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Hunting ISIS; President Obama Announces Sanctions Against Russia. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 29, 2016 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama had said that he would respond to Russia at a time of his choosing, and it looks as though that time has arrived.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Payback, the White House taking serious action against Russia for meddling in the U.S. election, action that could take the cyber-war to a new level. And Moscow is already really unhappy about it.

Movement. After months of nothing, a U.S. official now says there are signs that the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is on the move, but might he have already gotten away?

Plus, when you're allegedly so extreme, even a self-proclaimed hit man didn't want to have anything to do with you. A CNN exclusive, the killer who claims the Philippines president ran a death squad.

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

We begin with breaking news in our world lead. Russian novelist Dostoyevsky once wrote of crime and punishment. And today President Obama did as well, handing out punishments for alleged cyber-crimes by the Russian government for alleged hacking of the DNC and Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman during the 2016 race and sharing information gleaned from those accounts to allegedly influence the election and undermine confidence in the American electoral system and for a campaign of harassing U.S. documents in Moscow.

This afternoon, we learned that the Obama administration identified 35 Russians with diplomatic status here in the U.S. whom they believe to be intelligence officers or spies, declaring them persona non grata, the most severe diplomatic form of censure a country can give a foreign diplomat, giving them and their families 72 hours to get out.

The U.S. is also shutting down two Russian compounds in Maryland and New York and imposing sanctions on those inside Russia believed to be behind the cyber-attacks. They're naming names of individuals and agencies, including two people already wanted by the FBI for cyber- crimes.

CNN chief security national correspondent Jim Sciutto joins me now.

Jim, this is just the response that we know about.


I want to draw you attention to this line from the president's statement today after those steps that you outlined there. "These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia's aggressive actions. We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing."

Not too subtle code there for cyber-activity that may have happened already or may still be happening. Keep in mind, the administration says that these cyber-attacks by Russia on U.S. political parties, et cetera, continue, but keep this in mind as well. As this broad- reaching U.S. response happens to this Russian hack, it happens as the president-elect continues to deny that the hack happened at all.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, President Obama ordering strong and far-reaching retaliation against Russia for its unprecedented cyber- attack on the U.S. election system. The U.S. is imposing sanctions against nine Russian individuals and entities, including the Russian spy agency, the FSB, and the Russian military intelligence unit, the GRU, both believed to be behind the hack.

The U.S. is ordering 35 Russian intelligence operatives and their families in California and Washington, D.C., out of the country within 72 hours and shutting down two Russian government-owned compounds, one in Maryland and another in New York.

The president also declassifying intelligence on Russian cyber- activity to help networks in the U.S. and abroad "identify, detect and disrupt Russian cyber-attacks."

In spite of this, and the U.S. intelligence community's assessment that Russian ordered the election hacking, president-elect Trump, just last night, continued to dismiss both Moscow's involvement and the importance of the hacking at all.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole, you know, age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what's going on.

SCIUTTO: Senator John McCain traveling this week with other senators in the Baltic region, where countries are most worried about Russian aggression, responding today to Trump's nonchalant remarks with a sarcastic jab.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I agree with president-elect, we need to get on with our lives without having our elections being affected by any outside influence, especially Vladimir Putin, who is a thug.

SCIUTTO: In a statement before the announcement, Russian promised its own retaliation, saying: "If Washington takes new hostile steps, it will receive an answer. Any actions against Russian diplomatic missions in the United States will immediately backfire at U.S. diplomats in Russia."

The U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally approved the hacking in part to hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign, this according to intelligence, congressional and other administration sources.


Earlier this week, Senator Lindsey Graham, who is traveling with McCain, told CNN in an interview that Congress is planning its own payback.

(on camera): What are you going to do, Senator Graham and Senator McCain, if he doesn't change his tune, in effect, on Russian?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: There are a hundred United States senators. I would say that 99 of us believe the Russians did this, and we're going to do something about it, along with Senator McCain. After this trip is over, we will have the hearings. And we're going to put sanctions together that hit Putin as an individual and his inner circle for interfering in our election. And they're doing it all over the world, not just in the United States.


SCIUTTO: Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan also welcoming these sanctions, putting out a statement saying that they are overdue and appropriate. He also said that Russia does not share America's interests, in fact, it has consistently sought to undermine them.

And I don't think you can put too fine a point on this, Jake, that you have the Republican speaker of the House, you have Republicans senators like McCain and Graham saying the whole Senate agrees with them, you have the whole scope of the U.S. intelligence agencies who blame Russia for this and call this a serious attack on the U.S. election system.

Donald Trump, the president-elect, is becoming increasingly isolated in holding his ground, saying, well, we don't really know, and it's not that serious and we have got to get on with our lives.

That's a remarkable division in our government as we await a new president.

TAPPER: All right, Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

Moments ago, a Putin spokesman called U.S. allegations of hacking groundless and said we don't know exactly what their response will be.

CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance joins us now live from Moscow.

Matthew, tell us a little bit more about these individuals in Russia who are now facing sanctions, a couple of them known to the FBI already. MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a couple

of them, Yevgeny Bogachev and Alexei Belan, are known cyber-criminals. In fact, they have been wanted by the FBI for several years.

And so they have now been sanctioned by the United States State Department, Treasury, rather, that announced these sanctions. The other individuals, the four individuals are the top brass of the GRU, as your reporter was just saying, Jim Sciutto.

The GRU is the foreign intelligence service of the Russian military. The FSB as well, which is the domestic successor organization to the KGB -- so basically Russia's intelligence and secret services, their top brass have effectively been identified. They're not names that are very well known in the public. And they're being sanctioned now.

And, as you mentioned, the Kremlin in the past few minutes has just made a call to us. It's gathered journalists around it and said this is what our response will be. They're saying they're not going to identify what concrete measures exactly, but they talked about the 35 diplomats who have been expelled from the United States and saying there is no alternative but the principle of reciprocity to that.

They're going to expel U.S. journalists -- U.S. diplomats, rather, I should say, U.S. diplomats, from Russia as well. But they also said the final decision is up to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and he is in no rush, they said, to make that decision now.

What he is waiting for, we don't know. Normally, you would see a response very quickly to an action like this by the United States from the Kremlin. But we are in a difficult unusual. We're in an unusual situation. Donald Trump takes office in, what, three weeks.

Maybe the Kremlin wants to bide its time.

TAPPER: Matthew, the Russian Embassy in the U.K. sent out a rather nasty tweet with a picture of a lame-duck and suggesting that they and the American people are glad to see the last of this hapless administration.

CHANCE: Yes. I saw that. Yes. It was very unusual too, a very undiplomatic tweet, shall we say, that came out of the Russian Embassy in London.

But it fits in with the general flavor of tone, the general tone we're getting from the Russian Foreign Ministry and Russian officials when they speak about this issue. The Foreign Ministry spokesman last night said to me, look, the threat of sanctions, this is before the sanctions were implemented, is a last Christmas greeting from the Obama team which is already preparing for eviction from the White House. This is all misinformation by the Obama administration aimed at providing an excuse for its own failures.

And so they talk about the Obama administration in very disparaging terms in this, its last few weeks in power, and they're preparing, of course, for a whole new relationship. They're drawing a line under it and hoping that things get dramatically better when Donald Trump takes his position in the Oval Office.

TAPPER: Matthew chance for us in Moscow, thank you so much.

We have yet to hear from president-elect Trump on the new White House actions on Russia, but it seems unlikely he would approve.

CNN correspondent Sunlen Serfaty is live in Palm Beach.

Sunlen, the president-elect seemingly patched up his relationship with President Obama on the phone yesterday, but today's Russia announcement, it's not likely to be welcome news for the incoming president.


It's not likely to be welcome news at all. If you look at the tone, the tenor and the exact words that are coming not only from the president-elect over the last days and weeks about this, but also from members of his transition team as they in some sort form some sort of formal response, certainly, they will have to articulate farther their formal response to this.


But it was just yesterday here at his resort in Florida where president-elect Donald Trump addressed this issue that the Obama administration at that time was putting together sanctions, and he was really dismissive of the U.S. intelligence connecting Russia to this hack and really tried to make sure that the blame was off Russia, seemed very eager to do so.

He said, look, this is basically a matter he thinks should be put to rest. Here is more of what the president-elect said before the sanctions were formally put in place.


TRUMP: I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole, you know, age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what's going on.

We have speed, we have a lot of other things, but I'm not sure you have the kind of security that you need.


SERFATY: So key there, really, get on with our lives. That's something that was very notable coming from the president-elect yesterday before these sanctions were announced.

Now, today, president-elect Donald Trump has really been huddled behind closed doors for much of the day here at his resort. We know he's been meeting with top aides, going over some transition planning. And we are told not to expect any sort of formal statement anytime soon. We will see, though, if they do respond in any capacity coming up -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sunlen, the Trump team is trying to make this into a partisan issue. They are saying that Democrats are trying to suggest that president-elect Trump is not a legitimate president, this is all just a partisan political issue.

But it's not just Democrats who are talking about this, obviously. It's the entire intelligence community, all 17 agencies, as well as many Republicans on the Hill, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, et cetera. Will those Republicans pressuring Donald Trump to act have any influence on him at all?

SERFATY: I don't think there is any likelihood as of now if we look at the words that are coming from the president-elect. This is a very notable issue that divides Trump with members of his own party, and very high-profile members, very vocal members, powerful on Capitol Hill.

As you mentioned, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan today coming out with a statement after the sanctions were put in place saying that these are long overdue, very similar words from Senator McCain and Graham, who have been vocal and outspoken and split with president-elect Trump over this issue.

And, notably, they have also promised that they're going to likely bring even tougher and harsher sanctions, in addition to these sanctions, on Capitol Hill. So, that could be one potential big fight that Trump has ahead with the members of his own party.

TAPPER: Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much.

What exactly were these 35 individuals in the U.S. doing to merit them getting expelled from this country? The homeland security adviser to President Obama will join us live next.



[16:16:47] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We are covering breaking news. In our world lead, the Obama administration out with a sweeping set of actions against Russia, punishment for what the U.S. intelligence community says were cyber attacks by the Russian government on U.S. political targets during the 2016 election. The government will expel 35 Russian diplomats. Shut down two Russian compounds in the U.S. and impose sanctions on people in Russia they believe were behind the hacks.

White House homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco, joins me now live for more.

Lisa, thanks for joining us.

First of all, these 35 individuals with diplomatic and consular passes into the United States, who you're now identifying as intelligence operatives, what were they doing to merit being ejected?


What these individuals were doing were basically collecting intelligence. They were intelligence officers operating here and using these compounds, one in New York, one in Maryland, for intelligence collection purposes.

And what we are saying today is, in response to and in order to impose consequences for the Russian government's increasing harassment and aggression toward our personnel in Moscow and, of course, their malicious cyber activities, interfering and an effort to interfere in our election process, we are imposing consequences. We are expelling the 35 intelligence officers and their families from this country. They've got 72 hours to leave the country. We're also closing those compounds and not allowing access anymore to those compounds and shutting down that intelligence collection activity.

TAPPER: Lisa, were these individuals allegedly involved in the hacks?

MONACO: We're not alleging that, Jake. What we're doing here is we are putting forward a set of actions that are designed to respond to and impose consequences for Russia's aggressive activity. So, included in that is this expulsion of these intelligence officers, included in that is the imposition of unprecedented sanctions against 11 entities and individuals, including the head of the GRU, that's the military intelligence apparatus for the Russian government, imposing sanctions on them and both the military and civilian intelligence services in Russia, in response to their malicious cyber activity and efforts to interfere in our elections.

And importantly, we are also disclosing today and exposing today a set of information from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI that will enable network defenders, people operating networks across our country and frankly internationally to better defend themselves. We are exposing the tactics, techniques and procedures that the Russian intelligence services have used to interfere in our election and to probe our systems.

TAPPER: Lisa, these compounds, one in New York and one in Maryland, how long has the U.S. intelligence apparatus known about them?

MONACO: We've known about these for a while, Jake. What I can tell you is these are a set of steps that are responding to increasing levels of aggression against our personnel in Moscow. We take exceptionally seriously the safety and well-being of our diplomatic personnel and their families operating abroad including in Moscow. And what we have seen is an unacceptable level of harassment and mistreatment of our personnel.

[16:20:04] And you're seeing response and consequences for that.

TAPPER: A top intelligence officer in the Obama administration I think a week or two ago said that there were roughly 100 Russian spies in the United States. This would only be about a third of them being ejected.

MONACO: Not going to comment on the full presence of Russian personnel here, though you might want to consult with the Russian representatives here on that. We are confident in the steps we are taking today. They were arrived at deliberately and with precision in order to impose consequences.

TAPPER: It seems possible that these sanctions might only last 22 days, that President-elect Trump might lift them, might re-invite the diplomats back into this country. Has President Obama discussed any of this with President-elect Trump?

MONACO: So, I'm not going to talk about whatever conversations the president and the president-elect have had over -- since the election. What I can say is -- and nor am I going to speculate, quite frankly, on what the new administration might do. I will say the reversal of sanctions such as what you have described would be highly unusual. Indeed, the sanctions usually remain in place until the activity and the reasons for them being imposed in the first place has been removed.

TAPPER: Of course, one of the issues is that the transition team and President-elect Trump don't acknowledge that there was any Russian hacking or that it continues. Take a listen to incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, whom I interviewed earlier today before the Obama administration announced these new actions. Take a listen.


SEAN SPICER, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If we're going to make such broad, sweeping claims about the involvement of anybody in the legitimacy of an election and the integrity of our election sometimes, then I think we need the intelligence community to come forward publicly and on the record and make it clear exactly how this happened and who was responsible for it. But right now, we continue to get unsourced media accounts for what the activity is. I think that's not -- that's not acceptable.


TAPPER: Does the intelligence community need to publicly make its case as to why these actions are being taken?

MONACO: So, Jake, I think what you saw was earlier this fall, an unprecedented statement from the DNI, from the secretary of homeland security, representing the full intelligence community, calling out and attributing clearly the highest levels of the Russian government as being responsible for interfering or attempting to interfere and sow confusion about our electoral system. That was an unprecedented disclosure and attribution that happened earlier this fall. So, I think that's clearly been stated on the record.

What you also have is the president directing the intelligence community to issue a report to him before he leaves office that lays out not only the full accounting of what we understand the Russian government to have done in the 2016 election process but going back to 2008 and prior election processes. And that's because we face a very significant and serious threat from malicious cyber actors, state actors and others, and it's important to have this laid out both for the Congress and other stakeholders. That's why the president directed that report be produced.

TAPPER: Right. But, Lisa, Trump is saying that it's not enough, he needs more information before he's going to believe it.

MONACO: So, Jake, again, the president directed the composition and the accounting and the pulling together of all of that information from the intelligence community, and that's what is going on, and that report will be produced before the president leaves office.

TAPPER: In announcing the measures, the current White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, wrote today, quote, "Russia's cyber activities were intended to influence the election, erode faith in U.S. democratic institutions, sow doubt about the integrity of our electoral process and undermine confidence in the institutions of the government."

Of those four items, one of them is influence the election. Is the White House official position that the Russians were trying to help Donald Trump and defeat Hillary Clinton?

MONACO: The position has been laid out quite clearly by the statement of the DNI and the secretary of homeland security issued back in October, which expressed the confidence of the intelligence community that the Russian government was seeking to interfere in our election process. And I'll leave it at that.

TAPPER: A Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman said the country would take similar steps to retaliate against the U.S. expulsion of these 35 Russian diplomats, or as you referred to them, as intelligence operatives.

Is the United States prepared for Russian retaliation?

MONACO: So, Jake, again, these steps were taken and arrived at quite deliberately and with precision and with our national interests in mind. We're prepared for retaliatory steps that the Russian government may take.

TAPPER: Last question, Lisa. The incoming administration, Trump's administration, has signaled that they're going to have a very different posture towards Putin, towards Moscow, towards the Kremlin, than the Obama administration posture.

[16:25:10] Did that weigh at all into your deliberations when you took these strong actions?

MONACO: I'm not going to speculate about what the new administration will do. These steps were arrived at and taken quite deliberately in order to make clear both to Russia and to other actors, that steps that are outside of international norms will be responded to and that they will have consequences.

TAPPER: Lisa Monaco, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

MONACO: Thank you.

TAPPER: Next, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger joins me live to weigh in on the White House steps to punish Russia.

Then, for months, there was no sign he was even alive. Now, possible evidence the head of ISIS is on the move. What it means for the fight against the terrorist organization.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

The breaking news this hour, the United States announcing some serious measures against Russian institutions, suspected spies and wanted cyber criminals for hacking the DNC and Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman during the 2016 race and more.

Joining me now, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congressman, thanks for being here. We appreciate it.


TAPPER: Are you satisfied with the actions so far or -- we just lost the congressman's feed unfortunately. Oh, wait, he's back. All right.

Congressman, are you there? OK, your satellite is back.

KINZINGER: I'm here. I'm here.

TAPPER: All right. Are you satisfied with the measures taken by the White House today?

KINZINGER: Yes, I am. It's a good start. I think there is going to be some things done that we are not going to necessarily know about, as has been implied by the administration. But I think we need to send a clear message.

So, politics used to end at the water's edge and we would be united. We need to get back to that first off. There's plenty of blame on both sides to go around for that.

But we're also the United States of America. And I think this is sending a message that we will not be pushed around by a country that's basically a gas can in Europe with an economy roughly the size of Italy.