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Russia Moves to Expel Dozens of American Diplomats in Response to U.S. Sanctions; Trump Dismisses Russia Sanctions: U.S. Should 'Move On'; Syria Ceasefire Holding Despite Skirmishes. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired December 30, 2016 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[05:58:26] DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. I'm Don Lemon along with Poppy Harlow.

We're going to begin with some breaking news right now. Russia responding just moments ago to U.S. actions over alleged hacking of the presidential election. Russia's foreign minister recommending that the Kremlin expel dozens of American diplomats in retaliation to U.S. sanctions announced by the Obama administration.

The escalating Cold War-like confrontation with Moscow right now coming JUST three weeks before President-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated. We have every angle covered for you this morning with the global resources of CNN.

Let's begin with our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, live in Moscow with the breaking details, literally breaking at this moment. Russia just announcing what they will do to strike back at the United States. What does it entail?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Russians always said that they would respond in kind to the expulsion of the 35 Russian diplomats from the United States and the other measures. They've started that process now with the Russian foreign minister appearing on national television, announcing what sanctions Russia is going to take in response to those U.S. measures.

And it's exactly the same. It's tit-for-tat. They're saying that 31 U.S. diplomats based at the embassy, the U.S. embassy here in Moscow, are going to be expelled. That's the recommendation, at least, of the Kremlin. And another four diplomats at the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, in a city is Russian, are also going to be expelled, as well.

That comes after the 31 Russian diplomats in Washington and four diplomats at the Russian consulate in San Francisco that were expelled by the Obama administration.

And we don't know if there's going to be any further measures, but certainly, these measures are just a recommendation at this point, it seems. The Kremlin will have to decide. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, apparently, according to the Kremlin, spoke to him this morning, is in no hurry to make a final decision, conscious of the fact that in three weeks or no, less than three weeks Donald Trump, much more sympathetic to the Kremlin position on a range of things is going to take the reins of office in the White House.

And, you know, the hope is still in Russia that this -- that this poor relationship with the Obama administration can be transformed into something much more positive under President Trump.

LEMON: All right, Matthew Chance, thank you very much. Appreciate that. We'll continue on now.

This announcement from Russia follows tough sanctions announced by the Obama administration against Russian intelligence agencies and the expulsion of dozens of suspected spies U.S. officials say were posing as diplomats.

Let's get to straight to CNN's justice correspondent, Evan Perez, live in Washington with the very latest for us.

Good morning, Evan.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Don. 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 election cyberattacks. The White House retaliation also includes shutting down two Russian compounds located in Maryland and New York.

LISA MONACO, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISOR: What these individuals were doing were basically collecting intelligence. They were intelligence officers operating here and using these compounds for intelligence collection purposes.

PEREZ: 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.

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 joining bipartisan praise.

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

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

PEREZ: 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: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can anticipate a response of some kind. But 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 in the U.S. and abroad identify, detect and disrupt Russian cyberattacks in the future -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Evan Perez, great reporting. Do stay with us, because we want to get to all this analysis in a moment.

But first, President-elect Donald Trump dismissing the U.S. sanctions against Russia for months. The president-elect has denied that the U.S. intelligence community's conclusions with rushing -- Russia meddling in the election are necessarily fact. He has a lot of questions about them. And now Trump says he will meet with intelligence officials next week to get the facts.

Our Jessica Schneider joins us with that part of the story this morning. Good morning. He's still saying in the statement it's time for us to move on.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You know, he's reiterating that skepticism that he has repeatedly expressed about the alleged Russian hacks. He did speak initially outside Mar-a-Lago, saying we should, quote, "get on with our lives."

And then he issued 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 the leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of the situation."

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


KELLYANNE CONWAY, CHIEF TRUMP ADVISOR: 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 that were the motivating -- if politics were the motivating factor here. But we can't help but think that that's often true.


[06:05:00] SCHNEIDER: And Kellyanne Conway also refused to say if Donald Trump will reverse the sanctions once he takes office, a question that remains to be seen -- Don and Poppy.

HARLOW: Jessica, thank you so much for the reporting.

LEMON: Well, we have a discussion about this now. I want to bring in Matthew Chance, bring him back in, in Moscow; Evan Perez in Washington, as well. And let's welcome CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast" Jackie Kucinich is with us. And CNN contributor and "Washington Examiner" reporter Salena Zito.

So much has transpired since the president announced these sanctions yesterday. Before we get to all of that, especially the news about what Lavrov is saying now, the retaliation. How unprecedented is -- for the president to announce this publicly now? Why is he doing this just weeks before the election [SIC]? I'll start with you, Jackie.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, President Obama had to do something. He was getting a lot of criticism for not acting sooner. There was that fantastic "New York Times" piece a couple weeks ago that sort of outlined that the Obama administration was hesitant to act during the election because they didn't want -- they didn't want it to look political and like they were helping Hillary Clinton.

So, they really -- they had to respond, because otherwise it would reflect poorly on his legacy. And, as well, it looked like they were letting Russia get away with what they -- the broader intelligence agencies said that they did.

HARLOW: Even though a number of high-ranking Republicans are agreeing with the president on these moves, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, including senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, Paul Ryan says it's overdue and the point here is the White House knew about this and addressed it publicly months ago.

Listen to what Josh Earnest said back on October 11.


JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Russian government is directing the effort, or at least providing the information responsible for the leaks. And that's a source of some concern, because the intelligence community has concluded with high confidence that they're doing so to try to destabilize our democracy. And that's something that, obviously, the president takes quite seriously.


HARLOW: Takes quite seriously, Evan. But didn't do anything about it for two more months. Why?

PEREZ: Well, you know, I think Jackie had mentioned that just now. She's sort of, you know, I think one of the things that was happening behind the scenes is, frankly, the Obama administration folks thought that Hillary Clinton was going to win. And if you remember during the campaign, Donald Trump was already calling this a rigged election.

And so, there was a lot of concern that, if you do this during the campaign, that Donald Trump will have an excuse when he loses, that the White House was essentially trying to help Hillary Clinton.

It turns out, obviously, they were wrong. We all were wrong. That Donald Trump ended up winning the election. And it appears that, from talking to sources even in the intelligence community, that even the Russians were surprised at how successful this entire operation was being.

LEMON: Matthew, I need to ask you about the Russian response, because we're wondering if this is just the beginning. If this is going to be a tit-for-tat. The Russian government also putting out reports now that a school closing, that that was false, they're saying. But now they're kicking out 35 U.S. officials. Is this just the beginning of a tit-for-tat between Russia and the U.S.?

CHANCE: In normal circumstances I'd say that, yes, it probably is just the beginning. This is a further deterioration of a relationship that has been very problematic over the course of the last couple of years between Washington and Moscow. And this is it sinking to new lows.

But of course, we're not in a normal situation. In less than three weeks from now, there's going to be Donald Trump in the White House, and the Kremlin are very aware of that. They believe that -- and this is what they're saying. They're saying that these measures by the Obama administration as it ends its last few weeks in office are what they call land mines that they're putting underneath the future relationship between Trump and Putin, between Russia and the United States.

And, so, you get the sense that the Russians are, you know, trying to sort of sit tight. They're going to hold -- hold their fire a little bit. Although they've enacted these 35 expulsions, as well. They're going to hold their fire a little bit and wait until Donald Trump comes into the White House and see if the relationship can be built from that point and they're going to draw a line under this outgoing -- this relationship with this outgoing Obama administration.

HARLOW: Also what's interesting -- what's different about these sanctions, then. The ones after, you know, the annexation of Crimea and an incursion into Ukraine. Those are economic sanctions, and those really hurt the Russian economy and, you know, Main Street -- folks on Main Street. These are -- these are different. We'll see if there are additional sanctions.

LEMON: Even the Republicans, some Republicans wanted them, these sanctions to be stronger.

HARLOW: They want more. And they may be. They may be. That's what Lindsey Graham and Senator McCain want.

But Salena, I want to talk about Donald Trump and his response, because his statement -- and we can pull it up here. He says, "It's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things." But then he goes on to say, "I will meet with the intelligence community."

Kellyanne Conway, as you know, a huge figure in his team, said yesterday on this network perhaps this is an effort to basically box in the president-elect. Let's listen.


[06:10:10] CONWAY: 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 that were the motivating -- if politics were the motivating factor here.

But we can't help to think that that's often true. Even "The New York Times" characterized it as such, that this may be an attempt to box him in to see what he'll do as president.


HARLOW: And Kate went on to follow up with her, Salena, and ask, "Do you really think the president would do all of these things just to box in his political adversary?"

And she said, "Well, that's what 'The New York Times' is positing."

What do you think?

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think the incoming Trump administration is trying to telegraph two things.

One, let's get past this. That they're talking -- at least, this is the way I read it -- talking about, you know, making our election and our win less solid. Less, you know, tainted by the hacking.

But they're also saying, and Trump said that in his statement, that he's going to be meeting with the intelligence folks and to discuss what happened and discuss what's going to happen going forward. So they're basically saying, "Look, we won, and the hacking had nothing to do with it. But also, we will kind of take this seriously, and we're going to go talk to the intelligence people." LEMON: Even with some Republicans like Lindsey Graham and John McCain

saying that they would want more. And I'll just read some of this. They said that the retaliatory measures announced by the Obama administration today are long overdue but ultimately, they are a small price for Russia to pay for its brazen attack on American democracy. We intend the effort in a new Congress to impose stronger sanctions on Russia."

So the question is, in 20 or so odd days when the Trump administration is now in place, will they reverse these sanctions, because that would be highly unusual and unprecedented. Wouldn't it, Jackie?

KUCINICH: Absolutely. We're about to see, potentially, some very interesting politics at play between Capitol Hill and . The most Republicans and democrats think that sanctions are a good thing. Think that Russia should be punished for this.

So Donald Trump comes in and does away with this executive order, because this is an executive order; it can be. The next president can just take it away. He just doesn't to go through Congress. You're really going to see some friction with the Hill; and you might see it play out, in part, through the confirmation hearing of the secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson who, of course, has very close ties with Russia. It's going to be a really interesting 100 days, for sure.

HARLOW: Evan, to you. I mean when I first read, you know, yesterday as this was breaking, that the United States was expelling by Sunday, by the way, these 35 -- what they're essentially calling spies posing as diplomats for the United States and shuttering these two quote/unquote compounds in Maryland and New York. I thought, why were they allowed to be here in the first place?

PEREZ: Well, yes, you know, this is what happens in, frankly, in the spy business. The United States knows people inside who work for the Russian embassy and the consulates who they believe are spies. They follow these people around town. They make sure that they know what they're up to. They spy on them every place that they can.

And so, when at times like this, when you have tensions that flare up, especially between the United States and Russia, you already know who you're going to kick out of the country, because you already believe these people are here under false pretenses.

I want to say one quick thing in response to your question and the discussion with -- with Salena. The -- I think the president-elect is hearing from all of these announcements that, you know, his -- his election was tainted. I think that's not what the intelligence agencies are saying.

They're saying we don't know whether or not the Russians won this election for Donald Trump. We're just saying this is what the intelligence agencies are saying. They're saying, look, we know this is what they were trying to do. No one will ever know exactly why Hillary Clinton lost and why Donald Trump won.

So that's part of what, I think, is being missed by the president- elect.

LEMON: Even Obama administration officials are saying they don't think that it would change the outcome of the election.

HARLOW: Exactly, exactly.

LEMON: Thank you, panel, we appreciate it. We'll see you later on in the show.

More foreign policy news to talk about. The U.S. not involved in the cease-fire currently under way in Syria, but what are leaders behind the negotiation saying about the President-elect, Trump? We'll discuss that, next.


LEMON: Welcome back to NEW DAY. A cease-fire in Syria appears to be holding despite a few reports of clashes. The truce brokered by Russia and Turkey leaves the U.S. out in the diplomatic cold.

CNN's Muhammad Lila live in Istanbul, Turkey, with the very latest. Muhammad.


The cease-fire took effect at midnight and the morning after is so important to see if it's holding. So far all the indications are that the cease-fire is holding. As you mentioned, there were some sporadic clashes, but it's unclear if those clashes were on a scale that any of the sides would say this was a cease-fire violation.

Now as for the cease-fire itself, it's really interesting, because this was brokered by Russia and Turkey with, of course, Syrian and Iranian involvement. The United States had no role to play in the cease-fire agreement whatsoever. In fact, they weren't even invited to take part in the process. That, of course, could change. There are supposed to be some long-term peace talks taking place in about a month or so and Kazakhstan. And interestingly, the Kremlin reached out of offering sort of an olive branch to the United States, but completely bypassing Donald Trump [SIC] and offering that olive branch to President-elect Donald Trump, saying that when he is inaugurated, that they're hopeful that Donald Trump will have a seat at the table, something that they didn't offer to President Obama in the past.

So we might see a change in shift as far as the U.S. is concerned regarding Syria and perhaps more involvement, now that President-elect Trump has specifically been invited to the table.

[06:20:04] HARLOW: Muhammad, live for us in Istanbul, thank you very much for that.

And as we wait to see if this fragile cease-fire in Syria will actually hold, because there have been so many like this before, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad voicing cautious optimism about the incoming Trump administration. Sounds familiar. Kind of like we've heard from Putin. Let's bring back in our panel, CNN political analyst and Washington

bureau chief for "The Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich; and CNN contributor and "Washington Examiner" reporter Salena Zito. Ladies, thank you for being here.

Let's put up what Assad told Italian television. Let me read it for you here. "We are more optimistic with caution, because we don't know what the policy is that he's going to adopt regarding our region in general. But we can say part of the optimism could be related to better relations between the United States and Russia."

He goes on to say if the U.S. and Russia get along, then that is good for Syria and smaller nations.

What should Americans make of this, Jackie?

KUCINICH: It's not usually great to have dictators praising you, just as like a general rule. It's -- it's concerning, frankly.

LEMON: To say the least.

KUCINICH: But it makes sense that Assad is saying this. The Obama administration has been very tough on Assad, saying he should go because of the humanitarian crisis he's created. He's killed hundreds and thousands of people, of his own people. And this really -- this is cause for concern, because we can't forget, if Putin is empowered, it really -- it's at the expense of the United States. So, interesting times.

LEMON: Yes. And should we be concerned?

I want to put this graphic up. Take a special look at this, Salena. This is foreign policy differences between the president, the current president, and the president-elect.

This is a look at Russia. So, President Obama wants harsh sanctions. Donald Trump says move on.

In Syria help negotiate peace from Obama. Trump says ignore the civil war.

Obama says on Israel, critical settlements. He is critical of settlements. And then on Israel, Donald Trump says -- has unquestioning loyalty.

Should we expect -- I mean, it is unusual. Both these two dictators. Some would say it appears that Donald Trump may be cozying to these dictators. This is going to be -- we can say without a doubt it's going to be a different foreign policy under a President Trump than the President Obama.

ZITO: Absolutely. You know, Trump ran on being completely different on everything that had to do with President Obama. Well, not everything. But, you know, on foreign policy, absolutely.

And, you know, I mean, these dictators -- and you have Putin. You have Assad, you know, yapping around about, you know, how their relationship is going to be with Trump. We don't really know what it's going to be like. But it's a little bit of smack talk, because their relationship with Obama was so terrible. And they just sort of want to nip at him as he's walking out the door.

Going forward, we don't know what's going to happen. But we do know that there is at least a willingness from Trump to have some sort of dialogue between both countries. You know, hopefully, you know, it's a positive step. But, you know, anything can happen at this point.

LEMON: It's interesting because we're talking about, you know, Russia and...

HARLOW: Syria.

HARLOW: I mean, literally, a leader who dropped barrel bombs -- and has never admitted to it -- on his own people, killing hundreds of thousands.

LEMON: Dictators.

HARLOW: Someone who used chemical weapons. These children who died.

What's interesting to me, Jackie, is that, you know, President Obama has essentially said, "Syria was my biggest failure." Not using those words. He said it still haunts him. He said he obviously feels somewhat responsible for the continuing violence there.

Trump could come in and say, "I am stronger. I will be the one to oust the Assad regime." Whether or not he can do it is another question. I wonder why he's not taking that path.

KUCINICH: Why Trump isn't taking the path to say he's going to be stronger against Assad?

HARLOW: And say, "I will finish what he" -- you know, what some people would say this president hasn't.

KUCINICH: Well, what Trump has said is that he wants to go after ISIS in Syria, rather than focus on Assad. Which of course, is going to make Assad a lot happier. And it's part of the whole Donald Trump brand of, you know, bombing the heck out of the -- out of ISIS.

Again, this could be -- this could be tough talk, but I think taking the eye off the ball off of someone who has, as you mentioned, had created so much chaos in his own region. It just -- it's perplexing.

LEMON: OK. Let's talk about...

HARLOW: The media.

LEMON: Yes, the media. Because the Obama administration has been criticized for not being as transparent as it said it was going to be in the beginning. Donald Trump hasn't had a formal press conference in quite a long time. He broke his silence, though, with two informal press appearances on the steps of his Mar-a-Lago estate. Still hasn't held his promised press conference about his business entanglements.

So, the question is, why the silence, Salena? Why the silence?

[06:25:13] ZITO: Well, I think there's a couple of things going on. First of all, they are trying to figure out what they're going to be and where they are going forward. You've got that.

You've also got this ability that he has sort of rolled out to talk past the press and use Twitter as a way to communicate, not only to people, but to foreign governments. And he likes the response.

LEMON; Salena, can we play -- I want to play something from -- this is from Sean Spicer when he talked about press conferences. And then I'll let you continue your response. Let's play this.


SEAN SPICER, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY (via phone): While we have to sort of do these press conferences, because they're part of the fabric of our country, if you will. There are also some new opportunities that we can be utilizing to bring more people into the process and have a conversation with the American people and not just limit it through the filter of the mainstream media.


LEMON: That was the first time, Poppy, that we heard that they're actually going to hold formal press conferences, because at first we weren't so sure.

ZITO: Yes. Yes, absolutely. I think no president and no president's administration really loves that daily press conference. But it's also a great opportunity for them to get what they're doing out into the public. And I think it's -- you know, Sean Spicer loves that engagement. He loves to get that information out. I suspect it's probably going to be at least the same as what we saw from the Obama administration. Maybe even more.

HARLOW: And Don makes such an important point. Look, this Obama administration said a lot of things. The actions when it comes to journalists and transparency was very, very different. So the criticism goes both ways. Thank you, ladies. Happy new year.

ZITO: Thanks. Happy new year.

KUCINICH: Happy new year.

HARLOW: New year's revelers will see heightened security right here in New York in Times Square tomorrow. Two million people expected to descend on that celebration. How are police and terror officials protecting all of them? A live report, next.