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Fancy Bear Attempting to Spear Phish; Trump Frustrated with Special Counsel. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 21, 2018 - 06:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Again, if only someone had warned us this could happen. And note the timing here, the President in just the last 24 hours, once again, failes to squarely blame Russia for this cyber warfare in an interview with Reuters, he used the same type of equivocal lanugage he did while standing next to Vladimir Putin. He said, this time if - if it was Russia - if he said. Well, his own government says it was.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: So, we are just 77 days away from the November midterm elections. How will the Trump administration respond to these new Russian attacks as America's top national security leaders continue to warn about the blinking red light, the threat that Russia poses to the upcoming election. CNN's Alex Marquardt is live in Washington with all of the breaking details. Give us the breaking news, Alex.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, Microsoft is saying this morning that there's evidence that Russia is broadening their attempts to hack into different groups of both political parties ahead of the midterms in November.

The company accuses the hacker group Fancy Bear which is linked to Russian military intelligence, and was behind the 2016 hack of the DNC, of trying to carry out, so-called, spear fishing attacks.

Now, Microsoft announced, overnight, that it had used a court order, last week, to take control of six different internet domains. And if you look carefully at the names, two immediately stand out. The first, the Hudson Institute and then the second, the International Republican Institute, both of which have been critical of Russia, and both of which have broken with President Trump.

The Hudson Institute is a conservative think tank and IRI's board of directors concludes some of the most famous Republicans in the country and some of President Putin's harshest critics like Senator John McCain, Senator Marco Rubio, as well as Mitt Romney.

Now, several of the other domains listed in this report by Microsoft include the word senate, indicating that they may have been targeting different senators and their offices. But right now, it's unclear which senators, which offices may have been potential targets. To be clear, these latest efforts by Russia were not successful.

There was a similar attempted attack that we learned about last month, also carried out by Russian military intelligence against the office of Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri who, as you know, is one of the most vulnerable Democrats running for reelection this year.

In this announcement by Microsoft overnight, they are, clearly, sounding the alarm ahead of the midterms in November, saying, quote, despite last week's steps, we are concerned by the continued activity targeting these and others sites, and directed towards elected officials, politicians, political groups, and think tanks across the political spectrum in the United States.

Taking together, this pattern mirrors the type of activity we saw prior to the 2016 election in the United States and the 2017 election in France. Alisyn and John, Microsoft also said overnight, that they are rolling out a specialized cyber-security protection service that it will offer to campaigns and political organizations and operatives, for free, to try to prevent whatever attacks are still to come. And you can be sure, there are more expected, John, Alisyn.

BERMAN: All right, Alex Marquardt, thank you so much for that report. Let's bring CNN Political Analyst, David Gregory and David Sanger, the New York Times National Security Correspondent who is reporting on this new Russian attack today. David is also the author of, The Perfect Weapon. David Sanger, I would like to quote to you from David Sanger, if you will, from a moment of press (ph) in the New York Times this morning about these new targets today and the attack.

The Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute, you write, the shift to attacking conservative think tanks underscores the Russian Intelligence Agencies goals to disrupt any institutions challenging Moscow and President Vladimir D. Putin of Russia.

DAVID SANGER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPODENT: That's right John because you have to remember, these aren't really partisan attacks that are underway. These are attacks that the Russians are designing to pursue their own national interest.

And if that meant that they were supporting Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton two years ago, it main mean, today, that they're supporting that part of the Republican party that is lining up with President Trump in his view - his rather unusual view within the party about how to go deal with Russia.

And they're trying to go after those institutions, including the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute which does a lot of democracy promotion and it has done for years - done this democracy promotion that they would attempt to try to undermine those operations.

Now, the other fascinating part about this, John, the fact that is wasn't successful tells you that Microsoft, Google, Apple, others, now have all of the radar in place that was missing in 2016. So, you're going to hear a lot about these in the future, but you're probably not going to hear about them from American intelligence agencies. CAMEROTA: Well, look, it's very comforting that they have the infrastructure in place to try to catch it, and to alert us to it.


However, David Gregory, Microsoft said, they need greater cooperation with the Federal Government to thwart this. Couple that with what President Trump said in this Reuters interview yesterday.

He said, the Mueller probe played right into the Russians, if it was Russians -- if it was Russia, they played right into the Russian's hands.

So, it's just very hard to know if President Trump is giving the adequate support to try to combat this.

GREGORY: Well, I think what's interesting is that there's this bipolar nature of the American government right now and maybe even the Russian government as well. We know that American Intelligence Agencies, Counter Intelligence at the FBI, are working with companies to protect American infrastructure, protect tech companies from these kinds of attacks and I think there is a lot of cooperation there, even if they may want more.

But what you have is the person at the top and the president who seems to be singing off a different song sheet. That doesn't mean that the government isn't doing what it's supposed to be doing. There's adequate coverage of these kinds of issues and reporting to intelligence agencies by the tech companies themselves, like Microsoft, but it doesn't mean that the campaign is not continuing.

And so, if you look at this bilateral relationship between President Trump and President Putin where they have these meetings, they have summits, not all of which is reported out to their advisors, it doesn't mean that their governments are still not at work going after each other.

And if you're Putin, what you want to deal with first and foremost, is what's crippling your economy, and that's the targeting of Oligarchs, targeting their economy with these sanctions that President Trump isn't letting go of.

Despite all of his bluster about the closeness with Putin, whether it was the Russians, even thought the Intelligence Agency says, of course it was, the government still has a vice grip on the Russian economy.

BERMAN: You know, I was joking in the lead-in here, if only someone had warned us this would happen, David Sanger. The truth is, everyone in the intelligence community has warned us this would happen and all within the last five weeks, dating back to the Aspen Institute when Dan Coats said there are bright red flashing warning lights that this was going to happen.

And in this case, Fancy Bear, we're talking about this GRU connected group inside Russia, this is the same organization that hacked the DNC. This is the same group sited in Robert Mueller's indictment that came out last month also.

They are still at it, and again, the timing of this to me is astounding, it's all coming to light within the last 24 hours, where the president is still equivocating.

SANGER: That's absolutely right, I mean, one of the interesting things is that before he spoke at the Aspen Institute, Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, spoke at the Hudson Institute and who was right on the target list here, the Hudson Institute.

So, it could be that the Russians are loosening and sort of trying to send a message along the way. The boldness of this, even after the specificity, that remarkable indictment, which you may recall had intercepts of conversations between individual Russian officers of the GRU, deciding what they were going to do in 2016, is interesting.

It's also interesting that Microsoft has found a way, right now, it looks like, to get into this sort of cat and mouse game with the GRU. They've went to a judge, they got a special master appointed so that whenever they see one of these fake sites that's meant to imitate a Microsoft site, they can go to the special master, take control of it and then basically put it out of business or make it public.

That's fine, but the problem is with the United States, as you suggested before, needs a far more comprehensive way to go at this. And it's not clear to me that we should have individual companies responsible for countering in the immediate moment, these kinds of attacks. There needs to be a broader effort and if that's going to happen it's got to come top down from the president. And, of course, that's the rhetoric that's completely missing.

GREGORY: Right, and imagine -- imagine actually, despite what I just said about Intelligence Agencies being on top of this, so this split of the governments personality in our government, imagine if you did have the president in the Rose Garden with all of his Intelligence Chiefs around him, with the Head of the FBI, with the major tech companies, making a bold statement saying, this will not stand.

And Russia is on notice. The more they do this, the harder the penalties will be. We will speak with one voice on this and America's electoral system will not be intimidated. Our democracy will not be eroded.

Image the power of that statement backed up with the fist of the United States at all levels.


As David said, that is what is, remarkably, absent. And you have Putin and his intelligence services toying with our government, thinking that, maybe, Trump still won't believe any of this, or maybe if we - if they played with his ego and target Trump's enemies that he'll further dismiss it like he's done so much of so far.

BERMAN: All right, David Gregory and David Sanger, thanks so much. In that same interview of President Trump, once again, equivocated on whether or not Russia did attack the 2016 election. The President also said that he could - the President could - Donald Trump could run Robert Mueller's Russia investigation if he wanted to, but he said he has decided to stay out of it for now. Our Abby Phillip, live at the White House with much more, Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, John. President Trump seems to be expressing some growing frustration with the Special Counsel probe and telling Reuters in that interview, that he has some concerns that he may be walking into a trap. This is after weeks and months of saying he was going to sit down with Mueller.

President Trump insisting he could intervene in the Special Counsel investigation if he chose to, telling Reuters, I can go in and I could do whatever. I could run it if I want, but I decided to stay out. But on Twitter, and at public events, the President continues to try to denigrate the probe, going so far as to call the lawyers working for Robert Mueller thugs who are enjoying ruining people's lives.

Mr. Trump also casting doubt on a potential sit down interview with Mueller. After spending months telling reporters he wants to speak with investigators.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of these events?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to talk to Mueller?

TRUMP: I'm looking forward to it actually.

PHILLIP: The President, now echoing the concerns of his attorney Rudy Giuliani, that an interview could be a quote, perjury trap. Saying, it's my word against Comey and he's best friends with Mueller. So, Mueller might say, well, I believe Comey. And even if I'm telling the truth, that makes me a liar. That's no good.

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: How do we know what the truth is?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're talking about whether or not the President asked James Comey to go easy on Michael Flynn.

GIULIANI: Yes because.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: AND James Comey says he did and the President says he didn't.

GIULIANI: That's right. And they will, possibly, charge him with perjury should he give that answer. That's why I'm saying, in situations like this, the prosecutors, the truth is relevant.

PHILLIP: The debate over an interview coming as sources tell CNN that the President was unsettled that he did not know that the conversations between the White House Counsel Don McGahn and Mueller lasted 30 hours over several months, or that his legal team did not conduct a full debriefing with McGahn after the fact.

Giuliani now claiming, the President's lawyers did know the details after sources say the President thought the revelation made him look weak.

GIULIANI: At the time, John Dowd got a complete version of what McGahn said.

PHILLIP: Giuliani also downplaying the significance of McGahn's testimony.

GUILIANI: I knew not to worry about it because if the President had said anything criminal to the Counsel of the White House, McGahn wouldn't be there now. McGahn, as a matter of legal ethics and possibly even law, would have to quit.

PHILLIP: And there's a busy day ahead today for President Trump as he has two meetings today on his schedule, one is with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley before he heads to West Virginia later this afternoon for a campaign event followed by a campaign rally, Alisyn.


CAMEROTA: OK, Abby, thank you very much for that reporting from the White House. So, can President Trump actually get involved in the Mueller probe or is that just talk? We're going to break down the President's latest comments, next.



CAMEROTA: In a new interview with Reuters, President Trump would not say if he will sit down with the Special Counsel. But about that investigation, he did say, "I can go in and I can do whatever. I could run it if I want. But I decided to stay out. I'm totally allowed to be involved if I wanted to be. So far, I haven't chosen to be involved. I'll stay out.

David Gregory is back with us now. Also joining us CNN's Senior Political Analyst, John Avlon and we're also joined by Laura Coates, she's a former Federal Prosecutor and a CNN Legal Analyst. So Laura, let me start with you.

Can the president get involved and run the Mueller investigation, of which he is a subject?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: In a word, Alisyn, no. You think he is the Head of the Executive Branch, but Mueller operates under a Special Counsel statute where he is supposed to be accountable to the Attorney General and in his seat right now is Ron Rosenstein, is the Deputy A.G. I think if I had to Trump explain this morning, what he's trying to say is, as the Head Executive Branch, he's able to decide who is the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General. Both of whom serve at his pleasure.

And if he wanted to be able to control the investigation, he could remove either of those people and assign somebody and appoint somebody there, who may be somebody more willing to go along with his own narrative or his handling of the investigation. But, the direct authority belongs to Robert Mueller. It does not belong to President Trump.

BERMAN: Leave aside for a moment that the nuns say that you'll get hair on your hands if you do self investigation.

CAMEROTA: Oh my god.


CAMEROTA: Wow. Enjoy over your cornflakes.

BERMAN: I made that joke and --

CAMEROTA: Good morning John Berman.

BERMAN: -- and I will make it again. I will make again. I'll make that joke again later if you want. But John Avlon, Josh Greene notes that there's -- the legal argument here is really beside the point and the president isn't making a legal argument here, he's trying to assert his power.


BERMAN: The power that he feels like has been diminished over the last 48 hours with the Don McGahn story.


BERMAN: Where he lost control of the situation. He's trying to say, I'm in control here. This is me, I can do this if wanted.

AVLON: Yes. No, I mean, this sort of sounds like a teenager fronting, right? Like, I can totally do whatever I want. No, you can't. Even if you're the President of the United States and even if you're Head of the Executive, as Laura just pointed out. There is a degree of compensation here, because he's ignoring the obvious realities about the Special Counsel statute.

Go back to 1974, Nixon has a memo drawn up by his lawyers when he's investigating whether he can pardon himself, and in fact, has his lawyers go forward and make an argument to the judge that he's like Louis the XIV for four years, which the judge dismisses.

And the fundamental principal that's laid out in the top of the memo is, you cannot preside over your own judgment. That goes to self- investigation as well. This is basic folks, this is just the president fronting.

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, do you remember a time -- are you old enough to remember a time when President Obama was president and Republican's


certainly Fox News, but all sorts of Republicans, from Ted Cruz to Rand Paul, would always make claims of his imperious nature? That anytime he would sign an executive order, he's acting as The Emperor.

There were lots of tweets about he was always acting as The Emperor. Silence on the -- when President Trump's signing all sort of executive orders and saying all sorts of imperious things like this.

GREGORY: First of all, I'm not old enough to remember. I barely remember the Obama presidency.

BERMAN: It's actually true, the gray hair is misleading.

CAMEROTA: I know that. It's a wig.

BERMAN: He's only 26.

CAMEROTA: I know that.

BERMAN: David Gregory, you can barely drive. Go ahead, sorry.

GREGORY: Barely. Barely. And I didn't even understand Berman's joke, by the way, that's how young I am.

BERMAN: Because you're still getting to that point. But, that's okay.

GREGORY: But the point is -- no, but the point is there's an obvious similarity. Look, the way I read Trump, this is classic Trump. He wants credit for something that he doesn't really have the power to do.

BERMAN: Right.

GREGORY: I could take this over if I wanted, but I have not done that. I have let this process go forward because I have nothing to hide. I mean, it is similar to the McGahn situation, for which he does deserve some credit.

He waived the executive privilege to allow him to testify. That may be a bad thing and now he's upset about how much he may have told the Special Prosecutor, that he doesn't know about, that could actually hurt him.

So no, yes, he can fire the Attorney General. He could fire Rod Rosenstein, but the reality is he, as a practical matter, he can't do that without huge political blowback and he hasn't done it because he knows it's incredibly unwise to do, but he'll come right up to that line and then try to get credit for, you know, all of this good behavior, by letting it move forward even though he trashes it everyday.

AVLON: But Alisyn, to your point, the right wing, the Tea Party Movement was based upon this idea that President Obama was somehow acting like a king, right?

CAMEROTA: All the time.

AVLON: This -- all the time, constant rhetoric and it was -- they would point to his overuse of executive orders and things like that.

CAMEROTA: I have some of the tweets.


CAMEROTA: Just for fun, let me just pull some --

AVLON: Oh, sure.

CAMEROTA: -- just for fun, okay? So, Senator Sessions react, we must stop Emperor Obama. That's Jeff Sessions, okay?

AVLON: The Attorney General of the United States.

CAMEROTA: That is correct.

AVLON: Jefferson Beauregard Session.

CAMEROTA: They're from all sorts of -- as you can see, Rand Paul's Twitter feed is showing him in a cape and with a crown and all sorts of things.

AVLON: This is tasty. This is -- this is like a great little archaeological exploration into another era. Look, it shows the tsunami of situational ethics that politics is beset by, right?

And that's a real problem. I mean among the other scandals, remember, people were apoplectic when President Obama had the tamer to wear a tan suit in the oval office because he was running it down.

So no, this is the imperial presidency and when parties are out of power they make a lot of hay about it. But yes, that -- those examples are fantastic.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

BERMAN: So, Laura Coates, Donald Trump, the President of the United States using some of the same type of language that President -- ah, president, the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, announced -- that Camerota's friend, used yesterday, which truth isn't truth. He's trying to explain why talking to Robert Mueller would be a perjury trap here.

We heard the quote there with Abby Phillip before, I won't put it up again, but it really, just at this point, seems the president's not going to talk.


BERMAN: The president's not going to talk. The real question to me is, when does Robert Mueller do something official, which is either say, here is the subpoena. I'm going to try to force him to come talk or I'm done asking, he is my report.

I'm curious what's going on inside that office.

COATES: Yes, I think we all are. And I think you're absolutely right John, the notion of this good cop, bad cop scenario, where they're pretending to play in that, oh I would talk to them if only my lawyers would let me.

I'm glad that particular ruse is now done and we can all see what's really happening, which is he never intended to speak, he never wanted to. And so, Robert Mueller does have, within his druthers, the ability to subpoena the president.

Now, I know there's a lot of hay that's made about whether you can actually subpoena the president, because other presidents have either succumb to a subpoena or have agreed to just testify in front of a grand jury with conditions, but I think at this point in time we're at the stage where Mueller has in his power that he tried to exercise and negotiate in good faith.

It doesn't seem that reciprocity happening on the other side of the table. A court will look at that particular issue and say, well, they have tried to get the information from you in other ways.

They looked at corroborating voices, those have not been fruitful or have not been comprehensive enough, therefore, we can exercise the authority the Special Counsel has over getting people to testify.

Now, it's going to be a longer battle. It will be drawn out because the president does not want to speak and because he's willing to play the chicken game with the Special Counsel.

But ultimately, I think the Supreme Court will find that somebody who heads the Executive Branch of Government will have to actually do things in furtherance of the Administration of Justice.

That is by -- that is the entire title of his job and Mueller does have the power. Whether he has the patience is a different story.

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, quickly, let's move on to another topic and that is cyber bullying. The First Lady, Melania Trump, is apparently against it


She speaks out. This is one of her issues. This is a lovely sentiment. Obviously, this is important, I think, to tell children, but she, as far as we can tell, has no impact on this since her husband, routinely, insults people and goes after them in a, sort of, cyber bullying way, your thoughts? GREGORY: I mean, it's just - it's sad that, you know, an important initiative like this, something that's a very important topic by a first lady whose got that platform is undermined by how unserious it's taken - unseriously (ph) it's taken because of the way her husband, the President, uses social media.

And so, it just undercuts what could be credibility and an important initiative - a first lady initiative like this can have a lot of resonance.


GREGORY: They can have a high profile. This one is just not going to have that because of the way he uses Twitter. She can try to focus the message. She can say through spokespeople that she - she gets the irony, but she's going to press on. I just don't see that...


GREGORY: ...the message really getting through.

AVLON: Well, obviously, that obstacle is there, but I wonder if we're underestimating the first lady just a little bit here. In choosing this particular initiative, out of all the ones that she could've done, you got to ask yourself the question whether she's trolling the President on this issue because, you know, again, she could've picked literacy, she could've picked, you know, just say no. She picked dealing with cyber bullying at the height of the campaign that has followed through when, clearly, her husband is one of the lead propagators of that in public discourse.

CAMEROTA: Look, I think that's it, and interesting family dynamic...

AVLON: Oh, at the very least.

CAMEROTA: explore, but it just doesn't - her initiative doesn't seem to be having any impact on the person who has, arguably, the most impact.

AVLON: That's an intervention, not a public.


COATES: And if that's true, John, I have to say, I agree with you if that's the case, but the last thing that the nation needs is anybody who has a passive aggressive platform. You have a role, you can exercise it, and you can be very productive and fruitful. But if the whole intention is, simply, to troll and be passive aggressive, and that's even insulting to the American people if that's her goal.

CAMEROTA: On that note, panel, thank you all very much.

BERMAN: I'm not so sure I'm comfortable writing down passive aggressive, just saying.

CAMEROTA: No, I thought that that was an excellent point. BERMAN: All right - all right. A Colorado man charged with killing his wife and two daughters, but a bizarre twist of who he says killed his children.