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Trump Aides in Constant Touch with Senior Russian Officials; Interview with John Negroponte; Interview with Representative Adam Schiff; Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired February 15, 2017 - 07:30   ET



[07:32:20] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet with his Russian counterpart at the G-20 meetings tomorrow. This comes as multiple sources tell CNN that several high level advisors to the president repeatedly made contact with senior Russian intelligence officials during Mr. Trump's presidential campaign.

Let's discuss this senior congressional correspondent for the "Washington Examiner" and host of the podcast "Examining Politics," David Drucker. CNN senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward, and CNN national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

Jim, let me start with you. If you could just share with us the headline from your new reporting that it was more than just General Flynn speaking with Russian operatives and more than just once.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The senior most Trump advisors, close proximity to the president, were in repeated, constant communication with Russian officials and other Russian nationals known to U.S. intelligence, this was during the campaign. We have this for multiple U.S. -- current and former U.S. law enforcement intelligence and administration officials and as well that president-elect -- then President-elect Trump and President Obama were briefed on these communications in January during the transition period.

So important enough to bring it up to the president and president- elect at that time, and then just bigger picture, you know, this is not happening in the vacuum. These communications were happening in the midst of an unprecedented Russian cyberattack on U.S. political organizations during the election. U.S. investigators have not established the intent of these repeated constant communications. But it then raises the questions why.

Why is the Trump campaign speaking to the Russians in the midst of this attack? Were they appropriate? Why were they doing it? Did they have direction from higher up? These are crucial questions still need to be answered.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Jim, thank you very much.

David, the president as we know watches NEW DAY. We appreciate that viewership. He does not want to talk to us but he does want to talk about us and yet this situation is different. He has said nothing to rebut the facts of this situation. The same question comes up in Jim's reporting and in the overall situation with Flynn's resignation. Who knew? The idea that Flynn had to resign because he was soloing with this unique agenda with Russia that nobody else knew about, nobody had told him to do and nobody participated in, is hard to believe and goes without good answer from the White House. Your take?

DAVID DRUCKER, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, what's interesting, Chris, is that the White House can't even get its story straight internally. I mean, to me the biggest piece news out of this from a political standpoint is that Vice President Mike pence didn't even know about this for a couple of weeks and he's the guy that had to go on TV and vouch for Mike Flynn.

[07:35:05] But the root of the poisonous fruit here and the reason that I think everybody is so rightfully focused on this is that the president has been a Putin apologist from day one of his presidential campaign. Completely contradicting almost every high-level Republican in his party. In fact it's the one area where in my conversations with Republicans over the last 48 hours on Russia policy they don't want to be outright rude in how they chastise the president but they don't want to give when it comes to Russia policy and roll over, and so I think he's going to eventually end up against a brick wall here, but I think that what he needs to do if the administration is going to get itself on proper footing is answer once and for all and sort of a clear way as to what happened, why it happened.

And I think the president might be able to fix this a little by getting tough with Russia who is still provoking us and is testing the new president.

CAMEROTA: Clarissa, that brings us to you. You have spent considerable time reporting in Moscow, and Russia, and there has been a feeling during President Trump's campaign and now that he's in the office that he has somehow used kid gloves when dealing with Russia. Certainly his rhetoric has seemed more mild than his predecessor's. Yesterday Sean Spicer, his press secretary, had a totally different take on President Trump's relationship with Russia. Let me play this for you.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The irony of this entire situation is that the president has been incredibly tough on Russia. He continues to raise the issue of Crimea which the previous administration allowed to be seized by Russia.


CAMEROTA: So, Clarissa, is that the impression in Russia or in Europe that he's been incredibly tough on Russia?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, I think everyone can agree that President Trump himself has not yet been tough on Russia in any way, shape or form, but at the same time if you're sitting in the Kremlin right now think of how things are moving along. The honeymoon period appears to be over. We're hearing the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley talking about Russia in very strong terms, raising the question of Crimea. So there's that sense.

And then of course we have the resignation of Michael Flynn, which he was absolutely seen by the Kremlin as being one of the closest allies that the Kremlin had in the Trump administration so there's definitely likely to be some concern within the Kremlin that the tide is somehow turning and when that happens it's very common to see Russia lashing out and Russia testing. They want to see what kind of a president President Trump really is going to be.

And you heard it from David there, this idea that maybe Trump now does need to show that he is tough on Russia to somehow fend off some of this heat. That could explain why we're seeing things like the deployment of the cruise missile which appears to be in violation of the INF Treaty, of course Russia saying it's a not a violation of any treaty.

But I can assure you when Defense Secretary James Mattis meets with his NATO counterparts today in Brussels he will be facing some very tough questions and some real anxieties from NATO allies that the U.S. is going to back them up, that the U.S. is going to put their money where their mouth is and come up with a firm response to Russia. And Russia of course will be watching that very closely, too, to see what that response is.

CUOMO: It is interesting. No response from the White House to the missile launch, to the spy shipping over the course of Delaware, and even brighter in the light of this new emphasis on strength, and saying strong things when the moment demands, nothing in the face of these provocations.

Jimmy, what is your concern about leaks? The White House is trying to make that the story here. There are always leaks. The question for us is always whether or not we're getting good information or intentionally disparaging information and we have to vet it. Is this any different?

SCIUTTO: Well, two points on that. First I would just say the White House has not responded to our reporting at all regarding these repeated contacts. We attempted last night. We've attempted again this morning. There is no response. The president has press conference today. We hope he is asked about it at that press conference.

As far as leaks are concerned, listen, leaks have happened in every administration, right, going back 100 years or longer. So, you know, that's not new. Does it raise potential issues going forward? Possibly about what information is coming out. But the fact is, that's not new, so once you're starting to attack the leaks and not addressing the actual substance of the questions and the issues raised in the reporting, you know, that's diversion. There are legitimate questions here that have not been answered.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much.

CUOMO: All right. So once again we are seeing in real time President Trump versus the intelligence community. How unusual is this situation between this administration and Russia for intelligence agencies?

Up next we're going to ask the former director of National Intelligence.


[07:43:24] CUOMO: President Trump taking over the intelligence community again over his ousted National Security adviser Michael Flynn in a tweet moments ago, saying, quote, "Information is being illegally given to the failing 'New York Times' and 'Washington Post' by the intelligence community, NSA and FBI? Just like Russia."

Let's discuss with the former director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte. He was also ambassador to Mexico, Iraq and the U.N. Excuse me.

Good to have you with us.


CUOMO: So let's start with what the president just put out. He does not respond in any way to rebut the facts. He has not done that today. He is just attacking the media once again and now it seems attacking his own intelligence community again likening them to the Kremlin and what Putin does. What do you make of that?

NEGROPONTE: No, I think that may be drawing a rather extreme conclusion. He mentions those two possibilities, either law enforcement or intelligence. I rather agree that the handling of classified information has gotten to a point where people are giving out top secret information to -- without any compunction, and I think that's a problem and I think it's got to be brought under control where this government is hemorrhaging classified information. It's been doing that for a number of years now. And it's something I hope the new administration gets under control.

But there are two other concurrent issues at the same time here. One is what happened in the relationship with Russia both during the campaign and now. And that's under investigation. And then of course no one has mentioned during the course of your program this morning the challenge of continuing to build up a new government where without a National Security adviser and that's an extraordinary situation to be in after the government has been barely in office for three weeks.

[07:45:13] CUOMO: Well, you got Kellogg in there but you're right. There's a lack of continuity but let's talk about what your take is on some of the dynamics that are before us right now because really the fascination with just following the facts, the idea that Mike Flynn was a soloist and he had his own agenda with Russia, and was conducting his own communications that no one directed, no one knew about, and even once they found out weeks go by and they knew nothing about what they found out about Flynn's investigation. Does that make sense to you?

NEGROPONTE: Well, I understand the nature of your question and I think the investigative trail is obviously going to have to ask those questions and bring some clarity to it, but I'm not sure I want to try and second guess the outcome there. It is unusual. There's absolutely no doubt about it but we've got huge problems. The diplomatic train is leaving the station. Mr. Tillerson is going to Europe. He's going to be meeting with the G-20 in the next days. General Mattis is now headed out to meet with NATO. There's very important national security business of this country that got to be conducted in so I think the situation has got to calm down. I think the president has got to say, well, look --

CUOMO: What does that mean, though, John, in terms of calm down? Do you think that we should stop looking into what happened here?

NEGROPONTE: No, I don't think --

CUOMO: And apparent fake answers from the White House? It's a real question.

NEGROPONTE: No, sir. No, sir. I think that the president should say look, this matter is being investigated and let the chips fall where they may but we've got to get on with our business. That's what I'd say if I were the president.

CUOMO: So you're saying in terms of how they conduct themselves. And that's fine. Fine. I'm sure that would be noted. The president often watches the show. Maybe he'll take your advice, maybe he won't. We'll see. But in terms of the facts of this and what deserves answers for the American people because this all goes to the trust of the White House with the people that it is empowered by and the idea that Sean Spicer, the press secretary says, I don't know of anything that would make me believe that anyone from the Trump campaign was in communications with anyone from Russia, you now have multiple sources from multiple different outlets saying exactly that was going on and the word constantly was used. How could he not know that?

NEGROPONTE: Well, again I think you're trying to -- you're sort of leading the investigation here if you will and asking questions that obviously ought to be being asked by the people who are looking into the matter, but again we're at an early stage of trying to discover the facts of the case. So far we know that Mr. Flynn has had contacts and we know that Mr. Manafort had contacts, and oh by the way, both of those people are no longer involved with the administration, so I just don't know what to say to the questions that want to in a way second guess the ultimate outcome of where this is all going to lead.

But I, like you, look forward to seeing what facts are unearthed and to come back to your original question, the idea of this is part of Mr. Trump's war on the intelligence community, I don't agree with that. I think his relationships with the intelligence community may have improved now that he's got people in place at the CIA, he's taking his briefing, and he's coming to grips with the problems of governance.

CUOMO: Right.

NEGROPONTE: So I wouldn't paint it as a struggle between him and the intel community.

CUOMO: Good. And we do hear that Mike Pompeo is very well received at the CIA.


CUOMO: People say he is doing things the right way, he's getting quick confidence from the men and women there.

Last question, the idea that you had the DOJ acting head come to the White House counsel and tell him hey, we think you should know, this is what happened on these Flynn calls, and here are our concerns. In your experience, what happens next?

NEGROPONTE: Well, I mean, people have to react to that and like you I'm surprised that it took as much time as it did. Several weeks went by but ultimately the situation developed as some kind of outcome and Mr. Flynn has resigned. I like you share a bit of surprise that action wasn't taken earlier.

CUOMO: All right. John Negroponte, your point is noted that there are very important machinations of government going on with respect to diplomacy and national security. And the president needs to keep his eye on that.

John Negroponte, thank you very much. Always a pleasure.

NEGROPONTE: Thank you.

CUOMO: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Chris, Democrats in Congress are pushing for a full investigation into the ties between President Trump's campaign advisers and Russia. So we will speak with the lawmaker leading the charge.


[07:53:32] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. intelligence sources tell CNN that top advisers to President Trump repeatedly had contact with Russian intelligence operatives during the presidential campaign. Democrats in Congress now calling for a full investigation.

Joining us now is Congressman Adam Schiff. He is the ranking Democrat on the House Intel Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for being here.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Good to be with you.

CAMEROTA: Michael Flynn has resigned. What do you want to see happen now? SCHIFF: Well, we have to investigate just the allegations that you're

talking about and others as well. Really a core part of the House Intelligence Committee investigation has to be any Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, any contact with U.S. persons, anyone, frankly, that was assisting Russia's illegal activities in the United States during that campaign. So I think that has to be one of the front and center issues that we look at.

We also need to look at what took place after the campaign and Flynn's contacts with the Russian ambassador. There's still a lot of unanswered questions. And the most significant of which, of course, was Flynn acting as some kind of solo or rogue agent in these conversations with the Russian ambassador, or was he charged to do so and raised this topic and essentially tell them not to respond to U.S. sanctions, that the Trump administration would take care of it? Was he conveying that message on behalf of others in the administration including the president.

CAMEROTA: Well, look, your colleague -- your Republican colleague, Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who would help in launching any sort of investigation, has said the Flynn situation has handled itself. He's resigned, nothing more to learn.

[07:55:09] SCHIFF: Well, I hope that's not going to be the view on the Intelligence Committee. This may be a direction coming from the speaker, though. The speaker was asked about this yesterday, and he refused to commit to investigating Flynn's contact with the Russian ambassador. That is deeply concerning.

The speaker either needs to authorize these committees, in particular the House Intelligence Committee, to investigate this, or he needs to allow an independent commission to be formed and get out of the way. But this is going to have to be investigated. The House cannot abdicate its responsibility and the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee are going to be pushing to investigate exactly this.

CAMEROTA: Well, look, the Republicans that we've spoken to thus far think that this is not the real story, that the real story, the real troubling story is not that perhaps Michael Flynn did have conversations with the Russian ambassador perhaps about sanctions, but that there is someone or many people in the intelligence community leaking.

Here is Congressman Steve King whom we just interviewed this morning. Listen.


REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: What's most important here is the leaks that are coming out of the intelligence community that appear to be designed to politically assassinate some of the members of the Trump administration or at least weaken the Trump administration. And if you cannot trust the intelligence community to maintain classified information that's protected by law and facing with a potential 10- year sentence in the federal penitentiary, you've got to do something to clean up the intelligence community. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Congressman, does he have a point that classified info being leaked is the danger?

SCHIFF: Look, I don't support an investigation by leak. I didn't like it when the Clinton investigation was conducted that way and I don't think this investigation should be conducted that way either. At the same time, I think this is a distraction, a sideshow, it's a GOP effort, frankly, to put the leak issue front and center and ignore potential illegality in the White House.

It's much less threatening to them, they don't have to contradict the president. They can still push for their tax cuts and all their jimmies without having to worry about where the evidence trail leads. But that's not going to fly. The real gravamen of the issue here is, were there Trump campaign people colluding in that election, in the hacking of Democratic institutions and the publishing of information and what was the course of events after the election? What were the Trump contacts with Russia? Were they undermining U.S. policy?

And all this, of course, is in the context of Russia now ginning up military activity in eastern Ukraine, violating the missile treaty. And --


SCHIFF: And this issue of dealing with Russia couldn't be more important.

CAMEROTA: Congressman, is this going to be easy to answer? The questions that you have, can't you get your hands on the transcripts from the FBI or the intel community, whoever had the intercepts, can Congress and lawmakers actually read those?

SCHIFF: Yes, we should be able to, and we are requesting those transcripts or any recordings or any other communications. Sean Spicer said that Flynn also texted the Russian ambassador. So we should obtain all those communications.

We have already insisted that there be a preservation order for any evidence related to the Russia issue. But yes, not only I think should we get those materials and I would hope that our next gang of eight meeting we would have access to them, but also I think ultimately I'd like to see those published because the American people were misled by the Trump administration about these conversations, and I think they have the right to know exactly what was said.

CAMEROTA: So -- so once you get those transcript, I mean, do you need an investigation to be able to get your hands on those? And once you get those, let's say there were contacts that you aren't comfortable with, and there was discussion of easing sanctions. Then what?

SCHIFF: Well, first of all, we should be able to get these transcripts as a part of our oversight responsibilities, and in addition to our investigative responsibilities. If those transcripts show evidence of illegality by Flynn or others, that's something the FBI ought to be investigating and pursuing. And if there are other issues, if there are other actors within the White House that are undermining U.S. policy or acting at odds with our U.S. national security interests, they should be confronted with that.

That may or may not be a criminal issue. But nonetheless, I think Democrats and Republicans feel very strongly that Russia is a bad actor. They're taking down democratic institutions not only in their own country but in Europe and attempted to do so here in the United States. So I think there's strong bipartisan support to make sure that there aren't any nefarious connections between this administration and Russian officials.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Adam Schiff, please keep us posted on what you learn when you can. Thank you for being on NEW DAY.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: We're following a lot of news this morning so let's right to it.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. We begin with breaking news. Another crisis for the Trump White House.