Return to Transcripts main page
AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA
Trump Rejects CIA's Intel On Russian Interference; CIA, FBI Disagree On Russia's Election Interference; Exxon CEO's Russia Ties: Asset Or Liability For Trump?; Showdown: Trump Versus Congress On Russia Investigation; China Likens Trump To "Ignorant Child" After Remarks. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired December 12, 2016 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. This morning Donald Trump suggested that CIA assessments that Russia interfered in U.S. elections were not accurate and he did it by making statements that are not true. Yesterday the president-elect called the CIA's claim ridiculous. He said it's just another excuse to undermine his victory.
[11:00:03] just a short time ago, the president elect wrote "Unless you catch "hackers" in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking. Why wasn't this brought up before the election?"
In fact, it was brought up before the election, a lot. Back in July, we learned that the computer networks of Democratic National Committee had been hacked and it was brought up in this remarkable joint statement by the Department of Homeland Security and the director of National Intelligence one month before the election.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And moments ago, the Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made very clear he thinks this is a big deal. And said this, the Russians are not our friends and he also said that he has the highest degree of confidence in the intelligence community and this is something worth investigating, which appears to put him at odds this morning with the president-elect.
Let's get to CNN senior political reporter, Manu Raju, who is on Capitol Hill. Manu, you were in that press conference with Mitch McConnell. While careful in his language and not entertaining some questions, Manu, Senator McConnell did seem to make some pretty big statements this morning.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Indeed, he did. He was careful. He did not want to look like he was criticizing President- elect Donald Trump. He did make some implicit criticism particularly about this issue with Russia. Making clear in no uncertain terms that he disagrees with the fact that with Trump's skepticism that Russia was involved.
He said that any foreign breach disturbing. He condemns any such effort and saying that he backs a bipartisan review through the existing congressional committees to look into what happened with Russia and the elections. He made very clear, Kate and John, that he does not view Vladimir Putin and Russia as the United States ally. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: It defies belief that somehow Republicans in the Senate are reluctant to either review Russian tactics or ignore them. So last, let me say that I have the highest confidence in the intelligence community and especially the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA is filled with selfless patriots, many of whom anonymously risk their lives for the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, I asked him specifically, do you think that the CIA -- that Russia was trying to steer this election to Donald Trump? And he would not say. He wanted to just stick to his prepared remarks. So very careful assessment.
Also, notable that he does not support a free-standing commission, like a 9/11 Commission to get to the bottom of the 9/11 attacks, he does not want something like this to happen on Russia.
He believes it should be done through the existing congressional committees, the Armed Services Committee, the Intelligence Committee. It's a bit of inside baseball, but it gives him a little bit more control over the process.
So some careful positioning there, but also making very clear that this issue is serious and that he supports bipartisan calls to get to the bottom of it.
BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Manu Raju, great to see you. Thanks so much. We are going to hear much more from Manu in a little bit.
So where exactly does the intelligence stand on this right now? Why is there a difference in opinion, if you will, between the CIA and the FBI on such a critical issue?
BERMAN: Yes, I want to get to CNN justice correspondent, Evan Perez, who has done some key reporting on this. What exactly, Evan, are the differences?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, first, Kate and John, we should say that there is a broad agreement at the CIA and FBI and other agencies that Russian intelligence hacked the Democratic National Committee and that they targeted Democrats by orchestrating the release of these embarrassing e-mails.
However, the CIA in a briefing in the last couple of weeks told members of Congress that it was also clear that the Russians were trying to get Trump elected. Now the FBI is not ready to go that far. They are still looking at a mix of motivations, but broadly they think this is more about undermining our democratic systems.
The CIA told lawmakers that they have come across new information from their sources that makes them believe this. But it should be noted that even the CIA's view isn't 100 percent definitive. A lot of this is evidence that is circumstantial.
Now as you mentioned, Donald Trump is already tweeting about this this morning saying, why wasn't this brought up before the election. Obviously, as you pointed out, this was brought up -- the president- elect would have learned a lot of this in his intelligence briefing by now -- John and Kate.
BERMAN: All right, Evan Perez, thanks so much.
All right, we did just hear from the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, and soon we're going to be hearing from the outgoing top Democrat as well. We're going to have an interview with Senator Harry Reid of Nevada who never minces words. I mean, it will be fascinating to hear what he says. So that's coming up in a little bit.
But joining us now to talk more at this moment, former secretary of defense in the Clinton administration, former senator from the great state of Maine, William Cohen. He is now head of the Cohen Consulting Firm. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Secretary.
You know, when you see these reports that we continue to get and we have received, by the way, for months, that Russia tried to interfere, tried to meddle in the U.S. elections. How serious is that in your mind?
[11:05:06]WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, it's striking at the very heart of our democratic system. The notion that any foreign entity is planning and is carrying out cyber-attacks and other ways to undermine the American people's confidence in our institutions, particularly our right to vote and to have a free and open vote.
That's something that the president-elect has to take very seriously. Now, I don't expect him to come out and say I agree with the report that they have altered the political environment to favor me.
But I think he should be saying that this is a serious charge, I am going to work with members of Congress and find out if, in fact, Russia has carried out this kind of a plan and we want to make sure that we have a response to it in the future and never let it happen again.
That's why I would hope President-elect Trump would say not to belittle the intelligence community. That's really undermining the morale of one of the most serious capabilities that we have and I think it would not work to his benefit in the future to simply dismiss those who disagree with him or present him with evidence that he finds unacceptable.
BOLDUAN: Secretary, one thing you just said you don't expect the president-elect to come out and necessarily agree with the CIA's assessment. Why not? Why do you not expect him to come out and agree with the CIA's offer?
COHEN: Well, first, if he said I agree that Russia has affected the election in a way that prevented Hillary Clinton from becoming president that throws a cloud over his presidency and would invite calls to have a new election. That's not going to happen.
So I think the reality is that we need to find out exactly what role Russia played, why did they play it and what can we do about it? I don't think we're going to go back and have a new election.
For me, the most troubling aspect is that we have not yet fathomed why President-elect Trump is so embracing President Putin, a man who has been killing thousands of innocent civilians in Aleppo, who has annexed Crimea, who has shot -- his forces have shot down innocent commercial aircraft, who is now trying to destabilize Ukraine and rattling around in the Baltic states trying to threaten them.
Why are we now embracing them in such a way and then putting a finger in the eye of the Chinese? I think that Congress needs to explore exactly what the relationship is between Russia and the United States should be and what it should be with China.
BERMAN: One of the interesting side notes here is that President- elect Trump is not receiving all of the daily intelligence briefings that he is privy to. He's doing an average of one a week or so. Mike Pence is getting them every day. Donald Trump essentially says he doesn't need them. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT: These are very good people giving me the briefings. I said, if something should change from this point, immediately call me. I'm available on one minute's notice. I don't have to be told -- you know, I'm like a smart person. I don't have to be told the same thing and the same words every single day for the next eight years. Could be eight years but eight years. I don't need that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: I don't need that, he said. Does he?
COHEN: I think every president needs to have regular briefings of what is taking place in the world. He's going to be called upon from time to time to make decisions, which are life and death. It may have to be made in a matter of minutes, if not hours and I think it's always important to have the latest intelligence so you can make an informed decision.
He may be smart and no one questions that. But I found that being briefed by the Intelligence Committee, every morning when I was at the Defense Department, was vital to me carrying out my job and I would hope that President-elect Trump would see that it is in his interest to do so.
He can say I don't want a 20-page report. I want it to down to 10 pages or five pages, but he needs to have access to that briefing every day, in my opinion. BOLDUAN: Mr. Secretary, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson is seen as a leading candidate to be nominated Donald Trump's secretary of state. From your perspective, he clearly has very close ties with Russia through his business, is that an asset or a liability?
COHEN: Well, it can be both. He obviously is a very competent CEO, one of the biggest companies in the world and so his capability as a CEO I think it's unchallenged. The real issue is not so much Mr. Tillerson, but why the president-elect has so embraced this relationship with Russia.
I would like to see a better relationship with Russia but not on President Putin's terms. Not that he can kill innocent civilians without accountability, not that he can annex a country and destabilize Ukraine.
I want to see a better relationship. I know that President Putin wants to be respected, but he has to conduct himself beyond bullets and bombs in order to gain that respect.
[11:10:01]BERMAN: One last question, Mr. Secretary, if Russia did meddle in the U.S. election, then if this review from the White House confirms what the intelligence agency has told them before, what should the repercussions be? What would you have the U.S. do?
COHEN: We would have certainly a different relationship than one that President-elect Trump envisions right now. It would be much more arm's length. It also would invite some form of repercussions from the United States, whether it's increased and intensified sanctions.
Whether it is maintaining an offensive capability against Russia themselves in terms of their own media systems to undermine credibility in President Putin's leadership, it could be a variety of things. But certainly it should not go with some kind of a response, either active or passive.
BOLDUAN: Secretary Cohen, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate your time.
COHEN: My pleasure.
BOLDUAN: Thank you. Joining us now to discuss, CNN senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, and senior Washington correspondent for "Politico," Anna Palmer. Great to see both of you two.
A lot happening just this morning. Anna, I want to get your take and lean on your best knowledge of Capitol Hill. You now have a bipartisan group of senators who are calling for investigations. One of them leading the charge, of course, is Senator John McCain. Investigations into Russia's hacking. Listen to what he said yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Vladimir Putin is a thug and a murderer and a killer and a KGB agent. He had Boris Nemtsov murdered in the shadow of the kremlin. He has dismembered the Ukraine. He has now precision strikes by Russian aircraft on hospitals in Aleppo.
Let's call Vladimir Putin for who he is. You can't make this issue partisan. It's too important. A fundamental of a democracy is a fair and free election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: John McCain is calling for bipartisan kind of investigation, maybe commissioned to look into Russia's hacking. We just heard from Senator Mitch McConnell, though, saying, it should go through regular order, but that also it should not be a partisan issue.
What is the impact of what Mitch McConnell is saying this morning on how far Republicans you think are going to be going or looking to go into investigating Russia's hacking on Capitol Hill?
ANNA PALMER, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO.COM: It's a divide between Donald Trump and where you see Senate Republicans right now. They are trying to make this not the Benghazi kind of inquisition, right? They want to try to make this a serious investigation of what is exactly happening.
You'll note, neither of them, either Mitch McConnell or John McCain, went so far as to say this was about the outcome of the election. I think they want try to stay away from that but say, listen, it did happen, what was the purpose? What can we move forward and learn from that?
BERMAN: I haven't heard Democrats say that this is about the outcome of the election. I heard a lot of people saying they want to see an investigation right now into what Russia did and see some of the intelligence that the CIA and others have produced to make it public. That's what I've heard from people.
I did hear Mitch McConnell say he would like hearings. It will be interesting to see what happens there. Quickly, Anna, Rex Tillerson, who is the likely pick to be secretary of state, that could be an area where many of these issues come up because of his known ties to Vladimir Putin in Russia. Is this a confirmation battle, do you think?
PALMER: I think this is going to be one of the biggest battles you could actually see Donald Trump not put him up because you've seen Senator Marco Rubio and others caution him about where they see there is going to be big issues.
You saw Senator McCain call Vladimir Putin a thug. That is not the relationship that Rex Tillerson and ExxonMobil have had. He also has significant ties in terms of the lobbying that ExxonMobil has done to the State Department.
I think you'll see Democrats will really hammer him on that. This is becoming one of the most controversial picks so far that Donald Trump is potentially going to be making later this week. BOLDUAN: Clarissa, Russia responded to the possibility of a nomination of Tillerson, putting on a statement that was complementary of Rex Tillerson and then also saying this, a spokesman for the kremlin saying, "There's a huge difference between being secretary of state and being CEO of a big corporation. All sympathies must take a back seat."
This (inaudible) said. I mean, they say that, but I mean, he's someone with close ties to the highest levels of Russia's government. I'm even surprised that they are offering up an assessment of a not- yet announced nomination for secretary of state.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a pretty unusual step for them to take and while I think they are trying to rein in speculation that they are all jumping for joy, make no mistake about it. The subtext of this press release is that while the jury is not out, certainly we are cautiously optimistic or even enthusiastic about Tillerson's possible appointment as secretary of state.
The main reason for that is that Tillerson has been very vocal in his opposition to the U.S. sanctions against Russia, which have crippled the Russian economy, not just the U.S. sanctions, I should add, but the European sanctions, which have had an even more devastating impact.
[11:15:00]Because obviously the Europeans are bigger trade partners with the Russians and I think the hope is that if Tillerson was to take over as secretary of state, if Donald Trump keeps making the same movements towards (inaudible) with Russia, potentially the U.S. would lift its sanctions.
That potentially the U.S. would use its influence over Europe to get them to lift their sanctions and that in turn you might see a real thawing in the Russian economy, which has been struggling hugely in the past few years.
And just in the last couple of weeks, we saw something unprecedented or something certainly we haven't seen in the last couple of years, which is that Vladimir Putin essentially privatized Russian state- owned oil company or previously state-owned oil company.
And we saw a Swiss company, (inaudible) company coming in to buy 20 percent stake in that company. That indicates that the markets, the financiers are thinking that these sanctions may possibly be drawing to an end and Russia may have some kind of an economic recovery imminently.
BERMAN: I think one of the two biggest stories of this transition are number one that the United States will have closer ties with Russia, already is during the transition of president-elect, and number two, Clarissa, it's going to have more complicated and thornier and more hostile ties with China. Listen to what President-elect Trump said about the one-China policy over the weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: I fully understand the one-China policy, but I don't know why we have to be bound by one-China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things including trade.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: It seems crystal clear that the phone call between Donald Trump and Taiwan was no mistake. This is a policy shift in regard to Taiwan. A policy shift in terms of how tough he's going to be with China and the answer is tough.
WARD: The answer is tough, but is it because he really cares about Taiwan or was it the second part of that sentence that you heard him say there? This is a bargaining chip to bring to the table because Donald Trump wants to be tough on China when it comes to trade and what he sees is unfair economic practices that have hurt the U.S.
He understands full well that Taiwan is a lightning rod for them. He's trying to take advantage of that and, in fact, in some ways it even reminds me of behavior that we have seen with President Vladimir Putin, who may not necessarily care about an issue like Syria, for example, but is willing to drill down on it and exploit it because he understands that it means a lot to other players at the table and gives him an advantage to try to use it.
BERMAN: Clarissa Ward, Anna Palmer, love your insights, guys. Thanks so much.
BOLDUAN: Thanks, guys.
BERMAN: All right, moments from now, we're going to hear from a very, very big player. The outgoing top Democrat in the Senate, Harry Reid, joins CNN live with his reaction to the president-elect's rejection of CNN intelligence on Russia. You're not going to want to miss this.
BOLDUAN: Absolutely not.
Plus, they are two of Donald Trump's closest advisers. Now the President-elect says that he's looking at legal avenues to try to get his daughter and his son-in-law into his administration. How? That's coming up.
And there's this -- chilling video of a confession by the man on trial for the massacre inside the Charleston church. Why he laughed during his confession and what he said about his motivation.
BOLDUAN: The Senate majority leader reaffirming his confidence in the CIA this morning and saying the investigation into a possible Russian meddling in the November election cannot be a partisan issue. The president-elect saying, though, it's not an issue, period.
BERMAN: He says it's ridiculous and Donald Trump says he does not think it happened. Joining us now, Matt Bennett, Democratic strategist, former Clinton White House adviser, and Harlan Hill, a Donald Trump supporter and political consultant.
Harlan, you know, we've heard from members of the Senate who say they want to investigate. Senator Mitch McConnell said he will allow these investigations to go forward in committee. Donald Trump says it's a waste of time and it's ridiculous. He doesn't apparently want these investigations to happen. What's he afraid of?
HARLAN HILL, TRUMP SUPPORTER: You know, I don't know that Donald Trump necessarily opposed to the investigation. I think he is opposed to these blanket and very broad ambiguous statements that the Russians were involved.
I've been on this show before and I've said that we've seen zero evidence offered by the United States government and the White House to substantiate the claims that the Russians were involved.
We've heard from the CIA special report that they were involved and have a high degree of certainty, but we have not seen any evidence. Like I've said before --
BOLDUAN: Do you want them to declassify everything and lay it out for you?
HILL: You know what? It's extremely hard to trace a sophisticated hacker especially if it's a phishing scandal. So I think that we need to see a higher degree of evidence. You know, there was a former CIA director that said this was on par with 9/11. If we're going to make that grave statement about an adversary like Russia, we need to be absolutely certain that it's done.
BERMAN: It sounds like, though, what Harlan is saying, Matt, is what some Democrats are saying, which is let's see the information, White House. Make it public right now.
MATT BENNETT, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY ASSISTANT FOR INTERGOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS: Yes. What we don't know is whether sources and methods could be compromised if that information was made public. What we do know is that 17 intelligence agencies have a consensus view that the Russians did this and surely the president- elect would want to know if the Russians were trying to influence our elections.
It's unbelievable to Democrats and to me that he would somehow want to shut this down or smear at the intelligence agencies that he's about to leave. That's very, very troubling.
BOLDUAN: You know, Matt, John Bolton, rumored to be considered for secretary of state, possibly maybe deputy secretary of state, he says that this Russian hack would be a false flag. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.N. AMBASSADOR: We have to know the facts here and it's not at all clear to me, just viewing this from the outside, that this hacking into the DNC and the RNC computers was not a false flag. I believe that intelligence has been politicized in the Obama administration to a very significant degree.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: If that was the case, no evidence leading to that yet, isn't that even more of a case for Congress investigating?
BENNETT: It is. It also is a case against John Bolton becoming the deputy secretary of state. That is a nutty thing to say. When you have the consensus view, the CIA and other intelligence agencies, that the Russians are doing this to somehow claim that Obama was trying to have an impact on the election.
When he himself ordered that this would not be released before the election is bizarre on the point of -- to the point of insane. That man should not be allowed anywhere near foggy bottom and certainly not as deputy secretary of state.
HILL: I think we need to be really careful. You said 17 agencies have come up with the conclusion that the Russians were involved.
[11:25:05]But when you actually look at the memo from the National Intelligence Agency from October 7th, they've always said the hacks were consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. That means almost nothing. That means almost nothing.
BENNETT: That's from October 7th. There's been -- since then --
BOLDUAN: The U.S. intelligence community is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions. Where have you seen evidence -- what has happened that makes you not trust the CIA?
HILL: Well, you know, for one, I can remember the discussion up to the invasion of the war in Iraq and we heard --
BOLDUAN: They acknowledged that was a problem.
HILL: With absolute certainty that there were weapons of mass destruction, stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction so I have reasons to disbelieve.
BERMAN: Exactly. If you do, don't you want to see Senate hearings? Would you like to see Senate hearings?
HILL: Let's do it. Let's get it all out there, but to make this --
BERMAN: Would like to see Donald Trump say let's get it all out there? Because he hasn't come close to that.
HILL: Absolutely. What I think Democrats are trying to do is de- legitimatize the Trump administration.
BERMAN: Is Donald Trump trying to de-legitimatize the questions about Russian involvement?
HILL: I think that he's being defensive at this point. I think we should -- let's get it all out there. You know, if the White House politicize this, we should know it.
BOLDUAN: Donald Trump may not believe Russia is behind it, but you know who does, Mike Pence from -- in October he said, "I think there's no question that the evidence points to that direction being that Russia was behind it. I think there's more and more evidence that implicates Russia." That's Mike Pence from October.
HILL: We still haven't seen a shred of evidence, not a single shred of evidence.
BERMAN: Matt, I want to give you the last word here.
BENNETT: Look, Democrats are not in any way arguing that Donald Trump isn't the legitimately elected president-elect. No one is arguing that.
HILL: Some are.
BENNETT: Well, they are wrong. What we're saying is that he should not be denigrating the intelligence community before he becomes president. He should be taking his intelligence briefings, which he's not, and we should have hearings in Congress to find out if the Russians are trying to influence American elections. That's it.
BOLDUAN: Guys, thank you so much.
Speaking of Capitol Hill, we are going to go here just shortly. Last week, Senate minority leader, Harry Reid, the top Democrat in the Senate, said that Donald Trump hasn't been as bad as he thought he would be.
You can pretty much be sure he does not agree with him on Trump's assessment on Russia's hacking and meddling in the U.S. election. Harry Reid joining CNN live moments from now. We'll be right back.