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Catching Hackers; Horror in Syria; Governor Kasich Vetoes "Hearthbeat" Abortion Bill; U.S. Intel More Confident Russia Meddled To Help Trump; Cusinart Recalls 8 Million Food Processors; Obama Signs $6.3 Billion Medical Research Bill; New Funding To Study Brain Disorders. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 13, 2016 - 16:30   ET



MAGGIE HABERMAN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Why you would, say, object to an investigation into whether a foreign power was trying some espionage role in an American election, there's two separate issues.

One is whether it was Russia, which Trump has suggested he doesn't accept. And then there's what the goal was of what they were trying to do. And both of the questions can be solved with an investigation. I think it will be interesting to see if Trump's posture on this changes once he is president, actually sworn in. We will see.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And the other thing, Philip, about this issue is then there is this third conclusion, which is, did it make a difference? And that is almost -- you can't really even measure that. I mean, that's just somebody's opinion. Who knows. It seems to me that Mr. Trump might be concerned about that, as if that makes it illegitimate.

But you hear very few Democratic politicians even talking about whether or not it actually made a difference.


I think part of this too -- much less the inauguration on January 20. I think he also wants to get past this electoral vote and make sure all of those ducks are in a row before he starts worrying about the role that Russia played.

I mean, look, we're talking about 80,000 votes in three states, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. That's why Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. A lot of things could have swung those 80,000 votes.

It could have been any particular thing released by WikiLeaks. It could have been any particular ad that Hillary Clinton didn't run. All sorts of things can be blamed for that, including this if people choose to do so. I think that's part of the reason why the Trump campaign consistently or transition team consistently has tried to argued that they have a bigger mandate than they actually have.

TAPPER: But you could say, sure, maybe Russia had some sort of impact, but Hillary Clinton didn't go to Wisconsin after the conventions. I mean, there are any number of things that could have made a difference.

HABERMAN: Right. "The Times" has a big story on this up right now and makes the point that there are several factors that went into this loss.

It's pretty hard to isolate and, as you say, measure any single one. We will never know what the impact is. But it doesn't actually have to be whether there was an impact in the election to be concerned about the fact that this could have happened at all.

And I think that's the argument you hear from people who say there should be a probe. The Clinton campaign also has not really, as you noted, talked about this as a major cause, at least not in recent weeks.

They have focused very much on the letter from James Comey about the e-mail server in the final 10 days of the election. And they have been laser-focused on that. There are, as you say, a number of other reasons, a lot of them going back to 2013 when she gave paid speeches at Goldman Sachs.

You add all of this up, not having staff in Michigan or Wisconsin to enough degree, not doing ads that were more positive about her, not having a focused enough economic message. There are a lot of reasons.

TAPPER: Although John Podesta, the Clinton campaign chairman, is behind the move right now to try to get an intelligence briefing to electors before they formally vote on making Donald Trump the 45th president of the United States. That seems odd. What is going on there?

BUMP: It's a great answer.

And Maggie may actually be able to speak to this better than I can. But it just seems to me that this is an issue where there is a question about the extent to which a foreign power played a role in an American election. I think that John Podesta is someone who would want to have had that sussed out to some extent, although there is a political trickiness to it that you raise, which I don't think does the Clinton team any good.

And especially in this moment, when there is a lot of attention being paid to what Trump is doing -- they're adversaries to what Trump is doing -- it's a weird thing for him to step out in front of.

HABERMAN: They want to record I think that this was an extraordinary event in the history of this country's elections. And it was to have espionage conducted at this level.

John Podesta is about as high as you can go without Hillary Clinton herself saying it or Barack Obama saying it. That would be very risky, because there is not a whole lot of chance of it succeeding, that it is going to overthrow the election and have the electors go against Donald Trump. I think the tricky thing, too, in this Podesta statement that they put

out in calling for declassifying the information is the media didn't cover this enough. I don't think there was anybody who didn't know about these hacks or about the allegations that it was Russia. There was a lot of coverage.

TAPPER: The morning after the DNC hack, the morning of the convention starting, "STATE OF THE UNION," Robby Mook, the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton, on "STATE OF THE UNION," saying it was Russia. From then on, it was all Russia all the time.

HABERMAN: That's right.


TAPPER: Maggie and Phil, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

And don't forget, the first book from CNN Politics, "Unprecedented: The Election That Changed Everything," available in stores now.

Women and children executed or buried alive, those are the reports on the horror in Aleppo. But will the nightmare end with the new cease- fire agreement? That story next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We have some breaking news for you in our world lead now. A cease- fire in Syria to try and stop what's being called a complete meltdown of humanity. Sources telling CNN that rebel fighters have reached an agreement with Russia to evacuate civilians and military factions from the besieged and battered city of Aleppo.

This comes amid reports amid that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and backed by Russia executed at least 82 innocent civilians, including women and children in the streets and in their homes yesterday.

Moments ago, I spoke with Ismail Abdallah of from the Syrian rescue group The White Helmets about the carnage he's witnessed in the last 24 hours.


ISMAIL ABDALLAH, THE WHITE HELMETS: Mortars were falling on the small area where all the civilians who were living in the neighborhoods which were taken by Assad forces. Many people were killed and dead bodies on the floor. We couldn't save them because of their bombing, because of their close to the front lines with the Assad forces. Assad forces would shoot immediately if they see us.


TAPPER: CNN senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen was in Syria just days ago. He is now in Beirut, Lebanon.

Fred, with this agreement, have the rebels effectively surrendered?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They have certainly surrendered the territory.

It looks like they're going to lose their last foothold once this agreement is put into place and once those rebel factions and also the civilians are evacuated.

The way that is going to happen, Jake, is that there are going to be buses that are going to take them either to the north of Aleppo or to the west of Aleppo, two areas that are held by rebel factions there. Now, of course, this is not a full-on surrender. They are not surrendering themselves to the Syrian governments.

They will still be free in the rebel-held areas, but certainly this is a major point, a major pivotal point in Syria's civil war, as for the first time in a very long time the Syrian government is going to have full control of the most important Syrian city in the north of the country, one of the most important Syrian cities at all and certainly, by far, the biggest prize so far in Syria's civil war.

It was absolutely key to the rebels, is absolutely key to the Syrian government. And that certainly is something that was also reflected in a lot of the fighting that I have seen there over the past couple of days, some of the heavy weapons. You could feel that the Syrian government and its allied forces, including the Russians, were making every effort to win that place back as fast as possible, and, of course, leaving a lot of destruction there as well.


It was really a huge amount of firepower that was unleashed on that place, especially over the past couple of days, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Fred, at this point,is there any sign that civilians are being given the safe passage that they need?

PLEITGEN: Well, you know, what's been going on over the past couple of days is that tens of thousands of civilians have already gone out.

And the vast majority were able to get out. There was fighting that was still going on. They had to cross a battle line. It was very dangerous, but the vast majority did get out. And we saw a lot of elderly people, we saw children, but we also saw some people who seemed to be in the ages between 30 and 50 who are, of course, the men who would be most at risk.

Now, there are those stories coming out of those executions that apparently have taken place. The U.N. says that the reports that they got came from people who have been credible in the past. They said they weren't able to independently verify it, but the people who told them that these executions took place have been credible in the past.

So there is grave concern on the part of the U.N., of course, also on the part of the U.S., as to what all these pro-Assad forces are doing there in Eastern Aleppo. We also have to keep in mind that these are not just Syrian government troops. These are also Hezbollah militias. These are Iraqi Shia militias. These are Syrian Palestinian militias as well, some of them very, very difficult to control.

Certainly, that's one of the reasons why the U.S. says that right now it's on the Syrian government and it's on the Russians to make sure that no atrocities are committed there, Jake.

TAPPER: Fred, we have been focusing on Aleppo when it comes to the Syrian civil war. But, obviously, this is not only going on in Aleppo. If Aleppo falls, is that the end of the civil war? Has Assad essentially won?

PLEITGEN: You know what? He has taken a big step towards not winning, but certainly making clear that the tide is very much going in his direction. It certainly won't end Syria's civil war. There's still a lot of other factions that are involved. There's whole territories that are still very much under the control of the government.

If you look around Damascus, the countryside, there's huge territories that are still held by rebels. There's territories north of Homs in Central Syria. There is no way to easily drive, for instance, from Damascus to Aleppo without taking huge detours, because there are still rebel-controlled areas.

The entire province of Idlib is almost completely held by the rebels as well. And then of course you also have ISIS in places like Raqqa, now making advances in Palmyra. It won't end the civil war by far. But certainly, as far the rebels are concerned, the ones who wanted to get rid of Assad, he's certainly taken a huge step forward by taking back Aleppo.

TAPPER: All right, Fred Pleitgen, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

As the battle for Aleppo continues to rage on, the U.S.-led campaign to squeeze ISIS out of Syria is intensifying. The Pentagon says three ISIS leaders with ties to terror plots in Europe, including the deadly Paris attacks, have been killed in a U.S. drone strike in Raqqa.

CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon for us.

Barbara, what can you tell us about how this all went down?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, this one is very interesting, Jake.

This was a U.S. military drone firing a Hellfire missile into a single vehicle traveling on a road. There were three men inside, only three, and those were the three ISIS operatives that the Pentagon says today they said that they killed them on Sunday.

These three were all involved in plotting and facilitating attacks outside of Syria and Iraq against Western targets. In fact, two of them are said to have been involved in facilitating those deadly attacks in Paris back in November 2015, involved in facilitating the financing.

Another one of these terrorists involved in recruiting foreign operatives. These are people the U.S. wanted to get. Very interesting the Pentagon is acknowledging they struck three men in one car. What it tells us is U.S. drones overhead are watching Raqqa, the declared capital of ISIS, around the clock to see when and where they can take these strikes -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Barbara, this would also seem to suggest something about improved intelligence on ISIS in Syria. And while we're on the subject, is the U.S. any closer to tracking down the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

STARR: Well, they're not saying publicly of course because he is prize number one.

But it's what you're talking about, Jake, this very much intelligence structure that's now in place, drones overhead, watching, intercepting communications, talking to people on the ground. All this is public knowledge. We are not disclosing anything. This is basically how the U.S. military intelligence community operates in trying to go after these ISIS targets.

They are unpacking all of this communications relationship inside of ISIS, taking people out one by one and hoping, in fact, to get to Baghdadi as they make progress against these targets -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us, thank you so much.

Consumer warning now. This item is in kitchens everywhere, and now eight million of these popular kitchen gadgets are being recalled because they might cut your mouth, that warning ahead. You won't want to miss it.

[16:45:07] And then: Donald Trump says you can't catch a hacker unless you catch the hacker in the act. Is that true? Investigators and how they find cyber-fingerprints.


TAPPER: Welcome back. Just in to CNN, in Ohio, Republican Governor John Kasich has vetoed what would have been the country's strictest time-based abortion law, the so-called "Heartbeat Bill". If Governor Kasich had signed the bill, it would have banned abortions in Ohio from the moment the heartbeat of a fetus could be detected -- that's usually around six weeks into a pregnancy. Governor Kasich did sign into law a second bill that bans abortion after 20 weeks into a pregnancy. Those new regulations make it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion after 20 weeks unless the procedure is necessary to save the mother's life.

More in our "POLITICS LEAD" now, whether Russians hacked the DNC and Hillary Clinton's campaign-chair with damaging e-mails released via WikiLeaks to bolster Donald Trump, undermine Hillary Clinton, or sow seeds of doubt about the integrity of the American Electoral System. All of that remains the motive -- a matter for debate. Regardless of motive, however, the Intelligence Committee is now saying they are confident that Moscow did meddle in the U.S. elections. So, how do top security and intelligence analysts even come to that conclusion? How do they conduct a cyber-autopsy?


[16:50:09] TAPPER: Before election, when Russian hackers were first suspected of interfering with the U.S. elections, candidate Donald Trump was not convinced.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I mean, it could be Russia. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?

TAPPER: But now that the U.S. Intelligence Community says it's confident Russian hackers are likely behind the cybersecurity breaches, with some debate within the community over whether the hackers were trying to help Trump, the President-Elect is weighing in again, quote, "Unless you catch hackers in the act," he tweeted Monday, "it's very hard to determine who is doing the hacking." Well, one thing about that.

DMITRI ALPEROVITCH, CO-FOUNDER OF CROWDSTRIKE INC.: From CrowdStrike actually did catch them in the act. We actually watched these adversaries for a number of days and weeks.

TAPPER: Security experts and ethical hackers say it's possible to catch cyber criminals after the act as well.

KEITH JARVIS, SENIOR SECURITY RESEARCHER AT SECUREWORKS: Most of the time when we respond to an incident response engagement, we have a number of different forensic elements that we can find. These range from IP Addresses to usernames, the actual tools that the individuals used while they're breaking into the systems.

TAPPER: Hackers often leave behind digital breadcrumbs, everything from complex clues to circumstantial evidence. Even something as easy as the hours they worked.

JARVIS: When we see the attackers inside the network, does that happen during certain times of the day that maybe you could line up with shift work in China or Russia or the United States? Do these people take holidays?

TAPPER: And then there are the calling cards, recognizable evidence left behind by known criminals.

JARVIS: The code that they use to build their malware samples, we're able to see that same code in other breaches. We always look for these guys to slip up and maybe use something that we can attribute to, you know, a handle to a real persona, a real name, a social media account.

TAPPER: Sure, it might be easier to nab a hacker- mouse in hand, but pouncing right away may prevent investigators from getting the information they need to build a case.

JARVIS: Most cases are hard and they take months and years to build up all that evidence needed, but, you know, it's the work -- the work that we do.


TAPPER: Coming up, it's being called the Medical Moonshot, but will the law President Obama just signed, help millions of Americans fighting deadly diseases? Stay with us.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: Welcome back. A potentially dangerous dinner in our "MONEY LEAD"- Cuisinart says it is recalling 8 million food processors because pieces of the blade in the machine can break off and wind up in your food. The Consumer Products Safety Commission said it has fielded 69 reports from people who found pieces of the sharp blades in their processed food including 30 people who have cut their mouths or broken their teeth. The recall covers 22 models of Cuisinart food processors that were made in China and sold anytime between 1996 and last year.

Today's "HEALTH LEAD" now, a new tool to battle the epidemic that the CDC says killed more than 33,000 Americans last year. Now, $1 billion will be made available to address the nation's opioid crisis over the next two years, and that's not the only medical issue getting some major funding. Moments ago with Vice President Joe Biden by his side, President Obama signed the 21st century Cures Act, which makes $6.3 billion available to tackle some of the biggest health challenges of our time including the so-called "Moonshot" that could be a giant leap in the fight to cure cancer.

Let's bring in CNN Chief Medical Corespondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. And Sanjay, this legislation covers a lot of ground and is a big deal for the medical community.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: No doubt. I mean, this has been something that people have been talking about for quite some time. Frankly, weren't sure if it was going to actually happen, Jake, but you mentioned one of the big ones, the Cancer Moonshot -- accelerating therapies, making therapies more widely available, detecting cancers earlier, making those diagnoses. That is a lot of what the Moonshot is about.

They used the word "Cure" once in the report -- I read the entire report. Cure is only used once but the notion of making these cancers more of a chronic disease is really a lot of what the Cancer Moonshot is about. But there's also money in there for the Brain Initiative, Jake. There's money in there for what is known as Precision Medicine to try and individualize medicine.

The middle one, $500 million for FDA drug approval. Common complaint, takes too long to get drugs approved. They want to make that go faster. And then as you mentioned in the beginning, you know, opioids, we cover a lot of that. Drug overdose is number one cause of unintentional death in America today. They want to start addressing that problem, so a billion dollars set aside for that.

TAPPER: You say that the word "Cure" is only in there once. Does that mean that this is being sold as a way to cure cancer, but that's maybe not the most realistic outcome of this all?

GUPTA: Well, you know, it's-people, especially the scientists, are going to be reluctant to use the word "Cure". It's sort of the touchdown, the home run certainly that everybody wants, but it's not to diminish, I think, what is incremental progress along the way. And I think one of the ways to think about it, if you think about someone like Jimmy Carter, Jake, who has metastatic melanoma to his brain, and yet, by all accounts, is doing well on a new sort of therapy.

Is his cancer cured? No. Is it gone? No. You'd still see it if you got imaging, but he is not being affected by it. It's more of a disease that he's basically able to successfully battle. So they're just careful with that. I think cure is still, I think, what the aspiration is, but it's not to diminish all the steps in between.

TAPPER: Are there any of these diseases that are close to a cure that this funding could really help?

GUPTA: Well, I think, you know, one of the big areas is around the brain initiative, and specifically with Alzheimer's diseases. You got, you know, about 5 million people in the United States who have Alzheimer's. Those numbers expected to quadruple over the next 25 years or so. It's a -- close is a relative term, Jake, but I think you're having a lot more insight into what is exactly is causing Alzheimer's and some surprising new therapies may come about as a result.

TAPPER: All right. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much.

The first book from CNN POLITICS, "UNPRECEDENTED: THE ELECTION THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING" is available on stores now. That is it for THE LEAD, I am Jake Tapper. You can follow me on Twitter @JakeTapper or the show @TheLeadCNN. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer, he's in "THE SITUATION ROOM". Thanks for watching.