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GOP Leader: No Evidence of Trump Tower Wiretapped; Russian Spies Indicted for Massive Yahoo! Hack; Jeff Sessions Says He Didn't Inform Trump of a Wiretap; Graham Warns Comey on Trump Wiretapping Claim. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired March 15, 2017 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00]UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you elaborate a little on the concern you mentioned earlier about ODNI not giving you the technological setup, some of the intelligence underlying the conclusions?

REP. DEVIN NUNES, (R-), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The office of the director of National Intelligence, which is overseeing how we have access to these documents, one of the simple things that I think everyone should understand is that we should be able to get a basic type of computer system out there to be able to catalogue all of the data that went into the intelligence report that was produced at the beginning of January, whatever that date was, January 6th or 7th. I just think that's a no-brainer. Why they would even stop us on this is beyond me.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is there any reason? Are they stalling? Are they saying you can't have access to those?

NUNES: The bottom line is that we don't have a computer out there to actually catalogue the information.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: If I could add, too, one of the reasons why this is significant, and obviously, there was a big issue with the agency over the Senate's use of a computer and whether that computer was viewed by the agency while it was in the process of review of the enhanced interrogation techniques, we feel a real sense of urgency about conducting this investigation not only thoroughly but as swiftly as possible, given the magnitude of the investigation. So anything that slows us down is a problem. I'm confident this will be ultimately resolved, but the longer it takes to resolve it, you know, the longer it takes us to do our work. And we had to work through the issue of gaining access to the full committee of the Gang of Eight materials. Now we have to work through the issue of getting access to computers to do our work. We're also working our way through the budget process here to get increased staff to help us with the investigation. It's going to take time to get those staff cleared. So these are all some of the challenges we're dealing with in trying to do this expeditiously.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How will you get the information?

SCHIFF: Right now, I was there yesterday taking a lot of handwritten notes, which is not ideal. And obviously, we have to leave our notes behind. At the end of the day, what we hope to do when the investigation is finished is compile a report. And having the information that we go through indexed with our comments will be very important in terms of putting that report together. So this will be resolved, hopefully, what the chairman and I are saying today will help nudge the agency along in making it happen.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Has the FBI actually confirmed there is an investigation ongoing into Russia and the Trump campaign?

NUNES: Look, we're not going to get into what the FBI tells us or doesn't tell us, as the ranking member said earlier. But as you can imagine, this committee's long -- has a long track record of trying to shine the light on the Russian government and their activities. We as the House Intelligence Committee have long had an investigation into Russian activities, especially cyber activities. That continues. And clearly, I think the concerns we've raised over cyberattacks alone, we would hope that many throughout the I.C. are conducting investigations into the Russians and their ongoing bad activity around the globe.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you have any evidence that there were contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia?

NUNES: I don't have any evidence of that. We're not going to get into -- this gets to the whole issue of incidental collection. Who else was talking to the Russian ambassador, this is a slippery slope. I think you just need to let the appropriate agencies get us the information in a timely manner, which I agree with the ranking member on, the more they stall, the more they make it more complicated for us, the slower the investigation goes and the longer it takes to answer your questions.

SCHIFF: I do want to say on that question, because Director Clapper was asked a similar question. I cannot answer that question in the same way. Certainly, not with the same categorical nature of the response. So I don't share that summary conclusion. That's about all I can say on that subject.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you been able to get access to ODNI computers in past investigations? Is this something you typically get stalled on or is this unprecedented?

NUNES: This is a little unprecedented in terms of the whole committee now has access, all the members on the Intelligence Committee have access to what are called the Gang of Eight source documents. We now have investigators out there, many members from my side and the ranking member's side have been out there. And the challenge we're having now is that we need to be able to catalogue all of this in a simple way. If not, it's going to take us longer to get through it if we have to do it all by hand.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You said several crimes have been committed here. But it's not illegal to unmask a name if it deals with an investigation having to do with national security, right? So I wanted you to expound on that.

And secondly, Congressman Schiff, you said that the FBI hadn't been cooperating, and then you said that they had started cooperating. What has occurred in between those two statements?

[11:35:25] NUNES: As it relates to crimes that have been committed, I am quite confident that it is illegal to leak FISA-collected names of Americans. That's illegal. It's also illegal to leak any classified, additional classified information. So that has happened. It remains the crimes that we know that have been committed, which I'm sure we'll get into more of that on Monday.

Mr. Schiff? There was a second question.

SCHIFF: With respect to the second question, the concern that I raised a couple of weeks ago was that during our hearing with Director Comey, a number of the questions members had, the director declined to answer. It wasn't that I was unsatisfied with the content of the answer. It was that he simply declined. And I expressed it at the time, my hope that the director would go back to the Department of Justice and be prepared to come back to us and respond more fully to the questions we're asking. The FBI has now been more forthcoming on a number of the issues I was concerned about. There are still a number of other issues that remain to be ironed out. But we're certainly getting more cooperation than we were initially.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Does any of the incidental collection --

MARY MCCORD, ACTING ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: The defendants include two officers of the Russian Federal Security service, an intelligence and law enforcement agency of the Russian federation, and two criminal hackers with whom they conspired to accomplish these intrusions. Dimitry Jokachia (ph) and Igor Sustran (ph), both FSB officers, protected, directed, facilitated and paid criminal hackers to collect information through computer intrusions in the United States and elsewhere. They worked with co-conspirators, Alexi Falon (ph) and Kareem Baratah (ph), to hack into the computers of American companies providing e-mail and internet-related services, to maintain unauthorized access to those computers and to steal information, including information about individual users and the private contents of their accounts. The defendants targeted Yahoo! accounts of Russian and U.S. government officials, including cybersecurity, diplomatic, and military personnel. They also targeted Russian journalists, numerous employees of other providers whose networks the conspirators sought to exploit, and employees of financial services and other commercial entities.

Falon (ph) has been indicted twice before in the United States for three intrusions into e-commerce companies that victimized millions of customers. He has been one of the FBI's most wanted cyber criminals for more than three years. Falon's notorious criminal conduct and a pending Interpol red notice did not stop at the FSB officers who, instead of detaining him, used him to break into Yahoo!'s networks. Meanwhile, Falon (ph) used his relationship with the two FSB officers and his access to Yahoo! to commit additional crimes to line his own pockets with money. Specifically, Falon (ph) used his access to Yahoo! to search for and steal financial information such as gift card and credit card numbers from users' e-mail accounts. He also gained access to more than 30 million Yahoo! accounts whose contacts he then stole to facilitate an e-mail scam.

With these charges, the Department of Justice is continuing to send a powerful message that we will not allow individuals, groups, nation states, or a combination of them to compromise the privacy of our citizens, the economic interests of our companies, or the security of our country.

For those who may not be familiar with the FSB, it is an intelligence and law enforcement agency and a successor to the Soviet Union's KGB. The FSB unit that the defendants worked for, the Center for Information Security, also known as Center 18, is also the FBI's point of contact in Moscow for cybercrime matters. The involvement and direction of FSB officers with law enforcement responsibilities makes this conduct that much more egregious. There are no free passes for foreign state-sponsored criminal behavior.

[11:40:03] Through the work of the National Security Division, the FBI, the United States attorneys offices around the country, we continue to pursue national security cyberthreats using all available tools to investigate malicious activity and attribute it to the country, agency, and even the individuals involved. When possible, and supported by the evidence, we intend to charge those individuals and bring them to justice.

As I wrap up, I am also pleased to announce that a fourth co- conspirator charged in the indictment, Kareem Baratah (ph), was arrested just yesterday in Canada on a U.S. government provisional arrest warrant.

I would like to thank all of those who worked diligently to bring the investigation to this point, including the men and women of the National Security Division, the FBI, and the U.S. attorneys offices for the northern district of California, and the Criminal Division's Office of International Affairs for their tireless work.

I would also like to extend a special thanks to Yahoo! and Google, whose customers were targeted, and who cooperated with law enforcement.

It is very important for corporations around the country to know that when you are going against the resources and backing of a nation state, it is not a fair fight, and it is not a fight you are likely to win alone. But you do not have to go it alone. We can put the full capabilities of the United States behind you to make cases like this. But we cannot do it without your help.

At this time, I would like to introduce FBI executive assistant director, Paula Bates (ph), who will provide additional --

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So we've got two big headlines that have happened just now in these dueling press conferences. First, what you just saw, the Department of Justice bringing charges against four individuals, announcing formally charges against four individuals including, importantly here, two officers of the FSB, two Russian spies. That is a very big deal with regard to the breach, according to this case, at least 500 million Yahoo! accounts that were hacked, a story that was covered in a very big way, but now we are hearing the formal charges. That's happening at the Department of Justice.

The other big headline we need to return to, though, is from Capitol Hill. The heads of the House Intelligence Committee speaking with reporters and for the first time in the most definitive manner we have heard yesterday, I would argue, we heard from the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee saying this in part, "I don't think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower." That's a very big deal.

Let's discuss this right now. Mark Preston, CNN political analyst is here with me.

Mark, let's start here. I think it's important, Manu Raju had a great question to Devin Nunes, trying to clear up exactly what he was saying. I want to play this for our viewers, because this was a key moment, then let's discuss. Listen here.


RAJU: You said pretty clearly that you do not think that Trump Tower was tapped. What gives you that confidence to say that --


NUNES: I actually said that last week. I think the challenge here is, is that, you know, President Obama wouldn't physically go over and wiretap Trump Tower, so now you have to decide, as I mentioned to you last week, are you going to take the tweets literally. And if you are, then clearly the president was wrong. But if you're not going to take the tweets literally, and if there's a concern that the president has about other people, other surveillance activities, looking at him or his associates, either appropriately or inappropriately, we want to find that out. I think it's all in the interpretation of what you believe.


BOLDUAN: I would say, Mark, for the first time, what is this, now 11 days after those tweets, you hear both the Republican and Democrat on this committee saying in their own way that they see no evidence to support what the president has claimed, that Obama wiretapped him in Trump Tower.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And let's add to that. Within the hour, we saw Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Richmond at a conference speaking to reporters. When asked if he had briefed Donald Trump on any of this, he definitively said no. This is where we open the Pandora's box of questions. Why did President Trump do this? Where did he get his information? What is going to be the White House reaction in the next hour or so? BOLDUAN: Exactly.

PRESTON: And really, what's going to happen when President Trump lands in Detroit, Michigan, or when he heads down to Tennessee where he goes to these campaign rallies? Is he going to try to turn this inward and say that this is the mainstream media going after Donald Trump, that this is a political witch hunt? I put my money on that, actually, that he will try to embrace this still and not back down.

BOLDUAN: He can embrace it all he wants, but he now has --


[11:44:53] BOLDUAN: -- the facts are the facts, and the statements coming from the Republican House chairman of the Intelligence Committee speak for themselves at this moment.

Patrick Healy, CNN political analyst, "New York Times," joining us now.

We've got a whole host of folks that just popped up. Glad you guys are here.

Patrick, now to you.

To Mark's point, what we heard from the White House yesterday from Sean Spicer is that the White House is extremely confident that the Department of Justice has evidence to support what they've been claiming. This seems to fly in the face of this. And this isn't just the end of it. They are now going to have the FBI director, James Comey, will be testifying in a public hearing on Monday, and you know he's going to be asked this.

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. I mean, it's going to be the major question, the major headline coming out of this. And it's going to be, you know, is Director Comey now saying what Attorney General Sessions was indicating today, which is they don't know where the president essentially was getting his information. But Comey may say it was wrong. You go to the comments that we just heard at the press conference, and we're left with the question, you know, should American voters take the president I guess at his word. You know, what does "literal" mean? For decades, we've assumed the president and the White House chooses their words carefully. Usually, their words are parsed with a microscope. What Donald Trump is trying to do with the presidency is say I can tweet however I want, I can make whatever claims I want, baseless or otherwise. But from his point of view, as long as he's getting a message to his supporters, as long as he's making the point to his supporters that the media is beating up on him or president somehow, you know, wiretapping him, that is his goal, that is sort of the achievement. I think what you're going to see today, maybe in Detroit or when he finally takes questions about this, is really him answering in a way that he thinks will at least please or rally his supporters to his side.

BOLDUAN: But again, the Intelligence Committees are involved to investigate leaks. Kristen Soltis Anderson, I'll bring you into this.

This was not a leak. It was an accusation, an explosive claim raised by the president himself, and also raised by the president himself is that Congress needs to look into it. Well, Congress has looked into it and it seems they have the answer. Should the president apologize here?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Right now this investigation has about eight different angles to it. At first it was an investigation into whether or not Russia was trying to meddle in our elections. Then the investigation became about whether or not the investigation into whether or not rush was trying to meddle in our elections broke laws in the process of the investigation. That's why I think when it comes to what President Trump is going to do when he handles this, I would completely be surprised if he apologized for anything, in part because of what you kept hearing the chairman say there about incidental collection. So it's one thing to allege that the president, President Obama had gone out of his way to wiretap Trump Tower. It's another thing to say there were people from our campaign who were caught up in the incidental collection.


BOLDUAN: But those are two different things.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: I completely agree.


BOLDUAN: The White House is moving the goalpost on this.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: I agree that those are two different things. I would suspect the White House will move the goalpost because most voters won't know the difference, they'll say, wow, why were they recording conversations with Trump folks? It is that muddying of the waters that the White House will want to do.

BOLDUAN: Well, it's our job to un-muddy the waters, because these are two different things, one, an explosive claim that it sounds like the question was and has now been answered by the Intelligence Committees on Capitol Hill tasked with finding an answer. The second is, what else is there in terms of this incidental collection, in terms of ties between Trump advisers and Russia?

Maeve, I want to bring you in, but I'm told Adam Schiff, that press conference continued as we jumped out of it. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, had something else to say after the press conference. Listen.


SCHIFF: My interpretation, frankly, of what the White House has been communicating since the president's tweets, were first, we don't want to talk about this, we're giving it to the Intelligence Committee. Then, we're not sure if there's any "there" there. Then, well, maybe he meant something different, to, well, maybe it was the TV or the microwave, to, no, we fully believe the president will be vindicated in his claims of wiretapping. So they've been all over the map.

The reality is, I don't think they have the foggiest idea what was behind the president's claim, except maybe something he watched on TV. And I think the rest is designed to downplay, minimize, or obfuscate the fact that the president said something that was patently untrue. But that is my interpretation.


BOLDUAN: Interesting analysis from Adam Schiff there.

[11:50:07] MAEVE RESTON, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Exactly. The White House has been moving the goal post. They don't seem to have an answer. Trump himself, President Trump, has been uncharacteristically silent when he's been asked by reporters during the photo sprays about all of this. I mean, if we end up, you know, having the question asked and answered and there really is no evidence of what President Trump tweeted, this is a very hard lesson for him that, you know, Congress -- both parties -- are going to hold his feet to the fire when he tweets something like that and they consider it a very serious charge and that they're going to unspool the investigation to the end. I think the White House will have to come out and answer to this possibly after Monday or March 28th when we hear the final word in the committees.

BOLDUAN: Bob Baer, I want to bring you in.

As former CIA operative, we've talked many times on the many kind of points of investigations now that this White House is facing and Congress is taking on. Your reaction to what you heard here? In all of our conversations every time you said it's near impossible that you would believe that President Obama would be behind this hack. What do you think happens now, Bob? Wiretap is what I meant.

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE & SECURITY ANALAYST: Clearly, there was no wiretap. Devices are easy to find if one was applied for and executed. That was clear from the beginning. It would have taken a five-minute call to the Department of Justice to figure that out. We know that Obama didn't do it illegally. There's no evidence of that. President Trump is relying on Alt-Right sources. That's what I'm going to base my policy. He's doing it with climate change. Health care and everything else. It's a president that's taken a deep distrust to Washington and now it's hard to determine where this is going to go. I don't see this man backing down. The real question that Adam Schiff brought up is what happens in case of an international crisis involving a war. Can we trust President Trump, and based on this wiretapping claim, I would say no.

BOLDUAN: What do you make of a little bit of what we heard in that press conference, Bob, about Adam Schiff saying they were frustrated that the FBI director was stonewalling them and not answering their questions. And more cooperation from the FBI on this but that frustration from Capitol Hill and tension between what Capitol Hill wants to hear and what the FBI and the intelligence agencies are offering up is palpable. You heard similar things from Lindsey Graham as well. What do you -- what's behind that from your post?

BAER: I can see it involves the case of Flynn. The Russian ambassador's phone was intercepted. It got leaked. How many more phone calls were intercepted. The FBI is in the middle of a very, very destructive storm right now. If you take these leaks and you hand them to Congress whether it's the Gang of Eight or the full committees, the chances of another leak happening are pretty good and talk about muddying the waters and this is what the FBI is scared about. It's not just the FBI. It's the national security agency and CIA sitting on this special task force investigating the Russians. There's a lot of very insensitive intelligence and frankly the FBI doesn't trust the committees.

BOLDUAN: So, Mark, we just got in some new sound from the Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he was being asked by reporters about the wiretapping claims. Let's listen to that and then we'll talk about it. Listen to this.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Look, no, but what happened in my case was -- and I was active in the campaign. I held a role in the campaign. There's a code of federal regulations rules, statute really, that says if you're involved as a Department of Justice employee in a campaign, have a role in that campaign, that you cannot investigate your own campaign. Even though you may have had nothing whatsoever to do with anything improper, you should not investigate your own campaign. So I have recused myself. I'm not talking to the president or the people who are investigating the case. I'm unable to comment on any of these details.

I never considered meeting are the Russian ambassador to be anything improper in any way. We didn't discuss politics or campaigns. We discussed -- he came in and we discussed issues like the Ukraine and things of that nature, like I met with lots of ambassadors.


BOLDUAN: So you heard Sessions hitting on quite a few things. The most important thing was one word at the very top where he said no. That was in response to a question have you had a chance to brief the president on these wiretap claims or if he ever gave any reason to believe he was wiretapped by the previous administration.

You know what strikes me as we're sitting here now, these questions could have been answered just like they are being answered today ten days ago. Right when this happened. I wonder what is all coming to a head that now Jeff Sessions says I never had a chance to brief the president on these claims. Is it just that there's this public hearing coming Monday and James Comey is going to answer questions before Congress?

PRESTON: James Comey will be on Capitol Hill talking to Senators today talking to Senators -- BOLDUAN: Oh, that's right.

PRESTON: -- in a private meeting, not a public hearing.

Listen, this has all come to a head at this point. What's important about what has come out of today are the statements by two people. One, Jeff Sessions, the attorney general. Two, Devin Nunez, the Republican chairman of the House committee.


BOLDUAN: Big supporter of Donald Trump throughout the campaign.

PRESTON: Who was very reluctant at the beginning to get involved in this. I think it's important for our viewers to know because there will be a spin put on this by those supporting Donald Trump that Congress did its job. This is what they're supposed to do. This is an oversight investigation into the executive branch. That's what Congress is empowered to do.

I also think credibility right now is really the biggest victim that could come out of this not only as he talks about perhaps going to war, dealing with allies, but also our intelligence agencies at this point that feel like they're under fire and even though Donald Trump still enjoys high support among Republicans, will he start to slip a little bit from their support as well? We won't know for a couple weeks or so. But this is not good for him.

BOLDUAN: This is an important moment, and the person front and center in that moment was Manu. You heard his question to the chairman and the ranking member on that.

Manu, I want to bring you in, because there were a lot of headlines, but I want to get your take there and what strikes you?

RAJU: It was a newsy press conference on a number of issues. The headline being that they are completely rejecting the suggestion that Trump Tower was United States suggested. This was the most forward leaning that the Republican chairman has been so far in saying I don't think there's any evidence that Trump Tower was wiretapped and Adam Schiff has been critical saying there's no evidence whatsoever. Also the idea of whether there are any contacts that occurred during the presidential campaign between Russian officials and anyone tied to the Trump campaign. Devin Nunez once again says there's no evidence of that yet. Adam Schiff doesn't want to get as categorical on that issue.

Interesting to hear that disagreement about Roger Stone, that Trump associate and those conversations he had with alleged Russian hackers during the elections. Nunez says I don't even know who Roger Stone really is, I'm not that interested in the topic. Schiff was concerned and wants to learn more about it.

So you see disagreements play out along partisan lines. And also questions about whether or not these incidental surveillance tactics that were going on whether or not the president's communication itself were picked up during those surveillance techniques. We'll still learn if there was any news there.

But a lot of different topics hit on. One thing they would not confirm is whether or not the FBI is investigating any campaign ties, talks between Russian officials and Trump campaign. That's something Senators want to get to the bottom of it. They'll hear from Comey today privately. But Nunez and Schiff would not confirm what Comey has told them.

BOLDUAN: This is long from over, but at least there's some answers now.

And to their credit, top Republican and Democrat on this committee appear together, even though they have conflicting views on certain things. Important to give them credit they appeared together.

I want to finish this out and wrap up. The other big headline we can't forget -- Bob Baer, I'll bring you in on this. DOJ filing charges against four individuals including two Russian spies to be behind that massive hack into Yahoo! that happened. That's amazing. Criminal charges against FSB officers. Your thoughts?

BAER: Yeah, against KGB, yes. The Department of Justice is taking its courage in its hands going after these people because, clearly, the FSB has put this country under attack during the elections. It even goes back to the 90s. This has been a consistent pattern with the Russians interfering in American elections, in going after our computers. And it's great an indictment. We should keep doing it.

BOLDUAN: Amazing. A lot playing out this hour.

Thanks for being along for the ride, everybody. Really appreciate all of you all.

Thanks for joining us AT THIS HOUR.

"Inside Politics" with John King picks up right now.