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Questions from Mueller for Trump; Nerves over Probe; Ivanka Trump on Media; White House Holds Second Briefing; White House Press Briefing. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired August 2, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That exact language. Of course he's interested in obstruction. And of course he has and has been preparing a case for obstruction of justice as far as any of us who have been covering this can tell. It's not 100 percent certain.

But more important, and if you read today's "New York Times," and I think it's generally accepted, that the story in "The Times" says that he is also, Mueller, looking into possible coordination between the Russians and Trump associates in the campaign. And that would include members of Trump's family.

So I think that we need to look at that aspect of it perhaps as being as dangerous for President Trump and those around him as these questions of obstruction. This whole investigation is going increasingly from what we can see to the question of collusion, a conspiracy perhaps to engage with Russians, to impede and interfere in the elections. But we'll have to see. But certainly Mueller wants to go in that direction, and that's what "The Times" story indicates.

BLITZER: As you know, the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is framing a lot of this as going into the midterm elections. You can vote for impeachment, if the Democrats presumably become the majority in the House of Representatives, or no impeachment, if the Republicans maintain their majority. How do you see it?

BERNSTEIN: I think that that's a very careful formulation that the president and Giuliani and people in the White House are trying to make, whereas Democrats are trying to back away from that formulation. What the White House wants to do is energize the base on all of this. So, you know, really what Trump has done throughout his presidency is to be the president of his base, not to be the president of all the people of this country, and to increasingly appeal and incite that base as a means of holding on to his office, should it be threatened, and in terms of winning re-election, if indeed he does run.

BLITZER: You can almost tell -- and you've been covering these stories for a long time -- when a negative story is about to drop and the White House gets advanced word of that, the president lashes out on social media, specifically on Twitter. His tweet yesterday on Sessions was apparently spurned, we can only guess why, but maybe that latest offer from Mueller about a direct face-to-face interview. His tweets on Sunday were allegedly over that "New York Times" story. Let me ask you this historically, because a lot of our viewers will remember, was President Nixon, when you and Bob Woodward were working on the Watergate related stories, was he as anxious publicly during your reporting as we now see this president being very anxious, being deeply concerned about the Mueller probe?

BERNSTEIN: First, I think what we're seeing is more than anxiety on the part of Donald Trump. We are seeing a president who is behaving and acting unhinged. Nixon did not really publicly act unhinged.

But I think we need to look at something larger. And that is, that in Watergate, the system worked. The president of the United States did not publicly declare the press an enemy of the people and seek to undermine the First Amendment and the very legitimacy of what the press did, though he did try to make our conduct an issue, or the issue, in Watergate, rather than his own conduct.

But, really, President Trump has taken the question of the free exercise of the First Amendment and whipped up a kind of hysteria unlike any other president in our history.

But more than that, I think it's time to recognize that what we are watching in the Trump presidency is worse than Watergate. It's worse than Watergate, as I say, because the system worked in Watergate. The heroes of Watergate were Republicans who demanded that the president be held accountable, who demanded that he be transparent, who demanded to know what did the president know and when did he know it, and who conducted bipartisan investigation that led, in fact, to understanding and finding out what Nixon had done, whereas the Republicans on Capitol Hill thus far have done almost everything they can to impede and undermine legitimate investigation. And so it's a totally different and much more dangerous situation.

And also, Donald Trump is a demonstrable authoritarian in terms of his rhetoric, in terms of whipping up his base. Nixon did not do anything similar to that. You did not see rallies such as we saw the other night intended to send an authoritarian message as we saw.

[13:05:11] BLITZER: Ivanka Trump broke with her father today as far as the U.S. news media is concerned. I want to play a clip for you. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First, I have to ask you, we have a number of our colleagues here, on the press, do you think that we're the enemy of the people?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think that the media is the enemy of the people?

TRUMP: No, I do not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not a view that's shared in your family. TRUMP: Are you looking for me to elaborate and --


TRUMP: No, I don't.


TRUMP: I mean, I certainly -- I certainly have -- I can share my own personal perspective. I've -- I've certainly received my fair share of reporting on me personally that I know not to be fully accurate. So I've, you know, had some -- I have some sensitivity around why people have concerns and gripe, especially when they are -- sort of feel targeted. But, no, I do not feel that the media is the enemy of the people.


BLITZER: All right. Well, you know, she's clearly taking a different stance than her dad, who does believe that the so-called mainstream news media is the enemy of the American people. What's your reaction?

BERNSTEIN: My reaction is, if she really believes what she says and believes it's important, she should get up there with her father, and she should say, if he won't do it with her loud and clear, I am holding a press conference myself to talk to the American people and say that this member of the family does not believe in suppression of the First Amendment, that does not -- I do not believe in whipping up the kind of hysteria that President Trump is in terms of making the media, quote, the enemy of the people. I don't believe in this approach to our democracy.

Let her say it loud and clear. I think this is a kind of ruse. That if she really means it, she's had every opportunity to say it loud and clear. And she has the platform to do it beyond a short interview with Axios, such as we've seen there.

And indeed I think that maybe the press ought to be going to her now that she's said that and said, Miss Trump, we'd really like to sit down with you on this topic and explore it. I think it's a good story for us to pursue.

BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Carl, because our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta is over at the White House. He's getting ready for this briefing that's scheduled to begin, we're told, any moment now. Two brief, Jim, in two days. That's sort of unusual for the White House. What are you hearing?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House was coming under a lot of scrutiny over this past week for not holding enough briefings, only three briefings in July, five briefings in June. You know, they're no longer daily briefings, they're weekly briefings, on average. Although the last couple of days we're having briefings.

Now, Wolf, we'll have to see what happens in the next several minutes. Perhaps the White House will have a guest or two to come out here today. Maybe that's why they're having two briefings in a row.

But I think when Sarah Sanders begins to take questions here in the Briefing Room, she is going to be asked about what President Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, said earlier this morning with Mike Allen. That is not only the president's daughter disagreeing with the president of the United States, it is an employee who works under the president. And the president doesn't usually take too kindly to his subordinates going in another direction. And so when Ivanka Trump says, no, the media are not the enemy of the people, I think that's very interesting. And I suppose she'll be asked -- she'll be asked about that -- Sarah Sanders will be asked about that.

But, at the same time, there are all these other weighty issues in terms of what Rudy Giuliani, the president's outside lawyer, said yesterday with respect to the president and these legal options that apparently they're weighing behind the scenes right now as to whether or not the president will actually sit down with Robert Mueller's team and answer some questions about some of these areas they want to cover as we've been reporting. The Mueller team is floating the possibility of whittling down some of these questions in order to entice the president's cooperation.

I can tell you from talking to my own sources, sources that are familiar with these discussions that go on inside the president's legal team, that is -- that is something that has been advocated for a long time. It's been hotly debated for some time, that the president, at the end of the day, Wolf, if he wants to fully put this behind him, is going to have to sit down, according to some people inside the president's legal team, is going to have to sit down and answer some of these questions, whether they're via e-mail or they're in person or some combination of both. If the president does not do that, the feeling is, and I heard this expressed by people who are familiar with these discussions, that the president is just not going to fully put this behind him. And I think, obviously, that's going to come up as well.

[13:10:01] Wolf, there's just a whole host of issues, obviously, that Sarah Sanders will be asked about if she has an extended briefing in here. But as we've seen before, Wolf, on some of these occasions, especially when we have a couple of briefings in a row during the week, sometimes you do have an administration official coming out to talk about whatever subject the White House wants to talk about on any given day. So we may see that happen here as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta, I want you to stand by. I want our viewers to stand by. Carl Bernstein is still with us. We've got our other analysts and reporters. We're all awaiting the start of this briefing moments away. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Ivanka Trump breaking from the White House she serves. By the way, the briefing is -- was scheduled for the top of the hour. We're still waiting for the start of the briefing. We'll get there shortly.

But, in the meantime, let's talk about the president's daughter and senior adviser. She told reporters just a few hours ago that her father's policy that separated families at the border has been the lowest point of her time.

We'll have much more on that. But in the meantime, here's Sarah Sanders.

[13:15:20] SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Safeguard our nation's elections. The president has made it clear that his administration will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections from any nation state or other dangerous actor.

Last year, the president signed an executive order to strengthen and review the cybersecurity of our nation and its critical infrastructure. Last week, the president chaired a meeting of his National Security Council to address ongoing threats.

He asked the officials standing next to me to brief the American people on the work being done to protect the integrity of our elections. Efforts are underway to provide cybersecurity assistance to state and local authorities and actions to investigate, prosecute and hold accountable those who illegally attempt to interfere in our political and electoral process.

To address these matters further, I want to welcome Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Director of the National Security Agency General Paul Nakasone and National Security Advisor Ambassador John Bolton to make some comments and take questions on this topic.

As you all know, we've addressed what occurred during the 2016 election numerous times and rather extensively. The purpose of today's briefing is about what we are doing now and in the future to protect the integrity of our elections moving forward, and we ask that you stay on that topic.

In order to help this run smoothly, we'd also ask that you direct your questions to a specific person. And with that, I'll turn it over to Ambassador Bolton to open up and make some comments. Thanks.

BOLTON: Well, thank you very much, Sarah.

What we'd like to address today is election security in the 2018 election and in the future. The president has made it very clear, I think, what his priority is. We've had obviously a number of inquiries from Congress on this, including a letter to me in the past couple of days from five Senators, signed by Senator Schumer and four others.

I have responded to that letter today, we've made copies available to you and it's formed as a kind of framework for the briefing that the four heads of operating departments and agencies are going to give you here today.

They are the ones who are implementing and operationalizing the policy that we have developed. There are other agencies involved, but -- but these are the four primary ones. And I think it's important that we address the question of the president's involvement in this, his leadership, his determination to prevent Russian and other foreign influence in elections.

We meet on this constantly, the senior staff here in the White House. We meet with the heads of the different agencies involved. We discuss it quite regularly. In my tenure as national security advisor, less than two months, we've already had two full National Security Council meetings chaired by the president and as I say, countless other discussions as well.

Since January 2017, the president has taken decisive action to defend our election systems from meddling and interference. This includes measures to heighten the security and resilience of election systems and processes, to confront Russian and other foreign malign influence in the United States, to confront such aggression through international action and to reinforce a strong sanctions regime.

Now as you know, elections are administered by the state and local governments, so the federal role is to assist them. We'll be addressing that through the comments of the heads of the operating agencies.

I might also say, by way of introduction, that many federal government actions to protect elections in the United States, such as those implemented by the intelligence community or law enforcement agencies, are necessarily sensitive and highly classified.

BOLTON: We do not wish to make the efforts of our adversaries any easier through injudicious public disclosures. Nonetheless, we have offered to do before and continue to offer briefings to members of Congress in secure facilities.

So what I'd like to do here, as Sarah said, is turn the briefing over to the people whose agencies have this responsibility. We'll start off with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. He'll be followed by the secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen. She'll be followed by the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Wray, and then finally, the director of the National Security Agency, General Paul Nakasone.

So Dan?

[13:20:00] COATS: Well, as director of National Intelligence, I would like the American people to know that the intelligence community and all of its agencies are postured to identify threats of all kinds against the United States. The president has specifically directed us to make the matter of election meddling and securing our election process a top priority, and we have done that, and are doing that, and will continue to do so.

We have incorporated the lessons learned from the 2016 election, and implemented a broad spectrum of actions to share more information across the federal government, as well as with state and local governments, and also with the public and the private sector. The intelligence community continues to be concerned about the threats of upcoming U.S. elections, both the midterms and the presidential elections of 2020.

In regards to Russian involvement in the midterm elections, we continue to see a pervasive messaging -- messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States. These efforts are not exclusive to this election or future elections, but certainly, cover issues relevant to the election.

We also know the Russians try to hack into and steal information from candidates and government officials alike. We are aware that Russia is not the only country that has an interest in trying to influence our domestic political environment. We know there are others that -- who have the capability, and may be considering influence activities. As such, we will continue to monitor and warn of any such efforts.

I am committed to making sure that the intelligence community is working together in integrating across organizations and missions, and seeking greater transparency with the public. The OD&I has instituted a broad spectrum of actions covering collection, analysis, reporting, education and partnerships, all designed to provide the best threat assessments to federal, state and local officials, as well as to the public and private sector, when necessary.

For example, my office leads the interagency working group now meeting weekly as a push towards November with Department of Justice, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, CIA and NSA, inclusive of regional cyber and counterintelligence experts, all focused on ensuring election security and integration of our efforts. The intelligence community's focus right now is persistent support to the FBI, to the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies in their election responsibilities, and my office is ensuring these organizations receive timely and proactive intelligence community support.

NIELSEN: Well, good afternoon. Thank you for joining us.

I want to start by briefly mentioning that on Tuesday, DHS hosted the first National Cybersecurity Summit. This brought together government, industry leaders and academia to discuss opportunities to join forces to counter threats to our nation's critical infrastructure.

I want to thank all of those who joined us from academia, government and the private sector, all who participated and those who signed up to concrete actions to confront cyber-security challenges. Across every critical infrastructure sector -- from energy to financial services to transportation to communication and so many others, a single attack can have widespread and cascading consequences.

I look forward to working with the nation's leading minds in the digital realm as we stand up the National Risk Management Center. But it's not just risks to our prosperity, privacy and infrastructure we have to worry about, and that's why we're here today. Our democracy itself is in the crosshairs.

Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy, and it has become clear that they are the target of our adversaries who seek, as the DNI just said, to sow discord and undermine our way of life. I fully share the intelligence community and the ODNI's assessments, past efforts -- past efforts and those today, to interfere with our election and of the current threat.

Our adversaries have shown they have the willingness and capability to interfere in our elections. DHS has and continues to work closely with state and local election officials throughout the country by offering a range of services to help identify weaknesses in their election systems.

Whether it's offering no cost, voluntary technical assistance or sharing best practices for securing online voter registration databases, or providing technical advice on ransomware and destructive malware, our department stands ready to provide tailored support based on each jurisdiction's unique needs.

[13:25:00] This is yet another example where one size does not fit all. I am pleased to inform you that, to date, all 50 states, the District of Columbia and over 900 local governments have partnered with DHS in order to bolster the resilience of the nation's election infrastructure. Various states also have organic capabilities and are engaging with the private sector and academia to improve the security of elections.

Election infrastructure is not a destination. It requires aggressive and ongoing vigilance. Everyone must play their role to ensure that every vote is counted, and is counted correctly. All of us up here today, members of Congress, state and local election officials and the public; as all of us up here today gain new insights into potential adversaries and campaigns, we are committed to providing our partners with the government's best intelligence and information available.

The progress we have made is real, and the nation's elections are more resilient today because of the work we are all doing. But we must continue to ensure that our democracy is protected.

Thank you for being here, and I'll turn it over to Director Wray.

WRAY: Afternoon, everybody.

(UNKNOWN): Afternoon.

WRAY: Last fall, after I -- shortly after I became director, I stood up a new foreign influence task force at the FBI, which was designed to identify and counteract the full range of malign foreign influence operations, targeting our democratic institutions and our values. The task force now brings together, across the waterfront of FBI expertise. So we're talking counterintelligence, cyber, criminal and even counterterrorism, designed to root out and respond to foreign influence operations.

For their part, our adversaries' influence operations have encompassed a wide range of activities. So just like we have a multidisciplinary response, that's because the threat is multidisciplinary. So just a few examples of some of the things we've seen over the past, targeting U.S. officials and other U.S. persons through traditional intelligence tradecraft, criminal efforts to suppress voting and provide illegal campaign financing, cyber attacks against voting infrastructure along with computer intrusions targeting elected officials and others. And a whole slew of other kinds of influence by both overtly and

covertly manipulating news stories, spreading disinformation, leveraging economic resources and escalating divisive issues.

But it's important to understand this is not just an election cycle threat. Our adversaries are trying to undermine our country on a persistent and regular basis, whether it's election season or not.

There's a clear distinction between on the one hand, activities that threaten the security and integrity of our election systems and on the other hand, the broader threat of influence operations designed to manipulate and influence our voters and their opinions.

With our partners, we're trying to counteract both threats. We have three pillars to our operational strategy, the first pillar is our investigations and our operations. And for a variety of reasons, which I hope are obvious and including operational sensitivities, I'm not going to be able to describe the full extent of those efforts.

But I will tell you that our Foreign Influence Task Force works with FBI personnel in all 56 FBI field offices, and even as we speak we've got open investigations with a foreign influence nexus spanning field offices, FBI field offices across the country. So make no mistake, the scope of this foreign influence threat is both broad and deep. Second pillar, I said there were three pillars, the second is focused on information sharing and intelligence sharing.

We're working closely with our partners in the intelligence community and in the federal government, as well as with our state and local partners, to establish a common operating picture.

Just last week, as an example, we disseminated a list to our state and local law enforcement partners of various foreign influence indicators for them to be on the lookout for, things like malicious cyber activity, social abnormalities and foreign propaganda activities.

The idea is to marshal additional eyes and ears in the fight. We're also working with our international partners to exchange intelligence and strategies for combating the threat because this is after all a shared threat with our allies.

[13:29:55] WRAY: The third pillar of our approach is based on our strong relationships with the private sector. Technology companies have a front line responsibility to secure their own networks, products, and platforms, but we're doing our part by providing actionable intelligence to better enable them to address