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Interview With Former CIA Director James Woolsey; North Korea Nuclear Warning; Trump Expresses Doubt Over U.S. Intelligence on Russia; 115th Congress to be Sworn in Tuesday; Democrats Targeting 8 of Trump's Cabinet Picks. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 2, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to the year that Donald Trump becomes president of the United States.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President-elect Trump says that he knows things other people do not, and that a culprit other than Russia could have carried out election- year hacks. So, he knows something that 17 intelligence agencies, the sitting U.S. president and just about every single U.S. senator, Republican and Democrat, do not.

And what could be the first test for Donald Trump on the world stage, one with nuclear consequences, Kim Jong-un announcing that North Korea is close to testing a missile designed to reach as far as the U.S.

Plus, 762 homicides, one year, one American city. Chicago has more homicides in 2016 than New York and Los Angeles combined. Now president-elect Trump is weighing in.

Welcome to the lead. And a very happy new year to you. I am Jim Sciutto, in this week for Jake Tapper.

New year, new you? President-elect Donald Trump is back to work with his transition team in New York, but on Twitter he still appears to be fighting last year's battles over the presidential campaign, quibbling with reporting from November that Mr. Trump himself was surprised by his victory. More on that story in a moment.

The president-elect is also promising to share new inside information about Russia's hacking during the presidential campaign after another briefing with U.S. intelligence officials midweek.

Then, today on CNN, Mr. Trump's spokesman walked back the possibility of new information. So, which is it?

CNN's Jessica Schneider is outside Trump Tower.

Jessica, what's the latest here? Do we expect to hear from the president-elect on Russia this week?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, the president-elect essentially promising to brief the public after his own meeting with the intelligence community on Tuesday or Wednesday.

But despite Donald Trump's big reveal that he knows more than others know, his advisers did walk it back just a little bit, saying Donald Trump will not reveal anything classified. Instead, it will be his own conclusions.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): As Donald Trump rang in the new year, he continued to cast doubt on U.S. intelligence pointing to Russia as the culprit of campaign hacks during the election.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I know a lot about hacking, and hacking is a very hard thing to prove. So it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people don't know. And so they cannot be sure of the situation.

SCHNEIDER: Trump refusing to elaborate on what insider information he has, only promising to reveal more after his meeting later this week with intelligence officials. Incoming Press Secretary Sean Spicer, though, tempering expectations about what the president-elect might make public.

SEAN SPICER, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He is going to talk about his conclusions and where he thinks things stand. So, he's not going to reveal anything that was privileged or shared with him classified. But one thing I think is missing from this discussion, Alisyn, is this report that everyone keeps talking about is not final.

The president -- the current president of the United States hasn't seen a final report. The intelligence community is talking about wrapping it up later this week.

SCHNEIDER: Spicer also questioning whether the sanctions the Trump team previously called symbolic were overblown. The Obama administration ex spelled 35 Russian diplomats and shuttered two Russian compounds on Long Island and in Maryland to retaliate against alleged Russian interference in the election.

SPICER: The question is, is the response of this administration, the sanctions they put on, proportional with the activities that have happened? And, number two, is it a political response so Russia, or is it a diplomatic response?

SCHNEIDER: Candidate Trump certainly acknowledged and even seemed to egg on Russia hackers during the election, inviting them to break into Hillary Clinton's computers.

TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let's see if that happens. That will be next.

SCHNEIDER: Hacked e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta trickled out throughout the campaign, exposing criticism against Clinton by her own staff and revealing some of the topics of her paid speeches to Wall Street bankers.

Many Democrats blame Russia hacking in part for Clinton's loss. Donald Trump once again evoking the election, closing out 2016 with this contentious tweet: "Happy new year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don't know what to do. Love."

But today Trump hardly turned over a new leaf, starting the new year with new boasts about the November election, tweeting: "Various media outlets and pundits say that I thought I was going to lose the election. Wrong. It all came together in the last week, and I thought and felt I would win big, easily, over the fabled 270, actually 306. When they canceled fireworks, they knew and so did I."


SCHNEIDER: So, Trump tweeting there that he always knew he would win big.

But the truth be told, it was a different story at Donald Trump's thank you rally in Wisconsin on December 13. He told the big crowd there that he said that he actually rented a smaller ballroom on election night because he thought there was a chance he could lose, and he had told his wife Melania he said that he worked hard, but he said to her, "If I lose, I lose" -- Jim.


SCIUTTO: Jessica Schneider in New York with the president-elect.

Now I want to talk to a national security adviser to president-elect Trump. He is former CIA Director, Ambassador James Woolsey.

Ambassador, happy new to you and thanks for taking the time.


SCIUTTO: So, Mr. Ambassador, you heard that Donald Trump claiming there to have new information that, in effect, no one else knows. What information could he have that the 17 intelligence agencies do not and that, for instance, he hasn't already received in his presidential daily briefing or that House members who have been briefed on the intelligence don't have?

WOOLSEY: Hacking leaves a lot of room for weaving around like this. And Donald Trump is an expert at this kind of weaving around and attracting everybody's attention.

It's exactly what he did during the campaign.

SCIUTTO: You're saying he is weaving around by talking about this putative new information?

WOOLSEY: First talk about what I know, and then after talking to somebody else, what I know is a little different. And each one gets a headline, each one... SCIUTTO: Right.

WOOLSEY: I think the point is...

SCIUTTO: You are saying he is playing us, in effect?

WOOLSEY: There is a possibility that he is a little bit, yes.

SCIUTTO: Is that something a president-elect should be doing on a serious issue of national security?

WOOLSEY: Why not? He is not interfering with anything. He's not talking about anything classified.


SCIUTTO: It strikes me he is interfering, because this is an ongoing investigation.

WOOLSEY: I don't think so.

It seems to me this is a behavioral mode that he has perfected. And he has a point, which is that it is entirely possible to have various definitions of hacking, and there's hacking and then there's hacking.

There is hacking in which you actually destroy something or put in malware that leads to destruction later. That's terrible. There is hacking in which you steal stuff, which is really bad. There is hacking in which you just look and try to figure out what's going on.

And I think that this misunderstanding or back-and-forthing between him and others is partly about his talking about one kind of hacking and their maybe talking about another.

SCIUTTO: But let's be clear here, because there are things about which there are still questions here. It's difficult to determine the intent of this. You know this better than me. You were the director of the CIA. How do you know what's inside the head of your adversary?

But on who is behind it, that's something the intelligence community has gone public saying they have high confidence in. And you even said on our air last week that you believe it was Russia. But Donald Trump is creating doubts about the perpetrator of this.

WOOLSEY: Well, I think that the -- first of all, it's often not foolproof to say who it is, because it's possible and sometimes easy to hide your tracks when you are hacking and look like somebody else and go through a different server and so forth and so forth. There are lots of tricks about this.

So, sometimes people may have been talking to somebody in the National Security Agency and have an idea that maybe it was one type of hacking rather than another. I don't think this is of substantial matter. I think it's basically just dialogue back and forth.

SCIUTTO: Well, I won't rely on my own judgment. I will just quote to you the public opinions of Republicans, for instance, a John McCain or a Lindsey Graham, who have said this is a very serious matter.

WOOLSEY: It doesn't mean it's not serious, I agree, especially insofar as it got into anything that lets them affect the substance of what is put out or affect the...

SCIUTTO: Result of the election?


WOOLSEY: ... anything about the election results, absolutely. That's the key thing.

SCIUTTO: Just so I understand, because from the Trump camp, you get a very clear impression that they're concerned that, if they -- if we, everyone keeps talking about hacking, that somehow undermines their victory, because there is this open question as to how much the hacking affected the election, if at all.

But on the question of who did it, can you and I at least agree? Are you advising the president-elect that Russia was the perpetrator of the hacks?

WOOLSEY: I have advised four presidents, and I have never told anybody what I said to them or they said to me. So, I'm not going to say what I advised them.

But I would say that it looks from all the indicators that we have read about from the NSA and CIA and so forth as if the Russians were there and perhaps even principally there. It doesn't mean that there isn't somebody else in there perhaps trying to look like a Russian. It's possible.

SCIUTTO: But let me ask you this.

I am holding here what the FBI released last week, where it details the exact process, with flow charts, of how Russian intelligence services accessed the system and then released them to others around the country so that they are wise to it and can prevent it.



SCIUTTO: This doesn't look to me like guesswork as to who the perpetrator was.

WOOLSEY: I don't think it is.

But it could well also have somebody else in there. It doesn't mean that that didn't occur.

SCIUTTO: Meaning that there could be more than one perpetrator?

WOOLSEY: Oh, sure, of course.

SCIUTTO: But do you believe Russia was behind the hacking? WOOLSEY: I think there were Russians in there, no doubt about it.

SCIUTTO: But here's the thing about it, because Donald Trump -- and you just mentioned there that you never really know with hacking who is behind it.

But the fact is, if you look at recent history, U.S. intelligence agencies confidently determined in China down to the individuals who were behind hacking the U.S., to the point where the DOJ named them and issued red letters on them.

On the North Korean hacking of Sony, they came out in public and said we're confident of this. They have tools. The NSA is a pretty capable operator. Is it really that hard to determine who is behind it?

WOOLSEY: It depends on how skillful they are. It depends on the technology they have got. It depends on how many folks may be coming to the party.

I think that the key thing to look out for is the most damaging hacking. From my point of view, the most damaging so far has been the Chinese, probably.

SCIUTTO: Stealing intellectual property.

WOOLSEY: Not only that, but stealing identities, all of the information that they gleaned about people's families and...


SCIUTTO: Social Security numbers, et cetera.

WOOLSEY: Terrible. That was just awful.

I think we may see, as time goes on, an improved technology for sorting things out in the hacking world. But it is probably not always a good idea in these days and times to say, yes, it was Russia, it was only Russia, I know it's only Russia. No, I would be a little more cautious than that.

SCIUTTO: Even when you can go down to the letter of how the hackers did it?


SCIUTTO: Our own reporting today is that they have traced it to Cyrillic keyboards. Cyrillic, of course...


WOOLSEY: I think the Russians were in there. But it doesn't mean other people weren't too.

SCIUTTO: Director Woolsey, Ambassador Woolsey, I should call you, thanks very much for taking the time. WOOLSEY: Good to be with you

SCIUTTO: Appreciate it. And a happy new year to you.

Eight, that's the number of Trump Cabinet nominees who could be held up as Democrats take a play right out of the Republican playbook. Which of Trump's picks are they going to target? That's right after this.


[16:15:20] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto.

And sticking with politics now. Tomorrow, the 115th Congress will be sworn in, that is the 114th since the very first Congress sat down in New York and Philadelphia way back in 1789. Republicans in both -- in control of both the House and Senate, promising an ambitious agenda aimed at immediately reversing President Obama's legislative legacy including repealing Obamacare. But Democrats are gearing up for a major battle over some of President-elect Trump's cabinet picks. This comes as President Obama himself is preparing to defend and try to protect his legacy.

CNN's Dana Bash and Michelle Kosinski have both sides of the story covered from the White House and Capitol Hill. But we begin with our chief political correspondent Dana Bash. She's here in Washington.

So, which of Trump's selections are they going to zero in on, the Democrats?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are eight of them. And they are eight -- probably not surprisingly -- who they disagree the most vehemently on policy issues. And that, we should underscore that, even though the argument that Democrats are making that the Democratic leader Chuck Schumer is making, is that the reason they're going to try to slow-walk them is because they don't have adequate information, background information, financial disclosures and so forth, not just to the committees that are going to be in charge of confirming these nominees. But also, they say, to the FBI and even the Office of Government Ethics.

So, they say that that is what they are demanding, so you see their pictures on the screen there, so that there is absolutely no question that there are no conflicts of interest, particularly for those who have very, very big portfolios and a lot of money. There are several billionaires on that list, people who have never served in public office. So, that's what their argument is.

SCIUTTO: OK. When you look at this, was the process any different from President Obama? Did he get more leeway with those initial cabinet picks?

BASH: Well, it's unclear. It's in some ways the Democrats are arguing and I think they're right, comparing apples to oranges in that the Obama administration, when they sent the confirmations up to Capitol Hill, when he announced his nominees, that background information as there along with it. And the good news for Donald Trump is that he got his cabinet picks done pretty quickly. The bad news is maybe it's because of who these people are, the information that goes with it has been lagging behind. So, Democrats argue that, yes, they did -- the Republicans did allow seven nominees to be confirmed on Obama's Inauguration Day, but they also had the information.

The one thing I want to point out is that, you know, I think even more than the who this is is the why does it matter. And they don't -- the Democrats don't have a lot of cards that they can play, but -- and this is really not one of them. They can't stop any of these nominees really. They don't have the votes to do it. What they can do is slow the train big-time. And if they delay each of these nominees on the Senate floor, it gums up the works on the Senate floor and potentially that delays the legislative agenda, things like repealing Obamacare.

SCIUTTO: Delay, delay, delay.

Dana, thanks very much.

BASH: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: President Obama will meet with congressional Democrats Wednesday to try to come up with the plan to save in particular his signature health care law.

Michelle Kosinski joins me now from the White House.

So, Michelle, is this a sign the president is going to stay deeply engaged even after he leaves office with this concern about his legacy?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly sounds that way. When he has been asked in the last few days, he has made it clear that he knows the power of his voice. I mean, that's obvious. The question has been, how much of a voice is he going to be to really get in there and get into these battles that are surely coming?

It sounds like he knows he is going to play some role but he needs some time first to just kind of, you know, hang back from the fight and watch. But he is going to have this legacy speech coming up, this farewell speech where he is going to hit those same points that he has been making on the campaign trail so many times, you know, why he thinks certain elements are important for Americans of both parties to, if not embrace, then at least keep pieces of. I mean, in some ways that's the best that Democrats can hope for at this point.

And he is also going to meet with Democrats on Wednesday to try to solidify what they can do to really protect those pieces of Obamacare that he thinks Republicans could be even partially amenable to, just because of the sheer numbers of Americans who are now enrolled in Obamacare.

And when you look at these legacy points that he has been trying to expand, even in small ways relatively over the last couple of weeks, things like transferring more people from Guantanamo Bay prison or solidifying climate issues, the action that he has taken, expanding some of that, Obamacare seems the most likely, again, based on those sheer numbers as well as some things that President-elect Trump has said, where maybe parts of his legacy could remain.

[16:20:18] For example, keeping the -- keeping parts of preexisting conditions, allowing them in. We know that he and Donald Trump have spoken personally about that. Donald Trump is open to that. That might be where President Obama can say, that's part of my legacy, in that area, that I really put into force -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: And the question is, how do you pay for that if you keep them in?

Michelle Kosinski, thanks very much.

Be sure to tune in to CNN tonight for a special report on "The Legacy of Barack Obama". It all starts right here on CNN, at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

The president-elect weighing in on the bloody milestone in Chicago. More homicides than Los Angeles and New York City combined. And now, Chicago's mayor is responding.

Then, way too close for comfort, the new threat from North Korea's Kim Jong un and the growing concerns that this new device could reach all the way to the U.S.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

And sticking with politics now. I want to bring in my expert political panel. Julie Pace, White House correspondent for "The Associated Press", Ruth Marcus, columnist for "The Washington Post", and Bill Kristol, editor of "The Weekly Standard".

Thanks so much to all of you for being here. Very happy New Year. I am slurring my words still two days after New Year's.

Julie, so we heard Dana Bash talking about this list of eight, in effect, targets for the Democrats, nominees. Who do you think is most vulnerable in that group?

JULIE PACE, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: I think Trump will probably get most of the nominees through in the end, but I think the Democrats are looking to make a show at out of a couple of these hearings in particular. Rex Tillerson is going to get a lot of focus because of his connections to Russia when he was at Exxon.

[16:25:02] But also, Steve Mnuchin has really emerged as someone that Democrats are focused on. And Democrats see him as a target in part because they think they can recalibrate their economic message through his hearings. He has worked on Wall Street. He profited during the foreclosure crisis. They see this as an opportunity not necessarily to block him from getting confirmed, but to kind of make a stand on their own economic positions.

SCIUTTO: So, then, what happens on the legislative front next, Ruth? I mean, what are they -- President Obama really wants to save Obamacare if he can. If it's really just a show of force, in effect, on the nominations, what about on the actual legislation? What can they save?

RUTH MARCUS, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, one quick thing on Julie's really important point. The nominations, it's not that there's eight targets. I think Democrats pretty much expect that they will all go through but they might get lucky on one. But they are really laying the groundwork.

Then, on legislation, the hardest thing is going to be figuring out how to repeal Obamacare without getting blamed for a disaster in the next few years.

SCIUTTO: You're speaking with the Republicans.

MARCUS: On the Republican side.

And then we're going to be talking about infrastructure spending, and there is going to be a lot of fissures not just between Donald Trump and Democrats but between Donald Trump and more conservative, deficit hawkish Republicans about how to pay on both of those things, both health care and infrastructure.

SCIUTTO: Bill, there has been a lot of talk pre and post-election about the bipartisan issues. Infrastructure spending and tax reform in particular. But as, you know, Ruth was saying, you have disagreements even within parties on that issue. Is it pie in the sky to imagine that you can get some bipartisan something through in the first few months?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think you could but I think the Democrats have a pretty big interest in fighting Trump at this point. I really don't buy the argument that they have much interesting in cooperating. I think they think they can take down a couple of these nominees and I think they might.

Every president loses one basically, either loses on a vote like John Tower on the first Bush administration, or has to be with withdrawn like Daschle. One forgets this. And it's always a surprise, Tom Daschle not confirmed for HHS, former Senate majority leader? John Tower, former senator chair -- a senator who's chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Something always happens.

SCIUTTO: Well, this could be --


KRISTOL: Trump has not vetted -- this is the one thing. Trump -- I have heard accounts from people who have been interviewed and people close to people who have been interviewed. It's kind of cute, kind of nice in a way. You know all this formality goes out the window, the notion of giving all your stuff to the lawyers. You come in, you meet with Mr. Trump for 45 minutes. Hey, I think you're the guy, you know?

MARCUS: He has vetted. If you look the part, you get the job.

KRISTOL: I mean, no one has gone through, honestly. Several of these people are very wealthy. They have complicated business dealings. I'm sure they, you know, stuff can happen -- Tom Daschle is not a --

SCIUTTO: Complicated business dealings in the administration?


KRISTOL: So, they all think, Trump thinks that he got away with it so they can. Guess what? Trump didn't have to be confirmed by the Senate. If you get 48 or even 45 Democrats hanging tough, just takes a few Republicans to take down a nominee.

SCIUTTO: Daschle is in an indicative choice right he was taxes, right? It could be something that comes down in the vetting as opposed to a stand on, I don't know, protecting the working classes, you know, that kind of thing.

You know, you're hearing from Republicans a lot. Bill, I am sure you want to comment on this. They moved quickly to confirm all of Barack Obama's nominees and they are expecting the same. Now, of course, different story when it came to Supreme Court nominee. But is there truth to that when Republicans say and as Dana said, that Obama got, seven or eight in his first -- on the day of his inauguration?

PACE: He did get most of his nominees through rather quickly. I think you are going to see Democrats move on some of them quickly or allow Republicans to move. They're going to pick their battles because they're not going to be able to fight Trump on everything. I think they, though, are remembering what happened to Merrick Garland. That is not going to fall by the wayside for Democrats, the memory of what happened there.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you about Russia if I can. You might have listened to the interview I just had with the former CIA director James Woolsey who is advising Trump on national security. He said something that really struck me about this and I'm paraphrasing here. He said, well, this kind of hacking is not that big of a deal. That was his point. We've heard from the Trump camp, well, we're not sure it's Russia. Woolsey made that point. This kind of hacking is not really a big deal.

Bill Kristol, I go to you as a Republican, what's happening here? Everybody in the world in Washington -- Democrat and Republican -- says it's Russia and it's serious. Why is the Trump camp pushing back?

KRISTOL: Well, it is Russia and it's serious but Trump doesn't like the idea that anything might have happened that might have affected the election results. I mean, there has been craziness on the other side. There are some poll by I think was YouGov, 52 percent of Democrats think the election results were themselves hacked, you know, the actual machines, where it's not the charge. The charge is that the campaign was hacked.

SCIUTTO: The strategic release of the material.

KRISTOL: Of the e-mails, especially the Clinton e-mails. I don't know how much effect it had or not.

But no, Trump has taking a surprising number of Republicans with him into an accommodating of Putin position. We'll see how long it lasts and we'll see how long it lasts for Trump incidentally. I have been a little shocked that with a few exceptions how many Trump supporters, Trump advocates, Trump -- people who wish Trump well have decided they'll just go down the road with him and not picking a fight with Putin as they see it.