Return to Transcripts main page


Intel Chiefs Presented Trump with Claims of Russian Efforts to Compromise Him; Obama Bids Farewell to the Nation. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 11, 2017 - 07:00   ET


CAMEROTA: ... will also have to address his many business conflicts of interest. All this as Rex Tillerson, Mr. Trump's pick for secretary of state, prepares for a confirmation hearing where senators are expected to grill him about his ties to Vladimir Putin.

[07:00:15] We are nine days away from inauguration day. Let's begin our coverage with CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez and all of his new reporting in Washington -- Evan.


Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and to President-elect Donald Trump include allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump. The allegations were part of a two-page summary based on memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative whose past U.S. -- who's past work U.S. intelligence officials consider credible.

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

Now officials tell us that the two-page summary also included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government. These senior intelligence 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 information potentially harmful to both political parties but only released information damaging to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

Now, a spokesman for Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, says that this is all fake news. He says, quote, "The Kremlin does not have compromising information on Trump." And he called it an obvious attempt to harm bilateral relations -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Evan. Thank you very much. Appreciate the reporting. To be clear it's not fake news, because these documents are real and they were included. Whether or not the allegations in them are real is a separate question that needs to be investigated. And that's one of the things that we're going to have to figure out here.

So President-elect Donald Trump's transition team has not officially responded to CNN's reporting. We'll see what happens in this press conference today. To be clear, Mr. Trump is dismissing it, at least on Twitter. And one of his top advisors was asked about it in a late- night TV appearance. All this as we await the president-elect's first press conference today.

CNN's Sara Murray is live at Trump Tower in New York with more. We keep saying it, because it's been a long time, and there's a lot on the table.

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Chris. There's going to be a lot on the table today. And of course, on top of our mind is this question about Russia. As you pointed out, the transition team has not responded, although Donald Trump is airing his grievances about our story on Twitter. And he's now calling it fake news. A total political witch hunt.

Now, Kellyanne Conway, who's going to be the incoming counselor to the president was also asked about this on late-night television last night. And she seemed to indicate that her boss was unaware of the claim that Russia had compromising information on him. Take a listen at what he said.


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

MYERS: It was based on an MI-6 British investigator.

CONWAY: Right, well, one of those and says it also may have - may have originated with a Russian investigator.

It also says that Hillary Clinton and groups that wanted Hillary Clinton to win may have been behind the investigations 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 and they have pended two pages to the bottom of his intelligence.

MYERS: I believe it said he did brief him on it.

CONWAY: He has said that he is not aware of that.


MURRAY: Now, my colleagues, including Evan Perez, who you just heard from, have said that this information was presented to Donald Trump in his intelligence briefing last week.

However, it was unclear if the information was discussed. You can bet it is going to be discussed in his press conference today, as well as a number of other issues, including how he's going to disentangle himself from his business -- Chris, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right. Thank you, Sara.

There's a lot to discuss. We want to bring back CNN's Evan Perez. He's our CNN political analyst. As well as Carl Bernstein, our political analyst; CNN senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward, who joins us from Moscow.

Carl and Evan worked alongside CNN colleagues Jim Sciutto and Jake Tapper to break this story yesterday. It's great to have all of you here so that we get the real information, and we can go directly to the source.

Carl, let me start with you. This is highly explosive stuff, as we were talking about, so we're going to proceed cautiously. What do we know for sure?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Let me start by saying, in response to something Kellyanne said there. This is real news. That when Kellyanne, for instance, leaks information to us, she thinks it's real news. This is not leaks. This is about digging, getting information that says that the top intelligence officials of the United States convened this underlying information, allegations about, unproven, Donald Trump and his business ties in Russia and the fact that he might be compromised. We don't know that he has been.

But this dossier of information, that there is enough in it that deserves investigation, though investigation, at the highest-most chiefs of intelligence and the FBI in the United States have gone to the president-elect and president of the United States and said this must be investigated, as well as to the top committees of Congress that supervise intelligence and oversee intelligence gathering in the country and the leadership of the Congress.

CUOMO: Now, Evan, one of the...

BERNSTEIN: That's news.

CUOMO: Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: Any way you like it.

BERNSTEIN: Not leaks.

CUOMO: What it leads to. Big news is something that doesn't exist, that's used to propel an agenda. Here, you know you have documents. You know you had the intel officials interested in it. So let's put that to the side.

Evan, one of the questions becomes why were those documents put in there? We do not know. Our understanding is -- correct me if I'm wrong -- whether or not those intel officials discussed with the president-elect the substance of these allegations

but including them in this appendix. Could that have been a little bit of a message to Trump that "We know what you did to us. There's plenty to talk about with you, as well"?

PEREZ: I think the back story here is -- is, you know, the fact that, after being so critical of the intelligence community, I think the intelligence community is telling the incoming president that, look, we -- we've got this information. You've seen this information. We haven't verified it, but it is something that we are looking into.

And it is also important to remember that, just a few weeks ago, Donald Trump did an interview in which he said that the director of the FBI, James Comey, was essentially going to have to sing for his supper, was going to have to audition to keep his job.

Now, that's not the way the law works. The FBI director transcends, is supposed to stay on past administrations beyond the administration that he's serving right now. He's still got about seven years left on his term. So you can only fire him for cause, and I think what is happening right now is that now, you know, it's become impossible, frankly, for Donald Trump to get rid of this FBI director who he's been very critical of, because now this FBI director is overseeing an investigation that touches on Donald Trump and his campaign and people around him.

So it is one of those things that I think makes things a little bit more complicated for the incoming president, and this is not going to go away, obviously.

CAMEROTA: Clarissa, you are in Moscow. The Kremlin and Vladimir Putin have denied that they have any compromising information on Donald Trump.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They have. They denied everything about this report and using a lot of the same language that we have heard them use since hacking allegations first emerged back in October.

Today, we heard from the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, on the subject of the report. He called it, quote, "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, then, to address the allegations that kompromat had been collected against Donald Trump. Kompromat is a Russian word and a Russian tactic that has been used for decades by the KGB, now FSB. It involves collecting compromising information on people, which can then be used for blackmail purposes.

He said, quote, "No, the Kremlin does not have kompromat on Trump. The information does not correspond to reality, and it is complete fiction." And a very similar thing he said also with regards to allegations that said kompromat was also collected on Hillary Clinton. He said, "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 interests of the Russian federation and the Russian people and for the world in the interests of stability and security." Again, this is their story. They're sticking to it. And it is the

same story they have been sticking to now for several months.

CUOMO: And Carl, of course, it's completely not believable on one level. Bot specific to these allegations, but this is what Russia does.

BERNSTEIN: The notion that they don't try to spring traps on visitors and photograph them doing things and set them up, that's ridiculous, of course.

But let's be fair to Donald Trump here. These are unproven allegations. But at the same time, we do know that Trump has had problems with all these conflicts and interests involving these businesses that we know nothing about, these loans that we know nothing about who they're secured by, et cetera, et cetera. And that's one of the things that the Congress of the United States now appears, both Republicans and Democrats, determined to get to in these coming investigations that we're going to see, both on Capitol Hill as a result of this information, and those by the intelligence agencies.

[07:10:08] It's very significant how this information came about. It was developed by primarily a former MI-6 British intelligence -- former British intelligence agent who was hired by opponents of Donald Trump, both Republican and Democrat, during the primaries and during the presidential campaign to cause a political opposition firm in Washington to come up with some information about these business relationships. They wanted to know more.

The MI-6 guy went to his sources in Russia who the FBI considers credible from past reports. They consider this former MI-6 operative very, very capable. He's got a good reputation. And he came up with this information, and that is now the basis of what is going to be investigated.

CAMEROTA: Carl, Evan, Clarissa, thank you very much for all of your reporting. We will obviously have much more on this throughout the program.

CUOMO: All right. Which should have been the headline before this reporting last night was this emotionally-charged speech from President Obama. He bid farewell to all of you from his hometown of Chicago. One message he made clear to Americans: fight any challenges to our democracy.

CNN's Michelle Kosinski live in Chicago with more -- Michelle.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there was a lot in there. I mean, this was a challenge. There was a cautionary tale. There was definitely optimism and engagement as part of the theme here. But it's felt very much like the president wanting to sit America down and have a talk with it, flat out warning the country about a list of things that he carefully laid out that he sees as threats. Not just to unity but serious threats 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: The speech caused social media to light up with comments like why didn't President Obama speak as bluntly about some of these things during the campaign and to answer that trending Twitter hashtag, #whereisSasha, as in where was Sasha Obama. You know, she wasn't there with her family. The White House says that she has a big exam at school this morning she had to study for -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: That is some dedication to schoolwork right there.

CUOMO: Priorities.

CAMEROTA: Priorities. Yes, there you go. Thank you very much, Michelle.

So up next, more on President Obama's farewell. He issued some warnings. A former Obama advisor joins us next.


[07:18:51] CUOMO: President Obama bidding farewell to the fashion in an emotional speech in Chicago, the city, of course, that launched his political career. Obama addressing a cornerstone of our democracy. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The peaceful transfer of power from one freely-elected president to the next. I committed to President-elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me.


CUOMO: Joining us now, CNN political commentator and former senior advisor to President Obama, Dan Pfeiffer.

Dan, you seem very moved by what you heard last night. You said it reminded you of the promise and the man who brought you into this all those years ago when he wasn't even a senator yet. 2004 at his convention speech. How so?

DAN PFEIFFER, FORMER OBAMA ADVISOR: Well, look, I mean, this is an incredibly emotional experience for so many of us. Ten years ago this week I walked into the Obama campaign office to work for him, and what was so moving to me in this was the direct connective tissue between what he said in that '04 convention speech, in the heady days of the '08 campaign and then here on the last day and still filled with hope, optimism, and a belief that ordinary people can change their country if they just work at it.

CUOMO: What does it mean to you that, as he's giving his farewell address, this reporting comes out about these documents that the intel community put in an appendix in their report to the president and to the president-elect about these allegations that Russia may have compromising information about Donald Trump.

How do you see that contrast of what this message is on his way out and these allegations of the man on the way in?

PFEIFFER: Well, look, this is deeply concerning. It should not be deeply concerning to Democrats and Republicans but to the entire country. And we need to get to the bottom of this.

I think, you know, what is very harmful and worrisome for President- elect Trump is this is the moment -- and this must be the honeymoon period. We're supposed to be able to build your administration, have good will from, you know, all over the country. You know, President Obama had a 78 percent approval rating when he was inaugurated. I think this new polling out today has Trump at 37 percent. This could be very hobbling. And I think what's important is for everyone to have confidence in the president-elect in our democracy. We have to get to the bottom of what happened here and what it all means.

CUOMO: Here's the problem. You were a senior advisor. You know how the White House works. You know the control that the White House has over all of the agencies, even the intel agencies to a certain degree. These are allegations. Now, politicians can say, and Trump's tweeting this morning it's all fake, it's all fake.

It's not fake. The documents are real. The allegations, as of yet, unsubstantiated. But not fate.

But what is your confidence in the ability of the administration to have this fully investigated while they're in power. You know, government doesn't investigate that well.

PFEIFFER: I'm very concerned about it. Because you know, if the government cannot investigate -- administration cannot investigate itself. The -- it should be up to Congress to do it. The Republican Congress have shown very little willingness to play a traditional oversight role.

And, you know, there's -- given some of the people that Trump has put in power, there's a lot of worry that the normal, that they will, you know, squash dissent within the government. There are career employees who are in the intelligence agencies who were there when President Obama came in, who were there will President Trump, will be there with the next one. But will they have the ability to raise their concerns.

And what I think is really worrisome is that Trump seems not at all concerned about the idea of Russian meddling. Beyond just these specific allegations, does not seem to -- he seems to dismiss it, even though it should be incredibly concerning that a foreign power tried to intervene in our election for whatever reason they tried to do it. That is something that should be looked at. He's been very dismissive of that. I hope that changes in the coming days and weeks as he loses power.

CUOMO: Troubling combination of events. The president-elect going out of his way to shelter Russia from direct responsibility for what seems so clear about the hacks during the election to the intelligence community. And now this.

There is another layer of politics to it, which is why now? Why did these intel guys put this in there now? If Comey had these documents, is there a little bit of politics being played here by the outgoing administration and their people, leaving this out there so that it must be dealt with.

PFEIFFER: I don't believe so. I don't know the -- how these documents came out. I suspect you have, you know, some of the best reporters here at CNN, like Evan Perez and Jake Tapper and Jim Sciutto, you know, have found a way to get these out. It wasn't like they were handed out to every reporter in town.

It was the product of tremendous reporting and digging. And I think that there -- I'm guessing here, but there is a lot of concern not within the Obama White House but within the bowels of the intelligence community about what all of this means and want to put some pressure on the incoming administration, actually take some steps here to get to the bottom and deal with the overall problem of Russian intervention in our elections and in the world, generally.

CUOMO: It reintroduces what somebody keeps saying was priced in in the vote for Trump originally, which is what are his building holdings? What is in his taxes? What does it show or prove is not true about any connection to Russia? That's going to be big today in the presser.

Dan Pfeiffer, thank you very much for your perspective on the news of the day and on Obama's farewell address. Appreciate it -- Alisyn.

PFEIFFER: Thank you, Chris.

CAMEROTA: Chris, it is day two of confirmation hearings for the Trump cabinet nominees. Secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson will be up first this morning. How will the former oil exec address his topic to Vladimir Putin? We take a closer look, next.


[07:28:45] CUOMO: So in about 90 minutes, senators are expected to grill one of Donald Trump's most controversial cabinet picks. Secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson. That's when his confirmation hearing begins.

Tillerson spent more than ten years as the CEO of Exxon Mobil and was once awarded one of Russia's most coveted prizes.

CNN's Jim Sciutto has more on who the man is.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He was the man of the hour in Moscow. ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson shaking hands with then- Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin on a multibillion-dollar oil deal in 2012.

Now with Russia and the U.S. locked in a growing new cold war, Tillerson is Donald Trump's choice for America's top diplomat. Tillerson's close relationship with a growing U.S. adversary blamed for the unprecedented cyberattack on the 2016 election is causing alarm in both parties.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: Our company has invested a lot of money in Russia.

SCIUTTO: Tillerson has spent some four decades in Exxon rising through the ranks from engineer to CEO, in part by steering the company's Russia account to hundreds of millions of dollars in profits.

JOHN HAMRE, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Rex took ExxonMobil to Russia, and they struck a deal that was good for both sides. I think he's a tough negotiator.

SCIUTTO: By 2013 Vladimir Putin rewarded Tillerson Russia's Order of Friendship, one of its highest honors for a foreigner.

TILLERSON: My relationship with Vladimir Putin, which dates back almost 15 years now.