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INSIDE POLITICS

Alleged Russian Agent Appears in Federal Court; Congress Pushes For Stronger Response to Russian Interference; Trump's Attack on Media Draws Comparisons to Orwell's "1984"; Report: Putin's Soccer Ball Gift Had Transmitter Chip Inside. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 25, 2018 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:31:32] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. A court hearing today for the alleged Russian agent accused of using sex and her love of guns to gain access to conservative political groups. Maria Butina was arrested last week on charges of conspiracy and acting as an unregistered foreign agent. She's being held without bond because prosecutors say she's a flight risk.

CNN's Sara Murray is outside the courthouse. Sara, what happened at the status hearing today?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the battle today, John, was about how the government is going to share the evidence it's turned up with Butina's lawyer. Butina's lawyer has said that he wants to see, in particular, how the government can explain their claim that his client offered to trade sex in order for a job in a special interest organization. He said he and his client have no knowledge of where that would have come from and they want to see the evidence for that on an expedited basis.

The government did not -- or the judge did not seem particularly sympathetic to that argument today. But the government's part, they say they already have four to six terabytes of information which they say is about 1.5 million documents that are pretty much ready to share with Butina's lawyer but they want him to agree to receive those documents under a protective order. They took aim at a number of appearances he's made in the media today saying that they're concerned that without a protective order they're going to turn this evidence over and that he's just going to go and use it on television.

The judge essentially told the sides to put their arguments in writing. We should see that in the next couple of weeks. Both sides are due back in court in September. John?

KING: In September. Sara Murray for us outside the courthouse. Appreciate the update there.

Back into the studio now. And in this case which back in court in September means this is going to take a while especially when you hear about discovery. But this case has become part of the argument in Washington on a bipartisan basis but including significant Republican critics of the president saying we need to do more. That Russia is still meddling. This is proof of one of the ways they allegedly -- innocent until proven guilty -- allegedly meddled. We seen the stuff in 2018 and so there is this push on Capitol Hill even though the president says all is fine to impose new sanctions.

Phil, you write about this on cnn.com. Karoun, you write about this as well. Congress to ease Russia's sanctions amid -- clamor is the headline. "In negotiations on the defense authorization bill, House and Senate lawmakers agree to give the president power to waive sanctions without first checking with Congress against certain entities that still do business with Russia."

So, is this another example where they're talking tough but then actually bowing to administration pressure to soften it?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: There's multiple things going on here. There's a huge push especially since the Helsinki summit which almost everybody agrees was an embarrassment, did not go well. To actually take steps against Russia, to step up sanctions at least against the people that were indicted in Mueller's last indictment. And to make sure that the sanctions that are already on the books are imposed.

There's been a tension point between the defense secretary James Mattis and Congress about this for months because he's basically saying, look, if we want to be able to pull countries out of Russia's orbit, we have to be able to do business with them on the defense side. And that means, if they got connections to the Russian defense apparatus, we can't penalize them for that because -- and we'll never get them to cross over into our side of the swimming pool.

But timing wise, this looks really, really bad optically because everybody is saying get tough on Russia right now. Do more to actually punish them and to ostracize them from the global community. And yet the same time, they're saying we need this to step in order to actually be able to exert more influence around the world.

So it's a bad look in a way even though it seems like it's a thing that Republicans at least are arguing is necessary. And it doesn't go any place towards solving the other problem which is that people want to take action and yet the people who are in control of these committees and in control of the floor don't want to do anything hastily, don't want to do anything fast. One, because they don't want to repeat mistakes like they did before. And two, just because there's not really consensus.

[12:35:04] You know, there's bipartisan pairs of people all over Congress right now that want to do something. There's no consensus about specifically what the right move is.

KING: Well, you could help answer these questions if you knew more about what the president told Vladimir Putin in private. The secretary of state will be up on Capitol Hill today. He has said they have agreements but he's been very vague. He said he's talked to the president about it.

This is Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee saying they need a little bit more clarity and specifics from Secretary Pompeo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D), RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I'm concerned that a two-hour-plus meeting with Vladimir Putin one on one with an interpreter, what did the president agree to, if anything? They're going to ask him, how do you know? When you answer a question to me, did the president agree to ease up on sanctions with Russia and whatever your answer is, if your answer is no, fine. How do you know that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: How forthcoming should we expect Secretary Pompeo to be in just a little more than an hour or so on Capitol Hill?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, it's going to be tough. I mean, he talked about it yesterday. He said, oh, one thing they discussed was business councils. For two hours?

In the presser, Donald Trump actually talked about setting up these business councils. So it's unclear how much he knows, it's unclear how much Donald Trump actually briefed folks. It's unclear how transparent the president was in talking to folks around him. So we'll see but it should be a really fascinating hearing to -- and see what Pompeo says.

KING: And maybe the Kremlin will give us a fact check of Pompeo's testimony. That's the way it --

HENDERSON: Maybe a tape exists.

KING: That's the way things have gone in recent days where they give you more information than your own White House.

Up next, the president's preferred pick wins a big southern primary and now faces a Democrat trying to make history.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:41:16] KING: Topping our political radar today, it's no secret President Trump is not a fan of this news network. Apparently his wife will tune in to our channel, at least when she's traveling. The New York Times says Melania Trump infuriated her husband during their recent overseas trip when she noticed her T.V. on Air Force One was tuned to CNN. As to whether the first lady is bothered by the president's reaction, her spokesman tells us Mrs. Trump will watch, quote, any channel she wants.

Los Angeles Police are questioning a suspect who may have done this to President Trump's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Officers say someone took a pick ax to it overnight and a man turned himself in to Beverly Hills police this morning. The president's star was also vandalized back in 2016.

Another big victory for candidate backed by President Trump, Brian Kemp. The secretary of state winning the Republican primary run-off in the Georgia governor's race last night. He now faces Democrat Stacey Abrams who is trying to become the first African-American female elected to any state's top office. It's already the most expensive Georgia governor's office race in history. And after thanking the president, Kemp alluded to all that outside money pouring in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN KEMP (R), GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Do you want a governor that's going to answer to Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton?

CROWD: No!

KEMP: Do you want a governor who thinks that government is the answer to every challenge that we face?

CROWD: No!

KEMP: Of course you don't. I figured that out. Of course not. This is the state of Georgia. We are a red state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Coming up for us, echoes of Orwell? The president draws a comparison to a dystopian novel from decade past after telling a crowd don't believe what you see.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[12:47:21] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And just remember what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening. Just stick with us. Don't believe the crap you see from these people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was right there, the president of the United States standing before a crowd of war veterans in Kansas City yesterday warning, don't believe what you see or read. Just stick with us. The comment struck many observers as being pretty similar to George Orwell's "1984," that famed dystopian novel about an all-controlling government that destroys facts and manipulates its public. We report, you decide.

Consider what you just heard from the president. Compare it to this line from the book published seven decades ago. Quote, the party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. Maybe the president is a George Orwell fan?

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: He's a big reader, so probably (INAUDIBLE). No, I mean, obviously, it shouldn't take a panel to discuss the fact that that's just a completely inappropriate statement from a sitting U.S. president. But what I thought was interesting was that yesterday after his remarks and after some of the boos from within that crowd at the VFW hall, the VFW itself did put out a statement basically saying we were sorry to see that. We invited journalists and we appreciate their role in society.

And it's important we've seen colleagues like Martha Raddatz and others remind all of us that many journalists are themselves veterans and/or have gone embedded to help cover wars in American military engagements. And that it is always been the U.S. -- part of the U.S. embrace of free speech to have journalists robustly cover what happened overseas so that people in those countries also can have a sense of what their own governments are doing.

KING: Look, he attacks the press all the time. He attacks institutions all the time, he attacks his political opponents all the time. So maybe this is just to amping it up.

But what is it that people -- common sense. You at home. Common sense, whether you vote Democrat or Republican, whether you're independent. Remember, you also have one of these, if you're not sure if it's him or us that you should believe, check your facts yourself.

What is it he doesn't want us to believe? The protest from farmers about his trade policy? The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee saying all this condemnation of the FISA warrant is B.S. that they had every reason to hold Carter Page under surveillance?

What is it that he doesn't -- that the Helsinki summit was a disaster? What is it that -- what obvious things does the president wanting us to ignore?

(CROSSTALK)

DEMIRJIAN: I mean, the president is constantly in conflict with the news media over reporting that's done and conflict to his critics and wants to be able to control the narrative. And that he does that via Twitter. But it's something new every day.

I mean, he keeps returning to Russia (INAUDIBLE), a lot has to do with that.

[12:50:03] That the tariffs have come to bite him in a way that I'm not sure that he expected being so strong from his own party. So certainly that's a convenient one too, to be able to say, listen to me, not to them. But -- I mean, generally speaking, this is a prescription that applies to everything and whatever is most convenient for the moment.

KING: And it's also at the same time he's bashing the media as part. He's bashing other people too. He's bashing any opponents talking about stripping their security clearances and the like shall we say.

Also an administration less and less transparent. Our Kaitlan Collins reporting just yesterday that they're going to stop putting out read- outs of these phone calls with foreign leaders. Now often they don't tell you much. You know, President Trump spoke to the prime minister of X, Y, Z. They discussed mutual concerns and trade relationship. But at least it is a Democratically elected government providing transparency to its government through the news media or your own access to whitehouse.gov. of the president's conversation with world leaders.

For what reason would you not tell us the president is talking to other world leaders?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is -- there's literally no up side for the White House on this other than perhaps they're not totally sure when those conversations are happening or what the details of those conversations are. The point of this, and you make an important point. Usually they're rather benign.

Well, Margaret and I did it a lot when we were covering the Obama administration. You read the tea leaves. You want to know if there's a sentence there that's different or they're making note of something in one country that the other country is not. Sometimes that can be important and that can drive news or at least let you know what they're trying to say.

But this specifically allows the White House to frame the conversation and get out in front and not allow another country to tell you what's happening.

TALEV: That's why I don't actually think this is going to be followed through (INAUDIBLE). I think what's going on is that the White House is dialing back what has been this policy of doing some kind of a read-out of every single call which actually past administrations didn't do. I think they're going to be a little more selective in the calls they read out. But if they don't already get it in the next couple of days they will. When you give the Russians or the Turks a four-hour lead time on what your call was about or the Europeans for that matter.

KING: They've been repeatedly played by the Russians on this one.

TALEV: -- the narrative that other country is -- has the only control of the narrative. You lose your leverage, you become weak. So I just -- I think this is a false start or a poor communication on what the policy is going to be.

KING: What is to be feared from transparency?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, there's one minor thing (INAUDIBLE) they may gain which is that in many of these episodes especially when you're dealing with adversary nations, that what has happened is that there's been a read-out that doesn't actually match what we find later out is going on. And so it gives rise to the new palace intrigue, you know, scrutiny and this cacophony within the White House's team of who's actually speaking for what actually happened and is the president undercutting his own people?

Maybe they avoid some of that but at the end of the day, you're exactly right, Margaret, it doesn't actually gain the country anything to take a back seat and keep its (INAUDIBLE). KING: Up next for us, international intrigue. What exactly was in that soccer ball President Putin gifted to President Trump?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:57:36] KING: Welcome back. A little fun, we think, as we close the hour. Remember all those warnings about President Putin's parting gift for President Trump? Turns out that soccer ball handed over in Helsinki there had a transmitter inside. Bloomberg reports the ball had a chip with a tiny antenna capable of transmitting to nearby phones and mobile devices. But, let's be clear, it's not a Russian listening device.

Adidas, the company that manufactured the ball says the chip is a standard feature in the ball so fans can use their mobile devices to access world cup and other related soccer content. Now it's very, very hard, we are told, to turn this kind of chip into a cyber weapon but Forbes did report one hacker did it, said he did it anyway back in 2015. He was able to take over the user's phone by getting him to click on a malicious link.

Again, I am -- you can't make this up. Sarah Sanders saying in this Bloomberg article, "The security screening process that's done for all gifts was done for the soccer ball. We're not going to comment further on security procedures."

I think the big takeaway from this, number one is that Mr. President, or madam first lady buy Barron another ball. He's not getting this one.

TALEV: He was probably never getting this one anyway. We don't know whether it's kind of a traditional gift storage facility or if it's been destroyed or what the outcome of the ball is. But, yes, props to my colleague Vernon Silver for figuring out that this was an Adidas A.G. ball. What they do is there's a logo that looks like a WiFi sign and during manufacturing actually take the chip and slide it right under that logo and that's where it sits.

So the whole thing where Putin tossed him the ball was such a -- it was such a bad moment for the president anyway. Now it's just gotten worse.

KING: There's nothing in "1984" about a soccer ball with a chip, is there?

DEMIRJIAN: I mean, if you're the Russians and you figure (INAUDIBLE) maybe it's worth a shot. Or maybe it's absolutely nothing and we've just totally entered the, you know --

HENDERSON: The conspiracy zone. But they sort of kidding because there are a lot of conspiracies and the Russians actually --

DEMIRJIAN: They are pretty good at cy craft and they've have done other things that we weren't expecting in the past with listening devices so it wouldn't be the first time.

TALEV: There's zero percent chance that that boy is playing with that soccer ball.

KING: All struck by this conversation as Mattingly sitting there with his hands closed saying nothing.

MATTINGLY: I do think it's hilarious. Like the idea when the ball was given, everybody was like, oh, heads-u, heads-up. And then -- I don't think there's anything malicious there. I just think it's really funny and kind of ironic.

KING: Kind of ironic. And maybe, you know, in the museum, can the ball -- at least save the ball, preserve the ball in the Trump presidential museum whenever that is. The ball deserves a place.

Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. Hope to see you back here this time tomorrow. Don't go anywhere. A lot of news to report. Wolf starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer.