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New Report Indicates Trump Aide Knew of DNC Hacks in May of 2016; Protesters in Iran Take to Streets; President Trump Tweets about Protests in Iran; Detective Recovers from Gunshot in Line of Duty; Recovering Addict Does Ironman Challenge. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 30, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: The "New York Times" is reporting today that it all started not with a salacious dossier as many of the president's closest allies claim, but rather with a drunken conversation between Trump aide George Papadopoulos who is cooperating in the investigation and has pled guilty, and an Australian diplomat in the U.K. back in May of 2016.

Let's discuss this further with David Sanger. He's a national security correspondent for the "New York Times" and a CNN national security contributor. Thanks so much for joining us, sir. First and foremost, how significant are the revelations in this story from your perspective, the fact that according to the "New York Times" Papadopoulos knew that the DNC and Hillary Clinton's campaign had been hacked well before this became public knowledge?

DAVID SANGER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES": This was a pretty terrific reporting by my colleagues Mark Mazzetti and Sharon LaFraniere and Matt Apuzzo. The essence of this is that it takes the timeline to May of 2016. Now, think about that time period. It is before we knew that the DNC had been hacked. The DNC knew that it had been hacked and had brought people in, but we didn't know that until mid-June, a few weeks later.

At that time, this young foreign policy aide to the campaign, who never got a post in the administration and was sort of a symbol of what happens when you leave foreign policy issues to nonprofessionals, as the campaign was doing at that time in a sort of desperate search to come up with some people who they could call foreign policy advisors. He met in a London bar with an Australian and some others who made it pretty clear they were aware, and he had been made aware weeks before, that the Russians had a trove of embarrassing e-mails. They may not have known where they came from and all that.

But what it does is it tells you that the dossier that everybody's been talking about really had nothing to do with opening up the Russia investigation at the FBI. In fact, it was these tips which came from Australian intelligence which of course works very closely with the United States that got them going. And of course, earlier, the NSA had received tips that the Russians were inside the DNC from other foreign allies.

SANCHEZ: I want to pause for a second to bring in CNN's Kara Scannell. She's with us live from Washington. Kara, you've been following the Russia investigation very closely. What does this reporting by the "New York Times" signal to you? What do you find most surprising about it?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, I think what's interesting is it adds to -- it's another element to what we're finding out about how this investigation began. We have reported along with others that there were a number of contacts that had raised the alarm bells in U.S. intelligence between the Trump campaign officials and Russians. So this is another example of a contact. And it also tells us that the role of George Papadopoulos is much more nuanced and interesting from someone that Trump advisers have referred to as a coffee boy. So he has been one of these people of interest. He pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and he is providing information. So this is another element of what role he played in the campaign and in this dance between Russians and Trump officials.

SANCHEZ: And David, to you, what does this revelation tell you about Papadopoulos's role? Is he just a coffee boy if somehow he has information that the rest of the world doesn't have?

SANGER: Well, clearly not a coffee boy. What it tells you is that the Russians had a very sophisticated intelligence operation underway here. And all good intelligence operations don't just start at the top. They don't just look for national leaders and so forth. They start at the bottom and they work their way up through the system. And clearly he was approached in London, because he was one of many ways the Russians were looking to get into the Trump campaign and into a position of influence here.

Now, what we do know is that when Papadopoulos did actually meet Donald Trump and others at one meeting that you've seen photographs of, he was urging a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin, then candidate Trump, and the president of Russia. And that idea was shot down. Among others, it appears, if you believe his own account by the now attorney general, who -- Jeff Sessions, who said he didn't think that would necessarily be a good idea.

[14:05:02] Astoundingly, Mr. Sessions had forgotten entirely about this meeting until he was reminded by the FBI. And that's why it's important that this Mueller investigation go back so deeply and look at all these roots.

SANCHEZ: Now, David, and Kara, please stand by because I have another voice I want to bring into the conversation. CNN's Sara Murray is actually in West Palm Beach right now traveling with the president. She's no far from the Mar-a-Lago estate. And Sara, we understand that the White House is now responding to this latest "New York Times" reporting. What are they saying?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Obviously in the past, as Kara pointed out, the White House has been keen to downplay George Papadopoulos as a low level volunteer, to point out that he didn't have a clear role in President Trump's campaign, but today they seem to be playing it at least a little bit safer. Ty Cobb, who is the president's lawyer at the White House, released a statement saying out of respect for the special council and his process we are not commenting on matters such as this. We are continuing to fully cooperate with the special counsel in order to help complete the inquiry expeditiously.

And this gets to the way the president's lawyers have been approaching dealing with the special counsel. They've been quick to say publicly and also privately to the president that they believe the best way to deal with this matter is too to be in full corporation with Robert Mueller's team and whatever they need, and of course they hope that this is something that is going to wrap up quickly.

SANCHEZ: David, I wanted to turn to you. It certainly cast doubt, some of the revelations in this reporting, this idea that George Papadopoulos was a coffee boy even though he apparently helped to set up a meeting between President Trump and the Egyptian president and was pushing meetings between then candidate Trump and Vladimir Putin. But what I find interesting about this, if we apply the idea that he is a coffee boy, that he would have withheld this information from other people in the campaign. Do you think it's plausible that George Papadopoulos, apparently knowing that the Democrats had been hacked, wouldn't have said anything to anybody else during the campaign?

SANGER: No I don't think it's plausible, because what he wants -- what he wanted to do, clearly, as young, ambitious person hoping presumably for a position in the administration if president, or then candidate Trump got elected, is he wants to show how connected he is, how much of a role he could play. Basically in campaigns young people want to prove how indispensable they are.

And in this case you had a campaign that was in sheer chaos, particularly when it came to foreign policy. Most of the establishment Republican foreign policy people would not sign on with the campaign. You remember that many of them signed a letter opposing then candidate Trump. And as a result the campaign was reaching around for all kinds of names that we hadn't heard of. And the president was under some stress to even come up with a list of foreign policy advisers. So it doesn't strike me as strange as all that somebody like this would then advise their great connections, and he was pushing, of course, for a meeting between candidate Trump and president Putin precisely to show, I think, that he was on board with the candidate's position at the time of improving relations with Russia.

SANCHEZ: Kara, to you. Obviously Papadopoulos has pled guilty. He's cooperating with Robert Mueller. What does this signal to you about what Mueller and his team might be asking now of Papadopoulos if he had this much information this early on?

SCANNELL: Mueller's team would clearly have all this information already, and they may have even confronted it to him, to Papadopoulos when they interviewed him in January. But it's certainly more threads that the Mueller investigation is going to continue to pull at. And it will inform, to David's point, I mean, what did people in the campaign know about these meetings? Is there any evidence that he relayed this to them or what they instructed Papadopoulos to do about it? So those will all be questions that Mueller's team has probably already asked members of the White House staff and campaign officials and will continue to further investigate.

And as we saw with Papadopoulos, he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. A number of White House officials have been interviewed. So the question will be, what did they say in their interviews with the FBI, and have they been truthful all along?

SANCHEZ: Sara, final question to you. We expect this to be a relatively uneventful holiday at Mar-a-Lago for the president, but now in two consecutive weekends you've had "New York Times" stories, that interview on Tuesday, the reporting last week about what the president said during a meeting about immigration, now this leak about what Papadopoulos knew before anybody else did. What is the White House strategy here moving forward? Do you think we're just going to continue to get these statements from the attorneys and continue talking about something else, or we will hear more from the president's close associates trying to deflect and poke holes in the Mueller investigation?

[14:10:14] MURRAY: Well, this is it the difficult thing when you're dealing with this president in particular, because in general he likes people to be out there to be strongly defending him, and obviously when he did that interview with the "New York Times" it's notable that he said 16 times during the course of that conversation that there was no collusion with the Russians.

But just because that's what the president wants to see from a PR perspective doesn't mean that's what his lawyers believe is the best legal strategy. Now, they have been out there a little bit. They've defended him on TV, but behinds scenes I think they've been a little bit quieter. They've been careful to warn the president that they feel like the best way to go about this is to cooperate with Mueller, for the White House employees to do their interviews with Mueller's team as they need to do to be as prepared as possible, and not to openly criticize him.

Remember, even as Republicans have come out and taken aim at the special counsel, we really have not seen that lately from President Trump or from his lawyers. I think that they are still hoping against hope that this is the kind of thing that is going to wrap up quickly because it is casting a cloud over the first year in office, and it's certainly not what the president wants to take into his second year in the White House, although at this point is seems pretty much inevitable.

SANCHEZ: Yes, President Trump telling the "New York Times" he thinks that hopefully Robert Mueller will treat him fairly. We have to leave it there. Sara Murray in West Palm Beach, Kara Scannell, and David Sanger, thank you all for the time. I hope you have a happy New Year.

Thousands of people taking to the streets in Iran for anti-government protests. It's a sign that we have not seen in nearly a decade. So why is this happening now? The story next on the CNN Newsroom.


SANCHEZ: A top Iranian official says the government will work harder to resolve the country' economic issues. But he also warned that anyone who uses these issues as an excuse to hurt the government must be identified.

[14:15:00] Crowds of Iranians have taken to the streets over the past two days to protest the country's rising gas and food prices. State media there is reporting that at least three students were arrested at Tehran University. And adding to the chaos and confusion, today pro- government supporters also staged their own rallies.

Just moments ago, President Trump tweeted this out. Quote, "The entire world understands that the good people of Iran want change, and other than the vast military power of the United States, that Iran's people are what their leaders fear the most. Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever and the day will come when the Iranian people will face a choice. The world is watching."

Joining me to discuss the political crisis in Iran, CNN senior international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson. Nic, what are you seeing unfolding in Iran right now? This is different from some of the protests that we've seen before.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Sure. It is on many levels. One of the principle levels is the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is being challenged. We're seeing in some of the videos today from Tehran of images of him, posters hanging in the street being pulled down during those protests. That is a very clear shot at the sort of ultimate authority in the country.

Some of these protests began as taking economic shots at the country's president who is seen as a moderate in relative terms in Iran for his failure to deliver, to keep the economy more buoyant, to bring down inflation, to bring down unemployment. This has clearly morphed into something that has a much stronger political message for the ultimate leaders in Iran.

And some of the social media video that are being posted that are coming out of Iran today are deeply troubling. Not all yet verified. We do have to stress that. But we've seen videos that show people apparently being carried away from protests, physically incapacitated. One shot that appears to be filmed in a sort of a makeshift medical center shows a young man lying on a hospital gurney with a gunshot wound right through his abdomen. These are very disturbing pictures, not yet verified, but if we think back to the last time Iran had those major huge protests in 2009 it was social media postings that actually over time emerged to be proven an accurate reflection of what was happening on the street. One of them indeed showed a woman, a young woman shot by a sniper and killed on the street, Boris. That was 2009.

SANCHEZ: Right. Nic, President Trump has already weighed in about this on Twitter, multiple times, saying the world is watching. Iran has not yet responded to these latest tweets, but they did respond previously to that comment, the world is watching. What did they say?

ROBERTSON: That was quite a lengthy response from the foreign ministry, and essentially they said that President Trump has no credibility to make this kind of statement, and we can expect them to push back again. These were their exact words in that last statement. The people of Iran give no value or credibility to such opportunistic expressions by the government or even the person of Mr. Trump. American officials through their conduct have not earned a place from which they can express masked sentiments as sympathies for the aware and engaged people of Iran.

It says right there the Iranian government position is that there's no credibility coming from the United States White House, that President Trump hasn't earned a position of respect for the Iranian people, and that they see through this as essentially trying to overthrow the government. And I think we can expect more of this. If these protests continue and grow, we can expect the Iranian government and establishment to blame outsiders, particularly the United States.

SANCHEZ: Nick Robertson, thank you so much for the perspective. We appreciate it.

Stay with CNN. We'll be right back after a quick break.


SANCHEZ: The bullet that hit a Colorado detective responding to a call did so much damage that doctors gave him less than a one percent chance of survival. More than a year later, that detective is back on duty, pushing past his brush with death and challenging the odds yet again. CNN's Polo Sandoval shows us how he is going beyond the call of duty.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Colorado Detective Dan Brite can no longer rush out the door with the rest of the SWAT team, but his devotion to duty hasn't faltered. He's back with the deputies he swore he'd never leave.

Officers were called to a Denver suburb following reports of a suicidal man who was armed in an RV and dangerously close to a middle school and a hospital. Before Parker police officer Ronnie Dorrell shot and killed the suspect, investigators say the gunman used an AK- 47 to spray bullets at the hospital and at deputies. One of them changed detective Brite's life forever.

DAN BRITE, DETECTIVE, DOUGLAS COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: It entered the side and took out 30 percent of my left lung, damaged my diaphragm, damaged my stomach, and it took out my entire spleen.


SANDOVAL: Christine Brite's husband of 14 years was in the fight of his life.

DAN BRITE: I was dead when I went in the doors, and the doctor literally held my heart in his hands and massaged it back to life. I had less than a one percent chance of survival. CHRISTINE BRITE: All I kept whispering to him was don't leave me. you have these two little girls. They need you.

SANDOVAL: Brite, a retired marine, beat those odds. Nine days after the shooting, he woke up. Four months after that, was heading home.


SANDOVAL: He lost the use of his legs and has been told at best he has a three percent chance of walking again. He's looking to beat the odds on his own. With help from his wife and a pair of leg braces, Brite he is taking baby steps on his long and at times painful road to recovery. At home, a different reality sets in.

DAN BRITE: I'm watching my 10-year-old have to shovel the snow. Coming from where I took care of everything, that's a huge blow.

SANDOVAL: There is hope, though, Brite will wear a pair of robotic legs.

DAN BRITE: When we tried them out for the first time, it was very emotional because it felt good to be five-foot-ten again.

SANDOVAL: Each arduous step brings Brite closer to walking again.

Polo Sandoval, CNN, Littleton, Colorado.


[14:25:07] SANCHEZ: He is certainly an inspiration. Thank you so much for joining us today. I'm Boris Sanchez. "Vital Signs" with Dr. Sanjay Gupta is up next. But as we go to break, check out this week's "Turning Points." It's about an Ohio man who was homeless at 19 because of alcohol and drug addiction, but a third arrest put him on the road to recovery to help himself and others.


TODD CRANDELL, FORMER ADDICT: Everything bad that happened in my life and everything that is now currently good in my life is a direct result of my real mother committing suicide when I was three and a half years old.

I took my first drink of alcohol at the age of 13. For the next 13 years, I was a full-blown alcoholic, cocaine, heroin, crack. I got my awakening at the age of 26. I received my third drunk driving charge, and that's when I decided to turn my life around. The day I quit, I went cold turkey.

What made me pursue the Ironman was simply the enormity of this it. But I didn't know how to swim, I wasn't a bike rider, and I wasn't running. About then about six years into my sobriety I started doing the Ironman. I have done 28 Ironmans around the world.

We want to talk about how awesome it is to be sober. My inspiration for forming Racing for Recovery was simply helping

other addicts to show them what can be done when you're not using drugs. I never in a million years thought that I would be alive, let alone doing what I'm doing today. And that's the best message I can deliver to someone who is currently battling addictions.