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Interview with Representative Steve Russell; New Evacuations as Wildfires Grow; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired December 8, 2017 - 10:30   ET


[10:32:52] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Now to a CNN exclusive report. This morning we're learning new e-mails show an effort to give hacked WikiLeaks documents to the Trump campaign. The e-mails were sent to candidate Donald Trump, his son Don Junior and members of their team just a few weeks before the 2016 election.

It's important to note there's no evidence that the Trump team responded to any of that outreach.

Joining me now Republican Representative Steve Russell of Oklahoma. He sits on the Armed Services and the Oversight Committee. He also served this country in the military for 21 years. He's an Iraq war veteran.

Thank you for being here and thank you for your service.


HARLOW: Let me get your response to this new reporting that we have. Does it concern you that there was this outreach to give these WikiLeaks documents to the Trump team, an e-mail even to the president weeks before the election?

RUSSELL: Well, I think all Americans are concerned any time we see outside foreign sources trying to influence our political presses, but the real question becomes, you know, who was doing it? Who received it, who acted on it? All of that, there just seems to be, you know, very unclear. But with regard to WikiLeaks in particular --

HARLOW: Well, we know who received it. But, Congressman, just let me stop you there, we know who received it. Our reporting from Manu Raju is the president, his son and other members of the team. Now no evidence they acted on it.

RUSSELL: Oh sure, I received e-mails all the time every day by the hundred, by the thousand from people trying to bait me into something, but that doesn't mean that I gave them any kind of response. But with regard to WikiLeaks I think we have to note that they've never needed permission from anyone in the United States or any action from anybody in the United States, with or without encryption keys, to release damaging documents on our country.

It also should be noted, Poppy, that the Republican Party at that same time was also hacked or attempted to be hacked but it was caught. And we shared that information with our colleagues on the other side to alert them and let them know, but from all indications are that that was rebuffed.

HARLOW: So, Congressman, do you think that it is then -- do you think it's just a coincidence? Because we looked back at the timing, this e-mail was sent to Don Junior, for example, the president, on September 4th, and that's the same day that Don Junior tweeted about WikiLeaks for the first time.

[10:35:12] Given, you know, the -- your opposition to what WikiLeaks does, does this bother you? Is this just a coincidence?

RUSSELL: Well, I think WikiLeaks was not an isolated WikiLeaks attempt or issuance of documents. As you recall during that time there was a flood of damaging things that were going out of this organization which is why the United States in multiple years, two administrations, we've seen that, you know, Julian Assange has created great damage to our country.

HARLOW: That's not what I'm asking you. Do you think it's just a coincidence that the president's son tweeted for the first time ever --


RUSSELL: Well, I think it's -- there's no evidence that --

HARLOW: -- about WikiLeaks the same day he got an e-mail offering access to them.

RUSSELL: We can say gosh, you know, you know, you have a series of events that happens that might look something. But that's why an investigation is called for.

HARLOW: Right.

RUSSELL: In terms of what is the evidence. You take it at face value. If it looks like it's legitimate then, you know, perhaps you want to do a probe, you want to go further. But with regard to WikiLeaks, I don't think that anyone should construe that they are some ally of the Republican Party. They --

HARLOW: Right.

RUSSELL: -- in many cases are an enemy of the United States of America and we have to view them as such and we have to accept that Republicans view that as such.

HARLOW: And that is -- well, not all Republicans because as you know the president has lauded WikiLeaks for their efforts multiple times over.

RUSSELL: But you also have Democrats that welcomed the damaging reports that resulted in the deaths of American soldiers in our battlefields and some of the damaging information that was released there. There were -- look, there's always going to be people on each side of the aisle that take advantage of these types of things for political purposes. But we have to unite here.

HARLOW: Is the president doing that? Is the president taking advantage of something that you call an enemy of the American people for political advantage?

RUSSELL: I think what we have to do, Poppy, is unite. You know, enough of this constantly dividing.

HARLOW: That's not the question I asked you. You just said that WikiLeaks is an enemy of America.

RUSSELL: Well, the answer I gave you is simply this.

HARLOW: Is the president taking political advantage of it, Congressman?

RUSSELL: There is no evidence that he has done so. There is no evidence that he has acted in that manner.

HARLOW: But he has applauded WikiLeaks efforts.

RUSSELL: Why would we want to report that --

HARLOW: He has applauded what WikiLeaks has done.

RUSSELL: -- only Republicans and only the White House are trying to somehow leverage this information when --

HARLOW: I'm not.

RUSSELL: You know, they've not -- they've not been helped or aided along by Assange and his organization.

HARLOW: All right. All right. It doesn't seem like you're going to answer this question. But let me ask you something that is very germane --

RUSSELL: Well, there is no evidence to take it down to answer it clearly. It would have to certainly have more evidence than what we see now.

HARLOW: Let me ask you about something your committee is -- will or won't investigate. The Oversight Committee, you sit on it with Democrat Elijah Cummings who brought forth this information from a whistleblower this week who said that Michael Flynn during the inauguration of President was texting a former business associate saying we're going to drop sanctions on Russia right away. They'll be, quote, "ripped up." And also that this would help fast-track building nuclear reactors with Russia in the Middle East that would make a lot of people very wealthy.

Trey Gowdy, the ranking Republican on the committee, said we're not going to investigate that. Do you think it should be investigated by your committee? This whistleblower's claims? RUSSELL: I think that you have to look at the fact that we already

have a special investigator that's been appointed by the president, one that, you know, quite frankly many people see that he is not being favorable to the president depending upon what political viewpoint that you have, so I don't think there's some issue on the other side of the aisle that, you know, Mr. Mueller is being unfair. Those investigations are handled by special investigators and I think what we have to remember --

HARLOW: So why -- so this was brought to your committee by a whistleblower and I guess what I'm asking you is, regardless of the Mueller investigation, which is operating independently, should your committee look into this, just look into it, you say investigations are needed, is this worthy of looking at?

RUSSELL: Well, we always look at things. Whether or not we have full-blown investigation --

HARLOW: No, you don't. You either --


RUSSELL: Since 1815, since we've been wearing tricorn hats --

HARLOW: The ranking member either launches an investigation or you don't.

RUSSELL: The Oversight and Government Reform Committee looks at things, investigates and we work very well on each side of the aisle. Sure, there's political tension, but to suggest that the Oversight and Government Reform Committee doesn't do its job well --

HARLOW: That's not at all what I suggested, Congressman.

RUSSELL: Well, it's certainly --

HARLOW: And that's an unfair characterization of what I suggested.


HARLOW: I asked you a very clear question.

RUSSELL: Then you know how it feels.

HARLOW: And my question, Congressman -- here's my question, just very clearly, should your committee look at this whistleblower's claims? Should you spend time investigating it?

RUSSELL: OK. We are already looking at it. It's already been brought to our attention. We've made a determination at this stage that it's already being handled in other ways with the evidence that we see. If new evidence should come to light or something that would cause us to want to go into a deeper investigation, well then we'll have to see that evidence.

[10:40:07] HARLOW: Let's move on to the sexual harassment claims. RUSSELL: You bet.

HARLOW: We've just seen Representative Franks who you served with on Armed Services resign today. Congressman -- Representative Blake Farenthold of Texas accused of sexual misconduct against Lauren Green. She says she was inappropriately fired after she complained about it, can't get a job in Washington as a result. They settled for $84,000 of taxpayer money. Should Representative Farenthold resign despite denying those allegations?

RUSSELL: Look, that's not for me to determine. That's why we have an Ethics Committee. That's why we have a process in the House. I'm not on that committee. That's for them to do and determine. We can point out as you did only Republicans in recent days, but I also remind you that John Conyers retired and Senator Franken has announced that he will resign.


RUSSELL: So this is not a party problem as some might see it portrayed.

HARLOW: But you said on FOX News this week, quote, "Wrong is wrong." And, quote, "You cannot use taxpayer funds to hush people up." That's what happened here.

RUSSELL: Well, you can't, but there is a differentiation. Mr. Conyers used his budget from his House operations fund, that is clearly not allowed. There are other things --

HARLOW: Taxpayer money was used in the Farenthold settlement, sir. You know that.

RUSSELL: Well, you know, if you would have a postal worker who was unduly accused the post office has their means and mechanisms to defend their own personnel.

HARLOW: Unduly accused.

RUSSELL: Why should --

HARLOW: Are you saying you don't believe -- let's listen to Lauren Green. OK. Just one moment.

RUSSELL: Well, Mr. Farenthold has been exonerated of those charges. So where do you say that he has not been?

HARLOW: Now the House Ethics Committee is investigating it again.

RUSSELL: Well, then let's --

HARLOW: -- is investigating it again.

RUSSELL: Have some time in the investigation and not try it in the media.

HARLOW: But you're saying that he's unduly accused. You're taking a position.

RUSSELL: He was unduly accused the first time and exonerated of those charges. If new charges are leveled against him we'll see whether or not that that happens. But why should we try him in the press?

HARLOW: I'm just --

RUSSELL: Sure you don't believe that as a champion of the First Amendment.

HARLOW: I'm confused because you also said in your FOX News interview, really what sounded like standing up for victims and people who do come forward, you said, it is a, quote -- hold on. You said it's a typical play out of the communist playbook that says admit nothing.

RUSSELL: There you go.

HARLOW: Deny everything, and make counter accusations.

RUSSELL: That's right.

HARLOW: So what about --

RUSSELL: That's exactly right.

HARLOW: And you say that's not OK, that's out of the communist playbook. So what about the --

RUSSELL: Well, it's very similar. You bet.

HARLOW: Let me just finish the question which is what about the 13 women that have come forward with accusations of sexual misconduct against the president before he was a candidate, before he was president, in your words, the blanket denial then from the president on all of these, in your words is that a, quote, "play out of the communist playbook"?

RUSSELL: Well, we will have to determine that. We've had presidents in the pasts that have had misconduct. Everything from Andrew Johnson to, you know, Mr. Clinton to all the way to the president. I'm not saying that presidents don't do wrong. They have had things like that in the past. However, there's no evidence that we see that would rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors that would, you know, formulate for treason and removal of a president.

In fact, when Mr. Green, Representative Green, promoted on the House floor this week, to try to make these allegations for an impeachment measure, there were only like 59 Democrats that even voted for it. A third of their own members, less than. So you really have to wonder what evidence is being acted on, if there's evidence out there, well, let's look at it.

HARLOW: Do you believe that these 13 women's accusations against the president have been appropriately investigated? RUSSELL: I have no basis to believe one way or the other because I

have seen no evidence to make such a determination. I don't have knowledge of any of that.

HARLOW: Republican Representative Steve Russell, I appreciate you joining me. Thank you.

RUSSELL: Any time, Poppy. Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. Wildfires getting out of control and worse as new evacuations take place. Look at these pictures across southern California. Many more are warned. Get ready to leave.


[10:42:33] HARLOW: All right. We are continuing to watch those wildfires across southern California. Six of them now burning out of control. Officials say this may continue for days.

Our Stephanie Elam is in Ventura County.

And Stephanie, I mean, do they even have containment at this point on some of the biggest ones?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, where we are is the Thomas Fire, Poppy, and it has 10 percent containment now. 132,000 acres and you can see now that the sun up what is left in its wake. This is one of the houses that was lost. And you can see that firefighters were battling. That house up there with the bushes right on top of it, it still managed to make it through this blaze.

But if you turn and you take a look at this devastation, we know more than 140,000 acres in California have burned in these wildfires, look at this. This house gone. And then just the rest of it. You can see the fire just ran straight down those block burning up all of these homes here right before the holidays. You can actually see some parts of the brick that stayed up here.

But this is the situation. And the winds aren't expected to die down. We expect to see more winds through Saturday so because of that there is about 6,000 firefighters out here battling these blazes and their work is far from over -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Stephanie Elam, thank you for watching it. Keep us posted. We'll be on this. We appreciate it.

Ahead, more than just a game, it's one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports. Army-Navy, "Bleacher Report" is next.


[10:53:22] HARLOW: Army versus Navy, it is more than just a game. Coy Wire in Philly with the "Bleacher Report."

Good morning, my friend. COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. Incredible

rivalry to paraphrase our 34th president Dwight Eisenhower. The Army and Navy are the best friends 364.5 days of year. But on this one Saturday afternoon we are the worst of enemies.

Since 1890 this has been an incredible rivalry in which members of our military are celebrated in one of our nation's greatest sporting spectacle. Both teams know that this is so much more than just a game.


DJ PALMORE: Army-Navy is definitely the best rivalry in sports. It is. With everything going on in the world right now, even just in our country, this is the one thing that everyone can come together and just watch Army-Navy game.

JEFF MONKEN: This is the only game where every competitor on the field that these people are going to watch, are willing to put their life on the line for everybody that's watching. There's no other game like that.


WIRE: All right. So both Army and Navy are going to wear special uniforms to honor those who have served before them. Navy, they're going to be honoring the Blue Angels, the color is an exact match of the Blue Angel flight suit. There's a hand painted helmet featuring a Delta formation. This is a visor here. This chrome face mask matches the visor worn by the Blue Angels' pilots that's made with precision and skill. Those are the same qualities that the Blue Angels squadron represents as well.

And check out these. Army may have the coolest uniforms I've ever seen. They're going to step back to the 1940s to pay tribute to the 10th Mountain Division known as the Pando Commandos.

[10:55:04] They train near Pando, Colorado, in the Rockies to prepare for the harsh winter warfare that they face in the alps during World War II in northern Italy, an essential to holding at bay the Nazi resistance.

It's going to be a whiteout tomorrow. Snow on the field. Army may have a slight advantage with their camouflage unis -- Poppy.

HARLOW: What a day it will be. We'll be watching. Coy Wire, thank you. Have a good time.

All right. We have breaking news on the Russia investigation. Much, much more on this straight ahead. Stay with us.