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Interview with Representative Ryan Costello; Suspected Russian Spy Worked at U.S. Embassy for Years; Democrats Divided Over the Party's Direction; 12-year-old Girl Abducted at Reagan National Airport. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired August 3, 2018 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: -- voted against it. Is this -- is election security a priority for Republicans?

REP. RYAN COSTELLO (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Election security is a priority for Republicans. It's a priority for everyone. I thought that the press conference yesterday with those administration officials was extremely important. And whether or not the president's comments are consistent with that or not, doesn't matter in the following respect. What they said is accurate. Every American should believe what those administration officials said. And if the president deviates from that, the accuracy should be -- is to be found in what the administration officials had to say.

To be sure Russia is interfering. They have interfered. The Mueller investigation as it investigates Russia's involvement is a legitimate investigation and we should see it through to its conclusion.

HILL: And what about in terms of -- you know, as you're siding with all of those intelligence officials that we heard from and their message has been, as you point out, it has been consistent and they have the information to back it up, even if it may not be the same message we're hearing from the president, but when we look at that, do we need to hear more from your fellow Republicans and from other lawmakers who will stand up and say to the president, why, sir, are you not sharing the same message as your intelligence officials?

COSTELLO: Some of my colleagues do say that. I think the thing -- what I have come to accept is that no one is going to tell the president not to say something and have him listen. He's going to say and do -- particularly say what he wants to say. I think where I disagree with the president I'm going to say that and I think what you saw at the press conference is those administration officials getting out there and saying things that the president has chosen not to say for whatever reason. And I think it's very important that those administration officials did that yesterday. I found that press conferences to be extremely significant for that reason.

HILL: Can Americans trust the process today?

COSTELLO: What process?

HILL: In terms of their voting. We're hearing from these officials they're doing everything they can to secure it. Some efforts that have been proposed in Congress in terms of the funding have been shut down.


HILL: You don't think Americans can trust the process or the security of that process?

COSTELLO: No, no, no, I don't say that.

HILL: OK. OK. I heard a no.

COSTELLO: No, no, I -- Americans should --


COSTELLO: I said oh. Sorry about that. Americans should trust our process. I think -- yes, they should. I think that we have adequate funding for this election cycle. As you may know, elections actually are administered at the local level by county government with federal funding. But it's also very important to be vigilant and stay on top of this. That's why the national director of Intelligence, Homeland Security director and others had indicated that we are on high alert for Russian interference and that our intelligence community will provide an additional layer of security.

But Americans should have confidence in our election cycle this time around. But we are going to have to be vigilant throughout the election cycle for the very unfortunate reality that Russia is seeking to interfere.

HILL: The president last night repeating that he's willing to shut down the government over immigration, funding of the wall. Take a quick listen to those comments.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would personally prefer before, but whether it's before or after, we're either getting it or we're closing down government. We need border security.


HILL: The president even saying earlier in the week, this could be a great midterm strategy. Do you agree?

COSTELLO: No. I think it would be a terrible midterm strategy. This election coming up in November is not going to be about whether or not we hold on to the most conservative districts in the country. It's going to be whether we win in the competitive districts across the country where you have a lot of independent voters. Independent voters right now are not leaning in favor of Republicans. You have a lot of centrist Republicans as well that are looking to hear what our economic message is.

And doubling down on immigration I don't think works. I might also add that we had a bill in the House that failed that I voted for that would have solved the DACA issue and would have provided border security. And we didn't get many conservative Republicans to vote for it. And the president could have leaned in on that and it could have passed the House. So if he cares about border security, we had the bill that would have been able to do that.

Taking immigration and using it as a political wedge issue is ultimately not a good long-term strategy for the Republican Party. And I also don't think it's going to be a good strategy in November. So hopefully, everyone running for re-election will see to it that they're talking about what they've done in their district, where they agree with the president, where they disagree as well as talking about the fact that we have record low unemployment. We have more people looking for jobs than are jobs available.

I think that's the message that we want to sell. Not another shutdown over immigration. I think that's a losing issue.

HILL: We're just about out of time but really quickly we know the government now saying that the ACLU should step in and help find some of these parents, help with the reunification of the more than 500 children who remain separated.

[10:35:07] Do you agree? Is it their responsibility to clean up this mess?

COSTELLO: I don't -- I only saw the headline. But it is the administration's responsibility to bring separated children and their parents who had crossed the border back together. It's not some outside organization. So no, I don't agree with that.

HILL: Representative Ryan Costello, always appreciate you taking the time. Thank you.

COSTELLO: Thank you, Erica.

HILL: Still to come, it reads like a spy novel. A woman who works inside the U.S. embassy in Moscow for more than a decade is now suspected of being a Russian spy. We have new reaction next.


[10:40:20] HILL: An official tells CNN that for more than a decade a suspected Russian spy was working inside the U.S. embassy in Moscow. Now apparently the regional security office alerted the embassy after it found the female Russian national was having regular, unauthorized meetings with the Russian intelligence service.

Now as you can imagine, there are new questions about just how much information she had access to while she was there.

CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott joins us now from Washington with more details. So what more do we know? I mean, it sounds like a movie script.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It does, Erica. This woman was a Russian citizen. She had worked for U.S. Secret Service at the embassy in Moscow for more than a decade, working out of the U.S. embassy. A lot of different agencies employ different employees. And this woman worked in the Secret Service. And she came under suspicion during a routine security review by the State Department's diplomatic security, which kind of does security for the embassy.

And the security office found she was having regular, unauthorized meetings with Russian intelligence. A lot of information going to the FSB, one of the Russian's primary security agencies. And really, they kind of caught her red handed in a sting. They started giving her -- letting this play out, giving her certain types of information which they saw was being passed on to the FSB. And of course, notified Secret Service and she was fired last year.

HILL: What is the Secret Service saying about all of this?

LABOTT: Well, they're trying to downplay the role of this woman. Officials have told me both from the State Department and the U.S. Secret Service has told our White House team that this woman did not have any access to national security classified information. But they did in a statement say, quote, "All foreign service nationals who provide services in furtherance of our mission." Foreign service nationals are essentially host country locals that are local hires, "who provide services in furtherance of our mission, administrative or otherwise, can be subject to foreign intelligence influence. This is of particular emphasis in Russia."

And so, Erica, these employees, these foreign service nationals, they do have contact with their local governments as part of their job, whether it's cultural, whether it's administrative, whether it's in terms of any type of logistics in dealing with the host government. But again, in this case they found there was way too much information going to the Russian intelligence services. And eventually, this woman was caught and fired. She did have access to the Secret Service intranet system, the internal system, and the e-mails. So obviously it's an issue of concern.

HILL: Yes, absolutely raising questions and a number of eyebrows as well.

Elise, good to see you. Thank you.

Still to come, could Democrats' biggest challenge in 2020 be from Democrats? The party facing divisions in terms of the direction it should take.


[10:47:48] HILL: The 2018 midterm elections now just 95 days away. And as the energy on the progressive left picks up steam, some Democrats are concerned about the direction of the party as a whole.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is live in New Orleans where some 2020 Democratic hopefuls are gathering at a progressive conference. What's their take there, Miguel?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Democrats agree on a lot of things. There are some things that there are a lot of shades of difference on. One thing that there is sharp disagreement on is impeachment. To impeach or not to impeach the president. Here at That the underlying theme is that Democrats can win with a multi- ethnic, multi-racial coalition across the country and the party at large better get on board.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): The yearly gathering of progressives, Netroots Nation, attracting the president's biggest detractors.

TOM STEYER, WANTS TRUMP IMPEACHED: He is reckless, dangerous and lawless. I think that he is a threat to the United States, to our people and our democracy.

MARQUEZ: One star of the show --

STEYER: Why is he still president?

MARQUEZ: California's billionaire Tom Steyer who has spent millions running ads nationwide urging the impeachment of Donald J. Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why hasn't Congress started impeachment proceedings?

MARQUEZ: All the immigration talk now worries mainstream establishment Democrats.

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Running a hypothetical campaign right now, about having an impeachment vote, when we could be spending that time and energy revealing to the American people how corrupt this administration is, I don't think that that's a productive way to go right now.

MARQUEZ: The fear, talking impeachment before the special counsel's investigation is complete, could turn off independents and moderates ahead of the midterms and beyond.

(On camera): Is there any concern that that fissure between the far left and the center is going to hurt candidates in November and possibly the presidential contenders in 2020?

STEYER: I don't think we should be so clever about pollsters. And I think that the people -- the political establishment in Washington, D.C. should get back to much simpler questions, which is, are we telling the truth about the most important things in America?

[10:50:12] Are we standing up for the American people?

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Potential 2020 contenders making their way to net roots, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Voting and supporting for Abdul al-Sayyed for governor is the right thing to do.

MARQUEZ: And so profess Democratic socialist candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who upset an establishment Democrat and is now stumping for progressives nationwide.

AMY RICKLES CORLEY, NETROOTS NATION: We don't believe that the way forward and the way to win for progressive and for Democrats is to go moderate. We want to see candidates who are bold, who are visionaries, and who speak to the people.

MARQUEZ: Republicans painting Netroots as now mainstream. In talking points sent to reporters the Republican National Committee called Netroots a formerly fringe far left progressive movement that has become a key force in moving the Democratic Party further left.

(On camera): Do you think the Democratic Party has moved to the left or is this just a more open tent these days?

CORLEY: I do think that it's moving more and more left. I don't think that progressivism or liberalism is a far-out idea anymore.


MARQUEZ: Now one other hot button issue de jure. Abolish ICE. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some Democrats jumped on this. Others here, even like Tom Steyer, Mr. Impeachment, says better to reform ICE than to abolish it all together. All of this may not matter much in the midterms because individual members can run in their own districts, kind of free of those national issues. But 2020, there's a lot of concern that all of these issues got to be dealt with or there's going to be a lot of disagreement on the left -- Erica.

HILL: And definitely some things they'll need to figure out.

Miguel, who is speaking today?

MARQUEZ: Well, Cory Booker, who was supposed to speak last night, is now coming in today because he had weather issues or he'll be here shortly. Elizabeth Warren will be here. And they have 170 different events happening throughout this conference. So there are tons and tons of speakers at the conference as well. Most of it focused on the nuts and bolts of getting people out to vote in November and 2020.

HILL: Miguel Marquez, good to see you. Thank you.

An Amber alert issued for a 12-year-old girl abducted from Reagan National Airport. Why police say she is in extreme danger.


[10:57:15] HILL: We are keeping a close watch on Virginia. Take a look at these images. There are fears this morning that a dam in Lynchburg could collapse and you can see why there. Heavy rain sending water rushing over the top. A flash flood warning for the area has been extended. Some homes evacuated. The lake in Lynchburg swelled to well over capacity after between four and six inches of rain fell there overnight. Some 80,000 people live in the city.

A 12-year-old child abducted from Reagan National Airport. Virginia state police say this morning JinJing Ma is in extreme danger. This after yesterday morning shortly after arriving at the airport with a tour group from China she was seen leaving with an unknown woman.

CNN's Rene Marsh joins us now with more. Rene, what do we know about this young girl?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, we know that this is an ongoing investigation at this hour. Police say that they're actually looking through enhanced video of the vehicle and the two adults that they say that this 12-year-old girl left Reagan National Airport with. Now her name is JinJing Ma, she's 12 years old. And police believe she may have been abducted. She's from China and was last seen at Reagan National Airport right outside of Washington, D.C.

She was with a tour group with students visiting schools and sight- seeing in the area. And after picking up her passport, she met up with an adult female who helped her change her clothes. Metropolitan Washington Airport Police just released additional pictures of both a male and female who they believe this young girl was with as well as the vehicle which they say is either a 2016 or 2018 Infinity QX70 with New York tags. Take a listen to police.


CHIEF DAVID HUCHIER, METRO WASHINGTON AIRPORT AUTHORITY: We can't -- we don't have any reason or understand why she left. Because of her age, because of the circumstances, she was with a tour group, received her passport as part of a check in to security here at Reagan National and then left. With those types of information, because of the age of the child, this is a very serious incident.


MARSH: Well, we know there's a little girl who is missing is about 5'2". She's 90 pounds. She was last seen -- you saw in that photo, she's wearing a white T-shirt, blue jeans, and she also had a black jacket. Again she's believed to have left the airport with an unknown middle-aged Asian female. And police still actively working even with the FBI to try to track her down -- Erica.

HILL: All right. And we will hopefully have updates on that soon.

Rene, appreciate it. Thank you.

Thanks to all of you for joining us today. I'm Erica Hill in for Poppy on this Friday. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Try this on for size. This whole thing is a hoax but we're going to make it a top --