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Interview With Arizona Senator John McCain; Trump to Nominate Secretary of State Friendly to Russia?; Did Russia Interfere in U.S. Election?; Interview with Senator John McCain of Arizona. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired December 12, 2016 - 4:00   ET




THE LEAD starts right now.

A former CIA director calls it the political equivalent of 9/11, but the president-elect calls it ridiculous -- now new details on the debate within the intelligence community over whether Russia was trying to throw the election to Donald Trump.

It's not just Democrats who want answers, Republicans in Congress now saying that they also want an investigation into Russia's meddling. One of those leading the charge, Senator John McCain, he will join me in just a few minutes.

Every minute feels like death. Tweets from a little girl who has known nothing but war has captivated the world. And now Bana Alabed and her mom are still trapped inside Aleppo. They tell CNN they fear the Syrian regime will kill them.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Today, the Republican Senate majority leader voiced support for a full congressional investigation into Russian meddling into U.S. elections, this as CNN is learning new details this afternoon about a U.S. intelligence community assessment that Russia could have been acting to sway the election for Donald Trump, though it's not considered clear-cut and there is some disagreement as to whether the goal was definitively to help Donald Trump or to weaken Hillary Clinton or if there was some other goal.

You will remember 17 U.S. intelligence agencies reached a consensus back in October that the Kremlin had orchestrated hacks of Democratic Party organizations and individuals in the United States. President- elect Donald Trump in an interview that aired yesterday on FOX expressed doubt at the conclusion of the intelligence community that Russia was behind the hacking, whatever the reason.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Personally, it could be Russia. I don't really think it is, but who knows? I don't know either. They don't know and I don't know.


TAPPER: CNN is covering all of the angles, working our sources in the transition in Washington and in Moscow.

Let's start with CNN's Ryan Nobles. He is outside Trump Tower.

Ryan, as you heard me say earlier, one former CIA director called these Russian hacks on the U.S. system the political equivalent of 9/11.


And that former CIA director, Mike Morell, actually briefed George W. Bush on the 9/11 attacks. It's a comparison to not take lightly.

Despite these concerns from the intelligence community and now a powerful group of Republican senators, the president-elect remains unconvinced that this alleged Russian hack is a serious problem.


NOBLES (voice-over): Tonight, Donald Trump is ramping up a showdown over the alleged role Russia may have played in the race for president, every major U.S. intelligence agency concluding that Russia did in fact Interfere with the election.

TRUMP: I think it's ridiculous. I think it's just another excuse. I don't believe it.

NOBLES: On Sunday, Trump flatly told FOX News that he does not believe the reports that the CIA believes Russia actively attempted to intervene. This morning, he doubled down in a series of tweets, writing -- quote -- "Can you imagine if the election results were opposite and we tried to play the Russia/CIA card? It would be called a conspiracy theory."

Trump also claiming that the accusations of Russian interference never came up during the election, which it did, and that hackers weren't caught in the act, which they were.

This comes as a chorus of bipartisan senators are calling for a deeper probe.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It's clear the Russians interfered.

NOBLES: And Trump is incorrectly suggesting it is Democrats, not the intelligence community, placing the blame on Russia.

TRUMP: I'm not sure they put it out. I think the Democrats are putting it out because they suffered one of the greatest defeats in the history of politics in this country, and, frankly, I think they're putting it out and it's ridiculous.

NOBLES: Which entirely misses the problem of a foreign entity attempting to undermine the integrity of the U.S. election and makes any potential investigation challenging if Trump remains opposed to the effort once he takes office.

But the Senate's most powerful Republican is also pushing back, arguing that the intelligence is correct and an investigation is needed.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I agree with Senator Schumer, Chairman McCain, Burr and others. This simply cannot be a partisan issue. The Russians are not our friends.

NOBLES: And now the Clinton campaign is backing a demand from Electoral College electors who are asking for a full intelligence briefing on the matter ahead of their official vote on December 19. This flap adds to growing concern amongst leaders of the president- elect's own party about his view of Russia.


NOBLES: And his likely pick for secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, and his close ties to Putin and Russia.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeting: "Being a friend of Vladimir is not an attribute I'm hoping for from a secretary of state."


These battles are being waged as Trump continues to shape his upcoming administration. Making trips to Trump Tower today...

CARLY FIORINA, FORMER HEWLETT-PACKARD CEO: Really cool stuff in his office.

NOBLES: ... former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, former Congressman Allen West, and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, once a sharp critic of Trump, now considered as the next energy secretary, a department that, as a presidential candidate, he suggested be shut down.


NOBLES: Trump today announcing that he's picked someone to head up the National Economics Council, and that's Gary Cohn, the current president and COO of Goldman Sachs.

And, of course, Jake, during the campaign, Trump very critical of Hillary Clinton's ties to Wall Street and Goldman Sachs in particular -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ryan Nobles in New York, thank you so much.

Diving deeper into the murky world of intelligence now, CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is here with me in Washington.

Jim, you have new details on this intelligence community assessment about why Russia was hacking these political targets.


For one, there's no disagreement about Russia hacking the election. The intelligence community, the FBI, Democrats and Republicans believe that Russia hacked the election.

TAPPER: Meaning -- I'm sorry, but meaning that they hacked into the DNC and hacked into John Podesta.

SCIUTTO: Exactly, not votes, exactly, but that they hacked the Democratic Party and released those e-mails through WikiLeaks, et cetera.

The question is, why did they do it? And there's been some disagreement as to whether they did it purely to disrupt our election process or to help a candidate, namely, Donald Trump.

Our reporting is there is growing confidence in the intelligence community that it was the latter, that the goal was to help Donald Trump. That's based in part on the fact that Republican officials and organizations were also hacked, but not nearly as much information was made public.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): A former senior law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the inquiry tells CNN the investigation discovered Russian hacking of Republican entities, not just the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's top aide, John Podesta.

CNN is told that hackers got hold of information from some Republican House members, pundits, a third-party entity that held data for the Republican National Committee and nonprofit groups tied to the party. Most of the information relating to the Republican Party was not released by hackers.

That in part led the intelligence community to assess that Russia could have been acting to impact the election for Trump, though it was not clear whether this was truly for Trump or just to weaken Clinton.

FBI investigators were not as convinced. Some of the data appears to have been outdated and perhaps of less value to hackers. Tonight, the White House said it believes it is clear who Russia was trying to help.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: These were e-mails from the DNC and John Podesta, not from the RNC and Steve Bannon.

SCIUTTO: This has put president-elect Trump and his team at odds with the U.S. intelligence community over this assessment. The president- elect himself is questioning the assessment that Russia was involved in any election-related hacking at all.

TRUMP: Once they hack, if you don't catch them in the act, you're not going to catch them. They have no idea if it's Russia or China or somebody.

SCIUTTO: Trump's transition team is also disputing a report that the Republican National Committee was hacked as well, though no information was made public.

SEAN SPICER, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: The intelligence is wrong, because they're writing that the conclusion that they came to was based in part on the RNC was hacked. It wasn't hacked.

SCIUTTO: Though investigators do have evidence Republican entities, though not the RNC, were breached.


SCIUTTO: That's really the key distinction, because , Jake, you and I heard over the weekend and you heard Sean Spicer there again say with confidence the RNC was not hacked.

Our reporting is, that is true. However, other Republican individuals and entities were hacked. This is members of Congress. It's thought leaders, think tanks, that sort of thing, as well as Republican organizations and nonprofits.

There were many Republican targets that were breached. That information, though, by and large, was not made public. The Democratic information was and that's why many in the I.C. believe the targeted was Hillary Clinton.

TAPPER: Very interesting. Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

That's the assessment and conversation going on within the U.S. intelligence community. What's the reaction in Russia?

CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is in Moscow for us.

Matthew, the Kremlin is categorically denying to you that they were behind these hacks.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes. They have been denying that since October, when these reports, these allegations first surfaced at the height of the presidential campaign.

But when it comes to the latest CIA and FBI assessments, they're again restating that position that, look, they had nothing to do with this. The Kremlin spokesman told me some time ago Russia doesn't hack on a state level. That's the position they have been talking about every since October and it's the position they're holding today.

And, of course, it happens to be the same position, as you just mentioned, that Donald Trump has as well. Donald Trump himself is saying, look, there is no evidence that Russia had anything to do with any kind of hacking.

[16:10:03] And that's partly true, because we haven't seen any digital, any

concrete evidence there is a straight line between these hacks of the DNC and back to the Kremlin. That kind of footprint perhaps doesn't even exist. It's just an allegation at this point and that's the point that the Kremlin has been making time and again, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Matthew, both Democrats and Republicans are expressing concern about the man who is the leading contender to be nominated for secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.

Tillerson has known Putin for two decades. He received an Order of Friendship from the Russian president. What's the view of Tillerson from the Kremlin?

CHANCE: Oh, yes, they don't know what the Congress is worried about. I mean, as far as the Duma is concerned, the Russian Parliament, he's the exact man for the job.

He is not just a friend of Russia, but he's been actually awarded a medal, as you mentioned, by Putin to show that he's a really big friend of Russia. The Order of Friendship is, of course, one of the highest civilian honors that you can have.

He's done hundreds of millions of -- hundreds of billions of dollars worth of trade deals with Russian counterparts, with Russian oil firms to look for oil and gas in this massive country. He's met Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, on countless occasions, and he is seen as somebody who is opposed -- he has actually gone on record as being opposed to sanctions against Russia, saying they are ineffective as an instrument of policy.

And so he's someone that the Russians have great expectations for, someone they think they can do a deal with. When you step back and you look at what Russians think about this election, they don't see Donald Trump as the winner or the Republican Party as the winner. They see the Kremlin as the winner in all this.

They have got Donald Trump to take office in the White House. He's been very sympathetic towards points of view, Russian points of view about the situation in the world. They have got Rex Tillerson, who is his prospective nominee as the secretary of state. This could be a big win for the Russians when it comes to the relationship with the United States.

TAPPER: Of course, that's exactly what has so many American officeholders concerned.

Matthew Chance in Moscow, thank you so much.

Donald Trump rejects the intelligence community's claims that Russia meddled with the U.S. election, for whatever reason. Now a congressional committee is preparing to investigate, so will president-elect Trump undermine that investigation?

We will talk to Senator John McCain next.


[16:15:32] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Staying with politics, one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement right now in Washington seems to be that Congress should investigate Russia's role in hacking the DNC and Clinton campaign chairman and what its goal was. Earlier today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joined the bipartisan group calling for an official inquiry. That's a move President-elect Donald Trump seems unlikely to support.


TAPPER: Arizona Republican Senator John McCain is calling for a Senate investigation. He joins me now.

Senator, as always, thanks for joining us.

REP. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: So, President-elect Trump's response to the intelligence community's assessment that Russia interfered in U.S. elections has been to attack the U.S. intelligence community. What do you make of that?

MCCAIN: Well, I think that it deserves examination. I don't think there's any doubt that the Russians hacked into the campaigns probably of both, although it's not evident yet that it was the Republicans as well, although I would think so. They hacked into my campaign back in 2008. But I think the key to this is to try to find out what the Russians' intentions were.

Were they intending to change the outcome of our election? If so, it's very serious. A pillar of our democracy is free and fair elections.

TAPPER: You're launching a bipartisan congressional probe to try to find out the facts. Are you worried at all that President-elect Trump will try to undermine it?

MCCAIN: No. We're co-equal branches of government. What we need to do is coordinate between -- and we will -- between Foreign Relations, Senator Corker and Senator Cardin, and Intelligence, Senator Burr, Senator Jack Reed and myself, and we will investigate all of these aspects.

But the most important thing, Jake, is to recognize -- and we will have a special -- additional subcommittee on cyber that my friend Lindsey Graham I'm hoping will be the lead on. But we have to look at the whole issue of cyber, the attacks, the capabilities, what they've done as far as industrial espionage and military capabilities that they've been able to crack into. The whole challenge of cyber, according to our military leaders, is the biggest challenge that we don't have any advantage over any potential adversary.

TAPPER: The reason I ask about whether or not he would try to undermine your conclusions is because, take a look at what Donald Trump said this morning about reports about the Russia hack. He tweeted, quote, unless you catch hackers in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking. Why wasn't this brought up before the election?

As you know, Senator, neither of those statements is true. Cyber experts say hackers don't need to be caught in the act to be identified, and this issue was brought up before the election over and over, including at a presidential debate. So, I guess I'm wondering, are you concerned at all that you will be launching a fact-finding mission on this issue and the president-elect on this issue is rather disregarding of facts?

MCCAIN: Well, as I mentioned before, we are co-equal branches of government. I want to work with this president in every way possible, including repairing the incredible damage that Barack Obama has done to our capabilities, including the fact that there is no -- from this administration -- there is no strategy and no policy as to counter these cyber attacks, nor will there be one. And, by the way, an investigation of a month isn't going to do much, so I look forward to working with the president and I will do everything I can to assist him.

The fact is, we will have this investigation and the results of the investigation, I believe, will be credible, especially the fact that the people who are involved in it and it will be bipartisan. It will be us working with Democrats and Republicans, not trying to gain political advantage.

TAPPER: Well, you talk about moving forward and there needing to be a policy for cyber attacks. What do you think the consequences should be for Russia if your review or the other review that President Obama ordered shows that they definitively did try to influence the election?

MCCAIN: Well, I think some of the other aspects are equally dangerous.

[16:20:03] Frankly, their ability to impair facilities. There's even scenarios where they could shut down satellites in space. It depends on the attack. It depends on the severity of it.

It's just like anything else in warfare. You can have exchange of gunfire and that's one example of warfare, and then you can have exchange of all out war. So, cyber attacks, when you destroy or impact the ability of a nation to function, that is an act of war. But it doesn't mean World War III. It means that there should be proportionate responses and development of capabilities to see that it doesn't happen again.

This administration has no policy and no strategy. I mean -- what I mean is there's no policy is what we do when we see an attack coming. There's no policy on how to respond. There's no policy on any aspect of it and we need that very badly obviously.

TAPPER: ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson has called himself a friend of Vladimir Putin. We know he is Trump's top choice for secretary of state. What do you think some of your colleagues who are hawks on the Russia issue have expressed serious concerns about picking Tillerson given his close relationship with Putin?

MCCAIN: I am concerned as well, but I also believe the president deserves his nominees to get a fair hearing and I will make no judgment until the hearing takes place and the questions are answered and we go through the process.

But, anybody who's a friend of Vladimir Putin must disregard the fact that Vladimir Putin is a murderer, a thug, a KGB agent whose airplanes as we speak have been targeting with precision weapons hospitals in Aleppo, who have committed atrocities throughout the region and has destabilized Ukraine, has invaded Ukraine, destabilizing -- trying to destabilize Baltic countries, and the list goes on and on. This guy is a thug and a murderer, and I don't see how anybody could be a friend of this old time KGB agent.

TAPPER: Let me turn to China if I could, Senator. CNN has learned that this month for the first time, China flew nuclear capable bombers over a disputed area in the South China Sea. Many experts are interpreting this as a warning to Donald Trump, given some of the things he has said, including suggesting that there doesn't necessarily need to be a One China Policy.

What's your take on this?

MCCAIN: My take is that again the Obama administration has had no response to illegal acts on the part of the Chinese, filling in those islands by violating the commitment that they made to democracy in Hong Kong when it was turned over by the British, by continuing to prop up the North Korean government which is now developing weapons which over time could strike the United States of America with an ICBM.

And so, we need to have a policy towards China and we need to have them understand that we expect them to obey the international -- rules of international law and behavior. I do not foresee conflict between the United States and China because I believe that peace through strength such as we exercised in the past will be a sufficient deterrent to China. But their behavior has been in gross violation of international law.

And, by the way, they've been also very active in cyber attacks as well.

TAPPER: Do you have any concern at all, Senator, about the phone call that President-elect Trump took from the president of Taiwan, about some of the things he's said on Twitter and elsewhere about changing U.S. policy towards China, or do you think it is a healthy shakeup of U.S. posture towards that country?

MCCAIN: I think it's healthy. When you look again at the Chinese behavior that I just chronicled, they're an independent nation and -- Taiwan -- and I believe in the One China Policy, but they are a democracy which China is not, and I believe that a conversation with the president of a freely elected democratic Taiwan is more than appropriate.

TAPPER: All right. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, thank you so much for your time as always, sir.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Jake.


TAPPER: Parting shots. Senator Harry Reid is taking his last swings as he retires from the Senate.

[16:25:01] And he's not just going after Donald Trump. That's next.

Then, CNN speaks exclusively to 7-year-old Bana from Syria who's developed a following on Twitter. She's on the run with her mother after losing their homes to bombs. Now, she's tweeting again and, sadly, it's not good news. More on that coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

More on our politics lead now.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid started his career as a fighter, literally, a boxer, from Searchlight, Nevada. And he is going out in much the same way. The Democratic partisan is blaming Democrats' losses in November, not on the candidate who didn't bother to visit Wisconsin nor on the campaign that failed to get its voters to the polls. Now, he's pointing to fingers of blame, one at the Kremlin, the other at the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building.

And here's what the outgoing senator told our own CNN senior political reporter Manu Raju.


SEN. HARRY REID (D), OUTGOING MINORITY LEADER: The DNC was hacked, everybody knew that. We knew WikiLeaks was coming out 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.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: So, I mean, just to be clear -- are you saying the Russians was, in fact, trying to steer this election to Donald Trump?

REID: My opinion is yes. We got no basis in fact from the FBI. They ignored it. Now, we're hearing and you guys are reporting all this stuff from the intelligence agencies. They clearly see it.

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