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Obama Confirms Putin Directed Election Hacks; CIA Chief: FBI, Intel Agree on Russia Hacking; Obama: Clinton 'Not Treated Fairly' During Election; President Obama Taking on Vladimir Putin on Russian Hacking. Aired 5-6:00p ET

Aired December 16, 2016 - 17:00   ET


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Here is Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: breaking news. Cornered by Putin. President Obama essentially confirms that Russia's president directed election-related hacking, saying he personally told Putin to cut it out and promised retaliation. Did Mr. Obama send a clear message to Moscow tonight in his news conference?

On the same page. CNN has learned that the FBI now agrees with other intelligence agencies about Russia's role in the cyber-attacks. We'll tell you what top officials in America's spy organizations are saying tonight.

Lowering the temperature. President Obama avoids any sharp criticism of Donald Trump for his embrace of Putin and his refusal to accept Russia's role in the hacking. Will the Trump team follow his lead?

And who's to blame? Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief now claiming Vladimir Putin's grudge and the FBI played a pivotal role in their defeat. We'll talk about the political and legal implications of the election blame game.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight. President Obama virtually confirming that Russia's Vladimir Putin ordered cyber-attacks aimed at influencing the U.S. presidential election. In his news conference just a little while ago, the president stopped short of directly blaming Putin, citing the ongoing investigation of Russian hacking. But Mr. Obama made it crystal clear -- and I'm quoting him now -- "Not much happens in Russia without Putin knowing about it."

Also breaking, CNN has learned that the CIA director has sent an internal memo saying the FBI is on the same page as his agency about Russia's hacking. We're told that all sides agree now that there is a mix of possible motivations for Russia, including helping Donald Trump.

Also tonight, sources tell CNN that Russia's -- that Russia's hacking is still going on weeks after the election. All this as President- elect Trump continues to dismiss U.S. intelligence showing Russia and Putin were behind the hacks.

Tonight, President Obama tried to avoid direct criticism of his successor, but he said that Republicans who are embracing Putin would make Ronald Reagan, in his words "roll over in his grave."

Hillary Clinton also speaking out about the Russian attacks. She's now suggesting that Putin ordered cyber-attacks against her campaign and the Democratic National Committee because he has a personal grudge against her.

We'll get a Republican response from Congresswoman Marcia Blackburn. She's the vice chair of the Trump transition team. Our correspondents and analysts are also standing by as we bring you full coverage of today's top stories.

First, let's go to our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski. Michelle, you were there at the president's news conference. There were a lot of questions about Russian hacking.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this was an hour-and-a-half-long news conference focused on the hacking, Russian influence on the election. You could almost picture Vladimir Putin watching this and being very pleased with the turmoil he's been able to cause.

You're right: the president said it without saying it, making it very clear, though, that he does believe that Putin himself had a direct role in all of this.

The president defended his administration's actions, defended the FBI. When asked if this was a free and fair election, he could only go so far as to say that the voting process wasn't tampered with, calling all of this a clarifying moment for America.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): President Obama defended his administration's actions when it came to the announcement that the Russians had hacked the Democratic National Committee.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Once we had clarity and certainty around what, in fact, had happened, we publicly announced that, in fact, Russia had hacked into the DNC. And at that time, we did not attribute motives or any interpretations of why they had done so. We didn't discuss what the effects of it might be.

KOSINSKI: He recounted what he told Russian President Vladimir Putin face to face at a summit in China in September. OBAMA: In early September, when I saw President Putin in China, I

felt that the most effective way to ensure that that didn't happen was to talk to him directly. And tell him to cut it out, or there were going to be some serious consequences if he didn't.

KOSINSKI: President Obama vowed there will be a response.

[17:05:04] OBAMA: How we approach an appropriate response that increases costs for them for behavior like this in the future, but does not create problems for us, is something that's worth taking the time to think through and figure out. And that's exactly what we've done.

So at a point in time where we've taken certain actions that we can divulge publicly, we will do so.

KOSINSKI: And he rebuked Republicans who are supportive of Putin.

OBAMA: There was a survey some of you saw where -- now this is just one poll but pretty credible source -- 37 percent of Republican voters approve of Putin. Over a third of Republican voters approve of Vladimir Putin, the former head of the KGB. Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave. And how did that happen?

KOSINSKI: The president wouldn't say definitively whether he thinks Putin himself authorized the hack but said he believes there's no doubt that it points back to the top of the Russian government.

OBAMA: This is a pretty hierarchal operation. Last I checked, there's not a lot of debate and Democratic deliberation, particularly when it comes to policies directed at the United States.

We have said, and I will confirm, that this happened at the highest levels of the Russian government, and I will let you make that determination as to whether there are high-level Russian officials who go off rogue and decide to tamper with the U.S. election process without Vladimir Putin knowing about it.

KOSINSKI: Regardless President-elect Trump's dismissal of the intelligence for blaming the Russians, the president said he's urged his successor to work in a nonpartisan way.

OBAMA: One way I do believe that the president-elect can approach this that would be unifying is to say that we welcome a bipartisan independent process that gives the American people an assurance, not only that votes are counted properly, that the elections are fair and free, but that we have learned lessons about how Internet propaganda from foreign countries can be released into the political bloodstream.


KOSINSKI: We want to mention that the poll the president cited actually doesn't meet CNN's standards, but he spelled out, and angrily, that there are Republicans out there who criticized him for engaging with Russia. Then they didn't question the Trump team's ties to Russia. And then they again criticized the Obama team for not warning people earlier about the hacks.

The president said that the greatest vulnerability, in his view, and his greatest worry, is the ferocity of partisanship in America right now, that everything comes under suspicion, that everything is viewed as corrupt, that fake news propagates.

One way, though, that he threw a bone to the incoming administration is when he was asked about foreign policy. Even though, in many of the president's statements there were these warnings that he's been putting out there, you know, trying to say that his way is the better way, but he did mention that he thinks democracy could benefit from a fresh perspective on foreign policy, including on China -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski at the White House, thanks very much.

Now to our other breaking story. The CIA chief saying U.S. intelligence agencies are in agreement about Russia hacking. Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. What more, Jim, are you learning?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. I've spoken to multiple officials who have seen the letter that the CIA director sent with the intention of dispelling any reports, including as well, charges from many GOP lawmakers that there's some disagreement between the intelligence community and law enforcement as to what actually happened with these hacks and why they were undertaken.

We saw this letter today going to the entire CIA workforce, coming from John Brennan and saying the following, that the -- Director Brennan met recently with the FBI director Comey, and that there is "strong consensus among us on the scope, nature and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election."

Pay particular attention to that word "intent." You're aware of reports. You're also aware of the president-elect himself questioning, one, if Russia's behind the hacks and were they really trying to help steer the election to Donald Trump?

In fact, I'm told by multiple officials that there is agreement that there are multiple possible motives for Russian hacking, based on the intelligence assessment. One, just to undermine confidence in the process, but two, also to weaken Hillary Clinton and to help Donald Trump. The view being that, early on it may have been just to weaken the candidates, weaken the process. But as Donald Trump performed better, there are some in the CIA believe they went, in effect, all in for Donald Trump.

I should caveat there that trying to judge the intentions of foreign intelligence services is not an exact science. This is assessment based on the best intelligence available. But I should also add that the CIA has received additional intelligence recently, including after the election, that has given them greater confidence that that was, in fact, Russia's intent.

One more note I will add about this letter. I'm told by multiple intelligence officials that there is enormous anger and frustration inside the CIA about being accused of politicizing the intelligence here, and that is one wherein why -- and this is not the first time he has done this, this week -- that the director of the CIA felt compelled to write to the CIA workforce and say what he said.

Now, President Obama, of course, aware of this frustration and aware of the political charges being thrown around here in Washington. Listen to what he had to say about the work of the CIA at his press conference today.


OBAMA: So this is one of those situations where, unless the American people genuinely think that the professionals in the CIA, the FBI, our entire intelligence infrastructure, many of whom, by the way, served in previous administrations, and who are Republicans, are less trustworthy than the Russians, then people should pay attention to what our intelligence agencies say.

This is part of what I meant when I said that we've got to think about what's happening to our political culture here. The Russians can't change us or significantly weaken us. They're a smaller country. They are a weaker country. Their economy doesn't produce anything that anybody wants to buy except oil and gas and arms. They don't innovate. But they can impact us if we lose track of who we are. They can impact us if we abandon our values.


SCIUTTO: I should add it wasn't just the president giving that statement of support for the intelligence community. It was the GOP chairman of the Senate Intelligence Community -- Committee, rather, Richard Burr, who said the same thing, that these accusations that somehow the intelligence community would politicize the intelligence on the Russian hacking, just simply not fair, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Jim, we're also learning that members of the Electoral College will not receive a special briefing on the intelligence surrounding the Russian hack, a briefing that at least some of the electors have been asking for, before they formally vote on Monday.

SCIUTTO: That's right. Just a few moments ago, a statement from the office of the director of national intelligence acknowledging those requests but saying, listen, they've made their assessment public before the election, that they believe Russia is behind this. They believe it went up to the senior-most levels of the Russian government, that they're focusing now on what the president has ordered, which is a full investigation of this, an examination of all the intelligence, which they say they're going to release, not just to the electors but to the whole American public when it's ready before inauguration day.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto reporting for us. Thanks very much.

Let's talk about the president's news conference, his remarks about Russian hacking and his remarks about the President-elect, Donald Trump. We're joined by our analysts.

David Chalian, I want to start with you. For some of the most sensitive issues of the U.S./Russian relations, the CIA, the FBI, what law enforcement intelligence community officials have learned about Russian hacking, I thought the president came out pretty blunt today.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I agree with you. He was clearly trying to deliver a message, I think, both to his successor and to the American people. And I think that's the way Barack Obama has been talking these days, on those dual tracks.

This whole issue of whether or not Donald Trump acknowledges that Russia actually was involved here -- one of the things that the president said that I thought was so telling, because he's clearly been listening to the president-elect, he appealed to Donald Trump's desire to be a unifier, which is something Trump has been talking about on the trail or in his thank-you tour.

[17:15:08] And President Obama said, basically, to Donald Trump, "If you want to unify the country, the way to do that is to get on board with a bipartisan, independent investigation so that you can assure Americans that you have the democracy in your mind." And I think that was a clear message to the president.

BLITZER: Any indication, Mark Preston, that Donald Trump -- I assume he was watching the president's news conference -- will listen, in effect, and agree with the president that the Russians hacked the DNC, John Podesta's computer, his email, if you will, and that Putin personally almost certainly directed it, was responsible for it.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: There's no indication as of now that Donald Trump is willing to go down that road. In fact, he's going the opposite way and, you know, his top intelligence person, you know, the last person that he listens to or will listen to going forward and his administration is somebody who has favorable views towards Russia, as well, so -- and that of course, is Lieutenant General Flynn.

So it's unclear how Donald Trump is actually going to address any concerns that they have with Russia and specifically on the issue of hacking, because we just saw today a Republican chairman come out and say that they will start investigating this, as well, which I think is a good sign. And I think Congress is going to be very busy looking into this issue over the next year.

BLITZER: I'm sure they will be. Evelyn -- Evelyn Farkas is with us, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense, specializing in Russian affairs.

If officials in Moscow were watching the president of the United States today, including Putin, how are they likely to respond to the threats, to what they heard?

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The way they've responded all long. President Obama as he told us today, you know, has said to President Putin face to face, "Cut it out or there will be repercussions." And maybe they stopped, but who knows how long that will last.

And on many occasions he's had conversations with President Putin, whether it was regarding Ukraine or Syria or other issues of the day, and it hasn't seemed to really influence the Russian president. So I'm afraid we can't look to the Russians to solve this problem.

BLITZER: What does the U.S. need to do to get the Russians to pay does the U.S. Need to do some cyber-attacks of its own, release embarrassing information, for example, about President Putin? What does the U.S. need...

FARKAS: Yes there has to be a price.

BLITZER: What are specifically some of the options out there?

I can't get into the specifics and of course they don't want to get into the specifics but certainly you could release financial information about Vladimir Putin, there's enough of that available. I would imagine to the intelligence community, they could do a number of things to delicately probe the Russian cyber systems.

Most, what I heard today from the deputy secretary of state, Tony Blinken, was that he said, "Don't expect the response to come, actually, in the cyber realm." So who knows what that means?

I think if I could just say one thing about the state of the country and the clip that we heard from President Obama, I wish we could kind of go back to 9/11. And I'm not equating this exactly with 9/11. But it was an attack, certainly, on our democracy.

And back then, I mean, you remember everyone on the Hill, I was there in the Senate at the time of the attack -- everyone on the Hill, the response was we need to investigate. We need to agree on the facts, and then the politics can follow. You know, what to do after you establish what the facts are is a separate issue.

BLITZER: Mike Morell, the former acting CIA director, called it the political equivalent of 9/11. Certainly 3,000 people were not killed, because of this hack but sends a powerful message. Rebecca, I want to play another little clip from what the president said today that we'll discuss.


OBAMA: In early September when I saw President Putin in China, I felt that the most effective way to ensure that that didn't happen was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut it out or there were going to be some serious consequences if he didn't, and in fact, we did not see further tampering of the election process.


BLITZER: He was very specific, the election process, meaning no tampering of voting booths or machines or reports that states would have to compile. No tampering of that, but we're also hearing that the hacking continues to this very day. REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, and so President

Obama clearly making the point that he didn't want to overstep during the election, especially related to some of these leaks, focusing on Democrats, because he didn't want to make this a political issue. He wanted to keep this in the realm of national security, of foreign policy, and so it was clear that he was walking a tight rope. This was a balancing act for him.

And surely there will be some Democrats now who question that decision, question the decision not to go into greater detail about what was occurring. And even now, not going into greater detail about what was occurring and keeping that information classified. We had a group of senators, Democratic senators write a letter to the president urging him to call for this information, to be declassified. That hasn't happened yet.

[17:20:07] BLITZER: It's probably not going to happen, at least a lot of it, because they don't want to undermine what they call sources and methods, how the United States collects this information electronically, human assets, if you will. If they do that, that simply undermines the U.S. ability to find out what's really going on to try to prevent it.

All right. We're getting some more information. Everybody stand by. We'll resume our coverage right after this.


BLITZER: President Obama had some sharp criticism for the news media during his final news conference of the year, specifically coverage of the Hillary Clinton campaign, which he deemed unfair.

Let's get some more from our expert analyst Rebecca Berg. Listen to this clip because the president was pretty blunt in suggesting the news media was not fair to Hillary Clinton.


OBAMA: I've said what I think is important for the Democratic Party going forward, rather than try to parse every aspect of the election. And I've said before I couldn't be prouder of Secretary Clinton, her outstanding service. I think she's worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people, and I don't think she was treated fairly during the election. I think the coverage of her and the issues was troubling.


BLITZER: Strong words from the president. There's a lot of criticism of the news media from the left, from the right. But you don't often hear it from the president of the United States. We did today.

BERG: Although Barack Obama has been a little more forward leaning in his criticism of the media in the past when he thinks we're not doing our job. He calls us out in a civil way, not in a Donald Trump sort of media bashing way. But this was certainly significant criticism. [07:25:06] And we've heard this from a lot of Democrats, that the media, there was some false equivalency in our coverage of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, that his controversies were weighted equally with hers, but that ultimately in reality they weren't actually equivalent.

And you know what? The media, we can always improve our coverage, and this was an election that took a lot of us by surprise. And certainly many of us did not expect to be covering Donald Trump and maybe weren't prepared for that.

But at the same time, at this point, Democrats and Hillary Clinton and the president are not quite at a place where they are accepting their own responsibility for what happened in this election. Hillary Clinton coming out this week and blaming Vladimir Putin, blaming the email stories in the media, not, you know, reflecting on her own campaign and some of the things they missed, the fact that they didn't campaign in Michigan and Wisconsin prior -- after -- in the general election prior to election day.

Some people have criticized her for not having enough of a sharp message in this campaign, besides Donald Trump is a terrible person. So there's blame to go around here.

CHALIAN: I would say I think President Obama actually did place some of that blame on Hillary Clinton today from the podium.

BERG: That's right.

CHALIAN: And on her campaign so I think you're right, we haven't seen that total acceptance from a lot of Democrats, Rebecca, in terms of all the facets. But President Obama, I thought it was pretty clear today that he -- he didn't think that they showed up everywhere or had as sharp a message as they possibly could.

BLITZER: Did the Hillary Clinton campaign, David, spend a lot of advertising money in Wisconsin and Michigan to try to get support?

CHALIAN: Not a lot of advertising money. They came in at the very end and put a little bit of advertising money up on the air, but those states were not on their radar as a place that they were working. It was a place that they were...

BLITZER: But Hillary Clinton keeps blaming either James Comey, the FBI director, or Putin. In fact, she met with donors last night in New York, and listen to how she blamed Putin for her unsuccess [SIC].


HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We are also learning more every day about the unprecedented Russian plot to swing this election, and this is something every American should be worried about.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No kidding! CLINTON: You know, we -- 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.


BLITZER: So what do you think when she talks like that about Putin is really, together with Comey, to blame for her failure?

CHALIAN: Clearly that's her, you know, example A and example B of why she lost. Right now there's no doubt that that is what is coming out of Hillary Clinton's mouth and her team.

I would just say, though, there again, we saw a slight difference with President Obama. He separated out the electoral system, meaning as you were saying, the votes are counted, from the democracy.


CHALIAN: She combined them together there. Barack Obama said he told Vladimir Putin to cut it out and that he was proud that it didn't impact the electoral system. She didn't seem to...

BLITZER: Evelyn, based on what you know, was Putin trying to simply embarrass the United States by this -- these hacks or was he aggressively trying to defeat Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump?

FARKAS: So I can't say for sure. Obviously, I'm not in Vladimir Putin's brain, but I do think it's clear he wanted to, first of all -- he wanted to erode our confidence in our democracy.

Second of all, he never has liked Hillary Clinton, that there's a long history there. There's probably also some misogyny there, but it goes back to his re-election when he came back into power in 2011. There were demonstrations on the street. Hillary Clinton spoke about them and spoke about his election negatively.

The third thing is that Donald Trump basically is a guy that he thinks he can do business with. He might be a great successor to Barack Obama. I don't think that President Putin actually thought he would win either, necessarily, but he certainly wanted to achieve the first two things, you know: weaken our democracy and, you know, poke at Hillary Clinton and weaken her.

BLITZER: And embarrass the United States, there's no doubt about that.

You know, the president, President Obama, Mark, he got reflective looking ahead. He's only got, what, a month left in the White House. Listen to what he said.


OBAMA: I can maybe get some counsel advice to the Democratic Party, and I think that the thing we have to spend the most time on, because it's the thing we have the most control over, is how do we make sure that we are showing up in places where I think Democratic policies are needed, where they are helping, where they are making a difference, but where people feel as if they're not being heard.

[17:30:00] And where Democrats are characterized as coastal liberal, latte-sipping, you know, politically correct, out-of-touch folks, we have to be in those communities. And I have seen that when we are in those communities, it makes a difference. That's how I became president.


BLITZER: So that was some criticism of the Hillary Clinton campaign.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Yes, he should be careful, because let's just go back a few years, Howard Dean 12 years ago talked about a 50-state strategy. The Democratic Party laughed at him, right. He said, you know, we are going to build infrastructure. Barack Obama came in and he won the Democratic presidential nomination without the support of party infrastructure. He created his own organization, Obama for America, and guess what he did? After he won election, he housed that inside the DNC.

If you talk to DNC members they will tell you that they are very frustrated at Barack Obama for basically not funding the party, gutting state parties and taking all the power for himself. So he can be critical of Hillary Clinton there, but he has got to look inward himself and say to himself, you know what? This is partly any responsibility.

BLITZER: You want a grande skim latte or venti skim latte?

PRESTON: Correct, I drink is espresso, but there you go.

BLITZER: Venti or grande?


BLITZER: Grande, OK. Thanks very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm regular Americana.

BLITZER: Coming up, we have more on the breaking news, President Obama taking on Vladimir Putin on Russian hacking. Did the president manage to avoid taking on Donald Trump?

Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


[17:35:14] BLITZER: We are back with the breaking news.

President Obama essentially confirming that Vladimir Putin directed election-related hacks. The president's remarks in direct conflict with president-elect Donald Trump's refusal to blame Moscow.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Jim Acosta, any response from Trump or his campaign?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, (INAUDIBLE), the president-elect told me that Donald Trump will pretty much stick to the script when he gets out here in front of this crowd here in Orlando later on this evening with the usual caveat that you never know with Donald Trump. But you did hear President Obama earlier today reject the notion that there's been any squabbling between the incoming and outgoing administrations. But that's not the way it sounded over the last couple of days.


ACOSTA (voice-over): After a tense 48 hours of attacks and counter attacks, President Obama tried to turn down the temperature, urging Donald Trump to get on board with the probe into Russia's hacking into the American political system.

OBAMA: That should be a bipartisan issue. That shouldn't be a partisan issue. And my hope is that the president-elect is going to similarly be concerned with making sure that we don't have potential foreign influence in our election process.

ACOSTA: But earlier in the day, the president-elect was stirring the pot suggesting on twitter that Moscow's cyber theft of Democratic emails served a greater good tweeting "are we talking about the same cyber-attack where it was revealed that the head of the DNC illegally gave Hillary the questions to the debate?" Trump is also punching back at White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Although this foolish guy, Josh Earnest, I don't know if he's talking to President Obama, I mean maybe he is getting his orders from somebody else.

ACOSTA: After earnest accused the president-elect of egging on a cyber-operation.

TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.

ACOSTA: That intelligence officials have now traced back to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Republican nominee for president was encouraging Russia to hack his opponent, because he believed that this would help his campaign.

ACOSTA: The war of words shattered a political cease-fire that began when Trump visited the White House.

OBAMA: I just add the opportunity to have an excellent conversation with president-elect Trump.

TRUMP: Mr. President it was a great honor being you.

ACOSTA: And extended all the way to just last Tuesday in Wisconsin.

TRUMP: President Obama, who by the way has been very nice, and his wife have been very, very nice.

ACOSTA: Now, top Trump surrogates are demanding the president end the battle to show his love of country.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISOR/GOP POLLSTER: If you want to shut this down and you actually love the country enough to have this peaceful transition in our great democracy between the Obama administration and the Trump administration, there are a couple people in pretty prominent positions, one is named Obama, one is named Hillary Clinton.

ACOSTA: But Democrats argue a grave menace is being swept under the rug from Hillary Clinton who told donors that the cyber-attack tipped the election to Trump.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Vladimir Putin himself directed the covert cyber-attacks against our electoral system, against our democracy, apparently because he has a personal beef against me.

ACOSTA: To her former campaign chair John Podesta who blasted the FBI for focusing more on Clinton's emails than on the Russian threat writing in "the Washington Post," what's broken in the FBI must be fixed and quickly. But Trump supporters insist it's time to move on.

REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: At worst it was the truth that came out that had an impact on the election.


ACOSTA: Now while a transition source tells me that Donald Trump is indeed worried and concerned about Russia's hacking, at the same time his advisers are adamant that these cyber-attacks did not help their side win. As Kellyanne Conway, one of Donald Trump's top advisers, put it earlier today, Vladimir Putin did not tell Hillary Clinton to ignore Wisconsin and Michigan. And Wolf, that's an argument that we sort of heard from President Obama earlier today when he was critiquing the Democratic strategy in the last election, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we did.

Thanks very much, Jim Acosta for that report.

We are joined by a vice chair of the Trump transition team, Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn.

Congresswoman, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Thank you. Do you believe what the president is saying, President Obama is saying that Russia is behind the hacking? BLACKBURN: What we do know is that there was a hack. And I think

let's leave it to the house and Senate Intel committees to decide exactly who was behind what. We know Russia is not a bad actor. We know that they are not an honest actor many times. We know they don't wish us well. And propaganda coming from Russia, cyber-attacks, hits on our critical infrastructure have been a problem for years.

My hope is now that we are going to see some legislation passed through Congress that will put some more tools in place that both the public sector and the private sector need in dealing with these hits.

[17:40:20] BLITZER: The CIA director, congresswoman, John Brennan, he wrote a letter to intelligence officials over at the CIA, the FBI, the DNI, the director of national intelligence, assuring them that they are all on the same page when it comes to Russia. In it he says he spoke to members of Congress. He said not all of them understand and appreciate the gravity of the issue. Let me read to you among other things what he said.


BLITZER: I have had several conversations with members of Congress providing an update on the status and review as well as the considerations that need to be taken into account as we proceed. Many, but unfortunately, not all members of Congress, members understand and appreciate the importance and the gravity of the issue.

First of all, did you speak to the CIA director? Do you understand the gravity of the situation, Russia's interfering in the U.S. election by hacking the DNC, and the Hillary Clinton campaigns, chairman John Podesta?

BLACKBURN: I understand, of course, the gravity and concerns of all countries that try to hit our systems and cyber-attacks that are carried out on us every day. They are troubling to me, whether it is an election or it is something that is critical infrastructure, or it is a campaign of misinformation.

Now, I think as some of that, there needs to be clarity brought to this, Wolf. You are not hacking into voting machines. And with all the hype that is out there, there are some people who think my goodness, we are voting machines they are hacked into.

BLITZER: Well, and let me interrupt, congresswoman. Let me interrupt but the president himself said today after he spoke with Putin in early September, he said "cut it out" and there was, the president said this today, no hacking of voting machines, anything along those lines. There are other hacks that continue but the voting machines, the election system itself was not hacked but go ahead.

BLACKBURN: That's right. There was no hacking into that voting system. The systems are controlled by our county election commissions. I have served on one of those election commissions. They are closed looped. They are electronic machines and they are not going to be hacked into. BLITZER: But let me also interrupt, congresswoman. Do you believe

based on all the evidence that's out there that Russia interfered, Russia is to blame?

BLACKBURN: No, I don't think that you can blame Russia for the outcome of the election.

BLITZER: No, we are not talking about the outcome of the election. We are talking about the hacking of the DNC and John Podesta's g-mail account.

BLACKBURN: I do not know the answer.

BLITZER: Why -- let me ask you a question, why do you not know based on what the FBI is saying, the CIA is saying, the president of the United States is saying, you still doubt them?

BLACKBURN: I think -- what I want to hear is of course we have got different opinions coming from the FBI --

BLITZER: No, we don't. Now they agree. Now they agree, today it came out the FBI and the CIA, they agree, Russia was directly responsible for these hacks, no more different opinions.

BLACKBURN: Let's see them when they give our Intel committee a report and then they can go in and they can articulate exactly what transpired. And the other thing I want to know, Wolf, that I think is going to be interesting, is when were they aware that they had stepped up their propaganda into the United States? And what was done about it at that point in time? And I think getting some of that information will help us to have more clarity.

The Russians are bad actors. They are not our friends. They need to be held responsible. I thought it was interesting today the president said in September that he gave Putin a directive to cut it out. So let's find out more about that conversation, and what he knew and when he knew it, and then let's have the CIA come back and provide some clarity to their earlier comments, likewise, the FBI some clarity to their comments. And then I think we have a complete and well informed discussion about what has transpired.

But we have to go back and look at the fact that, through all of this, we know the Russians spend a lot of money on propaganda. They have always done it. They're probably always going to try to do it. I am pleased to see that people are welcoming, or recognizing that impact and the fact that we need to be fighting against this.

BLITZER: All right.

BLACKBURN: Likewise, protecting our critical infrastructure from not only the Russians, but other bad actors that would like to get in here and attack our financial systems, our electric power grid, our information systems, et cetera.

[17:45:13] BLITZER: Because propaganda, as we all know is one thing, cyber-warfare, cyber-attacks, that is something else. BLACKBURN: You got it.

BLITZER: Listen to President Obama today, congresswoman. He said his concern about this isn't about the facts. He said the facts are well- known. It's about partisan politics trying to distort what the facts are. Listen to the president.


OBAMA: What I worry about more than anything is the degree to which, because of the fierceness of the partisan battle, you started to see certain folks in the Republican party and Republican voters suddenly finding a government and individuals who stand contrary to everything that we stand for, as being OK, because that's how much we disliked Democrats.


BLITZER: The president is saying your party, the Republican Party is ignoring Putin because of partisan politics. He says Ronald Reagan would be rolling over in his grave if he saw what was going on right now.

BLACKBURN: I don't think anyone is being dismissive. No one that I have visited with, talked with or spoken with regarding this issue has been dismissive of the Russians and their intentions and are quite concerned about the increase in propaganda that they have out there, not only in the U.S., but also the global marketplace. You have to get in behind this situation and address it.

Now, I found it unfortunate that the president would choose when we have an issue like this, where we could be focusing on something where everybody agrees there needs to be an investigation. And that the committees with oversight need to follow through with producing a thorough report and there need to be briefings when we go back in January for all members of Congress on this.

I would add to that also we do need to pass data security legislation. We need cyber security legislation. We need to admit that there is a cyber-war against us in the virtual marketplace. And I found it unfortunate that the president chose these words. This isn't a partisan battle. I think the partisan portion of that conversation comes when you have individuals say, well, this is what tilted the election. And no, the content that is in those emails, you didn't have Putin taking charge of John Podesta's or Donna Brazile or anybody else's email.

BLITZER: Congresswoman we're out of time. Very quickly, what would it take for you to be convinced like the president, like the CIA, like the FBI, that Putin was directly involved in these cyber-attacks against the Democrats?

BLACKBURN: I'm going to provide the time for our Intel committees to do their appropriate work and to do their due diligence and respond back to us. I think at this point in time, we all need to allow those committees to gather the information, to sort that information and appropriately in the proper manner, regular order, brief the members of Congress.

And while we are out of D.C., Wolf, we have not had the time to have that comprehensive briefing. I look forward to it. And then I look forward to, if, you know, Russia was behind all of this, and clear intent, then we need to make certain that they are dealt with appropriately.

BLITZER: Marsha Blackburn, congresswoman from Tennessee, thanks so much for joining us.

BLACKBURN: Good to be with you. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Coming up an inside look at the Russian hackers who breached American political institutions. Is Vladimir Putin's team of cyber warriors still targeting campaign emails?

We'll be right back.


[17:52:17] BLITZER: We are getting a look at the elite teams of hackers used by Russian president Vladimir Putin to try to influence the American presidential election.

Brian Todd is joining us with details.

Tell us more, Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we are getting information from investigators that the Russians are still at it tonight. They are still probing into the emails and other files of the Democratic Party and other entities. The fact that the DNC hack was so effective and got into the heads of American leaders is seen as a victory for Vladimir Putin and his elite cyber warriors.

Tonight, we take you inside those teams, a look at who they are, and the tools they use.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight, Moscow says the hacking allegations against Russia are groundless. Vladimir Putin's spokesman challenging America to prove them. But U.S. officials tell CNN the Russian hacks continue around the clock, fishing attempts targeting private email accounts associated with Hillary Clinton's campaign as recently as December 6th.

ADAM MYERS, CROWDSTRIKE INVESTIGATOR: It's a continuing effort to collect intelligence.

TODD: Adam Myers specializes in cyber intelligence with the firm Crowdstrike which investigated the Russian hacks for the Democratic Party. Myers and other experts have new information tonight on operations inside Putin's hacking teams, which they say are as talented as they come.

JASON HEALEY, CYBERSECURITY EXPERT, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: When it comes to espionage and offense, they are fantastic. They are close to the best in the world. Probably right after our own here in the United States.

TODD: Crowdstrike discovered that a Russian hacking team called Cozy Bear first penetrated the DNC in the summer of 2015. Crowdstrike says that team, also known as the Dukes or APT 229 for advanced persistent threat is tied to Russian intelligence. In March of this year, Crowdstrike says another Russian hacking team, Fancy Bear, began targeting the Democratic Party. Fancy Bear is believed to be commanded by the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency.

What are the tools they use?

MYERS: What these tools allow them to do is access the computer to download files, to upload files, to execute commands, to even take pictures of what's going on, on the screen.

TODD: This is apparently the bogus email that opened Pandora's Box at the Clinton campaign. Quote "someone has your password," says an email to campaign chair John Podesta in March, posted online by WikiLeaks. It says to click on this link to reset the password.

MYERS: Once they go to that link, it will take them to what looks like a Google log-in, and they will be asked for their user name and password. When they provide their username and their password, it will forward it to Google, but the attacker actually now has a copy of their username and password.

TODD: A technique used by what is believed to be an army of at least 4,000 Russian cyber agents. Are these the (INAUDIBLE) hackers who happened to be wearing military uniforms? Who are they?

[17:355:01] MYERS: I think that there is people in military uniforms. There is people that are more business focused. And then there's going to be a technical cadre that may be a little bit more informal and maybe a little bit more casual.


TODD: Now, a key question tonight, who are the next targets of those Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear hacking teams? Crowdstrike says NATO has to have its guard up. Any major company with deals pending in Russia and political leaders in France and Germany, they have to have their cyber defenses ready. Those countries are holding very important elections next year, countries where Russia cares a lot about the outcome of those elections -- Wolf.

BLITZER: These scary stuff indeed. Brian Todd reporting. Thank you.

Coming up, President Obama goes further than ever before in blaming Vladimir Putin for election hacking. He is promising to send Russia a clear message. Did he also send a clear message to president-elect Trump? A Trump ally with Russian connections joins us. We will be right back.


[17:59:50] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news.

Obama versus Putin. President Obama takes Vladimir Putin to task in his final news conference of the year over Russian interference in the U.S. election. Mr. Obama all but confirms Putin was personally responsible. How will the U.S. retaliate?

Strong consensus, CIA director John Brennan said the FBI is on the same page when it comes to Russia's election's cyber-attacks and vows that the two --