Return to Transcripts main page

INSIDE POLITICS

Intel Chiefs Testify on Russian Hacks; Graham Talks about Undermining Intel Experts; Trump's Intel Comments. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 5, 2017 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:00:00] SEN. TIME KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: Or malice that would kind of be -- that -- these are stories that most fourth graders would find incredible, that a national security adviser would find them believable enough to share them causes me great concern.

Second, go back to Joe Dunford. He talked about Russia as a potential adversary because they had capacity and they have intent. With respect to our cyber, I think we have capacity. But I think what we've shown is, we haven't yet developed an intent about how, when, why, whether we're going to use the capacity we have. So if we're going to shore up our cyber defense, if I can just one word, you think what we really need to shore up is our capacity or do we need to shore up our intent?

JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, that's, as we look at foreign adversaries, that is always the issue is capability and intent. And certainly with -- in the case of the Russians, they do pose an existential threat to the United States. And I agree with Chairman Dunford on that.

It's probably not our place in a -- at least my place in the intelligence community to do an assessment of our intent. That's someone else's place, not mine.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), CHAIRMAN, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Senator Shaheen.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Senator Reed for holding this hearing and thank you all very much for testifying this morning and for your service to the country.

Dr. Robert Kagan testified before this committee last December with respect to Russia. And at that time, there was less information known to the public about what had happened in their interference in the elections. But one of the things he pointed out was that Russia is looking at interference in elections, whether that be cyber or otherwise, the whole messaging piece that you discussed with Senator Heinrich. As another strategy, along with their military action and economic and other diplomatic methods, to undermine western values, our euro-Atlantic alliance and the very democracies that make up that alliance. Is that something that you agree with, Director Clapper?

CLAPPER: Yes, that's clearly a theme. It's certainly something that the Russians are pushing in messaging in Europe. They would very much like to drive wedges between us and western Europe, the alliances there, and between and among the countries in Europe.

SHAHEEN: And I assume that there's agreement on the panel? Does anybody disagree with that?

So one of the things that I think has emerged as I've listened to this discussion is that we don't have a strategy to respond to that kind of an effort. We don't have a strategy that's been testified with respect to cyber, but a broader strategy around messaging, around how to respond to that kind of activity. Do you agree with that?

CLAPPER: I think we -- I'm speaking personally.

SHAHEEN: Sure.

CLAPPER: This is an institutional response. And as I commented earlier to Senator McCain, I do think we need a U.S. information agency on steroids that deals with the totality of the information realm and to mount a -- in all forums and to include social media.

SHAHEEN: Can -- can I -- I'm sorry to interrupt, but can I just ask, why do you believe that hasn't happened? Director Clapper? Admiral Rogers?

CLAPPER: I -- for my part, I don't know why it hasn't. I can't answer that.

SHAHEEN: Admiral Rogers?

ADM. MICHAEL S. ROGERS, USN, COMMANDER, UNITED STATES CYBER COMMAND: From my perspective, in part because I don't think we've come yet to a full recognition of the idea that we're have to going to try to do something fundamentally different. I think we still continue to try to do some of the same traditional things we've done and expecting to do the same thing over and over again, yet achieve a different result. I don't necessarily think --

SHAHEEN: No, that's the definition of crazy. I think we've determined that.

Secretary Lettre?

MARCEL J. LETTRE, UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR INTELLIGENCE: I would just add that in this area, the capability and intent framework is useful to think about. I think it is only in the last few years that we have seen adversaries with true intent to use propaganda and the ability to reach out as terrorists are doing and try to incite and match that up with the tremendous power that social media tools allow to make that easy and simple and effective and broadly applicable.

[12:05:08] SHAHEEN: So, given that this is a strategy and given that it's aimed not just at the United States, particularly with respect to interference in our elections, but at western Europe and eastern Europe for that matter, is there an effort underway to work with our allies through NATO or otherwise? I've been to the cybersecurity center in Estonia. But there didn't seem to be a NATO agreement that this was something that we should be working on together to respond to. So is this an effort that's underway?

LETTRE: Just speaking from my lens on things, there's a lot of interest in doing that and doing it more effectively and more comprehensively, but we have not cracked the code on doing it effectively yet. And so we need to keep the pressure on ourselves and our NATO allies who are like-minded in this regard to keep improving our approach.

ROGERS: And it's also got to be much broader than just cyber.

SHAHEEN: Thank you.

Director Clapper, my time is almost up, but before you go, since this is the last opportunity we will have to hear from you, can I just ask you, do you think that the DNI needs reform?

CLAPPER: Well, I -- there's always room for improvement. You know, it -- I would never say that this is the ultimate. I do think it would be useful, though, if we're going to reform or change the DNI or change CIA, that some attention be given to, in our case, the legislative underpinnings that established the DNI in the first place and then have added additional functions and responsibilities over the years that Congress has added to our kit bag of duties. So -- but to say that, you know, we can't, there's not room for improvement, I'd never suggest that.

SHAHEEN: I appreciate that, and I certainly agree with you. I think that if there's going to be this kind of major reform, hopefully both legislators and others who have been engaged in the intelligence community will be part of that effort.

Thank you.

CLAPPER: I certainly agree the Congress, no pun intended, gets a vote here, I think.

SHAHEEN: Thank you.

MCCAIN: I know that our time has expired, and I apologize to our new members that we won't have time because you have to go. But maybe Director Clapper, since this may be, hopefully, your last appearance, do you have any reflections that you'd like to provide us with, particularly the role of Congress, or the lack of role of Congress, that -- in your years of experience?

CLAPPER: I'm going to have to be careful here.

MCCAIN: I don't think you have to be.

CLAPPER: I -- I was -- I was around in the intelligence community when the oversight committees were first established and have watched them and experienced them ever since. Congress does have, clearly, an extremely important role to play when it comes to oversight of intelligence activities. And unlike many other endeavors of the -- of the government, much of what we do, virtually all of what we do, is done in secrecy. So the Congress has a very important -- a crucial responsibility on behalf of the American people for overseeing what we do, particularly in terms of legality and a protection of (INAUDIBLE) and privacy. At risk of delving into a sensitive area, though, I do think there is a difference between oversight and micromanagement.

MCCAIN: Well, we thank you. We thank the witnesses. And this has been very helpful. And, Director Clapper, we will -- we'll be calling you again. This --

CLAPPER: Really?

MCCAIN: This meeting's adjourned.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King.

You've been listening for the past two and a half plus hours now, the Senate Armed Services Committee with a hearing obsessively called to explore the broad cyber threats against the United States. Most of the questioning, though, focusing on the Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's e-mails during the past presidential campaign. The director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, saying he has no doubt this was orchestrated by Russia, saying he feels more strongly about that today than he did when the intelligence community first issued a statement about it during the election campaign back in October.

[12:10:13] A lot to discuss. A lot of the hearing highlights to play back to you and discuss this hour. My INSIDE POLITICS panel is here with me in the studio. I'll get to them in a minute.

Let's go first live to CNN's Phil Mattingly. He has been up on Capitol Hill. Our CNN justice correspondent, Evan Perez, will also join us in just a second.

Phil, let's start with you. This is the hearing call by the Republican chairman, John McCain, who clearly, although he was very polite, he did not get into a battle publicly with Donald Trump, clearly wanted to have the intelligence community come in, make clear once again that they believe Russia meddled in the presidential election and McCain wants the president-elect, no doubt, to listen to them and to believe them.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it, John. Look, if this was a two and a half hour hearing, you could say probably two hours and 23 minutes of that were related to Russia and related specifically to the activities that the intelligence community has assessed they partake in -- or actually participated in, in the lead-up to the November 8th election.

And I think you saw an interesting balance here. On the political side of things, you've seen a lot of Republican senators who, behind the scenes, they and their advisers have told me, and told several of our reporters, have been uncomfortable with the position the president- elect has taken both on Russia in general on foreign policy, but also in his critiques and sometimes attacks on the intelligence community. I think a lot of what you saw from John McCain, who, as you noted, never actually mentioned Donald Trump, the president-elect's name throughout the course of this hearing, was to kind of make the case, to set the case up to cut down on a number of the criticisms that you've heard from the president-elect. You also saw Democrats repeatedly try and push the intelligence officials towards making that same case for them as well.

I think it's an interesting moment because so many Republicans right now empowered at this moment on Capitol Hill, in 15 days empowered in the White House as well, are trying not to cross their president- elect. They don't want to upset him as they start to move forward on their agenda. But there is no question about it, with the chairman of the committee, John McCain, you certainly saw Lindsey Graham as well, Ted Cruz even on some parts trying to make this case here that this should not be a partisan issue, that Russia should not be a country that they, as Republicans, should embrace on the foreign policy things and perhaps, most importantly, that what happened in the lead-up to the election isn't something that should be ignored.

In terms of actual news, what we heard about the report that was ordered by the Obama administration into what actually occurred. James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, confirming that report will be released early next week. Likely Monday officials have told CNN. And I think the most important part of that, several lawmakers made the case, look, our constituents don't take you at your word here. You need to go further than that. Clapper saying they are going to do their best to push the envelope on the unclassified version as much as they possibly can. It will be interesting to see what that actually looks like, John.

KING: It sure will be. Phil Mattingly for us on Capitol Hill.

Evan Perez, as you come into the conversation, to follow-up -- pick up where Phil left off. Director Clapper started by saying he wasn't going to discuss the classified report. It was presented to the president today, we are told. President-elect Donald Trump will be briefed on it tomorrow. As Phil just noted, they're going to try to release as much as they can without disclosing methods and sources and classified -- other classified, sensitive information to the public.

But as the hearing went on, Director Clapper did seem to feel a little bit more freedom --

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

KING: To be more specific and saying, yes, it was Russia. Yes, not much happens in Russia without President Vladimir Putin's approval. Did you learn anything new listening to this today?

PEREZ: Well, I think that's happed -- that's what happens in these types of hearings. You know, you get little drips and drabs of pieces of what Clapper already has prepared in this report. As a matter of fact, right at the beginning of that -- of that hearing is when the report had already been delivered to the president, and he was about to get briefed on it. So during the time that these members of Congress were questioning Clapper and other members of the intelligence community there, the president himself was getting briefed on the report that James Clapper and the DNI had prepared for him.

And key parts of this, you know, he said that, obviously the Russians -- we expect this is going to be a part of the report. He said the Russians were not just behind the extracting of the data, but were also in the dissemination part of it, including the fake news stories, some of the stuff that we've all highlighted that sort of caused outrage during the presidential campaign. He called it part of this disinformation campaign that he says continues to this day. So that's an interesting part of it. And we expect to see that to come into the report.

He also called it one of the most aggressive campaigns that he's ever seen. Obviously the Russians have been doing this going back to the 1960s. And, obviously, this country has also been involved. I think a couple senators pointed out that the United States has been a part of influencing elections overseas. But what James Clapper was saying is that this was one of the most aggressive campaigns that he has ever seen. And he also described multiple motivations, which is a very key part of this, John, as you know, because the president-elect thinks that what the intelligence community is doing is undermining his election. That's not what James Clapper is trying to do, as you heard from him. He's saying, we can't tell what caused people to pull the levers on November 8th, but we do know what the motivation was of the Russians.

[12:15:07] KING: Evan Perez, Phil Mattingly, on Capitol Hill. Thank you, gentlemen, a fascinating conversation.

To continue, with me here for INSIDE POLITICS today to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, Dan Balz of "The Washington Post," Matt Viser of "The Boston Globe," and Amy Walter of "The Cook Political Report."

This is an issue that has been with us for some time. The fact that Senator McCain wanted to have this hearing on the third day of the new Congress. We were talking, as we sat down at the table, we were listening at the end of the hearing, usually the Congress comes in, they swear themselves in, they say hello to each other and then they disappear or they go off to do business we don't much care about. This has been a very busy first Congress.

Now, the president-elect will get briefed on the classified report tomorrow. He has made no secret, he's publicly said he doubts Russia did this. He doubts Putin would be involved in this. He has disparaged the intelligence community repeatedly through tweets and some public comments. Some of what we heard today was subtle. Some of it they leave us to connect the dots or the viewers at home to connect the dots. But listen to Senator Lindsey Graham here, Republican of South Carolina, John McCain's best friend. John McCain made his points, as Phil noted, without mentioning President-elect Trump by name. Well, Lindsey Graham, he wasn't afraid to go there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Do you agree we -- agree with me that the foundation of democracy is political parties, and when one political party is compromised, all of us are compromised?

JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Yes, sir.

GRAHAM: All right. Now, as to what to do, 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's 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.

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

GRAHAM: OK. Now, as we go forward and try to deter this behavior, we're going to need your support now and in the future. So I want to let the president-elect know that it's OK to challenge the intel. You're absolutely right to want to do so. But what I don't want you to do is undermine those who are serving our nation in this arena until you're absolutely sure they need to be undermined. And I think they need to be uplifted, not undermined.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're laughing a bit because it's great theater and Senator Graham has a -- sort of an interesting banter back and forth. But, Dan, we're 15 days, two weeks away, from a new president. You have senior members of his own party essentially trying to hit him in the head with a 2x4 and say, Mr. President-elect, stop. Sop disparaging these people. Accept their findings. It seems to be pretty universal that Director Clapper again saying he had zero doubts the Russians were behind all this. It's just a fascinating moment. It's a significant national security question, a significant policy question going forward, but it's sort of a very blunt not so subtle message there to the Republican president-elect.

DAN BALZ, "THE WASHINGTON POST" : Well, all along we've had to separate the political from the -- you know, the policy, security questions. But, you know, you mentioned the 2x4. I mean I think that the senators and others in the Republican Party think that the president-elect has hit the intelligence community with a 2x4. And they are trying to respond in kind to set this up. I mean up till now what we've had are indications, statements. We are soon to get this report. The president-elect's going to get the report tomorrow. The president has is. There will be a public version of this. It will be then, at that point, this will become a very supercharged issue. What does Donald Trump do once real evidence is put out by the

intelligence community as to the specific things that the Russians did? To the degree of which they were aggressive in this and to the multiple motivations that Mr. Clapper talked about. This has all been a prelude to what is likely to be a real problem for the president- elect next week.

KING: And he has set up a situation where he begins his presidency with an adversarial relationship with the people who brief him on the most sensitive issues in the world. And Senator Graham, and I think some others did as well, mentioned that in the other days of his administration, North Korea may roll an intercontinental ballistic missile out onto a test pad that it says can reach the western part of the United States and the new president might have to decide what to do about that. And the question is, does he believe the people telling him?

AMY WALTER, "COOK POLITICAL REPORT": Right. And there was another thing that came up in this hearing very early on where McCain specifically asked Clapper and others whether Julian Assange, someone who Donald Trump now has also been saying has credibility --

KING: Right.

WALTER: Whether or not this man should be given credibility for what he's saying about the fact that Russia did not give him the e-mails that came from John Podesta's hacked account. And point blank they said, no, we do not trust Julian Assange, nor should -- they didn't say this specifically -- but nor should the president-elect trust this person.

[12:20:06] And so this is the game that I think Republicans are going to be playing for the rest -- certainly for the immediate future and it could be for the entire tenure of Donald Trump's presidency, is this idea that while they want to be with him on some of these issues when he's challenging Democrats, when he's challenging what they see as his legitimacy as president, they want to be with him. At the same time, people like McCain and Lindsey Graham are always going to be beating down the door on the issue of national security and Russia. Where the other senators end up is going to be the more interesting piece because you don't know what they're going to do with all of this.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, and you saw some of that with Tom Tillis essentially saying, listen, we've done some of this, too. The U.S. has done some of this. We live in a glass house. You saw some of that too with Cotton saying, listen, we -- he thinks that Donald Trump will be tough or Russia than Hillary Clinton would have been because of some of the statements that he made. But, my goodness, to have Lindsey Graham out there and this great theater, I imagine that's going to get a lot of coverage throughout the day.

And this idea that it could be Republicans next time. It could be another country next time. And how will Donald Trump handle that? At that point, would he believe these intelligence agencies that he has so far gone some ways into questioning and even discrediting? KING: You heard Lindsey Graham there. That was a Republican delivering

a message -- a not so subtle message to the president-elect, Donald Trump.

Let's listen to an even less subtle exchange. This is Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri. A friend of Hillary Clinton's. She was an Obama supporter in '08, but friend of Hillary Clinton here in the 2016 campaign, who was Lindsey Graham-plus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Who actually is the benefactor of someone who is about to become commander in chief trashing the intelligence community?

JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I think there is an important distinction here between healthy skepticism, which policymakers, to include policymaker number one, should always have for intelligence, but I think there's a difference between skepticism and disparagement.

MCCASKILL: And I assume that the biggest benefactors of the American people having less confidence in the intelligence community are, in fact, the actors you have named today, Iran, North Korea, China, Russia and ISIS.

CLAPPER: The intelligence community is not perfect. We are an organization of human beings, and we're prone sometimes to make errors. I don't think the intelligence community gets the credit it's due for what it does day in and day out to keep this nation safe and secure in a number of plots and to -- just one example, terrorist plots that have been thwarted, both those focused on this country and other countries.

MCCASKILL: I -- I just -- I want to thank the chairman, and I want to thank Senator Graham and others -- there have been others I can count on maybe a little bit more than one hand -- who have stood up in a nonpolitical way to defend the intelligence community over the last few weeks. The notion that the elected -- the soon elected leader of this country would put Julian Assange on a pedestal compared to the men and women of the intelligence community and the military that is so deeply embedded in the intelligence community, I think it should bring about a hue and cry, no matter whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, there should be howls. And mark my word, if the roles were reversed, there would be howls from the Republican side of the aisle.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), CHAIRMAN, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Thank you for that nonpartisan comment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Again -- again, a bit of humor at the hearing. If you get McCain and Graham in a room, there's usually a little bit of humor. But, Matt, to the point, you know, look, Claire McCaskill's a partisan

Democrat. She was laying down a very clear marker there and taking a very clear shot at the president-elect of the United States. But there is broad bipartisan befuddlement on this particular issue. We can have a debate about Trump's tax plan. We can have a debate about who Trump's going to put in the cabinet. Most of that breaks down along traditional partisan lines and partisan (INAUDIBLE).

But on this one, on his criticism of the U.S. intelligence community, his affinity to believe Putin and to say nice things about Putin, now to your point, he said in a tweet this morning, he's not saying he agrees with Julian Assange, but Julian Assange, who's often on the Kremlin paid Russian television network. Paul Ryan, the House speaker, calls him a sycophant for the Russians. Was a guest on Sean Hannity this week and he says, oh, no, we didn't get this from the Russians. Everyone at that hearing essentially saying, consider the source. That part is befuddling to people. Why is Donald Trump so suspect of men and women who risk their lives every day. And if you look at the three gentlemen at that hearing, they have served Democrats and Republicans going back years. Why is he so suspect of people who work for this country, patriots, and so has such an affinity for the Russians?

[12:25:16] MATT VISER, "BOSTON GLOBE": And you're really seeing sort of a test of power in the different branches of the United States government at this point where Congress, you know, really -- I mean, it was a two and a half hour hearing. As Evan Perez indicated, there -- there were sort of drips and drabs of news in it. But the big takeaway is a two and a half hour defense of the intelligence community from both sides of the aisle. And sort of punching back at Donald Trump and his tweets and his mentality of questioning them, which sets up sort of an interesting dynamic coming in. It also sets an interesting dynamic tomorrow when Donald Trump was briefed by Clapper. In the room will be (INAUDIBLE) who is -- or, I'm sorry, Mike Flynn, who is Trump's national security adviser, who was fired, pushed out by Clapper. So there's a lot of internal tensions within Trump's orbit on this and that briefing tomorrow will be quite interesting, too.

KING: Right.

BALZ: John, I think one -- one question that's still a little hard to decipher is the motivation of Donald Trump in the way he's handled this. Is this because he fears there will be questions consistent and persistent about the legitimacy of his presidency? Or is it specifically about his view of Russia and Putin?

KING: Right.

BALZ: It's all mixed up together at this point. But which one is the real reason that he has taken such consistent and public stance skeptical of the intelligence finding?

KING: Right, so ego -- you know, questioning the legitimacy of the election, or a very, very, very, very different world view than just about everybody else in his party, particularly. HENDERSON: Right, and what does this mean for the way he would govern

and how, if there is bad news on his watch, for instance, if the economy only creates 70,000 jobs and the unemployment rate goes up, does he then go after the BLS? I mean is that how he's going to govern in this antagonistic way to agencies in his own administration that he's supposed to lead?

KING: Right. And there's the credibility issue.

HENDERSON: Yes.

KING: We'll discuss this more. We're going to have to take a break in a minute, Amy, but one of the issues here repeatedly raised was if Donald Trump keeps questioning the credibility of people who work for the United States government, what does, you know, the man or woman watching at home think when he does face a big national security decision. They say, wait a minute, he's asking on the recommendations of the people he says aren't believable.

WALTER: Well, let's be clear, part of the reason that Donald Trump was elected was that the American people does believe that big parts of the government have let them down.

KING: Right.

WALTER: They do not have the credibility that they had 20, 30, 40 years ago. And so that has certainly benefitted him. He is living in that world, as we all are.

And the other thing, the Republican Party came together immediately after Donald Trump was elected. They came together as voters to elect him. But we're starting to see the cracks that we'd seen throughout the campaign between certain parts of that Republican coalition. Lindsey Graham, John McCain are always going to be on one side. Donald Trump may or may not be with them.

KING: The election settles who is the president and we should be clear, everyone at the hearing said there's no -- there's zero, zero, zero evidence that Russia changed votes. Meddled in the election, yes. Impacted the results, more of an open question. Much more to dig into in this hearing.

And we'll get to that question Dan Balz just raised, will Donald Trump change his view after he hears from the intelligence chief?

Much more of our coverage just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)