Nearly 48 hours after President Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, CNN’s New Day began its program on Wednesday focusing on the President’s walk-back of his claim that he didn’t see any reason why Russia would be behind the meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The hosts mocked Trump for treating the White House as a “playpen.”
Co-host John Berman asked CNN political analyst David Gregory if “America should believe that the President of the United States trusts the…work product of the U.S. intelligence agencies.” Gregory said “No, I…certainly don’t think there’s any reason to believe that he has faith in the intelligence community as it applies to Russia or 2016.” Gregory then accused President Trump of “treating the Presidency as some sort of playpen” and repeated the standard left-wing talking point that the President has dictatorial tendencies, saying “he’s so infatuated with the idea of strong men on the world stage.”
After Gregory brought up the topic of the President’s tax returns out of thin air, Alisyn Camerota asked Berman for his explanation as to why the President decided to walk back his remarks on Russia in contrast to the “doubling down” that usually occurs when “some sort of conflagration” takes place. John Avlon responded by saying: “I think he lost Fox, his official affirmation media organ, and he lost Republicans, who for the first time found a spine, because you cannot defend an American President kowtowing to Russian leader and against his own intelligence agencies.”
Gregory seemed to cast doubt on whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s pledge to let the Russians know that “we’re not going to let this happen again,” asking “how is that going to be done when you have the President, who’s undermining any attempt to hold the Russian leader accountable, hold the Russian intelligence apparatus accountable?”
Avlon answered Gregory’s question by suggesting that Republicans can “take actions like protecting the Mueller investigation. They can actually start stepping up pressure on sanctions. They can not only denounce the statements but affirm their support for NATO and say the President can’t unilaterally remove himself from it.”
At one point, Gregory described the “theater that we’ve been treated to” as “absurd,” referring to the President’s attempt to clarify the remarks he made in Helsinki regarding Russian interference in the election. The theater Gregory speaks of is nowhere near as absurd as the theater that takes place in the media every single day, where on-air personalities overreact to everything that President Trump does and says.
See transcript below. Click "expand" to read more.
CNN New Day
JOHN BERMAN: All right. Let’s bring in CNN Political Analysts David Gregory and Margaret Talev. John Avlon here with us, as well. And Margaret, you’re sort of like our human Zelig, because you were there. You were along with the President on this trip, and most importantly, you were there along with the President on the way back from Helsinki, on the way back with the entire White House staff. Did they take that opportunity while you were on board Air Force One with them or any time departing Helsinki to the point you arrived in Washington, to explain that the President really meant “wouldn’t” when he said “would”?
MARGARET TALEV: No, No. That’s not what happened. It was a long flight back. There were no briefings on the way back. It would have been, certainly, an opportunity for the President to invite us up or to come back to speak in the press cabin. He did not. For any briefing to take place from the Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, or her assistant, Hogan Gidley. That did not happen. John Bolton was on the plane. He did not come back to brief us. Fiona Hill, the Senior Director for Russia, did not come back to brief us. The National Security Council spokesperson did not come back to brief us. And there was a tremendous interest, as you can imagine. We had a lot of questions, ranging from “Oh my God, what just happened?” to some of the more particulars, such as “What was the very interesting idea that Putin and Trump were talking about? Is…are they actually taking seriously this request to somehow get Bill Browder back to Russia?” None of those questions was answered. There was the tweet that he put out in air, and a copy of that was brought back to the press cabin, because we don’t have internet, so that we could see it. But at no point during that long flight home was there an opportunity to actually have an exchange and shake some of this out.
CAMEROTA: And Margaret, one last question on that. Was there any sense, when you were on that long flight home, that they were aware of the damage, the ripple effect that was happening back at home, where people were astonished, including Republicans, that he had put Russia and the U.S. on equal footing and used this equivalency?
TALEV: Yes, and the main reason is because there is cable…you can get cable news in Air Force One until you reach a certain elevation. Fox News was on our screens, and we could see in real time this playing out on Fox, and we knew the President was watching, as well.
BERMAN: David Gregory, you were watching this along with the rest of us. I’m trying to pivot to move forward a bit here, but is there any reason that America should believe that the President of the United States trusts the product, the work product of the U.S. intelligence agencies, when he said at this sort of walk-back, which was not a walk-back, “Yeah, it was Russia, but it could have been other people, as well?”
DAVID GREGORY: No, I don’t, certainly don’t think there’s any reason to believe that he has faith in the intelligence community as it applies to Russia or 2016. He probably does in other areas. But this theater that we’ve been treated to is absurd; completely absurd. The President spoke his mind in Helsinki, because all he cares about is how he appears, his legitimacy. And the reason he cannot stomach the reality of what happened in 2016 on the part of the Russians is that he thinks it makes him look bad. And he doesn’t like to look bad. Which is why he blinked yesterday. He just doesn’t like to look bad. So he does this consistently, where he’ll blink in the face of overwhelming condemnation, because he’s treating the presidency as some sort of playpen, not very seriously. And in the face of threats from abroad or the seriousness of our relationship with western allies, or how to forge a relationship with an adversary like Russia moving forward, where there may be areas of interest, but where you have to take seriously what an authoritarian regime is doing, the President seems not to care, because he’s so infatuated with the idea of strong men on the world stage. That’s the ultimate danger. And beyond the clean-up attempts in his statements is what is the Administration actually doing with regard to sanctioning Russia, preventing it from happening again? What’s going to happen with arms control negotiations moving forward? And Congress still has this oversight role. What about his tax returns? What else is he going to do? What was said in that meeting? These things matter.
CAMEROTA: John, listen, I want you to dive into all of this. But also, I think it’s so interesting that clearly, this one…something changed yesterday and the day before because as we know, President Trump is so resistant to ever walking anything back. Generally, he doubles down. When there’s some sort of conflagration that erupts, he doubles down. And I’m thinking of David Duke, and then he says, “I don’t know him.” And I’m thinking of all the sexual harassment claims, and then he goes after the women and is nasty to them. And so something happened, okay, where this one…somebody got to him, or he had some sort of crisis of confidence, where for the first time, we saw him actually have to do real…attempt to do real damage control.
JOHN AVLON: Yeah, well, I mean, I think he lost Fox, his official affirmation media organ, and he lost Republicans, who for the first time found a spine, because you cannot defend an American President kowtowing to Russian leader and against his own intelligence agencies. But look, that’s unavoidable. But what’s really pathetic is the desperate spin to try to fix it. This wasn’t a walk-back. This was an awkward side shuffle. This was…this is something out of, like, an Armando Iannucci script, where it’s just absolutely desperate. And the best they could come up with is a double negative and hope that, you know, everything’s good, right? It was just a double negative. But it contradicts what he consistently has said. He really does believe that there wasn’t any meddling. And the most troubling part of that script we saw is the line cross-out.
AVLON: A line where…
CAMEROTA …Why did he cross that line out?
AVLON: that is put in there…
CAMEROTA: …Somebody would be held responsible.
AVLON: That is where there actually is something…a semblance of spine. We will take justice, we will insist on justice for the people who did this to us. And the President proactively crossed it out. He is not interested in justice. He is not interested in retribution for this violation of America’s elections and national security. That tells you everything you need to know about where his head and his heart is.
BERMAN: Well, let me ask this question, though, David Gregory. Because John Avlon just said Republicans getting some spine here. I think the President just snapped the spine. I do not think Republicans are going to say this is not enough. We’ve already heard from Marco Rubio, saying, “Well, I'm glad the President corrected himself.” Newt Gingrich, “I’m glad the President clarified his remarks here.” This seems like it’s going to be enough for the people in the President’s party to say, “Okay, he walked this back.”
GREGORY: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think we have much evidence of the sustained attempt to really hold the President accountable. Mitch McConnell saying that, you know, the Russians need to know that we’re not going to let this happen again. You know, how is that going to be done when you have the President, who’s undermining any attempt to hold the Russian leader accountable, hold the Russian intelligence apparatus accountable? It seems very difficult to marshal the political will to do very much. The President is never really going to give on any of this. If he acknowledges the depth of what happened in 2016, then it undercuts his arguments against the Mueller investigation and whatever the findings are of that. His whole effort has been to delegitimatize the investigation, as you know, this entire meddling was something that was just a very small thing.
AVLON: And I think that’s where, I think Republicans, if they want to prove this is sustained, if they take it seriously, and want to be the adults in the room and, you know, a co-equal branch of government, they can take actions like protecting the Mueller investigation. They can actually start stepping up pressure on sanctions. They can not only denounce the statements but affirm their support for NATO and say the President can’t unilaterally remove himself from it, anticipating that problem. There are things Republicans in Congress can do and should do to show that this isn’t simply a problem with optics.
CAMEROTA: Margaret, what do you think happens next? Quickly.
TALEV: Well, I think two things are going to happen, and one is that the polling is going to sort of trickle in, and Republicans…not just the president but Republicans will get a better sense of if and how this affect midterms. And a lot of what Republicans do next is going to spring from that. And the second thing that’s going to happen is that the President is going to continue to talk about this over the next couple of days, and that will give us a sense of whether he’s decided to try to tamp this down or whether he is, indeed, going to do the infamous backlash to the backlash.
BERMAN: He is already on Twitter this morning, and it’s not worth going into in depth. But he’s giving himself very high marks, shockingly, on how he’s handled this whole thing.