Return to Transcripts main page


White House Disavows Campaign Adviser Trump Touted in 2016; Facebook Admits Roughly 126 Million Exposed to Russia-Linked Pages; Russia Reacts to Mueller Indictments; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired October 31, 2017 - 10:30   ET



[10:33:17] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: "A low-level volunteer, a liar," that is how President Trump is now describing his former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Interesting strategy to attack a key witness who has flipped.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Joining us now, Brian Fallon, CNN political commentator, former spokesperson for Hillary Clinton, Ryan Lizza, CNN political analyst, and Scott Jennings, CNN political commentator, former special assistant to President George W. Bush, worked for Mitch McConnell for years.

Ryan Lizza, so what's different today? What do we know today different from yesterday? Yesterday we know that George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI having to do with discussions he had connected to the Russians and possibly getting dirt on Hillary Clinton.


BERMAN: Today we know how the president will deal with him.

LIZZA: Yes. We know --

BERMAN: By disparaging, distancing and denying.

LIZZA: Yes. We have two strategies right now, with Manafort and presumably Gates, although he -- the president hasn't talked about Gates yet. He's -- there's sort of an embrace, right? We had Manafort's lawyer yesterday say President Trump is right. We had the president himself say well, you know, this is all stuff that happened in the past but not attacking Manafort. But really personally attacking this former foreign policy adviser that at one time the Trump campaign used to burnish Donald Trump's foreign policy credentials.

Now we were actually talking about this before. They were probably, you know, laying it on exaggerating what role Papadopoulos had in terms of being a foreign policy adviser back in 2016 because I remember that was moments when Trump needed those bona fides. But attacking him as a liar is very personal going right to the heart of his character and I'm not sure what it accomplishes, though.

HARLOW: And the statement of offense says, you know, this isn't all that he may have. So it makes you think, you know, what more does --


LIZZA: Right. But that statement of offense was like a cliffhanger.

HARLOW: Totally.

LIZZA: It ended with this dramatic moment of, you know --

[10:35:07] BERMAN: But wait there's more.

LIZZA: Right.

HARLOW: But wait, but wait.

LIZZA: I've heard about the e-mails, and then it's kind of been crawled, yes.

HARLOW: Brian Fallon, to you, you know a thing or two about campaign vetting and who you surround yourself with as a candidate and as a president. So the president takes to Twitter this morning and we said, you know, he called Papadopoulos a low-level volunteer, a liar, check the Dems.

This is the same president who called him an excellent guy, his words, in this meeting, with "The Washington Post." He sat at the same table as him. I mean, what the president is saying this morning, can it hold any water?

BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It doesn't hold water because of the fact that the president announced him when he joined the campaign, but it also doesn't hold water because look, Bob Mueller quite simply could not be handing out a plea agreement to this guy if he didn't have useful information about higher ups in the campaign.

Bob Mueller is as good as it gets. When comes to prosecutors and somebody that knows how to mount an investigation working his way up the ladder, Bob Mueller is the best at what he does. He is like a virtuoso akin to listening to Yo-Yo Ma play the cello. Bob Mueller would not be handing out a plea agreement to this guy if he didn't have information to give.

And already yesterday we learned a very selling piece of information, that is, he was first approached by this professor in the UK in April. So now we know that the Trump campaign knew as early as April that the Russians may have e-mails to offer them to help hurt Hillary Clinton. That is interesting because the DNC hack was not even known to the DNC at that point in the spring.

And so that suggests that the Trump campaign may not have just aided and abetted with the distribution of the e-mails after the hack occurred but they may have actually been a party or potentially collaborated on the active hack itself which is legally significant when you're trying to prove potentially a conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which is the anti-hacking statute that's at issue here. BERMAN: Scott Jennings, I want you to weigh in here. I don't want to

just dwell on this one thing but I want your take. And I know you have said you think the Mueller investigation should be allowed to take its course, on the other hand you do note the possibility that George Papadopoulos is -- hang on. I'm going to have to cut you off, Scott.

We have Mark Warner who I believe is on Capitol Hill, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations, answering questions from reporters.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Because while the number of Americans that were touched has gone up, the actual number of accounts and ads doesn't seem to have changed. I still question whether all this activity really simply came from one Internet troll farm in St. Petersburg. But again, I think what we're seeing is incremental progress and all of these firms in terms of recognition of the extent of this problem and how -- I want to know tomorrow three things.

One, fuller explanation of what happened in 2016. Two, how they can work with us in a cooperative manner to make sure this doesn't happen on a going forward basis. I've got some very light touched legislation that it would -- doesn't get at all the problems, doesn't get at false accounts but at least tries to guarantee that on political ads that Americans will know the content and the source of those ads.

And then three, I think the idea of how much effect can be had by a relatively small amount of money with 40 to 50 trained hackers, and 50 or 100,000 computerized bots, you can drive a story that almost any of you would end up covering even though it may have no relationship to truth.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've got to go. We've got to go. Excuse us. We've got to go. Please make a hole.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guys, let him through.

BERMAN: All right. The ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, there talking about the special counsel's investigation. Also talking about Facebook and social media. We're going to talk about them in a little bit. The idea that 126 million people may have seen some of these Facebook ads.

HARLOW: These ads.

BERMAN: From Russian bots and whatnot.

We were talking, Scott Jennings, about George Papadopoulos, the role that he might now play in the investigation. And you do note that it is possible that he was genuinely a low-level campaign staffer that many people didn't know, but that the Trump campaign may have created part of its own problem. SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I mean it's

pretty clear what happened and it's embarrassing, but it's true. At the time this guy was rolled out by then candidate Trump, they were under enormous pressure to show that they actually had foreign policy advisers.

HARLOW: Right.

JENNINGS: These people, these clowns, you know, this guy, Carter Page, they were rolled out as a photo-op, and then they sort of released them into the countryside and they did stupid things. And this is -- this is the core problem here is that failure to oversee the people that you roll out, you know, governing by photo-op in this particular case was extremely detrimental.

Now I think as time went on, the campaign tried to get more control, operational control, but this guy based on the reading of it, if you've been in a presidential campaign you know the type.

[10:40:03] Serial exaggerator of their resume, somebody with no real experience, you can't really track down where they actually ever worked.

BERMAN: That's how I got all my jobs, by the way. So --


JENNINGS: But these people -- these people orbit campaigns. The difference is most of the time, the folks running big campaigns know to get them out.

HARLOW: This goes, Scott and Ryan, to you, to the heart of what Sarah Sanders was asked so many times in the presser yesterday. What does it say about the president's judgment and the vetting that went into Manafort, that went into bringing Carter Page around, that went into bringing Papadopoulos around.


HARLOW: She kept deflecting that question saying it's irrelevant, but that is a central question as Scott just pointed out.

LIZZA: Look, even at the time I remember people were kind of poking fun at the fact that his LinkedIn page showed that model U.N. was one of his foreign policy credentials. You know --

HARLOW: He graduated as -- I think we pointed last night college in 2009.

LIZZA: Yes. It doesn't matter, though. It doesn't matter whether he was the top-level person or not. And what matters is whether the information he brought from --

HARLOW: Right.

LIZZA: If indeed he did bring information from the Russians that was then embraced by people inside the campaign, and if it tripped into something that is collusion or some of the legal issues that Brian was describing. It doesn't matter if he was an intern or he was, you know, Mike Pence at the top level. It matters what the next part of that chronology from the plea agreement yesterday is that we just don't know yet, and it matters how much information he gathered for Mueller when he was a cooperating witness.

BERMAN: Scott?

JENNINGS: People are making a lot of this photo of him sitting at the table with the president, then the candidate, and all these other people, but I'm telling you, if we're going to hold every presidential candidate to account for everybody they're in a photo with --


HARLOW: But Brian --

FALLON: Scott --

HARLOW: Brian Fallon --

FALLON: Let me just --

JENNINGS: This photo op right here was constructed --

HARLOW: Brian, go ahead.


FALLON: Let me just jump in there. I mean, I understand the point that Scott is getting at. Now there are plenty of occasions in a campaign where you bring people in for the purposes of a photo op, plenty of time where you create these fake policy advisory boards, sometimes they're for political or press purposes, but what belies all this is the fact that he remained in touch with senior officials on the campaign for months after that photo op happened.

That's all laid out in the criminal information that was filed with the guilty plea that was revealed yesterday. And so you have people like Sam Clovis who's still in the Trump administration now, people like Paul Manafort, it's been reported he's the high-ranking official that's named in that criminal information that was unsealed yesterday, and so there's repeated interactions where he had access to the high- level officials in the campaign and so it doesn't matter if he was paid, it doesn't matter if he was the JV team.

The fact that he has information about how these senior officials in the campaign received information that he was providing from these Russian cutouts, that's the relevant thing. And what Mueller very skillfully put out only so much information yesterday. He dangled out in that document that was released yesterday, that this guy Papadopoulos was told in April that they had -- that the Russians had Hillary Clinton's e-mails but then in the rest of that filing we don't hear anything about what the reaction was from the Trump officials. That to me is the ultimate cliffhanger as Ryan was saying, that goes

to the heart of what Mueller is trying to discover in the months that remain in this investigation. That is exactly what Papadopoulos may have been wearing a wire to help make a case about in terms of whether Manafort or Donald Trump, Jr. or anybody back at headquarters was encouraging him, making further contacts with Russians to try to receive those e-mails and figure out how to weaponize them.

BERMAN: Let's leave on a cliffhanger. A lesson from the president right there. Brian left us with a cliffhanger, a good point to stop.

Thanks, guys.

HARLOW: Thank you, gentlemen. We appreciate it.

Tonight stay up late, Jake Tapper hosting a CNN special report on the Russia investigation. 11:00 p.m. Eastern only right here.

BERMAN: Half of the U.S. population, that is how many people were reached by Russian trolls during the 2016 election and that's just through Facebook alone. We have the details next.


[10:48:14] BERMAN: 126 million people, that is a lot.

HARLOW: A lot.

BERMAN: Of people.

HARLOW: That's an objective statement of fact.

BERMAN: Yes, 126 million people is a lot of people. That's the number that may, may have seen accounts or pages linked to the Russian government on Facebook.

HARLOW: Basically from these Russian troll farms. And that's just Facebook. Attorneys for Facebook along with lawyers from Twitter and Google will testify in Capitol Hill today. You can expect a grilling by the Senate Judiciary Committee about all of this, and also how could this have been stopped. What needs to be done going forward so it doesn't happen again.

With us now senior media correspondent, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter.

Today is big for Facebook and they are saying yes, 126 million people could have seen these ads. They're also trying to give it some context and they're saying that is equivalent to 0.004 percent of the content in the newsfeed.


HARLOW: How much does this number matter?

STELTER: Yes. 126 million is the exposure number, meaning when you're on Facebook and you're just scrolling through your newsfeed you may have seen these sensational, bogus, sometimes made up stories that were coming from Russian troll farms. Some of these were ads and we've heard a lot about these ads that Russia was buying to target various states before Election Day.

We're going to finally see those ads this week thanks to these Capitol Hill hearings. But the more important piece is the actually truly fake news. Not President Trump's definition of fake news but actually made-up stories that were designed to make you dislike Hillary Clinton. That's what was spreading thanks to these Russian troll farms, stories that were divisive, meant to sow discord in the U.S. and a lot of them with anti-Hillary Clinton overtones.

BERMAN: So representatives from these companies will be on Capitol Hill.


BERMAN: What do you expect them to be pressed on? What do they need -- what would you like them to be pressed on?

STELTER: Yes. I'd like to know --

BERMAN: What do they answer for?

STELTER: Have they really gotten to the bottom of this yet? Are they even able to really figure out how many Twitter posts, Facebook posts, Google ads were really bought by these Russian trolls?

[10:50:07] The companies are starting to say they've gotten their arms around it but have they really?

HARLOW: Mark Warner, as you know, Senator Mark Warner, incredibly critical of Twitter, you know, about a month ago and these tech companies saying it's inadequate the answers they've provided.


HARLOW: What would satisfy lawmakers?

STELTER: Well, the companies are starting to promise more transparency, saying in the future they will disclose political ads, but a lot about this -- a lot is about last year. If we were to make a list of the 20 reasons why Donald Trump became president I think the number one reason is that his name was not Hillary Clinton but clearly Russia is on that list. And fake news is on that list.

Now how high they go on that list? That's a matter of debate. I think we're going to hear more about that at the hearings this week.

BERMAN: And how to address the issue going forward.


BERMAN: May be the most important thing that they can do.

STELTER: That's right.

BERMAN: Brian Stelter, thanks so much for being with us.

HARLOW: Thank you.

BERMAN: What is the reaction from Russia this morning on the Russian investigation? These indictments? We'll go there next.


[10:55:25] BERMAN: This morning President Trump's former campaign chair is under house arrest as his deputy, a different adviser pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia, so what does Russia think about all of this in the investigation?

HARLOW: Well, the Russian Foreign minister calls claims of meddling in the U.S. election, quote, "hysteria," says the allegations are, quote, "fantasies that have no limit."

Our correspondents Oren Liebermann, Clarissa Ward join us now.

And Oren, you're in Moscow. Let's begin with you. What else are we hearing from the Russian government?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the drumbeat of denial coming from both the Kremlin, the Foreign Ministry and other Russian officials continues. They say this has nothing to do with us. It's an internal affair and that word again, hysteria, they've long accused the U.S. of a Russophobic hysteria and they see this as an extension of that.

They were quick to point out that the indictments of Manafort and Gates have essentially nothing to do with Russia and they say that part is an internal affair. When asked about Papadopoulos who was meeting according to his guilty plea with Russian nationals and trying to set up a meeting between President Trump and Russian officials, they say look, that's essentially just wrong and they actually compared it to a Russian satirical novel in which the actors or the participants in the book over-represent themselves or misrepresent themselves, and say that's exactly what happened here.

Papadopoulos isn't who he says he was or doesn't have the connections he thought he had and that people he was meeting with also didn't have those connections.

When we asked the Kremlin spokesperson, do you feel vindicated because Russia is not mentioned in the indictments of Manafort and Gates, his response was interesting in terms of that denial. He said Moscow has never felt guilty and therefore we cannot feel vindicated.

So in terms of that denial that continues. And earlier in the day the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman was quick to point out that there's a mistake in the indictment where they call a former Ukrainian politician, they say she was a former president, she uses that factual error not only to dismiss that line but to dismiss all of the newest revelations. So these haven't changed in any way the Russian position that they

were in no way involved in election meddling despite the U.S. intelligence agreement that they were and there was no such thing as coordination or collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

BERMAN: And Clarissa Ward, you're in Kiev, in Ukraine, obviously which is central to the career --

HARLOW: To all of this.

BERMAN: And to all of this, the carrier, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates as well, have dealt with so many of the issues and the finances that there were. I understand the Ukrainians not exactly desirous of getting deeply involved in this situation right now but you've been watching this, you've been following the Russian efforts to get involved with other elections over the years. What's your observation?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's no surprise that the Ukrainian government is largely keeping very quiet on this because unlike Russia which can afford to be a little bit more bombastic and brazen in its repudiation of this indictment, the Ukrainian government is very much dependent on the White House for military aid, for financial aid, and for, you know, geopolitical help and support in general. So they don't want to estrange the Trump White House at this stage.

Privately, though, if you speak to sort of anti-corruption activists, of course they do welcome this development. They do welcome Manafort being taken out in this indictment and they welcome specifically the emphasis on the corruption of the former president here, Viktor Yanukovych. He really emerges as the common thread throughout this indictment.

This is a man who was known first and foremost for being essentially what many would call a Kremlin stooge, someone who even told a television interviewer that he owed his life to President Vladimir Putin who ultimately offered him asylum in Russia after he was ousted here by political protests.

So that indictment really highlighting the depth and intensity. He said nearly a decade of working relationship between Manafort and between Yanukovych, tens of millions of dollars earned by Manafort who worked, of course, with Yanukovych, really raising the question more broadly as to why the Trump campaign would get involved with an individual like this -- John and Poppy.

BERMAN: All right. Clarissa Ward, Oren Liebermann, thanks so much. Reporting from Ukraine and Russia respectively.

We do have some breaking news, this just in. President Trump will not visit the DMZ during his trip to Korea. He leaves for Asia on Friday.

The DMZ or demilitarized zone is that heavily fortified border area between North and South Korea. HARLOW: So he will not be there. We just saw secretary -- Defense

Secretary Mattis there less than a week ago. A White House official just coming out with this announcement moments ago explaining there's not enough time. Also saying interestingly the DMZ has become, quote, "a little bit of a cliche."

Thank you for being with us today. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN" starts now.