Return to Transcripts main page
Report: Trump Says Russia Not Targeting U.S. Anymore; Trump Launches Unprovoked Attack on Montenegro; Trump Appears to Question U.S. Loyalty to NATO Defense and Article 5; More Lawmakers Call for Subpoena of Trump's Translator. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired July 18, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi, I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN on this Wednesday afternoon. Thanks for being with me. The first White House briefing in more than two weeks is actually happening today. And that is moments away. Live pictures there inside the briefing room. The timing is critical since the President now has another comment he may need to clean up. Just yesterday he made a point to say that he had, quote, unquote, full faith in U.S. intelligence agencies, that is certainly at odds with the remark he just made which came out at a cabinet meeting later in the morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all very much. Appreciate it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?
TRUMP: Thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go. Make your way out. Let's go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: This as the urgency grows to know what exactly President Trump said to Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Monday during their first stand-alone summit. Russia's government speaks of military agreements being made, but thus far out of the White House on that one, and others -- crickets. What will we learn at the briefing? Stand by for that.
Also, President Trump failed to mention any agreements during the cabinet meeting, only good things about his relationship with Vladimir Putin. Here it was.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We're doing very, very well. We're doing well, probably as well as anybody's ever done with Russia. There's been no President ever as tough as I have been on Russia. All you have to do is look at the numbers, look at what weave's done, look at sanctions, look at ambassadors not there. Look, unfortunately, at what happened in Syria recently. And I think President Putin knows that better than anybody. Certainly, a lot better than the media. He understands it and he's not happy about it. And he shouldn't be happy about it because there's never been a President as tough on Russia as I have been.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Let's go straight to our chief White House correspondent standing by. Jim Acosta there at the White House. Jim, to the question posed today to the President when asked if Russia's still targeting the U.S., and his response -- no. Which is in direct contrast to what DNI Director Coats has said. Do you expect more clean-up today from the White House?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, that's an interesting question. I think Sarah Sanders is likely to echo what the President said earlier today when he said he does not believe Russia's still targeting the U.S. as you said, that is really a contradiction with what the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, said earlier this week when the DNI decided to put out that statement not even clearing it through the White House when it talked about ongoing pervasive efforts being conducted by Russia to intervene in U.S. democracy. That follows what Coats said last week when he was speaking at an event. He said the warning system is blinking red. This is a big contrast, as you said.
And Lindsey Graham, one of the hawks up on capitol hill, disagreeing with the President. Put out a tweet just a short time ago as Democrats and Republicans are disagreeing with this President's assessment once again when he said that Russia's not intervening in the elections here in the United States. We can put that tweet up on screen from Lindsey Graham. He basically echoed what DNI Coats was saying earlier this week. He said a big discrepancy between President Trump's statement and DNI Coats' warning. It is imperative we be prepared. My personal view, the Russians are at it again. You see just about the entire Republican party being more hawkish on Russia than the President is, but this has been a week of mysterious comments coming from the President of the United States on the subject of Russia. Maybe we can peel a few layers back when Sarah Sanders comes out in a few moments, but my sense is she'll echo what the President's been saying all along, essentially there's nothing to see here, please disperse.
BALDWIN: Jim Acosta, thank you. Our chief White House correspondent. Let's start there. Got a number of great people standing by to analyze all of this with me now, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, CNN senior political analyst David Gergen. CNN military and diplomatic analyst retired rear Adm. John Kirby, and CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin. So great to have all of you all on.
Gloria, just on this note, you and I were on TV yesterday talked about the attempted clean-up job 1.0 post-Helsinki when the President was initially saying he does agree with U.S. intelligence, but wait, in the same breath he said it was Russia that attacked the election. But it could be other people, too. Now he said no if he was asked if Russia's still targeting the U.S. which directly contradicts U.S. intelligence. GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Exactly. What you see I
think in this administration is the President versus everybody else. He's disagreeing with his own DNI, with his own intelligence community. We heard the President in Helsinki talk about Vladimir Putin's powerful denials of any kind of election hacking -- or attack on the United States. And I think we see more of that today. I think the President's pretty defensive here. But then when the question is asked to him, well, aren't they still doing it, the answer is no. And by the way, this not only contradicts the DNI and his intelligence community, but also our reporting from yesterday which shows that in fact, yes, things are ratcheting up for the 2018 election.
[14:05:00] BALDWIN: David Gergen and Admiral Kirby, to you. Talking about peeling back the onion at the briefing, the question is what was said in that meeting between Vladimir Putin and President Trump. Putin obviously took notes. He told his team that they had reached this military agreement and a sphere of international security. Did Trump take notes? Did he make any deals? Why are we hearing about this, David Gergen, first to you, from the Russian side and not the White House?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It is an extremely good question. And this is exactly what was feared when the President insisted early on and he was the one who made this call and told the Russians, I'd only like an interpreter in the room, nobody else. The fear was that they would strike some sort of secret agreements or agreement on something and it might involve the President himself, it might involve the military. Now we have the Russian saying there is such a secret agreement that was reached. Military spokesman for the Russians coming out and saying an agreement was reached. We in the United States, Congress in the United States, United States public, doesn't know anything! Nor does his cabinet. So, we are at a loss. Because of this secrecy that was imposed on it, now there is a deep suspicion of secret agreements.
BALDWIN: Admiral Kirby, we are talking about the commander in chief and the Pentagon is in the dark.
RETIRED REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: You saw their statement last night, it was very vague, saying we are still reviewing the results of the meeting in Helsinki before we announce or get ready to say anything about this.
BALDWIN: Translate that for me. What is that really saying?
KIRBY: That means we don't know. Having been the press secretary there, I'll tell you exactly what that means -- we don't know, so we'll just say we're reviewing it, working with the President of the United States, will work it all out. That's what that means and it's crazy, and it is unsafe. The other thing, I saw this having sat across the table with Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel from their Russian interlocutors, the Russians like plans, they like details. I guarantee you, they came out of that meeting with a very specific set of what they think the expectations are, which they communicated directly to their Defense Ministry and that has not happened on our side. And he couldn't happen because the President probably didn't take notes, probably didn't understand the details or the history or the context as well as Putin did. In didn't transfer to his own defense secretary.
BALDWIN: Wow. Everyone stand by. Michael Zeldin, I'm coming to you after this break. Again, live pictures inside that press briefing room. First White House press briefing in more than two weeks. We'll talk coming up about this new focus on the U.S. translator who was in the room between this meeting between Trump and Putin. More on the woman everyone wants to talk to.
Plus, it was the shove seen round the world. You remember this from last year? Now new comments from President Trump alleging an aggressive Montenegro, a NATO ally, could start World War III. Why that jab is raising all kinds of questions about his commitment to NATO. You're watching CNN, I'm Brooke Baldwin.
[14:10:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BALDWIN: We are back you're watching CNN, I am Brooke Baldwin. President Trump just a day after siding with a foreign adversary over his own intelligence community is now once again rattling the cages of U.S. foreign allies. Trump raising questions about his commitment to NATO's article 5, an attack on one member is an attack on all. Here he is on Fox News being asked about why US troops would ever defend this new NATO ally, Montenegro, this small country there, small southeastern European country with a population smaller than that of Washington DC. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack. Why is that?
TRUMP: I understand what you're saying. I've asked same question. You know Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people.
TUCKER: Yes, I'm not against Montenegro. Or Albania.
TRUMP: By the way, they are very strong people. They are very aggressive people. They may get aggressive and congratulations, you are in World War III.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[14:15:00] BALDWIN: Make no mistake, that is the President of the United States wavering on the collective defense of U.S. allies. But for the record NATO which has been around for 70 years has only invoked article 5 one time, and the U.S. following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Just a reminder from the head of NATO at the time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE ROBERTSON, FORMER NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: The 19 nations of NATO last night made a historic decision to invoke this article 5 for the first time in history because of the enormity of what happened. And these nations do so conscious of the fact that this was not just symbolic, it was not just an act of solidarity although it was both of them, it was also very clear declaration that this one nation and the alliance has been attacked and they regard that as being an attack on all of them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: that is the reason why nearly 17 years later troops from NATO countries are still committed to article 5 and are still in Afghanistan. Let's go to Nick Payton Walsh our CNN senior international correspondent. Next, what has the reaction been to this overseas?
NICK PAYTON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: some confusion I think certainly why particularly Montenegro I think is the first question here. The most recent member of NATO certainly to have troops themselves in Afghanistan. You hear Trump talk about how they are and aggressive nation. They have an armed forces of about 1500 people in a country of 620,000. They are not necessarily known as enormously militaristic.
While I think if you see a video here, possibly the closest Donald Trump personally got to Montenegro back in the summit in Brussels last year in May just 10 days before NATO actually brought Montenegro in. He pushed Dusko Markovic, the Prime Minister out of the way to get a better vantage it seems of a press opportunity there. That's possibly the closest he's physically come to it.
They joined NATO ten days later. The question now, why Montenegro and why now? Why is that so suddenly in the forefront of the President's mind as the potential flash point? Did it relate to his two hours in private with Vladimir Putin? None of this though. When you hear these comments, the tendency is to laugh like you're slightly comically baffled by how this is has come up in conversation not all. But this is deadly serious matter for Montenegro. They've had two coup attempts in the last four years or so.
On two separate occasions their investigators have alleged Russia's been behind a bid to try and destabilize the nation, try and change the outcome of elections. In one instance in 2016 there were dozens of agents who were put ready to try and cause a riot, a demonstration, possibly even kill the prime minister himself in a bid to alter the outcome of the election simply because Russia did not want to see yet another country in that Balkan area become a member of NATO.
They have ambitions along the coast to have a port on that sea, to be able to potentially let their military have passage around that area of the Mediterranean. So, an absolutely vital geopolitical war going on here to some degree. That's been the case for many years. I think many people are asking exactly why would Montenegro the first thing that necessarily came to Donald Trump's mind when he was talking about that? A baffling moment, Brooke.
BALDWIN: It is baffling. You mentioned the perceived shove. Play it again, guys. Que it up and Admiral Kirby, I want to bring you in as we show this. They have this sort of history, the President of the United States with the Montenegrin prime minister here, looking like he shoved him. Nobody really understood what that was about.
Flash forward to this conversation he had with Tucker Carlson, granted Tucker's the one who brings up Montenegro. This is yet another jab at NATO who the president referred to as a full last week. What's going on here?
KIRBY: You're right. Tucker is the one who brought it up. I think he just brought it up as an example. He was looking for sort of a small NATO nation that we might have to defend. What's interesting about Trump's answer, two things. One, the detail that he went into about Montenegro and aggressive people. I agree with Nick, they aren't an aggressive nation. But he specifically sounded like he had had recent talks with somebody, probably Putin, about Montenegro. Remember, Montenegro is the newest member of NATO. They just joined last year.
[14:20:00] There was Russian interference in their electoral system in 2016. It is a thorn in Putin's side to have Montenegro part of NATO. He was absolutely and adamantly opposed to that. So certainly, within the realm of possibility that it came up, Putin whining about Montenegro's membership. Basically, I'm guessing Putin did this in the name of NATO enlargement which he has resisted for ten years. He thinks NATO's enlargement and expansion is a threat.
Second thing that really struck me about Trump's answer, as soon as Tucker mentions why my son should go fight in Montenegro, Trump goes I've been asking that same question. I don't get it either. Excuse me, you're a commander in chief for 18 months! This is your second NATO summit and you've been complaining for almost two years about NATO defense spending. It is ludicrous and extreme to think that you don't understand the equality of nations under the NATO alliance and the fact that each nation, no matter what the size, tiny or big, is twee treated as an equal among article 5. It is ludicrous and extreme to think that you don't understand the equality of nations under the NATO alliance and the fact that each nation, no matter what the size, tiny or big, is treated as an equal among article 5.
BALDWIN: Clearly based upon his whole bit he's been harping about since the campaign about paying your fair share, I think he does see them -- I can't crawl into his head and heart -- but sees them as very different and that this came out potentially out of the Putin/Trump meeting, you may be on to something.
KIRBY: I mean on trade. He wants everything equal on trade. All nations should be equal, everything's fair. But it doesn't look like that on security alliances. He treats small nations as big and it doesn't work like that.
BALDWIN: Totally, Admiral Kirby, thank you standby. Standby, coming up. Still waiting what should begin any moment, you see the press ready to rock 'n' roll at the press briefing room at the White House. Stay tuned for that. A lot has happened in the last two-plus weeks since weeks since we saw Sarah Sanders stand at the podium. As far as what happened between Trump and Putin, the American translator the woman who was there during that meeting? Why lawmakers are so anxious to hear from her. Stand by. [14:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BALDWIN: More than two weeks since the White House press briefing has happened. But stay tuned, that's happening at any moment now. A lot's gone on in the last two-plus weeks here. But let's stick to what happened in Helsinki between President Trump and Vladimir Putin.
Michael Zeldin, here's my question to you on the legal side of how Congress can get the answers they want. Right. Jean Shaheen, the Democratic senator from the state of New Hampshire, she wants to hear from his interpreter. This is what she tweeted: "I'm calling for a hearing with the U.S. interpreter who was present during President Trump's meeting with Putin to uncover what they discussed privately. This interpreter can help determine what Trump shared, promised Putin on our behalf."
We are also hearing from a couple of Republican senators, Corker and Flake, they are looking into past precedent of this sort of thing. But from what I'm reading, Michael, there is no precedent. This may be tough.
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think that's right. I think the better process would be the normal congressional oversight where the people who the President should brief on what happened in that room between him and President Putin come forward and offer their testimony under oath about what they were told. I think that would be more along the lines of protocol. Putting this translator in the position to have to testify -- because remember, these translators sort of in a sense don't listen. They just translate word for word what is being said. To put them in a situation of having to now recall content and understand the nuance of the conversation, I don't think really will get Congress what it really needs from this, which is an honest answer from the President and his advisors about what was talked about. When you think about it, Brooke, on the legal side, the most important
thing that we'll want to know, we lawyers who are covering this, is was anything said about sanctions, was there any promise of sanctions relief? Because the whole predicate of the Mueller collusion investigation hinges on the question of whether or not, if the President received help, would he then -- relieve them of sanctions. So that will be something that we will want to know the answer to. Really, the only way to know that is with the President to sit down with his cabinet on the NSA or otherwise, tell them what happened and have them come and testify under oath.
BALDWIN: David, I love your thought though on this interpreter piece. Because I know Elise Labott who covers state for us, she talked to this Mideast interpreter, he was an advisor to four presidents, he advised seven secretaries of State. And this was his quote to her, "It would be a horrible precedent if the President and extension is using this interpreter to communicate and ultimately the interpreter is an extension of the President. If you want to know what the President says, you have to ask the President. I know it's confusing to listen to. Bottom line is just for the President to talk about what he said would be a horrible precedent. GERGEN: Well, Brooke, ordinarily Presidents don't meet one-on-one
unless they've had a long relationship with somebody they're sitting down with. And any of that, for the Congress to have this interpreter come and testify, the President would have to waive executive privilege. She's clearly within the executive privilege realm and I just don't see Donald Trump doing that. I think it is worth while to go and ask the questions. Think in normal types a President would come back from a major trip like this and give a talk to the American people first to explain what happened. Then have his people come out and go into more detail in briefings that follow.
[14:30:00] We've had none of that in this case, it's all been shrouded in secrecy. Within 24 hours of trying to clean things up yesterday, he's got three messes on his hands. He's got a mess over NATO. He promised -- he first went to Europe and was wavering on NATO whether he would invoke article 5. Then came out very strongly and said no, I'm for NATO. Now he's basically saying about Montenegro and all the other countries, I'll make a selective decision whether I want to invoke article 5 or not. That really rattles NATO.
It is similarly true on the question of his Intel. He went on Monday, stood up there -- we all watched, the world watched -- as he basically said I'm taking Putin's word over my intel people. Then went and cleaned it up yesterday. Today he's saying he doesn't believe his intel people again who say these attacks are ongoing. He says, no, they're not.
BORGER: I have to ask the question about whether the -- and I don't know the answer to this, whether the translator has --