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Interview With Oklahoma Senator James Lankford; Chicago Hate Crime Investigation; Intelligence Chiefs Point to Russian Hacking. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 5, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: The nation's top spy says there is a difference between questioning and disparaging.

THE LEAD starts right now.

America's most senior intelligence official laying out the case that Russia hacked the Democrats, but will Donald Trump accept it now?

Weeks before he's sworn into office, Donald Trump gives a sworn deposition in one of his many ongoing legal battles, taking away from presidential prep today.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why you do that?


SCIUTTO: Tied up, beaten and tortured all on Facebook, attackers yelling "F. Trump 'and "F. white people." This hour, new information about the punishment that four suspects are now facing.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: Welcome back to the lead.

I'm Jim Sciutto, in again today for Jake Tapper.

We begin today with breaking news in our politics lead. Sources tell CNN Donald Trump has tapped former Indiana Senator Dan Coats for director of national intelligence. That is the nation's top spy, this as the current director along with his counterparts testified for hours today that there is no doubt that Russian leadership was behind the cyber-hacks during the 2016 race, and that they are more confident of that judgment than ever.

President Obama was briefed on the final report just a short time ago, with president-elect Trump's briefing scheduled for tomorrow.

CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. So, Manu, U.S. officials said they will, when this becomes public,

they will name a motive, more than one motive, in fact, for the Russian hacking.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Next week, we will probably learn more about exactly what they believe happened during the election.

But one thing, Jim, they tried to make perfectly clear today that there's no doubt in their mind that Russia meddled in the elections.


JAMES CLAPPER, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: I don't think that we've ever encountered a more aggressive or direct campaign to interfere with our election process than we have seen in this case.

RAJU (voice-over): In a nearly-three-hour Senate hearing, the officials saying they're even more confident in their October assessment that Russia's senior-most officials authorized the cyber- attack against the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign, an assessment president-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly dismissed.

CLAPPER: We stand actually more resolutely on the strength of that statement that we made on the 7th of October.

RAJU: And they left no doubt over who is to blame.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You say you think this was approved at the highest level of government in Russia, generally speaking. Is that right?

CLAPPER: That's what we said.

GRAHAM: OK, who is the highest level of government?

CLAPPER: Well, the highest is President Putin .

GRAHAM: Do you think a lot happens in Russia big that he doesn't know about?

CLAPPER: Not very many.

GRAHAM: Yes, I don't think so either.

CLAPPER: Certainly, none that are politically sensitive in another country.

RAJU: His testimony amounted to an implicit rebuke of Trump, who has repeatedly slammed the intelligence community, praised Putin, and downplayed Russia's role in the elections.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: Who benefits from a president- elect trashing the intelligence community? Who benefits from that, Director Clapper, the American people, them losing confidence in the intelligence community and the work of the intelligence community?

CLAPPER: I think there is an important distinction here between healthy skepticism, which policy-makers, to include policy-maker number one, should always have for intelligence, but I think there is a difference between skepticism and disparagement.

RAJU: And Senator John McCain pushing back on Trump for relying on the word of WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange, who said Russia had no role in his group's public release of thousands of internal Democratic e-mails.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The name Mr. Assange has popped up. And I believe that he is one who is responsible for publishing names of individuals that worked for us that put their lives in direct danger. Is that correct?

CLAPPER: Yes, he has.

MCCAIN: And do you think that there is any credibility we should attach to this individual, given his record of...

CLAPPER: Not in my view.

MCCAIN: Not in your view.

Admiral Rogers?


RAJU: After the hearing, McCain saying he hopes Trump takes away this lesson.

MCCAIN: I hope he understands the importance of the role of the intelligence community. And it's clear that their conclusions, at least so far, have been correct.


RAJU: Now, Jim, also John McCain saying he was going to push for stiffer sanctions on Russia in the new Congress. He said he doesn't know where Donald Trump will come down on that issue, but he said in a sign of potentially good news for Donald Trump, McCain saying he is feeling a little better about his secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson, after they had a conversation about Tillerson's relationship with Russia.


He said all his concerns are not yet alleviated, but he's feeling a little better today, Jim.

SCIUTTO: That's one of many confirmation hearings next Tuesday. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.

Members of the own Republican Party certainly seemed to be sending him a message at today's hearing. The question is, was he listening?

CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is outside Trump Tower in New York.

Jim, the president-elect has not responded to the hearing yet, but his team did make a big announcement relevant certainly to the intelligence questions today as well.


Donald Trump has selected the newly retired Indiana Senator Dan Coats to be the director of national intelligence. It's an institutional pick that could soothe some of the tensions between the Trump transition team and the intelligence community.

And it comes as the president-elect is insisting he is not on the same page as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange when it comes to Russian hacking in the American election.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Donald Trump is doing some hacking backtracking. One day after the president-elect cited WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's denial that he colluded with Russia to interfere in the U.S. election, a tweet retreat.

"The dishonest media likes saying that I am in agreement with Julian Assange. Wrong," Trump tweeted. "I simply state what he states. It is for the people to make up their own minds as to the truth. The media likes to make it look like I'm against intelligence when in fact I'm a big fan."

That's a departure from the affection Trump showed for WikiLeaks during the campaign when Assange was dumping damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: This just came out. WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks.

ACOSTA: Contrast Trump's shifting on Assange with top Republicans from Arizona Senator John McCain.

MCCAIN: This is really a person who has put the lives of Americans in danger. He cannot be trusted for anything.

ACOSTA: To his old campaign rival, Ted Cruz.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I think Assange has done enormous damage to our national security. I would not be praising him under any circumstances.

ACOSTA: Trump is also battling against a growing bipartisan consensus around the U.S. intelligence community's view that Kremlin-backed hackers were meddling in the election, though GOP leaders support Trump's complaint that Democrats are exploiting the cyber-scandal to damage the president-elect.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Russia clearly tried to meddle in our political system, no two ways about it. First of all, and I think this is what the president-elect is legitimately upset about, there are attempts to try and delegitimatize this election. That's just bogus. He won fair and square. He won clearly and convincingly.

ACOSTA: Democrats argue it is more about Trump's grasp of reality.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: This is not healthy skepticism, as they would like to portray it. This is very unhealthy, essentially avoidance of the facts, because they don't suit the president-elect's interests.

ACOSTA: Trump's critics say he harmed his own credibility this week by claiming he would reveal by now new information about election hacking, then failing to deliver.

TRUMP: I also know things that other people don't know. And, so, they cannot be sure of the situation.

QUESTION: What do you know that other people don't know?

TRUMP: You will find out on Tuesday or Wednesday.

ACOSTA: Transition officials insist the president supports the intelligence community and they are pushing back on reports that Trump wants to pare back the office of director of intelligence in the new administration.

SEAN SPICER, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There is no truth to the idea of restructuring the intelligence community infrastructure. It is 100 percent false.


ACOSTA: Now, transition officials insist that Donald Trump is only demonstrating a healthy skepticism of the intelligence community after the mistakes made on the weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the Iraq War.

As one transition official put it to me, Jim, "Questions are good."

And getting back to the selection of Dan Coats to be director of national intelligence, one top Republican backer of Senator Coats pointed out to me that Dan Coats was banned from Russia, you will recall, Jim, back in 2014 when the White House and Russia were firing back and forth sanctions and countersanctions over the invasion of Crimea -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Joining me now is Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. He serves on both the Homeland Security and Intelligence Committees

Senator Lankford, thanks very much for taking the time today.

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: Glad to be with you.

SCIUTTO: You heard DNI Clapper today say in those hearings that there is no doubt that Russia was behind the election interference.

As you know, the president-elect continues to express doubts very publicly. You're on the Intelligence Committee. Do you have any doubt that Russia perpetrated these attacks?

LANKFORD: No, I don't have any doubt that Russia has been engaged in trying to interfere with our election, just like they have done with other countries all around the world, all around their region.

They have been very engaged in this. What I would dispute and I have heard a lot of people comment on is that Russia was trying to hack into our voting system and actually trying to change votes.


I still hear that rumor, and that's been debunked over and over again. And I don't know of anyone actually in the intelligence community that holds to that.

SCIUTTO: No, they don't. And, in fact, I should note that Director Clapper made a point of saying that today, no evidence of hacking the voting systems, but of access to e-mails, in effect, an information op.

I wonder if I can ask you this, and I know that this gets into the classified arena. But can you describe in general terms the evidence that exists pointing the finger specifically at Russian senior leaders?

LANKFORD: No, I can't actually because that does get into classified things.

This is one of the things that President Obama brought up three weeks ago that when he said when he asked for this report and for the research around it, the American people are going to be dissatisfied with it, because we're not going to reveal sources and methods of how we know things, because that provides a greater vulnerability in the days ahead.

The administration spent the last couple of weeks trying to go through all this to determine what can be declassified. In the next week, they're going to try to release as much as they possibly can. I know DNI Clapper said today they're going to push the envelope on trying to release as much as they possibly can.

That's a positive thing. But at the end of the day, we've got to protect sources and methods.

SCIUTTO: The trouble is, you have heard the president-elect in effect use that and some of his supporters to say, where's the evidence? They won't show the evidence. We won't believe it until we see the evidence.

But, as you note, this gets into sources and methods, the most sensitive intelligence here. Donald Trump is going to be briefed himself on this tomorrow.

If he does not accept that assessment after this final briefing, will you and other Republicans hold him to account on this?

LANKFORD: So, in his own administration, Mike Pompeo, the new leader of the CIA, as he is approved in the days ahead, and multiple other individuals -- Dan Coats -- will be able to sit down and be able to walk through and have his trusted inner circle and to be able to actually give that counsel to him. We won't have to do that.

Here's the big issue, though. And I think it's a difference that a lot of people are missing. We talked about sanctions. We talked about Russian engagement. But when Donald Trump keeps identifying it's very hard to track hacking to a individual person, he is correct on that. That's why the FBI has not filed criminal charges on anyone and has not tried to actually nail it to a person, because we can't be that specific.

SCIUTTO: But they have -- to be fair, they have tracked it to a country, and that seems to be the important issue here.

LANKFORD: That's correct.

SCIUTTO: Your colleague Senator Graham today, he raised again the idea of more severe sanctions against Russia. I know that you supported the president's sanctions and have expressed possible interest in tougher sanctions.

The trouble is our president-elect doesn't even buy the premise, right, that Russia is behind these attacks. If you come with a bill presenting sanctions against Russia and President Trump vetoes that bill, will you vote to override that veto?

LANKFORD: Yes, that's speculation at this point.

I would say, we are going to continue to press for real sanctions. My concern with President Obama's sanctions is that they are very small. He's basically sanctioning the Russian intelligence operation and some of the leadership of the Russian intel organizations. Those aren't real sanctions to be able to put in place. Those are already individuals that we know mean to do harm to the United States.

He also stated that these sanctions were put in place not only for the cyber-attacks, but for one of our American diplomats that was assaulted in Moscow six months ago. And so we had this long six-month delay that many of us have tried to say, why don't we get a response?

And I would tell you those of us in the Intel Committee and those of us that are in the intel community have for years tried to press this administration to have a cyber-doctrine. Eight years later, they don't have that.


SCIUTTO: I understand that criticism. Frankly, I have heard that from Democrats as well.

But the fact is, let's look forward to this new president, because what we're setting up here for is a conflict with his own party over this key issue of what you and others have called a key issue of national security. How do you go about rectifying that?

LANKFORD: Well, I would say the first thing is let him become president of the United States and get a full explanation with his own intel team and be able to sit down and do it.

We have men and women serving around our world that are in our intel community that are very sharp, very smart people that do a terrific job and provide American safety every single day. They will never be recognized like many other people that serve our government because they are not seen by many Americans, but they do an incredible job.

Allow those individuals to be able to sit down with President Trump when he's president, rather than president-elect, and we will see how this changes.

SCIUTTO: You got those stars on the wall at CIA headquarters for CIA agents that have lost their lives in the field.

Senator James Lankford, we do appreciate you taking the time.

LANKFORD: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: You just heard the top members of the intelligence community clearly state that Russia was behind the election-related hacking. Now the Kremlin is responding. We will have that next.



[16:18:21] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

And turning now to our world lead. Russian President Vladimir Putin is not our friend, says Senator Lindsey Graham. The Republican also said that he's for throwing rocks at Russia, not the pebbles he said Obama tossed to Kremlin's way. This after intelligence officials testified today that there is no doubt that Russia was behind election-related hacking.

I want to bring in CNN senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen from Moscow.

Fred, I understand you just got new reaction from Russia to today's hearing here in Washington.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, Jim. And it's clear that the Russians were watching these hearings very,

very closely and not liking what they saw obviously. The state-run Sputnik News Network came out just a couple minutes ago actually and came with a -- with a statement saying that it was -- that Russia was correct in all of this.

Now, I also got in touch with Dmitri Peskov, who is the spokesman for Vladimir Putin, and here's what he had to say. He had to say, quote, "We have suggested cooperation on combating cyber threats numerous times. It was rejected. And we're sick and tired of those irresponsibly blaming everything on our country. There is a need for an enemy, why not try someone else?"

So, the Russians obviously saying that it wasn't them. And just to get back to that Sputnik News article, they obviously saying in that nothing new was presented in this hearing. They called the meeting, quote, "a flop" in their article. So, certainly a lot of bad blood here with the Russian reactions and they are sticking by their line saying it wasn't them and calling everything levied against them absurd, Jim.

SCIUTTO: We expect that.

[16:20:01] Is this standoff, I'm curious, helping Putin at home? Because a lot of economic problems in Russia now.

PLEITGEN: You know what, I think it is, and you're absolutely right. The economy here is in a lot of trouble. But nevertheless, we have seen since the election of Donald Trump and especially also with some of these tweets from Donald Trump questioning some of the things that we're hearing in the intelligence community, the ruble is actually going up. So, it seems those things are shoring up.

And I think one of the reasons for that is, Jim, that Vladimir Putin is seemingly finding himself in a favorable environment going forward and looking forward to the next administration. And one of the things that the Russians really are looking forward to is whether or not perhaps if there's better relations that some of the sanctions against Russia that obviously have been put in place, not just because of the hacking now, but also, of course, because of the crisis in Ukraine by the U.S. and the E.U., that there is the potential for those sanctions to possibly go away, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Who knew that Donald Trump could affect the ruble market as well?

Fred Pleitgen, thanks very much from Moscow.

House Speaker Paul Ryan making a promise that could affect thousands of American women and their health care.

Then, he's about to be the president of the United States. But Donald Trump could still end up in a courtroom. And that may not be the only legal battle he's facing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:25:39] SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

Congressional Republicans plan to strip all federal funding for Planned Parenthood early this year. This House Speaker Ryan announced just a short time ago. Ryan said it would happen as part of the Obamacare repeal process. The move certain to set off a clash in Congress, some moderate senators have opposed past efforts to gut funding for the women's health organization.

Now I want to bring in my political panel: Republican strategist and pollster, Kristen Soltis-Andersen, she's also a columnist at "The Washington Examiner". Senior politics reporter at "USA Today", Heidi Przybyla. And senior politics writer for "U.S. News and World Report", David Catanese.

Kristine, if I could begin with the Planned Parenthood news, is that going to be a difficult fight on the Hill?

KRISTEN SOLTIS-ANDERSEN, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, Republicans have never made it any secret that they are no fans of Planned Parenthood, especially during the Republican primary when the videos came out. This was a big part of Carly Fiorina's message. She rose in the polls.

At the same time, Donald Trump in Republican primary debate came out and said nice things about Planned Parenthood. So, it will be interesting to see how the administration and Congress handle this.

The other challenge Republicans are going to have is that while they feel very empowered again to do this, there are things that Planned Parenthood provides besides abortion that Republicans would be able to shift that funding to, say, community health centers to sort of make up the gap. But it's hard. You can't just flip switch. There are enough brick and mortar sort of locations that can't just be replaced.

So, I think Republicans are going to have to figure out, how do you ensure that women can still receive non-abortion forms of care outside of Planned Parenthood? If they can't solve that problem, that could make it more politically challenging.

SCIUTTO: So, another battle certainly the president, even Republicans on the Hill is, of course, Russia and hacking. And you had the country's most senior spies on the Hill today saying there is no doubt. In fact, they have less doubt today than they even had a couple of months ago.

David, it seemed to me that their audience was really one. It was Donald Trump almost today.

DAVID CATANESE, SR. POLITICS WRITER, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT: Absolutely, and he has been mostly quiet today on Twitter. I would have bet 24 hours ago that he would have tweeted at John McCain and that hearing. I'm sure he's watching.

SCIUTTO: Put intelligence in quotes again. CATANESE: Right, putting intelligence in quotes. But maybe Kellyanne

Conway got to him. Maybe some advisors did get to him. He's been relatively quiet. Maybe we'll see it later tonight.

Tomorrow, we know, if he gets the briefing, he goes in and sits down with the intelligence officials, so then he will hear it. And I think tomorrow is going to be the real test, what he comes out and how he reacts tomorrow after this formal briefing when these intelligence officials tell him what they basically he told the Senate in public testimony today. And if he disavows that, that could cause a real fault line in the Republican Party and could make it more troubling for his cabinet picks next week.

Remember, John McCain is the head of the committee that is going to steer Rex Tillerson's nomination and has already raised doubts. If they lose three Republicans, Tillerson could go down. I'm not saying it's likely, but he's playing with fire.

SCIUTTO: So, how does this play out, I wonder, Heidi? For instance on Assange, we saw a slight change in Donald Trump's view or at least his expressed view via Twitter, yesterday, praising Assange, the hacks, et cetera. Today saying, I never really liked Assange, it's what he did.

Do you envision a similar pull back on the Russia hacking intelligence? Can Donald Trump walk this back?

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER, USA TODAY: That's the problem, actually, it's no longer just the dishonest media. That's one of the down sides of Twitter for Donald Trump, is that it's right there on his Twitter account.

And, so, I think it really does, like David said, matter what he says when he comes out of here. But it does -- the optics of it and kind of the game of chicken he's playing with our intelligence agencies does not look good because what, to me, aligning himself with Julian Assange is one of the clearest signals yet that we have of just how concerned Donald Trump is about these investigations and what they could yield in terms of undermining the legitimacy of his presidency because John McCain said today, look, we don't know how this affected our elections.

We don't know that it did, but we don't know that it didn't. So, we're very much at the beginning of our discovery. But the more that Donald Trump kind of puts himself out there and aligns himself with essentially the Russian KGB and Julian Assange over our intelligence agencies, it makes it harder for him to walk it back, especially if the information doesn't reflect well on --

SCIUTTO: You just described that very sensitive nerve for Donald Trump, the idea we don't know. It could have affected the election, which the sense is that he reads that as a -- an insult to his victory.

SOLTIS ANDERSEN: Yes, and I think that's why today it was so important to have it come out. Look, we don't have evidence that voting machines were hacked.