Return to Transcripts main page


Russia May Have Compromising Information about Donald Trump; Lawmakers to Grill Tillerson Over Ties to Russia; Interview with Congressman Mike McCaul of Texas. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 11, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Let's begin our coverage with CNN Justice Correspondent Evan Perez live in Washington. Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Chris, classified documents on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election presented last week to President Obama and president-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump. These allegations were part of a two- page synopsis based on memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative whose work U.S. intelligence officials considerable credible.

The FBI is 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 essentially details in a memos about Mr. Trump.

The two-page synopsis also included allegations that there was continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government according to national security officials. Now, the senior intelligence officials included the summary in part to make the president-elect aware that these allegations involving him were circulating among intelligence agencies, senior members of Congress, and other officials here in Washington. Officials tell CNN they included the information to demonstrate that Russia had compiled information potentially harmful to both political parties but had only released information damaging to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

The summary was not an official part of the report from the intelligence community about the Russian hacks, but some officials said that it added to the evidence that Moscow intended to harm Clinton's candidacy and to help Trump.

A spokesperson for Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, says it's all fake. He says, quote, "The Kremlin does not have compromising information on Mr. Trump," and he called it an obvious attempt to harm our bilateral relations. Alisyn and Chris?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Evan, thank you very much for that.

President-elect Donald Trump is responding now with a series of tweets in just the past hour, all of this as we await the president-elect's first news conference since the election. CNN's Sara Murray is live from Trump Tower in New York with the latest. What are your learning, Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. Well, Donald Trump is pushing back forcefully on Twitter this morning. I'll just going to read you a selection of his series of tweets responding to this story about Russia. Donald Trump says "Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to, quote, "leak into the public." One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi, Germany?"

Now, he went on to say that Russia has never tried to use leverage over him. He said "Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I have nothing to do with Russia, no deals, no loans, no nothing." And Donald Trump's key advisers also pushing back on this report. I want you to listen to what Kellyanne Conway had to say about it today.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: That cannot be verified. That's a classified briefing. And we should all be increasingly confirmed that we have, quote, "intelligence officials," divulging information in an un-sourced, unnamed fashion to the rest of us. Nobody is allowed to talk about what occurs in these intelligence briefings. Just to smear the president-elect of the United States we now have intelligence officials divulging information that they are sworn not to divulge. We should all be very concerned about that. I don't even think this is fake news. I think it's just fake. I would take the "news" word right out of it."


MURRAY: So what we're seeing from Donald Trump and his advisers this morning is pushback against the intelligence community, but also taking issue with these underlying allegations that CNN has not independently corroborated, that we have not been reporting. And Reince Priebus, Donald Trump's chief of staff, said that he asked Donald Trump directly, he said this on television this morning, that he asked Donald Trump directly about some of these underlying allegations. Donald Trump apparently told him they were complete garbage but in more colorful language. You can bet that this is going to come up at the press conference today, as well as a host of other issues about Donald Trump's business ties and of course the Russian cyber hacking as it dealt with the election. Back to you, Chris and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Sara, thank you for all of that. There's a lot to discuss, so let's bring back Evan Perez. We also want to bring in CNN political analyst Carl Bernstein along with CNN senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward who is in Moscow. Carl and Evan worked together on this report alongside our CNN colleagues Jim Sciutto and Jake Tapper. So Carl, let me begin with you. You heard Kellyanne Conway there basically saying this was leaked by the intelligence communities, this classified information shouldn't be out there.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Our sources for this information originally were not the intelligence community. In terms of the underlying documents and the underlying story about all this, which I began working on a good while ago as did others at CNN, no, the intelligence community was not the original source of this information.

This is part of a counter narrative that the Trump campaign and the Trump Organization would like us to believe. Look, this information may be true, may not be true. In fairness to Donald Trump, we have to say it's unproven allegations from foreign intelligence sources, originates with Russians, over to an American former -- British former intelligence agent. It's a long trail.

[08:05:15] But there is enough in there that the chiefs of America's intelligence agencies believe, and that includes the FBI, believe that it needs investigating. So do senior members of Congress. And I would think that it would be in the interest, I would hope, of the country and the Trump people as well and the president-elect to say that this information, there's nothing to it. Go ahead, let's find out what's there, and we'll get on with things. But to just dismiss this as leaks is patently false.

CUOMO: Look, it's noteworthy that someone who disagrees with Kellyanne is Reince Priebus. He said this morning, by the way, this isn't from our intel community. And he happens to be right, right? It wasn't originally developed by the intel community, but they wound up coopting and using it for their own purposes and putting it in the appendix.

Let's skip over to Moscow. Clarissa Ward, very interesting here in our political dynamic to shelter Russia from responsibility about the hacks, which the intel community as you know is very clear on, Donald Trump tweeted about Julian Assange's denial. Now he is citing Russia as a source for the reason that American people shouldn't believe this and he says Russia says it's not true. And I'm sure you've picked up in your reporting of the Russian response the similarities in language Trump is using, calling it a witch hunt, that's the same thing the Russian authorities are calling it.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's pretty extraordinary, Chris. Essentially what we're seeing here is president-elect Donald Trump directly quoting the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, who told reporters this morning that this entire report is a witch hunt. He described it, quote, "as 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."

Peskov also went on to address the allegations that Russia had been collecting "kompromat" on Donald Trump. Kompromat, just to explain to our viewers who will become very familiar with this term over the coming days, is an age-old or decades-old technique that the Russian KGB and now FSB has used, which essentially is about collecting compromising information on potentially powerful people that could be used ostensibly for blackmail purposes. Peskov said no, the Kremlin does not have kompromat on Trump. The information does not correspond to reality. It is complete fiction. And with regards to whether the Russians have kompromat on Hillary

Clinton, he said something very similar. "We have no kompromat on Clinton. The Kremlin does not collect kompromat. The Kremlin and the Russian president tried to rebuild relationships with our foreign partners in the interest of the Russian Federation and for the Russian people and for the world in the interest of stability and security."

All of this, Chris, very similar language to what we have been hearing over and over again from the Kremlin since the allegations of hacking emerged months and months ago. As far as the Kremlin is concerned, there is more than enough plausible deniability. This is their story and they're sticking to it.

CAMEROTA: So Evan, now that we know from your reporting and Carl's, among our other colleagues, that this information was included in the briefing from the intelligence community to Donald Trump and to President Obama, now what? Now where does the investigation go?

PEREZ: Actually, it's very important for us to underscore that, Alisyn. In all the tweets that the president-elect has sent out, none of them said that he did not receive this information in the documents that were provided by the intelligence community. It's a very important thing because he's mentioned all these other things, but he has not yet taken on the central premise of the story that we wrote yesterday and that we've been airing since yesterday. So we know it's true and he has not yet addressed that.

What happens now is that simply the FBI and the intelligence community are still taking a look at this stuff. They know that it's out there and they know it's important enough for them to get to the bottom of this because we've never had a president take office with this cloud, frankly, over him.

Again, we're not saying it's true. We're not saying these allegations are true or that they have been proved. As a matter of fact, there's still a lot of work to be done here to get to the bottom of it. But we know that they just cannot be dismissed. And we know that the FBI is going to spend a lot of time looking not only at these allegations but they've been looking at a broader set of facts including possible contacts, communications between people who were associated with the Trump campaign surrogates, and people associated with the Kremlin.

[08:10:04] So this is going to be a lot of work that the FBI is going to spend time trying to get to the bottom of as well as the intelligence agencies.

CUOMO: We asked Kellyanne, Reince Priebus, anybody in the incoming administration to come on the show. The president-elect also welcome always on NEW DAY to make their case. They denied and declined those invitations.

Now, Carl, to what extent is it true that the speculation about what the connection is potentially between Trump and Russia that could compromise him is of his own doing, his sheltering of Russia from obvious responsibility according to the intel community for the hacks, his desire to not disclose business interests, not disclose taxes? BERNSTEIN: Look, obviously there's this whole underlying question of

conflict of interest. Myself and others have talked about it, his business investments in Russia, around Russia, partnerships with Russians, debt that might be incurred to Russiasn, et cetera, et cetera. That is part of the story. There are a couple of stories probably coming together here.

And also, let's be fair to Donald Trump that this is why these things are going to be investigated, to see if there's anything there, by the Congress of the United States inevitably, as well as by the intelligence agencies.

But more important, the president-elect in that latest tweet seemed to indicate that this was going to be a fight with the intelligence community. If you look at that tweet, he kind of declared war on the intelligence agencies. Well, that is an extraordinary situation because one of the things the outgoing intelligence chiefs, and some of them are not all outgoing, have done is to lay down a marker for the incoming president and for an ongoing investigation that is going to be almost impossible and very difficult for him to thwart. He can't stop this process unless he does something that is liable to produce a very, very troubling political reaction.

CAMEROTA: Carl, Clarissa, Evan, thank you very much for all of the reporting. We'll continue to cover it.

CUOMO: This questions are going to play into another dynamic this morning, which is the secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearing. He has his own connections to Russia to speak to when his hearing begins in just minutes. We have a live report from Capitol Hill next.


[08:15:32] CAMEROTA: One of Donald Trump's most controversial cabinet picks, Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson will be in the confirmation hot seat just minutes from now.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is live on Capitol Hill with more.

What are we expecting, Sunlen?


Well, Rex Tillerson was certainly expecting to face a lot of tough questions on Russia today. But this new intel certainly adding more fuel to the fire.

According to prepared remarks that he'll deliver in front of the committee in just under an hour, he will be making a sharp departure from the rhetoric we're hearing from President-elect Donald Trump. Tillerson today will label Russia a danger.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SERFATY (voice-over): Former ExxonMobil CEO and secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson, facing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today. Tillerson is likely to address his 17-year relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the millionaire's opening statement released to CNN, Tillerson will say the U.S. government must be, quote, "clear-eyed about a relationship with Russia", that the country "poses a danger" and "must be held to account for its actions."

This as attorney general nominee, Senator Jeff Sessions, faces day two of an already contentious confirmation hearing.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: This is one of the more consequential appointments in American history right now.

SERFATY: In an unprecedented move, fellow Senator Corey Booker will testify against Sessions.

On Tuesday, multiple protests broke out against the Alabama senator over old allegations of racism which Sessions addressed head on and strongly denied.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL), ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: As a Southerner, who actually saw discrimination and have no doubt it existed in a systematic and powerful and negative way, I know that was wrong. I know we need to do better.

SERFATY: Sessions also breaking away from some of the president- elect's controversial statements, including Trump's campaign call for a ban on all Muslims entering the U.S.

SESSIONS: I have no belief and do not support the idea that Muslims as a religious group should be denied admission to the United States.

SERFATY: And Trump's vow to bring back waterboarding.

SESSIONS: Absolutely improper and illegal.

SERFATY: Sessions also pledging to enforce Supreme Court rulings on abortion and same sex marriage despite consistently voting against those issues in the Senate.


SERFATY: Meantime, General John Kelly, who is tapped to lead the Department of Homeland Security, he had a much smoother confirmation hearing up here on Capitol Hill yesterday and is very likely to sail through to confirmation. The same is expected today from the start of the hearing for Elaine Chao to be the next secretary of transportation -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Sunlen, thank you very much

As we've been reporting, President-elect Donald Trump has not directly addressed the allegations or even verified whether or not he knew about this appendix. But in a series of tweets, he's dismissing the matter out of hand as being completely untrue.

Let's discuss with Congressman Mike McCaul. He's the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, also congressman from Texas, which is where Rex Tillerson hails from.

And all these stories kind of coming together. Do you endorse the understanding of the intelligence community that what they have learned about potential compromising information that Russia might have about the president-elect deserves investigation?

REP. MIKE MCCAUL (R-TX), HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, of course, it deserves investigation. I think the FBI, the intelligence community and the Congress will be looking into these allegations.

But let's be sort of clear-eyed about what is in front of us. It has not been verified. It's based on one source. I know in the intelligence community, when you have sourced information, you have to look at the credibility of the source and the information coming in.

There's no factual proof that any of this occurred. If it did -- I've been to Russia myself, I know in the hotel rooms when you visit, that you're under surveillance. So, presumably, if this took place, there will be videotape of this, and I have seen no evidence to confirm this.

CUOMO: Well, as you know from our reporting, the intel community does find the sourcing credible enough that they included it in the appendix to the report to the president-elect.

And do you think that's the right standard to say, show us the video when we're talking about the Russian government and maybe what they have done? Again, it's just an allegation, but the idea of getting that video, that's setting a pretty high bar for legitimacy, aren't you?

[08:20:05] MCCAUL: Well, yes, you're correct in the sense that it was included in the appendix to the briefing, based on one-source information. But I see nothing really to validate that or verify that. I do think, as pointed out, that it does warrant further investigation by not just the FBI and the intelligence community but the Congress itself.

My understanding is the report on the Russian interference in our elections will be made available to the Congress. At this point in time, it's unclear whether the appendix will be.

CUOMO: You just mentioned the intel conclusions about the hacking during the election. As you know, the intelligence community strongly believes that it was Russia. The president-elect strongly disagrees with that, has done so consistently. Raising questions on why he would be so intent on sheltering Russia from responsibility that seems to be known as a consensus among the intelligence communities.

How do you explain that? MCCAUL: Well, I think since the time of his briefing recently, he's

acknowledged it, in fact, happened. I think what he said is it didn't really have any influence on the outcome.

CUOMO: Well, he has never said the intel community is right, I was wrong. Russia is responsible for this. He said Russia, China, South Korea, they all are trying to hack us. It's an issue. His -- people in his transition team say the same thing. They won't say in a simple statement, yes, intel community is right, Russia did it.

How do you explain that?

MCCAUL: Well, my understanding, Chris, and perhaps I'm wrong, is that he has accepted the findings that the Russians attempted to interfere with the elections, but it did not influence the outcome of the election since the time of his briefing.

Now, prior to that time, Chris, I warned both the Obama administration and the incoming administration that this was a nation state attack on our democracy. It turned out to influence the election and it needs to be taken seriously, and I think consequences need to be taken as well. We've seen the bill that Senator McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham have introduced in the Senate to have consequences to this type of behavior if a foreign adversary, foreign government attempts to influence our elections.

CUOMO: Just to be clear, you not only accept the recommendation of the intelligence community that this was Russia and they know that, but you believe that the hacks did influence the election?

MCCAUL: I don't -- no.

CUOMO: I thought you just said that. That's why I'm asking you to clarify.

MCCAUL: No, what I said was that Russia attempted to influence the election, but I think the consensus of the intelligence community is it did not impact the outcome of the elections.

CUOMO: OK. And then, how does all of this come together today when Rex Tillerson gets into the chair of the confirmation hearing. He already has his own pre-existing relationship as a businessman with Russia and there's some speculation about what may have been done with his company's subsidiaries with state sponsors of terrorism.

How do you think this plays out for him?

MCCAUL: Well, of course, this will be vetted at the confirmation hearings. That's why we have those hearings.

I think Rex is sort of unique, out-of-the-box choice in the sense that he's not just some guy that's been in the government for 20, 30 years. He is a guy who has international business ties including Russia, has good relationships with foreign governments which I think can effectuate good foreign policy. I think in the case of Russia, I'd rather have a guy who can engage

with a foreign country rather than somebody who is going to become an immediate adversary. I think the fact he does know Putin can influence and shape that policy. But to your point, Chris, this will obviously be one of the key questions asked of him.

CUOMO: Congressman McCaul, always a pleasure to have you on NEW DAY. Appreciate your perspective on this.

MCCAUL: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: President Obama saying good-bye. How will his time in the White House be remembered? Thoughts on his emotional farewell to the country from our Van Jones, next.



[08:28:16] BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If our democracy is to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around it.


CAMEROTA: It was an emotional night as President Obama gave his farewell speech in the city where it all begun.

Joining us now, CNN political commentator and host of tonight's CNN town hall "The Messy Truth", Van Jones.

Van, great to see you.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's good to see you as always.

CAMEROTA: What were your thoughts on his farewell speech?

JONES: It was emotional. I remember the 2004 speech when he came out, you know, no red states, no blue states and all that. My son was a little bitty burrito-sized baby, you know? Now he's running around playing soccer, writing music and telling me what to do.

A big chunk of our lives has been this Obama era, and to see it come to an end -- and also to see out in the crowd all these faces I remember from the primary in 2008, people haven't seen for five years, six years. We all look a little older, a little bigger.

CAMEROTA: But they all converged there last night.

JONES: All converged. CUOMO: So, he referenced Atticus Finch, "To Kill a Mockingbird.", to

"Go Set a Watchman", the character there as well. The idea of understanding somebody by getting in their skin, contemplating their reality, it is a truism, but was it done well enough by this administration?

JONES: You know, it was -- it's ironic, because one of his superpowers, especially early in his career, that ability to build these bridges to be, you know, he's black, and he's white and he's educated, but he's a community organizer and all these different things.