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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Obama Awards Biden Presidential Medal of Freedom; Biden: He, Obama Briefed on Russia Claims; Biden Confirms Obama, VP Were Briefed On Unsubstantiated Claims Against Trump; Trump's Nominees Contradict His Campaign Rhetoric; FBI, Justice Department To Be Investigated In Clinton Case; Trump To Transfer Business To Sons, Not Selling. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired January 12, 2017 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And as Gloria recalls, there were complaints by David Plouffe, the campaign manager in 2008, that the bench for picking a V.P. wasn't that great.
[16:30:04] But, truly, it is -- as Gloria says, I can't recall a president and vice-president who are ending their time together so close. Certainly Clinton-Gore, there were lots of tensions, Bush- Cheney, many tensions. I could go on and on. This really does seem like two men who are going to keep in touch.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: There is no question about it and there is nothing like it for the reason he said. It's usually about political expediency. Kennedy picking Johnson, they don't get along. You know, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey didn't get along all that well, although not too bad.
This is totally different. This is a love relationship.
Often we talk about Barack Obama not having a lot of friends in Washington, D.C., not you know, running around Capitol Hill or Georgetown. He has forged a deep personal friendship with Joe Biden. He may actually be a member of his family in his own mind.
In fact, President Obama in Chicago at his farewell address, Jake, said that, that he's like a brother. He's a kindred spirit. This is a remarkable tale and their friendship is going to continue as they leave Washington this January.
TAPPER: Michelle Kosinski, at the White House this was a surprise, this bestowing of the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Obama on his Vice President Joe Biden.
How much of a surprise was it for others at the White House?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, among staffers, I mean they're not saying anything about it right now, but beforehand, I mean, it was a surprise announcement that this was going to be a farewell event. We knew that there would be a lot of people in there. But the way that the chatter was, we expected to be a very nice speech, it would be emotional, maybe along the lines of what President Obama said about Joe Biden just two days ago in his farewell speech in Chicago.
So, to see, then, this turn into the awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, I think that's what makes this so special. Nobody here expected it. Obviously, Joe Biden was surprised. And you could see it in his face and the emotion in his eyes as this came about.
I mean, I think it speak to the relationship not only in the words that were said by President Obama, but the impromptu speech then that was given by Biden after the award. I mean, he didn't have any of that prepared. And I think that's where the real feeling behind this shines through.
TAPPER: Dana Bash here with me in studio. And one cannot talk about Joe Biden without talking about the tragedies that he has overcome.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Unbelievable.
TAPPER: In 1972, having just been elected to the Senate, his wife and small daughter were killed in a car accident. And his two sons were injured. They recovered. He remarried, and then just about a year and a half ago, he lost his oldest son Beau Biden, the attorney general of Delaware.
And it's not just those tragedies that give him the sake of a larger than life character with a larger than life Shakespearean almost story behind him, but the fact that he has overcome so much and that he has been such a source of comfort, you meet people in Washington, D.C. who have on both sides of the aisle who have experienced personal loss and they have stories about Vice President Biden reaching out to them, sharing his grief with them and only in a way that somebody with that grief can understand. And it's really remarkable.
BASH: It is remarkable. I don't want to giveaway confidences, but just a couple weeks ago I was having a conversation with a Washington figure who had just -- who was almost shaking, had just come in from that very conversation with Joe Biden about a sick relative. Biden took 45 minutes to talk to them, how to talk to that relative, the way to comfort them, the way to talk them through what was going to be the relative's final days.
And you're right, you hear that all the time. And the fact is you can see behind us the capital, after he had those tragedies, he wasn't 30 when he was elected. He was 30 when he was sworn into the Senate. He did not ever stay here. He went home on Amtrak every single night that he could.
TAPPER: Probably the reason Amtrak still has funding, to be honest.
BASH: Actually it's true. To Delaware, to be with his family because he understood because of the tragedy that he faced so early, how precious it was to be able to spend time with his babies, not to mention his family as it grew as he got older.
But the other thing is, you and I covered him before he was vice president in the Senate behind us. And he was that same guy. He definitely had a reputation, love him or hate him, for not knowing when to stop. He was a classic senator.
TAPPER: Talk a lot.
BASH: Because he knew how to talk.
[16:35:01] But also somebody who understood how to shape legislation.
And just beyond the personal, I was thinking about Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader Republican who gave his farewell address. There have been a lot of farewell addresses to Joe Biden, a couple of weeks ago in the Senate, saying, my staff knows when I say "get Joe on the phone," it means it's time to do business.
BASH: Time to make a deal.
So, he knew how to make deals. He mentioned that, that President Obama lived up to that promise, that he was going to actually be able to get stuff done and legislate. And he did.
TAPPER: A master of the Senate in many ways.
And, Gloria Borger, you just received reaction from someone who works for the vice president.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I did. I was texting with someone.
The staff knew but, of course, the vice-president didn't, as you saw with his reaction. And I'm told this was the president's idea, that he decided that he wanted to give this to Biden, that he knew how meaningful it would be to the vice-president.
Don't forget, the vice-president has been a creature of Washington and been at many of these ceremonies himself. And the president said to his staff, I would like to do this and I would like to present this to Joe Biden.
So, some members of his staff knew and they set up this artifice that he was going to go to yet another good-bye ceremony and instead the ceremony was about him.
TAPPER: Very moving celebration of the vice president and his decades of public service.
Thanks one and all for talking to me about it. We have some more breaking news about the Vice President Joe Biden who is now weighing in what he and President Obama were told about that intelligence briefing having to do with Donald Trump in Russia. That story is next.
[16:40:33] TAPPER: Welcome back.
We have some breaking news. Vice President Joe Biden now confirming a story that broke here on CNN.
CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez joins me now.
And, Evan, on Tuesday, you, Jim Sciutto, Carl Bernstein and I, we broke the story the top intelligence officials provided information to President Obama and Trump about this uncorroborated dossier written by an intelligence officer. They provided a two-page synopsis of it.
In the synopsis, Russians claim, and this is claim, to have damaging information about the president elect and also that there were extensive exchanges of information with the Trump campaign last year. Again, uncorroborated information.
But the intelligence officials thought the source was credible enough to tell President Obama and President-elect Trump about it.
Just a few minutes ago, Vice President Biden confirmed our story.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. Vice President Joe Biden is confirming that he and President Barack Obama were briefed last week by intelligence officials on substantiated claims that Russia may have compromising information on President- elect Donald Trump.
CNN first reported that the nation's top intelligence chiefs provided both the president and president-elect with a two-page synopsis of these claims which came from a 35-page report compiled by a former British intelligence operative based on Russian sources. Intelligence agencies appended a two-page summary of the unverified allegations to documents that were prepared for the briefing on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Joe Biden's office confirmed that the vice president told reporters this afternoon that he and Obama were briefed about the claims, but that neither Biden or Obama asked for any more information about them. Biden's office also said that the vice-president told reporters that intelligence leaders felt obligated to tell Obama simply because they were planning to on informing Mr. Trump as well. Biden also said he read the entire 35-page report.
These comments by the vice-president are the first by any top government official confirming that they were told about these allegations as part of their intelligence briefing. On Wednesday night, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called Trump to try to diffuse tensions after the president-elect accused the intelligence agencies of leaking information about the dossier.
Clapper issued a rare public statement after his call with the president-elect, expressing dismay at the leaks and making it clear that he did not believe the intelligence community had anything to do with what he called a private security document that contained these claims about Trump. Now, he added that the intelligence community has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions, Clapper said. However, part of our obligation is to ensure that the policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Evan Perez, thank you so much for that update.
For more, I am joined by CNN chief national chief correspondent Jim Sciutto.
Jim, as Evan just said, the vice-president is not the only public official who has essentially confirmed our story.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I think we should note, the importance of this and the rarity of this, two people were physically inside these highly classified briefings, one, the vice-president, two, the director of national intelligence are now confirming what until earlier were people commenting on background in light of the classified nature of this information. But they have now come out on the record to confirm that this was brought up in those briefings. Not that these allegations are true, but they were brought up, indicating that they were important enough to bring up. But also I should note contradicting what the president-elect has said about these briefings and many in the Trump team.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): The same day that president-elect Trump accused CNN of reporting fake news --
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: It's all fake news. It's phony stuff.
SCIUTTO: -- the nation's top spy confirmed CNN's report that the intelligence community presented Trump with information on claims that Russia has compromising information on him.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper saying in a statement, quote, "part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security."
Director Clapper also told Mr. Trump that the intelligence community is not to blame for leaking the allegations, saying in the statement, quote, "I expressed my profound dismay at the leaks that have been appearing in the press. I do not believe the leaks came from within the intelligence community." Apparently, an effort to diffuse tensions after Trump accused the intelligence chiefs Wednesday of leaking the claims intentionally.
[16:45:09] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. I think it's a disgrace. And I say that, and I say that, and that's something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.
SCIUTTO: Trump tweeted about his conversation with Clapper saying, quote, "James Clapper called me yesterday to denounce the false and fictitious report that was illegally circulated, made up, phony facts, too bad!" That is actually a contradiction of Clapper's public statement. Intelligence Community has not made a judgment, it says, on the veracity of the allegations. President Obama was also presented with the claims and reportedly dismissed them. Today, Vice- President Biden telling print reporters, quote, "the President was like, what does this have to do with anything?" Biden said, "neither of us asked for any detail."
MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE: Look, there are - a number of very serious things that have taken place.
SCIUTTO: Today the man that President-elect Trump has chosen to lead the CIA told senators that the agency would continue to explore the allegations.
POMPEO: I promise I will pursue the facts wherever they take us.
SCIUTTO: Still senators question Pompeo's judgment on what constitutes credible information. During Pompeo's nomination hearing --
ANGUS KING, UNITED STATES SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF MAINE: Leaked by WikiLeaks.
SCIUTTO: Senator Angus King pointed to this tweet in which Pompeo equates WikiLeaks with proof.
KING: Do you think WikiLeaks is a reliable source of information?
POMPEO: I do not.
KING: And the fact that you used the word proof, need proof, that would indicate that you did think it was a credible source of information.
POMPEO: Senator King, I have never believed that WikiLeaks was a credible source of information.
KING: Well, how do you explain your Twitter?
POMPEO: I'd have to go back and take a look at that, Senator. But I can assure you, I have some deep understanding of WikiLeaks and I have never viewed it as a credible source of information for the United States or for anyone else.
SCIUTTO: One place where the nominee, Mike Pompeo, was very clear, he made it clear that he thinks that Russia is a threat, that Russia, in his view, was behind the election-related hacking. And this is something we've heard from all of Donald Trump's National Security nominees. They make that point very clear, which we should note is something that Donald Trump has not said explicitly. He said, he -- I think Russia's behind the hacking, but he has not said as they have that he's very concerned about the threat from Russia.
TAPPER: Two different degrees, of course, Pompeo and General Mattis who's up for Pentagon Secretary strongly Tillerson less so president --
SCIUTTO: Tillerson less, no, you're right - you're right. But they do -- and another thing I will say and I think it is worth noting, all of them have expressed complete confidence in the Intelligence Community, which is again, a message contrary to many of the comments -- public comments we've heard from the President-elect.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD ANCHOR: Interesting. Jim Sciutto, thank you so much. Let's bring in our panel to talk about this all. Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist, CNN political analyst and USA Today columnist, Kirsten Powers. And A. B. Stoddard associate editor and columnist at RealClearPolitics. Thanks one and all for being here. Mollie, let me start with you. And some of the points of divergence as Jim just enumerated, having to do with General Mattis and Mike Pompeo up for CIA director and others, with President-elect Trump. It's interesting, and one way I suppose it could be seen as a sign of confidence and strength, to surround yourself with people you don't necessarily agree with.
MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST SENIOR EDITOR: Well, certainly people are getting a big idea about what Donald Trump's views are based on what he says. It's also good to look at who he's putting into these positions. You can't just say what his views are based on when he flies off on his Twitter handle. And in fact, it is very comforting to see the people that he's surrounding himself with. These are much more conventional picks, these are people who are very tough on Russia. I don't think anyone worries about General Mattis being tough on Russia. And when you listen to their testimony, when they're talking about how they, of course, concede that Russia was meddling, and they show awareness of all these other problems, it sort of reminds me of Teddy Roosevelt's big thing about, "speak softly but carry a big stick." He negotiated peacefully but had a very tough military stick to threaten with. Nobody could accuse Donald Trump of speaking softly, but maybe speaking sweetly to Russia, but carrying a big stick.
TAPPER: Yes. Interesting if there is a rhyme and reason behind it then maybe Donald Trump perceives himself as the good cop surrounded by bad cop, bad cop, bad cop, bad cop.
HEMINGWAY: At least in this case.
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And he's also -- I mean, but the policy is dictated by the President, not by people that he appoints. And so, that's really the question. The question is, is he just expecting these people to fall in line once they are working for him? He likes lots of things about them, maybe he thinks they're good leaders, that they have good judgment, they have good relationships, these kinds of things. But does it really mean that - I mean, I think we have to go with what Donald Trump says versus what his -- what the people he puts in places. I mean, do people really believe that his view is the view -- the same view on Russia as James Mattis? I mean, it doesn't seem to be.
TAPPER: And of course, this will come up probably the first time if the senate passes a bill to impose new sanctions on Russia for the alleged cyber-attacks on the United States. And also there are all these questions right now going on Capitol Hill because of what the intelligence officials are saying about what the Russians are claiming, uncorroborated reports about their relationship with Donald Trump.
[16:50:06] A. B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS CHIEF EDITOR AND COLUMNIST: Right. And pursuit of that is going to color everything. Donald Trump took great pains to filibuster during his press conference and he's very effective at it, to make sure he didn't answer the sanction's question. Tillerson, we all heard he is worried about sanctions, having adverse effect on American business. He doesn't seem to -- supportive going further. So that question really is still up in the air. And so, while Mollie is right, the word comforting comes to mind, I mean, republicans are so comforted by what they've heard from Tillerson, Pompeo and Mattis. Democrats are too. Neither side are saying it because republicans are trying to just pretend this was all going to happen anyway. Democrats are going to oppose these people anyway probably in large numbers. But on the question of Russia, there is so much more comfort than there was a week ago. But when it comes to sanctions, when it comes to us moving troops into Poland and strong sharp response from Putin, what will be the response of the Trump administration? What will be the posture, and ultimately we still don't know.
TAPPER: And fascinating. Mollie, Kirsten and A. B., thank you so much, one and all. Appreciate it.
The Justice Department internal watch dog announced this afternoon that they're looking into how the Justice Department and the FBI handled their inquiry into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server during the Presidential campaign. That investigation, of course, a big political story in the 2016 election. The Justice Department, Inspector General says that he will review whether the FBI followed policy in the probe. The republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Congressman, Jason Chaffetz of Utah joins me now. Congressman, good to see you, thanks for joining us as always.
JASON CHAFFETZ, UNITED STATES CONGRESSMAN FROM UTAH: Hey, Jake. Glad to be here.
TAPPER: So, what do you think - what do you think of this move by the Justice Department, Inspector General, to look into how justice and the FBI handled these matters involving Hillary Clinton last year?
CHAFFETZ: I wholeheartedly support it. I think Michael Horowitz, the Inspector General is a man of great integrity. I think justice is what we all want to prevail. There are questions on both sides of the aisle about timing and who they met with and information that was put out. And so, it's not just about Director Comey, this review I think should also look at the legislative liaison, Mr. Kavslik giving advance Information. It should look into, why did the Attorney General meet with Bill Clinton, President Bill Clinton days before this announcement if somebody that was the subject of an investigation? There are a lot of questions. And then the timing of why all this happened, I think it's -- I think everybody really wants to know.
TAPPER: And so, obviously, you think there are actions and behaviors within the FBI or Justice Department that merit further scrutiny, you just enumerated some.
CHAFFETZ: Oh, sure.
TAPPER: What about some on the democratic side of the isle, the announcement by James Comey 10 days before the election of the e-mails that have been found in Anthony Weiner's computer or etcetera, also worthy of further scrutiny?
CHAFFETZ: Yes, I do think that's a legitimate question. If I was on the democratic side of the aisle, I'd be going nuts over that. I think Director Comey had a duty and an obligation. He made a commitment under oath on the republican side of the aisle. If he didn't give us that disclosure, we would have been, you know, yelling and screaming about that. But then, how do you review literally what I've heard at least in the press hundreds of thousands of documents in such a short amount of time when it took almost a year to go through a much smaller number? So, I - there are a lot of questions, legitimate questions, and for the sake of justice, air those out. That's what we do as a nation. We are self-critical. We do take a critical look. I don't think it was the factor in swaying the election, but I think it was a factor and we should look at it.
TAPPER: You obviously held the -- you head the committee, the government reform and house oversight committee, that tries to offer oversight of the federal government. I'm wondering, there's been so much discussion in the last week about these allegations, that the chiefs of the intelligence divisions presented the President Obama, presented to President-elect Trump. There's been so much push back by the Trump camp about the intelligence officials politicizing this intelligence. Is -- are these matters that you and your committee will review?
CHAFFETZ: I really have to leave that to the Intel committee. The intelligence committee led by Devin Nunes out of California, Adam Schiff on the democratic side, when it comes to sources, methods, the CIA, the NSA, those types of things, they really have to be the ones to lead out. You're going to have to look at highly, highly classified information. It's just something that we're not set up to do. We can investigate anything anywhere, any time, but there are certain aspects of sources and methods that they are really -- so us, no. The Intel committee, yes.
TAPPER: And lastly, sir, briefly if you could, yesterday President- elect Trump announced his plan to try to avoid conflicts of interest with his business. As you know the director of the office of government ethics called the plan wholly inadequate. Is this something that concerns you and that that your committee might look into either?
[16:55:04] CHAFFETZ: Look, we will always keep a watchful eye, but the commitment from the President has to be -- to abide by the law. Under section 208 of the criminal code, the President is exempt from most of these conflicts of interest. So, I know the democrats have been flailing about this, that and the other, but it seems to me that Donald Trump is bending over backwards to do everything he can. But he has to abide by the law and he's exempt from most of these conflicts of interest. So, I thought it was very premature. The office of government ethics to essentially be in the spin room saying, hey, I hate this. When he hasn't even actually looked at it or reviewed it. This is an Obama donor who was very supportive of Hillary Clinton in some of the actions that he took, and I think that the ethics office is supposed to be impartial and seems to have a partial bent to it right now. So, very concerned about that.
TAPPER: Congressman Chaffetz, thanks so much. Appreciate your time as always.
CHAFFETZ: Thank you.
TAPPER: So be sure to turn in tonight for a special CNN town hall with House Speaker Paul Ryan. He will join me and a live studio audience to answer questions about the incoming Trump administration and congressional agenda. How Trump will affect you? You can see it only on CNN tonight at 9:00 Eastern. We're going to have much more ahead on the breaking news today, the Vice-President Joe Biden now weighing in on what he and President Obama were told about Donald Trump and Russia by the intelligence chiefs. Stay with us.