Putin Gives Trump Soccer Ball

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Jeff Pegues, Author Of New Book On Russian Meddling, 'Stunned' By Trump Remarks On Russia

July 17, 2018 - 4:23 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- CBS News Correspondent Jeff Pegues has a new book out titled, “Kompromat: How Russia Undermined American Democracy,” and he said Tuesday that he was shocked by President Donald Trump’s remarks that appeared to defend Russia the day before.

Pegues spoke to WCBS 880’s Joe Avellar Tuesday about the implications of Trump’s remarks while standing next to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Trump openly questioned his own intelligence agencies' firm finding that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election to his benefit, seeming to accept Putin's insistence that Moscow's hands were clean.

Here are some experts from their talk.

Avellar: “What’s your takeaway of yesterday’s press conference?”

Pegues: “Like everybody else, I’m stunned. It was the kind of press conference that you didn’t expect. You know, of course, President Trump is unpredictable, to say the least; unorthodox in terms of the American presidency. But that was something to see and something that we won’t soon forget.

“You know, I knew when he announced that he was going to have this summit that it had the potential to be another self-inflicted wound, if you will. It didn’t seem like there was any compelling reason to meet now in the heat of the Russia investigation, and of course, when a situation like we saw with the Putin-Trump press conference arises, it just reminds the public of the Russia investigation at a time when the president wants people to essentially forget about the Russia investigation.”

Avellar: “I was going to say, wasn’t that really the point of this summit, that you think, you know, that it was to take the focus away from the Russian meddling investigation; from the Mueller investigation, and he just brought it right back home, didn’t he?”

Pegues: “Yeah, if that was the point, I just don’t get it, because, you know, if I were to think like a PR, public relations executive, or a White House communications official, I just think that kind of meeting, when you set it up with this private one-on-one where there are really no witnesses to what’s going on except for the interpreters, I mean, that invites so many questions. And now you have it. Now you have people in the media and in Congress wondering, well, what happened in that private meeting between Putin and President Trump? What was said there, given what we know, you know, came out of this press conference, well, what happened behind closed doors?

“And I just knew that there would be these lingering questions, especially given the fact that they set up this private meeting before the meeting involving the secretary of state and others. You know, you want witnesses there, right? I mean, if you have nothing to hide, you want witnesses there.”

Avellar: “Well, and as you’re talking about, Republican leaders, as well as Chuck Schumer, want to bring in the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to question him about what was said. Do you think this was a watershed moment; that what we had yesterday was a watershed moment that’s really going to change what’s going on, or is this going to get washed away like so many other things?”

Pegues: “Joe, I don’t know. I mean, these are unusual times. In 2016, when this story started coming to light, I thought, well, you know, people are going to take notice. This is something remarkable. You know, this is one of those stories that we’ll remember for decades, but there have been so many so-called watershed moments in the last, you know, almost two years, and people forget these watershed moments in this Russia investigation.”

Avellar: “The question is will it swing the Republican Party, but who knows? I want to get to something else, because you get out of New York and Washington, and President Obama talked about it today too – the delegitimization that we’re seeing that’s going on; delegitimizing the justice system, the news media, the intelligence community – are you feeling corrosive effects as you go out in the community; as you go out in other parts of the country? Are people saying things to you? Are they treating you differently?”

Pegues: “Well, you hear ‘fake news’ a lot. You know, some people say it jokingly. You hear the president or you see him on Twitter calling the media the enemy of the state, and frankly, you know, I was traveling over here to this interview and thinking about that statement, and thinking about the fact that, you know, those kinds of statements, they hurt in a way. I think, you know, when you talk to journalists, they didn’t get into this business to be called the enemy of the state.

“Journalism in this country has been celebrated. Why? Because it is an example of our First Amendment rights as Americans, and it is important. It’s an important institution just as the Department of Justice is; just as the FBI is, and in ‘Kompromat,’ I talk about, you know, I was sitting around my house and I happened to – I just wanted to talk a look at some old Watergate stories; take a look at some old Watergate movies, and the similarities are there. It’s there. If you’re a student if history, you know that President Nixon attacked the FBI; attacked the media, and, you know, I’m not saying that President Trump is guilty of anything. We have to wait and see what the Mueller investigation uncovers as it relates to him, and his actions. However, there are parallels here that are disturbing, and in addition to that, what makes it, I think, more problematic for this democracy is that this involves a foreign adversary. Watergate did not. And I think that’s the big difference here and I think that’s important. This is a foreign adversary.”