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Interview with Outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 12, 2016 - 11:30   ET



[11:30:50] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go live now to Capitol Hill.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Manu Raju is sitting down right now with the top Democrat in the Senate, Harry Reid -- Manu?


And, Senator, thank you for sitting with us.

I want to start talking about Russia and the intelligence community. You sit in a lot of these intelligence briefings. From what you understand, was Russia trying to sway the elections to Donald Trump?

SEN. HARRY REID, (D-NV), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Any of the briefings I've had have appeared in the -- I've ignored everything in the press. That's why in August there were also even then reports of Russia being -- messing around. We knew they had hacked the DNC and there was talk then about what they are doing to affect the election. Remember, they didn't leak one single thing they got from the RNC. They were leaking stuff out through WikiLeaks. And so, I thought it was important to put the FBI on notice and do something about it. I wrote in August, and the FBI director didn't have the decency, the courtesy to even respond to my letter. I got something from the Government Affairs Department, somebody who probably doesn't know his way down to the capitol, sent me a letter saying we are looking into it. They looked into nothing.

RAJU: Why do you think that is?

REID: Well, it's obvious he was a partisan in all of this.

RAJU: Comey?

REID: Yeah. Comey, yes. It's obvious. There's information out there. He had it, I'm confident, and he ignored it. And we know from other reports we've seen from all you guys, there were reports people in the campaign for Donald Trump were in touch with the Russians and now it's very clear. One of the biggest mysteries that people think exists, why didn't he do something? There's no mystery to me.

RAJU: You mentioned this August briefing that prompted you to send this letter to Comey asking for a further -- (CROSSTALK)

REID: Yes, of course.


RAJU: What did you specifically learn in that --


REID: The August briefing, I already said the stuff that I've learned in my briefings HAS appeared in the press many, many times. I wrote that to Comey because I thought he should do something and be careful, because I always thought he was Republican. So, a very courteous letter I wrote to him. I want him to investigate and let us know. He didn't do either one. If he investigated, he kept it under wraps. In fact, to show how awful this situation is, this man ignored a precedent that's been going on for decade after decade after decade. The FBI does not get involved in politics, except Comey did. He ignored the attorney general, not only this one, but all of them in the past.

RAJU: So, from your understanding, there's a split in the intelligence community between the FBI and the CIA right now?

REID: You're saying that. I am saying that the FBI --


RAJU: But do you understand that?

REID: I am saying that the FBI did nothing, did nothing. All of the information that we've heard in the last couple of weeks, it was available to the FBI. He just ignored it. He did not make it public.


REID: Did we ask him to? More than once. And he didn't do it.

RAJU: You mentioned ties between -- coordination between the Trump campaign, allegedly, and the Russian government. You mentioned this in an October letter. You had said that to Comey. You said to Comey you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Trump and the Russian government. What are you basing that assertion on?

REID: If anyone can read the English language, all they have to do is read the press. It has nothing to do with briefings I've had from the intelligence community, period.

RAJU: But what evidence exists that there is -- there were ties of coordination before the election between the Trump campaign and the Russian government?

REID: There were reports in the press, for heaven's sakes.

RAJU: But what are you referring to, specifically?

REID: Oh, I can't respond to a specific, single item. But they were all over. All over. The DNC was hacked. Everybody knew that. We knew WikiLeaks was coming on drip by drip by drip. They wouldn't do it all at once, of course, because they were coordinating this obviously with the Trump folks and the Russians.

RAJU: So just to be clear, are you saying that the Russian government was, in fact, trying to steer this election to Donald Trump?

[11:35:16] REID: My opinion is yes. And we got no basis in fact from the FBI. They ignored. Now we are hearing, and you guys are reporting all of this stuff from the intelligence agencies. They clearly see it.

RAJU: Do you think that Trump, in any way, is an illegitimate president because of the Russian involvement?

REID: No, I never said that. Of course, I wish someone else had won, even though Hillary Clinton got three million more votes than him. We have a system, an Electoral College system, and he won. We accept that.

RAJU: Would Trump have won this if Russia didn't get involved?

REID: All I know is Russia helped a lot. Those WikiLeaks coming out, drip, drip, drip, hurt her. And Comey helped Trump significantly. A week before the election, he came out with this, oh, we've found some more e-mails, and as result of that, we lost Senate seats, and I think we lost the presidency.

RAJU: Do you think Comey, singlehandedly, swayed this election from Clinton and kept Republican in control of the Senate?

REID: I won't say singlehandedly. But for him -- I'll say singlehandedly. Had he not written that letter a week or so before the election, she would have won and we would have picked up at least two more Senate seats.

RAJU: We reported and "The Washington Post" reported over the weekend that there was a September briefing where officials from the intelligence committee briefed congressional leaders and the intelligence community asked for a bipartisan statement of -- to show that they believe that Russia was trying to meddle in the elections. Appears to be that some Republicans leaders resisted that approach. What happened in that briefing? How can you characterize it?

REID: Jeh Johnson, as I recall, was concerned about something happening. He -- very simple. No big intrigue with him. He said we should have each secretary of state contact me if they need some help. So, I contacted the governor of the state in Nevada and told him he should call the FBI -- I'm sorry. He should call Secretary Johnson, and he did. That's what it was all about. Some people there didn't do it. I did.

RAJU: Senator McConnell, apparently, did not believe the intelligence was strong enough and resisted calls for a bipartisan --


REID: I don't know why -- I don't know what he did or didn't do.

RAJU: Do you recall that happening?

REID: What happening?

RAJU: That McConnell resisting calls to move forward for some sort of bipartisan statement about Russia. Do you remember that happening in that September briefing?

REID: Yeah, I've had a number of conversations with Pelosi, and trying to write a letter that everybody accepted, and we never got one done.

RAJU: And it's because the Republicans resisted it?

REID: Well, it didn't get done.

RAJU: Do you believe there was a systematic effort by the Republican leadership here to withhold this information before the elections because of politics?

REID: No. My concern is this, the head of the FBI ignored information that was out there, and instead of telling us what it is, he decided to get involved in the election and did all the stuff I've already talked about, the so-called -- all he had a week before the election, going against all precedence, going against attorney generals for ages, he decided he wanted to sway the election, and he did.

RAJU: Over the weekend, the RNC denied "The New York Times" story saying that the Russians hacked into their systems. We have reporting saying that there was an RNC vendor that was hacked. From what you understand, were Republican entities beyond that RNC vendor hacked as well?

REID: I have no idea. All I know is WikiLeaks didn't report one single thing about the Republicans that I'm aware of.

RAJU: Do the Russians have information about the Republicans that they withheld?

REID: I have no idea. All I know is that anything coming from WikiLeaks was dripped out against Democrats, not a word about Republicans.


REID: Obviously, WikiLeaks was bought and sold on the effort to get Trump elected.

RAJU: And you're not aware of Russia's withholding more information right now? REID: On Republicans?

RAJU: Yeah, on Republicans.

REID: No, I don't know anything about that. All I know is that they certainly didn't leak any information. That is, WikiLeaks. It was all directed to hurt Clinton.

RAJU: Trump said this week that he gets a presidential daily briefing about once a week, rather than daily. He thinks some of these briefings are repetitive. You get a lot of intelligence briefings, not the presidential daily briefings, but do you think that these briefings are repetitive? Are you OK with the president taking that briefing once a week?

[11:40:19] REID: Well, it's very concerning to me. I know the people that brief the president. They spend 80 hours a week getting ready to brief the president. 80 hours a week. Because that information is so sensitive. I don't get a briefing every day. But I get one every couple of weeks that's very concerning. And I think it's unbelievable that he said, well, let Pence do it. That should be done by the chief executive of our government.

RAJU: Are you surprised he only wants to take it once a week?

REID: I guess we should be happy that he's doing it once a week, if all he's done is belittle the security agencies anyway.

RAJU: And he's suggesting that he also may pick Rex Tillerson to be the Exxon -- to be the secretary of state. Of course, he's the Exxon- Mobile CEO. It's a pick that's already been criticized by Democrats and Republicans because of Tillerson's ties to Russia. You don't get to vote next year, but I'm wondering, do you think he'll have a difficult time getting confirmed here in the Senate?

REID: Well, I don't know if he can get 50 votes or not. I think it may be hard for him to do that.

RAJU: You do? Based on your conversations with Democrats?

REID: I have nothing against Tillerson. I know him. I know nothing about his Russians connections.

RAJU: Do the reports that you have seen about his Russian connections concern you in any way given --


REID: It's in keeping with Trump. He's already stated he likes Putin better than he likes Obama. It's obvious he likes Russia. And that's fairly concerning to the world, and certainly concerning to Americans, and concerning to me.

RAJU: I'm wondering, you said that Comey may have swayed this election to --


REID: I didn't say he may have. I think he did.

RAJU: You said you think he did. But don't Democrats deserve any sort of blame here in the elections? You specifically, the message in reaching out to white working-class voters in Rustbelt states. Joe Biden raised concerns about that.

REID: Well, the messaging must not have been too bad. She's going to wind up getting three million more votes than Trump. So, it couldn't have been too bad.

RAJU: Do Democrats harbor any responsibility whatsoever for losing this election?

REID: Well, that's a pretty small area to reach. Of course, anything. But what I'm saying is that she got three million votes more than he, or will be by the time the votes are all counted, and that Comey was heavily involved as a partisan, and that is untoward someone from the FBI would do that.

RAJU: What specifically should your party have done differently to keep the Senate -- to win back the Senate, to keep the White House?

REID: I think we would have won the majority in the Senate and we would have won the presidency, but for Comey.

RAJU: So there's nothing at all you --


REID: But you keep saying that, Manu. Of course, we could have done better. But the point is, everyone can do better, you know? In a fistfight with somebody, you lose it, could you have done better? Of course, you could.

RAJU: After the elections, you raised some pretty scathing statements about Trump. You said that he lost the popular vote, called him a sexual predator in your statement. You also said that watching white nationalists celebrate while innocent Americans cry tears of fear does not feel like America.

REID: So what's wrong with any one of those statements?

RAJU: A month later, do you still feel that way?

REID: Of course, I do. I do. And I have said that he doesn't appear to be as bad as I thought he would be. Still bad, but not as bad as I thought he would be.

RAJU: You think he's doing better? What makes you say that? What would give you a little bit more --

REID: He says he's going to try to help the dreamers. He's shut up about the fence. He appears to be somebody that's trying to not be as crazy as his election. RAJU: So you're feeling a little better about Donald Trump?

REID: I said he's not as bad as I thought he would be. He's still bad but not as bad as I thought he would be.

RAJU: Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said your letter was an embarrassment to the Senate. What's your response to that?

REID: Every one of my members has a right to say whatever they want to say. And Manchin, of course, is running for a part in the Trump administration. So maybe that's the way he got the door open.

RAJU: Would you be OK if Joe Manchin and Heitkamp, Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, took a job with Donald Trump?

REID: I have no idea what they're going to do. I just know Heidi Heitkamp, and I would doubt very seriously, as popular as she is, that she would do that. Joe Manchin, obviously, is running for a cabinet spot.

RAJU: And you'd be OK if they took a job?

REID: Who?

RAJU: Either Manchin or Heitkamp, would you be OK with that?

[11:45:00] REID: Listen, I know that we've done stuff in the last few weeks to try to make Manchin happy, so he'd be another Democrat, at least temporarily.

RAJU: As we close here, you are on your way out. Who represents the future of the Democratic Party? And who do you think could bring the party back in power --


REID: I've had pretty good advice in my career, and the best advice I've ever gotten is from Susan McHugh, my chief of staff. She always said, always said, the one thing that's important is to make sure you keep your pulse on what's going on in Nevada and in the country. And I've tried to do that. And I think what we, as Democrats, need to do is make sure we have an idea of what is going on in our country at any given time. And you've pecked around here a little bit on what more could we done? Of course, we could have done better messaging on the economic problems we have in America today. But it's easier to be a Monday-morning quarterback. I think our message was good. And I hope that the future will look at what took place. We have, right now, as we speak, we have the ability to do extremely well. Take, for example, what Bernie Sanders did. He didn't raise a single penny over the telephone, and people were sending money. And I think if we're going to get rid of Citizens United, that's what's going to have to happen. We're going to have to have grassroots, grassroots.


RAJU: Other specific people you think would be -- other specific people you think would represent the future of the Democratic Party to get the party back into power?

REID: Well, you know, we're -- as Joe Biden said, in two years, that decision will start. And, you know, Bernie Sanders proved you don't have to be a teenager to do well.

RAJU: Well, Senator Reid, thank you so much for chatting with us.

Kate and John, back to you.

BERMAN: All right. Manu Raju, fascinating interview with outgoing Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

BERMAN: Harry Reid saying he thinks Russia made a difference in this election, helped Donald Trump a lot. Senator Harry Reid saying without the Jim Coney letter that Hillary Clinton would have won. And Harry Reid saying that Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, is working, campaigning for a job in the cabinet.

BOLDUAN: But still says, though, citing a couple of Trump's previous comments, though, says that Donald Trump is still bad but not as bad as he thought he would be. That coming from Senator Harry Reid.

A lot to discuss, next.



[11:50:55] CARLY FIORINA, (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER CEO, HEWLETT-PACKARD: -- serious business. And spent a fair amount of time talking about China, a most important and rising adversary. We talked about hacking, whether it's Chinese hacking or purported Russian hacking. We talked about the opportunity that the president- elect has to literally reset things, to reset the trajectory of this economy, to reset the role of government, to reset America's role in the world and how we're perceived in the world. And I think it's why he's getting such fantastic people in this administration. The high quality of people that he's named already says so much about his executive abilities. But it also says that people recognize the opportunity that our new president-elect has to really make a huge impact on people's lives in this country, and on events around the world. So, it was an honor for me to be there.

Thank you all so much. Thank you.



BERMAN: Just moments ago, at Trump Tower, that was Carly Fiorina, former president candidate in the Republican Party. One of the fiercest critics of Donald Trump during the entire election, but now heaping praise on the president-elect. Saying here it's going to be the president-elect. BOLDUAN: We're keeping eye on Trump Tower as the comings and goings


But we also want to talk about the very big interview and fascinating conversation that Manu Raju just had with the outgoing Senate minority leader, top Democrat in the Senate, Senator Harry Reid.

David Chalian, our political director, is joining us now.

David, Harry Reid had a lot to say about Russia. Two parts of it, right? Russia in terms of the election, Russia helped a lot. By helped, he means not helped his side in terms of the election. And also, slammed the FBI Director James Comey, calling him a partisan in all of this saying he had information of Russia's hacking and he ignored it.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: Yeah, but I thought it was interesting, in the interview, Harry Reid had a totally different approach to this whole Russian hacking story than does Chuck Schumer or other Democrats who were going to be left behind -- remember, Harry Reid's leaving -- to actually work then this and investigate it.

Harry Reid I thought played into Donald Trump's hands a little. He is using it as an excuse for election results. He unloaded on Jim Comey and said the whole WikiLeaks leaking of Russian hacking is, was, indeed, all about trying to make Trump win. That is different from what you're hearing from Schumer and McCain and Graham. The bipartisan effort -- now McConnell joined as well -- to investigate, if, indeed, Russia was up-ending our ability to have free and fair elections, irrespective of the election.

BERMAN: Right. A few Democratic leaders are not saying that the election was illegitimate. They just want to know what role Russia played. And Harry Reid made it sound - Well, he did say he accepts the results of this election. Manu asked him outright.

CHALIAN: He did. Totally, that is right.

BERMAN: And he did say that.

And, David, remind us where we are now. It's different than where we were 90 minutes ago. Mitch McConnell announced there will be hearings. He'll let hearings go on inside the committees of the Senate -- Armed Services, and expects Richard Burr will do it also.

CHALIAN: The Intelligence Committee, yes. He didn't go whole hog what some folk called for, a separate special committee, a la Benghazi Committee, for a full investigation that gets a total mandate, a select committee. But you are right. It is quite a development that Mitch McConnell has now -- and Chuck Schumer praising him for doing it -- saying this does need to be looked at. It does leaves Donald Trump on an island right now as the only person in Republican politics, it seems, or in politics generally, who doesn't think it's clear Russia was involved in trying to impact America's election.

BOLDUAN: Also, might spell trouble for the leading candidate right now to be his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. I mean, Harry Reid was asked about Rex Tillerson, and Harry Reid's assessment was that when it comes to confirmation, he might have a problem finding the 50 votes to get confirmed.

CHALIAN: He could. We've seen grumblings right from McCain, from Senator Graham, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina --

BOLDUAN: Marco Rubio.

CHALIAN: Marco Rubio of Florida. Obviously, that's three. That would bring them down - they only have 52. That would, if the three voted against Tillerson and every Democrat voted against, obviously, that scuttles the nomination. I think we're a long way to go from here to there. As Mitch McConnell pointed out, there will are confirmation hearings. This information will be totally discussed, and then we'll see where the votes align on the count.

[13:55:27] BERMAN: The hearings will be watched closely.

David Chalian, thanks for being with us.

CHALIAN: Thanks, guys.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, David.

BERMAN: We do have breaking news. China responding to the president- elect's claims he will use the One China policy as a bargaining chip. Details ahead.