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Thirteen Russians Indicted For Meddling in the U.S. 2016 Elections and the Effects on the Election Results and Associated Personnel Was Discussed; The Shooting at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Was Reported and Discussed as Allegations of FBI Mishandling of Prior Reports Regarding the Shooter Surface. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired February 16, 2018 - 15:30   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Welcome back. I'm Pamela Brown. We continue to cover the stunning developments in the Russia investigation. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 13 Russians, he alleges meddled in the 2016 election. These indictments accuse Russian Nationals and three Russian entities are accused of violating U.S. laws to interfere with U.S. elections and details a conspiracy operation that worked to support Donald Trump and disparage Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign.

The indictment claims the Russian defendants allegedly posed as U.S. persons, created false U.S. personas and operated social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences and wage, "information warfare."

Joining me now to discuss this is CNN Senior Media Correspondent Brian Stelter, and Dylan Byers, CNN Senior Media and Politics Reporter. Dylan, I want to start with you because you have done extensive reporting on the social media meddling by the Russians. So what do you make of this extensive indictment?

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR MEDIA AND POLITICS REPORTER: Well, it proves everything that we believed to be true, everything that the Senate and House Intelligence Committees said was true, everything that the President of the United States denied and dismissed. All of our reporting has been born out. Everything that Facebook, Google, twitter, have said about the involvement they've seen by the internet research agency that has been born out in this indictment. And now with Rod Rosenstein coming out,


it's no longer something that the President can run away from. What he is doing is saying, look, there's no evidence of collusion. Collusion is not the issue here. No one has proven collusion yet, anyway. The issue here, the salient point is that foreign actors were able to use our social media networks, our digital platforms, in order to meddle in our elections and, more than that, they can still do that and are still doing that. And that's a real threat for 2018, 2020, elections in the future. And so you ask, what do these social media networks, what do Facebook, Google, twitter need to do? They need to figure out if they have the will and capability to address this in a serious way.

BROWN: Right, I mean just this week, intelligence officials said that they are already seeing some of this meddling already for the 2018 mid terms. Brian, not only does this completely blow up the President's, "hoax argument" but the conservative media that echoes him. Of course, the White House will say the President is talking about collusion when he says it's a hoax not Russian meddling. But that distinction hasn't really been made.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: I think his tweet a few minutes ago shows he's still not taking this all that seriously. This is the kind of attack from another country that merits a prime time address. That was true a year ago. It's still true today. This is the kind of behavior by Russian propagandists that demands a forceful government response and we're not seeing it from the President.

But I do, I think your point about conservative media is really important here, for months there's been a concerted effort to try to erode Robert Mueller's credibility, to try to discredit his efforts to get to the bottom of this. Today's indictments are a very strong case and it's going to make the attempts to take down Mueller a lot more complicated.

So those conservative media arguments that are promoted by the President and his allies, they've been undermined today. And I think for all of us as Americans, anybody who has a phone, anybody who uses twitter and Facebook, it's also a moment for all of us to think about how these platforms are being manipulated and as you both said how it's still happening today. There's been a rise in Russia-backed trolling promoting gun use in the wake of the Parkland attack a couple of days ago.

I noticed in the indictment today, a twitter account called 10 GOP is mentioned. 10 GOP was one of these far right-wing twitter accounts that promoted Trump and made up a lot of lies. I remember before election day getting into arguments with this twitter troll, not knowing it was a Russian twitter troll. I remember trying to debunk his lies. I guess it was a waste of time. The point is, all of us have to think about our use of these social platforms, whether we are even inadvertently falling for what could be foreign propaganda. BROWN: And it's frightening -- go ahead.

BYERS: I would just add very quickly to Brian's point, which is a great one -- this could not come at a worse time for networks like Facebook and Google. The decline in trust in social media networks, the threat of Federal regulation, there's sort of a perfect storm going on here in terms of finally, for the first time since these companies were created over a decade ago, we're finally running into this sort of moment where we're losing our sense of romance with those networks.

BROWN: Yeah.

BYERS: To be reminded now, to have it back in the headlines that these social networks played a key role in Russia's ability to meddle in our elections, that's really bad for them and I do think they have to go back to the drawing board. The efforts that they've made, how they've worked with the special counsel, how they've worked with Congress so far, it's not enough to prevent this from happening in 2018 or 2020. There needs to be serious thinking about what kind of responsibility they're going to take if they're serious about stopping this from happening again.

BROWN: All right, Dylan, Brian, thank you so much to both of you. I do appreciate it.

And I want to bring in now, CNN Senior International Correspondent, Fred Pleitgen in Moscow. Also with me CNN National Security Analyst Steve Hall. He's a retired CIA Chief of Russia Operations. Fred, Russian officials have strongly denied ever meddling in the U.S. elections. What is their reaction to these Russian indictments?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Well, Russian officials - and they came out very quickly, Pamela, in the form of a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said that this new indictment was what she called absurd. I think the more important thing is that, the most important man who's on that indictment, Yevgeny Prigozhin, he's the man behind the internet research company, really someone who has a big business empire here. He came out very, very quickly with a statement of his own.

I want to read you the gist of it. I think it's quite interesting. He said, "Americans are very impressionable people. 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, then let them see one."

Now if this doesn't sound to you like someone who is particularly afraid he's in an indictment, that's certainly the jest that we're getting here as well. Now you have to keep in mind that for people like Prigozhin, it's sort of a new breed of oligarch here in Moscow.


To them it's almost like a badge of honor. One of the main things they want to prove is that they're useful and important to Vladimir Putin and that certainly an indictment like this is something that would certainly give him some credit with Putin if some of this comes out. He is certainly someone also after this, who has benefited from his very close ties to the Kremlin, who has become a lot more important also, in part, being linked to Russian security companies that are even operating in Syria. Pamela?

BROWN: All right and I want to say, the White House just released a statement moments ago reading, in part, "it is more important now than ever to come together as Americans. We cannot allow those speaking -- seeking to sow confusion, discord, and rancor to be successful. It is time we stop the outlandish partisan attacks, wild and false allegations, and far-fetched theories which only serve to further the agendas of bad actors like Russia and do nothing to protect the principles of our institutions. Your reaction to that, Steve?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, it's pretty amazing. It's difficult to tell whether that's coming from the White House or the Kremlin, and often times their talking points seem to be quite similar. This is the same White House that called all of this ridiculous, a hoax. And, of course, yes, now they're going to say we were just talking about the collusion part. That's clearly not the case. Look the Russians, two things struck me about this.

First of all, the fact that the Russian intelligence services actually sent teams of Russians to do research to figure out how to best meddle in the elections is really something. It's very, very aggressive. And I often wondered how a Russian sitting in St. Petersburg at this troll factory knew that such and such a state was a purple state or it was not. Now we know, they came here and did their homework.

Another question I have about what that team was up to, there's talk in the indictments of how there were unwitting people that met with them. You know, that's what the indictment says. That does not rule out, of course, that there were people who were aware they were having clandestine or more discreet meetings.

The other thing, Pamela, that I'm not sure has been mentioned yet but sort of set me back when I heard all of this, the system -- by that I mean the administration, the intelligence services, clearly the FBI -- knew all this information, has had this information for a significant amount of time. You will recall not too long ago that the head of all three Russian intelligence services were in this country, meeting, if I'm not mistaken, with senior members of our intelligence services and other members of the government. That's flabbergasting to me. What you're telling Vladimir Putin is, you can walk all over us and guess what, we're going to invite your guys who actually authored this to Washington to talk to them.

Now they're going to say there's important counterterrorism stuff. That's balderdash. There's not been a counterterrorism thing that Russia has been involved with the United States that's been worth its salt for a very long period of time. It's just amazing to me that things like that can happen.

BROWN: And it makes you wonder now that these 13 indictments have come out, will this serve as a deterrent effect. We'll have to wait and see. Thank you both, gentlemen. Appreciate you coming on and offering your reporting and analysis. And just ahead, our other breaking news story today, the Governor of

Florida calling on FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign after news that the agency mishandled a tip about the Parkland school gunman. And that is next. This is CNN special breaking news coverage.



BROWN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN special live coverage live here out of Parkland, Florida. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Where we have a massive new development in this investigation into the shooting here at Douglas High School. You know the numbers. Seventeen people were murdered by a young man who has now confessed to the killings. The FBI is now admitting - this is huge today - The FBI is admitting its tip line received a phone call of concern, from a person close to the shooter just on January 5. So that was six weeks before this mass shooting at Douglas.

The FBI understands the gravity of the oversight. Let's just call it what it is, massive screw-up, with the director of the FBI, himself expressing regret. CNN's Brian Todd has the details. He is in this gunman's previous neighborhood here at Parkland. Also with us, CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Charles Ramsey, who used to lead the police forces both in Philadelphia and in Washington. But Brian, starting with you, this phone call, six weeks before this school shooting, what did this person who knew the shooter say?

BRIAN TODD, CNN REPORTER: Brooke, this is simply just a stunning and disturbing development coming less than 48 hours after the shooting took place, by the FBI. Because of a detail of this tip, it's really -- almost seems to predict what the shooter was going to do, this tip coming to the FBI on January 5th, just last month. Here is some of the detail of the tip. This is from a person close to the shooter, according to the FBI. They talked about the shooter's gun ownership, his desire to kill people, his erratic behavior, disturbing social media posts as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.

The information should have been assessed as a potential threat to life, according to the FBI. That's the detail that they got in that tip 42 days before the shooting took place, from a person close to the shooter. Here is -- I'll paraphrase to you a little bit of what Christopher Wray, the FBI Director, said a short time ago about this: we are still investigating the facts. I am committed to getting to the bottom of what happened in this particular matter and reviewing our processes. He also said that they have spoken with victims and families and deeply regret the additional pain this causes all those affected by this horrific tragedy.

Brooke, this comes really as a dagger to the heart of these families who are grieving right now, searching for answers, that such a detailed tip to the FBI was received just last month on January 5th and what happened in the process was it was never passed along to the FBI's Miami field office. It is a mistake, a mishandling that is almost incomprehensible right now especially for the families.


BROWN: Chief, let me bring you in. You think, of course, my heart, instantly I think of the mothers and the fathers. And this person did the right thing. They did the right thing and called this FBI tip line. How can this happen?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, it's inexcusable. Obviously it can happen because it did happen but it shouldn't have. Normally when that comes in, I've never served in the FBI and I don't know exactly what their protocol is, but they would pass it on to the field office --

BROWN: In Miami. RAMSEY: -- that covers that particular area, in this case, Miami. It could go to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, they would do an initial screening. If that is coupled with the first complaint that came in on YouTube, and I don't know what order these happened, --


RAMSEY: -- there is a database. I know of eGuardian, for an example, where a name can be entered and they would match those two up and say yeah --


RAMSEY: -- we've got a problem here. Locals are notified, They go out and interview the individual and all the steps start to fall in place.

BROWN: It just feels like the right things were done up and to a point. The FBI interviewed the person who posted the YouTube video, they banged on that person's door in Mississippi, to which the shooter had commented in his own name. And again, an example of someone calling up this 1-800 number doing right thing. And yet 17 lives were lost.

RAMSEY: Well that's the whole point of having a tip line --

BROWN: The whole point.

RAMSEY: -- is to be able to get information and then follow up on that information. Granted, a lot of the tips turn out to be nothing, but so what? We have to be able to follow up all of them. The other part is that that now I fear is that those people who feel like nothing needs to change, no laws need to be changed, will be the first to say law enforcement just needs to do its job.

BROWN: Right. Right.

RAMSEY: You know? Everything is fine. They just dropped the ball. If they hadn't dropped the ball, this might not have happened. We all know it is deeper than that. There are things and step that need to be taken and that's exactly what you'll start to hear very shortly.

BROWN: 100 percent agree with you. Charles Ramsey, I appreciate you and your perspective. I'm about to talk to some more students and we'll talk to them about how they're feeling about all of this in just a second. But, a few moments ago, I actually had this special opportunity to talk to one of the very first responders who arrived at the scene of this mass shooting. He was the incident commander here at Douglas. Mike Moser who was the Division Chief of Fire for Coral Springs and Parkland and he was also standing with Ray Rahne who was the incident commander at Columbine High School back in 1999, and here is what they said to me.


MIKE MOSER, DIVISION CHIEF OF FIRE FOR CORAL SPRINGS AND PARKLAND: The 911 calls kept coming in. We were told that there was possibly an active shooter incident going on here at the high school. But when I arrived, even throw the radio traffic was really busy saying the same thing, there was an eerie quiet for about a minute. We were hoping that it wasn't real but it sure sounded like it was. And after that minute was up and the calm very quickly went away, and patients begin to present themselves at the command post.

When we're being told on the radio that there are police officers that have wounded children with them but they're inside the of the confines of the school fence, they're not in the building but they're still just outside of the building and the school, we're not going to wait. We're going to go in there and we are - in our business we know that there is a lot of risk but we also know that if the benefit is very high, we're willing to take that high risk as well and that's what happened. When we're being told that there's injured children inside of a school, we're going to go in and get them.

BROWN: How many years has it been? Nineteen?