News Brief: Trump Invites Putin To Washington, Comic-Con Preview
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It was a pretty riveting final act to a head-spinning week. Three of the Trump administration's most senior officials separately and publicly outlined concerns or actions that diverged from their boss.
NOEL KING, HOST:
Yep. And then the president had another surprise. Trump's director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, learned about it while Coats was on stage at a security forum in Colorado. Here's the moderator, Andrea Mitchell, telling Coats the news, and his reaction.
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ANDREA MITCHELL: I do want to say we have some breaking news. The White House has announced on Twitter that Vladimir Putin is coming to the White House in the fall.
DAN COATS: Say that again?
MITCHELL: You - Vladimir Putin coming to the...
COATS: Did I hear you? Did I hear you?
MITCHELL: Yeah. Yeah.
COATS: That's going to be special.
KING: Coats and other top officials are still trying to figure out exactly what happened at this week's meeting between Trump and Putin in Helsinki.
GREENE: Yeah, but I just can't get over that - I mean, working in the White House and getting news about the White House that he didn't know about. Wow. OK. A lot to cover here. We're double teaming this morning with NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe and also NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas, who is in Aspen. Good morning to you both.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: Ayesha, can I start with you? So it sounds like we're going to get a sequel here. Tell me about this invitation that President Trump has made to Putin.
RASCOE: Yeah. So the White House says Trump has asked his National Security Adviser John Bolton to invite Putin to D.C. this fall. Basically, other than walking back his statement and in Helsinki that kind of questioned Russian interference in the election, Trump has been saying the meeting with Putin was this huge success. And so the idea of this second meeting seems to be a way to kind of promote that idea further.
GREENE: Suggesting that this went well so we'll have another one.
GREENE: Ryan, as we heard in that extraordinary tape, this invitation came as a surprise to the president's own director of national intelligence. And it wasn't the only moment as Dan Coats was sitting on stage in Aspen where it sounds like he really saw some space between him and the president.
LUCAS: On the question of Russia, no. It certainly was not. And I do have to say that hearing the top intelligence official say that he hasn't been informed that the president has invited a foreign adversary to Washington really is a stunning thing to hear.
GREENE: He's an intelligence official. That makes this even more extraordinary. Yeah.
LUCAS: Right. Right. But there were a few other things all related to Russia and the Helsinki meeting. Coats made clear again that he stands by the U.S. intelligence agency's assessment about Russian interference in the 2016 election. He said Russia is still trying to undermine U.S. democracy, and on Helsinki specifically, he said he wouldn't have conducted a one-on-one meeting with Putin as President Trump did. And he said he still doesn't know everything that the two leaders discussed. Here's a bit of what Coats had to say about that.
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COATS: That is the president's prerogative. If had asked me how that ought to be conducted, I would have suggested a different way. But that's not my role. That's not my job.
LUCAS: Coats did say that his job, however, is to present the president with non-politicized intelligence, and that may sometimes mean telling the president things he doesn't want to hear.
GREENE: Well, we were also hearing some noteworthy things from other people in the administration. President Trump's FBI Director Christopher Wray, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, both making news. Tell us about them.
LUCAS: Well, because of Helsinki, there's been a huge focus here in Aspen on Russia and its influence campaign and efforts to use cyberattacks, social media to undermine the United States. So Wray, like Coats, really rang the alarm bell about Russian influence campaigns. He said it's something that the U.S. needs to take seriously, particularly going into the midterm elections this fall. He also defended special counsel Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation. Here's a bit of what Wray had to say about that.
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CHRISTOPHER WRAY: I think it's a professional investigation conducted by a man that I've known to be a straight shooter. So I don't think it's a witch hunt.
LUCAS: And then not to be left out, the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, he showed up last night. He announced that the Justice Department is going to inform companies and individuals and organizations that are being targeted by a foreign-influenced campaign like the Russians carried out during the 2016 election. The hope with that is that exposing these operations will help counter them. And he said the American public has a right to know if they're being targeted by foreign government propaganda.
GREENE: So this is a setting in Aspen, the security conference, where these administration officials away from Washington there, among a lot of colleagues who, you know, have the same expertise. It sounds like they're just being very honest about their own views, even if they're different from the White House.
LUCAS: They are, although, you know, we've heard a lot of this from senior national security officials before. They've really tried to say that, look, Russia is a threat. What Russia is doing on social media is something that we need to pay attention to.
GREENE: Ayesha, let me turn back to you. We had White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders doing, it sounds like, even ***
GREENE: more backtracking now when it comes to some of the ideas that the president talked about that came up at this Helsinki summit.
RASCOE: Yes. So basically, Putin had floated this idea that his government would be able to interrogate former U.S. officials in exchange for the special counsel getting access to the 12 Russians indicted for election interference. But Trump called the idea, quote, "incredible" during a news conference, but on Thursday - during the news conference with Putin - but on Thursday, the White House said that Trump did not agree with the proposal. And that's probably a good thing because the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution that opposed making any former U.S. official available to Russia, 98-0. So that was a strong bipartisan rebuke of that idea.
GREENE: Can I just ask you both? I mean, what a whirlwind week this has been. I mean, in just a sentence or two, I mean, how do you see the importance of everything we've seen in the last four or five days? Ayesha, I'll start with you.
RASCOE: Well, it seems that Trump is getting to a point where he is a bit at odds with the rest of the administration when it comes to Russia, and he seems to be taking his own advice, going his own way. The question is, at what point does something have to give when it comes to these differences?
LUCAS: For me in Aspen here, just, it's been remarkable how significant of a disconnect there is on Russia between the president, who really does seem to want to cozy up to the Kremlin despite its nefarious activities against the U.S., and Trump's top national security officials, who clearly view Russia as a serious threat that needs to be confronted.
GREENE: All right. You both have been doing a lot of traveling. Aspen, Colo. Helsinki. Thank you both for all your work on this story. That's NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe and NPR's justice correspondent Ryan Lucas.
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GREENE: OK. So we are going to head into the weekend with a little bit of relief from the real world.
KING: Yes. More than 130,000 people are in San Diego right now for Comic-Con. That's the annual pop culture convention that's become kind of a summer ritual. Comic-Con has gotten so big over the years that there's now a kind of carnival that's spilling out of the convention center and into the surrounding areas.
GREENE: And, you want to talk about ritual, NPR arts editor Nina Gregory always goes to this wonderful event. Hi, Nina.
NINA GREGORY, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: Really hard assignment, as usual.
GREGORY: It's the worst.
GREENE: I really want you to tell me that none of these supervillains and superheroes here have anything to do with, like, Russian spies and all the news we've been following this week. So tell me...
GREGORY: I cannot make that promise, David.
GREGORY: I'm sorry.
GREENE: Well, that's fine.
GREGORY: This is NPR, after all. We're going to have a CIA analyst make an appearance.
GREENE: All right. Well, go through the list for me. What are people lining up to see?
GREGORY: You know, people line up for a lot of things. Like, most things. Like, everything at Comic-Con they line up for. But especially the star-studded panels in Hall H, which is a big theater that seats about 6,500 people and generally where the biggest news is broken. What's noteworthy this year is who's not here - Marvel, Lucasfilm, "Westworld," "Game Of Thrones."
GREGORY: All fan favorites. Yeah. But taking over the iron throne might just be Jodie Whittaker, the first female Doctor Who. "Riverdale" is going to be in Hall H - that would be of the Archie Comics - which is finally making it on the big stage at Comic-Con.
GREGORY: Stephen King has a new show, called, "Castlerock," and Amazon's new show, "Jack Ryan" - our CIA analyst makes an appearance. And I spoke to Carlton Cuse, the co-creator, and, you know, asked him about Tom Clancy's character, who's quite relevant in this moment.
CARLTON CUSE: The spy genre had been sort of overrun with anti-heroes. You know, if you think about Jack Bauer in "24," Carrie Mathison in "Homeland" or Jason Bourne. And we all hope that there is a guy like Jack Ryan, an unsung hero that is standing between us and the chaos in the world.
GREENE: OK. I'll take one spy. So I just - "Game Of Thrones" not there? Is it possible to have this convention without something from, you know, the famous creator George R.R. Martin?
GREGORY: David, it's not.
GREGORY: So the cable channel SyFy has a panel for its new show, "Nightflyers." It's based on a George R.R. Martin novella, and it's not, like, a big sword and sandals epic. It's a horror sci-fi that kind of looks like Ridley Scott's "Alien." Despite this, like, mashup genre, you know, that might be surprising for fans of HBO's "Game Of Thrones," "Nightflyers" does have the potential to draw similarly broad audiences. I spoke to showrunner Jeff Buhler, who hopes for just that.
JEFF BUHLER: Horror or science fiction speaks to something universal. When it's the fear of losing your home, when it's the fear of our world dying, when it's our humanity that's at question, when our place in the universe is at - those are things anyone can identify with.
GREENE: That sounds like cool stuff. Nina, have a good time covering this. I wish I could be there with you, as I always do.
GREGORY: I wish you were here, too.
GREENE: All right. Nina Gregory, NPR's arts editor who is toughing it out at the Comic-Con convention, which is partly on a beach in San Diego, Calif.
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Clarification July 20, 2018
While Lucasfilm is not on the schedule to do a presentation in Hall H at Comic-Con, it does have a presence on the floor of the convention.