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Former Special Assistant To Trump Reacts To Helsinki Summit

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Now let's hear what people across the country are saying about President Trump at yesterday's summit.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Like nearly everything else involving the president, people are divided on his performance with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

BRENDA DILLBECK: There's a lot that has went on as far as past presidents. Nobody has dug as hard as they have on President Trump.

JOE COOPER: The press conference was disappointing. It didn't seem real pro-American.

DENNY LETNER: I think he's putting our security at risk.

JAMES HOOVER: He's going to catch flak from some people no matter what he does whether it's good, bad or indifferent.

SHAPIRO: Those are the voices of Brenda Dillbeck in Kennewick, Wash., followed by Joe Cooper and Denny Letner in Lansing, Mich., and finally James Hoover in Commerce, Texas.

CHANG: All right, let's turn now to one more voice, Marc Lotter. He was a special assistant to President Trump and now sits on Trump's 2020 advisory board. Welcome.

MARC LOTTER: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: So President Trump spoke at the White House today, and he wanted to clarify remarks he made at yesterday's summit. He says he does support the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. He says he just misspoke. What do you make of that explanation that he just kind of tripped on some words?

LOTTER: Well, he has said it multiple times. He said it three times last year, once as president elect, twice last year as president and then one time additionally earlier this year that he stands with our agencies and that he thinks it was Russia. But the president is focused on the long-term goals. And while many want to focus on what happened in 2016, the president knows that we need to have a strong relationship with Russia to confront the issues in Ukraine, Crimea, Iran, North Korea and in the Baltic states. So...

CHANG: But can the president say...

LOTTER: He's trying to build that relationship.

CHANG: Can the president say he misspoke when he also called Putin extremely strong and powerful in his denials about Russian interference in the election?

LOTTER: Well, he might have been strong in his denial. It doesn't mean that the president takes it at his word. That's - I mean, remember; even President...

CHANG: Sounds like an endorsement of the denials.

LOTTER: But even President Obama said in 2016 that President Putin denied it. The president is focused on what can we do for the long term moving forward on those shared priorities.

CHANG: And on shared priorities, I mean, what do you think of President Trump taking such tough stances against American allies the way he did in Brussels, in the U.K. and elsewhere before then while remaining so perpetually polite to Putin? Does that strike you?

LOTTER: I think what it shows is that after decades of diplomatic speak and saying the right thing publicly, we still saw in many cases our NATO allies as it relates to their military contributions or even with trade imbalances with some of our allies and friends - that their actions weren't changing. So this is a president who's not necessarily going to focus on saying things just the right way. He wants to see the action that backs it up. We're seeing that with NATO now, which is also not in Russia's best interests. We're seeing it with trade. And in this case, he's building a relationship with President Putin in Russia. And so...

CHANG: And yet...

LOTTER: ...Starting from areas where we do agree is the best way to move forward.

CHANG: And on that relationship, Senate Democrats are pushing for a public hearing on what exactly was said between Putin and Trump when they were meeting one on one in Helsinki. Do you think the American people deserve to know what, if anything, these leaders agreed to?

LOTTER: I think what we have seen is that the president came out. They both characterized the meetings in various ways. They talked about areas of agreement, but they also talked about areas of disagreement. Russian President Putin said that President Trump made his position very clear on Ukraine, and that is not something where they agree. So we do know that American interests are being represented. And while we can get a flavor and a sense of what's going on in the room, one of the things we need for the long-term security of our country is for those leaders to be able to have very frank conversations. In some cases, those conversations need to stay between themselves.

CHANG: All right.

LOTTER: And then we will follow up with the action.

CHANG: OK, Marc Lotter was special assistant to President Trump and also press secretary to Vice President Mike Pence. Thank you very much.

LOTTER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE FREEDOM SOUNDS FEAT. WAYNE HENDERSON'S "BEHOLD THE DAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.