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Putin: Russia Won't Retaliate, Expel U.S. Diplomats after Sanctions; GOP Senators Vow "Stronger Sanctions on Russia; Syria Ceasefire Holding Despite Minor Skirmishes. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 30, 2016 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Give me the bottle.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Happy new year, everyone. Baby girl, you want to say happy New Year's? Happy New Year's! Time for NEWSROOM with Martin Savidge. Hi, everyone.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to all of you. Poppy, a beautiful, beautiful baby and family there. Thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thank you, Martin.

SAVIDGE: Don, happy New Year to you.

LEMON: Happy New Year to you as well, Martin.

SAVIDGE: Thank you. NEWSROOM starts now.

Hey, good morning. I'm Martin Savidge in for Carol Costello. Thanks very much for joining me.

Just hours after Russian officials vowed retaliation for those U.S. sanctions against Russia, Vladimir Putin has changed things up completely, and he says he will not impose sanctions on the U.S. Putin is saying this morning that he will wait to see what President- elect Trump's policies are toward Russia before taking any action.

This all started when President Obama took the unprecedented steps of punishing Russia for alleged hacking, ordering 35 Russian diplomats to leave the U.S. within 72 hours. Two Russian compounds have been ordered closed. Four individuals and five Russian organizations, now sanctioned. So far, what we're hearing from President-elect Trump, "move on," saying it's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.

Our team covering the diplomatic fallout from D.C. to Moscow. We begin with CNN Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance.

Matthew, a simple question here, what is Russia up to here? Why not retaliate? That's been the long traditional history.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it has. But this is an astonishing bit of political theater, classic Putin. Basically, we saw earlier today the Russian Foreign Minister appear very solemnly on Russian state television saying he was recommending to the Kremlin that 35 U.S. diplomats be expelled from Russian in response to the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats from the United States, but it was for Vladimir Putin to decide finally.

And that set the stage for Putin to, you know, play magnanimous, play Santa Claus almost, at this time of year, and say, look, I'm not going to make trouble for any U.S. diplomats. I'm not going to expel any diplomats. And he went even further and even to carry that Santa Claus theme forward a little bit, he went even further and he invited the children of U.S. diplomats stationed in Moscow to New Year's and Christmas performances of plays and spectacles at the Kremlin which are being staged over this time of year. And so a very interesting bit of political theater.

He said that the restoration of ties between the United States and Russia would all be dependent on Donald Trump's policies, so he's reaching out again to the incoming administration of Donald Trump and saying, look, this is an administration that we can do a deal with. And he needs a deal with Donald Trump because he wants sanctions alleviated. He wants the situation in Syria to be stabilized even more than it is now, and he wants Crimea, which Donald Trump said he would look at. He annexed in 2014. He wants that to be recognized as an official part of Russia.

And so, again, we saw this today. He was playing Santa Claus. He was making Obama look like the Grinch. The Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that the Obama administration was vindictive and out of this, Putin has tried to look magnanimous.

SAVIDGE: Yes, it's a personating kind of strategy. And I presume the parents of those American diplomat children would also be invited. We'll see how that all plays out. Matthew Chance, thank you very much for that.

Putin's surprising decision not to strike back at the U.S. comes after a strong show of force from President Obama, as we've heard, kicking 35 suspected spies out of the country. Now, the White House is hinting that it may not be done yet. CNN Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is following this story and he joins me now live from Washington this morning.

Evan, a really surprising turn of events here.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Martin. With only three weeks left in President Obama's administration, he is firing back at Russia for their alleged meddling in the U.S. election.


PEREZ (voice-over): Thirty-five Russian diplomats now have less than 72 hours to leave the country. U.S. intelligence officials say that they were spies posing as diplomats. Their expulsion part of a massive crackdown by President Obama against Russia's alleged cyberattacks. The White House retaliation also includes shutting down two Russian compounds located in Maryland and New York. LISA MONACO, ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR HOMELAND SECURITY AND

COUNTERTERRORISM: What these individuals were doing were basically collecting intelligence. They were intelligence officers operating here and using these compounds for intelligence collection purposes.

PEREZ (voice-over): The U.S. sanctioning nine Russian individuals and entities, including the Russian spy agency, the FSB, and the Russian military intelligence unit, the GRU. U.S. intelligence officials say the GRU ordered the attacks on the Democratic National Committee and other political groups under orders from the Kremlin.

[09:04:58] In a statement, President Obama says the cyberattacks could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government. Obama and U.S. intelligence officials have implied that Russian President Vladimir Putin was directly involved in the hacks, in part to hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign. Obama warning, quote, "all Americans should be alarmed by Russia's actions." The stiff sanctions drawing bipartisan praise.

REP. ADAM SMITH (D), WASHINGTON, D.C.: We cannot allow a foreign power to impact our elections.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: We're the United States of America and you will not mess around with our election system.

PEREZ (voice-over): Speaker of the House Paul Ryan calling the sanctions overdue as Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham vow to hit Russia harder, calling for even stronger sanctions.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: They need to name Putin as an individual and his inner circle because nothing happens in Russia without his knowledge or approval.

PEREZ (voice-over): Meanwhile, the White House looking to take covert retaliation as well, saying, quote, "these actions are not the sum total of our response. The U.S. says it is ready for any response from Russia."

ERIC SCHULTZ, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The truth is that we enjoy the greatest capabilities of any country on earth. That's offensive and defensive.


PEREZ: And Obama has also declassified intelligence on Russian cyber activity to help cybersecurity companies here in the United States and abroad identify, detect, and disrupt Russian cyberattacks in the future, Martin.

SAVIDGE: All right. Evan Perez with the view from Washington this morning. Now to New York. The tensions with Russia will be among the first key test for Donald Trump when he takes the oath of office, which, of course, is just three weeks away from today.

The President-elect has frequently dismissed concerns about Russia's interference in the election, even questioning the abilities of U.S. intelligence officials. And the announcement of sanctions prompted a similar response from the Trump team. CNN's Jessica Schneider has more.

Good morning, Jessica.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Martin. Donald Trump reiterating the skepticism he has repeatedly expressed about the alleged Russian hacks, in fact doubling down on that doubt outside Mar-a-Lago this week, saying we should, quote, "get on with our lives" and then issuing this statement, saying, "It's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation."

Top transition adviser Kellyanne Conway saying, though, the sanctions seem largely symbolic. She continued to cast doubt on the intelligence, and Kellyanne Conway also accusing President Obama of playing politics with this whole issue.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP: I will tell you that even those who are sympathetic to President Obama on most issues are saying that part of the reason he did this today was to, quote, "box in" President-elect Trump. That would be very unfortunate if politics were the motivating factor here, but we can't help but think that that's often true. That's not the way that peaceful transitions of administrations work in our great democracy.


SCHNEIDER: And Conway also refusing to say if Donald Trump will reverse the sanctions once he takes office. In addition, his Chief of Staff Reince Priebus only saying that it is up to the President-elect and that Donald Trump will be talking to his leadership at the Defense and State Departments before he makes any decisions. So still questions loom, Martin, about whether or not Donald Trump would roll back those sanctions.

SAVIDGE: Right, a lot of questions. Jessica Schneider, thank you very much. And before he won his bid for the White House, Donald Trump vowed to overturn many of President Obama's policies, so could the Russian sanctions be added to that list? One top Obama adviser tells CNN, not so fast.


MONACO: The reversal of sanctions such as what you've described would be highly unusual. Indeed, the sanctions usually remain in place until the activity and the reasons for them being imposed in the first place has been removed.


SAVIDGE: Joining me now to discuss the head-spinning turn of events, David Rohde, CNN global affairs analyst and national security investigations editor for Reuters, and David Andelman, editor emeritus at the "World Policy Journal" and "USA Today" columnist.

David Andelman, let me ask you first. Just I want to start with a tweet. The Russian embassy blasted Obama as a lame duck and called his actions, quote, "Cold War deja vu." So are we entering a new kind of Cold War? And in that same response, what do you make of Putin's not doing anything?

DAVID ANDELMAN, EDITOR EMERITUS, WORLD POLICY JOURNAL: Well, what I would make of Putin's not doing is really, I think, effectively a subtext. That is to say, Putin always has an ulterior motive, and one of his motives is to keep the FSB and GRU strong everywhere and particularly in the United States. And especially in Moscow, as well.

Now, the Russians know exactly who the American embassy officials, that is to say the spies, that they would have been expelling are. They know everything about them. They know what they eat for breakfast, what Cheerios they like, where they go, who their friends are and so on. They spent years building up this kind of database on our people there. To then expel all of these 35 people from St. Petersburg and Moscow means that they will then have to begin again with a whole new set of people.

[09:10:08] Now, remember, Putin comes from an old KGB/FSB background. And he recalls in 2001, before that in 1986, when there were the last mass expulsions like this, it took them years to rebuild their database of Americans in Russia, in Moscow especially. And he doesn't want to have to do that again, so I suspect there is a subtext like that, and then there's the public relations gambit which he's also playing.

SAVIDGE: David Andelman, do you agree that he's a spymaster playing his game?

DAVID ROHDE, NATIONAL SECURITY INVESTIGATIONS EDITOR, THOMSON REUTERS: I do. I think that it really is theater as Matthew said, and I agree with what David just said. And I wrote a long piece this summer about the CIA. I just want to point out I was hearing, beginning in July, before the U.S. election was decided, from Justice Department officials and from senior intelligence officials that Russia was behind this hacking.

This isn't something that sort of emerged after the election. You know, there was the October 7th joint statement from U.S. intelligence agencies, so there's no question, you know, this broad, broad agreement across Justice Department and, again, law enforcement and intelligence agencies that Russia did this and intervened in the hacking.

So it's this major question what Trump will do now. His aides are questioning this. They say its politics but, again, the middle of the summer when everyone thought Hillary Clinton was going to win this election, intelligence officials and Justice Department officials were telling me Russia was behind the hacking. SAVIDGE: Forgive me, David Rohde. I'm getting my Davids mixed up.

And David Rohde, while I have you, let me ask you this. As far as Donald Trump saying that he is going to meet with, you know, U.S. intelligence officials next week, is this kind of a change on the part of Donald Trump that, maybe, he might listen to these critics who have said, no, we've got to really crack down on Russia?

ROHDE: It's not clear. He said in an interview on December 11th that he was only receiving one intelligence briefing a week. Vice President Mike Pence was receiving six a week. That would, you know, be one a day roughly. And so maybe he will start receiving more intelligence briefings now, but the pattern until now is that Trump said he was too busy for the daily intelligence briefings. He felt he was getting the same information over and over again.

And frankly, it's good he's having this briefing, and maybe this information will change his view of Putin. You know, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Obviously, it's going to be at center stage as soon as he's sworn in as President on January 20th.

SAVIDGE: And David Andelman, I think the President-elect has pretty much stressed that he wants to move on and move away from this issue. What is the fallout of just saying, oh, let's move away and get over it?

ANDELMAN: Well, we can't get over it. And you were right to set up the concept of Cold War. It is effectively a Cold War. But we also have to hit, what is the end game? The end game of the original Cold War was potentially the launch of large missile volleys at each side with nuclear warheads exchanged. That is not going to happen this time, that's quite clear.

I think that's pretty much off the table, but there are other events short of that that could result in, effectively, a Cold War. I don't think either side really wants that. The problem is that Donald Trump has to come into this well-informed, and not only well-informed but with the mutual respect of his intelligence people. And that's what I think is really had been lacking up until now that he really needs to re-establish, if he's really going to be able to move forward in confronting a guy in Moscow who understands intelligence down to his toes.

SAVIDGE: He does indeed, yes. No question that the President-elect is going to come into office with, on the very first day, a major test on his hands. David Andelman and David Rohde, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

Still to come, top Republicans vowing even stronger sanctions on Russia. But what does that mean for their fragile relationship with President-elect Trump?


[09:17:15] MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are backing the president's crackdown on Russia, though some Republicans say it doesn't go far enough. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham releasing a statement saying they plan to lead an effort to impose even stronger sanctions on Russia.

And that is teeing up what could be a major battle for the president- elect when he takes over the White House in just three weeks. Will Republicans stick with their long time stance to stay tough on Russia or embrace Trump's calls for a better relationship with President Vladimir Putin?

With me now is Ryan Lizza, CNN political commentator and Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker", and Jackie Kucinich, CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief of "The Daily Beast".

Good morning to both of you.

Ryan, let me start with you. Trump's aide Kellyanne Conway suggests Obama trying to box Trump in with these sanctions. What do you think?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think she's absolutely right about that. I think there is more of a focus at the White House on this, and doing it before Obama leaves office. If Hillary Clinton had won, there wouldn't have been such a rush they probably would have waited for Clinton to decide what to do.

I do think there's a major disagreement about how to deal with Vladimir Putin between the outgoing White House and the incoming White House. And I think she's right -- they are trying to box him in. They're trying to put in place sanctions that will be very, very difficult for him to reverse.

And he's going to have a big decision to make, you know, in January when he gets in there, because reversing them will run directly in to his Republican colleagues on the Hill who as you pointed out is setting this up, want even tougher sanctions. And most of the criticism from Republicans on the hill is that this is too late and Obama hasn't been tough enough on Russia.

SAVIDGE: Uh-huh.

Jackie, is it possible for Donald Trump, say, to please Congress, and also to keep a good relationship with Putin?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a really good question. Right now, it really doesn't seem to. They're just kind of choosing to talk past each other, where Republicans are saying they want tougher sanctions and Trump is saying we should move on but I guess I'll talk to the intelligence guys next week.

So, it really sets up this very interesting political dynamic. They have a veto-proof majority for -- if they send through sanctions and Trump vetoes them, they can get that through. So, he's going to get a very tough lesson in equal branches of government very quickly here if he tries to roll back some of these things on Russia.

But it's interesting -- you do have some Trump loyalists in Congress. Duncan Hunter told the daily beast yesterday that these were stupid. It was stupid for Obama do this going out the door. So, it's not that there are -- he does have a couple bright spots for

him in the Congress. But by and large, it's going to be a really tough fight for him.

SAVIDGE: Ryan, let me ask you this: could there be a back lash against Congress?

[09:20:01] And the reason I say that is that having talked to a lot of Trump voters, both before and after the election, nobody ever said we need to get tougher on Russia. Even with the knowledge that's been brought forward about possible hacking.


SAVIDGE: Instead what they wanted was an administration focused internally, looking at domestic issues, especially the economy, saving jobs, creating jobs. Not a fight with Russia.

LIZZA: Absolutely. You're right about that. It was very clear that he wanted to reorient Republican foreign policy, be a more -- the Republican Party to be a more pro-Putin party. He changed the Republican platform to reflect that. He's been very up front about that.

And the polls show that Republican voters are more favorably disposed towards Russia and Putin than they were before Trump came on the scene and started talking about this.

This is going to be the first big test, Martin, of the ideological divide between Trump and the more mainstream conservatives. You know, on a lot of issues during the primaries and the general election, we saw big difference of opinion between Trump and his fellow Republicans, and this is the first test.

Who's going to run policy? Is it going to be Congress? Republicans in Congress who are going to control both chambers? Or is it going to be the White House?

And this is not just going to be on this issue but on a number of them. But this is the first one, and unusually it's foreign policy where the commander-in-chief has a much freer hand. So, if the Lindsey Grahams and John McCains of the world step up here and think that they can pressure the incoming Republican administration and have a louder say on foreign policy, that's going to put them in to direct conflict with the incoming president. And it's not just going to be on this issue, on a number of issues.

SAVIDGE: Yes, as you point out. I mean, Mr. Trump has been in conflict with some of the more conservative members of his party.

And, Jackie, is it possible then this whole administration gets bogged down or gets misdirected right out of the gate on an issue they never really foresaw, and never really wanted to get involved in?

KUCINICH: This could be a big deal. Whether it is diversity in the entire administration it's too soon to tell. I mean, as we know, it moves pretty quickly around here.

That said, I think we should keep a very close eye, as if we weren't already, on the confirmation hearings of Rex Tillerson because I think a lot of the questions he's going to get will reflect just how hard and just how serious Congress is going to be when it comes to Russia. He's going to have to answer a lot of proxy questions that I think a lot of senators and frankly Americans have with Trump about his warmer feelings toward the president.

LIZZA: That's right. First question he's going to get is, do you support -- how will you advise President Trump on these sanctions? Will you reverse them or not? So, they're going to have to have this policy worked out at least by Tillerson's hearing.

SAVIDGE: But, Ryan, has -- Ryan I should say that president-elect has said that he's now going to meet with the intelligence community.


SAVIDGE: And I'm wondering whether that indicates all right, maybe he is going to listen a little more intently and perhaps more seriously?

LIZZA: Look, if you look at the series of statements Trump has made on this issue, they have always been very defensive, they have always been very critical of the intelligence community's assessment with this. They have always -- the undercurrent has always been that this is just an issue that is trying to delegitimize his election and he's not taking it very seriously.

His statement he put out last night was a break with those previous statements, in that he was a little bit more conciliatory, and he said, OK, I'll listen to what they have here. It's a little surprising that, you know, we're this far into -- this far past his election. He's been getting quite a few intelligence briefings by now. It's a little surprising that he doesn't have that information already, and that suggests maybe a lack of coordination between the incoming and outgoing administration.

But I think it's a -- you know, positive sign that he's at the very least keeping an open mind about this. Because, look, he's -- he may have been the beneficiary of this Russian cyber warfare campaign, but when he's president, he's going to be the target of it.


LIZZA: It's going to be a very different set of circumstances. So, he needs to -- the intelligence agencies need to get him up to speed on this and take it a little more seriously than he has.

SAVIDGE: And he may, in fact, be waking to that.

Ryan Lizza and Jackie Kucinich, nice to see you both -- thank you.

LIZZA: Thanks, Martin.

KUCINICH: Likewise. SAVIDGE: A new cease-fire is holding in Syria. Despite a few reports of minor clashes, the truce was brokered by Russia and turkey leaving the U.S. out of the diplomatic equation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the deal fragile and said it would need special attention to maintain.

CNN's Muhammad Lila is live in Istanbul, Turkey.

Good morning, Muhammad.


I think fragile is the key word in all of this. You know, we're not even 24 hours into this cease-fire and as we know, sometimes those first few hours when a cease-fire is enacted are crucial. There are reports, as you mentioned, of some sporadic clashes happening around the country.

[09:25:01] It's not -- it's not entirely unexpected.

But none involves turkey, Russia, Syria or Iran, saying that those clashes have been on a scale that would jeopardize the cease-fire. So, so far, it's holding and certainly a positive sign toward some sort of more positive and long-term arrangement.

But, Martin, an interesting point yesterday. Syria's President Bashar al Assad gave an interview to an Italian TV channel where he talked specifically about the role that he's hoping President-elect Donald Trump might play in helping solve the Syrian crisis. And he said he was cautiously optimistic.

This is exactly what he said. He was talking about if there are good relations between these two great powers, most of the world, including small countries like Syria, will be the beneficiary. Mr. Trump said during his campaign that his priority is fighting terrorism, and we believe that this is the beginning of the solution if he can implement what he announced.

And, of course, that's key because yesterday offered President-elect Donald Trump an olive branch so to speak, something they hadn't offered to President Obama by the way, offering President-elect Trump a seat at the negotiating table at peace talks scheduled to take place next month.

So, clearly, this might speak to the legacy of the Obama administration in Syria and the hopefulness here on the ground that perhaps under a new administration, the U.S. might play a more pro- active role in trying to set up some sort of peace deal to put an end to all of the fighting.

SAVIDGE: Yes, that would be a wonderful thing. But right now, we'll take the cease-fire one day at a time. Muhammad Lila, thank you very much.

Still to come: major cities across the globe, they are ramping up security for New Year's Eve celebrations. CNN's Brynn Gingras is live in Times Square.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Martin, 2 million people are expected to come to New York City, in particular here in Times Square for the ball drop. You can imagine the security measures. The NYPD gives us a look and talks about new measures they're taking in light of the recent terror attacks. That's coming up.