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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump Throws U.S. Intel Agencies Under Bus At Summit Refuses to say Putin Attacked 2016 Election; Interview With Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes; Interview With Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired July 16, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Rejecting the president's assessment of Putin and Russian interference. Will he and other Trump administration officials call it quits after being rolled over by their boss?
And Putin's pushover. Even Republicans are warning that Mr. Trump look embarrassingly weak next to the Kremlin's strongman. How far would the president go to turn a very dangerous foe into a friend?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm will Blitzer in Helsinki, Finland. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight.
As President Trump flies home from the summit here in Helsinki, his performance with Vladimir Putin is being blasted from all sides, with words like abomination, disgraceful, and even treasonous.
Mr. Trump stood with Putin and against the U.S. intelligence community, saying he doesn't see why Russia would interfere in the 2016 presidential election in the United States and calling Putin's denial -- quote -- "strong and powerful."
The president deferred to the Kremlin boss and dismissed his aggression over and over again during their joint news conference.
This hour, I will talk to key Democrats, Senator Richard Blumenthal and congressman Jim Himes. And our correspondents, analysts and other guests, they are also standing by.
First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's here in Helsinki with all of us.
Jim, even administration officials were truly shocked by how this played out.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Shocked, but no awe, Wolf.
Given a chance to directly confront Vladimir Putin over election meddling in 2016, the president took a pass. Instead, President Trump threw the U.S. intelligence community under the bus, and Putin drove right over it. Wolf, the president has been tougher on the press than he's been on Putin.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Vladimir Putin could not have scripted the moment better himself, as President Trump tossed aside the U.S. government's conclusion that Moscow interfered in the 2016 election and cozied up to the Russian leader.
In a stunning moment, Mr. Trump blamed America too.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I do. I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we've 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're all to blame.
ACOSTA: The moment played right into Putin's hands, who continued his denials?
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Could you name a single fact that would definitively prove the collusion? This is utter nonsense, just like the president recently mentioned.
ACOSTA: As for the Justice Department indictment late late last week accusing 12 Russian agents of hacking into Democratic Party e-mails, Putin said he would invite investigators with special counsel Robert Mueller's team over to Russia to question officials.
PUTIN (through translator): I don't know the full extent of the situation, but President Trump mentioned this issue, and I will look into it.
ACOSTA: The Russian president did admit one thing. He wanted Mr. Trump to win 2016.
PUTIN (through translator): Yes, I did, because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.
ACOSTA: As Putin offered up a memento from the World Cup, it was clear who was in control of this field.
TRUMP: Melania, here you go.
ACOSTA: There would be no public confrontations to stop meddling in U.S. elections.
QUESTION: would you denounce what happened in 2016 and would you warn him to never do it again?
TRUMP: So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. Why haven't they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee?
ACOSTA: The president was all but admitting he will take Putin's word over the assessment of his own intelligence officials.
TRUMP: 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.
ACOSTA: Touting his years as a KGB agent:
PUTIN (through translator): I would like to add something to this. After all, I was an intelligence officer myself and I do know how dossiers are made up.
ACOSTA: Putin weighed in on perhaps the biggest lingering question.
QUESTION: Does the Russian government have any compromising material on President Trump or his family?
ACOSTA: At first, Putin smirked at the question, as laughter broke out on the room. Then he dodged again.
PUTIN (through translator): Yes, I did hear these rumors that we allegedly collected compromising material on Mr. Trump when he was visiting Moscow.
Our distinguished colleague, let me tell you this. When President Trump visited Moscow back then I didn't even know that he was in Moscow. I treat President Trump with utmost respect. But, back then, when he was a private individual, a businessman, nobody informed me that he was in Moscow.
ACOSTA: Both leaders quickly left the room with so many unanswered questions in their wake.
Back in Washington, leaders from both parties were shell-shocked. Senator John McCain released a statement saying: "Today's press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory."
Former President Obama's CIA Director John Brennan tweeted: "Donald Trump's press conference performance in Helsinki rises to and exceeds the threshold of high crimes and misdemeanors. It was nothing short of treasonous."
GOP Senator Bob Corker captured much of the bipartisan disappointment.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I did not think this was a good moment for our country.
ACOSTA: Now, as one senior Republican congressional aide put it to me earlier, today was shocking to see the president's side with Putin.
But, as another source close to the White House is familiar with the president's thinking told me, the people around the president are simply too afraid to disagree with him in moments like this.
Wolf, the president appeared to be alone in his views up on that stage with Vladimir Putin. And he seemed to be all but giving the green light to Putin to keep on meddling in U.S. elections -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, it was pretty shocking indeed.
Jim Acosta reporting for us, thank you.
We're following all the reaction to the Trump-Putin summit here at the Allas Sea Pool in Helsinki and around the world.
Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, and our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, who is normally in Moscow.
He's here in Helsinki with us tonight.
We did hear President Putin, say, yes, he confirmed he did during the presidential campaign want Donald Trump to beat Hillary Clinton. What are you hearing from your sources about that?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And the other part of that question, remember, was, did you instruct any of your officials to assist Trump in achieving that?
And he said, yes, I did. He wanted to promote better ties with Russia, so why not?
But, look, I mean, in general, Wolf, this summit has been a massive success from Putin. All he had to do was show up for it to be a success, quite frankly. It was a political win, coming out of his isolation, having a platform, one-on-one with the president of the United States.
It was never going to go wrong for him. But I doubt they even dreamt at the Kremlin that it was going to go as well as this, a complete pass on a whole range of issues, not just the issue of meddling in the U.S. election. But what about MH-17? I mean, it's the anniversary today here this side of the Atlantic, four-year anniversary since, what was it, 298 people were shot out of the sky?
An international investigation says it was the Russian army that's responsible for that. The Novichok poisoning. The situation in Syria and Russia's support for Bashar al-Assad.
President Trump gave Putin a pass on all of those issues. They're popping champagne corks in Moscow tonight.
BLITZER: Yes, a slam dunk for Putin as far as the summit is concerned.
Jim Sciutto, the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, he put out a statement responding to what President Trump had to say.
You're getting some new information on that. What are you learning?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm told this.
I'm told this morning after the president's comments, the director of national intelligence and his team faced a choice. They saw the president's comments about the U.S. intelligence assessment. They were not expecting it. And it was decided the director of national intelligence himself, Dan Coats, who I should note was appointed by this president. President Trump, and who himself is a former GOP senator, he decided to release a statement in his name that directly contradicted the president.
And I'm going to read from that statement. He said the following: "The role of the intelligence community is to provide the best information and fact-based assessments possible," continues, "for the president and policy-makers. We have been clear in our assessments of the Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy. And we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security."
I am told this as well, Wolf, that the director of national intelligence, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not clear that statement with the White House prior. So that is the unvarnished view of the senior-most intelligence official in the U.S.
And note his comment in there, not only that they are standing by their assessment of Russia's interference in the last election, but -- and this something I hear from Democrats and Republicans based on the intelligence and multiple intelligence officials -- that Russia's interference in U.S. -- the U.S. democratic process continues to this day, as it was described by the DNI, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy.
And their concern is about the same thing happening perhaps even to a greater degree in 2018 and 2020.
BLITZER: Matthew, it was interesting that President Putin, he said he didn't even know Donald Trump was in Moscow during the Miss Universe Pageant, what was it, in 2014, when Trump was there.
CHANCE: Yes, I thought that was striking, Wolf, not least because we know that not to be the case.
And I have personally spoken to people who were there with Donald Trump at that Miss Universe competition in 2013. And when they found that when President Putin decided he wasn't going to come, because he was invited, they actually got a call from Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesperson, apologizing for it, sending over a gift to Donald Trump.
And so it's not the case that he did not know that Trump was there. And so that's extremely interesting.
BLITZER: Yes, it was very interesting that he would say that, even though everyone knew that Donald Trump was there in 2013. That's when the Miss Universe Pageant was taking place, and Donald Trump, as a private citizen, was one of the organizers of it.
CHANCE: He didn't expressly deny either, Putin, if you listen carefully
to what he said, that he didn't have kompromat on Trump. He avoided those words.
BLITZER: He certainly did dodge that question about compromising information.
BLITZER: The reporter asked him specifically, and he weaved and dodged.
Guys, thank you very much.
Matthew Chance will be heading back to Moscow fairly soon.
Let's talk about all of this with Congressman Jim Himes. He's a key Democrat. He serves on the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, are we just beginning right now to understand the extent of Russian attempts to undermine American democracy?
REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Yes, Wolf.
And one of the many tragedies of what happened today, of course, is that there was probably a chance to get the Russians to stop their ongoing efforts to meddle in the 2018 and 2020 elections. If the president had been firm and said, no, we're not arguing about whether you did this, you did this, and now we're going to talk about why you're never going to do it again, if that had been the speech, maybe Putin, maybe Russia would have taken a step back.
But now they were given by the president the United States a green light to continue their efforts to meddle in our elections. And we're going to see that.
Other elements of damage was, there are thousands -- I sit on the Intelligence Committee -- thousands of men and women who worked to develop the kind of reporting that they did that provided the indictments, that provided the intelligence community assessment of the Russian hack of our election.
Think of how they feel right now. Some of these people, by the way, put their lives at risk every single day. And they just heard their president say that, regardless of whether you risk your life or simply show up on time to do a hard job every single day, I don't care.
The damage, Wolf, today is profound.
BLITZER: What's your reaction, bottom line, to what you heard the president say here in Helsinki with Putin by his side?
HIMES: Well, I think I speak for the institution here when I say this place is reeling.
Democrats and Republicans alike really stunned by the extent to which the president really went out of his way. Here's a deal guy, a hard- charging supposed negotiator. And I'm pretty sure that either of my daughters could have done a better job opposite Vladimir Putin in this discussion.
Putin now has a green light, not just to go after our elections, but where was the mention of Crimea, the violation of a sovereign nation? Where was the mention of murdering people in London and in foreign -- in foreign countries?
What Vladimir Putin got today from the president the United States was this. There is nothing you can do, nothing you can contemplate so bad that the most powerful country in the world, the United States of America, will call you on it.
BLITZER: Does it raise national security concerns, Congressman, that President Trump seems to take a former KGB agent's word over his own intelligence community, including his director of national intelligence, the former CIA Director, now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, his secretary of defense?
Almost every one of his national security and intelligence officials says there's no doubt the Russians did it, and the president seems to be taking Putin's word over that.
HIMES: Of course it does, Wolf, in at least two or three ways.
Number one, as I referred to today, there are an awful lot of dedicated people working for CIA, NSA, FBI, who devote their lives to providing the president with good information. And if the president simply doesn't care, those people will go do something else.
And you know what? If we don't have those people at CIA and NSA and FBI, this country is a lot less safe. We talked about what happens when a murderous dictator like Vladimir Putin is given a green light by the United States for any of its activities. We will see more of those activities.
And then, of course, there's the political issue here. I mean, how are Republicans -- I would hope that, in this institution, they might stand up, finally, for the national security of their country and say the president is wrong.
But how are people like John McCain, people in the Republican national security establishment supposed to deliver good advice to the government, to the president, if they think they're just going to be countermanded, fired, whatever, by the president of the United States?
Today was -- I agree with John McCain -- a truly disgraceful performance that puts our security in deep risk.
BLITZER: Congressman Jim Himes, thanks so much for joining us.
HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on the potential damage done by President Trump's refusal to side with U.S. intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies against Vladimir Putin, with the whole world watching.
Does it amount to treason, as the former CIA chief, John Brennan, now claims?
And we're also learning more about the Kremlin's efforts to infiltrate the United States, as a Russian woman has now been charged with spying for Moscow.
BLITZER: We're back with more of our breaking news coverage of the Trump-Putin summit here in Helsinki, as the president of the United States's public kowtowing to the Russian leader prompts outrage from both parties.
And in the midst of all of this, we're now following another breaking story, a Russian national charged in Washington with being a spy for Putin's government.
Let's bring in our political correspondent, Sara Murray, who is working this story for us.
Sara, what are you learning?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the woman who is facing charges, her name is Maria Butina. She's a Russian national. She's 29 years old and was arrested here in Washington, D.C., on Sunday.
And I think one thing to note is, these are charges that are separate from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling. And these are charges that, as I mentioned, were brought in Washington, D.C., and they offer a sort of a new window into ways that Russia was trying to influence American politics in the run-up to 2016.
Based on our previous CNN reporting, as well as these allegations that were brought by the U.S. government, Maria Butina spent years trying to foster relationships with American political operatives, as well as organizations, which we know from our CNN reporting include the National Rifle Association.
She spent years trying to build inroads there. And she even used those relationships at one point with one of her mentors, who was Aleksandr Torshin, who was a Kremlin-linked banker, to try to foster a back channel between Donald Trump, at that time a presidential candidate, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Now, based on what we know publicly, based on our own reporting, it doesn't appear like those attempts were successful. They appear to have been rebuffed by the Trump campaign. But what these charging documents say is that this is a woman who was trying to use the NRA, who was trying to use the Americans she knew to try to further Russian political interests.
Now, she does have a lawyer. And that lawyer is dismissing the idea that this person was a Russian agent. Her lawyer says in a lengthy statement: "There is simply no indication of Butina seeking to influence or undermine any specific policy or law or the United States, only, at most, to promote a better relationship between the two nations."
Part of the way Maria Butina was able to foster these relationships was to say that she was leading a gun rights group in Russia. That's how she explained her interest in the NRA and trying to meet these various politicians -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very interesting, indeed.
All right, Sara, thank you, Sara Murray reporting in Washington.
Joining us now, Senator Richard Blumenthal. He's a Democrat. He serves on the Armed Services and Judiciary Committees.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
Let me get to the questions.
What was the impact, from your perspective, of President Trump's statements today at this joint news conference with Putin?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: It was shocking and dismaying, in effect, appeasement. That is a word that has very significant meaning in our history.
Donald Trump was a patsy and a pushover and a puppet, not a president. He, in effect, instead of Putin American interests first, he blamed America first, and he blamed everyone, except Russia himself.
So now the question is, what do we do? There is bipartisan dismay. And I think there's an opportunity for bipartisan action that heightens and forces implementation, enforcement of sanctions that penetrates and disrupts the Russian servers and systems through effective countermeasures, proactive and offensive, not just staying on our heels, and also exposing the well, the illicit corruption-fed wealth that Putin and his oligarchs have around the world to the potential disgust of the Russian people.
BLITZER: How concerning, Senator, is it to you that the president doesn't know who to trust, whether to trust Putin or his own intelligence agencies?
BLUMENTHAL: As I listened to the president today, I thought about his first day in office, when he went to the CIA and he stood before those stars. They are all anonymous, as you know, Wolf. They are Americans who gave their lives for intelligence operations around the world.
Only their families and their fellow CIA operatives know who they are. And that kind of sacrifice was so betrayed today. It was really the president of the United States failing to fulfill his oath of office to defend America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
He sided with Putin against America. He betrayed his oath of office. And I am so deeply disappointed and sad, as an American, that, on foreign soil, of all places, the president United States has, in effect, made himself a puppet of a Russian totalitarian dictator in the worst kind of tradition of appeasement.
And I think we're going to have bipartisan reaction that will force the intelligence agencies to implement measures and
will provide the kind of support that's already in the Cyber Command for the NDAA, the National Defense Authorization Act.
BLITZER: The director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, whom -- he was appointed by President Trump
, he made the comparison to the September 11, whole 9/11 issue, to argue that the warning signs are there that Russia and other actors are targeting American digital infrastructure right now.
So, what happens if President Trump dismisses those warning signs, not only from previous intelligence agency directives -- directors, but his own people?
BLUMENTHAL: Most of my life, Wolf, has been spent in law enforcement.
And regardless of these insidious attacks, whether by House Republicans on the FBI or the president on the United States on his own intelligence community, these guys and gals are going to do their job. They go to work every day defending America. They are the real patriots in this country.
And they are going to continue to protect America. But here's the other point. We need our allies, just as we did after 9/11, to come to our side. Putin has attacked not only the United States and our election systems. He has attacked Western democracies.
His goal of sowing discord, of dividing us from each other and within ourselves, is applicable not only to the United States, but also to our allies. We should be rallying around those allies, not trashing and demeaning
them, as Donald Trump has done over these past few days. It is a profound disservice to an alliance that has served us well in world wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, where these allies have shed blood, spent resources and sacrificed lives.
And I believe that we now need the instincts, the better instincts of America to come together here in the United States Congress, and take action. Putin understands only action, not words.
BLITZER: "The Washington Post" editorial board just posted this.
And I will read it to you, Senator.
"In Helsinki, Mr. Trump again insisted there was no collusion with Russia. Yet, in refusing to acknowledge the plain facts about Russia's behavior, while trashing his own country's justice system, Mr. Trump in fact was openly colluding with the criminal leader of a hostile power."
Do you agree?
BLUMENTHAL: I agree totally. He was colluding with the leader of a hostile power, deliberately and purposefully.
The real question here is, what does Vladimir Putin have on Donald Trump? And that's a series of facts probably that only the special counsel will reveal, all the more reason that the special counsel needs to be protected and why this talk about impeaching the deputy attorney general, who supervises that special counsel investigation, is so reprehensible and irresponsible.
Trying to intimidate and stop and threaten this investigation will stop us from gaining the truth. And this collusion -- that's the right word for it -- that resulted in today's appeasement to a totalitarian dictator who has oppressed his own people, invaded Crimea, participated in war crimes in Syria, hacking into the United States and other Western democracy, poisoning his own foreign intelligence, former intelligence people in Britain, an attack on British soil.
The list is so long, it is almost too long to be recited here. And I just think the United States of America has to rally around our intelligence community, our law enforcement, to make sure that the truth is upheld.
BLITZER: Senator Blumenthal, thanks so much for joining us.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead: the message President Trump sent the world as he cast blame on his own country for tensions with Russia, largely giving Vladimir Putin a pass.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we've 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're all to blame.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight many powerful Republicans are racing to distance themselves as quickly as possible from President Trump's public cozying up to Vladimir Putin at their summit right here in Helsinki.
[18:34:34] The president's director of national intelligence, Republican lawmakers, and many others, they are saying what Mr. Trump refused to say during his news conference with Putin, that the Kremlin's strong man -- with the Kremlin's strong man, that Russia did, indeed, interfere in the U.S. presidential election and that Putin is a foe of the United States who simply can't be trusted.
We have a team of experts with us to talk about all of this. The breaking news is continuing.
[18:35:00] You know, Phil Mudd, I want to play a clip. This is Putin. He granted an interview to Chris Wallace of FOX. And I'm going to play a clip to underscore how Putin is reacting to all of this.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Why -- every single request is filed. Nobody sent us a single formal letter, formal request.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Let me just say, I don't -- I don't want to -- and I want to ask one question and move on to other subjects. Why do you think Robert Mueller issued this indictment three days before you and President Trump met here at the summit?
PUTIN (through translator): I'm not interested in this issue a single bit. It's the internal political games of the United States. Don't make the relationship between Russia and the United States -- I don't hold it hostage on this internal political struggle. And it's quite clear to me that this is used in the internal political struggle. And it's nothing to be proud of for American democracy, to use such dirty methods and political rivalry.
WALLACE: Do you think they would -- do you think that Mr. Mueller is trying to sabotage the relationship?
PUTIN (through translator): I don't want to make any assessments about his operation. It is for Congress that appointed him to do this, to assess his performance. And I think court actually had some doubts about the due procedure about appointing Special Counsel Mueller to the position he now holds. I think that American court now believes that it was done with the infringement of the American legislation. But that's none of my business. Please address it myself.
WALLACE: Actually --
BLITZER: he says none of his business there. Let me get a quick reaction.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, heck, none of my business, of course, it's not. This is covert action, which means that the part that conducts the covert action says, "I don't have anything to do with it," but furthermore, why would he ever comment? This is a brilliant success.
If your goal is not just interfering in an American election, but sowing discord within America, how about the president with Democrats, the president with Republicans? How about the president with allies? He didn't have a conversation with the E.U. and the Brits about what to do about election intrusion. And how about Americans versus Americans.
Why would he comment? He's already won, Wolf. He's won. Take it to the bank.
BLITZER: John Kirby.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I couldn't agree more. I think Phil said it exactly right. I mean, I'm not at all surprised by the way Putin responded to Chris Wallace's questions. And thank goodness for Chris being that tough on him. I think that was good. But I'm not at all surprised that Putin would just simply wave it off. He's -- he wants to get beyond this.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. And that is why it is so strange that President Trump was citing his very vehement denials today when he was talking about this. The president saying, "I have great faith in our intelligence agencies, but Putin was very adamant when he denied that he didn't interfere in our election." Of course they did. That is what Vladimir Putin has been saying for so long.
And today he acted dumbfounded when he was confronted with that 29- page indictment from just four days ago. There was 12 Russian military officials that hacked the American election. That attacked the American election and hacked into the Democratic Party. That is why he wouldn't -- he refused to take the indictment from Chris Wallace during that interview.
But that is what the president, President Trump should have known, walking into that meeting with Vladimir Putin. Of course he's going to deny it. Just because you deny it does not mean that it didn't occur.
BLITZER: There were many shocking in that joint news conference, Phil. I'm going to play a clip, this one clip, when specific questions were asked about the president and the Russian interference. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election, and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?
PUTIN (through translator): Yes, I did. Yes, I did, because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russian relationship back to normal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is Putin acknowledging not only that he wanted Trump to win, bot beat Hillary Clinton, but is he also acknowledging, when he said, "Yes, I did," about that Russia was engaged in specific efforts to try to help him?
MUDD: But he's halfway there. It's the only time I've seen it. He's a real pro. The only time I've seen him make a mistake that I can remember. The mistake is, he may not know how much debate there's been within the Republican Party about how to acknowledge not only the Russian interference in the election, but the further intelligence judgment that the Russian interference was predicated on trying to influence the election in favor of Donald Trump.
Really embarrassing to the president. What Vladimir Putin just did there, to Republicans in Congress are going to say "Never say again -- never -- that this wasn't done in favor of Donald Trump. I just told you it was. What intelligence do you need?"
BERG: And President Trump has insisted for so long that the Russians would have preferred for Hillary Clinton to win, because she would have been a weaker person toward them. The president has said that for so long. This is the first time. The president can no longer say that, because Vladimir Putin himself said, "Yes, we would rather have President Donald Trump in office in America."
[18:40:04] BLITZER: Yes. He confirmed it bluntly when he said, "Yes, I did. Yes, I did."
Let's talk a little bit more about all of this with a former top U.S. intelligence official. Richard Ledgett is joining us. He left his post as the National Security Agency deputy director is joining us. He left his post as the national security back in April of last year.
Rick, thanks so much for joining us. In your former position as the NSA deputy director, you saw all the evidence that went into that intelligence community assessment. Are you concerned by the president's remarks today, where he seemed to believe the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, over his own intelligence agencies?
RICHARD LEDGETT, FORMER NSA DEPUTY DIRECTOR: I was, Wolf. I was actually shocked, and I was disappointed on two fronts. One front was the president missed a prime opportunity to confront Putin face-to- face and assert with some level of forcefulness that "We know that you did this, and here's what we're going to do if you don't stop."
And the second thing that's disappointing is the way that he threw the intelligence community as a whole under the bus. These are great American men and women who work tirelessly and Senator Blumenthal, your previous guest, was right when he said that, even despite this, they'll continue to do that. But still, it's disappointing to see these great Americans treated this way.
BLITZER: You've seen all the intelligence. Is there any doubt in your mind that Russia was behind the attack on the U.S. election?
LEDGETT: None whatsoever, Wolf. I looked at every single piece of CIA information, NSA information and the FBI investigation, and I spent seven or eight hours talking to our analysts who were part of the joint team that wrote the intelligence community. The fact is Russia was behind it. The fact is President Putin directed it.
BLITZER: The president again discounted the U.S. intelligence community today. What does that say to Russia?
LEDGETT: Well, it says that -- that the gloves are off. There's no reason for them not to keep doing this, and I -- there's already indications that they're doing it in this election. I expect that that will likely ramp up. And I think it's also a message to other countries who might choose to do the same sorts of things to the United States and other western countries.
BLITZER; Do you think the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, should resign in protest, because he really has been publicly humiliated by the president on this day?
LEDGETT: I think Dan's in a really tough, tough spot. I liked the note that he sent earlier today. I thought that was a really smart thing to do and well done and a principled thing to do.
I think that officials in these positions are caught in a little bit of a conundrum. You can resign on principle, if you believe that you don't have any influence on the administration.
But on the other hand, all these Americans that are in charge of these intelligence agencies feel a great sense of responsibility to the nation and the people that are in those organizations. And so resigning in protest leaves a gap, and there's no guarantee that the position would be filled with somebody who would defend those people and the nation as well as the incumbents.
BLITZER: So what I hear you saying, Rick, is that someone like Dan Coats, or Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, former CIA director, they may totally disagree with the president, but they fear, if they were to leave their positions, the country would suffer because of the president, the president representing a danger. Is that what I'm hearing from you?
LEDGETT: I think there's -- that's got to be a consideration in their personal calculus. Everybody's going to have a different take on that. They've got to do the things that work for them as individuals, but that's certainly a factor in their considerations.
BLITZER: Are Russians still active in U.S. systems, trying to penetrate U.S. systems?
LEDGETT: Without question.
BLITZER: Without question, you say.
LEDGETT: Without question, yes. Their activities have continued, and they continue to this day, and the corresponding activities in social media, the influence operations, they continue, as well.
BLITZER: So why does the president continually reject those notions and side with the Russians?
LEDGETT: I really don't know, Wolf. It's perplexing to me. I think it could be that he worries that it reflects on the legitimacy of his election. You know, there's a -- there's the Manchurian candidate explanation, although I think that's unlikely. And I think that -- I really don't understand his motivation. Because what he's allowing is actually the picking apart of the system that brought him to power.
BLITZER: Rick Ledgett, thanks so much for joining us.
LEDGETT: My pleasure, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks so much for your service in the U.S. intelligence community over many years.
There's more breaking news on all of this. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We're back here live in Helsinki. We're covering all the truly stunning public comments by president Trump and Vladimir Putin at their summit here in Finland.
After the summit, Putin sat down for an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News and refused to even look at a copy of Robert Mueller's indictment charging a dozen members of the Russian military intelligence agency.
[18:50:06] Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: I have here the indictment that was presented on Friday from the special counsel Robert Mueller that says that 12 members of Russian military intelligence, the GRU, and they talk specifically about units 26165 and 74455. They say -- you smile. Let me finish. They say that these units were specifically involved in hacking into Democratic Party computers, stealing information and spreading it to the world to try to disrupt the American election.
May I give this to you to look at, sir? Here. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Well, let me
start answering your question with something a little bit different. Let's have a look at it this way. People are talking about a purported interference of Russia with the election process in the United States. I've mentioned this in 2016 and I want to say it now again, and I really wish for your American listeners to listen to what I say.
First of all, Russia as a state has never interfered with the internal affairs of the United States, let alone its elections.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Phil Mudd, the president of the United States seems to believe him.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, but, I mean, I want to -- I think we've been spending the past few hours talking about the sort of political aspects of this, what Vladimir Putin has said. I think it's worth for a moment making this a little more personal. I joined the service in 1985. At that point --
BLITZER: When you say the service --
MUDD: The CIA. At that point the service was the USSR, the Soviets who are fomenting revolution everywhere from Southeast Asia to Africa and Latin America. When I left the service in 2010 and beyond, even going up to today, my peers who still serve look at everything from the Novichok attacks in the U.K. to Vladimir Putin's support for a murderer in Syria. And I talk to friends who got 30-plus years in the past two weeks, 30-plus years, one of whom I met on the street a week ago and he looked at me, put his life on the line in an al Qaeda fight and said, why did I do it?
Wolf, it's 1:52 a.m. Why don't you go downstairs after we get off the air and explain to me over a drink why we did it, so that the president can say I don't trust American intelligence, but I do trust the adversary that fomented revolution overseas in the favor of communism and that murdered people in the U.K., that's why we did the service for 30 years?
I don't get it, Wolf. It's not only political. There's personal aspects to this that people who served in the business. It's painful.
BLITZER: And you heard Rick Ledgett (ph). He spent almost 30 years at the National Security Agency, the U.S. intelligence community.
You spent almost 30 years in the U.S. Navy, became an admiral. How do you feel about it?
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), U.S. NAVY: The same way Phil does. I mean, look, 30 years -- I sailed in the Baltic Sea not far from here. In 1988, my first deployment at sea chasing Soviet submarines. They were the threat.
They -- and Russia still is the threat, for the last ten years in particularly. It makes NATO even more relevant than it was now. And so, when I listen to the commander-in-chief get up there today and take the side of the Russian president, against his own intelligence community and the national security establishment, I think that's a disgrace. As commander-in-chief, I'm absolutely shocked by it.
BLITZER: For both of you, Phil, this is emotional for you.
MUDD: It is. I mean, you look back. And when you join, you have friends join who become accountants, they become bankers, they become lawyers and they make a heck of a lot of money and you go to work every day and you say, you know, we have a higher cause. We have a cause to protect things that we think are a value in this country, the freedom of speech, freedom of democracy.
Forget about economics, forget about whether the E.U. is or is not an economic foe, we have a rival, an adversary in Russia who does not respect the rule of law, doesn't respect democratic opposition and doesn't respect the freedom of the press. And the president says, I like him better than I like the E.U. and his meeting's easier than my meeting with Theresa May. I don't get it, Wolf. That's not why I did 25 years.
KIRBY: Attacks our country through cyber. Supports the Taliban in Afghanistan. If you don't think there have been American lives put at risk, if not taken through the results of Russians -- Russians interference in the world. Think again.
They're supporting Assad against the Syrian democratic forces and the opposition and their continued coddling of Iran and Iran's malign influence in the region. All of that leads to huge national security threats. And, again, our commander-in-chief stood up there today and basically wrapped his arms around what is indisputably an American enemy.
BLITZER: And it's interesting. Everything we're hearing, Kaitlan, you're well-plugged into this, the White House simply doesn't know how to respond to all of this.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They don't. There have been so many crises of the administration's own making throughout Donald Trump's time in office, but this is one time today where I called several people who work in this White House, not low-level staffers, very senior officials, and they simply didn't know what to say. They were speechless.
The ones traveling with the president, got with him on Air Force One, turned their phones off for that 8 1/2 hour flight back and the rest of them were left to clean up with what President Trump had just said, welcoming someone who attacked an American election in front of everyone, in front of these cameras on television, and for once they simply weren't able to spin this or frame this in a way that was favorable for the administration. They simply had nothing to say about what the president had said at that press conference. And they were just as stunned as we were.
One of the them, I asked them, do you think people are going to resign over this, including potentially Dan Coats or John Bolton or someone like that who has previously said very critical things about Russia interfering in the election? They said that was a good question but they couldn't answer it.
BLITZER: We'll see what happened on that front. Stick around.
I want to bring in Fareed Zakaria, the host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS", who is joining us.
Fareed, what's your reaction to what we all heard today from the president of the United States?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": Well, look, for all of those who wondered whether Donald Trump would at some point normalize, whether he would somehow get reined in by the strictures and constraints of the presidency, of the White House, of listening to those daily presidential briefings, we've had ample evidence to say it, but here is the most final conclusive evidence -- the answer is no. Donald Trump is as bizarre a candidate as we have ever had in American history. And he has turned the political world topsy-turvy.
He's taken a party that used to be deeply anti-Russian, pro-CIA, pro- free trade and pro-immigrant under Ronald Reagan, and reversed course on all of those things. What is striking is there is really no opposition within his party.
Think about this, Mitt Romney, the presidential nominee of the same party, when campaigning against Barack Obama -- and this was the last presidential election before Donald Trump -- said the biggest problem with the Obama administration is they are not tough enough on our single greatest geopolitical adversary, Russia and Vladimir Putin.
Donald Trump has essentially taken the polar opposite position and the entire Republican establishment, all of these storied intellectuals and policy wonks who have had high-level positions, they've all just fallen in line.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting that former CIA Director John Brennan said it was treasonous what the president is doing and saying right now. Is that too much?
ZAKARIA: Well, I don't know how -- you know, how do you judge Donald Trump? If you use any normal metric, he sort of overshoots it in so many different directions that you don't know whether to laugh or cry, right? I mean, think of a Jane Fonda was regarded as engaging in treasonous behavior because she was in a photo-op in a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft -- here you have the president of the United States saying that he supports Vladimir Putin's version of events, saying why would they interfere when there is, of course, not just evidence but clear intent.
We know everything about why Putin hated Hillary Clinton. He saw Hillary Clinton as having tried to support the pro-democracy movement in Russia during his re-election bid for the -- for the presidency, and therefore had this personal grudge against her. We know that he has used these kinds of operations in Ukraine, in other European countries, so this is not just the U.S. intelligence, there are multiple intelligence agencies from across the western world.
The pattern is the same. The motive is clear. And yet you have the president saying, you know, I believe the adversary. I don't believe our own government, the government he heads, his own director of national intelligence.
Yes, but it almost feels like, you know, treasonous is too -- is too weak a word because the whole thing has taken on an air of such un- reality that you don't even know, you know, what standards to apply to somebody like Donald Trump.
The really interesting question is, will there be any blowback? Will there be, I mean, will the kinds of things you're describing when you're talking about on the panel, will it matter? Will it matter to the Republican establishment? Will it matter to senators? Will it matter to the party and will it most importantly matter in his approval ratings within the party?
Remember, Donald Trump is still at the last polls taken more popular as -- among Republicans than any Republican president in recorded history. That includes George W. Bush the week after 9/11. Is that going to change?
BLITZER: And just to be precise, John Brennan, the former CIA director, said what Trump did today exceeds the threshold of high crimes and misdemeanors. It was nothing short of treasonous.
Fareed, thank you very much.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. I'm reporting live from Helsinki. Our special coverage of the Trump/Putin summit continues with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT".