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Obama Confirms Putin Directed Election Hacks; Obama: Not 'A Lot of Squabbling' with Trump Team; GOP Governor Signs Bill Slashing Power of Democratic Successor; Interview with NAACP's Cornell William Brooks. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 16, 2016 - 18:00   ET


[18:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All but confirms Putin was personally responsible. How will the U.S. retaliate?

Strong consensus. CIA director John Brennan says the FBI is on the same page when it comes to Russia's election cyber attacks and vows that the two organizations will work together on the review ordered by President Obama. But do they agree on Russia's motivation?

Trump's tight rope. President Obama walks a fine line in his news conference when it comes to the president-elect, saying he's offered suggestions that Donald Trump has listened to in his cordial conversations. But he also notes Trump's continuing denial of Russia's election hacking . Will the war of words between the White House and the Trump team continue?

And Carolina coup? An extraordinary move by North Carolina's Republican-controlled statehouse to drastically curtail the power of the incoming Democratic governor. Is it a constitutional check and balance, or is it a chaotic power grab? I'll talk about that and more with the head of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, President Obama speaking at length about Russia's interference in the U.S. election and obliquely blaming the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in his final news conference before leaving for Hawaii for the holidays.

The president said, and I'm quoting him now, "Not much happens in Russia without Putin." The president also revealed he confronted Putin over the cyber attacks on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting in China. Obama said -- he told Putin to, quote, "cut it out" or face what the president called serious consequences.

Also breaking tonight, the CIA director is moving to dispel suggestions that there's disagreement over the Russian hacks between his agency and the FBI. In a message to staffers, John Brennan says the CIA, the FBI and the National Intelligence Agency, they're all on the same page when it comes to Russian hacking. We're covering all of that much more this hour with our guest,

including former senior adviser to the Trump campaign and former congressman, Jack Kingston, and the president of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks. Our correspondents and our expert analysts and correspondents are also standing by. Let's begin with our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, there's now strong consensus on Russia's election cyber attacks.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. And tonight, the CIA director seeking to dismiss accusations from some GOP lawmakers, even the president-elect themselves that the agency is somehow politicizing the intelligence on Russian hacking of the U.S. election. The CIA director writing to the entire CIA workforce that the U.S. intelligence community and law enforcement are in full agreement on the seriousness and intent of the cyber attacks.



SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, President Obama, for the first time, publicly blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin for hacking the 2016 U.S. election.

OBAMA: The intelligence that I've seen gives me great confidence in their assessment that the Russians carried out this hack, the hack of the DNC and the hack of the John Podesta. Not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin.

SCIUTTO: And the CIA and FBI agree as to why. Director John Brennan telling the CIA workforce in an internal message that, quote, "There is strong consensus among us on the scope, nature and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election."

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement assessed that Moscow had multiple possible motives -- undermine confidence in the vote, weaken Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump.

Today the president said he delivered a stern warning to Putin at the G-20 Summit in China in September.

OBAMA: 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 and there are going to be some serious consequences if he didn't.

SCIUTTO: Still, tonight, U.S. officials say that Russia's hacking of U.S. political organizations continues unabated. Since the election one attempted breach targeted the Clinton campaign, though unsuccessfully. President-elect Trump, however, continues to dismiss the U.S. assessment that Russian is responsible. Despite the fact that he's being provided the intelligence behind that assessment in his classified briefings. And today he sought to divert attention back to one of the revelations

gleaned from the e-mails stolen by Russia, 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?"


SCIUTTO: I'm told that the CIA director's message comes as many staffers are angry, frustrated to be accused of partisanship in their response to Russian hacking.

[18:05:08] Today, the GOP chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee also coming to the defense of intelligence staff as well, saying, quote, that they leave their politics, Wolf, at the door.

BLITZER: It was a strong statement from the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Burr.

Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, for that.

Let's get some more on the president's remarks right now. Our White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski was at that new conference earlier today.

Michelle, the president also spoke about his successor, Donald Trump. Update our viewers.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and as we know, many times the Trump team has denied or called into question that intelligence, blaming Russia for the hacking, calling into question then the viability of a continued investigation and response to Russia.

We asked the president about that, his thoughts, and does he intend to or has he spoken to Trump directly about this? Listen.


OBAMA: The transition from election season to governance season is not always smooth. You know, it's bumpy. There's still feelings that are raw out there. There are people who are still thinking about how things unfolded, and I get all that. But when Donald Trump takes the oath of office and is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, then he's got a different set of responsibilities and considerations.

And I've said this before, I think there is a sobering process when you walk into the Oval Office. And I haven't shared previously private conversations I've had with the president-elect. I will say that they have been cordial, and in some cases have involved me making some pretty specific suggestions about how to ensure that, regardless of our obvious big disagreements about policy, maybe I can transmit some thoughts about maintaining the effectiveness, integrity, cohesion of the office of various Democratic institutions, and he's -- he has listened. I can't say that he will end up implementing, but the conversations

themselves have been cordial as opposed to defensive in any way. And I will always make myself available to him just as previous presidents have made themselves available to me as issues come up.


KOSINSKI: You know, just last night we heard Hillary Clinton talk about how the FBI director's most recent letter saying that they were looking into more e-mails related to that investigation was a deciding factor in the outcome of the election. Then this morning, her campaign chairman took it a step further in an op-ed, writing that something is deeply broken within the FBI and calling the investigation lackadaisical.

So, you know, we asked the president, isn't that again calling into question the institutions in something of a similar way that Donald Trump's team has done and which has made this administration so furious? He didn't want to wade too deeply into that. He did defend the FBI, defend his own administration's decision-making, and lamented that he said in this case of hyper partisanship, everything is called into suspicion -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Michelle, thank you. Michelle Kosinski is our White House correspondent.

Let's get some more on all of this with our correspondents and our analysts.

And Evan Perez, let me go to you first. The president made it clear that essentially that Putin was directly responsible. He says at the highest levels of the Russian government, they would never get involved in something like this. Officials in the Russian government would not go rogue. Putin would have to authorize it. What exactly are you hearing about that?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. There is very little doubt inside the intelligence community and with the FBI that this was directed by Vladimir Putin, especially the part -- the disinformation campaign part. This is -- you know, there's one part of this which was the hack, the stealing of the information, but then what to do with the stolen e-mails, which was -- which is what made this so different, Wolf. There is no doubt that that was something that would have had to be ordered by the leader of the Russian government, by Vladimir Putin.

And it's also clear that the CIA has developed recent information, Wolf, in the last few weeks, in the last few months, that indicates to them that once the Russians saw there was some success, that they were getting success from this operation, that they doubled down and wanted more to try to help Donald Trump get elected.

BLITZER: Clarissa Ward is joining us from Moscow right now.

Clarissa, listen precisely to what the president -- the president said about Putin, and then we'll get the Russian reaction. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[18:10:06] OBAMA: 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.


BLITZER: So I'm sure, Clarissa, they were watching closely to that news conference in Moscow. What kind of reaction are the Russians giving you?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far, Wolf, because it's the middle of the night, no one has said anything officially. But I can tell you what the response is going to be. It's going to be more of what we have heard consistently since these allegations first reared their head back in October, which is this is preposterous, this is indecent was the word that was used today. This is ludicrous. Nonsense was another way that it has been described.

But I also think what you heard from President Obama today was essentially really drilling down on why it is so difficult to deal with the Russians in a situation like this, and specifically why it is so difficult to deal with President Putin. And that's precisely because the age-old art of naming and shaming doesn't really work with the Russians. You can name them and they will simply turn around and say whether it's a bald faced lie or not, they will say we do not do this. We have no knowledge of this.

Their commitment to the facts is pretty minimal in this instance. And also we have seen that shaming doesn't work, and you heard President Obama say there. Public shaming does not work with President Vladimir Putin. We have seen the U.S. and the West try to do this many times over. I'm thinking specifically of Aleppo and Syria and all the carnage there, much of it at the hands of Russian firepower. And we have never seen the Russians moved in that instance.

And I think Obama, it was less a message being delivered to President Putin today than it was a message being delivered to the American people that essentially it's very difficult publicly to deal with a situation like the one the U.S. has on its hand with this hacking. And of course, it's very difficult to make any announcement publicly about what kind of reaction there might be, because this is hybrid warfare, it's not a straightforward eye-for-an-eye, tooth for a tooth. It has to be clandestine.

And so in a sense I felt there was almost a concession that the president's hands were a little bit tied when it comes to publicly giving an explanation how he's dealing with this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. You know, Phil Mudd, the president was blunt in describing how he threatened, he warned Putin when he saw him at the G-20 summit. Listen to this.


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, there were going to be some serious consequence if he didn't. And, in fact, we did not see further tampering of the election process.


BLITZER: He says election process, he means voting machines, stuff like that. But there has been other hacking by the Russians we're told that's still going on. How much of an impact would a threat like that to Putin really be?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: How close to zero can you get, Wolf? Let's take this out of the public domain. We've seen Russian intervention into Crimea and the Ukraine, public with the Europeans involved. Impact not only zero, but if you look at the Russian popular opinion on these interventions, extremely positive.

Let's go to Syria. A lot of pressure on the Russians about not only intervention but humanitarian violations, bombing of cities by Russians. Impact not only zero, but the Russian population is entirely backing Putin on this.

So you take and contrast that to what we saw here, a private conversation with Putin saying please don't do this, I think the impact is zero. He's saying show me the money. If you can't bring some power against me to oppose this, I don't buy it.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But they would not be so interested in having the sanctions removed if they were completely ineffectual.

MUDD: No, I agree with that, but if you look at how we've tried to oppose him publicly and the lack of impact, to say that a conversation privately would have an impact, unless it's backed by some claws, I don't see it.

BLITZER: And the claws being more sanctions or the U.S. launching a cyber attack and releasing information that could be awkward or embarrassing to Putin and to Russia.

BROWNSTEIN: Which the president has said several times that they will do. You know, at a time of their own choosing, some of which we may ultimately --

BLITZER: Why are you shaking your head?

MUDD: We can't do that. First of all --

BLITZER: Why you can't do that?

MUDD: You can't go against the Russians with the same thing they did with us. For two reasons. First of all, if you fight with pigs, you're going to get dirty. And the way you're going to get dirty with this in the second instance is if you start to try to attack them privately or in public with revelations, for example, about corruption, you want to tell me what Putin says with 80 percent support rate?

[18:15:10] Look, this is the Americans against us trying to oppose us, trying to become the Russian power once. I think he turns it to his advantage.

BROWNSTEIN: There may be other forms of cyber damage you can do, too.

MUDD: Could be.

BROWNSTEIN: That are not based on shaming.

MUDD: Private, yes. Yes.

BROWNSTEIN: Not based on shaming.

MUDD: Yes.

BLITZER: Some of -- hold on -- hold on one second. All right, Evan, go ahead, then I'll bring in Sunlen.

PEREZ: Well, I was just going to add that, you know, the view of the intelligence community is that the U.S. frankly has a lot more to lose. And we have a lot more parts of our infrastructure, a lot of our economy that is dependent upon the Internet. And so there's some danger to that. And it's also the case, and we should probably make this clear, that the Russians believe that they didn't start this, we started this. They believe that the U.S. has been supporting organizations inside Russia that are anti-Putin, that tried to meddle with their elections and they also view that, for instance, the Panama papers that exposed some of Russia's richest people and where they were hiding their money, including people connected to Putin, they think that the U.S. was behind that. So they think they're acting in response to things that we were doing.

BLITZER: Interesting. Fascinating material.

Sunlen, the president of the United States, very blunt, I thought, very blunt today. How does he see the cyber attack wrapping up his eight-year legacy as president? You covered him from the beginning.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, certainly I think like every outgoing president, they're very aware of how the reputation is shaping up, and I do think we saw that reflected this kind of concern that he would be wrapped in this today, and how he tried in small ways to attend to that. We saw him at multiple times kind of weave in, you know, once he was talking about defending the handling of the attack. He said, "I wanted to make sure we're playing this thing straight." So coming out and saying, what I did, my part in this, I thought I did well, and would not have go back and do it again. So no regrets there.

I think If you're President Obama certainly going into today, he would love to be able -- nothing else to talk about the last eight years of progress that he thinks he's made. He knows he doesn't have that luxury. It's not --

BROWNSTEIN: You know what's the interesting aspect of today, and you think about kind of the tension -- the extraordinary tension we saw yesterday between the White House press secretary and the president- elect, the president has clearly chosen to play the good cop in this transition, the way he talked about Donald Trump today. I mean, he was not going into a mode of criticizing him. But I think this may be a case of watch what I do, not what I say because there was also a sense in which he was signaling today he may create facts on the ground that constrain or try to shape Donald Trump's choices, both in the nature of this report and the information that comes out and possibly in actions that he takes against Russia that would then force Donald Trump if he wants to undo them, to very publicly make that one of the first actions of his presidency.

BLITZER: Yes, I know the president had a huge audience out there, not just the reporters in the room, national audience, international audience, but I think he was talking specifically to the president- elect of the United States.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. That's right.

BLITZER: We know that Donald Trump was watching the news conference, as well.

We're getting new information. More information, and we'll continue all of our special coverage right here in THE SITUATION ROOM after a quick break.


[18:21:51] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. President Obama all but confirming that Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind the series of cyber attacks interfering with the U.S. presidential election. In his final news conference of the year, the president said he hopes Donald Trump, who denies any Russian hacking, will address the issue when he takes office on January 20th.

Clarissa Ward, you know, the president, President Obama, he was pretty blunt talking about the Russians, pretty insulting, I should also say, called Russia small, weak, extremely critical of the Russian economy. He said the only thing they can provide the world are oil and gas and arms. They have nothing else to show the world. How is that going to play over there where you are in Moscow?

WARD: Well, I wouldn't expect to hear any real response to this other than perhaps a biting or caustic remark. I think that the people inside the Kremlin and certainly President Vladimir Putin here feel that 2016 has been an excellent year for them. They have essentially witnessed the crumbling of the establishment whether it's in Great Britain with the Brexit vote, whether it's in the U.S. with Donald Trump's election, various other European countries.

On top of that, their involvement in Syria, which President Obama has originally warned them would lead them into a quagmire, they see as having been incredibly successful. It's re-established Russia as one of the pivotal players in the region for the first time in decades. And even with this scandal while on the surface of it, Russians are of course saying we had nothing to do with this, this is nonsense, there is a certain degree as well to which people are almost enjoying the suggestion that they could pull off something quite as audacious as managing to swing the U.S. election in favor of Donald Trump.

So I don't think right now President Vladimir Putin is feeling particularly cowed by these types of remarks from President Obama, and you heard Phil Mudd said earlier, you know, it reminds me of that schoolyard taunt, sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. And that is I think particularly true when it comes to dealing with the Russians. You can name them, you can shame them, but it doesn't stick. Because at the end of the day President Putin has an 80 percent approval rating here.

And people here, while they're telling the official party line of the Kremlin, this is outrageous, how could anyone insinuate we should do such a thing, not so secretly they also enjoyed the suggestion and they liked the idea of it, Wolf. So I wouldn't expect beyond perhaps a certain biting remark that you might hear officially. I wouldn't expect any feathers to be ruffled here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Interesting. Evan, you heard the president say in early September when he gave that warning to President Putin, cut it out, there were no hacks of voting machines, election systems per se here in the United States, but you're learning that Russian hacking is continuing to this day. What are you learning specifically?

PEREZ: That's right, Wolf. But before I get to that, I just want to add one quick thing to what Clarissa just mentioned. I think this feels a little bit like a new version of what President Obama -- remember when he called is the JV team? This feels a little bit like that.

[18:25:01] He seems to be trying to say that Russia is not very powerful, but yet they've carried out this very audacious thing, they've surrounded themselves now with pro-Russian leaders in the countries around their sphere including the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. So they're kind of -- they feel like they're winning.

Now as far as what you've just mentioned, yes, the FBI is now investigating indications that the Russians have continued to carry out hacking attacks, including targeting political organizations. We're told that members of the Hillary Clinton campaign, the former Hillary Clinton campaign have now received security notices that there were attempts to break into their private e-mail accounts.

We're talking to officials who tell us that they don't expect this behavior to change, just because the Russians now feel that they have a friendlier voice or a government taking power in Washington, doesn't mean that they're going to stop this stuff.

BLITZER: You know, Ron Brownstein, I want you to listen to what the president also said today that he doesn't want to judge the president- elect. Listen to this.


OBAMA: I think that the president-elect, you know, is still in transition mode from campaign to governance. I think he hasn't gotten his whole team together yet. He still has campaign spokespersons sort of filling in and appearing on cable shows and, you know, there's just a whole different attitude and vibe when you're not in power as when you're in power. So rather than me sort of characterize the appropriateness or inappropriateness of what he's doing at the moment, I think what we have to see is how will the president-elect operate and how will his team operate when they've been fully briefed on all these issues.


BROWNSTEIN: The good cop in this transition. Look, I mean, you know, I mean he is -- he is not going to go down that road. He also rather pointedly later in the press conference praised Josh Earnest who did go down that road yesterday.

Look, it's a small club. I mean, Michael Duffy and Nancy Gibbs wrote a great a book. "The President's Club." There are very few people who have held this job, and they tend to be pretty supportive of one another. But I think in a lot of different ways, including his press conference, where he did not rule out the suggestion that he might be more active in critiquing the Trump agenda than previous presidents have been, I think he is giving -- he is leaving himself room to be more critical after he leaves office and he wants to I think at least lay the predicate that he gave Donald Trump every chance while he was still in office.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stick around. Don't go too far away. There's more breaking news. President Obama reveals new details about his conversations with Donald Trump and his suggestions to the president-elect.


BLITZER: Breaking news tonight. President Obama essentially laying the blame for the cyber-attacks targeting the U.S. Election on the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. President Obama spoke about it at length in his final news conference of the year, just a little while ago.


[18:32:22] BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The intelligence that I've seen gives me great confidence in their assessment that the Russians carried out this hack.


OBAMA: The hack of the DNC and the hack of John Podesta.

Now, the -- but again, I think this is exactly why I want the report out so that everything can review it. And this has been briefed, and the evidence in closed session has been

provided on a bipartisan basis, not just to me. It's been provided to the leaders of the House and the Senate and the chairman and ranking members of the relevant committees. And I think that what you've already seen is, at least some of the folks who have seen the evidence don't dispute, I think the basic assessment that the Russians carried this out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But specifically, do you not say that...

OBAMA: Well, Martha, I think what I want to make sure of is that I give the intelligence community the chance to gather all the information, but I make a larger point, which is not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin.


BLITZER: CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is joining us now with more. Sunlen, the president also spoke about Donald Trump and the transition.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And what we saw from President Obama today, Wolf, is he really tried to downplay this rift that's going on between his administration and the incoming Trump administration, saying transitions, they just are not always smooth sometimes, that they are bumpy. This is an acknowledgement that even with this immediate post-election promise from both sides that they would try to work together, that this week it has turned ugly.


SERFATY (voice-over): Tonight, President Obama, for the first time, addressing the spat between his White House and the incoming Trump administration.

OBAMA: There hasn't been a lot of squabbling. What we've simply said is the facts.

SERFATY: Attempting to lower the temperature.

OBAMA: 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. I don't think any American wants that. And that shouldn't be a source of an argument.

SERFATY: Amid an unusual public rift that's pitted the outgoing White House spokesman against the incoming president-elect.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Mr. Trump was obviously aware of the fact that Russia was engaged in malicious cyber activity.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: This foolish guy, Josh Earnest, I don't know if he's talking to President Obama. He is so bad the way he delivers a message.

[18:35:02] SERFATY: And Trump advisers taking shots directly at the president. KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISOR: 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.

SERFATY: The war of words between the outgoing and incoming administrations, a sharp departure from the immediate post-election vow to work together, that the president echoed again today.

OBAMA: We have done everything we can to make sure that they are successful, as I promised. And that will continue. And it's just been a few days since I last talked to the president-elect.

SERFATY: The president-elect today turning the attention back to Hillary Clinton's e-mails, tweeting, "Are we talking about the same cyber-attack where it was revealed that head of the DNC illegally gave Hillary the questions to the debate?"

Hillary Clinton telling donors in New York Thursday night that the Russian president's involvement in the hack was a personal beef against her, touting herself as someone who was tough on Putin, a jab at the president-elect.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Son the fall of 2011, they have, quote, "parliamentary elections," which were so flawed, so illegitimate that it was embarrassing. I was your secretary of state. At least in those years, we stood up for democracy and human rights.

SERFATY: Meantime, her campaign chairman John Podesta out with a scathing takedown of the FBI, scolding them for not investigating the Russian hack as aggressively as they did Clinton's e-mails, writing, "Comparing the massive FBI's response to the overblown e-mail scandal with the seemingly lackadaisical response to the very real Russian plot to subvert a national election, shows that something is deeply broken at the FBI."


SERFATY: And President Obama did not say whether he agrees with Hillary Clinton that the hacking influenced the election's outcome, just that he thinks she was treated unfairly during the election.

And as for the president-elect, beyond his tweet this morning about all of this, he has been pretty silent for him, by his standards. He is now headed to Orlando, where he typically -- we see him have these sort of campaign-style rallies to respond to what's on his mind and news of the day. So we'll see if he does that later tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: We certainly will. Sunlen Serfaty, thanks very much for that report.

Let's get some more on all of this. Former Republican congressman Jack Kingston is joining us. He was a senior adviser to the Trump campaign.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Why do you believe the president-elect won't accept the conclusions of the intelligence community, the law enforcement community, the CIA, the FBI, the president of the United States that Russia is clearly behind these cyber-attacks?

KINGSTON: Well, I think that what he wants to do is tamp down the discussion, let the House appropriate committees -- Devin Nunez (ph), for example, and Richard Burr in the Senate -- let them do their investigation.

The president today said that he had talked to Putin, and later he said that there was no further interference in the process. And he also said that the hacks were limited to the DNC and to John Podesta. So there's still a question to me if there was any interference in the election, particularly any motivation or suggestion of a results change...

BLITZER: But you believe the Russians did hack the DNC and the Clinton campaign chairman, John Podesta. They then released all those e-mails to WikiLeaks to embarrass Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democrats. You believe that, right?

KINGSTON: Well, I don't know what their motivation may have been, and I don't know that it was the Russians personally, because I haven't been briefed on that, Wolf. But I do know this, that when you hack into something, you can always make it look like it was somebody else. There's layers and layers of footprints and false avenues, and it's just -- the way they -- the hackers do it, it's very hard to figure out who did it and when they did it and certainly why they did it.

But, you know, Wolf, one of the things that's disturbing to me is there is a narrative out there -- we've heard it -- to me, there is a narrative out there. First it was "not my president. He didn't win the popular vote." Now Hollywood left is doing ads telling electors not to vote for President Trump. And that is disturbing.

I think that what's really the more outrageous thing is that the CIA and the FBI refused to meet with the House Intelligence Committee this week. I mean, that to me is very bothersome. We have to take the politics out of this and let the proper committees look at this in a cool way.

But I also have to say this, Wolf: where was the president and where was this outrage back in October? If the intelligence community was disturbed about it, why did they go about it quietly as they're now saying? There should have been -- it should have been a national stage discussion.

BLITZER: Let me point out to you that, on October 7 of last year, a month before the election, there was a joint statement from the director of national intelligence and the secretary of homeland security, in which they said flatly, quote, "The U.S. intelligence community is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations," a reference to the DNC.

They also said, "We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia's senior most officials could have authorized these activities."

Today, we heard the president say, for all practical purposes, that was Putin, the senior-most Russian official. So they did come out with a statement that the president authorized them to deliver in early October.

[18:40:30] KINGSTON: But why wasn't the president making a bigger deal about it? He seems to be making a very big deal right now. And we hear from leaders of the Democratic Party that electors should be briefed on this. That suggests politics.

The president in October should have done something about it. He said earlier, and you showed the clip, that at the G-20, he pulled Putin to the said and said, "Cut it out." Well, what kind of talk is that? You don't pull somebody to the side. You say, "Listen, I want to meet with you. I want -- I'm going to come to Moscow. I'll meet you in Geneva. I'll do whatever it takes. But you're going to -- you're going to stop this, and we're going to do something about it and do something now."

BLITZER: He did say -- you also heard the president say when he told Putin in early September, at the G-20 summit, "Cut it out." He said after that threat to Putin, because he said the U.S. could retaliate in various ways -- they've got pretty good capabilities -- there was no interference with the voting booth, if you will, any of the election systems, any of that. There's been some other hacking that's been going on, but none of that occurred to tamper with the actual vote. You heard the president say that.

KINGSTON: Yes, but it seems like he wants it both ways. No. 1, he wants to take credit for that conversation: "Stop further interference in the U.S. election." If that's the case, then the headline should say, "President Obama Stopped This in September."

The second headline should say something he said today that was very important. He said this wasn't a complicated, sophisticated espionage. This was everyday hacking. Well, everyday hacking, unfortunately, goes on in the world today.

What about when President Clinton [SIC], in July of 2015, it was -- excuse me, President Obama was shown to have Angela Merkel's schedule. And other nations around the world apparently were spied on by the U.S. I'm not saying that's right. I'm just saying that he said this was everyday hacking and, you know, we've got to stop everyday hacking, but that's one of his statements today.

BLITZER: You know the -- what the criticism you're going to get, Congressman, that you're offering excuses for Putin and the Russians. I'm sure you've heard that already. But are you bracing for more when you say these kinds of things?

KINGSTON: What we're saying is that we need to take the politics out of this. The CIA needs to do what it has to do by constitutional duty, and that's to show up in front of the U.S. Congress and not play politics, as they did this week.

I, as a former House member, was outraged to read that the head of the CIA says to Devin Nunez (ph), the House intelligence chairman, that they were unable to meet, because they were too busy with the investigation on behalf of Barack Obama. That's absurd. You and I have been around this town long enough to know when politics are being played. That was extremely politics. We need to get the politics out of this so that we can have an intelligent conversation.

BLITZER: Congress -- former Congressman Jack Kingston joining us. Congressman, thanks very much.

KINGSTONE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: More breaking news coming up next. The political power grab some compare to a coup unfolding tonight in North Carolina. Details of an extraordinary bill that has just become law.


[18:47:52] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: There's breaking news. North Carolina's Republican governor signed a bill passed by the Republican controlled legislature drastically reducing the power of his successor, a Democrat, who takes office next month.

The president and CEO of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks, is with us. We'll talk to him in a moment.

But I want to get the background first. CNN's Polo Sandoval is joining us.

Polo, this is truly an extraordinary political power grab.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, unprecedented, and definitely something many people did not expect in North Carolina. There are several bills that have been discussed there and highly controversial in North Carolina. There is at least one bill that essentially limits the governor's authority over the state's election board. That was signed into law by outgoing Governor Pat McCrory late today.

There's a bill that would be requiring his cabinet appointees be approved by the Senate. Well, that one still remains on the desk, and that is what has become a highly contentious issue there in North Carolina.


SANDOVAL (voice-over): The latest legislative session closing with growing outrage and crowds in North Carolina's capital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very difficult to hear because of the disruptive noise outside the chamber.

SANDOVAL: Demonstrators are angry over a series of bills rolled out during a hastily called special session this week, where lawmakers in the Republican-controlled legislature want to limit the incoming Democratic Governor Roy Cooper's powers.

ROY COOPER (D), NORTH CAROLINA GOV.-ELECT: What is happening now is unprecedented. What's happening now is going to affect the issues that make a difference to evidence working families.

SANDOVAL: Among the restrictions requiring the Republican-controlled Senate to approve all of Governor-elect Cooper's cabinet appointees. Also, significantly decreasing the number of appointments allowed by the new administration from 1,500 to 300.

Additionally, Cooper would be blocked from appointing some members of the state board of education and all members of the board of trustees for the University of North Carolina system.

Cooper beat out conservative Republican incumbent Pat McCrory by only about 10,000 votes. McCrory claimed fraud and challenged the outcome before conceding about four weeks later.

[18:50:04] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is majority rule. We have elections.

SANDOVAL: Despite large Republican majorities, leaders say they are going to continue to be relevant in the state, but Democrats call it a power grab. It makes for what will be an even more turbulent transition for McCrory's Democratic successor.


SANDOVAL: McCrory's successor, Roy Cooper, issued a statement late today reading in part, quote, "The courts will have to clean up the mess that the legislature made." This obviously suggested plans to take this issue to court. Meanwhile, Wolf, this is highly divisive here in North Carolina. You have some Republican lawmakers who insist that this is simply a constitutional check and balance. The Democratic counterparts however say that this is a last-minute power grab -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fascinating.

All right. Polo, thanks very much. Polo Sandoval reporting.

We want to dig deeper with the president and CEO of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks.

Actually, Cornell, we're going to talk about this. We've got some other issues I want to review with you as well. We've got to take a quick break. We'll start our conversation in a moment.


[18:55:14] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news with the president and CEO of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks. We're talking about an extraordinary political power grab that's unfolding right now in North Carolina. The outgoing Republican Governor Pat McCrory had just signed a bill passed by the Republican-controlled legislature that dramatically reduces the power of the next governor, Roy Cooper, a Democrat.

What's your reaction, Cornell, to what's happening in North Carolina right now?

CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, PRESIDENT & CEO, NAACP: Let's make no mistake. This is not a matter of Republicans stealing power from Democrats. This is a matter of hyper-partisan stealing democracy from the people, where you have a supermajority in the state legislature basically constraining, curtailing the power of the incoming governor, changing the election commissions in the state so that they have more power, i.e., they put the Democrats in a position where they chaired these commissions in off-year elections, Republicans in on-year elections.

This is the same legislature that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit found to have engaged in intentional racial discrimination in terms of voter suppression.

BLITZER: Explain what that means.

BROOKS: So, what that means is you have a federal court saying that the state legislature engaged in discrimination to suppress the vote, to keep people from voting. So, the same folks that cheated you at the ballot box are now cheating you in the legislature to prevent your choice from governor, from having the power the constitution of the state of North Carolina grants to him. This is unconscionable. Make no mistake about it. This is an out and out power grab.

BLITZER: So, what you're saying, the Republican majority in the state legislature, they want to prevent African-Americans from voting? Is that what you are saying?

BROOKS: What I'm saying is the citizens of North Carolina have determined who their next governor is. The Republicans in the state legislature have determined they are going to curtail and constrain the power he has to conserve the people who have in fact elected him. That has occurred in the wake of voter suppression.

And so, the point being here is, having suppressed votes on that side of the election, they are now constraining the power of the governor on this side of the election. This is unconscionable.

BLITZER: What if anything can be done about it?

BROOKS: Well, certainly, we want to explore our options with respect to the court, in terms of litigation. Our North Carolina state conference of the NAACP has gone to court time and time again, as has our NAACP conferences around the country, to insure that our democracy is vibrant and serves the people.

This is very serious matter. Think about it this way. We have -- Russian hacking constitutes a foreign threat to our democracy. Voter suppression and the suppression of a governor's authority constitutes a domestic threat to our democracy. Make no mistake about it. This is not a matter of one state, one

state legislature, one election or partisanship. It is literally the corrupting of our democracy.

BLITZER: While I have you here, Cornell, I want to get your reaction to the exchange that the first lady had with Oprah Winfrey. I'll play the clip.



OPRAH WINFREY, TV HOST: Your husband's administration, everything, the election was all about hope. Do you think that this administration achieved that?

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Yes. I do, because we feel the difference now. See now we're feeling what not having hope feels like, you know? Hope is necessary. It's a necessary concept.


BLITZER: You agree with her when she says now we're feeling what not having hope feels like?

BROOKS: Well, I'll say this, the NAACP doesn't do chronic depression. But we recognize reality that a great many Americans all across this country are despairing. And they are despairing because of the distrust. They're despairing because of the escalating number of hate trials. They're despairing because of the voter suppression in this country. And they are despairing because we have an incoming administration that is failing to take these matters seriously.

Note this, the president-elect neither acknowledges voter suppression as a threat to our democracy or Russian hacking as a threat to our democracy. Make no mistake about it.

BLITZER: Cornell William Brooks of the NAACP, thanks so much for joining us.

BROOKS: Wolf, thank you.

BLITZER: To our viewers, please be sure to check out the first ever book from CNN politics. It's called "Unprecedented: The Election that Changed Everything". You can pick up your copy today in stores or you can get it online at

That's it for me. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.