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Obama: Syria One Of The Hardest Issues I've Faced; Obama: Russians Responsible For Hacking The DNC; Clinton: Cyberattacks Stemmed From Grudge With Me; Sources: DNC Warned By FBI At Least 11 Times; Clinton: Cyberattacks Stemmed From Grudge With Me; One-on-One With Attorney General Loretta Lynch; Remembering A Hero; Bill Weir Visits The Netherlands. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 16, 2016 - 16:30   ET


DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: -- that's a very good point, Jake. It's certainly true that George W. Bush will be remembered far more for going into Iraq than President Obama remembered for staying out of Syria.

What I do think is the president also underscored the Syrian situation became a lot more complicated for him when there was this dramatic turning point and that is when the Russians got in. That made it a lot harder to look at any middle ground, and this thing has gone south ever since that happened.

The Russians have been blocking actions of the U.N. You would think by this time the U.N. would have teams in there to save these poor civilians and (inaudible) would be standing aside, but when you have the Russian blocking things, you can't get anywhere.

You know, I just think that's why Donald Trump represents 180-degree turn in how we think about the Russians, how to respond to them, and how to move ahead in the world.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Kirsten, what do you think about President Obama's response when it came to talking about Aleppo? He did say I cannot claim that my strategy has been successful.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER" COLUMNIST: Well, I appreciate that President Obama is anguished about this as we all are when we see the horrific footage and photos, but anguish doesn't save the children of Aleppo. Certainly, I think there have been folks that all along before Russia got involved that have been saying we need to arm moderate rebels there.

Because now you have situations where you have cities that were first taken by ISIS, and then liberated by Assad, and now have been retaken by ISIS where there are sort of two bad sides at play because the one good potential side was never fully supported by the U.S.

And so a feckless half measure wound up not being much of anything at all. It led us to where we are and created a vacuum where Russia was able to step in and take stronger measures.

TAPPER: Although, I have to say, Kirsten, the President-elect Donald Trump sounds even less interested in getting involved in Syria and Iraq than President Obama was.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think that's right, but I also think to a certain extent we don't really know what would have happened if we'd armed the rebels. So now I think the people who wanted to arm the rebels can say, if we just would have armed the rebels, all of these great things would have happened.

Well, it could have easily gone very badly. We've armed rebels in the past and it's gone very badly. We didn't know who the rebels were for the most part so we could have been giving arms to potentially ISIS actually.

So you know, I think that that's what the president was trying to lay out. He did a very painstaking step by step going through all of the different things that he had to think through in making this decision.

And it is something that obviously weighs heavily on him and you know, I think he was in a really tough decision in making this call, and in a way we'll never really know whether it would have made a difference or not.

TAPPER: All right, Kirsten, Kristen, David, David, thank you so much. Really appreciate it. Our breaking news coverage continues.

When we come back, Congressman Sean Duffy, Republican of Wisconsin will weigh in on President Obama's final news conference of the year. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. President Obama minutes ago said, yes, the Russians are responsible for hacking the DNC and Hillary Clinton's campaign chair, John Podesta, and that his administration simply laid out those facts when it released a joint statement accusing the Russians of orchestrating cyber-attacks against U.S. political targets.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I wanted to make sure that everybody understood we were playing this thing straight. That weren't trying to advantage one side or another.


TAPPER: Joining me now to discuss this all Republican Congressman Sean Duffy from Wisconsin, a member of President-elect Trump's transition executive team. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REPRESENTATIVE SEAN DUFFY (R), WISCONSIN: It's great to be with you, Jake. Thanks for having me on.

TAPPER: So you heard the president say Russia is directly responsible for the hacks and there was no attempt by the administration before the election to try to spin these facts for the political benefit of Hillary Clinton. What's your response?

DUFFY: So I think Republicans are a little bit skeptical for a couple of reasons. Number one, if you remember in the middle of October, Donald Trump was saying this election was going to be rigged. I've come on CNN and said, listen, the election is not going to be rigged. It's going to be fair and free.

And President Obama came out and said to Donald Trump, listen, stop whining, go out and make the case to the American people. Never did he say Russia was involved in this election and now after the election, the president's come out and we've seen leaks from the intelligence department.

Media reports have come out as well about Russian involvement. The problem that we have is, we haven't seen any reports yet. The intelligence community hasn't come to the Hill and briefed Deb Nunez and the intelligence community, hasn't briefed Senator Ron Johnson, the chairman of Homeland Security in the Senate.

So we have great reservation about how this has all played out and I think a key point is, one, if Russia was involved, Russia's hacking, I want to know that. I think the American people deserve to know that.

But the truth is, I agree with Barack Obama. We had a free and fair election, all votes that were cast were counted and the DNC hack or the hack into Hillary Clinton's email through Podesta had no bearing in this election.

I'm in Wisconsin in the swing part of our state, no one really cared about these hacks. This didn't drive their opinions on who they voted for. They looked at the economy, security and strong leadership. That's what they voted for.

They didn't care that the DNC was involved helping Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders or you know, some of the internal scandals and strive inside the Hillary Clinton campaign that came out through the Podesta emails.

Those were nonfactors so the hack didn't impact the outcome, but that they were trying -- we should actually know about that and I support any investigation to find out what involvement they are trying to have.

One other point, Jake, Russia should be pretty good at hacking and if we're going to have some influence, try to have some real influence on the election. They were miserable failures if they just did the DNC and Podesta.

TAPPER: Well, I guess, first of all, it seems like you might be conflating a little bit the idea of hacking into voting machines to change vote counts. That's one of the things that I think was being debated before the election, whether there would be an attempt to do that and that obviously did not happen. And I think that's what President Obama talked about before the election in terms of go out and make your case, but then in terms of what affected the election, I mean, I guess, we don't know.

I mean, obviously, Hillary Clinton could have gone to Wisconsin after the convention, your home state and the kremlin didn't tell her not to do that. There's any number of factors that could have played a role.

We're talking about 80,000 votes in three states and Hillary Clinton would be president-elect right now, so the idea that maybe this played a role, we'll never know but maybe it did. Surely you would want to know what Russia did. It sounds like that's what you're saying, that Congress needs to get to the bottom of it.

DUFFY: I totally agree with that, but I do think -- sometimes I think the media can conflate the two as well and say Russia hacked and then therefore had an influence on the election. I can't speak for Michigan or Pennsylvania, for Florida or North Carolina.

I can speak for my part of the state of Wisconsin, and it really had no bearing on the decision that people made on who they were going to vote for. It was embarrassing stuff, but not really things that drove the electorate one way or the other, in my opinion, from the voters that I saw.

[16:40:04]And again going back to President Obama's statements at the beginning in the middle of October, you know, if there was hacks coming in from Russia, he should have talked about that with Donald Trump and said you know what? There is an issue here.

This election could be rigged not by the voting machines but because of Russian influence and we should have had a whole vetting of that in October, but if not, at least, why won't the intelligence community come to the Hill and vet members of Congress?

Why are we getting this information through leaks instead of in a secure setting on the Hill? That's a head scratcher for a lot of us in Congress.

TAPPER: Yes. We look forward to them briefing you and maybe even some open hearings as well. Congressman Duffy, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

DUFFY: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Hillary Clinton's campaign manager says that the FBI's handling of the Russian hacking shows something is deeply broken at the agency. Does the nation's top law enforcement official agree? I'll ask Attorney General Loretta Lynch next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Hillary Clinton says she can explain why Russia launched its cyber-attack on U.S. election systems. She blames a long time grudge held by russian President Vladimir Putin. Clinton's former campaign chair, John Podesta, also took some time and blame for the sprawling hack that ensnared her candidacy. He faulted failures at the FBI and Podesta called out FBI Director James Comey. Now the FBI however is pushing back.

CNN justice correspondent, Evan Perez, joins me now. Evan, you've been reporting on FBI warnings of attempted hacks since the summer. How do you recall officials describing their response?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Jake, I think what's happening right now is that members of the Clinton campaign are trying to explain to their supporters how they lost this election and Hillary Clinton met with some of our donors and she described it this way. Take a listen.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to recognize that, as the latest reports made clear, Vladimir Putin himself directed the covert cyber-attacks against our electoral system, against our democracy, apparently because he has a personal beef against me.


PEREZ: Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, John Podesta, agrees with here whole heartedly obviously. He wrote in an op-ed in "The Washington Post" that in addition to the fact that the FBI director sent these letters just before the election that talked about the finding of new emails.

He also said that the FBI did not work hard enough to investigate the DNC hacks, certainly not as hard as they did to pursue the email investigation. He said they simply left voice mails with an IT staffer.

Jake, as you mentioned, we've been reporting on this since the summer and our reporting shows is that the FBI -- what one official told me that they called the DNC 11 times they reached out to the DNC, they reached out to the DNC's General Counsel's Office.

They went so far as to invite the DNC to an exercise, to a briefing where they could get an idea of how these things are done. The DNC declined. So the FBI did not do everything perfectly here, but there was a little bit more robust response than Podesta makes it out to be.

TAPPER: Some spinning coming from the DNC as to why this wasn't their fault. Now Podesta also suggested that the FBI should have investigated the hacks by the Russians with the same intensity and manpower that it used to investigate Hillary Clinton's private email server. Is that a fair charge? Are the cases too different to compare that way?

PEREZ: Yes. They're very different. In one case we're talking about the Clinton and her staff being the targets of an investigation, of a criminal investigation, and then the other the DNC, they were victims of a crime.

Now you could only go so far to encourage a victim to cooperate. If they decline there's not much more they can do. They didn't call the security company that they should have done and look at it from the point of view of the DNC, they don't necessarily want the FBI in their business. So we can understand perhaps why this went this way.

TAPPER: Interesting. Evan Perez, thank you so much.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch, of course, oversees the entire Justice Department and that includes of course the FBI. Earlier today I sat down with her exclusively and I asked her to respond to what Podesta said in his op-ed, his accusation against the FBI.


TAPPER: I have to ask you about this op-ed in "The Washington Post" by the Clinton manager, John Podesta. He said he's, quote, "Surprised to read in the "New York Times" when the FBI discovered the Russian attack in September 2015 it failed to even send a single agent to warn senior DNC officials. Instead messages were left with the DNC IT Help Desk." Is that an accurate description of the outreach that the FBI did to the DNC and if so, is that sufficient?

LORETTA LYNCH, ATTORNEY GENERAL: So as we've talked about earlier this year, the investigation into the hacks of the DNC and the DCCC is an ongoing investigation. It's an active investigation so I'm not able to comment on the specifics of how people were reached, were contacted.

But I can say that the FBI has worked closely with those organizations, both to discuss what we've learned about the hacks to gather information about them so that we can continue this investigation.

TAPPER: Whether or not you can get into specifics, is it true that there was this level of calling the DNC that doesn't sound particularly competent or doesn't sound like it had the urgency that one would think? Is that basic description that Podesta makes, is it accurate?

LYNCH: What I can tell you is this investigation was taken seriously from the beginning. This is an incredibly serious issue. I can't comment on Mr. Podesta's sources or where he gets his information or why he has that view.

What I can say is that he's not involved in the ongoing investigation so he wouldn't be privy to everything that would have been done or said to that. But as I said, he's entitled to his opinion, but what I'm --

TAPPER: But he's not entitled to his facts and that's what I'm wondering is that if his facts are accurate because he says he finds it, quote, "downright infuriating at nearly the exact same that time no one at the FBI could be bothered to drive ten minutes to the DNC. Two agents accompanied by attorneys from the Justice Department were in Denver visiting a tech firm that it helped maintain Hillary Clinton's e-mail serve." He is suggesting without question that Hillary Clinton's email server got more attention from the Justice Department and the FBI than this hack investigation by Russia, which I think it's fair to say seems fairly serious.

[16:50:09]LYNCH: Well, that's an ongoing investigation so I would say it's been taken very seriously.

TAPPER: Did the Clinton email investigation get more attention than the hacks?

LYNCH: You can't characterize it and I don't think that it is going to be helpful to try and draw equivalencies to any investigation with others to say and therefore it means that one was more or less important. Because as I said, one is resolved right now. One is finished and one is very active and very ongoing, so there you see a great deal of activity still continuing.

TAPPER: I know you can't comment on the active investigation but let me just put it this way. John Podesta is out there trashing the FBI and he's saying that the investigation into the hacks of the DNC was substandard. That's clearly what he's saying. Do you agree with that characterization?

LYNCH: I don't. I don't. First of all, the investigation isn't even over, so I think it's impossible to characterize it in any one way or the other. Again, I know where Mr. Podesta is on taking information.

TAPPER: He said the "New York Times," a big long "New York Times" story which I'm sure you read.

LYNCH: I know also because of his involvement with the campaign he's going to have a certain interest in this and a certain view of that, and so I again I allow him his opinion. Everyone has a great deal of respect for him so I allow him that opinion. But I disagree with that if that is the characterization he's trying to make.

I think you've got to look at every investigation separately. You've got to look at every case separately, and you've got to allow for the fact that the way in which someone may be contacted isn't indicative of the full relationship that they developed or the response that they may have gotten initially from that organization as well.


TAPPER: And you can see my entire interview with outgoing Attorney General Loretta Lynch this Sunday. I also speak exclusively with former Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain. You can see both interviews on "STATE OF THE UNION," Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. Eastern and again at noon right here on CNN.

Coming up, an American hero displaying bravery in the face of brutality by his fellow troops. You may have never heard his name, but you will hear his story next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


TAPPER: Welcome back. The "National Lead" now, paying tribute to a hero who might not have heard of, one who acted in the face of a frenzy of death. Lawrence Colburn, a helicopter gunner, who helped end the slaughter of at least 500 unarmed Vietnamese villagers by U.S. troops at Mili (ph) died yesterday. He was 67.

According to accounts of that day in 1968, Pilot Hugh Thompson, landed the chopper near American troops on a search and destroy mission and had Lawrence Colburn cover him and convince members of Charlie Company to stop the shooting.

The village's young men had left to work in the fields leaving behind elderly men and women and children who were nearly wiped out. Thirty years later Colburn would remember that day by saying, quote, "May we never forget again the heartbreak and brutality of war." Rest in peace to that brave veteran.

Turning now to our Pop Lead, he might have the coolest gig on TV, my friend and colleague, Bill Weir, travels the world to disappearing places and taking a deeper dive into untold stories.

In a new episode of "The Wonder List" right here on CNN, Bill goes to Holland generally known for its liberal progressive tolerant views but now comes along a man who is being called the Dutch Donald Trump. Maybe that's not fair, maybe it is.

He is trying to catch a wave that many other populations in the U.S. and Europe have ridden to victory. Let's bring in Bill Weir, the host of "The Wonder List." Removing Donald Trump from this at all, tell us about this politician in the Netherlands. Why is he getting this reputation?

BILL WEIR, CNN HOST, "THE WONDER LIST": Well, he is completely anti- Islam, not the people, not Muslims in particular he says, but he thinks Islam is a religion of death, it is corrosive and he is trying to limit immigration in this famously open-minded society.

The Dutch created that country out of mud and water and they are famously collegial, they work together, but it's neighbor against neighbor as this gentleman rises in the polls. He's a favorite to become the prime minister and it's so, I really can't take trump out of it -- Jake.


WEIR: I happened to be there while his rise was happening here and it was such an interesting parallel. The guys we hired to drive us around blue collar good guys are voting for him and this is part of a trend that's happening across Europe, where these populist sort of anti-immigration candidates are on the rise and more and more young people actually in poll are saying living in a democracy is not as essential as many thought in the past. TAPPER: Fascinating and populism is rising everywhere in the west. What does it mean for the refugee and immigrant communities in places like the Netherlands?

WEIR: You know, we met one guy from Syria, who got out of Homs and made his way. It took him, you know, a year through (inaudible) routes trying to bride his way across the borders. He finally went through the system in Netherlands, sort of an accepted member of the society, really trying to ingratiate himself there.

But in many places that is the exception to the rule. His biggest flag speech is that we've been too tolerant of intolerant people. If they don't want to fit into our society we don't want them but it's the pressures of assimilation.

The mayor of Rotterdam is a Muslim from Morocco. It took him 15 years to feel Dutch so the sheer numbers coming up from the war in Syria is creating this pressure point, even if the lowest sort of liberal open- minded societies.

TAPPER: Interesting and having spoken to policymakers and others in Europe, what do you think Brexit will mean for the future of the E.U. long term?

WEIR: I think we're living through seismic times. I wanted to do a wonder list Europe edition after Brexit. Now I want to do an American version after our election, but yes, you know, it's the pendulum, liberal democracy seems to be on the wane, if you look at these trend lines and people becoming more insular, more nationalistic. We can only hope that we still just watch "Game of Thrones" on TV, Jake, and not have to live it.

TAPPER: Right. I'm looking forward to Bill Weir. Thank you and congratulations. You at home can watch the third season of "THE WONDER LIST" with Bill Weir this Sunday at 10:00 p.m. only at CNN. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper.

I'm Jake Tapper. Be sure to tune in to "STATE OF THE UNION" this Sunday at 9 a.m. Eastern for exclusive interviews with Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Senator John McCain. Here is Wolf Blitzer in the --