president, for the first time in 18 months, he's been on the job for 18 months, here it is, for the first time, yes, Russia meddled and, yes, I hold Russia's president responsible.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You say you agree with U.S. intelligence that Russia meddled in the election in 2016.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, and I've said that before, Jeff. I have said that numerous times before. And I would say that that is true, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.

I let him know we can have this. We're not going to have it. And that's the way it's going to be.


KING: He hasn't said it numerous times before. He has said on a time -- maybe Russia, maybe it was China, maybe it was somebody else, maybe it was all of the above. Why wouldn't he have said that? The issue is, thank you, after 18 months of saying what everybody who's looked at the intelligence says is clear without a doubt, not only about Russia but also about Putin, the direct tick back up through the Russian regime. But if you look at the president's statements for 18 months and the president's statements standing as far away as I am from you with Vladimir Putin, he wouldn't say it then when it mattered.

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": And this is why even Republicans on The Hill just don't believe him. There's a feeling just from talking to, you know, Republicans in the Senate and the House that this was a cleanup effort and he's trying to walk it back, but they don't believe it. They think it was sort of halfhearted and they're just sort of waiting for him to walk back the walk back, which we've already seen him sort of do. That's why a lot of Republicans are sort of seeing themselves as in a different lane from the White House right now when it comes to Russia. They sort of believe that they are going to have to do something to sends a signal to Moscow and to Putin that they better not meddle in the 2018 election, even though a lot of them think they're -- that Russia is certainly going to try to do this. And that's why we might, perhaps, see Congress pass some sort of preemptive sanctions that, you know, if they do meddle, Congress is going to act, even if the president doesn't.

[12:10:11] KING: What does it tell us about the president, though, Perry? Again, we were watching for 18 months. I want you to listen to a little bit of James Clapper here, the first -- the director of national intelligence from the Obama administration, was there during the transition, confirming a very detailed "New York Times" story today that yes not only was the president briefed, but he was shown the physical evidence, texts, emails, other intercepted communications, other spy context from good source that this went up through the Russia military, all the way up to the Kremlin, all the way up to Vladimir Putin, that they interfered, they attacked. I keep using the word meddling. They attacked American democracy. And James Clapper says even then, when shown all the evidence, the president didn't want to believe it.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: But I do think there was skepticism from the get go, from that day to this day, that indicated that anything that attacked the legitimacy or questioned the legitimacy of now President Trump's election, he just couldn't get his head around. He exhibited that that day and has ever since.


PERRY BACON, SENIOR WRITER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: It took us 18 months for him to say Putin was involved. Even there it was like, Putin was involved because he is in -- he's the leader of Russia in a same way that I'm the leader of America. It's not really any kind of claim of real responsibly by Putin. The intelligence is much different and much more specific. It's my understanding that it -- actually Putin was highly involved, he knew about it, he condoned it, he promoted it. So even there Trump is really not, you know, not making the argument the rest of us see.

And at this point the question is not just what is our Russia policy compared to Republicans on The Hill, it's like, what is the U.S. government's Russia policy, the Christopher Wray and Dan Coats' or the Donald Trump's, because I don't know which one it is because those are different policies.

KING: Right, and we've gotten used to it. But can you imagine if every day you had to stand up and say, I know my boss said this, but I'm going to do that. And he's the president of the United States. (INAUDIBLE) the guy running an ice cream stand, we're going to sell vanilla and chocolate, you know, and we're going to add strawberry. This is the -- he's the president of the United States and he has his own national security team saying, yes, that's his opinion, but we do this. It is striking. And every time they try to clean up a mess, it seems they create a new one.

This is Sarah Sanders in the briefing room yesterday. The president called this an interesting or some -- he used a positive term -- idea from Vladimir Putin. Maybe he'll give us access to people Robert Mueller wants to interview if we give the Kremlin access to interview Americans, including a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow who are known Putin critics. It's beyond the pale. It is reprehensible. The State Department was quick to laugh it off. Sarah Sanders says, we're thinking about it.


QUESTION: Does President Trump support that idea? Is he opened to having U.S. citizens (ph) questioned by Russia?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is going to meet with his team and we'll let you know when we have an announcement on that.


SANDERS: There was some conversation about it, but there wasn't a commitment made on behalf of the United States. And the president will work with his team and we'll let you know if there's an announcement on that front.


KING: On this bipartisan outrage on Capitol Hill to this idea today. The State Department literally laughed it off. Said --

ZELENY: Called it absurd.

KING: Absurd.

ZELENY: At a briefing just, you know, a few moments before the White House briefing called it absurd.

KUCINICH: It was almost a split screen.

ZELENY: Yes. So I'm not sure in that moment that Sarah Sanders actually knew what Maggie Haberman's question was and the (INAUDIBLE) to that. So we asked her later after the briefing, you know, is that what you meant to say and did not hear back? So her answer stands. Her answer currently stands.

KING: That's because she's been put out there before on that limb and the president has sawed it off.

ZELENY: So the question here is, I mean, there is just a sense now in the White House that they don't have a full grasp of, a, the historical context of things, but, b, the larger meaning of things. I mean these are all important things. And the president, in his CBS interview, one more thing, he said I

would accept that. He has yet to say as president of the United States, yes, Russia is still meddling in the election and, you know, making a declarative point of that. It's always a passive point. It's one thing he's been unable to get around. He thinks if he says this, it delegitimizes his election.


KING: Right.

ZELENY: And he's never been able to accept victory and move on and be strong on Russia. You talk to his friends and supporters, they say that's what his sort of mind hurdle is on all of this.

KING: Well, OK.

BACON: That's the polite version of that. The other version we should talk about, yes.

KING: Yes, right, that is the polite version of that and we will come back to the rest of it.

As we go to break, though here, a self-deprecating and consider the moment moment from one of the president's own appointees, the FBI director here, about how he gets through the day.

[12:14:26] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: It's pretty common for me to meet somebody and have them introduce themselves and then say, I just want you to know we're all praying for you. Well, I always say, thank you. And then my third reaction is, I haven't seen TV in the last two hours, is this all the other stuff or did something new happen?



KING: Welcome back.

Fascinating week for the Trump administration. You might call it playing constant catchup and cleanup for a president who can't seem to stay on the same page, sometimes even as himself. Let's just review a week here in presidential, call them clarifications.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said, they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be.

I said the word "would" instead of "wouldn't." The sentence should have been, I don't see any reason why it wouldn't or why it wouldn't be Russia. I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's

meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You say you agree with U.S. intelligence that Russia meddled in the election in 2016.

[12:20:02] TRUMP: Yes. 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But 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 intelligence agencies as currently constituted.


KING: He adds as currently constituted at the end of that presidential pendulum, call it what you will, is, I trust Dan Coats. But he didn't trust Dan Coats when he was standing next to Vladimir Putin.

Mike Pompeo used to be at the CIA. Now he's at State. Christopher Wray is the Trump appointee to replace James Comey at the FBI.

Yes, the president can, if you want, and if you're a Trump voter, I maybe understand this, you know, question Jim Clapper and John Brennan. They're the Obama guys. You call them up. But, again, we are hitting the 18 month mark of the Trump presidency. His team has been in place for 14, 15, in some cases 16 of those months and --

KUCINICH: Since at least Monday.

KING: They were -- they were there Monday. That's a good point. They were there -- and, again, he's said this yesterday he was as tough as he has been on Putin in the CBS interview. But this has been his team forever. And we can go back and look at his tweets and his speeches and he has been soft in everything else.

ZELENY: He has. And I think that the reality here is that he walked into the meeting unprepared. No question.

But there now is a big debate inside the West Wing with John Bolton. He's a new figure -- relatively new figure in all of this. He's a hardliner on Russia in every respect. So he and others tried to brief the president and tried to get him sort of in the right direction. It's clear the president does not want to go in that direction.

But this constant cleanup, it's just -- you know, we should keep in mind that the majority of Republicans, the early polls say that they support and believe the president on that. So we don't know the electoral consequences of this. But we do know that this is having global consequences.

I was with him in Helsinki on the trip. We're not even talking about the march up to that, what happened with Angela Merkel, what happened with Theresa May. We've seen a major, major shift in U.S. policy, the America first policy, et cetera, and this is just the cherry on top of all of that.

So in context to that, never mind U.S. politics, think about it in global politics and U.S. and the U.S.' standing in the world. So much has happened in the last ten days. It's -- it's -- it's remarkable. And where do we stand? Our allies do not know.

KING: The allies don't believe him and they don't trust him. You share that a lot of even Republicans on Capitol Hill aren't sure what to make of him. As you come into the conversation, here's the interesting part of this too. Again, there's these -- I covered the White House for 10 years. There's a way these things normally play out. Now, sometimes both sides, the two sides may have somewhat different opinions on what happened in the room, but both sides give their details of what they say happened in the room.

Does the president's own team knows what happened when he was in the room one-on-one with Vladimir Putin? It's interesting because Putin says -- listen to President Putin. Putin says, we made progress. We made deals.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I think that we've begun moving towards positive changes. It is important that a full fledge meeting follows and (ph) talk directly and it was successful overall and led to the useful agreement.


KING: The Russians say it's nuclear arms control. The Russians say it's Syria. The United States government says, we'll get back to you, we don't know.

BACON: This is a core and incredibly important question. The president is not a king. We have a cabinet that advices him on foreign policy. We have a Congress that gets to weigh in. We usually don't have two hour meetings with agreements that none of us know anything about.

The idea of the interpreter testifying is odd. And I'm not sure I agree with that. But the idea that we have no idea what he agreed to and we're hearing about it from the Russian president is alarming and we need to have some sense of like, he's sort of reading out things that I don't believe he confronted Putin the way he said in that interview. So I actually would just like to know want was actually discussed in that meeting. It matters to Americans and it matters for our policy.

KING: And it --

KUCINICH: And there's been -- and this isn't the first time he's done this. Let's not forget, for months we were relying on foreign government readouts of --

KING: Calls. KUCINICH: Conversations between the president and foreign leaders because either they were calling the president's cell phone, or their wasn't -- or the White House wasn't putting them out. So, we've -- so putting, you know, the country at the mercy of foreign reports, that in and of itself -- the whole debate over the translator, this is another White House manufactured problem. If John Bolton had been in that room, if Secretary Pompeo had been in that room we wouldn't be having this same conversation. Secretary Pompeo is going to be on The Hill. He's going to have to testify, I believe it's next week. Good luck, sir, it's going to be a heck of a hearing.

KING: Right. Right. As -- just as we go to break, I'll read this from Senator Susan Collins of Maine to "Bloomberg." Oh, you mean there's a walk back of the walk back of the walk back of the walk back? This is dizzying.

There's no -- nothing you can disagree with there.

[12:24:57] When we come back, one Republican senator who has been foe of Trump, friend of Trump, ask him today, he's not so sure.


[12:29:45] KING: If this were a game show, the question might be this, will the real Lindsey Graham please stand up? The South Carolina senator, a textbook case of a tortured Republican trying to navigate the Trump takeover of the GOP. You don't have to go back too far to find Graham calling candidates Trump a clown, not a real Republican, nowhere ready to be president. Even after Trump won, Graham was an early critic, or at least a voice of caution, raising questions about Trump foreign policy and insisting the president back off