Return to Transcripts main page


Report: Putin Ordered Hacks to Aid Trump, Damage Clinton; Trump Weighs in on Russia Investigation; Washington Post Reports Putin Directed U.S. Hacks To Help Trump Win; Trump: Mueller's Friendship With Comey "Bothersome"; Trump: I Don't Have Tapes Of Comey Conversations; Johnny Depp Sparks Outcry With Assassination Remark. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 23, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:40] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We do have breaking news this morning. At a time when the current President wonders if the Russians hacked the elections, the White House will only now go as far to say that they probably did.

A stunning new report from "The Washington Post" on intelligence describing Vladimir Putin's direct involvement in the cyber-attacks, with one goal in mind, make sure Hillary Clinton lost and Donald Trump won.

Also a remarkable, behind-the-scenes look at how then President Obama did and did not respond, including a direct face-to-face confrontation between Presidents Obama and Putin, with Mr. Obama telling him to stop or else.

Joining us now is Adam Entous, staff writer of "The Washington Post," part of the team that broke the story.

Adam, thank you so much for being with us. The story, which I commend everyone to read right now, begins with a remarkable account of an envelope being delivered to the White House with intelligence inside about Vladimir Putin directing hacks into the U.S. election.

ADAM ENTOUS, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. So basically, what happened is, is the CIA sent this very sensitive document by courier to the White House. It was clearly instructed to be given only to a select group of the President and his top advisers, for their eyes only.

After they read the document, they were instructed to put it back in the envelope, send it back to Langley via courier as soon as they finished reading it. It was that sensitive.

This was so sensitive, in fact, that the initial meetings excluded some very senior top officials, including the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense. That's how sensitive this was and how restricted this information was held within the Obama administration.

BERMAN: And this intelligence which, you know, is stunning from where it came from -- the source is within side Russia -- said what? That Vladimir Putin was directing attacks to hurt Hillary Clinton and to help Donald Trump?

ENTOUS: That's right. And specifically, what happened here is the CIA obtained the precise instruction from Putin. So this, again, came from a very sensitive source of information.

We are withholding some details of that per request of the CIA and other government agencies that want to, of course, protect their ability to continue to get that kind of information.

And so what this was, was as close to a smoking gun evidence as you can get, and yet it really wasn't enough for Obama and his top aides. So they instructed the CIA to work with the NSA and work with the FBI to come up with what's known as a high-confidence assessment, which does not actually come together until late September.

BERMAN: And that, of course, is another big part of what is so fascinating about the article today, is what the Obama administration did and did not do. And in some cases now, there's deep regret over what they did not do amongst some Democrats, amongst some people in the White House.

One source, quoting to your article, "It's the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend. I feel like we sort of choked." That's from a former senior Obama administration official. Adam, what does he mean or she mean?

ENTOUS: Well, I mean, what that person means is that, you know, from where he was sitting, it looked like more could have and should have been done sooner. But, you know, you have to keep in mind here that this was very complex.

Obama wanted to avoid what he saw as a worst-case scenario, which would be that the Russians actually intervened to try to actually affect the voting itself on Election Day, on our before Election Day. So that was the priority. So he didn't want to retaliate before the election for fear any retaliation would just provoke Putin to make things worse.

So then they decided to go after the election. And when they started having this debate over what to do, of course, you had different institutions -- State Department, CIA, the Treasury Department. They all wanted to kind of protect their own equities in this.

So the result was kind of a more watering down approach, which required Susan Rice, in a key meeting, to basically say, you know, stop bickering among yourselves. Let's settle on this package.

That said, that package, by pretty much all accounts, could be called modest in its impact and largely symbolic because, in the end, you know, there really wasn't much that the Obama administration could do in terms of sanctions that wouldn't have blowback effects that would affect either U.S. businesses or European allies.

[09:05:07] BERMAN: And before the election, Adam, you note there was pushback, not just from the states, when the administration tried to reach out to state election officials to try warn them what was going on -- there was some curiosity, some perhaps doubts there -- but also pushback from within Congress, which we sort of knew going in. Mitch McConnell, he didn't trust this intelligence?

ENTOUS: Right. And so what happened in August and early September is Brennan, with this intelligence, is making the rounds of what's known as the gang of eight. These are the top eight members of Congress that get access to the most sensitive intelligence.

When they went to go see the Democrats, it was easy to sell them on this intelligence. When Brennan saw Paul Ryan, in comparison to McConnell, Ryan was receptive. He was very concerned about what the Russians were doing. He believed the intelligence community on that score.

McConnell, on the other hand, was incredibly skeptical. In fact, his skepticism back then in August and early September, you can see it as very similar to what we hear from Trump today, which is that, he thought potentially it was politicized for the sake of helping Hillary Clinton.

When McConnell did that, the message to the Obama team was, whatever they decided to do going forward on this, it would be seen as partisan. That they were going to be attacked by the Republicans of trying to help Hillary, no matter what they did.

BERMAN: And we heard from Jeh Johnson in his testimony this week. They were afraid of the political implications of coming forward.

You described a face-to-face confrontation between President Obama and President Putin. What was said? What was the effect?

ENTOUS: Yes. I wouldn't call it a confrontation. I mean, certainly, it was a discussion that was heated. They didn't obviously come to blows, but the --

BERMAN: Right.

ENTOUS: What the President said was effectively, knock it off or else. You know, the threat there was that the U.S. would do something very serious to the Russian economy. Putin responds to the President by saying, we weren't doing anything. You know, basically saying that there's nothing here, you're accusing the wrong guy.

Now, this is at a point in time when, you know, the administration is trying to prevent the Russians from actually intervening in the vote. And the President's take away from that encounter, when they looked at the intelligence that followed that encounter, was that Russia did not escalate.

Of course, at that point, the damage, if you will, had already been done because the e-mails had already been taken from Democratic institutions and had already been leaked to WikiLeaks and had started to be released at that point.

BERMAN: The propaganda campaign was done. And we can't be sure it did, but if it stopped anything; maybe it stopped the Russians from directly meddling with vote counts and the like.

Finally, your story goes into some measures that the President took in the waning days, these digital bombs, cyber implants going forward. Explain what they are.

ENTOUS: Yes. So towards the end, in addition to the public sanctions that were announced -- that's the expulsion of the diplomats that was announced, the closure of the two facilities that was announced -- the President made a public statement in which he alluded to actions that would be taken but not announced at a time and place of the U.S.'s choosing.

He was alluding there to two things. One was an operation that was conducted to basically show the Russians that the U.S. had a capability on the cyber side, as a warning to them not to try this again.

Secondly, he signed a covert finding which authorized the CIA, the NSA, and Cyber Command to basically put in place these little implants. Maybe little is not the right word, to put these implants in place that potentially could be set off in future in order to basically, again, deter the Russians from doing this.

Keep in mind here, this is a finding that basically stays in effect unless Trump basically issues a second order to remove it. So unless Trump acts to remove this finding by Obama, it stays in effect.

BERMAN: Now, that's fascinating. Do you have any evidence yet that the current President Trump has countermanded this effort as of now?

ENTOUS: As far as we know, the answer to that is no. We know the Trump administration has been negotiating with the Russians over potentially giving them access to those two facilities that Obama shut down. But we have seen nothing, none of our sources have told us anything --

BERMAN: Right.

ENTOUS: -- about any change in that covert finding.

BERMAN: And, of course, it would be hard to get answers directly from any administration on something like that, but it is interesting to wonder what they will do going forward.

Adam Entous, a terrific report on "The Washington Post." It's posted online right now. Thank you so much for coming on with us. Appreciate it.

ENTOUS: No, thank you very much.

BERMAN: All right. When it comes to the investigation into Russia's hacking, while the President says he does not have tapes of his discussions with James Comey, there are tapes of him questioning the objectivity of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [09:10:12] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should he recuse himself?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, he's very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome, but we're going to have to see. I mean, we're going to have to see in terms -- look, there has been no obstruction. There has been no collusion.

There has been leaking by Comey, but there's been no collusion, no obstruction, and virtually everybody agrees to that. So we'll have to see. I can say that the people that have been hired are all Hillary Clinton supporters.


BERMAN: So this tape -- this tape -- now exists, which we will talk about, but another one doesn't, according to the President. The President once floated the idea that there were tapes of his conversations with James Comey, but now he basically admits he was making it up.

He wrote, "With all of the recently reported electronic surveillances, intercepts, unmasking, illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are tapes or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make and do not have any such recording."

CNN Senior Washington Correspondent Joe Johns at the White House with the tapes that don't exist, probably, and the ones that now do of the President's comments on Robert Mueller. Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You know, there's a lot going on there, John.

Questioning whether Robert Mueller ought to recuse himself has become a favorite conservative talking point. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich has talked about it. Even though the selection of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel got high praise from both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill. Mueller, of course, the second longest FBI Director serving right after J. Edgar Hoover.

Now, today was the day that House investigators gave the White House to turn over recordings, if they existed, of the President's conversations with the other former FBI Director, Jim Comey. Of course, the President ending that controversy the same way it started, by issuing a tweet.

And in that tweet, he actually ended up creating questions about his own credibility, even as the President was questioning the credibility of James Comey. Listen.


TRUMP: When he found out that, you know, that there may be tapes out there, whether it's governmental tapes or anything else and who knows, I think his story may have changed. I mean, you'll have to take a look at that because, then, he has to tell what actually took place at the events, and my story didn't change. (END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: No on-camera briefing here at the White House today. The White House says there will be a briefing, but it won't be for public consumption. Kellyanne Conway saying on CNN just a little while ago that, as far as she's concerned, this is a very accessible White House because the communications shop does answer the questions of reporters on demand. John, back to you.

BERMAN: Why should the public get to see it as it happens? Joe Johns, thank you for your reporting. Appreciate it.

This report in "The Washington Post" on Russian meddling in the election, Vladimir Putin ordering the hacking to help Donald Trump, hurt Hillary Clinton.

Plus, new information about how the Obama White House did and did not respond. We'll have much more on that.

Plus, can you count to 50? This man needs to. Maybe within a week or less. Can Mitch McConnell deliver Republican votes on his health care bill?

Plus, a small but loud group of Democrats meeting behind closed doors, talking about trying to oust Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. We will speak to one of the people that was in that room.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Riveting new details this morning about Russia's meddling in the U.S. election. "The Washington Post" revealing new details about how Vladimir Putin directly ordered cyber hacks with one goal in mind, to help Donald Trump win.

All of this as President Trump finally after 41 days set the record straight admitting he does not have recordings of his conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey after floating the notion 41 days ago.

Let's discuss, Juliette Kayyem, CNN national security analyst and former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Salena Zito, CNN contributor and reporter for "The Washington Examiner," Jackie Kucinich, CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief of "The Daily Beast," and Alex Burns, CNN political analyst, national political reporter for the "New York Times."

This "Washington Post" story, I think the specific clinical term, a whiz-bang of a story, Juliette Kayyem, and it begins with this remarkable detail of an intelligence packet arriving at the White House, which was described as the order, the actual order from Vladimir Putin to his intelligence officials to hack into the U.S. election. It's remarkable to see that level of detail -- Juliette.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. It is. And it confirms what has been sort of a growing suspicion based and some of the Senate Intelligence hearing testimony that basically Russia had a targeted kill on Hillary Clinton, not to be too technical about it.

There is a suspicion out there that Russia threw a lot of things against the wall and lo and behold something stuck and they were just trying to mess up our democracy.

This story, if accurate, we have every reason to believe it's accurate, confirms that this was Russia infiltration in our election to hurt Hillary Clinton, help Donald Trump and the takeaway is, unless we do something, they are going to pick who gets to win or who doesn't, or they are going to help pick who gets to win and who doesn't.

BERMAN: You used the phrase, "unless we do something". Alex Burns, one of the remarkable things about this story as remarkable at that intelligence is the account step-by-step of what the Obama administration did or did not do to address these serious concerns, Alex?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. It's one of the issues that you have heard talked about privately in Washington including among former Clinton campaign officials, including among senior Democrats, the sense that the administration had the opportunity to act or to speak publicly during the campaign and repeatedly chose not to.

[09:20:06]The sense among sort of Clinton associates is that the administration really left her out on the field and what you see in "The Washington Post" story is this account of multiple times that the administration sort of walked up to the edge of being more aggressive publicly and stepped back based on concerns that it would look on their side like partisan interference --

BERMAN: And it gets into the whys, right, part of it was political interference and logistical concerns from the state and country, part of intelligence agencies not on the same page, but they didn't address it as strongly as they could.

And there is an official in this article, Jackie, quoted, as saying a senior Obama administration official saying, "It's the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend. I feel like we sort of choked."

We are all talking about our feelings right now, I feel this week we're starting to hear more Democrats come out and speak publicly about this.

We have Jeh Johnson talking about his frustrations. We heard Adam Schiff in his questioning of Jeh Johnson really dig in, and say, come on. Why wasn't more done? You saw this?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's what I was going to say that you saw the anger and frustration that was directed at Jeh Johnson during that, during that hearing. I think it was notable, because Democrats are frustrated that the Obama administration didn't do -- didn't do anything, but didn't do enough to address this until it was too late.

They didn't realize there was -- it said in the article -- didn't realize how devastating this was until Trump actually won. So I think that the cold comfort coming out now to Democrats.

But I have to say, one of the things that really struck me this morning when I was listening to Alisyn's interview with Kellyanne Conway. The first question that she asked Kellyanne was about this story and the first thing Kellyanne said was, we didn't do it. There was no collusion.

We had nothing -- we aren't a part of this and that is also striking. It's very much what we heard from this administration, but it's not about what Russia did. It's, again, about the White House. It's about them internalizing this, thinking it's about their legitimacy and it's not.

This is something that you'd hope the Trump administration would continue to look into, and dig into, because it's so important that what happened in 2016 does not happen again.

BERMAN: They cannot separate, Salena Zito, the idea that this is about America whether or not the Russians tried to intervene in this election. This is about America, not necessarily only about him and his legitimacy, the president of the United States that is.

And along those lines, you have President Trump is out in the open this morning on "Fox and Friends," that show, talking about the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Suggesting that he has a lot of people working for him who donated to Hillary Clinton which is true.

I mean, there are Democratic donors on his legal team, which is something that Trump allies have noted, but the president really hasn't talked about it until just now. I'm wondering if he has some new confidence or why he's out in the open with this now. Salena, what do you think?

SALENA ZITO, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, I'm not quite sure. One of the things that I have always noted since Election Day is that the administration has almost sort of had a hard time separating the commentary about him not winning the popular vote and you know, there's more voters out there with Clinton.

And it seems to have leaded into the fabric about the Russian hacking and he appears to always feel as though he's not been legitimized by the national press or by the political class, and he's had a really, really hard time separating himself from that.

And I think that had has a chip on his shoulder about that, and he's always going to cast doubt about that. One of the things I want to say is, listening to the interview that you had with the reporter from "The Washington Post" and reading that story, I mean, it reminded me of, like, a six-part HBO series where you watch like all of these -- these fabrics of American government not working together.

And you have the one, you know, congressman who believes it. You have the one senator who's skeptical. This thing couldn't have been written more creatively by an HBO writer than what we saw in that report. That was -- it was just crazy.

BERMAN: And it gets to the big issue. Again, this is about America and the safety of election system as much as it's about anything else. If you just focus on that part of it, you know, it's an issue that needs to be addressed.

Alex Burns, you're not a lawyer but you live near a law school. I want to ask you about something the president also said today. He was talking about the tapes, which he now admits do not exist with his conversations with James Comey and he said of Comey.

When you found out there may be tapes out there whether it's governmental tapes or anything else and who knows, I think his story may have changed. Again, this is the president saying stuff out loud.

He does it out loud and on Twitter, which could come back to hurt him because he's effectively saying that claim I made, which was false, may have influenced a witness who testified under oath.

[09:25:03]BURNS: Right. Now as you say, I'm not a lawyer, but you would think that would be the kind of thing that you'd be pretty careful about saying anything. If you compare it to the line within his tweets yesterday, you know, copping to their not being any tapes out there, at least that these aware of, was very cautious, pretty obviously lawyered sounding language, right?

BERMAN: Lawyered tweets were there.

BURNS: That is not what we heard this morning.

BERMAN: All right, guys. I would be remiss if I did not play some sound from a Hollywood actor talking about the president in a way that is completely and utterly inappropriate. Johnny Depp, I think he was in England talking about this. Listen to what he said.


JOHNNY DEPP, ACTOR: When was the last time an actor assassinated a president? Now, I want to clarify. I'm not an actor.


BERMAN: First of all, I mean, I think it was John Wilkes Booth who assassinated Abraham Lincoln so I don't know why they were cheering and it's just completely inappropriate and wrong and offensive to say.

Juliette, I'm going to ask you about this because you've worked in the administration before. These types of comments have to be addressed by the government and by the Secret Service. It's just unfortunate and offensive.

KAYYEM: Oh, absolutely. I mean, obviously, the Secret Service isn't stupid in the sense that they understand the context of Johnny Depp, but, look, they don't know who is listening. These are just stupid comments. People should stop saying them.

Not because we think Johnny Depp, who I believe was speaking English, but I couldn't quite understand what he was saying, but not because they believe Johnny Depp will do something, but obviously we are living in a period in which people are incited to violence on the left and on the right, hate groups across the board.

People in powers, in leadership positions, actors, commentators, journalists, everyone, just take it down a little bit. We all have to act as leaders, because, because times are really just too -- toxic right now, and everyone has to take a responsibility for the tone that we set.

BERMAN: There's a way to speak out against something and be in opposition without saying things that are potentially hurtful or insightful. Juliette Kayyem, Salena Zito, Jackie Kucinich, Alex Burns, great discussion. Thanks so much for being on. I appreciate it.

The Republican health care bill, the divisions, how big are they for real? We'll discuss.