Return to Transcripts main page


Intel Chiefs Presented Trump with Claims of Russian Efforts to Compromise Him; Trump Dismisses Russia Report as 'Fake News'; Obama Stresses Americans Need to Show Empathy. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired January 11, 2017 - 06:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The nation's top intelligence officials provided information to President-elect Donald Trump and to President Barack Obama about claims of Russian efforts to compromise President-elect Trump.

[05:58:51] KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISOR: We should be concerned that intelligence officials leaked to the press and won't go and tell the president-elect or the president of the United States himself.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of the most consequential appointments, Rex Tillerson with ties to Russia, in the spotlight on Capitol Hill.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: I have a very close relationship with him.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I leave the state tonight even more optimistic about this country than when we started this weekend.

Yes, we can.

Yes, we did. Yes, we can.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're watching NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, January 11, 6 a.m. here in New York. It is a very big news day.

We begin with Donald Trump facing a day of major tests that could shape the course of his presidency. This morning, the president-elect will hold his first news conference in nearly six months, where he is expected to answer questions about CNN's report that Russia could have compromising information about him. CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And will he address what we know for sure,

that the president-elect has some serious conflicts of interests posed by his businesses. He had promised a solution. Is there one?

[06:00:03] All this as the confirmation hearing begins today for his secretary of state pick. Lawmakers are going to grill him over his ties to Vladimir Putin. We're now just nine days away from the inauguration.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez, live in Washington. What do we know?


Well, we know that classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump. These allegations were part of a two-page summary based on memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative whose past work the U.S. intelligence agencies consider credible.

Now, the FBI is investigating the credibility and the accuracy of the allegations, which are based primarily on information from Russian sources, but the bureau has not confirmed many of the essential details in the memos about Mr. Trump.

Now officials tell us the two-page summary also included allegations that there was continuing exchange of information during the campaign between -- between Trump's surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government. These senior officials included the summary, in part, to make the president-elect aware that such allegations involving him were circulating among intelligence agencies, senior members of Congress, and other government officials here in Washington.

Officials tell us that the information was also included, in part, to demonstrate that Russia had compiled potentially harmful information to both political parties but only released information damaging to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

Donald Trump last night took to Twitter, calling the report fake news. And a spokesman for Vladimir Putin says that this is all fake. He says the Kremlin does not have compromising information on Donald Trump, and he called it an obvious attempt to harm bilateral relations -- Chris and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right, Alisyn. We'll be talking about this all morning. Thank you for your reporting. President-elect Donald Trump's transition team has not issued an official statement on CNN's reporting yet, but Mr. Trump dismisses it in a tweet, and one of his top advisors was asked about it on a late-night appearance.

All of this, we are just hours away from the president-elect's first news conference since the election. CNN's Sara Murray joins us now with more. What do we expect, Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Alisyn.

As you point out, we still have no official response from the Trump transition effort, but Donald Trump did take to his favorite medium to respond, apparently, to our story. He's tweeting, "Fake news, a total political witch hunt."

And Kellyanne Conway, who is going to be taking the role of counselor to the president, was on a late night show, and she appeared to at first dismiss the notion that Donald Trump was ever briefed of this claim that Russia had compromising information on him, and then she started backtracking and said, "Well, well he's not aware of it."

Take a listen.


CONWAY: Nobody has sourced it. They are all unnamed, unspoken sources in the story. And it says it was based on a Russian investigator to begin with. So where are we?

SEAN MYERS, HOST, NBC'S "LATE NIGHT WITH SEAN MYERS": It was based on an MI-6 British investigator.

CONWAY: Right. Well, one of those, and then it said that it also may have --may have originated with a Russian investigator and also says that Hillary Clinton and groups that wanted Hillary Clinton to win may have been behind the investigation themselves. And most importantly, it says that the FBI is trying to confirm it. So nothing has been confirmed, and it says that they never briefed him on it. They appended two pages to the bottom of his intelligence.

MYERS: I believe it says they did brief him on it.


MURRAY: Now, of course, Donald Trump's press conference today will be his first since winning the presidency. It was originally slated to help him explain how he's going to disentangle himself from his business interests as president. Of course, there are going to be many other questions about Obamacare, about tax reform, but you can bet that question about Russia and questions about this report are going to be top of mind today, as well -- Chris and Alisyn.

CUOMO: All right. Let's bring back justice correspondent Evan Perez. And let's bring in CNN senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward. She is in Moscow. And we also have CNN political analyst Carl Bernstein. Carl and Evan worked together on this report alongside CNN's Jim Sciutto and Jake Tapper to break the story yesterday.

Carl, what's your level of confidence in the reporting, and what is your concern about this story and what issues it raises?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: My level of confidence in the reporting is that the nation's highest national security chiefs decided the underlying information in this kind of dossier prepared by former MI-6 agent is sufficient and serious enough to warrant real thorough investigation about the president-elect of the United States and his ties to Russian businesses, what they represent and other allegations contained from this operative.

Now, does that mean that it's all true, part true, any of it true? We don't know yet. But the reporting is real, and it's unusual, to say the least, developed. We've never quite had a situation where an incoming president is going to come into office under investigation in such a situation.

[06:05:08] CAMEROTA: This is highly explosive stuff, so we're going to proceed very cautiously. We'll only report what we know. Evan, your reporting shows that there were some in Congress, the Gang of Eight included, who knew about this. And who, in fact, spoke to Director Comey at the FBI about this in December.

PEREZ: That's right. We have information that John McCain, who is a senior member in Congress, had received a copy of this dossier and had concerns enough that he decided that he thought James Comey, the head of the FBI, the FBI director, should know; and he handed it to him.

Now, we also know, though, that Comey already had a version of these documents. The FBI had been looking into this since at least last summer. That's when I first started looking into some of the allegations that are contained in these documents. So we know that it's been going around.

And we also know that the Gang of Eight was briefed on it, but that's how Harry Reid, just before the election, talking as a member, as a senior member of Congress, as one of the members of the leadership, was briefed on this. And so he sent an open letter to James Comey, asking him to release whatever information he had. Again, he was trying to do this before the election, Comey refused to do that at the time. It's still something that the FBI is working to confirm.

CUOMO: And it is curious that Harry Reid was the only one to be that outspoken about it. Clarissa Ward, that plays into what we're hearing from the Russian side of this, which is a complete denial to use words like "pulp fiction" to explain what this is. What are you hearing, most likely?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Chris. Well, the Russians issuing a strenuous denial using a lot of the same language that we have seen them use over and over and over again since the hacking allegations first emerged back in October.

Today the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said this about the report. He called it "A clear attempt to harm our bilateral relationship. The fabrication of such lies in terms of the previous open part of the report, and this one which is a comparable lie, it's called 'Pulp Fiction' in English."

He went on to say it's a witch hunt, and then he talks physically about the allegations that Russians had been collecting kompromat. Kompromat, just to explain to our viewers is the collection of compromising materials used in a blackmail type of scenario has been a tool of the KGB, now SSB has been used for decades.

On the allegation of kompromat being collected on Donald Trump, Peskov said, "No, the Kremlin does not have kompromat on Trump. The information does not correspond to reality, and it is complete fiction.

And finally, with regards to the allegation that the Kremlin had also collecting kompromat on Hillary Clinton, we heard yet another strenuous denial: "We have no kompromat on Clinton. The Kremlin does not collect kompromat. The Kremlin and the Russian president tried to build relationships with our foreign partners in the interest of the Russian federation and the Russian people and for the world in the interests of stability and security."

That is the Kremlin's story, and they're sticking to it, Chris. And it's the same song they have been singing now for several months.

CAMEROTA: Carl, how will the FBI and Congress figure out if the Russians have compromising information on Mr. Trump and, therefore, he could be vulnerable to blackmail or something else?

BERNSTEIN: They'll go about their investigative procedures. They will talk to people who know Trump. They will talk to people in his circle. They will talk to sources in Russia. They will conduct a thorough investigation. They also have electronic means of -- that we have of getting information.

But it's a much broader -- going to be a much broader investigation. You've heard me, others on this air talk about Donald Trump's conflicts of interest through his Russian businesses or his Russian loans, perhaps. But that is an area that some people in Washington who were opposed to his candidacy began to look at and found some information way back during the campaign, when he was still trying to get the nomination.

They, in turn, long after he did get the nomination with Hillary Clinton, people, they hired -- opponents of Trump, let's be clear about that -- they hired a Washington firm to do opposition research.

CAMEROTA: Some Republican opponents.

BERNSTEIN: Republican first and Democratic hired a research firm in Washington. This firm started to come up with information in this area of conflict of interest, businesses, loans in Russia. They, in turn, hired a British former MI-6 operative with a reputation for being extremely skilled in Russia. He had been stationed in Russia in the '90s. And he began, according to the information we have, going to his sources and came up with this 35-page document, raw material. Don't know what's true in it, what's not true.

[06:10:20] We've all seen it. It's been published by some people, not by us, because we're waiting to find out what real investigators find out that's fact and separates the fact from allegations and fiction. He filed this report, took it to the Rome station chief of counterintelligence of the FBI in August, said this is worth looking at. And the Rome station chief of the FBI sent it back to Washington.

Subsequent to that he developed more information. It then got to John McCain through an intermediary through a British ambassador to Russia who thought the information was serious enough it needed to get to somebody like McCain.

McCain then took it himself to James Comey, the director of the FBI on December 9, because McCain looked at it and said this needs to be investigated.

Finally, let me wrap up this circuitous story. What's so significant here is the nation's utmost intelligence chiefs looked at this information and started to try to pin some of it down. Believe it's serious enough to deserve further thorough investigation, and they have kind of set down a marker through the new incoming national security people of Donald Trump that this cannot go away. This must be investigated.

CUOMO: That's the question. There's going to be politics involved in this, Carl. What happens with the incoming administration? You have a new head of the DNI, and you have new people in power. How do you know that this investigation gets carried through?

BERNSTEIN: Well, we -- I think you have to hope that it does. Certainly, there's are a sufficient number of people in place in the national security and intelligence areas who are capable of doing this. The FBI is capable of doing this. You now have Republican and Democratic senators who are determined to see this information develop. And whether or not there's something that's really there serious enough to keep going forward.

That's where we are right now, and you know, let's not go over the tips of our skis on this. And at the same time, when Kellyanne gets up there, look, she's a propaganda minister. That's her job. She quite effective of it. But when she gets up there and says, "Oh, this is anonymous sources" and one thing and another; when she says something, it's news. And when reporters find out information by digging a little bit, it's leaks. That's disingenuous.

CAMEROTA: Carl, Even, Clarissa, we will have you on stand-by throughout the program and check back with you. Thank you very much for all of the reporting.

Meanwhile, back at home here, President Obama proves you can go home again. Mr. Obama bidding farewell in an emotional speech from Chicago. Highlighting his accomplishments over the past eight years and urging Americans to unite to protect democracy.

CNN's Michelle Kosinski live in Chicago with more. He did get -- I mean, for President Obama, he got emotional.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he did at the very end, but this wasn't one of those fired-up rally kinds of speeches that people are so used to with President Obama. This was more him trying to have a get real kind of talk with America. It's almost a big cautionary tale. As he laid out in great detail, things that he sees a serious threat to democracy itself right now.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): President Obama took the stage to say farewell, the applause so deafening it was hard to begin. He soon tore into the forces within America that he says threaten the very democracy that too many take for granted.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Only if all of us, regardless of party affiliation or particular interest help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.

KOSINSKI: He called out economic inequality, discrimination and, in some surprising words, stressed that everyone needs to show empathy.

OBAMA: For blacks and other minority groups, that means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face. Not only the refugee or the immigrant or the rural poor or the transgender American but also the middle-aged white guy who, from the outside, may seem like he's got advantages but has seen his world upended by economic and cultural and technological change.

KOSINSKI: Calling out naked partisanship, corrosive politics, fake news.

OBAMA: And increasingly, we've become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it's true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.

KOSINSKI: The president thanking those around him. Most emotionally his family.

OBAMA: Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, girl of the South Side. For the past -- for the past 25 years, you have not only been my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend.

KOSINSKI: And thanking Americans who work hard for change. Asking them one more thing, to believe in the power within themselves.

OBAMA: Yes, we can.


KOSINSKI: Some of the things that popped up immediately on social media during and after the speech were why didn't the president say more of these kinds of things so bluntly about divisions in America, et cetera, during the campaign and also where was Sasha Obama. Why wasn't she there with her family for this big moment? White House says she had an exam this morning that she had to study for -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Michelle, thank you very much. We just showed you some tastes of the president's farewell address. Our political panel is going to discuss what this warning means about the threats to U.S. democracy, coming from the current president of the United States. The big takeaways, next.


[06:20:32] CAMEROTA: It was an emotional night for President Obama delivering his farewell speech in his adopted hometown of Chicago. Listen to a portion.


OBAMA: You believe in a fair and just and inclusive America. You know that constant change has been America's hallmark. That it's not something to fear but something to embrace. You are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You'll soon outnumber all of us, and I believe as a result, the future is in good hands.


CAMEROTA: That's Mr. Obama calling the opportunity to serve this country the honor of his life.

Let's discuss it with our panel. We have standup political analyst and senior special writer for "The Wall Street Journal," Martha Langley. We have CNN political commentator and political anchor of Spectrum News, Errol Louis. And senior congressional correspondent for "The Washington Examiner" and host of the "Examining Politics" podcast, David Drucker. Great to have all of you.

Can we all just agree that every candidate and politician should just give their farewell speech or their concession speech as part of their real job? Because that's when they're sort of most wall come down, their least guarded and they say the thing that they really want to say. What jumped out at you from President Obama?

MONICA LANGLEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I thought that he was the way he always is, is a great orator. What struck me the most was when he said that this has been the honor of my life. But later on, he said, "My best job is dad" to the two girls. And I thought that was the most moving thing as a human being. You can really relate to that.

CAMEROTA: We do have that moment.


OBAMA: For the past 25 years, you have not only been my wife and mother of my children. You have been my best friend. You took on a role you didn't ask for, and you made it your all with grace and with grit and with style and with humor.

Malia and Sasha, under the strangest of circumstances, you have become two amazing young women. You are smart, and you are beautiful, but more importantly, you are kind. Of all that I have done in my life, I am most proud to be your dad.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CUOMO: We've watched them over the years. Certainly, the process has taken a toll on his thinking and his disposition in the different situations. How did you find him last night?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, it was interesting. It was a flashback from 2004 when he gave that speech. This is long before he ever got elected.

CUOMO: This was at the election.

LOUIS: Yes, at the convention in Boston, he was a state senator at the time, frankly. And almost word for word you could have transposed that speech last night.

I mean, he talked about the hyper-partisanship, the sort of optimistic vision of getting beyond that and so forth. But it felt a little bit dated, to tell you the truth. I mean, you think about where we are now and the way our politics proceeds now, he warned against it back then. He decries it now. But clearly, our politics in the country have moved in a different direction.

CAMEROTA: David Drucker, your impressions?

DAVID DRUCKER, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Well, look, it was vintage Barack Obama. He was discussing the -- the subjects and the parts of America and the parts about politics that matter to him the most that seem to be his mission.

What really struck me is that President Obama has always had a way of sort of being a part of our politics as our leader and yet apart from it. And talking to us from a different place. And that's what he was doing last night.

And part of it, I think, was important for Democrats, because I think he was trying to encourage his party and let them know that all of the work was not for nothing. And even though they suffered a tough election, there are still better days ahead, as long as they participate.

On the other hand, when you are the president of the United States for 8 years, even though, in a sense, a lot of things aren't your fault, they are your fault, just by virtue of the fact that you held the office. And so what you have here is a president full of contradictions. Somebody who tried really hard to inspire the American people to be more unified and yet leaves the country as disunified as ever.

Again, not all of it is his fault. But clearly, he has some responsibility in there. And so you were able to see on the stage his gifts as a politician, and yet leaving behind a foreign policy and a domestic policy that is in question, his failings as a leader. And I think, you know, the question that, for him, is how is he remembered as the time goes on as the events of the next administration shape what we all think of him.

[06:25:04] CUOMO: Well, to the extent that David is right, this is going to be a hard question for historians. But also, there's a practical consideration for the new administration.

The question becomes why. Why did a message of the audacity of hope and the strength of diversity and the need to be inclusive create such division in this country? Because Errol's right, as well. We've never been more sensitive to our division than we are right now in recent history. Why?

LANGLEY: That's right. And you know, Donald Trump won the presidency based on the change message, because the country was so divisive, and he was promising that he would bring in people who felt they were no longer part of the discussion or benefitting from this administration.

One thing that was interesting to me last night is that, you know, we would expect Obama to say, you know, we need to take care of the immigrants, and we need better education and all this. And then at one point he said, "And we also have to think about the middle-aged white guy who, from the outside, looks like things may be going well, but they're not." And that's clearly a move toward Donald Trump's voting base.

CAMEROTA: Yes. That was a recent addition.

LANGLEY: Exactly.


He's learned.

LOUIS: It's actually been a pretty solid part of his stump speech all along. It just didn't get as much attention. We hear it now, I think, with...

CAMEROTA: Wait a minute. He's always talking about the middle-aged white guy?

LOUIS: Sure. What he -- in the first election in 2008, he talked about people clinging to their guns.

CAMEROTA: But that was in a negative way.

LOUIS: He was grappling with a reality that has frustrated him throughout his political career. And keep in mind, when we see, because we now know from the numbers that there are people who voted for him who now voted for Donald Trump, he was hitting home with that message. Maybe not in significant numbers but enough to win two elections.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you. All right. You have a quick thought, go ahead.

DRUCKER: I was just going to say, Chris, to answer your question, one of the reasons that he wasn't able to unify the country, last night the way he talked about needing to climb into another man's shoes to understand their point of view.

I think as much as Barack Obama tried to do that or thinks he did do that, I don't think he did a good enough job of actually seeing things from the other side's point of view. And I think that hurt him in Congress in negotiations.

Republicans deserve blame, as well, but he could have unified more, had he been able to engender more compromise by seeing the other side's point of view.

CAMEROTA: Thank you, David.

Thank you, panel. Great to get your perspective on all of this.

He may be president-elect, Mr. Trump's -- he may be the most controversial cabinet pick of Mr. Trump's. How will former Exxon Rex Tillerson explain his ties to Vladimir Putin and other U.S. adversaries at his confirmation hearing today? We will preview that important hearing, next.