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Comey: Russia Driven By Putin's "Hate" For Hillary Clinton; Rogers: I Expect Russia to Continue Activity In U.S.; Confirmation Hearings For Supreme Court Nominee; Democrats Accuse Gorsuch Of Standing Up For Corporations; Gorsuch Emphasizes Need For 'Judicial Independence'; FBI Investigating Links Between Trump Campaign & Russia; FBI & NSA Chiefs Refute Trump's Bogus Wiretap Claim; White House On Defensive Amid FBI Trump-Russia Probe. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired March 21, 2017 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN NEW DAY HOST: Two of the nation's top Intel officials making the case that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and made no bones about it.


CUOMO: Had no concerns about even being detected. That's what our Intel experts say about Russia. And they then started to get pushed about what the motivation was. Why did Russia do this? Take a listen.


JAMES COMEY, DIRECTOR OF THE FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: They wanted to hurt our democracy, hurt her, help him. Putin hated Secretary Clinton so much that the flip side of that coin was, he had a clear preference to the person running against the person he hated so much. As the summer went on, and the polls appeared to show that Secretary Clinton was going to win, the Russians sort of gave up and simply focused on trying to undermine her.


CUOMO: Joining us now is Thomas Pickering. He's a former U.S. Ambassador to Russia. He's currently a fellow at the Brookings Institution and Vice Chairman of Hills and Company. Ambassador, so unequivocal, you know, in a discussion that's all about parsing, especially with Comey, he was loud and proud about this. Russia hates Clinton, and that was their motivation, at least early on. Your take on that?

THOMAS PICKERING, HILLS AND COMPANY VICE CHAIRMAN AND FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, I think it's not too difficult to conclude that. She was seen as someone who supported color revolutions, and someone who told Mr. Putin, "I think, pretty much, the unvarnished truth about the situation." Russia was pursuing its own interests, but Mr. Putin's views about Russia's interests are, that they certainly are going to be confected in a way that supports his continued leadership and his continued popularity, through the exaltation of Russian nationalism, and whenever it can, and particularly in the Obama administration, where he can step on U.S. feet.

Finally, I think as you remember, Mr. Putin was prime minister for a few years, while Mr. Medvedev took over the presidency. I think there was a certain amount, put it this way, of concern on Mr. Putin's part, whether justified or not, that the United States was kind of configuring things that maybe Mr. Medvedev would stay around for a while longer, and would be an easier person to deal with. All of those kinds of things are the kinds of things that obviously set off alarm bells in the head of a Russian leader, who has come through some difficult times himself at home.

[07:34:53] CAMEROTA: You know, there was another moment, Mr. Ambassador, yesterday, where Director Comey talked about how Russia was unusually loud -- I believe was his word -- in terms of their interference, meaning, particularly flagrant. So, listen to this.


COMEY: They were unusually loud in their intervention. It's almost as if they didn't care that we knew what they were doing or that they wanted us to see what they were doing. It was very noisy. Their number one mission is to undermine the credibility of our entire democracy enterprise of this nation. And so it might be that they wanted us to help them by telling people what they were doing, their loudness, in a way, would be counting on us to amplify it, by telling the American people what we saw, and freaking people out.


CAMEROTA: What do you think about that theory, Ambassador? You know the Russian officials well. Did they want to be particularly loud?

PICKERING: Well, I know that Russian officials have a penchant for, obviously, doing things very quietly and covertly, when they want to, and try to do that. And then try to put in the way, put it this way, of absolute detection, false flag people, and perhaps Guccifer was a false flag, or at least an operation covered under that name, that was a false flag. So, some of that was there. But I agree with Director Comey, it was unusual. And it clearly was unusual, because I think Mr. Putin wanted to deal, if I could put it this way, a lesson. And that lesson had important significance for him at home, in terms of his own popularity. Kicking ankles for the U.S. has long been a Russian practice, particularly, when things are difficult. And Mr. Putin followed that as a pretty constant practice.

And so, while he thought he had legitimate reasons in his own mind to do that that also played a role. I don't think that the Russians really believe that they can undermine American democracy, but they clearly would like to do everything they can to influence things in America and have it their own way. It's part of their direction for their promotion of their own national interests, and Mr. Putin was a promoter, if I could put it this way, of uncertainty in Russia about the United States, about its goals and objectives, and tried to portray that in a way that helped to promote his own national popularity and his own leadership position.

CUOMO: I don't know how they could see it as having been any more successful, Ambassador.

CAMEROTA: Right, they did undermine.

CUOMO: I mean, they undermined the process, they have everybody at each other's throats, they have both of the sides of our political discourse right now, using it to opposite modes. And as a result, you heard both of the people testifying yesterday, suggest, "Hey, this wasn't the last time." This probably emboldened what will happen in the next cycle, which, of course, reflects why we should try to learn what they did and try to fix it going forward. How real do you think the threat is, that it can only get worse?

PICKERING: Well, I think, Chris, we have to wait until it unfolds. This is not the first time a foreign government has attempted to influence American elections, beginning in the 19th century, but we saw the Iranians, for example, hold off release of the hostages, until President Reagan was inaugurated, obviously, trying to send their own message. So, if we sit back and presume, in a naive way, that foreign countries don't want to influence the United States, don't want to influence events in their favor, and don't want to pursue their national interests, even if they see that as a way of opposing the United States, then shame on us.

But if we see it very clearly, for the kind of threat it is, and how it is playing out, then we need, obviously, to do everything we can to counter that threat, but also to take advantage of it, if I could put it that way, and this will be hard to take advantage of, but my own view is that, this is going to -- in one way or another, end up, as much of a mistake for President Putin as I think people now see it, as a mistake for the U.S. and U.S. democracy and U.S. efforts in the future.

CAMEROTA: All right. Well, we like your optimistic view, Ambassador Pickering, thank you.

PICKERING: Thanks, Alisyn for --

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much for being with us.

PICKERING: You're welcome.

CUOMO: Unusual, that thing you called it. Optimism?

CAMEROTA: Yes, it's rare, but he has it. Obviously, and a nice laugh.

Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, set for a marathon second day of questioning at his confirmation hearings. The democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee tells us what he needs to hear from Gorsuch, next.



[07:40:00] NEIL GORSUCH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: My decisions have never reflected a judgment about the people before me, only a judgment about the law and the facts at issue in each particular case. A good judge can promise no more than that and a good judge should guarantee no less.


CAMEROTA: All right. That was Judge Neil Gorsuch in his opening statement yesterday, pledging judicial independence. But Gorsuch faced democrats who are still upset over the obstruction of President Obama's nominee, Judge Merrick Garland. Watch this.


SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, UNITED STATES SENATOR FROM RHODE ISLAND: Republican senators denied any semblance of due legislative process to our last nominee. One, I would say, even more qualified than you, and that's saying something.


CAMEROTA: All right. Joining us now is that member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. He's also the ranking member of the Judiciary Subcommittee investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Good morning, Senator.

WHITEHOUSE: Good morning.

CAMEROTA: OK. So you didn't pull any punches there in addressing Gorsuch. What is your beef with him? Is it about him, personally, or is it that turnabout is fair play and you don't like how the republicans treated Garland?

WHITEHOUSE: Neither of those things. Our problem is that when the republicans have five appointees on the Supreme Court, they develop a really appalling track record of incredibly partisan decisions. As I brought out my questioning yesterday, there were five to four decisions on elections law, and all six of them, six to zero, go in favor of republican interests at the polls, in ways that would be very predictable to the court. And when you look at the cases that pit a corporation against a human being, the 5 to 4 decisions go 16-0 against the human being and for the corporation, and we're now at a stage where a majority of Americans don't think a human being can get a fair shake in front of that court, if their opponent is a corporation. So --

CAMEROTA: OK. I mean, but in that case --

WHITEHOUSE: -- the real question for this hearing is this, is he going to saddle up with them and recreate the gang of five and keep going on with this highly partisan behavior.

[07:45:00] CAMEROTA: OK. But I mean, in that case, if it's all about the math for you, and you don't like the five to four situation, you're not going to ever approve any of President Trump's nominees?

WHITEHOUSE: Nope, it means it puts the burden on him to convince us that he's not going to ride along with that posse, and that he will actually stand as an independent judge and make the kind of decisions that he said he would make in his testimony yesterday. But we have to pay attention to a 16-0 record from the court in 5-4 decisions, pitting corporations against humans, and he has to be evaluated in that light.

CAMEROT: OK. So, what did you think of yesterday? Were you convinced by his claims of independence?

WHITEHOUSE: There's a lot of, what I would call, nomination etiquette, that needs to take place. And all these candidates are very, very carefully groomed. A lot of this stuff is kind of highly polished preparation. So, a lot more will show when he has to actually answer questions. A, is he willing to give meaningful answers to questions? And B, how does he do? That, I think, will be the stronger test. But I've got nothing against a judge who is a judicial conservative. I just don't think that the Supreme Court should be politically controlled by big corporations in the Republican Party, and they shouldn't run up 6-0 and 16-0 records, when their interests are at stake. It's just not right; that's just not being a court.

CAMEROTA: OK. Let's talk about James Comey's testimony yesterday, in which he publicly confirmed that, yes, there is an ongoing investigation into Russia's meddling, into the U.S. election, and whether or not there was any collusion with anyone on the Trump campaign. Were you satisfied with his answers? I know you had previously said publicly that you weren't getting enough out of the FBI or Director Comey. What did you think about yesterday?

WHITEHOUSE: Yes, we've been asking that question for a long time, and for the life of me, I can't understand why that was a hard question to answer. For as long as there have been bank robberies, the FBI has been showing up after the bank robbery, to say, we're on the case. And here, you have the equivalent of an election robbery, and it would be easy for them to say, "Hey, we're on the case. Finally, he did so, which I think is the right thing to do, and now, we'll just go forward with our hearings, under Chairman Graham, and we'll continue to try to get to the bottom of what took place.

CAMEROTA: But Senator, I mean, you heard Director Comey. He says that there's actually a long-standing tradition of not confirming when there's an active investigation, what the FBI is doing. I mean -

WHITEHOUSE: That's in the -- that's only in the context of international investigations and undercover investigations, but when there's a crime that everybody knows about, or an act that could be a crime, that everybody knows about, for the police chief to come in and say, "Hey, we're looking into this, we're on the case, here are the people I've got to sign. Don't worry, we'll try hard to get to the bottom of this." That's standard law enforcement procedure. There's nothing unusual about that.

CAMEROTA: But isn't this an international investigation with Russia's meddling?

WHITEHOUSE: It's also a very open investigation into a potential crime. And the intelligence folks are the ones who actually told the American people that this had taken place. So, to say that this has taken place and then to say, and we're looking into it, is no big deal.

CAMEROTA: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, thank you very much for being on NEW DAY.

WHITEHOUSE: Thanks, Alisyn.


CUOMO: All right. So, the FBI director revealing Russia's election meddling was, "unusually loud and obvious". Former Intel officials from the CIA and KGB with their take on James Comey's testimony, next.



COMEY: They were usually loud in their intervention. It's almost as if they didn't care that we knew what they were doing or that they wanted us to see what they were doing. It was very noisy. Their intrusions in different institutions.


[07:50:00] CUOMO: Stunning from FBI director James Comey about Russia's brazen interference in the 2016 election. Let's discuss the testimony, what was revealed and what it means for us going forward. We've got former CIA counterterrorism official and CIA counterterrorism analyst, Phil Mudd; and Jack Barsky, former KGB agent and author of "Deep Undercover," good to have you both on the show.

The suggestion by the FBI Director that Putin/Russia's motivation was that they hated Clinton, and wanted anybody else, and they were OK with Putin, but it was all about hating Clinton, do you accept that?

JACK BARSKY, FORMER KGB SPY: He said that, I heard him say that, but he didn't provide any proof. I mean, this appears to be an opinion into possibility but, you know, what do you do with this? At this point, you take it for what it is, but if there's any proof, it has not come out.

CUOMO: So, why do you think - what would give us a list of other possibly motivations for why Russia would have motivated the hackings during the election?

BARSKY: I very much agree with the ambassador that you had on, earlier on -

CUOMO: Pickering?

BARSKY: Yes, Mr. Pickering. He was right on the money. It's all about destabilizing, all about creating noise. It's all about make -- you know, doing as much as possible to upset our democratic process, however you do it, and wherever that leads. I don't think it was so much a - an attempt to influence the election one way or another because the ambassador also said it could easily back fire, and as we look at this right now, it might actually be backfiring if our president might not be as inclined to be as friendly with the Russians as he might have been before.

CUOMO: Although, he certainly seems to be trying to be friendly. He's been laying the background for that. Phil Mudd, what is your take this idea that they were loud and proud about this, the Russians, and also what we heard from our intelligence heads that, hey, they're going to do this again. It may be even worse in the next cycle.

[07:54:49] PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: You know, I think we've got to separate out the two. If we look at what happened in the American election and how aggressive the Russians have been in Europe to anticipate that the Russians won't do the same thing during the next cycle if we cannot secure American candidates, I think would be ludicrous. That issue of loud and proud is different. I think we ought to be careful in this. In my 30 years in doing the Intel business, I can tell you they're trying to figure out what someone is doing that is interfering with an election by stealing data, is a lot different than figuring out why.

There's at least a few reasons why they might have been loud. Number one, maybe they weren't that good. Number two, maybe they wanted us to see it. Number three, maybe they didn't care. But to try and understand why in the case of Saddam Hussein, for example, why he was evading weapons inspectors. We thought it was because he have weapons, very poor reading of his motivations. Motivational analysis, Chris, is difficult, and I'd be careful in this case.

CUOMO: All right. So, let's flip to the other major issue that we had during the hearings yesterday, Phil Mudd, staying with you, which was, you heard Comey, you heard Admiral Rogers, we got nothing on the wiretapping, there's no basis for President Trump's allegations, fingering President Obama, fingering wiretapping at all, and yet, the White House persists in saying that, "Well, there's plenty more there's still to know." Do you accept that?

MUDD: Plenty more there? Excuse me, you have the NSA Director and the FBI Director saying no, then you have the White House live tweeting, and Congress coming back to the NSA, and FBI director saying, "Hey, they just said that you said something, and the FBI and NSA directors live after saying what the White House is saying is incorrect. This case is closed.

Sean Spicer has got his head in the sand, because he doesn't have an answer, and the one question I have going forward, nobody is asking, Chris, typically the President of the United States sits down periodically, weekly, once every couple of weeks with the - with the FBI director and the Attorney General and says, "What threats do you see the United States?" Particularly ISIS threats. I want to know based on the tension between the president and the FBI Director, how many times they're having conversations that the president should be aware of about what's happening with FBI cases regarding terrorism in the United States, and my guess is those conversations aren't happening. That's a problem going forward. CUOMO: Well, speculation, but if that's even close to accurate, what does that mean about how our White House is playing into Russia's hands in terms of the advantage of wanting to create what you called as, you know, destabilization, of that being the goal of interference. If what is playing out right now, could it be any better for Russia?

BARSKY: Absolutely not. I think - I think Mr. Putin is sitting back there and enjoying the show. It's a shame. And I don't believe there's blame just on one side of the aisle, it's on both sides. We are - we are - we are throwing bombs at each other; we are inwardly focused; we're very political when in fact we should be focused on national security and the threat is much bigger coming from the outside than, you know, a democrat posing threat to a republican, and vice versa.

CUOMO: From what you understand of the situation and the - you know, what they call the TTP, tactics and techniques and procedures that are going into this kind of hacking thing, do you think it is likely that Russia would have coordinated with the Trump campaign, that there will be any proof that comes out like that that the Russian's needed Trump's staff's help to do what they wanted to do?

BARSKY: It's highly unlikely. This kind of grand conspiracy, if it ever is tried, usually comes out. And at this point as Director Comey said there's no evidence of any kind, and, you know --

CUOMO: Well, he didn't say that yesterday. Comey said, "I can't talk to you about this ongoing investigation."

BARSKY: But there is no evidence at this point, and these kinds of investigations because when we're talking about intelligence, there is layers and layers of deceptions. To get to the truth will take years or sometimes even decades.

CUOMO: Now, of course, the point of the investigation might be did they know about Russian interference, and if so, who knew? Should they have said something?

Let me ask you a last question here, though, Phil Mudd, quickly. The blow to credibility, to come out with something like that then have Sean Spicer say Manafort, you know, he was really not a big deal in the election. Flynn, oh, he was just a volunteer. Wiretapping still very real." What does that do in terms of the ability to do what you were talking about earlier, to go as the White House to the Intel Community, and have an integrity-based, you know, conversation?

MUDD: I think, quickly, that there is one issue that concerns me going forward. Remember, last year, you and I were in Orlando, Florida dealing with the Pulse Nightclub shooting. San Bernardino happened relatively recently in the world of terrorism. Going forward the next 6, 12, 18 months, the President will face a tragedy. If he comes out tweeting within an hour or two, saying, "I know ISIS did this." And we're bombing in Syria. People like me inside and outside Intel are going to say, "I would have trusted Bush; I would have trusted Obama; I don't trust this guy." I need evidence. I think he's destroying his credibility. CUOMO: Phil Mudd, thank you very much. Mr. Barsky, good to have you on the show. Appreciate you being here.

All right. There is a lot of news. What do you say? Let's get after it.