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Russian Attack on U.S. political system; Trump Blames Mueller For Russian Election Attack; Rudy Giuliani discusses Mueller Trial; Cyber Warfare and Upcoming Elections. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 21, 2018 - 07:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And good morning, everyone. Welcome to your new day. We begin with breaking news for you because there is a new attempted Russian attack on the U.S. political system. This time on conservative think tanks that have been critical of President Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Microsoft says it has uncovered a Russian operation in just the last few weeks and it has seized these fake websites that could have been used to influence the upcoming midterm elections. This comes as President Trump once again fails to blame Russia for the attacks on the 2016 election.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: So in a new interview with Reuters, the president used the same type of equivocal language he did as standing next to Vladimir Putin. This is what the president said about the Russian attacks on the U.S. system. He says, "If it was Russia," if he says. His own national security team says there is no if. He says it was. Microsoft says it was.

We're just 77 days before the November midterm elections, so what's the Trump Administration going to do to stop these Russian attacks? We'll speak to the Reuters reporter who interviewed the president yesterday afternoon. We'll talk to him very shortly. Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Alex Marquardt live in Washington with the breaking news about this attempted Russian hack. Alex.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, John. Microsoft announced overnight that last week it had taken control of six different websites that it says were set up by the hacker group Fancy Bear. You may remember that name. That's that group that is linked to Russian military intelligence that was behind the 2016 hack of the DNC and what's really remarkable about this latest effort by Russia is that it shows what Microsoft calls a broadening of the types of groups and people that Russia is now going after ahead of these midterm elections.

This now includes Republicans. If you look at the names of these fake internet domains, of the six names, two stand out. The Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute; both are conservative, both of which have disagreed with President Trump and both of which have been critical of Russia.

IRI's board of directors, for example, includes some of the most famous Republicans in the country, some of President Vladimir Putin's harshest critics, including Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio as well as Mitt Romney. And then if you look at the other domains the hackers created, three had the word Senate in them, indicating they may have been going after different Senators and their offices. For right now it's unclear which ones.

These types of attacks are known as spear fishing attacks, attempts to trick people into revealing crucial information like their e-mail pass words. That's what happened to John Podesta on the Clinton campaign in 2016. There was a similar attempted attack that we learned about last month that was also carried out by Russian military intelligence against the office of Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. As you know, she is one of the most vulnerable Democrats running for re- election this year.

We should note that none of these attempted attacks have been successful, but this revelation by Microsoft is part of the company's efforts to sound the alarm ahead of the midterms in November. In a blog post last night they said, quote, "Despite last week's steps, we are concerned by the continued activity targeting these and other sites directed toward elected officials, politicians, political groups and think tanks across the political spectrum in the United States. Taken 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."

Now, remember, so many of the hundreds of campaigns this year use Microsoft technology so the company is also using this as an opportunity to announce that they are offering a cyber security protection service to campaigns and political groups for free to try to prevent whatever attacks are still to come. John?

BERMAN: All right, Alex Marquardt for us in Washington. So in this new interview with Reuters, that the president just did, he once again neglected to squarely blame Russia for the 2016 election attack. The president told Reuters, quote, "Mueller's probe played right into the Russians, if it was Russia." If he says it was Russia, they played right into the Russians' hands.

Joining me now is Jeff Mason, one of the Reuters correspondents who interviewed President Trump. Jeff, thanks so much for being with us. We didn't know Microsoft was coming forward with this news of this new Russian attack on the United States political system, but it's very interesting to hear the president once again equivocate to you hours before that came out saying if, if it was Russia. How did it sound to you when you first heard it?

JEFF MASON, REUTERS CORRESPONDENT: Well, that was in the context yesterday of just a broader discussion about the Mueller probe. We were talking about whether he was considering or would consider taking away Mr. Mueller's security clearance after having done that with John Brennan and to the president sort of interrupted us as we were asking the broader question and said again, you mean the witch hunt which, of course, were his words.

[07:05:00] So he expressed his long held skepticism of that probe. In the answer you were just showing on the air, just inserted that clause, if it's Russia. So, that again goes to show that it's something that for him is not 100 percent clear that Russia was responsible for meddling in 2016, despite the findings of his intelligence agencies and despite him having to walk back that same skepticism after the Helsinki press conference.

BERMAN: Really seems to come from both his conscious and subconscious. He consciously often asserts that but almost subconsciously when in an discussion with you he'll insert it in sometimes even without thinking about it. It was interesting to see in the context of the larger discussion. On the Mueller probe, the one sentence that got all or many of the headlines from this interview which was a range of subjects, he says, "I can go in and I could 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."

Now, the greater context here as you have pointed out was that he was actually saying he's not getting involved with the Mueller investigation. However, he does note he could if he wanted; he believes he could.

MASON: That's exactly right. That's exactly right. The point of his answer, at least at the start of his answer and the end of his answer, was I've decided to stay out. But he wanted to make it clear that it was an option and that the other option was to be involved and in his words to actually run the thing. So, that was certainly an unusual thing to say about a probe that is looking into his campaign and potential collusion in 2016 but, yes, the overall answer that he was trying to get out was I've decided to stay out, but he kind of wanted credit for that decision.

BERMAN: Josh Green of Bloomberg, we'll speak to him in a little while, he read that and he said it seems to me that the president is trying to say I have control and power here during a news cycle when there's questions whether he lost control of his legal operation Don McGahn answering 30 hours of questions and it seemed as if he was trying to say, I've got this.

MASON: You know I'm not sure if that's what he was trying to say or not. The context of his overall frustration with that probe, he said he felt like things were going really well for his administration broadly, for the country broadly, but not in that particular area. So it was in that broader context that he was giving that answer.

BERMAN: On the subject of whether or not he will testify, answer questions under oath to Robert Mueller's team, let me read you what he said and in the greater context is very interesting too. He indicated he's not inclined to do it. He said, "If I say something and Comey says something and it's my word against his and he's best friends with Mueller, so Mueller may say I believe Comey, even if I'm telling the truth that makes me a liar and that's no good."

That's the type of language Rudy Giuliani has used. But did the president definitively rule out, did it sound like that's where he was heading to you? MASON: He did not definitively rule it out. He didn't really comment

whether or not he would do the interview. The context of our question was, in fact, Rudy Giuliani's comments and we asked him about that and whether that was a concern he shared, Giuliani having used the term perjury trap. Yes, there's that possibility that if I were to sit down with him that because Comey is close to Mueller he would believe Comey and that would put me in a difficult position or that would make me a liar, he actually used that word. So that was -- in the context of responding to what Giuliani had said, but when we followed up and said, will you do the interview or not, he said I'm not going to comment on that.

BERMAN: He had an opportunity to say no. he chose not to, at least not yesterday afternoon.

MASON: Exactly.

BERMAN: What was his mood like? You had a chance to interview him with the small groups of people, teams of reporters before. How did it compare to previous interviews?

MASON: You know, it's a good question. Yeah the interview yesterday was with two of my colleagues, Steve Holland and Jim Oliphant and it's the third time I've been in an interview with the president in the Oval Office. At the beginning he was certainly less ebullient and sort of excited than he has been in the past. It made us wonder a little bit what perhaps had happened before we walked in.

Sometimes in the interviews that we've done with him in the Oval Office he gets excited to offer us a drink or to show that he can push a button on his desk that leads a steward to come in and offer a diet Coke. There was none of that yesterday. We got straight down to business but in the end ended up being I think he warmed up a little bit. We were only supposed to have about 15 minutes and that stretched into 35 or 36. So we had a good conversation and covered a lot of different topics.

BERMAN: Yes interesting discussion about China and the Fed as well. Jeff Mason, thanks so much for being with us, really appreciate it.

MASON: My pleasure.

CAMEROTA: OK, let's discuss all this with Sean Turner, former Director of Communications for the U.S. National Intelligence and CNN National Security Analyst and CNN Political Analyst, David Gregory; great to see both of you. So Sean, you worked with James Clapper when he was the Director of National Intelligence.

[07:10:00] When you hear about what Microsoft has flagged, there was another attempted -- another hacking attack on these various websites. Interestingly, Fancy Bear, which is what one of these Russian hacking organizations call themselves, this is one of the organizations that was indicted by Robert Mueller.

They don't seem to have been cowed by this since they're still attempting the same level of hacks. So, where do you think we are? SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right, and that's what the intelligence community has been saying for a long time with regard to whether or not we were going to see this again. Look, this is completely consistent with what the intelligence community saw leading up to the 2016 presidential election where we saw Russia focus most of their efforts on probing and attempting to infiltrate systems on a democratic side.

But we know that they were doing it for two different reasons and I think this is really interesting because what we're seeing here is a spear fishing effort where they're attempting to get inside of these systems for the purpose of - of getting individuals on the senate side or other individuals to send them passwords, and send them information that would allow them to get inside.

What the Russians understand, very clearly, from doing this is that if they can influence the way that people think by manipulating information than they could influence people's behavior when they go to the voting - when go to the ballot box.

So, you know, this is not a surprise to anyone in the intelligence community or the national security space. I think we're all still a little bit surprised at some of redirect coming out of the administration with regard to the equivocation and the question is to whether or not Russia actually is trying to interfere in our elections.


BERMAN: They're doing what everyone says in the intelligence community, that they were going to do it. It's the same groups that did it in 2016 that are doing it in 2018. This time, it's Republican political opponents of President Trump here, or these think tanks like the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute.

And David Gregory, the President, as we heard from Jeff Mason ago, is even sometimes subconsciously still equivocating here, saying, I'm not sure it was the Russians...


BERMAN: ...or if it was the Russians.

GREGORY: Yes, look. I think this is the same story with President Trump. He can not focus on the threat from Russia without it seeing - seeing it as the way to delegitimize his presidency. I just don't think he can get his insecurity and his ego out of the way to focus on it as a President of the United States should. And the reality is, what that means is that the intelligence community can be doing its - he FBI can be doing its work.

If you look at the reporting in the New York Times, companies like Microsoft are working with the federal government to keep the radar up, to detect this, to report it out. The news media is reporting this out. So, we have a heightened sense of awareness, but imagine how much more effective it could be if you had the President of the United States in the Rose Garden, all of the tech companies with him, the heads of all of his intelligence services saying, this will not stand. Russia, we will fight back. You will not undermine our democracy in any way, shape, or from.

That's not happening. That's undercutting our effectiveness. At the same time, I am very curious to try to understand what the endgame is here for Russia. What is it they're trying to influence? Twenty sixteen at least, was a little bit more understandable if you - if you buy the idea that Trump - that Putin thought, hey, Clinton is bad, Trump is good or, at least, Trump is better.

That has not - as far as we know, panned out if you look at what the Trump administration is doing with regard to sanctions which, of course, is hurting Putin's government and hurting the Russian economy.

What are they after here? What are they trying to influence other than what we've heard from the FBI Director, trying to sew discourse and political division which, obviously, already exists in the United States. I'm very interested in that question.

BERMAN: Well, look, I will tell you what David Sanger writes this morning, he says the Russians are trying to disrupt any institutions, challenging Moscow and President Vladimir Putin.

CAMEROTA: Right, so Shawn, is there a larger endgame here?

TURNER: Yes, no, look. I think - I think David nailed it and I think Gregory, you know, when he - when you - when you point to what the intelligence community said previously, one of the questions that the intelligence community struggled with early on was that exact question, what was the endgame, what was - what was it that Russia and Vladimir Putin were trying to achieve because we know that early that, that there was concern - that the Russians did not necessarily believe that President Trump even had a chance to win.

But we know that that evolved over time. And as that evolved, we know that their tactics evolved overtime. And so, it really is the case that for - for Russia, based on the sanctions that they're under right now and the pressure that this administration is putting on them, it really is about disrupting any democratic process that we have in this country.

And as I alluded to before, they fully understand that if they can influence American voters in any way that is not consistent with the reality of what's happening in this country, then they know that that's going to be a disruptive process and that they hope that, ultimately, what that will do will impact the way that we behave at the ballot box, and, hopefully, for them, cause them some relief through changing the make up of our - of our elected leaders.

BERMAN: This is a war.

GREGORY: What's interesting about that is that you have an attempt, perhaps, to reach, if this is an audience of one on the part of Russia, if they think that - that President Trump is dismissive of claims that they're behind hacking, maybe Trump supporters will soften their stance toward Russia.

[07:15:00] What we've seen so far is that the political class in Washington is pretty strongly against Russia and against Russian interference and there's not a lot of division around that, and we haven't really seen how voters register that, but it's difficult for me to see that voters are somehow turning and thinking that Russia is benign instead of a real threat here.

TURNER: Yes, and I think the point that you made with regards to having the president be the person who leads the charge on this is critical.

You're absolutely right in that, there are people out there who are not going to believe that Russia is behind this and that Russia is doing exactly what Microsoft said they did and what the intelligence community said they did, until the president and the administration steps forward and says, yes, this is what happened.

And I shouldn't even include the administration, because his National Security team has said that, it needs to be president to step forward and say, not only did this happen, but here's what we're going to do about it.

BERMAN: I will not, the president has tweeted about a number of things this morning. None of them are this new Russian attack on the U.S. political system. I will say that is notable, but not surprising. David Gregory.

GREGORY: Yes, I mean, you know, he would sooner react to something that Kanye West said at like a music or react to Madonna. I mean, so the fact that he ignores this, again, is telling.

He just -- he cannot get the place where he's going to be the one to lead the charge and I do think that's so important. Not to equate what we've seen here to fore to 9/11. I still think the concerted effort in the face of terrorism that we saw post 9/11, the concerted effort that is required by any government in the face of cyber warfare is essential. And we're not seeing.

We see -- there is -- the Trump Administration, I'm confident is on it and is fighting it, but to have this disconnect where you have a president who's not out there using every bit of the bully pulpit to fight it, I think undercuts the countries effectiveness.

BERMAN: Yes, war requires mobilization, even rhetorical mobilization.

CAMEROTA: But Sean, on that point, I mean last, yes, it would be nice to have the president speak from the same script that all of his intelligence heads are doing so, but as someone who was in the Intelligence Agency, do you need the president? Can they -- can all of our Intelligence Agencies adequately fight this threat without the president being on board? TURNER: Well, the intelligence community has a number of tools to use to be able to identify these threats and to bring these threats to the attention of our lawmaker, the legislators, the people who have to make decisions with regard to what we do and it's up to those individuals to give the intelligence community the authority to go after Russia and to make sure that we deal with these threats.

And I am confident that the intelligence community, with the authorities they have been given by the president and the administration, that they are -- I'm confident that they are doing, but we can't forget that if the intelligence community is doing it's job, there's still an external aspect of this and that is going to influence the way that people behave. So, that's why we need the president to lead the charge and tell the American people what we're doing.

CAMEROTA: Understood. Sean, thank you. David Gregory, thank you very much. Sean Turner, thank you.

TURNER: Thanks.

CAMEROTA: Oh, we have more reaction to the president's Reuter interview. I thought the show was over.

Can the president really run the Mueller investigation himself? Can he investigate the possible collusion between his campaign and Russia? Former GOP Senator, Rick Santorum, joins us on this and so much more.


[07:20:00] CAMEROTA: Pope Francis, breaking his silence after a grand jury report details the abuse of more than 1,000 children by hundreds of priests in Pennsylvania. The Pope says, we showed no care for the little ones. We abandoned them. Let's discuss this and politics of the day, of course, with Rick Santorum, he's a former-Republican Senator for Pennsylvania, now a CNN Senior Political Commentator. Good morning, Rick.


CAMEROTA: Rick, you're a devout Catholic, of course. You were a lawmaker in Pennsylvania for so many years. Had you ever been flagged about any - any notion of the rampant priest sex abuse that was happening there?

SANTORUM: No, but it is beyond disgusting and the church's response to it is deplorable on every level. The fact that there has to be an outside probe like this from a grand jury, to expose what the church have exposed itself.

I mean, this is - you talk about failing children, about failing children that it takes a government agency to do the job that the church should be doing from the very beginning which is protecting its flock and weeding itself out of - you know, look, there's sin in the world, and people sin and do terrible things. It's how you respond to that. And they didn't respond to it at the time, and subsequent. The idea that no one knew this was going on and that this couldn't of been investigated internally just shows the depravity of the people who were in charge.

CAMEROTA: So, should Cardinal Wuerl who is the head of the Pittsburgh church be ousted?

SANTORUM: He was. He's now in Washington.

CAMEROTA: And should he be gone? I mean - from.

SANTORUM: Look, I think - I think everyone who failed should pay the consequence for their failure. I mean, there has to be a recognition within the church of accountability for people who do the things that they did.

And that - accountability - look, we forgive - I mean, the whole basis of Christianity is forgiveness and we understand that. And we all want to be forgiven and thank god that he does forgive us. But there has to be accountability for these actions and that means there has to be consequences. And so whether it...

CAMEROTA: And what's that look for people (INAUDIBLE)?

[07:25:00] SANTORUM: Well, it looks like - it looks like anyone who was involved in this has to be - has to be, either, removed - depending - again, it all depends. I mean, there are various levels of culpability, but it's certainly the level of culpability of people who are in charge, bishops, who are in charge of these dioceses, who allowed this to go, they have to be removed and they have to suffer these consequences in a very public way.

The church has to act promptly and swiftly to make sure that message is sent, that this is simply not going to be tolerated.

CAMEROTA: And so, is that the yes for being -- for removing Cardinal Wuerl?

SANTORUM: It's a yes to remove everybody, including Cardinal Wuerl, who, at least in multiple cases did not follow through as he said he had in the past.

CAMEROTA: Do you thing the Pope has gone far enough? He certainly has said things that no pope has said before and he's been more public, but do you think in terms of action?

SANTORUM: Again, I mean, here we are looking at another report done by someone outside the church. So, what does that tell me? That tells me that the leadership of the church hasn't done it's job and that starts at the top. I mean, the buck stops there, in Rome.

Are the sending a message out to these diocese, these bishops, that it's time to really do a thorough investigation and be -- and come clean. It's -- I just can't tell you, hopefully, you can tell how upset I am

that it had to take an outside -- an organization outside of the church to find this ramped corruption.

Something this omnipresent within these diocese had -- people had to be aware of it and no one was willing to come forward and come clean. And that is the -- that is the big issue here, that Rome has to deal with and Rome can't continue to make political statements and think that they're going to get a pass on this. They're not.

CAMEROTA: Let's move onto the politics of the day. There's a lot of breaking news to cover here as well. President Trump has given a new interview to Reuters, in which he says, that he could take over Robert Mueller's investigation if he wanted to. He can do whatever he wants basically, is the point of this. Your thoughts?

SANTORUM: Well, I mean he's the president. I mean, he has very broad authority as president to do things. That's not really the question. The question is, should he? And I don't think anyone, hopefully no one within the White House is advising the president that he should take over this investigation.

Look, I think we've seen some things recently that get into the mind of Trump. I mean most importantly the article in "The New York Times" about Don McGahn.

The fact that the President of the United States, early in his presidency, basically waived any kind of privilege for his general -- I mean, his Counsel to interview with Mueller, to share documents, not to claim any privilege.

That shows me someone who really isn't concerned about any collusion being found. I mean, that shows me -- that's the heart of an innocent man, maybe naive so, that he probably shouldn't have given that kind of broad waiver, but the reality is --

CAMEROTA: And the reporting is that he's now rattled by whatever Don McGahn may have shared.

SANTORUM: Well, look, rattled or not rattled, you have to look at the intent, at the time it was made. The decision was made by the president, not really fearing anything because he didn't do anything.

And he's fairly confident that no one around him did anything. I think that -- you have to look at the time -- at the moment he made that decision, he was not the least bit concerned that Don McGahn had anything that was culpable.


SANTORUM: What's happening now, as we've seen, in all of these Special Counsel investigations, is not the crime that originally, supposedly occurred, which is collusion, but now, oh was there a cover-up? Did someone lie? I mean this is what, you know, it seems like 90 percent of all of these indictments are about the investigation process. CAMEROTA: We don't have an answer yet. We don't have the conclusion

yet. We don't know what Robert Mueller has found about conspiracy.

SANTORUM: Yes. I think we have a pretty good idea that --

CAMEROTA: How do you have an idea?

SANTORUM: Well because, look, this is not been investigation where leaks have been rare.

CAMEROTA: What leaks have you heard from Robert Mueller? I mean we -- we have information from people who have been interviewed by Mueller's team, but what leaks have you gotten from Mueller?

SANTORUM: I'm not suggesting -- I'm not suggesting where the leaks come from, but that there are leaks of all the things that are going on within that investigation and the reality is, the only thing that's come up that even hints of collusion is a single meeting and that, you know, a bunch of what relatively incompetent folks from a political standpoint were trying to figure out what some Russian potentially connected lawyer had to some dirt on Hillary Clinton. I mean that's it.

CAMEROTA: Rick, listen. Hold on a second. You dismiss it as, you know, potentially connected to the Kremlin lawyer, this was a Kremlin connected lawyer. That doesn't concern you that somebody with Kremlin connections is infiltrating Trump Tower and having a meeting?

SANTORUM: I wouldn't call that -- I wouldn't call that infiltrating. I would call that --

CAMEROTA: What would you call it?

SANTORUM: I would call that, you know, people who really weren't up to speed on -- look, we saw this in the Trump campaign. The Trump campaign was a bunch of people who were political novices.


SANTORUM: Folks who have never dealt in this world before.

CAMEROTA: Fair. I'm interest in what the Kremlin was up to. Not what the Trump campaign