Return to Transcripts main page


Florida Shooting Investigation Continues; Special Counsel Indicts 13 Russians for Election Interference. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 16, 2018 - 15:00   ET



PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I understand the governor is having to deal with a lot of pain, but also a lot of political fallout perhaps for his support -- or opposition to gun control issues. And he's trying to point the finger at someone else.

I do applaud the FBI for coming out with this as early as they did, and trying to investigate it. But if somebody screwed up, they need to find that person. They need to address that individual. And they need to fix the problem.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: OK. Page and Josh, thank you so much.

And, again, I'm Brooke Baldwin here in Parkland, Florida. We are going to continue our special coverage both, of course, of this story here in Florida and the breaking news out of Washington.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: And I'm Pamela Brown in Washington.

The other bombshell involves Russian meddling in U.S. elections. Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation has now led to the indictments of 13 Russians.

These unprecedented indictments give us the greatest understanding yet of Russia's role in the 2016 election and even before. And it reveals the expansive operation to sow division among voters and how even some Trump campaign aides were unwittingly, unknowingly involved.

Here's Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.


ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Russians also recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities, promote political campaigns and stage political rallies.

The defendants and their co-conspirators pretended to be grassroots activists. According to the indictment, the Americans did not know that they were communicating with Russians. Now, there is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity.

There is no allegation in the indictment that the charge conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: All right, let's get more on this from our panel.

Want to start with CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz.

I know we have both been covering through these documents. We've been covering this story for the better part of the year, Shimon. And really so much is laid out in these documents. What stands out to you?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: This is a stunning piece of information.

We have 37 pages that really detail so much about what the FBI, what law enforcement, what our intelligence partners have been doing, really, since they learned of this operation. And, really, there's a lot here that stands out.

But the level of detail is the way they were able -- the FBI was able to penetrate this operation really shows you some of their work and some of the techniques that they have learned and are now capable of doing. One -- a couple of things here, I will say.

In terms of how two people who were associated -- two Russians associated with this operation were able to travel to the United States, help organize rallies, communicate with people in the -- that were part of the Trump campaign.

BROWN: Any indication that they got the visas with the FBI knowing, look, they're coming here for this purpose so they can track them?

PROKUPECZ: Pam, that's a great point, because sometimes we have covered stories where the FBI is aware of this and they allow the people -- that is perhaps, because it does seem that the FBI was able to track a lot of their movement, a lot of their communication, infiltrated certainly their databases, their e-mails.

And that's really kind of what stands out to me and the sophistication of this operation. The amount of money they had, over a million dollars a month or so that they were able to spend on this, on Facebook ads, Twitter.

And really it's the organization and the effectiveness and the research that they did, because they knew which areas to target, which states, which communities to target to really try and interfere and try to influence the election.

BROWN: And what stuck out to me is how detailed some of the areas were in terms of the communications among the Russians, for example, when September of 2017 it was clear social media companies caught on to their activity. Normally, law enforcement will leave out some details because they don't want to tip off sources and methods that they were able to spy on these communications.

But it lays it out all in here. PROKUPECZ: It does.

And that's why, as you know, this is a national security matter and the National Security Division would bring these kinds of charges. Now, we have covered other cases like this. You don't get this kind of detail because you worry by revealing all this information, you basically burn your sources. You burn your methods.

It's clear the FBI no longer was concerned about that, that the intelligence they had been gathering from this operation was -- probably come to an end. They probably felt they did not need anymore. That's why they went ahead and put all this information in the indictment.

It shows you also that up through September of 2017, perhaps even up until yesterday or whenever the indictments were filed, that the FBI was able to still watch them, still keep an eye on them, still monitor their activity.

BROWN: And from a political standpoint, I know something that the White House has really latched on to, Sara, is the fact that the indictment says no one wittingly worked with the Russians, that there was some unwitting participation on behalf of Trump campaign associates and aides, but no one wittingly.

And so you can imagine that the White House would want to come out and say, look, doesn't this show there's no collusion? But can they come out and say that?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't think we can take that there's no collusion in anything that Mueller is looking at.


He's looking at these specific instances, these specific contacts and saying that these people were not aware that they were speaking with Russian, they were not aware that they were helping Russian officials.

That does not mean that there's no part of Mueller's investigation that has not found some kind of collusion. We just don't have the full sense of what he has been looking at.

But I do think, in addition to pointing that out, I would be surprised, shocked if the White House did not note Rod Rosenstein saying that this did not affect the outcome of the election. Unclear to me how he feels like he can draw that conclusion, based on this kind of interference.

But that is certainly something that is going to resonate with the president, because he has viewed these Russia investigations as a way to undermine his victory from day one.

BROWN: And just for context here, when the president was initially briefed by the intelligence leaders when he first became president, he was very concerned about the Russian meddling assessment, we're told by James Clapper, and that he actually brought up during that briefing, well, does this impact the legitimacy of my presidency? Does this impact the outcome of the election?

We know, David Chalian, that appears to be top of mind and it's curious that Rod Rosenstein made a point of saying that today and, as Sara pointed out, how the heck can he -- how can you tell whether or not this impacted -- because did you go to every voter and say, did that social media post impact your vote?

Go ahead.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: We certainly can't tell, also because we just don't have the full scope of what Mueller and his team.

We have this piece of it. Lots of new detail, but we don't have the full scope. It's unclear how Rosenstein can say that. What is clear, Donald Trump, to Sara's point and to what you're saying about the briefing, what he asked Clapper, has been completely, apparently to all of us, incapable of separating out Russian meddling with the delegitimization of his election.

He sees it as one and the same, which is why he has, time and time again, talked about the whole Russia thing as just a Democratic effort for an election that they lost. It's sore losers. The whole Russia thing is just fake news, he called it once.

Why I think today is so significant is because you have Rod Rosenstein, of his own Justice Department, come out and just put that to bed, that there is no doubt in their mind that they had enough evidence to bring these indictments, that there was Russian meddling in this election.

The White House will say, well, come on. The president said it's Russia in January before he was president. He went to that Vietnam press conference in November and tried to make clear he believed in the intelligence agencies.

BROWN: But he also said he believed Putin too before that.

CHALIAN: Exactly. So, if you look at the totality of his remarks, yes, there's a couple of occasions where he begrudgingly said it's Russia.

He also suggested it could have been a 400-pound guy in a bed in New Jersey.

BROWN: Right.

CHALIAN: It's not at all clear.

What is clear is that time and again the president has tried to undermine this investigation in part by just calling into question whether or not this whole Russian thing is a lie. And I think today there's a big, big piece of evidence from his own Justice Department put forward that it is not. BROWN: And to be clear, I brought this up to a White House official

today. And they said whenever he said the Russia probe was a hoax, he was speaking specifically about collusion, not Russian meddling.

Well, I said it would be good if he could clarify that.

CHALIAN: Well, let me just read you a tweet from December 2017 right here: "The Russia hoax continues."

Now it's ads on Facebook. 'What about the totally biased and dishonest media coverage in favor of crooked Hillary?"

There was no mention of collusion here. It just said the Russia hoax continues.

MURRAY: But it seems like that is one of the things that the White House, if they wanted to, could certainly clear this up.

The president could go out there and say forcefully and say publicly that a foreign government meddled in our election, tried to influence our election. That is not acceptable. Here are the steps that we are taking to ensure that this is never happening again, to ensure that we can protect our election integrity. And I hope this will also put to bed any sore feelings, any questions about whether I won this election on my own.

Fine. Take a minute. Brag about your amazing, historic election win. Nobody saw it coming. That is a all true. Fine. Take your moment. But you have to say both things. And the president has not said the first part of that equation, that Russia meddled, that it's unacceptable, and that we're going to step them from ever doing it again.

BROWN: Yes. He has begrudgingly acknowledged it as of late, but he has not gone the step further to condemn it.

And there's also the questions of Russia sanctions, what's going to happen there. We're going to get to that in just a moment.

But, Carrie Cordero, I want to bring you in for your legal analysis here.

I was talking to Shimon about just how detailed these indictments are. A lot of information in here, some of which I'm surprised by, that it could reveal sources and methods, that they were listening in on communications or being able to tap into their e-mails and so forth.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, look, this is a complex investigation.

It would have started as a counterintelligence investigation. But then obviously it shifted into a major criminal investigation as well. And so this is the type of indictment, this is what you read in a RICO case, in a money laundering case, in a really complex white-collar criminal investigation, or, as an example, in the complex Chinese cyber-hacking investigation, which target also foreign nations. [15:10:01]

So, this is a complex investigation. They use a variety of investigative techniques. This was a longstanding investigation. It did not start with the special counsel back in June. It did not start just because Jim Comey got fired.

This investigation started, at least, at least back in 2014, according to the indictment. And so this was an investigation that was looking at Russian government-sponsored activities. It was a conspiracy.

And I think if there's any word that we take away from today, it's that this was a conspiracy of individuals with the knowledge of the Russian government, individual who were involved in an organization with fund-raising, with money involved, with budgets, with organization, with translator divisions.

It had an organizational structure to it. And so it was not ad hoc. It was not small. It was large in scale. It was coordinated. It was organized and it was deliberate.


And after this break, we're going to talk about what this means, indicting 13 Russians. What's going to happen next? We will be back right after this break. Stay with us.



BROWN: And we're back with our breaking news.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation has now led the to indictments of 13 Russians. These unprecedented indictments give us the greatest understanding yet of Russia's role in the 2016 election.

And joining us now to discuss this, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean.

Your reaction to the news today?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, it's certainly going to be very difficult for the Trump White House to call this a witch-hunt and a hoax.

This kind of puts an end to that. Pamela, one of the things I found most interesting are the charging statutes they relied on. The core of the indictment relates to 18-USC-371, which is the general conspiracy to defraud the government.

That's a statute that, while there are unwitting aides were mentioned here, that could also include very easily witting aides knowingly joining a conspiracy.

The other thing that was interesting in the statute, they cite, but I couldn't find in my fast read of it, the aiding and abetting statute. I didn't see the aiders or abetters in here. But they obviously at one point they were contemplating them. And that's, again, where you could find, as Sara mentioned earlier, the people who were unwitting might have also included people who were very knowingly engaging in this conspiracy.

Those are my key reactions, that it's going to be difficult and impossible to deny. And this is something that the special counsel can build on.

BROWN: So, if I hear you correctly, you're saying basically that this still leaves the door open to possible collusion? Because I have spoken to some White House officials who say, look, these indictments say that no one from the Trump campaign wittingly worked with any of these Russians.

Rod Rosenstein came out today. Doesn't this show that there was no collusion?

But it sounds like you have a different take.

DEAN: I have a very different take, and I'm sure that the counsel at the White House, both the Counsel's Office and the special counsel, Ty Cobb, are looking at this statute and saying, who else might this reach?

While they will obviously take the position that nobody wittingly was involved, there's some witnesses with people like Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos who might be able to finger people.

We don't know who all they might have looked at, at this point. But this is definitely an indictment to build on.

BROWN: And you're right. We don't know what we don't know. Robert Mueller's team has been operating sort of in the silo, sort of in a black hole. And they could have a lot more information we're just not aware of.

What does this signal to you, though, in terms of where this investigation is heading, how much longer it's going to take? We know that the president has been very clear and his lawyers have been clear, they want this to wrap up soon. Is this a signal it might, or is this a signal we still have a long way to go, in your view?

DEAN: To me, it's sort of a middle ground, that they're well into the investigation, but there's a lot more that can be swept into this.

We have got to remember, this is also a counterintelligence investigation and those are notoriously slow and protracted. So, I think -- Watergate, by comparison, ran 928 days of pure scandal. There were precursors and aftershocks, but that was the core of the period.

So, by that standard, we're pretty early. And these things take time to investigate. They take time for the public to absorb. And I'm sure part of the thinking of the special counsel was to help educate the American people about what he's doing. And this is the kind of document that certainly is going to do that.

BROWN: Let me just ask you quickly, as we wrap up, what was your reaction to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, going out there by himself to talk about this and make the announcement?

DEAN: Well, it's interesting they made the announcement through the Justice Department.

The special counsel, in the past, say, Archibald Cox and later Leon Jaworski during Watergate, who were parallel, not like under the independent counsel law, but special counsel appointed by the Department of Justice, they had their own press aides and made their own announcements.

There is a press aide at the Mueller office. But they decided to pass this to the deputy attorney general, who is the overseer of the investigation, and have him at least make this initial announcement.

And that might have been to avoid questions. It might have been that they want to show that they have respect for the person who is in charge of the investigation and bolster his strength vis-a-vis the president and all this rumbling of removing him.


BROWN: Right. We were just talking to the panel, does this mean we may never hear from Mueller?

If he didn't come out for this, does this mean we won't ever hear from him? We will have to wait and see.

John Dean, thank you so much for coming on, offering your perspective and analysis.

Be sure to stand by, everyone. The president leaving for Florida right now. You see Marine One right there. And we're just learning that Melania Trump is not traveling with him.

I want to go to White House reporter Kate Bennett for more on that.

Why is she not going with him, Kate?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: She is going with him to Florida.

But she did not opt to ride on Marine One with the president from the White House to Andrews Air Force Base. She decided instead to motorcade separately there from the White House, riding via vehicle prior to the president's arrival at Andrews.

They will fly to Florida together. However, that traditional walk on the South Lawn that we have seen so many times as they leave for Florida did not happen today. Her communications director tells me it was a scheduling issue. It was just easier for Mrs. Trump to meet the president today at Andrews, rather than fly there on helicopter and avoid the traffic. So, you know, all of this is coming in the wake of another day of

scandal of an alleged affair, a story that earlier today broke in "The New Yorker" involving the president several years ago.

Speculation is rife. All eyes are on the first couple. However, Melania Trump is anticipated to spend the weekend at Mar-a-Lago.

BROWN: How unusual is it, just for context, for them to be spending the weekend at Mar-a-Lago, but not to be traveling together there?

BENNETT: This again is a first lady who is expressing her independence. We saw a similar move State of the Union evening, when she took a separate motorcade from the White House to the Capitol Building, separate from the president. That's not something we see often.

She also traveled with him last week to Cincinnati, Ohio. However, she didn't go to attend his speech. She went to attend an event of her own at Cincinnati Children's Hospital. She's just displaying a sense of independence and doing things differently, if you will.

She remains pretty quiet about all these headlines. We haven't actually heard from her on the topic. However, you know, she remains private and somewhat mysterious, to be honest with you. And this is unusual that the two are not traveling together in Marine One. However, we should see them together in Florida when the president visits the victims of the high school shooting.

BROWN: OK, Kate Bennett, thank you so much.

And just moments ago, the president tweeted on the indictments against the 13 Russians. Let's take a look here what that says. I'm just trying to find it here.

He says: "Russia started their anti-U.S. campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for president. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong. No collusion."

David Chalian, no surprise, I guess, with that response.

CHALIAN: Certainly no surprise. I think we -- this panel predicted almost each sentence in that tweet.

To the point about this the indictment going back to 2014, the president should make that a point. I think it underlines Sara's point that she was making earlier, which is this has been such an extensive effort for a foreign adversary to interfere with our core democratic function, our elections, for quite some period of time that it would be good to hear from the president about everything he's doing to prevent that from ever happening again and to take that so seriously.

But you see why we don't get that in the second half of the tweet. because he wants to make sure it's not clouded with him doing anything wrong or his campaign. I would just say while Rod Rosenstein may have said today that the outcome wasn't impacted -- and again we don't know how he can come to that conclusion -- what he did not say is that the Trump campaign or anyone affiliated with it did nothing wrong.

I did not hear Rod Rosenstein say that. We know from who Mueller has been talking to, let's just use the Trump Tower meeting with Don Jr. as the first example from last June, there are direct involvement of Trump campaign officials or associates and their interactions with Russians that have been subject of these interviews.

To suggest that somehow today's indictments makes it so that the campaign did nothing wrong, I just don't think we know that yet.

BROWN: And you heard John Dean cast doubt on that theory.

PROKUPECZ: But Michael Flynn cooperating with Bob -- with Mueller, George Papadopoulos cooperating with Bob Mueller.


BROWN: And our reporting recently that Rick Gates, your Rick Gates, on the verge of -- poised to cooperate.


PROKUPECZ: Think about those two cooperators.

We know that George Papadopoulos met with this Russian professor seeking dirt on Hillary Clinton perhaps or offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. What does that have to do with any of this indictment? It doesn't seem like it would have anything to do certainly with this indictment. We don't know where that's heading.


There are so many unanswered questions still in this investigation, because we could potentially, maybe next week or so, whenever, have three cooperators that were close to the president, that were working on the campaign that have to deal with Russia communications, Russian interactions.

We don't know that. This says that this indictment has nothing to do with any Americans. So what else is Bob Mueller working on that we don't know about?

BROWN: And it does make you wonder. This tweet goes to show that he was concerned, as he read this, it seems and was briefed on this, this morning, on how does this impact me and the outcome of the election?

Because, clearly, it states that in mid-2016, the Russians had gone from just wanting to focus on sowing distrust to focus on supporting President Trump and disparaging Hillary Clinton.

And it makes you wonder, Carrie, why the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, made a point to say there are no allegations in this indictment that it impacted the outcome of the election. He didn't have to say that. It makes you wonder if he was speaking to the president directly when he was saying that.

CORDERO: He didn't have to do it. And he did it specifically. So, I think we have to assume that it was intentional. He brought out this indictment.

And what he did is he said, look, in the four corners of this document, there is not anything that affects Americans or their culpability. There's not anyone -- what you can deduce from that, not anyone in the Trump campaign.

And so I think he did that because what he was doing is he was providing political cover for this investigation to continue. And I think Rod Rosenstein gets a bit of credit.

BROWN: And for himself, because he's under fire as well.

CORDERO: He gets some credit today for what he did, because he went out and, really, he is the attorney general for purposes of this investigation and he was really the attorney general today, because he stood there and he put this investigation on his shoulders.

He gave it political cover, so that the actual people, the special counsel's team conducting the investigation does not have to answer questions, is not viewed through the lens of the television by the president and his team.

He gave political cover so that it can continue, because that's what's important, he knows, for the integrity of the investigation, is that it continue.

BROWN: But do you think he also gave himself political cover, Sara?

MURRAY: Yes, I think he gave himself political cover.

Look, we know this is a president who is prone to lashing out. We know he has considered firing Rod Rosenstein. He has vented about firing Rod Rosenstein. There are times he has wanted to fire Bob Mueller. There are times he has wanted to fire basically everyone around him at one time point or another.

So, I think it certainly buys them time. It buys them calm from the president. And I would just say, in the same sense that you sort of think Rod Rosenstein rose to this moment as deputy attorney general, acting as the attorney general, I think a lot of people are still going to look at the president's reaction with disappointment today and say this is still someone who is obsessed with his electoral victory.

He's still obsessed with how he got into the Oval Office, not the weight of governing, not what this means about sort of the vulnerabilities of Americans' election system, and the question of, is Russia an ally, is Russia an adversary, are they something in between? And how do you deal with that relationship, knowing what you know from U.S. intelligence and now what you know from this report from Mueller?

BROWN: And just the week, the intelligence officials said that they are seeing Russian meddling in the 2018 midterms.

PROKUPECZ: We don't know what else the FBI is investigating.

And there probably are other investigations. This is just one organization. There are probably other organizations. Having covered these kinds of cases before, these National Security Division cases where we indict people from other countries or sometimes we call them nation state indictments, there's usually some form of punishment that comes from our government, from our White House.

We have seen, though they were not indicted, the Sony hacking case, some of the Chinese cases. The question now is, what does the White House do? Because usually in these types of cases, as you know, the White House, State Department works with the Department of Justice in these announcements, preparing to -- because it also causes international risk.

We still haven't heard from the White House.

BROWN: It raises the question, right.

I asked the White House today, what does this mean for the sanctions that the White House chose not to impose, instead putting companies working with Russia on notice? And they say they will get back to me with an answer.


BROWN: We will wait to see if that happens.

Everyone, stand by. We have much more to discuss, because there is another major story breaking right now in Parkland, Florida, that shooting massacre at the school. And we're now learning that the FBI failed to act on a recent tip that warned of the shooter's threats.

We will be back.