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Interview with Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin. Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired December 30, 2016 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- Russia will be dependent on Donald Trump's policies. So Vladimir Putin, mindful of the fact that in less than three weeks from now Donald Trump will be the new president of the United States, and it's him that he believes he can do a deal with. It's him he believes that the relationship between Russia and the United States, which has been so badly strained over the past several years over various issues from Syria to Ukraine to NATO expansion, that relationship can be rebuilt.

And as a step towards that, I suppose as a gesture towards Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin is saying he's not going to act on his foreign minister's advice. He's not going to respond in a tit for tat fashion towards the -- to the U.S. expulsion of Russian diplomats. He's just going to sit tight and see what Donald Trump does and hopefully build a relationship with that new administration.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: But not do it without some tough words for President Obama. Just looking at the statement in from the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin just to us now, ending it by saying "I pity President Obama's administration for finishing their work this way," then going on Matthew, to inviting all children of American diplomats in Russia to the Kremlin for Christmas, and saying "congratulations to elected president Trump and the American people."

We'll keep following this. Matthew Chance, thank you so much.

This announcement from Russia coming right on the heels of these tough sanctions against Russia announced yesterday by the Obama administration that target Russian intelligence agencies and the expulsion of dozens of suspected spies. U.S. officials say they were posing as diplomats. Our Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is live in Washington with more on that. Good morning, Evan.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. 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: And 35 Russian diplomats now have less than 72 hours to leave the country. U.S. intelligence officials say they were spies posing as diplomats. Their expulsion part of a massive crackdown by President Obama against Russian alleged election cyber-attacks. The White House retaliation also includes shutting down two Russian compounds located in Maryland and New York. LISA MONACO, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: 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 cyber-attacks 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 KINZINGER, (R) ILLINOIS: 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 of this 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.

ERIC SCHULTZ, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: The truth is that we enjoy the greatest capability of any country on earth. That's offensive and defensive.


PEREZ: And Obama has now also declassified intelligence on Russian cyber activity to help cyber-security companies both here and abroad identify and detect and disrupt Russia's cyber-attacks in the future. Don?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Evan, appreciate that.

President-elect Donald Trump dismissing U.S. sanctions against Russia. For months the president-elect has denied the U.S. intelligence community's conclusions on Russia's meddling in the elections. Trump now says he will meet with intelligence officials next week to get the facts. And those facts keep changing. And we go to CNN's Jessica Schneider for that with an update on the story. They do keep changing.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They do keep changing, Don. And Donald Trump continues to express that skepticism that he has repeatedly expressed about the alleged Russian attacks. He continued the doubt when he spoke outside Mar-a-Lago saying we should, quote, "get on with our lives."

And then Donald Trump 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."

But top transition adviser Kellyanne Conway said the sanctions seem largely symbolic. She continued to cast doubt on the intelligence itself. And Conway also accusing President Obama of playing politics.


[08:05:05] KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: 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 politics or the motivating factor here. But we can't help but think that is often true.


SCHNEIDER: Conway refusing to say if Donald Trump will reverse the actions once he takes office. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus only saying that it is up to the president-elect and that Trump will be talking to his leadership at the defense department and state department before making any decision. It's interesting to note current White House homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco saying rollback of sanctions would be, quote, "highly unusual and inadvisable." Poppy and Don?

HARLOW: Thank you very much for the reporting. So much to discuss. Let's bring back Matthew Chance and Evan Perez, and let's welcome in more guests, Robin Wright contributing writer to "The New Yorker" and a joint fellow at the U.S. institute of peace at the Woodrow Wilson center. Also with us, Philip Mudd, CNN counterterrorism analyst and former CIA counterterrorism official.

Let me begin with you, Philip Mudd, because this is just -- no one expected this this morning. We expected tit for tat. We expected Russia to do what the kremlin said they were advising Putin to do, and that is to pull back and to push out, expel these U.S. diplomats from Russia. Now Putin comes out with this statement saying he's not going to do that. He's going to defer any action until Trump takes over and not create problems for American diplomats. What do you make of this?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTER TERRORISMANALYST: Well, this is remarkable. You can dismiss Vladimir Putin as sort of a tin pot thug. Let's be clear, the man is smart, if not brilliant. Let's go back over the past few years. Annexing Crimea, hugely popular in Russia. Putin's approval ratings in Russia hovering at or above 80 percent. Unthinkable for an American president to have ratings like that.

When the Americans pull back from Syria, who moves in? The Russians. And now they've succeed just over the past week, there's a ceasefire on Thursday night, and potential peace talks brokered by who? The Russians, the Turks, the Iranians, the Americans not there.

Now finally he looks like the good guy this week in refusing to cooperate in tit for tat. I think what's going on is he's setting the stage as president-elect Trump is trying to reach out to say, if you want to talk, you want to make America great again, I want to make Russia great again. Let's sit down and talk. I think this is a brilliant move.

LEMON: And, listen, there have been some in, you know, in the political world and also in the intelligence world who would say that these leaders, including Netanyahu and Putin, they were actually playing Donald Trump, this is a strategy for Donald Trump that they may not be so friendly towards him, but a strategy that they're using to --

HARLOW: To their benefit.

LEMON: To get what they want. And I have to ask you this, robin, isn't this the whole reason that President Obama and Bush before him referred to one president at a time, and any foreign policy decisions or questions about it would be targeted to the person who was in office at the time and not the incoming president?

ROBIN WRIGHT, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, "THE NEW YORKER": Absolutely. And Vladimir Putin is clearly playing to a lame duck president, taking advantage, whether it's on the issue of cyber-attacks or on Syria in positioning himself or the next administration and building power, building his position. So that is absolutely right.

But this is also a very important juncture in which the Russians, may not be taking action publicly on diplomat expulsions, but you can bet they are doing a lot behind the scenes just as the Americans are when it comes to cyber-war, that the real action on this issue is playing out in ways that are not visible, that are -- they're going after each other's systems ever more, that there is likely to be an intensification of the cyber-war. People talked about the revival of the cold war. No, we've moved beyond that kind of cold war, the tit for tat expulsions and that kind of thing. We're into something much more profound, much deeper and will define more in the 21st century --

LEMON: Can I follow up with you, Robin. If you read this statement, this statement is stunning when you read the entire statement.

HARLOW: It is. He's inviting children of American diplomats to the Kremlin for Christmas. Let's just get -- Vladimir Putin is inviting the kids of American diplomats to the Kremlin for Christmas to say thank you for the sanctions. Matthew Chance, Robin? I mean robin you first. What?

WRIGHT: Well, that's absolutely game. It's clearly a message directed at one person, and that's the president-elect of the United States. This is a way of saying we do want to engage and, you know, trying to put off the kind of tension, the cycle that might have been created and soured a relationship before it even started three weeks from now. So, it's very smart move, and it's a wait and see game. I think Putin has been very clever and this will make it easier for Donald Trump to continue on his course.

[08:10:03] The question, of course, is what's going to happen among Republicans, because there is a deep sentiment on the Hill that the Russians must be punished further. And the debate in Washington will not be Democrats versus Republicans. It will play out largely among Republicans what they want to do and their very different visions about Russia.

LEMON: Matthew, you're in Moscow. This is straight out of Vladimir Putin's playbook. This is how he plays the media and the people in Russia, as well.

CHANCE: It's classic. He's an absolute master of this kind of thing. I mean, he's almost literally playing Santa Claus this time of year by inviting children of U.S. diplomats to the Kremlin to witness these amazing sorts of New Year's shows that are staged there every year.

And he's doing that, of course, to reach out to Donald Trump yet again. He's repeatedly reached out to that administration-in-waiting because he needs him. He needs Donald Trump. He needs a friendly administration in the United States to alleviate the sanctions on the country that have been imposed by President Obama, to -- to perhaps look again at the annexation of Crimea, to look again at NATO expansion, and of course the conflict in Syria. We've all been talking about this. Russia along with its partner in Turkey, and with others, and with the Syrian government, have given Syria the best chance it's had in years of ending the devastating conflict there, and that would be in the -- end in the favor of Russia, and he wants the United States administration of Donald Trump to be part of that, as well.

So all of these issues that Vladimir Putin wants to do a deal with Trump on and he doesn't want to, you know, kind of ambush that relationship before the administration has even begun.

HARLOW: Evan, to be clear, three strained if not adversarial relationships with the current administration look quite rosy when it comes to the incoming administration within the last 24 hours. Bashar al Assad in Syria, Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, and Vladimir Putin in Russia have said glowing things about the president-elect and damning things about the sitting president.

PEREZ: Well, that's right. And I think for the Obama administration, which has spent a lot of time -- a lot of time in the last few years trying to figure out what to do about the Middle East, trying to get Israel and the Palestinians to the table, trying to figure out what to do about Syria, and having seen what happened in Libya and the intervention there, trying to not repeat those mistakes, I think one of the things that's been -- that's been, frankly, frustrating for them is to see them coming out frankly looking so badly on all these fronts. But I'll say one last thing about what Vladimir Putin is doing here.

We're now going into the third presidential administration in which he basically gets to start over. Remember, George W. Bush said that he looked into his eyes and saw his soul. And then at the end of that administration, you know, he had invaded Georgia and taken territory and that relationship soured. Barack Obama tried to reset the relationship. We see where that has ended. And now Vladimir Putin sees, you know, he's kind of come out ahead in both, you know, administrations, 16 years of relationships with American presidents. He can now, you know, start over again with Donald Trump, and we'll see what he can win out at the end of that -- of that period.

I think that -- that's why you see the intelligence community, the defense department, the Pentagon, the law enforcement community in the United States is very skeptical of the Russians and their intentions here.

HARLOW: Except Russia hasn't come out ahead, really, over the last 16 years when it comes to their economy. The sanctions that the U.S. and Europe have slapped on them, Phil, have really hurt them. There's a lot of bluster and verbiage and what whatever you want to call it from Putin, but it actually hasn't benefited the Russian people.

MUDD: I think that's right. You've got to look at this two ways. First, as you're suggesting, there's an economic piece of this. Sanctions might have actually impelled Vladimir Putin, who has to at least think at some level about his domestic constituency, to move forward to try to develop a new relationship.

But let's move beyond that and say, are we going to see because of these Russian moves, Putin's moves, some removal of sanctions? You heard Robin Wright rightly point out that the Congress itself has said there has to be some sort of measure, additional measures, as a result of tampering the elections. So it's not just the president-elect who makes decisions about Putin. It's the Congress who I think will put another foot down.

And then when the president-elect gets into the Oval Office, he's going to have some realities. I expect the Russians to keep stealing American secrets beyond computers. The second is he's going to deal with Russia and Iran, Russia and Syria, and he's going to have European allies come in and say, what are you going to do when the Russians continue to disrupt our elections? So reality is going to be difficult.

I think the president-elect is going to realize the man he decided to develop relationship with actually snores all night. This is a difficult relationship. It's not a Cinderella moment. So right now it's easy, but it's going to get more difficult when things get on.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I'm glad you said that because I want to bring in Robin here. Robin, if we can, because -- and it's sometimes hard to take the politics out of this and people, you know, do things through an ideology and a political lens all the time. But on the surface if you just look at it and you read the statement, this is all smoke and mirrors. The question is whether it's a Democratic administration, or a Republican administration, whoever would be coming in to the White House next, if you read this sort of thing and this was happening, should they fall for this? Shouldn't they know that this is posturing, on the part of these dictators?

ROBIN WRIGHT, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Of course. And the big question is going to be when Congress moves to impose more sanctions or take action and legislates on this, will President Trump veto it? And this is where the rubber hits the road for a new administration.

When you see that tension play out over Russia and that's why Vladimir Putin is taking these incredible steps, his invitation, what looks like he's not responding, even though we know he will be taking actions against this behind the scenes. So, this is going to be a tough moment. It's also going to be interesting to see what President-elect Trump says after his briefing next week from the intelligence community about just how deep these penetrations the intelligence penetrations, the cyber attacks have gone. He can't help but worry about what happens to future American elections.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, guys, thank you very much. Fascinating conversation. Fascinating developments.

LEMON: Yeah.

HARLOW: In just the past hour.

Thank you all very much. Have a wonderful New Year.

LEMON: Yes, several world leaders embroiled in a diplomatic showdown or showdowns with the outgoing Obama administration. They say they are waiting for President-elect Donald Trump to make their next move. How will Trump handle these leaders? We're going to ask a member of his transition team, next.


[08:20:05] LEMON: Russia President Vladimir Putin says he is not going to kick dozens of diplomats out of Russia in retaliation for U.S. sanctions, as his foreign minister had recommended. Instead, he wants to wait for president-elect Donald Trump to take and to respond to the U.S. move to take office and then he'll respond to the U.S. moves now.

We're joined by a Republican Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, he's a member of Donald Trump's presidential transition team, and the executive committee.

I have so many questions for you. And thank you very much, Congressman Duffy, for coming on.

REP. SEAN DUFFY (R), WISCONSIN: Good morning, Don.

LEMON: Did you get a chance to read the full statement from the Kremlin this morning? I'm not sure if you did.

DUFFY: I did. I saw the top line.

LEMON: I think it's fascinating and I think it's important to read it so you can understand the complexity and just how interesting it is.

OK, so here it is from the Kremlin and from Russian President Vladimir Putin. He says, "We see new unfriendly steps by the outgoing U.S. administration as provocative, aimed to further deteriorate Russia and U.S. ties. It contradicts core interests of Russia and American people. Considering the special responsibility of Russia and the U.S. to keep global security, it damages the entire complex of international ties."

It goes on to say, "According to the prevailing international practice, the Russian side, there is every reason for an adequate response." We'll talk about that.

Then he says, "Reserving the right to retaliate, we will not stoop to the level, and this is, of, quote, 'kitchen irresponsibility' -- irresponsible diplomacy and further steps toward the restoration of Russian/American relations will be built on the basis of the policy which will be carried out by the administration of Donald J. Trump, of President Trump.

Returning to their homeland, Russian diplomats will spend the New Year holidays in the circles of relatives and friends at home. We will not -- this is important -- create problems for American diplomats. We will not send anyone away. We will not prohibit their families and children to use for their usual vacations spots in the New Year's holidays.

Moreover, all children of American diplomats in Russia I invite you to New Year's and Christmas tree at the Kremlin.

It is a pity that President Obama, his administration, finishes its work this way but not nevertheless, I congratulate him and his family and a happy New Year.

Congratulations to the elected President Donald Trump, the American people, I wish all welfare and prosperity."

And again, that's from the Kremlin. Surely, the incoming administration sees this as smoke and mirrors and will not fall for it.

DUFFY: I think all of us see this as smoke and mirrors.

And, Don, let me take a step back and look at what America's relationship has been with Russia and look at what I think Donald Trump is going to do.

I don't think Barack Obama has projected strength to Russia. As you recall, he told, through a messenger, Vladimir Putin that he would have more flexibility after his 2012 election. We all remember that with Mitt Romney, he said the 1980s want their foreign policy back when Romney said that Russia was our number one geopolitical foe.

And then Russia, Crimea, Ukraine, now in Syria making a difficult situation even worse -- Barack Obama really hasn't done anything tough with Russia. So, he's walking out the door, we have these sanctions, but Russia's been able to walk all over us and the rest of the world as a bad actor and I feel --


LEMON: Why would the incoming administration now criticize these sanctions which are not as harsh as the sanctions for Crimea, and for Ukraine? Why would you criticize this now that the president is taking actions, even Republicans want stronger sanctions against Russia?

DUFFY: So -- now I'm not in Donald Trump's mind as you know. But I'm going to speculate here. I think the frustration of Mr. Trump is, that this does have an air of politics. And that Mr. Obama's trying to diminish Mr. Trump's win by saying, you know, there's reasons why my policy is, whether it's Obamacare, or my foreign policy, or my open southern border law since the last election. It wasn't actually my policies. It was actually FOX News or it was the Russians or it was fake news.

There's a reason why I lost --


LEMON: -- the FBI and CIA, and every intelligence agency, and also that John McCain and Lindsey Graham are also trying to undermine Donald Trump's election, as president?

DUFFY: No, no. There's two different points. One is, what role did the Russians have? Were they trying to influence our election? And you just mentioned intelligence agencies that have made that point. I haven't seen those briefs yet.

But then the question becomes, did they actually have an impact on our election? And I would argue to you, Don, at least in my part of Wisconsin, which is a blue state that went red for Donald Trump, they really didn't care that the DNC was supporting Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. That didn't change their vote.

The fact that we have information that came from Podesta's e-mails about internal squabbles in the Clinton campaign, I don't think you or anyone else can give me any silver bullet of these leaks that changed anyone's vote.

[08:25:06] They didn't impact the election.

LEMON: Well, that's not even --


LEMON: That's not even at play here. According to the Obama administration, they don't believe that it would change the outcome of the election. To critics of the --


LEMON: -- they don't think the outcome of the election.

But do you -- are you disagreeing with these intelligence reports? Seventeen agencies have said that the Russians tampered with the election.

DUFFY: What I'm telling you is I went back to Washington after the election, and I was there for three weeks, and never did I get a briefing. The intelligence agencies haven't come to Congress and laid out this information. I'm looking forward to going back next week and seeing that evidence, seeing that information, and being tough with Russia.

But I don't think we can look at what's happened with foreign governments hacking American systems and think that Barack Obama has been tough. I don't know if you recall this, but the Chinese hacked OPM, Office of Personnel Management, and what they're trying to gather is what Americans have security clearances, so they could find out which ones were working for the CIA.

And they also have information on members of Congress --


LEMON: -- it sounds like you're saying that it's OK to hack into U.S. systems.

DUFFY: No, I'm not -- no what I'm saying, no, Don, what I'm saying is, where in the hell has Barack Obama been when this has been happening over the last seven years?


LEMON: That's a criticism -- legitimate criticism --


DUFFY: -- of the last three weeks?

So my point is, listen, I'm opposed to Russia hacking, I'm opposed to China hacking in any of our systems, whether it's our election or personal data or government employees. We should hold all of them to account.

Why then is the question is Barack Obama so engaged now in this Russia issue when he really hasn't had a back bone for the last eight years? And I think the concern comes to is this more political than really trying to --

LEMON: There have been very strong -- stronger --

DUFFY: And I would join Barack Obama and other Republicans -- go ahead. LEMON: There have been stronger sanctions presented against Russia before these sanctions. And again so if -- you said that you're not getting information from the intelligence agencies.


LEMON: What do you think McCain and Lindsey Graham are basing their information on if they're saying 99 senators agreed that Russians tampered with our election? You said you're not getting information. What are they basing theirs on? What's the disconnect here?

DUFFY: Well, I don't know what they're basing their information on. Maybe they've had a briefing in the Senate. But Devin Nunez in the House who chairs our Intelligence Committee did ask for a briefing at least for his committee and the intelligence community didn't show up.

So, again, I think we have to look at, if you take a step back, I don't think from my vantage point, Barack Obama has been tough. And I think when you don't have strong leadership from America, bad actors become worse.

What I'm looking for for Donald Trump is to set aside maybe the little barbs he's taken on his electoral win, and actually look at what Russia has done, look at what China has done, what other countries around the world have done to America and let's take a stuff stance.

And I think what Donald Trump believes in is like Ronald Reagan, you will have peace through strength. You don't get peace through weakness and I think that's going to be a fundamental shift. And if Russia, if Vladimir Putin thinks he's going to have a better partner, a softer partner in Barack Obama, I don't think that will be the case with Donald Trump. You even saw that last week when Russia was talking about modernizing their nuclear weaponry. Donald Trump didn't cower from that, he actually came on and said, guess what, we're going to modernize our nuclear weapons.

LEMON: That was frightening to a lot of people --


DUFFY: In regard to Russia. So --

LEMON: I get your point he'll be stronger under Donald Trump even considering the letter and the complimentary tone of what he has said about the Trump administration.

Thank you so much, Congressman. Happy New Year to you.

DUFFY: Hey. Happy to you, Don. Have a good one.

HARLOW: Fascinating interview.

U.S.-Israeli relations hitting fair to say rock bottom after the U.S. abstained from a U.N. resolution condemning Israel's expanded settlements. Can the incoming Trump administration repair the rift? What will that look like? We're going to speak with a former Israeli ambassador, next.