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Investigations Continue into Possible Russian Interference in U.S. Presidential Election; Donald Trump Criticizes White House Press Secretary for Comments on Russia Hacks. Aired 8-8:15a ET

Aired December 16, 2016 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] EVAN PEREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- deployed sophisticated hacking tools, the kind used by the NSA to break into U.S. political organizations in the past year. U.S. officials tell CNN that it's part of the reason why intelligence officials believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the disinformation operation that targeted mostly Democratic Party groups and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Investigators haven't found any evidence directly linking back to Putin, but officials believe that because the nature of the operation he would have had to give orders to do -- what to do with these stolen e-mails. Now, in recent weeks, intelligence agencies have directed more evidence, including from human sources, to back up their assessments first made in October that only this most senior members of the Russian government could have ordered this operation.

So how is the U.S. government going to respond to all of this? President Obama talked about it in an interview with NPR. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections that we need to take action. And we will at a time and place of our own choosing. Some of it may be explicit and publicized. Some of it may not be. But Mr. Putin is well aware of my feelings about this because I spoke to him directly about it.


PEREZ: A Kremlin spokesman says the Russian leader gave a response to President Obama that doesn't really fit with the U.S. narrative. Officials tell us that the president has ordered government agencies to give him a range of actions that he can take before he leaves office.

Now, in the meantime the hacking hasn't stopped. Law enforcement officials tell CNN that the FBI is now investigating hacking attempts after the election that were targeting former Clinton campaign staffers. A campaign official tells CNN that they've received security notices as recently as last week indicating attempts to get into their private e-mail accounts. Now, officials say that despite Russian expectations of better relations with the incoming Trump administration, they fully expect that the Russian hacking activity is going to continue largely unabated. Alisyn?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Evan, thanks so much for all of that reporting.

So Russian hacks are not new, and now foreign defense officials and a former head of state are saying, I told you so. CNN's senior international correspondent Ivan Watson is live in Kiev with more. What have you learned, Ivan?

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. That's right, a number of high ranking officials and former officials from former Soviet republics all saying that they had previously warned the U.S. government that their countries had been the target for years of what they believe to have been Russian cyber-attacks and Russian other forms of hybrid warfare. I spoke with the former president of the republic of Georgia, who accuses Russia of meddling in Georgia's 2012 parliamentary elections. Take a listen to an excerpt from that interview.


MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI, FORMER PRESIDENT OF GEORGIA: Well, I almost was vindicated when Washington suddenly started to speak about Russian involvement in elections because for me it was deja vu. They were the same people telling us, no, no, it cannot possibly be true. And now it came to their doorsteps.


WATSON: Now, Alisyn, I'm hearing Ukraine. Ukraine announcing that it has just recently been targeted by at least ten major cyber-attacks including today the infrastructure ministry and its website was taken down. Now they haven't pointed the finger directly at Russia yet, but last December they did point the finger at Russia for a hack attack, a cyber-attack, that took down electricity to more than 100 cities across this country and a partial electricity to more than 150 other cities across Ukraine. Of course, Ukraine is currently fighting a war against separatists that are supported by neighboring Russia. Alisyn and Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Ivan, as important as that point is that you made there in the last, that's something that Russia also denied the same way it's denying the hacks right now by saying put up the proof, otherwise leave it alone. Thank you very much for your reporting from Ukraine.

So how might this back and forth between Trump and the White House over the apparent hacking impact the peaceful transition of power? CNN's Sara Murray is here with the latest. What do you see?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. Everyone was playing nice at the get-go. Hillary Clinton said we need to give Donald Trump a chance as president. President Obama made it clear he did want to see a peaceful and orderly transition of power. But now a rift is emerging and we're seeing the president-elect exchanging barbs with the White House press secretary. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: A week of Russia revelations and Donald Trump's denial creating a rift between incoming and outgoing administrations.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT-ELECT: This foolish guy Josh Earnest.

MURRAY: The president-elect taking shots at President Obama's press secretary.

TRUMP: He is so bad the way he delivers their message. He can deliver a positive message and it sounds bad. He could say, "ladies and gentlemen, today we have totally defeated ISIS," and it wouldn't sound good.

[08:05:07] MURRAY: Lashing out after the White House sharply criticized Trump's continued dismissal of intelligence about Moscow's election meddling.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Mr. Trump obviously knew that Russia was engaged in malicious cyber-activity that was helping him and hurting Secretary Clinton's campaign.

TRUMP: The president is very positive, but he's not positive. And, I mean, maybe he's getting his orders from somebody else.

MURRAY: Russia putting a strain on the rollercoaster relationship between Trump and Obama, the two attempting a show of unity for a smooth transition after a bitter campaign. Now tensions rising between the camps fueled in part by Trump's tweet accusing the White House of only complaining about the hacking after Hillary Clinton lost. But, in fact, in early October, the intelligence community was saying they were, quote, "confident Russia was behind the DNC hack."

Clinton herself addressing the hacking for the first time since the election, telling donors that Russian president Vladimir Putin's grudge against her prompted the attack against the DNC. This as Clinton's former campaign chair John Podesta penned a scathing rebuke of the FBI's handling of the hack. Writing in "The Washington Post," "When the FBI discovered the Russian attack in September 2015 it failed to send even a single agent to warn senior Democratic National Committee officials," adding "Something is deeply broken at the bureau." Podesta's criticism echoed by outgoing Senate minority leader Harry Reid.

HARRY REID, (D-NV) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: I think it's about time that Comey acknowledged publicly what a disservice he's rendered to our country by doing nothing, nothing except interfering with the election. He's become such a partisan that he should become the new chair of the RNC.


MURRAY: Now, in spite of Podesta's claims, sources tell CNN federal investigators reached out to the DNC, including senior officials there, repeatedly to warn them about hacking attempts. And they say that the Democratic Party did not take efforts to remedy the situation until months after those warnings.

CAMEROTA: OK, Sara, thanks so much. You've given us a lot to talk about.

So joining us now is a great panel. We have CNN senior political analyst and senior editor for "The Atlantic," Ron Brownstein, CNN political analyst and "USA Today" columnist Kirsten Powers, and CNN senior law enforcement analyst and former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes. Great to have all of you.

Ron, let's just talk about this rift that has emerged between the Obama administration and the Trump transition over Russia. You heard Mr. Trump there going after Josh Earnest. What does all this mean?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, I don't think we have seen anything quite like it. The pattern of kind of biting your lip no matter how unhappy you are about the election result and being civil toward the incoming and outgoing administrations, being civil toward each other, really is the rule in American politics. And we are seeing, I think, just a kind of rift or a scene unfold that we haven't seen before. But how many times have we said that in the last year?

And look, I think it does increase the incentive for the Obama administration to be as aggressive as they can in both investigating what happened and making public their view of what happened, because I think what you saw above all in the Josh Earnest comments was the concern that Donald Trump was still not taking this as seriously as it need to be viewed.

CAMEROTA: Right. And then Mr. Trump counterpunched, as he is known to do. So once Josh Earnest put that out there then Donald Trump felt that he could sort of personally attack Josh Earnest. Something else interesting happened, Kirsten, last night, and that was that Hillary Clinton, you know, who has not been seen much obviously since losing the election, she went to this thank you dinner for her fundraisers, and she talked about Russia's meddling in the election. Her theory is that Russia and Vladimir Putin in particular had long been angry with her since 2011 when she made comments about the elections there not being free and fair, and that that is why they retaliated directly against her to make her lose.

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, "USA TODAY": Well, she also -- yes, she was an advocate of getting tougher on Russia. She has sent in one of her last memos before she left as secretary of state, she had suggested in fact that the Obama administration snub Putin, that they should not flatter him, the kind of things I think we've seen from Donald Trump a little bit. So, yes, it certainly appears they were trying to help Donald Trump.

Now, the question is did they help Donald Trump? And it doesn't appear that this was actually a major factor in the election. That doesn't mean it's not a serious issue. I think it should be investigated. I think we need to look into what the FBI was doing, the things that John Podesta brought up, for example. And I think we need to be much more extensive hearings on this issue. [08:10:00] But I do think there's a problem with suggesting that this

was determinative in the election. Even the Clinton campaign has really pointed more at FBI Director Comey's letter as being more, you know, having a direct impact. Whether that's true or not we can set it aside, but that's their argument.


POWERS: There's not a lot of argument that the leaked memos were determinative in changing the election, or leaked emails, sorry.

CAMEROTA: I hear you. But John Podesta sees it as part and parcel of all of the same thing. Tom, that's where you come in. I know for the past couple of days I've been making you be sort of the voice of the FBI because you worked there for years and I'm making you explain any and all possible ills at the FBI. So here let's do it again, because basically what John Podesta is saying is that when the FBI learned and believed, for sure, that Russia was meddling, that they did not handle it in any sort of appropriately aggressive way. In fact, he claims that they did not go and alert DNC that their computers had been hacked, that they made a phone call and left it on some sort of I.T. helpline.

Here's what he wrote in his op-ed. He says "Comparing the FBI's massive response to the overblown e-mail scandal and the seemingly lackadaisical response to the very real Russian plot to subvert a national election shows that something is deeply broken at the FBI. Comey justified his handling of the e-mail case by citing intense public interest, yet he refused to join the rest of the intelligence community in a statement about the Russian cyber-attack because he reportedly didn't want to appear political. What's broken in the FBI must be fixed and quickly." Tom, your response?

TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Well, first of all the FBI did warn, and of course the FBI would be briefing the White House continuously through the process of what type of hacking is going on against the U.S. systems or involving the political process of the campaigns. We've seen this repeatedly, the hacking of OPM believed to be by the Chinese, the Sony attack by North Korea. So, you know, we --

CAMEROTA: So, Tom, let me just stop you there. You're saying that the FBI would have briefed the Obama White House but you don't know if they briefed the Clinton campaign.

FUENTES: I don't know it directly whether they did. My understanding from talking to some people was that it was and that they did brief. And that later on the Democratic National Committee did hire a company, Crowd Source, to do something about it this past summer. But the point is that this kind of hacking has been going on a long time and it's normal tradecraft, especially with the Russians, to try to disrupt our elections, no matter who they're for, just to create a disruption --

CAMEROTA: So, does that mean no biggie? FUENTES: I didn't say no biggie. I'm just saying that this is what

they normally do. And apparently, you know, we've had hack after hack in the last couple of years where there was no real response to it.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead. Go ahead.

BROWNSTEIN: What John Podesta I think was responding to was the detailed account in "The New York Times," and maybe there's more to the story. But certainly in that detailed reconstruction of the hack and the response to it, there was no urgency on the part of the FBI. And it went for months between, in that account, relatively lower level officials at the FBI and the DNC both failing to take this seriously enough.

And you know, the issue here is not -- as I said, not necessarily, you know, impacted and tipping this election. It's unlikely that that was the factor that tipped this election. But you do have really an unprecedented level of meddling, and a precedent as you've been talking about in your coverage. We have consequential elections coming this year in France and Germany that will also be important in the future of the western alliance. And it's clear that Putin's goal, one of Putin's goals here is to unravel the western alliance and the U.S.-European alliance from both ends. And, you know, they've got to look at this investment in the U.S. and say, this is a pretty good strategy at the moment.

CAMEROTA: Kirsten, very quickly, I mean, what Podesta is saying is that the agents took time to travel to Denver to check in with the people who managed Hillary Clinton's server yet they couldn't travel a few blocks to alert the DNC that they had been hacked. That's basically John Podesta's point. Is it fair?

POWERS: If the reporting is true that all they did was call the I.T. desk and they just didn't get in the car and drive the 10 minutes over to the DNC to talk to people, that -- that -- that's highly problematic. And I think if you add in the fact of the Comey letter, which I also found to be pretty problematic, that there needs to be some sort of investigation into what's going on. I don't understand why there wouldn't have been hair on fire screaming about the idea that Russia would be hacking into the Democratic National Committee.

CAMEROTA: OK, Kirsten, Ron, Tom, thank you very much for helping to explain all of this. Chris?

CUOMO: Situations often can have simple aspects and complex aspects. The conflicts facing the president-elect of the United States is a perfect example. The conflicts are real. CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: So, will the president-elect divest from his companies?

[08:15:02] Probably not. So, why are ethics experts calling for that? Why are they saying that these conflicts are a powder keg ready to explode?

We're going to explain, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CUOMO: Senate Democrats are planning to introduce legislation requiring President-elect Trump to divest from any financial assets that could pose a conflict of interest in the White House. But with a new report saying he ain't going to do it, what are the Democrats going to do now? What would be the right thing to do? That's an interesting question. Not the legal thing, the right thing.

Let's talk to somebody who is in the business of right and wrong, former Bush White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter and former Obama White House ethics czar Norman Eisen.

Gentlemen, thank you very much.

Let's have a little bit of a Socratic dialogue on this.

Now, the Democrats are rooting some of their reckoning in very arcane line in the Constitution. Article 9, Section 1, the Emoluments Clause. Emoluments, again, an arcane word for fee for service and had to do with keeping corruption out of government by not allowing any nobility titles, not allowing gifts or graft to those in power in the United States.

Never been litigated. So, we don't really know how it would play out in real-time.

But let's start with you, Mr. Painter. Do you believe such a law would be the right thing to have?

[08:20:00] RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER: Well, absolutely. The founders were very worried about corruption of our political system by foreign powers. And that's exactly what we are hearing happened this year, over 200 years later, an attempt to corrupt our political system by foreign powers. And the Emoluments Clause is one selection to that problem. So, it's the requirement the president be a natural-born citizen.

But much more important is the Emoluments Clause which prohibits profiteering from deals with foreign governments. Emolumentum the word in Latin means profit or benefit, and quite clear that the Founders did not want anyone holding a position of trust with the United States government profiting from dealings with foreign governments.

CUOMO: All right.

PAINTER: And that is what is required, that he not be dealing with foreign governments and making money off of them.

CUOMO: All right. But the balance question is this, Norman, that's who Trump is. People voted for him knowing he has a huge business and asking him to divest would be a huge burden on him. It could either tank the values because he's under time pressure and the seller would know that. Or, it could create the exact problem that you're trying to protect against which is, I'll come in and buy some of his stuff to curry favor, maybe even an inflated price.

Is that the right solution forcing divestment?

NORMAN EISEN, OBAMA WHITE HOUSE ETHICS CZAR 2009-11: Chris, good morning. And it is the right selection. This is not complicated.

He tweeted yesterday, he's feeling the heat that it's complicated that people are trying to make it complicated. But it's not.

Every president for the past four decades has used a blind trust or an equivalent. All that means is, and Mr. Trump can do it today, one piece of paper, he appoints an independent trustee, somebody who is good at this stuff, he says, I'm signing all my interests, and operations, over to you, Mr. Trustee, or Miss, I'm signing it over to you, you sell it.

And then take the money you get, put it behind a wall, and reinvest so I don't know what the investments are, I'm not conflicted.

That will not adversely affect the value of the businesses. The Trump brand is at an all-time high. He'll never do better than he does now.

And not only that, he ran on a promise to drain the swamp. He did not run saying he would have his children managing his business interests in all of the official transition meetings, the meetings with heads of state, the meetings with heads of corporations. So that's the opposite that swamp flooding, not swamp draining.

CUOMO: And just because you have a conflict, and again this isn't about owning positions, this is a Socratic dialogue. This has to be chewed on, because they're very competing interest at play here. That's why we're doing it this way.

But, you know, you mentioned the etymology of the word emolument from the Latin. It comes from the verb emolare, to grind up. Trump's argument is going to be that you're grinding up my business because it is a brand business. I don't own buildings as much as I put my name on buildings. This is a licensing business. My kids, the family, our name is fundamental to the brand.

Yes, there's a real conflict. It's an incurable one. But it doesn't mean that it's a fatal one.

Why isn't the answer just transparency, know what the businesses are, know who they do business with, see the taxes, but don't make him sell the business because it would be too big a prejudice?

PAINTER: Well, the Founders put the Emolument Clause in the Constitution for a reason. The grinding up you're referring to is the cost that a mill operator or owner gets for grinding up someone's grain. In other words, it's a profit from dealing with that other person. No profit for dealing with foreign governments, period.

The voters voted for Donald Trump. The voters did not vote to rescind the Constitution of the United States. He's going to have to read the Constitution and abide by it and he's not going to last in that job.

And that's the decision of the Founding Fathers. They anticipated the type of intermeddling in American government that we've seen in 2016 over 200 years later. And the Constitution has some remedies to that. One of them is the Emoluments Clause and he's going to have to adhere to it.

He needs to sell off the businesses that are dealing with foreign governments, in order to comply with Constitution. For other reasons, I think he ought to sell off the other businesses that creates other conflicts of interest.

But right now, the constitutional issue is of immediate importance and as I say it's a national security issue, and it's one that was anticipated by the founders of our country.

CUOMO: Richard Painter, you have a very impressive knowledge not only of ethics, but of Latin. Well done on tracing the etymology all the way back to the millers grinding grain. And, Norman, thank you very much. These are -- these are intricate ethical questions.

[08:25:02] The questions will be, what will be the practical solution and we're going to see that going forward.

Gentlemen, please come back to continue the conversation.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I thought emolument was an ointment of some kind.

CUOMO: Yes, you were wrong.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I've learned that.

All right. This week, I sat down with a group of passionate Hillary Clinton --

CUOMO: We need an ointment.

CAMEROTA: Need a salve. And that's what we're going to get to in a minute, because they're struggling to come to grips with the election outcome. They're hoping for a virtually impossible twist.

CUOMO: That's good.


CAMEROTA: How many of you as you sit here today think that something might happen before inauguration day to change the result?


CAMEROTA: Their take, next.


CAMEROTA: So, on Monday, the Electoral College votes for president. Now, the chances of them changing the results of the election are virtually zero. But that's not stopping some Hillary Clinton supporters from holding out a sliver of hope.

So, for our latest, "real voters, real voices" panel we sat down with a group of passionate Clinton supporters, two of whom volunteered for her campaign, four of them are from Pennsylvania, two from New York.