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Trump Tells Supporters to Ignore Media Coverage on Him; Senate Intelligence Chairman: FBI Had Valid Reasons to Monitor Trump Campaign Aide; NYT: GOP Fundraisers Paid Trump Deputy Campaign Chairman for Access. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 24, 2018 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Don't believe your eyes. In a week of White House whiplash, President Trump reverses course on Russia and Iran, but now he's telling supporters not to believe what they see or read.

[17:00:14] Breaking with President Trump. The Republican Senate Intelligence Committee chairman says there were sound reasons for judges to approve the surveillance warrant on a former Trump campaign adviser. And the GOP leaders of the House and Senate both say Vladimir Putin is simply not welcome up on Capitol Hill, despite a presidential invitation to visit Washington.

Lock her up. Again. High school students break into the Trump rally chant of "Lock her up" as the U.S. attorney general echoes their refrain and laughs. Is that the right thing for Jeff Sessions to do?

And wardrobe malfunction. Ivanka Trump decides to shut down her clothing and accessory business, opting for a career in public policy. But was her brand already tarnished by conflicts of interest?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. President Trump tries another distraction as he feels the heat from his disastrous summit with Vladimir Putin, telling supporters not to believe everything they see or read. But eight days after that meeting, we still don't know what went on behind closed doors.

And as the president constantly reverses course on Russia, Iran, the Mueller investigation, he's taking sharp criticism from a growing number of Republicans.

I'll speak with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and specialists, they are standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin with our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, beset by controversies and facing growing criticism, the president is now appealing to his base. JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he is

appealing to his base and, of course, that is nothing new. But what is new tonight is in the face of so much Republican outrage over so many things really mounting up over the last week from Russia to Iran and particularly the looming -- the fallout of the tariffs and the trade war.

But the president in Kansas City today was telling supporters something we've not seen him do before. He said, "Ignore what's happening and stick with me."


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just remember: what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.

ZELENY (voice-over): At the VFW national convention in Kansas City, a defensive president imploring supporters to stand with him, regardless of what they see.

TRUMP: Oh, folks, stick with us. Stick with us.

ZELENY: It came on another day of White House whiplash. A week after downplaying Russia's role in attacking American democracy --

TRUMP: I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

ZELENY: -- the president changing course, suddenly saying on Twitter, "I'm very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming election. No president has been tougher on Russia than me. They will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don't want Trump."

Yet just last week in Helsinki, Putin said he did want Trump to win.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.

ZELENY: The president also changing his tune on Iran. A day after warning he could wage war with Iran for threatening the U.S., he said he was open to brokering a deal.

TRUMP: We're ready to make a real deal, and Iran is not the same country anymore. That I can say.

ZELENY: But it's fallout from his trade policy that's causing alarm among Republicans heading into the midterm elections. The president pointing his fingers at his favorite target, the press.

TRUMP: So when I say, "I'm going to put tariffs on them," they all start screaming, "He's using tariffs!"

ZELENY: But it's the disapproving voices of Republicans that reverberated in Washington. REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I don't think tariffs

are the right answer. I don't -- I don't support tariffs. I think tariffs are taxes.

ZELENY: Republicans roundly rejecting Trump's new plan to send farmers $12 billion in emergency relief to ease the tariff pain.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul saying the answer is not welfare for farmers. The answer is remove the tariffs.

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse: "This trade war is cutting the legs out from under farmers, and the White House's plan is to spend $12 billion on gold crutches."

And South Dakota Senator John Thune: "This is not the right remedy."

Speaking for nearly an hour to veterans --

TRUMP: We don't apologize for America anymore. We stand up for America.

ZELENY: -- the president did not mention Putin or their much-maligned Helsinki summit. He also didn't say whether he intends to go ahead with his plan to strip security clearances from former top intelligence officials simply because they criticized him.

Speaker Paul Ryan had this to say about what some call a Trump enemies list.

RYAN: I think he's trolling people, honestly. I think he's just trolling people.

ZELENY: All this as some Trump supporters can't quit Hillary Clinton, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions laughing along like this to a high school group.

[17:05:04] JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Lock her up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lock her up! Lock her up!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lock her up! Lock her up!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lock her up! Lock her up!

SESSIONS: I heard that a long time over the last campaign.


ZELENY: Now, as for the stripping top intelligence officials of their security clearances, Wolf, we did not hear from the president on that directly today. He didn't say it in an hour-long speech, and he didn't talk about it on Twitter, either.

There is some confusion tonight inside his own administration. Just a short time ago his deputy press secretary, Hogan Gidley, was briefing reporters on Air Force One as the president flies back here to Washington. He said that he has begun the mechanism of revoking these security clearances.

But Wolf, we checked that with White House press secretary Sarah Sanders sort of after that. She said nothing has changed since yesterday. So it is unclear if the president has made that decision to go forward.

But Wolf, one thing we do know: a senior administration official has told us the president likes how this is playing out. He likes having this conversation about security clearances. It is still an open question if he'll actually revoke those clearances.

BLITZER: Yes, that would be unprecedented. All right. Jeff Zeleny reporting for us, thank you.

Up on Capitol Hill, a dramatic split between the Republican chairmen -- chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees when it comes to the surveillance warrant on a former Trump campaign adviser.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu, what are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Significant break. The Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr breaking from his House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, about whether or not the efforts to monitor that former Trump campaign advisor, Carter Page -- efforts to monitor him by the FBI, whether that was done appropriately or not.

Nunes has been saying it was done inappropriately; it was filled with bias and abuse. But Richard Burr, the Senate intelligence chairman, tells us that is not the case. He's saying that it was done properly, saying this exactly: "There were sound reasons as to why judges issued the FISA," referring to the Foreign Intelligence Act, and he said I don't think, "I ever expressed that I thought the FISA application came up short," and that in response to a question from our colleague Jeremy Herb about whether or not the Nunes memo that detailed allegations of abuse in this process to monitor Carter Page, whether that was done -- whether he agreed with that Nunes memo. Burr saying he simply did not.

This is the latest break, Wolf, from Burr and Devin Nunes over a range of issues, including whether or not Vladimir Putin tried to help Donald Trump become president, as the intelligence community has concluded. Nunes' committee raised questions about that conclusion. Burr's committee, on the other hand, has reaffirmed that Intelligence Committee's conclusion. Just another sign of how Devin Nunes seeing the same intelligence, more isolated than other Republicans who are seeing what he's seeing but coming up with much different conclusions, Wolf.

BLITZER: There's a lot of criticism of Devin Nunes coming forward, not just from Democrats but Republicans, as well.

Manu, there's also growing Republican criticism of the president's constant reversals on Russia. I want you to listen to what the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, had to say about a possible Putin visit to Washington.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNEL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, I can only speak for the Congress. The speaker and I made it clear that Putin will not be welcome up here at the Capitol.


BLITZER: He will be welcomed by the president at the White House, but he won't be welcomed up on Capitol Hill. What else are you hearing?

RAJU: Yes. Lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, don't know what to make of this second summit after they really have not gotten a readout or any intelligence about what exactly the president and Vladimir Putin agreed to behind closed doors. And plus Republicans and Democrats have roundly criticized his handling of his public appearance alongside Vladimir Putin when he would not criticize Putin but instead criticized the U.S. intelligence community.

Now, when I had a chance to ask Paul Ryan, the House speaker, whether or not he was comfortable with Vladimir Putin coming to Washington and possibly meeting within on one with the president, he said the message to Putin needs to be firm that the United States will not accept Russia election meddling.


RYAN: We will certainly not be giving him an invitation to do a joint session. That's something we reserve for allies.

Look, I'm comfortable having presidents sit down and have one-on-ones with foreign leaders. But what I think matters is the message. And if the message is stop meddling in our country, stop violating our sovereignty, then I support that. But it's the message that counts.

RAJU: Should the president be firmer on that message?

RYAN: I think we can always be firmer on that message.


RAJU: So not directly taking on the president.

Other Republicans, however, Wolf, were taking on the president, particularly some rank-and-file members, even some in difficult re- election races like Congressman Mike Kauffman from Colorado, who raised some significant concerns about the president's handling of that first summit and said the president should not go through with the second summit.


REP. MIKE KAUFFMAN (R), COLORADO: I think the first summit was a terrible mistake. I think the second summit would be equally bad. I mean, the fact is that the president went to Europe, and I think he was, you know, strong when it came to talking to our allies and weak when it came to Putin.

RAJU: Do you think that he got played by Putin.

KAUFFMAN: Absolutely. No question about it.


RAJU: So tomorrow, Wolf, our first sense of exactly what happened behind closed doors. Mike Pompeo coming up to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. We'll see if he gives any information about what happened.

But I can tell you, Wolf, talking to Republicans and Democrats, a lot of members want to know exactly what was discussed behind closed doors, what agreements the president may have made with Vladimir Putin. We'll see if Pompeo sheds any light on that tomorrow, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. Manu, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: As you just heard, some of your Republican colleagues up on Capitol Hill, they're now going much further than the president in their criticism of Russia. Are they going far enough?

JEFFRIES: Certainly, they are not. There's some criticism here or there, but overall, when you think about the Republicans in the House of Representatives and a small but growing subset of what I refer to as the Cover-up Caucus, they have refused to recognize that we don't work for Donald Trump. We work for the American people. We are a separate and co-equal branch of government, and we have a responsibility of making sure that we serve as a check and balance on an out-of-control executive.

Time and time again, Donald Trump has been out-of-control. Yet the Republicans have refused to hold him accountable; to undertake our responsibilities to have hearings; to bring forth information to the American people. And so, a handful of members who are uttering criticisms, many of whom are in tough re-election campaigns, doesn't cut it.

BLITZER: The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, says the United States, in her words, "will never trust Russia." Do you think there's anything Republicans can say that will convince the president to reconsider this summit?

JEFFRIES: Well, that's not clear, based on the fact that the president seems to have made up his mind. He wants to continue to play footsy with Vladimir Putin. Apparently, he's willing to criticize everyone else, all of our allies, whether that's Great Britain or France or Germany or Mexico or Canada or Australia or NATO, the European Union. He doesn't mince words when it comes to the people who are part of the free world.

And yet, he refuses to criticize Vladimir Putin, who we know is a thug and a dictator and who engineered an attack on our democracy. That's unfortunate. But what's been made clear is that, while we as Democrats, we're going to continue to stand for the people and work on issues of lowering health care costs and raising pay and cleaning up corruption, Donald Trump stands for Vladimir Putin and that's shameful.

BLITZER: The White House says President Trump is considering pulling security clearances from several former national security and intelligence officials who have publicly criticized him. The House speaker, Paul Ryan, says the president is just trolling, trolling people. How do you see it?

JEFFRIES: Well, this is the president of the United States of America. This is not trolling. This is irresponsible presidential conduct. And the Republicans need to step up and try to rein in the leader of their party. This is not innocent behavior. This is behavior that undermines the very fabric of our democracy.

The notion that we have separate and co-equal branches of government, that there are checks and balances, that a president is not a monarch or a dictator, notwithstanding the fact that Donald Trump often fancies himself in that fashion.

And there's a responsibility that Speaker Ryan and Mitch McConnell and other Republicans in the Cover-up Caucus have to stop normalizing this presidential behavior, stop excusing it, and begin to confront it with the aggressiveness that it deserves.

BLITZER: You think this is just a distraction, congressman? Or is it potentially a real threat to national security?

JEFFRIES: Well, I think it is designed perhaps as a distraction that Donald Trump threw out there in the ether to try to walk away from the attention that other things that he's done that's irresponsible have cast upon the White House and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the Mueller investigation and the seriousness of it and the fact that we need to allow it to proceed so he can report to the American people.

But we also have to make sure that we don't allow this behavior to be normalized and there are concerns when the president continues to try to do things that are unprecedented that fundamentally undermine the fabric, the national security fabric, because that does relate to the safety and security of the American people.

BLITZER: During a speech before a group of conservative high schoolers today, the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, repeated the words "lock her up" and then laughed as the crowd chanted the phrase. I want you to listen to the clip. Listen to this, Congressman.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lock her up! Lock her up! UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lock her up! Lock her up!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lock her up! Lock her up!

SESSIONS: Lock her up.


BLITZER: All right. That was a pretty common refrain, as you remember, during the 2016 presidential campaign trail. Directed, clearly, at Hillary Clinton.

How disturbing is it to you that that kind of rhetoric comes up at an event like this, and the top law enforcement official in the United States responds with a "lock her up" and a smile and a laughter?

JEFFRIES: It's incredibly disturbing, and Jeff Sessions is an embarrassment. He's a disgrace. He should be ashamed of himself, and he's not fit to continue to be the attorney general of the United States of America.

The notion that the top law enforcement officer in the nation would entertain that type of reckless rhetoric, those folks need to get over the fact that the presidential race in 2016 is over, and perhaps with Russia's assistance, Donald Trump is the president of the United States of America.

They should be more concerned about the illegal activity, the conspiracy, the collusion, the aberrant behavior that was taking place by Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn and Papadopoulos, Carter Page and all of the other individuals who have either pled guilty, have been indicted or continue to be under investigation.

This is a distraction that is designed to divert from the fact that there's a serious, ongoing criminal investigation that's taking place that could expose one of the most gravest conspiracies to take place between individuals and a foreign power ever to occur in the history of the republic.

BLITZER: Yes, it's interesting that the Trump presidential campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is literally, he's locked up in jail right now awaiting trial.

Congressman Jeffries, thanks so much for joining us.

JEFFRIES: Thanks, so much, Wolf.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following. A stunning new report that top GOP lawmakers paid the former Trump campaign deputy chairman huge sums of money to help them navigate through the Trump administration. That campaign official now cooperating with the Mueller investigation.

And as President Trump reverses course on Russia, he's taking some strong bipartisan criticism right now and is now telling supporters not to believe what they see or read. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:21:49] BLITZER: We have more breaking news. "The New York Times" is reporting that top GOP fund-raisers Elliott Broidy and Tom Barrack paid former Trump campaign deputy chairman Rick Gates to help advise them on the administration. Gates is now cooperating with the Mueller investigation, having pled guilty.

Joining us now, CNN contributor Mark Mazzetti, the Washington investigative correspondent for "The New York Times."

So, Mark, why were these two men willing to pay so much money, $20,000 to $25,000 a month, to Rick Gates?

MARK MAZZETTI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, they seem to want advice for how to navigate the new Trump administration. They didn't seem to get a whole lot for their money, according to interviews and documents. But these payments, at least from Broidy to Gates, continued right up to the point where Gates was indicted by Robert Mueller in October. There was even an invoice for another $25,000 after he was indicted, although Broidy's people say that that was not paid.

So it's a lot of money for sort of influence and advice in this very new era in Washington. And sort of a microcosm of how the lobbying was working in the early days of the Trump administration.

BLITZER: As you know, Gates is now cooperating with the special counsel, Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. How do these other two men fit into this broader picture?

MAZZETTI: Well, it's unclear whether Robert Mueller is looking at these other issues, for instance, lobbying, et cetera, that Elliott Broidy has been pulled into. As we know, there's another associate of Broidy, George Nader, who has been a cooperating witness for Mueller.

But Gates and -- sorry, Barrack and Broidy are both close associates of Donald Trump, and the fact that they were paying Rick Gates so much money is certainly interesting, and it certainly bears more reporting to find out exactly what they were doing it for. I mean, Tom Barrack is very close to Tom -- to Donald Trump. It's unclear why he needed to pay Rick Gates so much money during those early months of the Trump administration.

BLITZER: Yes, those are important points. And there's so much going on, so much we clearly still don't know. Mark Mazzetti, great reporting. Thanks very much.

MAZZETTI: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, there's more news we're following, President Trump leaving heads spinning today with his constant reversals on Russia and the Mueller investigation. Why's he now telling supporters not to believe everything they see?

And after calling it a hoax, the president suddenly suggests he's concerned about the Russia election interference, but comes up with aa brand-new twist on the target.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


[17:28:58] BLITZER: Our breaking news, President Trump addressing a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention earlier this afternoon like it was one of his own political rallies, telling people in the crowd they should stick with him and not believe what they see and read in the news.

Let's talk about that and more with our correspondents and analysts. And Gloria Borger, let's listen to the president in his own words.


TRUMP: Just stick with us. Don't believe the crap you see from these people. The fake news.

Just remember. What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.


BLITZER: What do you make of that kind of language by the president of the United States, especially before a VFW convention?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's completely inappropriate, but it's also completely expected from Donald Trump. I mean, this isn't the first time we heard him talk about the fake news.

I think what was really interesting was this afternoon the manager of communications and public affairs for the VFW put out a statement saying that "We were disappointed to hear some of our members boo the press. We rely on the media to help spread the VFW's message," and then went on and listed a number of networks including our own, saying, "They were our invited guests, and we were happy to have them there."

[17:30:15] So good for them for doing that.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look. I mean, it's Orwellian. It's Orwellian. The idea that he's saying, "Don't believe what you see. Don't believe what you hear. Nothing to look at. The only truth is me." It's dangerous. It really is.

And I know we have said this. So many times. But it's important to keep pointing it out. Because it's not normal. And it's not accurate. And the issue is, the reason it's dangerous is because the more he says it to the base and to people who do genuinely believe everything he says, the more it doesn't just chip away at the institution of the press and other institutions that are important. It really takes a sledgehammer to them, and it's not going to be that easy to put it back together. BLITZER: Yes. Bianna, I know you want to weigh in. Go ahead.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I was going to say the irony of this is that you have a president who watches TV and follows the press more rigorously than most presidents we have covered in modern history. He tweets in response to what he reads on the news.

So on the one hand, look, it works in many respects. He tweets about the Mueller investigation, calling it a witch hunt on a daily basis. And you see the poll numbers suggesting that more Americans are now starting to question whether Bob Mueller can be objective in -- throughout this process. So, on the one hand it seems to be working for the president.

On the other hand, it makes no sense. And it's something that we see, and we talk about this on a daily basis, as well, but it's something that we see other leaders of dictatorial countries do: "Don't believe the press. Only believe me."

And in speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, we should note that this is a president who, I believe, has yet to visit Afghanistan, has yet to visit Iraq. So, when it comes to issues that relate specifically to this audience, you would think that this would be a president who would focus more on their needs and speaking to this audience, as opposed to just, you know, broadly saying, "Don't pay attention to all the negative headlines."

BLITZER: That is certainly true. A year and a half into his administration, he has yet to meet with the troops in either Iraq or Afghanistan or any war zone, for that matter.

He is right now, Sabrina, beginning to get a bit more criticism from members of his own party.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Absolutely. You're starting to see the president have to do multiple course corrections in recent weeks with respect to Russia. You saw him tweet suggesting that he is now more concerned with the prospect that Moscow is trying to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections. Now, granted, he said it was to help Democrats, when Vladimir Putin himself said in Helsinki last week that he wanted Donald Trump to win the 2016 election.

But you've also seen the administration announce $12 billion in emergency relief to farmers, which is the result of the president's own policy on tariffs. And Republicans have panned that proposal, saying that it's a short-term fix for what is a self-inflicted wound by this administration. They'd rather they reverse course on tariffs, not create a whole other program to weather the fallout from that policy.

But the question, of course, with respect to the criticism he's getting from members of his own party is how far are they willing to go? The Senate, it was worth noting, passed a nonbinding resolution to limit the president's authority on tariffs but the that's the key; it was nonbinding. So are they going to go further and pass something that would more

definitively require congressional approval before the president were to impose tariffs on other countries?

BASH: Can you imagine any other Republican president saying, "We understand that this is hurting you, farmers, and so to answer that, we're going to -- Uncle Sam's going to write a check to help you." I mean, any other Republican president would be -- there would be pitchforks outside the White House Gates saying --

BLITZER: Increase the national debt by $12 billion.

BASH: Are you kidding me?


BORGER: But we're going to put a Band-Aid on a wound that we -- that we caused. That we caused. It's -- it's absurd.

GOLODRYGA: And it suggests that he's doubling down on tariffs. This isn't just a threat, a negotiating tactic. This is something that he's now in for the long haul.

BASH: Yes.

GOLODRYGA: Look, on the one side, before we get through November, many economists say, you're not going to yet feel the effects of a full-on trade war or the tariffs, even on some of his most important states, these red states that so many voters there went and voted for Trump now are possibly going to be feeling the pain.

On the flip side, even the Fed and others say you're not yet going to feel any of the rewards from the tax cuts either. So, whether or not they decide to stay alongside this president come November or with the party come November, may be more ideologically based than economically.

[17:35:02] BLITZER: But it's -- you know, it's interesting, because today the speaker of the House, Gloria, Paul Ryan, he said he hates these tariffs. He said these tariffs are really taxes on the American people.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Because the American public is going to have to go to Wal- Mart and other stores. They're going to have to pay a lot more for stuff that they're buying right now. He doesn't want it. So you have even Paul Ryan --

BORGER: Do something about it. Do something.

BLITZER: -- Paul Ryan now saying, "Don't do this, Mr. President."

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: But the president an hour or two later, in that speech before the VFW, said, "Tariffs are great, love tariffs."

BORGER: Right. Well, look, the president and the Republican Party are not known to be in lockstep, I should say. But if Paul Ryan hates it so much, and if Republicans hate it so much, then do something about it.

Then tell the president, "You know, you've got to reverse yourself here," or say, "You can't do it without congressional approval," and make it a binding -- a binding piece of legislation. I mean, this -- this is something that none of them like, and they know that what he's trying to do is buy the votes of these farmers through the midterms.

BASH: He is banking on the fact that enough people out in the country -- I mean, he does have, you know, some data and, certainly, a presidential wind to back this up, are so done with China having, you know, having one over on us and so ready to fight back on China, which is -- was really along with the wall, the biggest applause line in his campaign. That many of them are willing to sort of take a hit in their own pocketbook, and this is a way, obviously, to try to ease that. But unclear how long that's going to last.

GOLODRYGA: But these types of accusations -- and they're right. Nobody is defending China here. These typically happen in a downturn in the economy. This president inherited a huge economic recovery and continued economic growth. So it doesn't really make sense, just from a purely economic standpoint, to be bashing our trade relations while at the same time, you know, showing an unemployment rate that continues to go down.

BLITZER: And Sabrina, I thought it was really significant. The president of the United States makes a big deal on inviting Vladimir Putin to come to Washington, have a meeting and spend some time at the White House. The Republican leader of the Senate, the Republican leader of the House, they both say, "You know what? Putin is not welcome up on Capitol Hill."

SIDDIQUI: Right. And this has been a significant split between the president and Republicans on Capitol Hill, where they have wanted him to be more forceful on the issue of Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

But even there, mostly, their condemnations have not been -- have not been accompanied by any meaningful action. So even there if Republicans feel so strongly about it, they could, for example, take up a bipartisan sanctions bill in the Senate that would impose more sanctions on Moscow if there is evidence to suggest that it is, in fact, meddling in the 2018 midterms. They haven't gone that far just yet.

BORGER: Wait a minute.

GOLODRYGA: And to borrow -- sorry.

BORGER: I was just going to say, he's inviting Putin because he likes him, but he also tweets today, "Don't forget: Putin wants to elect Democrats." Huh? I don't get that. BLITZER: Go ahead, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: And to borrow a word we heard today from Paul Ryan, which is trolling, there's some heavy trolling coming from Moscow, as well, because reportedly, Russia's now saying that -- that they're thinking twice about this invitation. Vladimir Putin apparently doesn't like the fall weather in D.C. And so it's really having to think twice about coming and suggested, "Maybe we'll just meet at the G-20." I mean, what a burn that would be.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Let's see what happens, if anything, along all those lines.

Guys, stick around. There's more news, a new warning about the threat of Russian cyberattacks targeting the U.S. power grid and more.

And later, amid unresolved ethics questions, Ivanka Trump suddenly shuts down her fashion business.


[17:43:14] BLITZER: Today President Trump all of a sudden tweeted he's, quote, "very concerned" Russia will try to impact the upcoming midterm elections. He says to help Democrats. However, U.S. intelligence officials are warning the Russians already are targeting much more, including the U.S. power grid.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, has been working his sources.

What are you hearing, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the U.S. believed that Russia has the capability to attack a whole host of critical infrastructure here in the U.S. That includes voting systems as we get closer to the midterm elections. The U.S. still looking for signs that Russia may do that. No signs yet, but they are watching.

But they also believe that Russian capabilities extend beyond voting systems to critical systems including nuclear power, electrical systems, and they believe those attacks and Russia's capability are truly alarming.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, top officials charged with protecting the nation's voting systems say Russia remains a threat to upcoming midterm elections this November.

CHRISTOPHER KREBS, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Based on this prior demonstration of capability and intent, we are planning and preparing as if they'll try again this fall and beyond.

SCIUTTO: The Justice Department recently indicted 12 Russian intelligence officials for leading Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. This just days before President Trump once again questioned the U.S. intelligence community's confident assessment blaming the Kremlin.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me, and some others. They said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia.

SCIUTTO: Other members of the Trump administration continue to cast a much darker view of Russia.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: We don't trust Russia. We don't trust Putin. We never will. They're never going to be our friend. That's just a fact.

SCIUTTO: And tonight concern that Russian government hackers have carried out probing cyberattacks on vital U.S. infrastructure, including the power grid, potentially giving the Kremlin the ability to turn off the lights.

Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security and FBI detailed a two-year multi-stage effort by Moscow targeting hundreds of companies that they believe is still ongoing.

The hackers first gained access to small energy related companies, planting malware that then allowed them to move into larger networks. Once inside the energy suppliers, the Russians collected information on the facilities' control systems, attempting to acquire the ability to turn those systems off.

JAMES LEWIS, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: They're identifying targets. They're positioning malware, so they could pull the trigger when they wanted to.

But they're also sending the United States a message -- we are in position to cause harm if we wanted to do it, and so you, the U.S., should be a little more careful.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): A spokesperson for DHS cautions that while hundreds of companies were targeted, the Russian's access was limited and, quote, would not have had any impact on the larger grid if taken offline.

The Russians targeted other crucial sectors as well, including nuclear power, water, aviation, and manufacturing.

Experts see the intrusions as a possible precursor to an unprecedented Russian cyber attack that could, in the event of all-out war, devastate the U.S. homeland.

The Director of the NSA and commander of U.S. Cyber Command says that Russia presents a clear and present danger.

GEN. PAUL NAKASONE, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: Our adversaries will continue to penetrate and try to penetrate such things as our critical infrastructure. What should we do about that? And I say I think it's both the idea of being vigilant about that, certainly. It's also the idea of being able to act forward. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Of course, the U.S. has its own significant capabilities to carry out cybe rattacks on its adversaries, but the worry and the hesitation has been that if you go down that path, you end up escalating and could end up in an all-out war. And that's why successive administrations have not, to this point, gone down that path.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We'd be mutually assured of destruction along.

SCIUTTO: Exactly.

BLITZER: This is really scary stuff.

SCIUTTO: For our modern age, no question.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, for that report.

Coming up, Ivanka Trump suddenly shuts down her fashion business without addressing any of the unresolved questions about conflicts of interest.


[17:52:05] BLITZER: Ivanka Trump is shutting down her fashion and accessory company which has become a lightning rod for ethics questions because of her high-level role in her father's administration.

Let's bring in CNN Money and Politics correspondent Cristina Alesci.

Cristina, what's the President's daughter saying?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ivanka Trump was actually over at Trump Tower just a short while ago, a source told me, consoling and thanking staff for working there. It was a sad day, apparently, at the company, but she says she wants to focus on politics.

And sources close to her say that there was really no point in keeping the company running if she wasn't going to come back, especially because it was subject to so many restrictions in an effort to try to avoid the appearance of conflicts or ethics violations.

But putting all those talking points aside, Wolf, it's clear that the brand had some very real challenges.



ALESCI (voice-over): Tonight, Ivanka Trump's clothing line is out of fashion.

In an announcement today, the President's daughter said her company, which is named after her and featured her initials in its logo, is shutting down. The apparel line which Trump launched in 2014 before her father's run for president sold women's wear online and in department stores.

In a statement, the President's daughter said she didn't know, quote, if I will return to the business, but I do know that my focus for the foreseeable future will be the work I am doing here in Washington.

But Trump's brand has been embroiled in controversy since the presidential election, in part because all of the products were made overseas even though her father has touted his desire to bring jobs back to the U.S.

TRUMP: One year ago, I introduced my father when he declared his candidacy.

ALESCI (voice-over): During her 2016 speech at the Republican National Convention, Trump wore a dress from her line which she later highlighted on Twitter.

And last February, counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, hawked Ivanka products during a live T.V. interview.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Go buy Ivanka's stuff. This is just -- it's a wonderful line. I own some of it. I fully -- I'm just going to give a -- I'm going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.

ALESCI (voice-over): Conway was later rebuked by the Office of Government Ethics, which called her endorsement a, quote, clear violation of her position.

Profits of the brand initially rose in the months immediately following the election but has since declined, according to a person with direct knowledge. Several retailers, including Nordstrom, has stopped carrying the clothing line. Nordstrom saying, in February 2017, its decision was due to slowing sales.

Just days after that decision, President Trump attacked Nordstrom on Twitter, tweeting -- my daughter, Ivanka, has been treated so unfairly by Nordstrom. She's a great person, always pushing me to do the right thing. Terrible.

And two months ago, Ivanka Trump faced renewed criticism after the fashion brand scored seven new trademarks in China while the President was engaged in trade talks with the country.


[17:55:09] ALESCI: So, Wolf, bottom line, this is sparking speculation that Ivanka Trump may want to run for office in the future. We'll have to see what happens, but, certainly, a lot of those questions remain unanswered -- Wolf. BLITZER: Lots of unanswered questions. Cristina, thank you for that


Coming up, the breaking news. As he takes bipartisan heat over his disastrous summit with Vladimir Putin and his constant reversals on Russia, President Trump now tries another distraction, telling supporters not to believe everything they see or read.