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Ex-Obama Official on Russia Hack; Obama Confronted Putin; Trump on Mueller; Trump Used Tapes for Influence; GOP Health Care Bill. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 23, 2017 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:17] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me on this Friday.

Underway right now, the White House holding a press briefing that you're not allowed to see. Yes, for some reason, they have banned live, on camera coverage of Press Secretary Sean Spicer answering questions from journalists, day two in a row here. We will take the audio just moments from now. So stand by for that.

First, let's begin with this incredible reporting out of "The Washington Post" this morning that brings a whole new level of intrigue to these images you are seeing. "The Washington Post" just chronicle the at times super secretive and strained play by play that led to former President Obama confronting Vladimir Putin in 2016 about Russia hacking the presidential election. Here is what President Obama said about this. This was in December, his final month in the Oval Office.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT (December 29, 2016): In early September, when I saw President Putin in China, I felt that the most effective way to ensure that that didn't happen was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut it out and there were going to be some serious consequences if he didn't. And in fact -


BALDWIN: "The Washington Post" learned one of the possible consequences is the U.S. releasing these digital bombs that could be actually inserted into Russian networks. And "The Post" followed what happened in the month after these two leaders met, specifically how the Obama White House decided to strike back against Russia's meddling with sanctions and expulsions, an effort that elicited this quote from a senior Obama official who told "The Washington Post," quote, "it is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend. I feel like we sort of choked."

Let's talk about all of this with someone who was in the Obama White House at the time and a former top intelligence official. CNN military and diplomatic retired Rear Admiral John Kirby used to serve as spokesman not only at the State Department but the Pentagon as well during that administration.

So, as always, admiral, nice to have you on.

James Woolsey's with us. He was CIA director under the Clinton administration and was a senior adviser on the Trump campaign.

So, gentlemen, welcome.

And, Admiral Kirby, I mean to that - to that Obama administration official quote on how he or she felt like they choked, do you agree that the Obama administration choked?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, look, to be honest right out of the gate there, Brooke, I wasn't party to these conversations at the time, so I wasn't in the room when these decisions were getting made.

That said, look, I think it's fair for people to look back with hindsight and wonder whether they did the right thing, whether they treated this as much as a political problem as it was, in fact, a national security problem and whether those decisions were right or not. And I think those were fair questions for people to raise and to ask themselves.

I do think, though, Brooke, when you read this story, two things really should come out to your viewers. One, when you are dealing with cyber threats, that's hard enough. When you do it - when you're dealing with an intrusion of this magnitude during an election season, you do have to be very careful and perhaps a little bit more cautious in how you treat it.

Number two, these decisions were being racked out in real time. Again, it's easy for us to look back on it, but back then, things were very uncertain. The election wasn't a done deal. And so they had to make decisions with the best information they had and try to (INAUDIBLE).

BALDWIN: But you can understand, admiral, let me just jump in, why, you know, a lot of people are coming out and saying it was five months.


BALDWIN: You know, this really dragged on.

KIRBY: Well, again, there was a - there was a decision made by the president that he wanted all the intelligence agencies to concur with the CIA. That took some time. But also remember that in October, the administration did make it public and did make it clear not only that there was an intrusion, but who was behind it. So that happened in October, well before the election.

BALDWIN: Before we get even into more of the meat of the piece, Mr. Woolsey, I mean just the level of, you know, how secretive this was that paralleled it to that pre-Osama bin Laden level protocol. You know, they were cutting the video feeds in the Situation Room. The CIA chief at the time, John Brennan, you know, kept this intel even out of the president's daily briefing for fears of potential leaks there. It was this courier came all the way from CIA, hand delivering this to the White House, eyes only on the envelope.


BALDWIN: Can you speak to -

Mr. Woolsey, can you hear me?

WOOLSEY: The sound has gone off.

BALDWIN: OK. Let's work on - let's work on the sound because we want to hear from you.

But, Admiral Kirby, just, same question to you. I mean you - in terms of levels of secretiveness, what did you make of that?

KIRBY: Yes. It didn't surprise me. Again, I wasn't party to it and I didn't have access to intelligence at that level, but reading "The Washington Post" report, it certainly would - it certainly resonated with me that they would treat this kind of information as delicately and in as small a group as they - as they did. And, you know, look, I think it was important, particularly in those early days, as they were trying to get more intelligence to confirm it, that they would be very, very careful with it.

[14:05:20] BALDWIN: James Woolsey, do we have you?


BALDWIN: All right. So, similar question - and, admiral, thanks for rolling with me, but I was just asking you, from your perch, you know, formerly at the CIA, the level of, you know, secretiveness of Osama bin Laden level raid protocol. Can you speak to that and how rare that is?

WOOLSEY: It's rare and the level of secrecy was fine. It could have been more secret.

BALDWIN: More secret?

WOOLSEY: The - the point is that they should have retaliated, I think. They should have borrowed a page from Ronald Reagan's book back in the early '80s when the Soviets were stealing some very technology. And what Reagan and his CIA director, Casey did, was decide to tinker with the technology. And when the Soviets deployed it, it blew up pretty much all of their natural gas pipelines. So what we should have done, as far as I'm concerned, is not say a word about what we were doing. Teddy Roosevelt, speak softly, carry a big stick. We should have, however, used our capabilities very decisively, far more powerfully that what Putin tried to do, and have seriously disrupted their effort, because this is not fair to the American voter. I mean, I was not a supporter of Hillary Clinton's, but she deserves to have all - every real vote in her favor counted.

BALDWIN: Well, on the retaliation note and what could have happened, you know, apparently they had authorized the planting of these cyber weapons. As "The Washington Post" described this, this was sort of the digital equivalent of bombs. Can you explain how this would have worked, how this could have been detonated?

WOOLSEY: Well, this is kind of - maybe it's a version - a modern - a more modern version of what Reagan and Casey did. They had the CIA tinker with the technology that was being stolen. And once it was deployed, it basically blew up the pipelines through whatever it did to the command and control system of the pipelines, it blew up the Russian pipelines. I don't know that that would be what we would want to do in these circumstances. It might be something completely different. And it may be something that would leave the Russians just wondering what had happened and why things were going so badly for them. It doesn't have to do with the election but it ought to be - have be - have been something very decisive against this kind of Russian interference.

Our next problem on this, by the way, is only 18 months away, because the Russians will be tinkering with our next election big time.

BALDWIN: Right. We have just heard that from testimony recently on Capitol Hill. You are correct, sir. And I want to loop back with you on that in just a moment.

But, admiral, you know, also in this piece in "The Post," you know, they suggested there were multiple warnings from the president and at one point, you know, "The Post" suggested that Putin kind of backed off. I think the line was something like, abandoned plans of further aggression. But they were - you know, they were at it through the election. They admit they were at it through the election. We just heard testimony on The Hill, as I pointed out, that they want to hack, you know, another election. It seems to me that the impact of that warning didn't really last.

KIRBY: Well, I mean, I think - I think we can't expect it to last. I agree completely that the Russians are still at this. And it's not just here in the United States. They're at it in Europe too. We saw that with the recent election in France alone. This is something they will continue to do because they think it works. And, again, we can - I think hindsight's 20/20. We should revisit the past and see if things could have been done differently.

But what's more important is that going forward we treat this as the very serious, very tangible threat that it is. We have a set of elections coming up next year in this country. We need to focus on making sure that they are safe and secure. And what bothers me, Brooke, is that I haven't yet heard the president of the United States once freely completely admit that he also agrees that Russia was behind this.

BALDWIN: That's what I was wondering.

Mr. Woolsey, why - do you agree? Where's the president on this?

WOOLSEY: What the president did was precisely as decisive and effective as what he did with respect to trying to get the Syrians not to use chemical weapons on their own population. He drew a red line and then he ignored it. That's what he did on this one too. That's what President Obama did.

BALDWIN: But what about this current president? This current president?


BALDWIN: Now that we know - we know what's happening, what - why doesn't he do something?

WOOLSEY: First of all, hopefully he's having his CIA people and others work very hard on coming up with some things to do, in cyber and otherwise. And also hopefully, if he utilizes them, we will not know. It will not be public. It will just be that things aren't working right in Russia. We'll see. This White House seems to sometimes handle things secretly and sometimes ignore secrecy requirements. I can't tell what it's going to do.

[14:10:08] BALDWIN: Director Woolsey, thank you. Admiral Kirby, thank you as well.

Stand by, because we're also now learning the president is admitting that this whole tapes charade was actually to influence James Comey and his testimony. Was that legal? Let's talk about that.

Also, he also said he is bothered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's relationship with James Comey. Why the president says we'll have to see if Mueller should step down.

And, Johnny Depp just becoming the latest celebrity to cross the line. What he said about President Trump that has the Secret Service now taking note.

I'm Brooke Baldwin and this is CNN.


BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

President Trump is now publicly criticizing the man leading the main investigation into Russia's meddling and the president's firing a former FBI Director James Comey. I want you to listen here to what the president told Fox News this morning about Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

[14:15:05] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome. But he's also - 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. Robert Mueller's an honorable man, and hopefully he'll come up with an honorable solution. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Those comments came just after the president admitted that he just made up the suggestion that there were recordings of his conversations with then-FBI Director James Comey. His admission coming 41 days later and ending the same way it started, with a tweet.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey is back with us. I'm also joined by Gloria Borger, our CNN chief political analyst.

And so, Gloria, let me just begin with you. We've just did this briefing, this White House briefing, that's happening now that we can't cover live. Apparently Sean Spicer has said that even though the president has the power to do so, that he has no intention of firing Bob Mueller. But that sounds a bit different from that interview this morning on Fox.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the one thing you can say about Donald Trump is that he actually tells you what's going through his head. And you can - you can hear it from the president himself. He's not happy that Mueller is close to Comey. I've heard from people who are familiar with the president's thinking that, you know, this is - this is on his mind. He also believes that Mueller has appointed a bunch of people who were pro-Hillary Clinton and have donated money to Clinton. That doesn't make him feel any better. But I think what Sean said today, and a lot of people are telling the president, is that you would make things a lot worse if you tried to fire Mueller because you'd have to go through Rod Rosenstein, who could do it, and he may refuse to do it, and then you would look even worse. So I think Sean is probably saying what a lot of people are telling the president, which is, don't do it. And he said, also, that the president retains the authority to do so if he wants to, but at this point he's certainly not thinking about it.

BALDWIN: Well, he also spoke out of a different side of his mouth, and, Director Woolsey, you know, the president saying that Mueller is an honorable man, and we've heard that from a number of other people in intel. Why would it matter that he and James Comey actually know one another? I mean do you think that their relationship would compromise Mueller's integrity, sir?

WOOLSEY: No, I really don't. I don't think friendship ought to be a disqualifying effect. If he was his brother-in-law or something, then, yes, maybe you'd need to look at that as a disqualifying. But just a friend -

BALDWIN: So why do you think the president thinks so? Why would he refer to their relationship as bothersome?

WOOLSEY: I don't know. I'm sitting out here with everybody else kind of scratching my head. I'm just not sure.

BALDWIN: OK. On the tapes, let me set up this clip. This is what the president told Fox this morning about why he suggested that their - initially in that tweet where there might be tapes recordings his conversations with Jim Comey. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And my story didn't change. My story was always a straight story. My story was always the truth. But you'll have to determine for yourself whether or not his story changed, but I did not tape.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was a smart way to make sure he stayed honest in those hearings.

TRUMP: Well, it wasn't - it wasn't very stupid, I can tell you that. He was - he did admit that what I said was right. And if you look further back, before he heard about that, I think maybe he wasn't admitting that. So, you'll have to do a little investigative reporting.


BALDWIN: So if the president sort of - different from what we heard from Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the briefing, if he's saying it was about influence, to me it sounds like it sort of backfired, as we've learned, you know, it was tweet, then, you know, Jim Comey releasing the memo, and then the appointment of Bob Mueller to special counsel.

WOOLSEY: Right. Well, the president uses Twitter to needle people sometimes. He does lots of things with it. The one thing he does - and I think that's kind of what he was - he was doing with Comey. It's certainly - I thought it was a bad idea from the beginning, but he used it in the campaign, the tweets, and I think they probably worked to his advantage. But trying to use them in government is a very different thing. And you create impressions probably that you don't want to create and have things going a course that you can't control nearly as well as if you were more traditional. I'm - the tweets worry me.

BALDWIN: But if - if, Gloria, and I want you to weigh in on this as well, but if you have the president admitting that this was, you know, this charade to try to influence Jim Comey and - would that fall under the purview, potentially, of witness intimidation or tampering?

BORGER: Well, look, I'm not - I'm not a lawyer, nor do I pretend to be one. But I will tell you that I am sure that - that the special counsel is looking at every tweet, including this one. And I'm sure the question will be raised about whether it was intimidation or threatening or whatever you want to call it. You know, I agree that it is ill advised for a president to do this, particularly when he holds out for 41 days and doesn't tell the America public the truth because then it also goes - you know, he could be needling Comey, but it also then reflects badly on his own credibility.

[14:20:37] BALDWIN: It's misleading.

BORGER: And I - I think - yes, I think all presidents need to have credibility because there are going to be those moments when they need to speak to the American public about something very, very serious and consequential and people have to believe him. So when you leave something like that out there for 41 days because you want to needle Comey or because you want to pull his leg or you want to force him to tell the truth, as if he wouldn't anyway, but then I think, you know, you - the American public can look at you and start asking, well, do I believe you this time or are you just pulling my leg here?

WOOLSEY: The type of needling that's perfectly fine in the president's golf club locker room is not the kind of speech that people expect - Gloria's absolutely right - to come from the president. And by lapsing into this, I think he creates trouble for himself.

BALDWIN: OK. James Woolsey, thank you. Gloria Borger, thank you.


BALDWIN: Coming up, is the Republican Senate health care bill the end of Medicaid as we know it? And could that even be a deal breaker for some Republicans?

Also, Hollywood hate. The White House responding to unacceptable comments by Johnny Depp after a remark about assassinating President Trump.


[14:26:22] BALDWIN: Just in to CNN, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus says the current Senate health care bill, quote, "does not have enough conservative support in order for it to then pass in the House.

Meanwhile, many opponents of the Senate bill are concerned about cuts to Medicaid. Medicaid is the health program for the poor and low income families. It is also one of the plans that President Trump promised not to touch when he was out and about on the campaign trail.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts. Have to do it. Get rid of the fraud. Get rid of the waste and abuse, but save it. People have been paying in for years, and now many of these candidates want to cut it.

I'm not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I'm not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid. Every other Republican's going to cut. And even if they wouldn't, they don't know what to do, because they don't know where the money is. I do.


BALDWIN: So if you are fortunate enough to have a full-time job or receive insurance through your employer, Medicaid may not be something that really stands out to you. But just let me show you some numbers because Medicaid covers half of all births in this country, 60 percent of all children with disabilities and 64 percent of all nursing home residents.

So, with that, Rick Newman is with me, he's a columnist for "Yahoo! Finance" and has an article out today called "Trumpcare Fixes Northing."

So, nice to see you again.


BALDWIN: Just to underscore for me why this is so - how this affects so many people in this country.

NEWMAN: Yes, because there are a lot of people who don't get health coverage the normal way, which is mainly through an employer, unless you're 65 or older, in which case you get it through Medicare. So if you don't get it one of those ways, what do you do, especially if you don't - if you're lower incomes and you can't afford it. That's what Medicaid is. It's funded jointly by the federal government and by states. The feds put in about 60 percent. The states put in about 40 percent. And this was expanded under the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare back in 2010.


NEWMAN: And that's what the Republicans are going after right now.

BALDWIN: So it was expanded - to your point, let me just walk everyone through this. It was expanded under Obamacare, but both the House and the Senate versions of the bill extends that expansion and it reduces the number of people who qualify for Medicaid by allowing states to impose cap enrollment or a per capital cap. How does that work?

NEWMAN: Well, we don't know the detail - you know, how the details of the Senate bill are going to come out, but the Senate bill is similar to the House bill. So the Congressional Budget Office told us that the House bill would cut about $880 billion over ten years. So call that $88 billion a year. Total funding for the program at the federal level now is about $350 billion. So that $88 billion would be about 25 percent of all federal funding for Medicaid right now. And that's why - that's a lot of money, and that's why the CBO found the House bill would take probably - put about 14 million - it would take health insurance away from about 14 million people who would otherwise have it through Medicaid.

BALDWIN: So then what? I mean if they take it away -

NEWMAN: That's a great question, then what? So the idea is that - the Republican idea is they're going to try to make - adjust the incentives and subsidies for people to do something like Obamacare, which is get some help from the federal government to buy insurance in the private market, whether it's through something that looks like an Obamacare exchange or just on the private market. I think the problem is that it's still going to be very expensive. It will just be too expensive for a lot of people. And we do know, and they also want to get rid of the - that mandate that you have to have insurance, so a lot of people probably will say, I'm just going to skip it. And then what's going to happen is what happened before we had the Affordable Care Act, which is, if people get sick, they go to an emergency room, they have to be treated anyway, even if they don't have insurance, and somebody has to pay for that, and that generally gets passed through the system and insurance rates kind of go up for everybody.

[14:30:01] BALDWIN: Right.

NEWMAN: That's how that gets paid for.

BALDWIN: And that is just one piece of this.

Rick Newman, thank you so much.

Another piece of this Senate health bill, a provision to defund Planned Parenthood for one year. That could be a sticking point for two senators, Susan Collins from Maine --