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White House Officials Hold Press Briefing on Efforts to Combat Russian Attempts to Interfere with 2018 Midterms; Interview with Rep. Lou Barletta; Interview with Rep. Joaquin Castro. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 3, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That is his Homeland Security chief who made that point. It's been nearly three weeks since the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki. We still don't know what the two leaders discussed in private. The director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, said he still does not fully understand what happened between two-hour meeting between the two of them, but we have one clue. President Trump's national security adviser John Bolton sought to reassure the country, insisting that Vladimir Putin says -- yes, Putin -- that election interference was the first issue that President Trump brought up.

Joining us now, CNN national security commentator Mike Rogers, and CNN senior national security analyst Lisa Monaco. Welcome to you both.

Mike Rogers, I've been thinking this morning going through this, trying to understand how you have administration officials, members of the national security team, who say one thing and a president who says the other. It is as if President Bush after 9/11 would have said, well, you know this Al Qaeda threat and them attacking us again, I think it's overblown. We're not really sure it was Al Qaeda, and I don't think it's a big deal. In fact, it's a hoax, while the entire government put the country on a war footing. Is that not the analogy that applies here?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: I just don't think helpful when the president gets off the reservation or maybe never comes onto the reservation on a particular issue, especially this one. The Russians are doing more than just targeting our elections. There was a public report not that long ago, they were trying to get into our electric grid. They've been much more aggressive in cyberspace in a very bad way in the last probably year. And all of that is a problem.

That's why you saw all of those folks on the podium saying we have a problem and we are at least telling our workforces and America we are going to do something about it. That part I thought was good. I think the president can't -- he cannot make the difference between the Russians swinging an election and what the Russians are trying to do just be interfering in American politics. He just can't separate the two, and I think that's why he says things like he did last night after the --

GREGORY: Can I just follow on one point on that and point to Lisa, because I'm not even equating 9/11 with what the interference was in 2016. It's the comparison to the response. Do you think the president distancing himself from the what the government is doing undercuts the effectiveness of what the government is doing to detect further interference and to protect the country's infrastructure against that interference?

LISA MONACO, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So, David, I think your analogy works in the following way. You have the intelligence chiefs, the national security officials saying our country is under attack, our democracy is in the crosshairs, the system is blinking red. That's what the director of national intelligence said a few weeks ago. All of the same verbiage we had around 9/11. And then you have the commander in chief, the president, not echoing those same statements, and, in fact, in many places, including standing next to our main adversary, not taking the opportunity to echo those statements, and indeed to undercut the intelligence community and his law enforcement community which is trying to seek justice, to hold people accountable for the attack on our democracy that happened in 2016, and that President Trump's own national security officials say is ongoing and pervasive.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: It gets even more confusing, guys, because our reporting is that President Trump agreed to have those national security officials go out to the podium or even sent them out to the podium, and so Phil Mudd, who you all know, I believe, he's one of our CNN analysts, he's a former CIA and FBI counterterrorism official, he said that he believes that the only reason the president would send them out when the president doesn't believe what they were saying was a P.R. stunt. So listen to him.


PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: That was not a security meeting yesterday. Let me throw a penalty flag here, and that was not a red light. That was the White House using a bunch of people so for the next two months they can use a talking point that said, hey, every time somebody raises Russia to Sarah Sanders she's going to say, look, the president directed those guys you saw and also those women you saw on the podium to go do something about Russia. That was a P.R. stunt. Give me a break. Yes, they got used.


CAMEROTA: So Mike Rogers, he's not suggesting they were disingenuous. If obviously they want to get their message out, they'll take any opportunity they can, our national security heads, but this somehow gives the president cover when he then calls it a hoax.

ROGERS: I'm not sure. I think it was great we had all of our intelligence officials up there saying this is a problem, and then they outlined a little bit what each department is going to do. The one thing that I didn't like about it is there's just not one person calling the shots from the White House on coordinating a really difficult effort which is the cyber problem.

[08:05:02] But having them out there, Alisyn, I just think good on those folks for getting out there for whatever the reason the president said they ought to go out there. Some have even argued that maybe it's a legal strategy that he can go on and say these are all the 10 things I did on Russia, how can I be colluding with Russia in some other way? OK, got that, too.

The important thing is we are under siege and cyber is getting worse, and it is the Russians plus other nation states now getting into this game. And without this very public push, I think the workforce was getting discouraged. I think maybe some of our efforts wouldn't have gotten done. Now these folks can come back to the White House and say we want offensive operation status on these types of things. All of that to me is good.

GREGORY: And without a cyberattack coordinator, a cyber weapons coordinator inside the White House, the coordination aspect of it gets hindered, potential operations being coordinated gets hindered. But to both of you -- and Lisa, I'll start with you -- what is the most effective way for any administration under these circumstances to put pressure on Russia, to communicate with Russia about -- that we we're not going to take it, because I think there's a tendency in the press to think what we have got to do is see evidence that President Trump beat Putin over the head with a baseball bat in a meeting. That's not how it's going to go. Obama said you've got to cut it out. That didn't exactly do it. What would your recommendation to be how to send that message?

MONACO: First, I think, David, it has got to be a unified message. So I disagree a little bit with Phil. I think it was very important, it was necessary, it was important, and frankly it was overdue to have that grouping in the national -- of national security officials in the White House briefing room, and incredibly rare, I might add, especially to have the FBI director there, who usually doesn't speak in those types of announcements with anything but an FBI seal or a Department of Justice seal in front of him. So this was I think quite rare and very important, though, for him to be there given the FBI role and mission in this space.

But I think the important thing particularly for President Putin is to have a unified message but, critically, to have that message come from the very top. I think if you talk to Russia experts they will tell you that President Putin listens to one person if he listens to anybody, and the only message he's probably looking for is one from Donald Trump. And we heard from John Bolton, if the reports are true, that President Putin says that Donald Trump raised the issue when they met in Helsinki, but it wasn't very effective because President Trump's own national security chiefs say that the attack is ongoing.

GREGORY: But Mike, he may just listen to President Trump, but when the FBI is leading the effort on counterintelligence, as a former intelligence officer he understands that's the tip of the spear for the American government, interdicting what the Russians may be trying to do.

ROGERS: Well, I'm going to disagree with you for one thing. As an old FBI guy, one thing that the FBI can do domestically is play mostly defense, so they can find it, they can disrupt it, they can notify parties, they can help try to defend against it. The most important guy in that room yesterday was the NSA and cyber commander, because if you're going to impact Russian's behavior, you're going to have to engage in operations that provide some disruptive end game, if you will.

GREGORY: To what they're doing.

ROGERS: And all of that, by the way, needs the approval of the president. That's why we need to make sure that the president really is on board with this because those would be offensive cyber operations that need -- that would fall under some covert action plan which would need the president's signature to do that. That part to me is really important. If you're going to mess up the Russians we're going to have to be more aggressive, and the FBI is going to have help these states try to defend themselves, and so they can provide intelligence, they can provide after the fact. They can go in and try to do some things. But as I said --

GREGORY: And how do you do it without the president authorizing it?

CAMEROTA: Many people have made that point, that in fact this is not just rhetorical. It's important that the president engage and be involved. But to your point, Lisa, it was so interesting yesterday to hear the DNI have to admit that he still doesn't know what happened in that one-on-one meeting in Helsinki with President Putin and President Trump. Here's that moment.


DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I'm not in a position to either understand fully or talk about what happened at Helsinki. I'll turn it over to the national security director here to address that question.


CAMEROTA: He'll toss that hot potato right into John Bolton's lap, and what John Bolton then said, Lisa, was, well, I'm paraphrasing, but according to President Putin, President Trump did bring up election interference. President Putin is our source for what happened in that meeting?

[08:10:08] MONACO: Right. Alisyn, it's mindboggling that we're getting a readout of a two-hour meeting between President Trump and one of our main adversaries who his own intelligence community has said directed an attack on our election and on our democracy. We're getting that readout from President Putin.

It's mindboggling the director of national intelligence weeks after this meeting does not have a readout. In my experience when I was the homeland security adviser and these types of meetings would take place -- well, first of all they didn't take place without having other staff other staff in the room or at least a note taker who could memorialize the conversation, and very importantly, give that to our intelligence analysts and experts who could then use it, take it in, understand it, and use it to inform our efforts in the future. So to not have that I think really deprives our experts and deprives us of having a better understanding. But in the past I've seen presidents come out from meetings and debrief their staff right down to things like body language and talking about reactions, and that's what you would really want to see.

Can I make one other point, which is to say that to not have somebody in the White House, the cyber security coordinator, to not have that position which has been jettisoned by the White House, to not have somebody focusing 24/7 on this issue in the White House is malpractice in my view, particularly when the intelligence community says we are continuing to be under attack.

CAMEROTA: Thank you for making that point. That is so -- we need to underscore it all the time. There was that position and that person was let go. So Lisa Monaco, Mike Rogers, thank you both very much for all of your expertise on this.

GREGORY: And by the way, the criticism that would have come from the likes of Trump and his supporters if a Democratic administration did not have those national security pieces in place to confront a threat, any kind of terrorist threat or this kind of threat would have been deafening. Probably the most important point I think.

CAMEROTA: I love this exercise. I do this exercise a lot, what if this were Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. That's an important perspective.

OK, meanwhile, so what is the Trump administration doing to stop another Russian attack as we tick forward towards the midterms? We have a Republican on the Homeland Security Committee next.


[08:15:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump's top national security officials came together yesterday with a warning for Americans. They said the threat from Russia on democracy, on America itself is real. But here is what the president said about this just hours later.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In Helsinki I had a great meeting with Putin. We discussed everything. I had a great meeting.


We got along really well. By the way, that's a good thing, not a bad thing. That's a really good thing. Now we're being hindered by the Russian hoax. It's a hoax, OK? I'll tell you what. Russia's very unhappy that Trump won, that I can tell you. But I got along great with Putin.


CAMEROTA: Joining us now is Republican Congressman Lou Barletta from Pennsylvania, he's on the Homeland Security Committee and the president traveled to Pennsylvania last night to support his Senate bid.

Congressman, great to have you on.

REP. LOU BARLETTA (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Hi, Alisyn, good to have you on, too.

CAMEROTA: Thank you very much. So --

BARLETTA: Good to talk to you.

CAMEROTA: I understand exactly what you meant. So, Congressman, do you believe the national security officials or do you believe the president?

BARLETTA: Well, you know, here's one thing, serving on the Homeland Security Committee, here's one thing that we can all agree on, the biggest threat to the United States are cyber attacks and it's not only Russia trying to hack into our elections it's China, it's Iran.

You know, the biggest threat, Alisyn, is a cyber attack to the power grid and I think we need to focus more on being prepared not from the federal government standpoint but down to the local government.


BARLETTA: And being a former mayor, you know, I think it's very important. This is a challenge every day that attacks to the United States, cyber attacks is something we have to deal with.

CAMEROTA: Yes, the DNI says the lights are blinking red, it sends a shiver down people's spines when they think about it. So why does the president call it a hoax?

BARLETTA: Well, you know, I think, you know, what he's talking about is there was some good that came out of the meeting. I mean, if we can stabilize Syria, if we can to get Syrian refugees to go back home where they really want to, if we could -- if we can get to a point of denuclearizing the world then everybody's better off and you know --

CAMEROTA: Yes. So I mean, just to be clear, I'm sorry to interrupt you, Congressman, but you know that the president is not referring to that when he calls it a hoax. The president has -- I mean,, over and over, we have a dozen examples. We can pull up this graphic right now of all of the times he's tweeted about it, all the time he's publicly called Russian interference a hoax.

BARLETTA: Well, I mean, there was no -- there was no evidence at all that the Trump campaign interfered -- colluded with the Russians on the election.


BARLETTA: So -- I mean so --

CAMEROTA: But the president doesn't make that distinction. The president doesn't make that distinction. In other words you're on the Homeland Security Committee. Do you think that President Trump has adequately addressed homeland security when it comes to stopping Russia from interfering?

BARLETTA: Well, absolutely I do because, I mean, one of the biggest things, the economy of Russia really depends on energy and no president, not President Obama or any president before him, challenged Russia as much as President Trump has by going to Germany and saying, hey, you want our help, you're not going to be buying energy from Russia. I mean, you take away Russia's energy -- ability to sell energy around the country, their economy crashes, so you know, I think that's the important thing.

You know, these countries, Alisyn, and you know this as well as everyone else, you know, we may have disagreements on one area but at the same time we may have a common goal somewhere else so it doesn't mean that you stop talking about them, it doesn't mean that you get into a fistfight with each other because we know what they're doing but there are also other areas in the world where we can work together to make the world a safer place.


[08:20:12] BARLETTA: There's nothing wrong with doing that.

CAMEROTA: Understood. Do you think that Russian interference in our election is a hoax? Would you call it a hoax?

BARLETTA: No, I wouldn't say that's a hoax. I would not say -- I mean, we know Russia tries.


BARLETTA: To interfere with our election. I do believe anyone who tries to connect that to the Trump campaign -- I do believe that anybody who tries to commit that to the Trump administration, that's a hoax.

CAMEROTA: Sure. Sure.

BARLETTA: And we've been talking about that for almost a year. So --


CAMEROTA: And we're not talking about that.

BARLETTA: I mean, I don't think -- I don't the --

CAMEROTA: So we're just talking about whether or not you think that Russians' interfering is a hoax and have you shared with President Trump, who you're close to and who you -- he came to stamp for you last night, have you told him how serious you think it is?

BARLETTA: No, I don't think I sat down -- I don't think we sat down and talked about -- I think he knows that, he has said that he knows that Russia tried to interfere. Everybody knows that, we also know that China tries to attack us through a cyber attack and we know Iran does.


BARLETTA: We know other countries do.

CAMEROTA: But when have you heard President Trump vociferously go after Russia and say that they should stop this interference and what he will do to stop them?

BARLETTA: Well, so here's what I heard. Here's what I heard. I heard him telling Germany you can't be buying energy from Russia. That's bigger than talking about hoaxes in a campaign, Alisyn. If you hurt their economy, that's where you win, I mean, we're so focused on getting President Trump to say something about Russia in an election. He did. He did say that that he knows that that they -- we always knew that. We always knew that Russia was trying to interfere. We also know that China does. We also know that Iran does, you know, but what's more important is the best way to deal with Russia is through sanctions and their economy and actions are more important than words. People would like to hear him talk tough with words but he's doing more with action.

CAMEROTA: OK. Fair enough. I want to get through a couple of things because we don't have much time.


CAMEROTA: Congress, Republicans in Congress had an opportunity to spend more on election security and they voted it down. There was an offer -- there was a bill for $250 million, Republicans voted it down, though the states say that they could use help. Why aren't Republicans giving the states the money they need to combat this?

BARLETTA: Well, what we also found out in all of this talk is that Russia wasn't able to interfere with our elections.

CAMEROTA: They're trying.

BARLETTA: So obviously --

CAMEROTA: I mean, they're trying and the midterms they may succeed.

BARLETTA: But Alisyn -- you know, but if they're not able to do it why would you spend more money if you're already succeeding. You wouldn't do that at home. If -- you know, if you're putting something in your home and it's doing the job, why would you spend more money if what you have is succeeding? It doesn't make sense.

We have a lot of places we can spend money but putting more money to something that's already working doesn't make a lot of sense.

CAMEROTA: OK. So you think it's adequate. Moving on. The president was stumping for you last night. The latest poll that we could find at least showed that you are trailing your opponent by 17 percent, but that was before, you know, the president coming to your town and campaigning with you. So how much of a bump do you think President Trump will give you from last night?

BARLETTA: I think huge. I mean, you can see the excitement there. You know, Donald Trump would win Pennsylvania by a bigger margin today than he did when he ran in 2016. So obviously having the president come in is a big boost to the campaign and here's one other thing we know is that don't really count the polls in Pennsylvania as being good because, you know, they said, you know, Trump was so far behind in Pennsylvania, he could never win, he could never beat Hillary Clinton and they were wrong. Right up to Election Day so, you know, there are a lot of people in Pennsylvania, there are blue-collar Democrats that support the president and aren't going to tell a pollster.

CAMEROTA: OK. Congressman Lou Barletta, thank you very much for being here with your perspective.

BARLETTA: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You're welcome.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN ANCHOR: It is amazing, he says if our defense is adequate then why spent more. It's like saying well, they didn't bring down the towers in the World Trade Center in '93 so I guess we don't have to protect ourselves until it happened in 2001. That's a shocking comment to me.

When we come back hundreds of immigrant kids still in U.S. custody. The government says the ACLU should find their deported parents. How will this immigration crisis be solved, coming up next.


[08:28:09] GREGORY: We mentioned throughout the morning President Trump did not mention Russia's ongoing efforts to interfere in the November elections. Instead, the president dismissed it as a Russian hoax hours after his intelligence chief said the threat was indeed real.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: As I have said consistently. Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day. This is a threat we need to take extremely seriously and to tackle and respond to with fierce determination and focus.


GREGORY: Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas on the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, we've been fulminating for most of the morning about how mindboggling it is that the president would call this a hoax while his administration, his national security team is working to counter the threat.

Enough said on that, although you may add to it, the counter I guess is despite what the president says or does not say, the government seems to be at work and is on the job trying to raise awareness and trying to stop what the Russians may be up to in further interference.

Do you agree or not?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Yes. Well, I think you're partly right that the national security agencies including Dan Coats, and DHS, the FBI, the CIA, others, are working I think to try to prevent Russia from interfering with the 2018 midterms but it makes it hard when the president of the United States will not give them a clear directive on what he wants them do and ask them to commit all their resources to doing it. It also makes their job tough when a Congress won't allocate additional funds so that we can prevent Russia from interfering.

GREGORY: So what more do you need? Because you did have money that was allocated that Republicans said it hasn't all been used, you know, we don't need more. One of your colleagues who was just on the program said, well, look the Russians didn't actually sway the election so why should we spend more money on it? Even though they're still trying.

CASTRO: Yes, I heard that. To me that was a very disturbing comment. The reason is that we know that in 20 something states they were actually able to crack into the voter --