Return to Transcripts main page


Russia Moves to Expel Dozens of American Diplomats; Obama Orders 35 Suspected Russian Spies to Leave U.S.; Trump Dismisses Russia Sanctions: U.S. Should 'Move On'. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired December 30, 2016 - 07:00   ET


CHANCE: The question is, is that going to be continuing? The fact is at the moment that the Russians are sort of holding back somewhat because they know that, in a few weeks from now, President Trump will be -- Donald Trump will be the president of the United States.

[07:00:18] And they want to build a much better relationship with him. They want to try and draw a line under this. And, obviously, Trump has been much more sympathetic to the Russian politburo in various matters.

And so the question is now, as I say, what will come after this? Is this a further deterioration, or is there a line going to be drawn under this latest round of counter-sanctions?

LEMON: Matthew, thank you very much.

The moves by Russia a direct response to President Obama's sanctions targeting Russian intelligence agencies and the expulsion order for dozens of suspected spies from the U.S. who White House officials say were posing as diplomats. Our justice correspondent is Evan Perez. He's live for us with more in Washington -- Evan.


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. There 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 drawing 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: 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 Russia's cyber-activity to help cybersecurity companies in the U.S. and abroad identify, detect and disrupt Russian cyberattacks in the future -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. The big question now, Evan, is White House talked about this two months ago. Why are they just doing something now? We'll get to that with our panel in a moment.

But President-elect Donald Trump is downplaying the U.S. sanctions against Russia. For months he has denied collusion -- from the conclusion, I should say, from the U.S. intelligence community about Russia's meddling in this election. Trump now says he will meet next week with those intelligence officials to get the answers.

Our Jessica Schneider is on top of that part of the story this morning. Good morning.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. Donald Trump, like you said, reiterating the skepticism he has repeatedly expressed about the alleged Russian hacks. He did speak earlier this week outside Mar-a-Lago, saying we should, quote, "get on with our lives." And last night issued this statement. He said, "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."

Now top transition adviser Kellyanne Conway saying that the sanctions seem largely symbolic. She continued to cast doubt on the intelligence. And 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.


SCHNEIDER: And Kellyanne Conway also refusing to say if Donald Trump will reverse these sanctions once he takes office in just a few weeks -- Poppy and Don.

HARLOW: Thank you so much, Jessica Schneider, with that reporting.

Let's discuss with our panel. Joining us now, CIA counterterrorism analyst and former CIA official Philip Mudd; CNN military analyst and former Army command general, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling; and CNN contributor and senior editor of "The Daily Beast" Michael Weiss.

[07:05:15] Let me begin with you, General Hertling. Compare this to the Cold War for us. Give us a reality check on that.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, you're saying that because I'm the oldest one on the panel, Poppy.

HARLOW: I am not.

HERTLING: I fought in -- I fought in the Cold War and patrolled the borders between West Germany and some of the Warsaw Pack country. And it was different, because you could see the enemy. You could see what was going on on the other side as they did border incursions, as they tried to go into the no-man's land.

With cyberwarfare, you can't see it. The objectives of cyberwarfare are create distrust, seed confusion and cause mayhem. The Russians have done that in this case, and so have other countries who have used cyberwarfare. They have gone beyond cyber-skirmishing. This is -- the difference between having one individual go into the land between East Germany and West Germany during the cold water [SIC] versus sending an entire tank division across the border.

This is critically important because, as Russia tried to do the things they did, it was not just against the political organization. It was against government organizations, think tanks, universities and private servers. They were trying to collect data and cause mayhem.

LEMON: Let's talk about how intricate this network was, according to the Obama administration when it talked about trying to influence the election, but also it says -- this is from "New York Times" -- "Meanwhile, several states reported the scanning of their voter databases, which American intelligence agencies also attributed to Russian hackers. But there's no evidence, American officials said, that Russia sought to manipulate votes or voter rolls on November 8."

There's no evidence of that, but it certainly is very alarming that they are scanning voter rolls. How much further could it go? How intricate was this network, Michael?

MICHAEL WEISS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's pretty intricate. I mean, two of the guys that have been sanctioned who are not technically agents or officials of the Russian government have been on the FBI's most wanted list for years for cyberwarfare. One of them had been identified by a Russian newspaper as the most dangerous hacker in the world.

So, what Russia has tended to do. You know, the sanctions against the GRU, including the director of the GRU and his top deputies, it's assigning blame to Russia's military intelligence service. But the actual perpetrators of these hacks are contractors, if you like, people who have been found by the Russian government to do their dirty work for them. It's not like, you know, the head of the GRU.

HARLOW: Which is the missing link, which is so important, which is why you hear Philip Mudd, to you, is which is why you hear the president say, "the highest levels of Russian government," even if they can't directly tap it to Putin.

LEMON: The Kremlin.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, I think we ought to be cautious on that one, though. What you hear the intelligence community say is that they are confirming with a great deal of specificity that Russian entities were involved and actually stealing the information.

When you get to the question of who was responsible for this, you hear language like "This could only have happened." That to me suggests that that is analysis, not a fact. We've got to differentiate between what we know and what we think.

And I still think the intelligence community would struggle to confirm that Vladimir Putin actually knew about this. I believe he did, but that is not a fact.

HARLOW: So that -- I mean, it's an important and interesting point, because we know Donald Trump has been skeptical of this intelligence all along, upsetting, obviously, many in the intelligence community. He's going to sit down with them, General Hertling, next -- next week and get the low down, if you will, be briefed on this. Do you think that that is his sticking point? What Philip just pointed out?

HERTLING: I think so. But it could also be that he doesn't completely understand what Russia's strategy is. They have passed from a petro-bribing organization into the use of these kind of covert measures.

It started back in the mid-2000. You know, 2005, 2006. And we've seen repeatedly they have tried to interfere with governments. It started in Estonia. It happened in Ukraine. It's been in Georgia. It's been in several other countries within Europe. They are now doing to us what they have done in Europe and what I watched as the commanding general of U.S. Army Europe. It is their technique, and they are becoming very successful at it.

LEMON: Is it, Michael, you know, we keep saying the alleged hacking, alleged hacking but this intelligence report that was ordered by the president is going to be published within the next three weeks. A lot of it is going to remain classified. But they did say that especially evidence collected from implants in Russian computer system, taped conversations and spies expected to be classified.

But a detailed report coming in three weeks. So the evidence that everyone has been asking for is going to be known soon.

WEISS: Yes. Although, again, I don't think there's going to be a smoking gun to the satisfaction of skeptics like Donald Trump and people who keep trying to throw cold water on this whole thing. One of the reasons is we don't quite know if all of the evidence and all of the confirmation comes from digital forensics, you know, that is to say intercept intelligence. Some of it may, indeed, come from human intelligence.

[07:10:10] And I said yesterday, what if the CIA is running spies in Moscow who have confirmed this at the highest levels of the Russian government? The U.S. intelligence services cannot blow their own assets.


WEISS: And they can't -- they can't expose that. That's the danger of coming clean with everything that the U.S. government possibly knows about this.

HARLOW: Right. You have to be careful.

Philip Mudd, to you. Some of these counterattacks. I mean, we know about some of what the United States is doing. We also know, it's pretty clear that there will be some covert action, as well. Can you walk us through what that could be?

MUDD: Sure. If you're looking at what we were talking about earlier, tit-for-tat. To my mind, we're going beyond tit-for-tat. Back in the days of the Cold War, you would see what we saw in the past 24 hours. Expel their diplomats. They expel our diplomats, and then you move on.

In this case, the White House is announcing measures for this new age of cyberwarfare, where you're talking about the capabilities and the activities of the Russians in the public domain so a company can say, "Now I can defend myself."

Behind the scenes, as you're talking about, the White House has repeatedly said, "There is more to come." I want to know if they'll start playing with Russian intelligence computers, if they'll start playing with the I.T. infrastructure in the Kremlin.

My guess is that there is more behind the scenes that involves the digital world. That is as General Hertling -- the man we call Grandpa Hertling, the old man on the panel -- talked about, in this tit-for- tat, whether -- whether we start to see the intelligence community take action that we would not have seen in the Cold War. Action against the cyber network of the Russian intelligence enterprise.

HARLOW: The old man is sitting next to me, by the way.

MUDD: The old man.

HARLOW: The old man who looks younger than I do.

LEMON: All right. So, Gramps, I shouldn't say that. Listen, gentlemen, I want to ask you, because Russia is responding, even the embassy tweeting out a picture with a lame duck on it.

And then the -- the spokesperson, a Russian spokesperson, Zarakova (ph), said this: "The people who have been living for eight years in the White House are not an administration. They are a group of foreign policy losers, angry and dull. Today Obama officially admitted it. But as a Russian proverb goes, Obama cannot be broken with a whip."

I mean, it sounds similar to some of the tweets that we get over here. But I mean, that's pretty strong language.

HARLOW: That's from a government spokesperson.

LEMON: From a government spokesperson against the sitting...

HERTLING: Well, Sonny, let me tell you, I've been monitoring the Russian tweets, as well, from RT, Sputnik and from other Russian organizations. And it's been fascinating. They are playing right alongside with Mr. Trump's playbook. Insulting, childish at times. Using the kinds of things that you would expect from a 12-year-old. The lame duck is a perfect example. It's like, are you serious? Are we really doing this kind of diplomacy over Twitter?

And they are playing toward not only Mr. Trump, but also the American people. He has a friend in the Kremlin -- Mr. Trump has a friend in the Kremlin.

And I think one of the things that I would find very interesting, because I was flabbergasted when he said he would wait until next week to take intel on this, is what does he take from the intelligence community when he gets together? What does he garner in terms of information? Will he see the things that many people expect him to see in the kind of intelligence the U.S. has?

LEMON: This is why it's important for him to take those intelligence briefings.

HARLOW: Daily.

LEMON: Daily.

HARLOW: Michael.

WEISS: Yes. And by the way, the spokesperson that you just quoted was previously quoted on Russian state television saying the reason that Donald Trump won the election had nothing to do with the Russian hacking. It's that he catered to the bellwether constituency in the United States, which is the Jews. And then proceeded to do a stereotypical Jewish accent in Russian. So this is not exactly the pinnacle of Russian diplomacy and elegance here.

HARLOW: Guys, thank you very much. You're all young in my eyes. We appreciate it.

An eye for an eye. Russia fighting back, as we just discussed, following these U.S. sanctions. Will Congress respond by escalating the moves? We'll get reaction from Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks, next.


[07:18:03] LEMON: Some now are questioning the timing of the Obama administration sanctions against Russia for cyberattacks. They say they were meant to influence the election. For more than two months now, the White House has publicly talked about the intelligence community's conclusions that it was Russia. I want you to listen to this.


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. That's something that, obviously, the president takes quite seriously.


LEMON: So the question is, the Obama/Russia sanctions. Is it too little too late? I want to ask New York Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks. He serves on the House Foreign Relations Committee.

First of all, good morning.

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK: Good morning. LEMON: Thank you for joining us, especially here during the holiday season. That was two and a half months ago. Is it too little, too late? Why not do something back then?

MEEKS: I think that the president did not want to publicize this issue. He gave warnings to Mr. Putin, clearly, when they met. And he's talked. But he knew that, if he brought up this scenario, the other side would say, "Oh, he's politicizing this," trying to deny it, just as president-elect is doing right now.

So what he did was weight on his intelligence information. And everything he's doing now is not based upon politics. It's based upon the intelligence he received.

LEMON: OK, listen, you're saying he's damned if you do, damned if you don't. But do you think it was a right thing, considering what happened, the outcome of the election and now what's going on?

MEEKS: Yes, because I think that what the president did -- and I think he did everything he could on the campaign stump, talking and giving the information -- he did the right thing. So that -- and hopefully, we will come back, Democrats and Republicans, not politicizing this, to say we are not going to allow Russia to get away with what it had been doing to some of our key allies over in the Baltic areas, also.

[07:20:08] LEMON: But I have to press you, because even Republicans, even John McCain and Lindsey Graham -- and we have a full screen of that -- they're wanting more. They're saying, "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 to lead the effort in the new Congress to impose stronger sanctions on Russia." They wanted the president to go even further in an election where a Republican won, in considering these allegations of hacking.

MEEKS: Just remember what this president said. He's going to do some things overtly, which you see today. And he's going to do some things covertly.

LEMON: What do you think that is?

MEEKS: Which you don't see. And I think that there are other things that he has said, that this is not limited to what you've just seen. Some of the things you can't see. Some of the things, it's difficult to bring out to the public. He's going to release some of the intelligence information. But you can't release all of it, because then you give up what you do know and how you found out about it.

So, he's in a little catch there. But he is -- he means what he says, and he's going to do what he says.

LEMON: Here's Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway saying that this was all meant to box in the incoming president. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 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 but 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.


LEMON: Do you think this is meant to box in? Do you think that there were politics at play here? Because it would be unprecedented and unusual for him to overturn -- the incoming president to overturn these sanctions.

MEEKS: Not at all. What I see that is unusual is there's only one president at a time. Barack Obama is still the president of the United States. What is unprecedented is a president-elect to get involved in decisions that a sitting president is making. That is unprecedented.


MEEKS: So, listen, this is what the incoming president is saying about this, despite the intelligence, despite even Republicans in Congress, lawmakers saying that they believe that Russians did hack the election. The incoming president is 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."

So, he's saying, "Let's move on here. But I'm going to meet with the intelligence." What does that -- what does that say to you?

MEEKS: That's amazing to me, that he's going to meet with them even next week. He's making statements without checking with his own intelligence and siding with someone, apparently, who has been shown to be distrust -- not trustworthy in Mr. Putin.

So, it tells me he's not listening to -- he's going to intelligence briefing, because also unprecedented. Every president-elect would get intelligence briefings every day, not next week, not sometime in the future. Every day he should have been getting intelligence.

LEMON: Do you think that he would have more information and more knowledge or his stance on this might be different if he were getting daily intelligence briefings?

MEEKS: Well, I would hope so, but I'm not sure. Because if you look at his past, despite what the facts say, he's decided to go on his own way.

I mean, the example of it would be the birther incident, where clearly, all of the evidence and everything that he'd gone through showed that President Obama was born in America. But for two years he didn't say move on. For two to three years, he continued what he had to know was false information. He continued to perpetuate that.

LEMON: As a -- go ahead.

MEEKS: I hope that, as president of the United States, that he understands he can't continue that method. And I hope that Democrats and Republicans will call him on it when he just seems to want to dismiss intelligence and ways to move forward.

LEMON: You answered the question that I was going to ask you. Should this be a bipartisan issue. And you just answered that very succinctly.

Thank you, Congressman, once again. Happy new year to you.

MEEKS: Thank you. Same to you.

LEMON: We appreciate you coming in -- Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. We're going to talk a lot more about that throughout the show. Meantime, millions of people expected to pack Times Square on New Year's Eve. And the NYPD will be ready for them. A live report on security preparations here and across the country, next.


[07:28:21] HARLOW: Security will be stepped up for new year's celebrations in New York's Times Square and in other cities around the world amid terror fears.

Our Brynn Gingras is live for us in Times Square with much more. It never holds the revelers back. Right? Two million people expected tomorrow night?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes, 2 million people. And you said it. It is going to be heavily secured. Even so much, Poppy, that just two days ago more than 500 officers were sworn in. And this is their first job, is detail here at Times Square. That's on top of thousands of other officers.

But really, the NYPD starts preparing for all of this when the ball dropped earlier this year. And it's just layers and layers of security that really just evolved as terror threats happen around the world.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ten, nine, eight...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ten, nine, eight...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ten, nine, eight...

GINGRAS (voice-over): New York City is on high alert in anticipation of one of the biggest New Year's Eve celebrations in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... three, two, one!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... three, two, one!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... three, two, one!

GINGRAS: Securing it takes an army: 7,000 NYPD officers are just one part of the enhanced measures being taken to protect the city.

JAMES O'NEILL, NYPD COMMISSIONER: This is where everybody has got to be on their toes. I know it's -- complacency can set in at times, but certainly not at an event like this.

GINGRAS: In the wake of the ISIS-inspired attacks in Berlin and Nice, 65 sand trucks and 100 blockers will be stationed around the city, most being used as a protective barrier around the perimeter of Times Square to ward off a truck-style attack.

O'NEILL: We live in a changing world now. And again, as I said before, it can't just be about what happens in New York.

GINGRAS: The NYPD is in constant communication with foreign departments, gaining intelligence and sharing police strategy with cities abroad.

In London, there is added security at the changing of the guards. Heavily armed police were unavoidable in Berlin as they stood posts

behind concrete barriers at a Christmas concert. Czech holiday markets were heavily patrolled, and in France, the government announced a boost of 10,000 soldiers...