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Indictments Come Down for Russians; School Shooting in Parkland. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 16, 2018 - 14:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ...Russian Nationals indicted. We just heard the announcement from the Department Of Justice. We are pouring through, right now, this indictment, dozens of pages with extraordinary details that show just how sophisticated this effort was. We are going to continue our special coverage right now.

BROOK BALDWIN, AMERICAN JOURNALIST, TELEVISION NEWS ANCHOR: Hi there, I'm Brooke Baldwin once again live in Parkland, Florida, and you're watching CNN's special coverage of two massive stories breaking right now. One involves this scene right here where 17 lives were cut short by a man who admitted now that he opened fire.

The FBI now admits, they got a tip about the shooter, 42 days before the massacre here. We'll have much more on that breaking news out of protocol that was not followed.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN'S CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT BASED IN WASHINGTON: And I'm Jim Sciutto here in New York. The other bombshell involves Russia's meddling in the 2016 Presidential elections. Special counsel, Robert Mueller has indicted some 13 Russian Nationals that he, the grand jury alleges played a part. We will get to Brooke and all the breaking details coming out of Parkland, but first, the stunning developments in the Russia investigation.

These indictments accuse Russian Nationals and three Russian entities as well of violating U.S. laws to interfere with U.S. elections. It also details a conspiracy operation that worked to support Donald Trump and harm Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. Let's get right to CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz. He has been covering this story, he's been reading through this indictment. Shimon, really the big story here is that a grand jury finds a legal standard. There's enough detail here to back criminal indictments for this interference.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: There's quite a lot of detail. I mean, my gosh, where do we begin? This is stunning 37-page indictment lists all sorts of details about how the conspiracy worked, how the operation worked and really gives you an idea of how the FBI, law enforcement was able to infiltrate this operation, the indictment says they believe that this started sometime around 2014, and it goes into extreme detail about how the operation worked, that two people traveled to the U.S. to make contact with people. They infiltrated, used names, or associated with people, Americans who did not have anything to do with this but somehow were able to sort of give this appearance that they were here to help these campaigns, to hurt some of these campaigns, helping out in rallies, really, stunning detail here in some of this indictment.

I want to read one part here, Jim, if I can, in terms of how -- when the folks that were part of this operation, the folks in Russia learned that the FBI -- they learned that the FBI was on to them by really reading media reports. In one case they even said -- the FBI was able to capture some of this language here and they say we had it -- this person said we had a slight crisis here at work. The FBI busted our activity and then they started to cover their tracks. The Russians here are trying to cover their tracks. Other things that the indictment goes into really has to do with how Facebook and Twitter, a lot of that reporting, we have done here, about how Russians were buying ads. ..And one of the elements here in this indictment is that the Russians posted derogatory information about a number of candidates and by mid 2016, they supported Trump and disparaged Clinton. They bought ads and communicated with unwitting people tied to the Trump campaign.

Now, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, says right now at least in this indictment there were no Americans that were indicted. There are no charges being brought against anyone here or any Americans, but that the investigation, the Special Counsel Investigation is still ongoing. We certainly don't have any indications that the special counsel investigation is ending any time soon. That work is still ongoing. There were people in special counsel's office this week that were interviewed by the special counsel. So that work is still ongoing and we'll see what else comes of it. But certainly, as you said, Jim, this is really stunning, just extremely detailed information in this indictment that you rarely, rarely see. Because in a lot of these national security cases, it's not always a -- people are indicted but the government doesn't always make this public, especially with this level of detail because it really shows you the level of sophistication. But also the way law enforcement, our national security folks, the FBI was able to infiltrate this operation. It's truly gives -- it gives you an idea of all the work that went into this and, you know, it's stunning. When you read everything here, it really reads like a movie, like a book. The details here, the way they infiltrated this operation, it's truly stunning.

SCIUTTO: Yes, listen, remember when the intelligence assessment came out, the intel-reports don't typically release that level of detail because of the classified nature of the information involved. And at the time that was used as a criticism, folks saying, well particularly Trump allies saying, "Well, there's no detail. How do we really know this is true?" You see that detail now here in this report, right down to the, you know there's trade craft in here, posing as Americans. But there's also political savviness here in terms of where they focus their efforts.

PROKUPECZ: That's right, there is. In certain states they wanted to affect the election in certain states. While Rod Rosenstein says there's no evidence that this occurred here. They did their research and it's clear from this indictment that the Russians here did the necessary research to try and have as much of an impact as they could. And just to get back to what you say about the intelligence assessment. The reason why a lot of that wasn't made public, as we can read in this indictment, is because the operation was still active. The FBI, our intelligence, their intelligence partners, everyone was still working this case and they were not close to bringing it to an end. We know certain details and that intelligence report revealed some of the methods, some of what the FBI was aware of, some of what the CIA was aware of, but this really, this indictment, for them to put in -- there had to be a lot of thought of what to put in this indictment because when you start releasing what law enforcement knows, what the FBI knows, then the people you're targeting can identify, can know where you're getting that information. This all has to do with sources and methods. We're always afraid -- the government -- is always afraid of releasing sources and methods. Clearly, they have come to a point here where they felt they were comfortable enough to release some of this information, certainly indicating some of the sources and methods that were used to gather this information.

SCIUTTO: Yes, right when they do that as they did Chinese hackers a number of years ago. They do that with a message in mind to the state involved to Russia, to deliver the message saying, "We know you did this. We know how you did it and we're going to show you how we know you did that, in effect." Shimon Prokupecz, thank you very much.

I want to go to CNN Political Director David Chalian. Because we have a President who, until very recently, who has never changed his stance before and after the election, called the investigation into Russian meddling a hoax, he has used that term, his allies have used that term. This indictment here, the level of detail here blows that entirely out of the water.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, it does. The White House would say, "The President has only called the notion of his campaign or any of his officials colluding with Russia to be the hoax part. But that is not...

SCIUTTO: ...but his question, you know as well as me...


SCIUTTO: ...reporting recently was he still doesn't buy that Russia interfered in the election

CHALIAN: Totally. If you will look at the totality of the President's remarks last year -- this is why this moment is so huge. Why what Rosenstein was presenting is so important overall, because it completely bolsters the fact, the fact that Russia was meddling in the U.S. Election. The President has only begrudgingly, I think, on two or three occasions gave sort of lip service to the notion -- Yeah, it's Russia or, he had to do a clean-up press conference, you remember, in the fall in Vietnam after remarks on the plane, Jimmy I had to go back and say, "I believe our intelligence agencies" although he was not specific about what he believed. What is clear, time and again -- in fact, I think PolitiFact made it the lie of the year in 2017, is that the President of the United States constantly tried to undermine this investigation by saying, "The Russia thing, the whole Russia story was about a democratic effort. They were upset that they lost the election." What this makes plain and clear today, that is just completely not a viable response at all. There's nobody that would listen to the President that can see what Rosenstein put out today, and what Mueller is bringing in these indictments, wouldn't get these indictments without evidence that points to it that Russia meddled in the election. And any dispute of that from the President should be readily dismissed by people listening. Because look at where his Department of Justice is on this today.

SCIUTTO: No question. In the midst of this, a couple of weeks ago, the White House missed an opportunity, as mandated by both houses of congress, to impose further sanctions on Russia for its meddling in the election. Can the White House continue to drag its feet on that in light of the detail laid out here? Well, far be it from me. The White House can certainly try and do that. I do think that with this level of detail and as the public learns more and more about just how in-depth this entire process was from this foreign adversary, trying to meddle with the most core, small democratic function that is the very essence of America. When the American people learn more and more just the reaches of that and how intense that effort was, you may see some pressure ratchet up on the hill with the White House to make sure that more action take place here, Jim and what is so important, sanctions are sort of a backwards looking thing, right. For an activity that has been done, but because the President so easily combines Russia's meddling in the election with somehow making him an illegitimate President, which is not the case. The fact that he combines the two and can't separate them and calls the whole Russia thing a hoax, because of it, has prevented him from taking the leadership role of setting the country in a position to ensure that this stops and doesn't happen again, going forward.

SCIUTTO: Yes, even as his own CIA Director said just last week that Russia is interfering now. And he has every expectation that they will interfere in 2018 and 2020. I believe we have Carrie Cordero, CNN Legal Analyst, with us as well. Carrie, you have the advantage of being both a former counsel to the assistant attorney general for national security. You've been inside the Justice Department and I believe you worked for the Director of National Intelligence. You've been in the Intel community as well as the DOJ. For folks at home who might look at this and say, "Well, it's the DOJ. You know, there's a lot of politics involved in this. How do I really believe they've got the goods on the Russians, etcetera." You know what goes into an indictment like this, what level of detail is necessary, just describe some of that as you look at this indictment here.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Sure, Jim, this was an enormous -- this would have started as an enormous counter intelligence investigation that then expanded into a major complex criminal investigation. And that would have started far before the special counsel was ever appointed, far before Jim Comey was ever fired as FBI director. This was a long counterintelligence investigation that would have been led by the FBI but also informed by intelligence of other agencies within the intelligence community that it would have gotten foreign intelligence reporting and shared that information back with the FBI. And what they discovered was that there was a conspiracy being led and supported by the Russian government through Russian Nationals and Russian front companies to influence U.S. democratic processes and our elections. And the investigation itself goes back to at least a couple of years before the 2016 election. These investigations would have been conducted by nonpartisan, not political appointees, nonpartisan investigators and intelligence lawyers would have informed techniques that they used, whether that was surveillance, or obtaining records, all that information and analysis would come together. And then that investigation would have moved forward towards developing what became potential criminal charges which now we're seeing brought in terms of a criminal indictment led by the Special Counsel's Office. But this would have involved many agents, different field offices, Intel community sourcing and this was a big enterprise investigation.

SCIUTTO: No question. Carrie, please, everyone, stand by. We're getting our first reaction from one of those Russians indicted as well as the Russian government. This is CNN special live coverage. Stay with us.

Welcome back. We continue on our breaking news story, really shocking news, that the special counsel Robert Mueller has a grand jury indicting some 13 Russians for interfering in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. We have some new developments now, including reaction from one of those 13 indicted. I want to go to Fred Pleitgen, he is in Moscow, and he has those details, Fred.

FRED PLEITGEN, GERMAN JOURNALIST, CORRESPONDENT FOR CNN: Hi Jim, certainly the most important of the those 13 indicted, Yevgeniy Prigozhin himself who is the head of that vast empire of companies, of which that troll agency, the internet research agency that of course is also part of the indictment is a key part and Prigozhin has come out with a statement very, very quickly, I might add, this was only minutes after the indictment was announced. And he says, "Americans are very impressionable people", he says, "They see what they want to see. I have great respect for them. I'm not at all upset that I'm on this list. If they want to see the devil, let them see one."

So obviously, in many ways, dismissing the fact that he's on that list, but certainly I would also say that when he says that he's not sad to be on that list, that is certainly something that seems to be true because one of the things that we've been learning that the new oligarchs, as they call them, like Prigozhin, one of the main things they try to do is get better relations with Vladimir Putin.

And certainly, if you look at the things that the internet research agency has done, it certainly has made this man, Prigozhin more important to Vladimir Putin. In fact, he's no linked to several other companies, including, for instance security companies that deal in Syria as well. So for him, the meddling in the U.S. Election in 2016 has been more than a success. So when he says he's not sad to be on that list, that's certainly something that we can very much believe, Jim.

SCIUTTO: No question. I understand the Russian Government is replying as well. PLEITGEN: Yes. Yes also, very quickly, we were quite surprised. We texted both the Kremlin and Foreign Ministry and there has been a response now on the Facebook page of the spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry. Her name is Maria Zakharova, she is someone who is known of to comment quite quickly on these matters. She called the indictment of the 13 absurd. That is a quote from her. She says, "13 people intervened in the election in the U.S.? 13 against billion dollar budgets of special services," she said. Not exactly clear what she means about special services against intelligence, counterintelligence against the latest developments and technology. Then she says "Absurd" yes. She finishes her statement saying, "This is modern American political reality." It's kind of the things we've been hearing from Russian officials over the past couple of weeks, months, in fact ever since all of these with the election meddling came up.

They are saying that they believe this is what they call a witch hunt against Russia that's under way in the United States. Very quickly, it does show, Jim -- I want to add that -- that they take this very, very seriously for them on a Friday night at this hour to be commenting this fast.

SCIUTTO: The President himself has called this investigation a witch hunt, interesting common phraseology. Fred Pleitgen, in Moscow for us, thank you very much.

I want to go now to Jeremy Diamond, he's at the White House. Jeremy, I understand the President, has been finding about this news as well?

JEREMY DIAMOND, REPORTER FOR CNN POLITICS, COVERING WHITE HOUSE AND TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: Yes, that's right, Jim. There has been no official statement yet from the White House. But the Senior White House Official did tell me earlier that the President was briefed this morning at the White House by the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Chris Wray. Clearly, they wanted to make sure that the President was fully apprised of this, that these indictments would not be surprised to him as some of these indictments from Mueller's office have been to the White House in the past.

We are expected to see the President as he departs for Florida in about an hour. So it is possible that he could comment himself on this and we could possibly get a statement from the White House later on, of course. There are two points in this indictment that it is possible the White House could seize on, that Rod Rosenstein made these points, of course, with regards to the fact that no individuals associated with the Trump Campaign wittingly colluded with these Russians because they concealed their Russian identity. That is very likely something they will seize on. Rod Rosenstein also making clear that there's no allegation in these indictments of any impact on the outcome of the election. That is not typically something that the FBI and the Justice Department have actually looked into. But if there are two points the White House is going to try and seize on, those very well could be it, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Jeremy Diamond there at the White House. I want to return to our experts here. Shimon, if I could go to you first with the point that Jeremy highlighted here. The indictment notes that there were contacts between these indicted Russians and people tied to the Trump campaign but that that was unwitting on those tied to the Trump campaign. I wonder, because we know that part of Robert Mueller's investigation is as to whether there was any intentional, witting collusion between Trump aides and Russia, based on this, can we draw any conclusions about where that line of inquiry is? Does that, perhaps, indicate that that line of inquiry is not bearing fruit or should we look at this separately?

PROKUPECZ: I think we should look at it separately. I don't think we should read too much into that fact from this indictment because Rod Rosenstein did say. We don't know, because like no one really -- this is the first time we're really hearing anything from Rod Rosenstein on this. So he did say twice, I believe, that in this indictment, there's no indication that any Americans had knowledge of this. We don't know what else the special counsel is working on, whether that's still part of the investigation. Yes. In this indictment, as we've said, lists -- such goes into such great detail. One of them, it says that Russians, who adopted an American personas, that they, themselves, created, that they wrote to campaign officials, to Trump campaign officials in some instances about rallies they were organizing. And keep in mind, as we said, they were unwitting participants, perhaps people who did not know that these were Russians working for the Russian government, trying to infiltrate the election.

And we've heard this terminology, right? As we've been covering this story and as we've been talking to sources about unwitting, there was this idea that Carter Page was unwitting, Papadopoulos was unwitting. It's a key word that a lot of intelligence officials, FBI officials have used -- have with us. I don't think we can definitively say at this point, from this indictment, whether that part or whether there were any witting participants is complete, if that investigation is complete. And the other thing Jim...


SCIUTTO: The fact is -- in fact, as we know of one witting encounter, if that's even the word but that is the Trump tower meeting when we know senior Trump officials, including the President's son-in-law and his son took a meeting, knowing that there was a Russian promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. I want to go to Garrett Graff if I can, he's author of a book on FBI and Robert Mueller.

Garret, I wonder what message you took, if there was a message, to see the deputy attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, who we know the President has discussed, thought about firing, not happy with his management of the Mueller investigation, of him coming out here, the deputy AG, attaching his name and face to this announcement, indicting Russians for election interference. Is there significance in that?

GARRETT GRAFF, AMERICAN JOURNALIST: I think there's a tremendous amount of significance in that, Jim. What we saw today is an indictment unprecedented in American history. This is a clear statement that America's main foreign adversary meddled in the heart of the democratic process extensively, expensively, and expansively. And that that's a message that the government needs to be taking and dealing with at the highest levels. I mean remember this is week that began with the Intel chief appearing on Capitol Hill as part of the worldwide threat assessment saying that this interference was going to be ongoing and that -- it's sort of when you have an administration that is failing to engage on this issue. And now, in 37 highly detailed pages, we have public knowledge of what that campaign has looked like in the past and what it might look like going forward.

SCIUTTO: Great point, Garret, Carrie, Shimon, stand by. There is a reminder -- another major breaking news story right now in that horrible school massacre in Florida. We're now learning that the FBI failed to act on a recent tip that warned of this shooter's threats even to be a school shooter. There's more on that after this.