Return to Transcripts main page


White House Press Briefing; White House: Trump, Pence Not Briefed On Intel Reports That Russia Put Bounty On U.S. & U.K. Troops Because It Wasn't Verified. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired June 29, 2020 - 13:30   ET



KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have no further comment on that other than the two assertions I made previously.



How did the president not get briefed on the Russia bounty story? Was he out of the loop with the Intelligence Community?

MCENANY: No. As I noted, there was not a consensus among the Intelligence Community. And in fact, there were dissenting opinions within the Intelligence Community. And it would not be elevated to the president until it was verified.



MCENANY: It is inexcusable, the failed Russia reporting at the "New York Times." And I think it's time that the "New York Times" and also the "Washington Post" hand back their Pulitzers.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I have a separate question.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: OK. We're going to skip over that back piece because what we really need to get at is the truth. This story today is absolutely huge. The "New York Times" reporting it. We are reporting it. The "Washington Post" is reporting it.

What I'm talking about is the fact that Russia essentially bribed Taliban militants to take out coalition forces in Afghanistan. Coalition forces equals American lives, American troops. And the "Washington Post" has reported that, in fact, Americans were killed because of this.

So the question is, was the president briefed of something of this nature. And he says he hasn't. And you heard Kayleigh keep saying he hadn't been. Even though, apparently, the British had been briefed in the last week.

The question is, how did this not rise to the level for the commander- in-chief to know. There are a lot of questions.

Let's start here. I have our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, standing by.

Barbara, we heard a lot of the same line, the talking point. She was ready.

Daniel Dale is with us, as well.

Daniel, hang tight for me for one second.

A couple of things I wrote down. She said the president, nor the vice president were briefed on this. The question came out, you know, has he since been briefed. She didn't answer.

The talking point that she repeated over and over again, Barbara, was there was no consensus within the Intelligence Community on this intelligence so it wouldn't be elevated to the president until it was verified.

What does that mean?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it means that the president apparently didn't know about it and still does not appear to have a lot of curiosity about it.

Let's talk about real life for the U.S. military on the frontlines in a combat zone. What you did not hear the White House press secretary say is that they are going to look into it. That the president wants to know immediately all the intelligence. That the president wants the know what the state of this information is, whether it's verified or not, what's the best analysis of what may have transpired.

That means that there are U.S. military and potentially British military families out there asking themselves the question if their loved ones were killed at the hands of Russian cash being spread around in Afghanistan. And you did not hear the White House express anything about that.

They talked about how President Trump is a major advocate for U.S. troops. OK. But why are they not talking about the military families who were watching this who want answers? Why are not saying they will get to the bottom of it?

So if intelligence is not given to the president when -- until it's verified.


One more thing, let's talk about how this intelligence arose. In Afghanistan, there are U.S. Special Forces on the ground. Some of them openly or covertly. Highly trained intelligence operatives and from all elements of the U.S. Intelligence Community That information about what the Russians may have been doing basically rose up from the ground, from the frontlines in Afghanistan. It would have gone to the top U.S. commander there. It would have come to the Pentagon, which also has not commented on any of this yet. There are natural flows of information.

And what this means is a threat to U.S. troops, verified or not, a threat to U.S. forces is not something that rises to the level of concern by the president of the United States.

I don't see how we can take anything else away from this press briefing -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Barbara, stand by.

Daniel, stand by.

Let's go to Kaitlan Collins, who was in the briefing, who asked a couple of questions.

Mainly, Kaitlan, your question: How concerning would it have been that this didn't rise to the level of commander-in-chief? What was her response to you?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They didn't explain if the national security advisor or the CIA director or other officials have explained why they thought this wasn't important enough to bring to the commander-in-chief.

Instead, they said this is not verified intelligence, in Kayleigh McEnany's words. And she said there's not a consensus in the Intelligence Community about whether or not this report is true.

Now, she didn't say who descents and who doesn't think it's true. That's obviously incredibly important here. Because there's a difference if the CIA director doesn't think it's true, then if the director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, doesn't believe it's true. That's incredibly important.

But, Brooke, this idea that there has to be a consensus and everyone has to agree for something to be brought to the president is just not grounded in reality. That is not how this works.

These are the intelligence briefings that the president gets. So he's aware of what they're hearing, what they're working on, and where they think it's coming from.

And during the intelligence briefings, the president can hear dissenting opinions. Someone can say, here's what this group thinks and here's why we think maybe there are holes in this story. But you still give the president of the United States a heads-up when there's something like this, something as incredibly serious as this, even if there's a level of confidence in whether or not it's true.

And this is something we should note. Not only the "New York Times" reported, but CNN has confirmed, the "Washington Post" has confirmed, the Associated Press has confirmed, multiple outlets have confirmed this intelligence.

And I should note, as we were sitting there in the briefing, she didn't even say whether the president has been briefed on this yet, to go to Barbara's point about, you know, the question, what are they going to do about this now and what that's going to look like going forward.

So, there was still a lot of unanswered questions about what the result of this is.

They just keep insisting the president didn't know but they didn't say why the president doesn't know or what they're going to do about it going forward and what they're going to do to Russia if they do decide that the president has decided that it's verified and it's true.

BALDWIN: That --

COLLINS: There's still just so many questions.

BALDWIN: That, to me, is also the thing.

And let me bring it back to Barbara -- and then, Daniel, I'm coming to you -- is it's out there. It's been corroborated by all these various news agencies. So why wouldn't --


COLLINS: And the British --


BALDWIN: I made that point. I made that point.


COLLINS: -- the British --

BALDWIN: Exactly. I made that point.

I was bringing in Barbara off the top.

Barbara, why, since it's out there, why wouldn't the president of the United States -- to your point, I'm thinking about the American military families and British military families who have lost loved ones. We're hearing perhaps -- this could have all happened because of Russia taking a bribe or the Taliban taking a bribe from Russia.

Shouldn't the White House have a strong response?

STARR: Well, I would think so. We have watched for 18 years America's longest war and seeing so many military families from many different countries around the world have to bury their loved ones.

And I come back to the point, this is real life for U.S. military, British military families, for those who serve around the world.

If the Russians were up to this, why are we getting these talking points from the White House that it was unverified, uncorroborated.

That isn't the point. The point is the president of the United States -- I don't think there has been a case when there is any kind of potential threat to U.S. troops overseas, on the frontline in combat, that this does not immediately get walked into the Oval Office by somebody who says, Mr. President, we have something we need talk about.

BALDWIN: Exactly.

STARR: The Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs -- let me be very clear. So far, the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, top commanders who are in charge of operations in that part of the world, very much not saying anything about this. The White House does not seem to want anybody to talk about it.


BALDWIN: It's such a huge story. I'll look for more from all of your reporting on what's coming out of, of course, the Pentagon and also the White House on this.

But, Daniel Dale, I'm coming to you now because I want to pivot to a couple of questions about coronavirus in the briefing. The fact that Kayleigh McEnany is essentially downplaying -- I think one of the phrases I heard was "the embers of coronavirus."

What do you think of that?

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: That's one of the president's favorite phrases that, soon, we'll see mere embers, the remnants of a dying fire.

This is not a dying fire. This is a raging forest fire that hasn't come close to being put out. We had record numbers of new cases reported in the past week. We have sharp uptick in positivity rates, which means it's not just more testing that's responsible for these rising numbers.

We have sharp upticks in hospitalizations in key states like Arizona, Texas, California, which means that it's not just young people with mild symptoms, as the president and his White House keep saying.

We see this consistent effort from the president and his spokespeople to minimize what's going on because he's said in the past two weeks it's dying out, it's going away, it's fading away. None of that and none of what McEnany said today is accurate -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Daniel Dale, Barbara Starr, Kaitlan Collins, thank you all very much.

I want to move on and talk about Mississippi. The state of Mississippi is making history, passing a bill to remove the Confederate symbol from its state flag. So what happens next?

We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: All right, we continue on. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me.

We begin with a stern warning from the director of the World Health Organization that this pandemic is far from over. And infection in the United States is no exception.

When you look at this map, you look at all these numbers, 31 states report an increase in new coronavirus cases.

And all of this is coming as the national debate over wearing masks intensifies.

Today, the governor of New York is challenging the president to issue an executive order mandating them.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): Let the president have the same sense and do that as an executive order. And then let the president lead by example. And let the president put a mask on it.

Because we know it works. We've proven that it works in the state of New York. And the president can still be New York tough and New York smart and united and disciplined and loving.


BALDWIN: Also, just this afternoon, the city of Jacksonville, Florida, decided -- the Republican National Convention in August -- just announced it will require face coverings both indoors and outdoors.


CNN's Nick Watt is live in Los Angeles where Governor Gavin Newsom has mandated the closure of bars.

Nick, tell me about all the measures being taken to try to stop the surge there.