Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Report: Trump Declines to Back U.S. Intelligence Against Putin; McCain Says One of The Most Disgraceful Performances by President in Memory; Schiff Says This Is Nothing Less Than the Surrender of U.S. Interests; Rubio Attacks the President. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired July 16, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: I'm Anderson Cooper live from Helsinki, Finland. We begin with the extraordinary fallout of President Trump's meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin.

With the world watching, President Trump surrendered saying he doesn't see any reason Russia would interfere in the 2016 Presidential election. He also said that he has faith in his U.S. intelligence community despite the fact that his U.S. intelligence community has unequivocally stated that Russia attacked the American electoral system. Asked directly if you trusted the word of the U.S. intelligence community or Vladimir Putin, he said, neither frankly, and went to blame and talk about Hillary Clinton and her 30,000 missing emails. Watch this moment.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People came to me. Dan Coats to me, 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 have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you hold Russia at all accountable for anything in particular? If so, what would you consider them, that they are responsible for?

TRUMP: Yes, I do. I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we have all been foolish. We should have had this dialogue a long time ago. A long time frankly before I got to office. And I think we are all to blame.


COOPER: As I said before, perhaps one of the most disgraceful moments by an American President on the world stage in front of a Russian or Soviet leader certainly in my lifetime. This was not the plan is how a U.S. official sums up what you just witnessed. Nothing sort of treasonous is how former CIA Director John Brennan described it. President Trump also refusing to call for the extradition of the 12 Russian military intelligence officers who were just indicted for conspiring to meddle in the election. What else was missing from the news conference? Any condemnation, any accountability, and quite frankly any backbone by the President of the United States. Instead, we got a whole lot of praise.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, president of Russia, (through translator): The negotiations with the President of the United States, Donald Trump, took place in a frank and businesslike atmosphere. I think we can call it a success. The Cold War is a thing of past.

TRUMP: We had direct, open, deeply productive dialogue. Went very well. Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed as of about four hours ago. I also want to congratulate Russia and President Putin for having -- and President Putin for having done such an excel gent job for hosting the World Cup.

PUTIN, (through translator): speaking of the football, actually. Mr. President, I'll give this ball to you. And now the ball is in your court.


COOPER: Joining me now is Jeff Zeleny, CNN senior White House correspondent. He joins me here in Helsinki. Again, you and I talked about this already. Really disgraceful performance by this President on the world stage. Given the chance by reporters who were tough in their questioning, two American reporters, tough in their questioning to the President, asking him if there was anything he had to say to putt Putin face to face about his meddling in the election. The President blinked and scurried away essentially. Talk us through what we just witnessed and what you are hearing about the fallout around the world.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson it was extraordinary. Mainly because of the setting in which this meeting happened. We heard President Trump repeatedly give denials of Russian interference this the election he said it certainly did not help him out. But the fact he was doing it along side Putin. The fact that it was after they met privately one on one just those two leaders privately for two hours certainly made it that much more serious. That's why we are hearing so many Republican condemnations about this comment. Saying that on the world stage was the biggest gift that this American could give to the Russian President.

It seemed going into the summit, Anderson, the sheer fact they were going to be here in Helsinki appearing side by side was going to be a gift from Vladimir Putin because it took him away from his isolation. It turns out President Trump gave him so much more, more than they could have hoped. He went into just a soliloquy of answers about the server, Hillary Clinton, electoral college, other matters. It almost seemed as if he was at a campaign rally for a few moments.

[14:05:00] He is flying back the Washington at this moment. He will be in Washington this evening. And boy, people back at the White House, I'm already speaking to other Republicans who support this President are stunned by this. One official told me this was not the plan. This is something that the President made the decision to do here, Anderson. It was extraordinary. It certainly is a new chapter in this long rocky road of U.S. and Russian relations. But this is still playing out. He was also diminishing the Mueller investigation. It seems that that is so in the President's head, Anderson, that it I don't have took everything else that he came here to talk about.

COOPER: You talk about some Republicans being stunned. If they are stunned, they are stunned into silence because they have been radio silent on the President's performance, scurrying into offices, scurrying into hallways being absent, not answering questions, and certainly not publicly rebuking or, you know, if they are stunned they are awfully silent about it. I want to talk with Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee. Congressman Schiff, I guess the obvious question first is what was your reaction when you were watching this press conference? I feel like every day people have said, wow, I can't believe what happened today. Was this a new low?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, RANKING DEMOCRAT, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It was new low. I found it just disgusting. This is probably, without a doubt, the most shameful and cowardly surrender of American interest in modern history. To see the President of the United States humble himself, prostrate himself in front of the Russian dictator, basically blame America for problems in our relationship rather than take on Russia's invasion of its neighbor, poisoning of citizens in Britain, its blatant interference in our election.

To side with this former KGB officer over our own intelligence agency, it was a despicable act of betrayal of the United States. I will say this about my GOP colleagues who are in hiding right now. You are complicit in this. You are complicit in the this betrayal of American interests in your silence as you hide. There is no avoiding responsibility for that. Every American should condemn what just happened. This was nothing less than a surrender to Russia of American interests.

COOPER: Can you explain what you mean by this was a surrender to Russia of American interests. Because there are going to be Trump supporters watching this who say maybe he is not a practiced politician and it wasn't the kind of normal press conference you might have. But what's the big deal? He didn't give away, really anything, you know, specific. It's not like he signed some bad deal. For you, what would you say to those people who are kind of questioning, well, why was this such a surrender?

SCHIFF: First of all, being a politician is completely beside the point. He's the President of the United States. He's expected to know how to do his job. He is expected to articulate American values, supposed to defend his country. Instead in the same week in which his own justice department essentially indicted Russia for hacking Democratic institutions looking Democratic e-mails he is asked about standing side by side with the kremlin leader who ordered this intervention and says why would Russia do it? I don't know whether to believe it. I don't know whether to believe my own intelligence agencies. That's a surrender of American interests. To basically engage in this kind of relativism that says, well yes, Russia is to blame, we are to blame, everyone is to blame, that moral equivalence with this dictator is repugnant. We expect the president of the United States to defend liberty, to defend democracy, and first and foremost, to defend the United States of America. He did none of this.

My GOP friends and not just members of Congress but around the country need to take off the blinders. If this was done by any Democratic President they would be naturally howling from coast to coast, and it should be no exception because it's Donald Trump.

COOPER: You know, I grew up in the age of Ronald Reagan, Ron Reagan telling in that speech in Germany, Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall, saying trust but verify to the face of Mikhail Gorbachev.

[14:10:00] It's extraordinary if the Republicans do not speak out about this, what it says about the change that has taken place in this Republican party under this President. Again, I mean, he is -- you know, he is literally playing ball with Vladimir Putin who is involved in the shootdown of a Malaysian airliner, who was involved in the invasion of Crimea, the fighting in the Ukraine, the poisoning of British subjects, who are supposed to be our closest ally who the President views I guess as one of our foes because they are part of the European Union still.

What does this say about where the Republican party is? And where do we go from here if the President of the United States doesn't believe the intelligence community, doesn't believe the Russians were involved in hacking? What does that tell us about what is going to happen for the midterm elections? If he is not holding cabinet level meetings to prevent this from happening again.

SCHIFF: First of all, Anderson it is a complete disavowal of Ronald Reagan as the flag carrier of the Republican party. Ronald Reagan on domestic issues would be far too moderate now to fit into this Republican party. But with this lurch towards Russia, this uncritical acceptance of this dictator and other dictators around the world, they have now repudiated that part of Reagan's legacy. There is nothing left of Reagan's legacy that they are apparently willing to champion if it contradicts the President of the United States. So, Reagan is no longer worshipped within this GOP. This is the party of Trump.

I will say this, too. You may have seen in "New York" magazine, there was a story that hypothesized what if Donald Trump was a Soviet sleeper since the 1980s? No sleeper would be this blatant. A sleeper's Russian handlers would say, don't be this obvious. This President really would be hard to script actions more beneficial to Russia than what this president is doing. Attacking the European Union, attacking NATO, attacking France, and Germany, Britain, and Australia, our closest allies, and hugging Russia close is really a dream come true for the Kremlin. And you know, as to the next election, Anderson, this is essentially an open call for further Russian intervention. Vladimir Putin has to know at this point that as long as he intervenes in the U.S. election on the side of Donald Trump, this President will either lack the integrity or the guts to call him out on it. And so unfortunately, this makes us more vulnerable in 2018 -- 2020 and 2018 than it did in 2016.

COOPER: Yes, it's truly -- it is a stunning day for America. Congressman Schiff, I appreciate your time.

Coming up next, reaction from Republicans, including Senator John McCain who was just weighing in moments ago. We will be back live from Helsinki.


COOPER: We have been talking about the silence from a lot of Republicans. We do now have a statement just in from Senator John McCain. I want to read it to you in its entirety because it is a powerful statement. Senator McCain says, "Today's press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American President in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump's naivete, egotism, false equivalence and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate but it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake."

Senator McCain went on to say. "President Trump proved not only unable but unwilling to stand up to Putin. He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the President made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press and to grant Putin and uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world."

He went on to say, "It is tempting to describe the press conference as a pathetic route, as an illustration of the perils of under preparation and inexperience but these were not the errant tweets of a novice politician. These were the deliberate choices of a President who seems determined to realize his delusions of a warm relationship with Putin's regime without any regard for the true nature of his rule, his violent disregard for the sovereignty of his neighbors, his complicity in the slaughter of the Syrian people, and his violation of international treaties and his assault on Democratic institutions throughout the world. Coming close on the heels the President Trump's bombastic and erratic conduct toward our closest friend and allies in Brussels and Britain today's press conference mark as recent low point in the history of the American presidency."

Senator McCain went on to say. "That the President was attended in Helsinki by a team of competent and patriotic advisors, makes his blunders and capitulations all the more painful and inexplicable. No prior President has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary.

[14:20:00] But speaking for America to the world, our President failed to defend all that makes us who we are, a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad. American Presidents must be the champions of that cause if it is to succeed. Americans are waiting and hoping for President Trump to embrace that sacred responsibility. One can only hope they are not waiting totally in vain"

Those are the words of Senator John McCain. Moments ago, Senator Marco Rubio added these comments.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R), FLORIDA: All I can speculate is that there is an effort underway to sort of figure out if by being nice to Vladimir Putin there is a way that we can establish a better working relationship, which in a perfect world would not be a bad thing between two nations that possess 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons.

The flaw in that, which I think goes to the heart of this very issue is that Vladimir Putin is not interested in a better working relationship with the United States because he views the world, he views geopolitics as a battle between the strong and weak. He believes at the end of the Cold War the West and in particular the United States that was strong took advantage of a weak Russia. He intends to re-establish Russia as a global world power on par with the United States.

He doesn't believe in win/win scenarios. He believes in zero sum, and therefore he thinks the only way to make Russia stronger is to make America weaker. The election interferences are part of it. And you have to understand that. Any policies that are not built on that reality, and I would say any rhetoric not built on that reality is destined to be counterproductive, dangerous, and most certainly fail.


COOPER: I want to bring in Susan Glasser, CNN global affairs analyst and Philip Mudd, CNN former counter-terrorism analyst, former CIA and FBI official. Senator McCain saying most disgraceful display essentially by an American President on the world stage. Phil, do you agree with that?

PHILLIP MUDD, CNN FORMER COUNTER-TERRORISM ANALYST, FORMER CIA AND FBI OFFICIAL: I do. I think you have to step back a short time after this and say what next? You have seen senators come out in the past. We have seen the senator who is in the midst of a painful illness, McCain. Jeff Flake leaving the Senate. Marco Rubio still in the fight speaking out. My question would be when do members of the President's inner circle say, we have an overseas dilemma where you are portraying us in terms of the American government as worse than a tyrant, Vladimir Putin. Secretary of Homeland Security came out with statements this week

about continued Russian interference. This was not on Obama's watch, that's this week. FBI director continues the investigation. Department of Justice continues support

for the investigation. Congress continues saying that this investigation is legitimate. Curious point in American government. When do we see almost a shadow government come out and a we cannot side with the government, whether its cabinet or the Senate. I think that's a big question.

COOPER: but frankly look, there is silence on the side of many Trump supporters. And the president once said he could shoot somebody in the street and they

wouldn't blink. Maybe they can look at what happened today and say well it's not that bad.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think Phil is making an important point about the president's own government not supporting in many respects his Russia policy or having their own different Russian policy. Coming into this summer we were told things it turned out really in a word to be not true. You had the ambassador to Moscow, John Huntsman saying that President Trump absolutely was going to call President Putin to account for this. You had the National Security Adviser John Bolton a year ago saying that the Russian hacking was akin to an act of war. Where was National Security Adviser John Bolton today? I do think there is a significant question about how do they go forward?

COOPER: Let's be honest, the people around the President have no idea what the President is going to do from moment to moment. It's why you have the press secretary lying from the podium time and time again and having to backtrack saying I haven't spoken directly with the President about it. Nobody around the President knows what he is going to do. They give him briefing papers. He doesn't read them. He goes with his exactly what he thinks, he goes with his gut, and his gut might have got him elected President, but it certainly embarrasses the country on the world stage.

GLASSER: That's an important point especially because we do tend now -- we are living in such a divisive and partisan moment in Washington. I just saw somebody tweeting the only thing that matters now politically is whether Republicans respond and are prepared to do something about it. Let's step back. There is a world out there. It also matters how does Vladimir Putin respond to basically being empowered and enabled by the President of the United States?

Right now, he has been basically invited back into the club of world nations with no apparent penalty to pay at least from the point of view of the United States for having invaded Crimea, taking that over. This is the first illegal annexation of territory since the end of World War II. My question is, what is Putin going to do in response to basically a blank check from Donald Trump? It's not just about our partisan politics.

[14:25:00] COOPER: No, but you know, Phil, you think about the people who all around the world are living under tyrants, living in tyranny, who are imprisoned for speaking out, who have traditionally looked to the United States as, you know, Reagan referenced us as a shining city on a hill. And who look to the United States to at least speak truth to power, to raise human rights, to stand tall in the face of tyranny. And you don't hear that from the United States now.

MUDD: Well, it's even clearer, let's look a simple pattern that we have seen over 18 months. You look at the people that the president has praised, Duterte murdering thousands of drug offenders without due process in the Philippines. You look at what's happened in Turkey, you look at what has happened in Egypt, both dictators who are taking more power.

You look at the president praising a North Korean leader. You look at what happened with the Russian leader today who has been involved in assassination of opponents, who doesn't like a free press, who doesn't like Democratic opposition.

And you contrast that with a President who says I don't like the G7 on trade policy and I don't trust the EU. What's the message to you that pattern? I trust people who think like I do. I don't like CNN and I don't like Democrats. These people can operate like I want to operate. The EU, the Mexicans and Canadians can't. Let me side with people who don't represent American principles but represent Trumpian principles. It's Trumpianism versus American.

COOPER: It's one thing to say that domestically when you are in the United States, to say it on the world stage next to one of the great tyrants living today -- it is an extraordinary statement by the President of the United States.

GLASSER: I think that right now it is sort of the death of American exceptionalism. Republicans, used to be a criticism of Barack Obama, the idea that he came in and said we are exceptional in the same way Greeks feel that --

COOPER: I'm sorry, had Barack Obama stood on that stage and done what President Trump did today there is no telling what the Republican party certainly would have said about it. I mean, they will be all over the air waves with their heads exploding. For valid reasons.

GLASSER: It was just the most partisan performance in an international forum like this that I have ever seen. It was dramatic in its ranting about the electoral college, Hillary Clinton, the DNC, servers.

COOPER: Which is such a sign of weakness. If you are Vladimir Putin who is a trained intelligence operative and you have read everything Donald Trump has said as anybody who is smart who is going against Donald Trump would do. To have Donald Trump repeat his greatest hits almost as if he was going the talk about crowd size at the inauguration, Vladimir Putin must have been just in his head thinking I cannot believe what this guy is doing.

MUDD: And the answer is why. The President just played golf over the weekend. Let's use golf. This is a three-foot putt. You walk out like you did after North Korea and say I went, I spoke with somebody, I explained to you I had a bid relationship, spent an hour and a half with him I just fixed it. We are going to talk about arms control in Syria, I am the leader of the world and I am a genius. Instead he stepped right into it, it's psychology not politics.

COOPER: Just an extraordinary day in American history, more how U.S. intelligence community may be reacting to effectively being thrown under the bus by the President. You are watching CNN's special live coverage from Helsinki. We'll be right back.