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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Interview With California Congressman Adam Schiff; Alleged Leaker Charged; Trump's Tweets; Agency Heads to Testify on Capitol Hill Tomorrow. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired June 6, 2017 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The tweets are coming from inside the house.
THE LEAD starts right now.
The White House itself now admitting that the Russia investigation is getting in the way of getting anything done, so what might happen when James Comey speaks in two days?
Reality check. A 25-year-old federal contractor named Reality Winner charged with leaking classified intelligence about the Russia probe. She once calls the president an orange fascist in a tweet. How did she have top-secret clearance?
Plus, glaring red flags missed before a terrorist massacre in the heart of London. Why wasn't anyone keeping an eye on the Islamist extremist who appeared in a terror documentary called "The Jihadis Next Door"?
Good afternoon, everyone. And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin with our politics lead. For a second morning in the row, President Trump threw something of a wrench into the plans of his own administration officials. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was asked yesterday about the decision by six Gulf states in the Middle East to cut ties with Qatar over claims that Qatar supports terrorism.
Tillerson suggested that the United States would not pick a side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Trump, this morning, however, seemed to overrule Secretary Tillerson, suggesting that the U.S. was siding with the Saudis, tweeting, among other things -- quote -- During my recent trip to the Middle East, I stated that there can no longer be funding of radical ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar. Look."
Qatar is home to a U.S. military base from which the U.S. Air Force coordinates strikes against ISIS, so when President Trump tweets his condemnation of that country, should the world now assume that the president's word is new U.S. policy?
CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta joins me now.
And , Jim, yesterday some White House aides were suggesting the tweets should not be taken as seriously as policy, but here we have the president seeming to set a completely new view of a nation where we have thousands of U.S. troops. Certainly, people in Qatar are going to read these tweets as official policy, no?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Jake, and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did say today that these tweets are official statements from the president.
We should also point out the White House is gearing up to respond to the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey. That's happening on Thursday. A source close to the White House tells me talking points are being drafted, but the big question as it seems every day at the White House these days, Jake, is what the president himself will say or tweet, and just in the last several minutes, the president offered not a tweet, but a statement of good luck to James Comey.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wish him luck.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Two days and counting until the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey on Capitol Hill, top White House officials insist President Trump will be focused on his agenda.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's going to be a very busy day, as all of his days are.
ACOSTA: But sources tell CNN the president's political loyalists outside the White House are preparing rapid-response efforts to react to the Comey news, including the drafting of talking points that will continue to insist that there remains no evidence that Mr. Trump and his associates colluded with Russia.
Speculation had been swirling for weeks that former campaign officials Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie could join the White House as part of the big war room effort. But war room preps appears to be on hold, sources say, as the president seeks out an external legal team in Washington.
One source said some of the war room talk was theatrics aimed at misdirecting the media, "something we enjoy doing," the source said. Last week, the White House pushed back on the notion that a war room was even needed.
SPICER: I don't think so. I think the president is very pleased with his team.
ACOSTA: Part of the president's team who has become a focus of West Wing chatter is Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sources say the president has been frustrated with Sessions ever since he recused himself in the Russia case.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer could not say whether the president had confidence in Sessions.
SPICER: I have not had that discussion with him.
ACOSTA: The last time Comey testified, the president offered his own prebuttal on Twitter, tweeting: "James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence POTUS collude with Russia. This story is fake news and everyone knows it."
As for the president's social media habits, fellow Republicans are complaining that Mr. Trump's tweets are damaging his own agenda.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If we fail on both, we're in trouble, so the president is going to have to lead. The tweeting doesn't help, but Congress is more broken than just his tweets.
ACOSTA: The president is rejecting all of the criticism, tweeting: "The fake mainstream media is working so hard trying to get me to not use social media. They hate that I can get the honest and unfiltered message out."
SPICER: The same people who are critiquing his use of it now critiqued it during the election, and it turned out pretty well for him now.
ACOSTA: Now, as for his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is now of interest to investigators in the Russia probe, the president joked just a few moments ago, Jake, that Kushner has -- quote -- "become more famous than me."
Oddly, that's something that the president once said to James Comey.
Later tonight, the president is having dinner with a number of senators, including Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton. We should point out, Jake, both Rubio and Cotton sit on the very same Senate Intelligence Committee that will be questioning Comey on Thursday.
I talked to a key GOP operative who wonders whether it's even a good idea for both Rubio and Cotton to be with the president at this dinner tonight -- Jake.
TAPPER: Jim Acosta, thank you so much.
Now to our world lead.
Since taking office, the president has repeatedly directed his Justice Department to crack down on leakers. And now a suspected leaker has been arrested; 25-year-old government contractor Reality Leigh Winner is accused of sending a classified NSA document about a Russian cyber- attack to the news Web site The Intercept. CNN's Dianne Gallagher filed this report about what information was
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: There's a lot of drama.
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said today the Russian hacking attempts on U.S. elections systems were broader and targeted more states than previously thought, telling "USA Today" the attempted breaches didn't stop on Election Day.
Now, in October of last year, CNN reported that federal investigators believed Russians were behind cyber-attacks on a contractor for an election system in Florida, similar to attacks on voter databases in Illinois and Arizona, but The Intercept posted a redacted version of the document that described Russian hackers as sending spear-phishing e-mails to local election officials in an attempt to gain log-in credentials.
The memo says at least one attempt was successful. Now, the hackers used a fake e-mail account that included a Trojanized document that if opened could install malware, which would allow hackers to access electronic files of the user. The document says it's unclear if the Spear-phishing attempt was successful.
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: It's clear they were trying to get into that voter files. And I don't think they were going there to try to just hang out.
GALLAGHER: On Capitol Hill today, the homeland security secretary was grilled on what the U.S. could do to prevent such a breach.
MCCASKILL: Imagine the disruption if thousands of people showed up to vote and their names were no longer on the voter file. What would we do?
JOHN KELLY, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I share your concern. I don't disagree with anything you said relative to the sanctity of our voting process. There is nothing more fundamental to our democracy than voting.
GALLAGHER: Sources tell CNN the NSA document was allegedly leaked to The Intercept by this 25-year-old government contractor with top- secret security clearance, Reality Leigh Winner, a former Air Force linguist for the NSA.
Winner, who started her contracting job in February, is accused of anonymously mailing the top-secret document to an online media outlet. Yesterday, the administration made good on its promise to find and prosecute leakers, as the Justice Department announced charges against Winner. Her mother describes her as an athlete who loves animals and claims that she didn't know her daughter to be particularly political or to admire famous leakers. But tweets on an account that appears to belong to Winner tell a different story, following just 50 other accounts, including Edward Snowden and Anonymous, among other alt-government pages. She expresses her disdain for Donald Trump several times, on election night, apparently bothered by the final result tweeting, "Well, people suck."
And on February 11, Winner responded to a tweet from the president about refugees, saying: "The most dangerous entry to this country was the orange fascist we let in the White House."
Dianne Gallagher, CNN, Washington.
TAPPER: And we should point out there's no evidence that any of these hacks altered any actual votes that were cast.
Coming up next, should a 25-year-old with a social media history of attacking the president have top-secret security clearance? We will talk to a ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee next.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
We have some breaking news now in our politics lead on the upcoming testimony from the fired FBI Director James Comey. A source close to Comey is now telling me that he does not anticipate that Comey will come to any legal conclusions about whether President Trump's actions in his meetings with Comey constituted obstruction of justice, when Mr. Trump, according to Comey, was trying to influence his judgment about the Russia investigation, because Comey does not believe it's his place to do so.
The source says that Comey will be there as a fact witness and will leave the legal analysis for others. As far as any big dramatic revelations, the source also suggests -- quote -- "The center of gravity is going to be what's already out there."
That is the request that the president made, according to Comey, that he lay off Michael Flynn when it came to the Russia probe and also his asking Comey for a pledge of loyalty.
Joining me now to discuss all of this is Congressman Adam Schiff. He's the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
I want you to take a listen to President Trump's son Eric, who was speaking with ABC News about the investigation into possible collusion between members of the Trump team and the Russian government.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC TRUMP, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: It's the greatest hoax of all time. I was there throughout the campaign. We have no dealings in Russia. We have no projects in Russia. We have nothing to do with Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Is there any evidence that you have seen that disproves what Eric Trump says when he calls it the greatest hoax of all time?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, it's certainly not a hoax at all.
And I think the intelligence community found on the basis of very solid evidence that the Russians were responsible. They did hack us. It wasn't the Chinese. It wasn't some 400-pound fat guy. So I don't know whether he's calling all that have a hoax or just the fact that there's been this proliferation of contacts that are now being revealed publicly between Trump associates, Trump campaign people and the Russians.
We need obviously in the investigation to get to the bottom of this, whether these were innocent. Were they were malevolent? What was behind them?
I always find interesting when the Trumps, though, talk about the fact that they don't have investments in Russia. They are always very careful not to say the Russians haven't invested in the Trump family, in Trump properties, et cetera, in the United States. And, obviously, that's a concern.
[16:15:03] Do the Russians have financial leverage over the president of the United States or his family? That's just an allegation that we need to get to the bottom it.
I do want to mention what you previewed about director Comey's testimony, I think that's exactly right. I would be very surprised if he was going to come and opine as to whether what expressed to him amounted legally to obstruction of justice, but I think he will shed a lot of insight on just what those conversations were. And most significantly, did he record them in writing and the kind of detail that we've will be led to believe he may have?
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you -- I spoke with your counterpart in the Senate, Mark Warner, on Sunday on "STATE OF THE UNION". And he said there's a lot of smoke but no smoking gun when it comes to the idea of collusion.
Is there anything you can tell us in terms of the smoke or what you have called circumstantial evidence that will make people think, well, maybe there really is something here, because as of right now, we don't know of any facts that anybody did anything against the law other than the violations we've seen committed by Michael Flynn when it comes to registering after the fact as a foreign agent and perhaps violating military rules in terms of not getting permission before he spoke in Russia, but those are not the kinds of things being investigated. SCHIFF: You know, I think the reality is we're still in the very
early stage of the investigation. We certainly have things that merit investigation that call out for us to bring in witnesses to follow the evidentiary trail. It's way too early to be drawing any kind of conclusion.
I think, ultimately, we're likely to end up in one of three places, and I always look at the 9/11 Commission investigation, and in particular what the congressional investigation looked at, and we're all familiar with the 28 pages now that they have been published. That looked at the issue of were the Saudis complicit? Was there collusion, to use that term, between the Saudi government and those involved in that plot?
Ultimately, Congress was not able to corroborate information that suggested collusion. Whether we will end up there or whether we'd be able to prove in fact there was collusion or we'll be able to disprove and demonstrate that in fact these were just a bunch of awful-looking coincidences, we don't know at this point. Indeed, it's impossible to say.
But then, of course, you have the whole course of conduct during the administration, and as many have pointed out, if the president was interfering or obstructing in any way the problems that he created during the administration may turn out to be of the greatest seriousness --
TAPPER: A bigger (INAUDIBLE). Yes.
SCHIFF: To find out.
TAPPER: I want to turn to the 25-year-old NSA contractor Reality Winner who is accused of leaking classified information about a Russia hack. She tweeted November after President Trump's victory, quote: well, people suck. #electionnight.
And then in February she wrote: The most dangerous entry to the country was the orange fascist we let into the White House.
She also liked the tweet by the hacking group Anonymous.
How does somebody like this have top secret security clearance?
SCHIFF: Well, first of all, I don't know about this particular person. I can't really comment on them specifically. But --
TAPPER: We had problems like this before, though.
SCHIFF: We certainly had problems like this before. I think our practices are changing in terms of scrutinizing social media when we do background checks. The question that may be implicated here, and, again, I'm just going on the basis of the public allegation, is once you have cleared someone, then what kind of review should the intelligence agencies do to check people's social media posts?
TAPPER: Stay up to speed with that. SCHIFF: Yes, because, you know, obviously, we want to attract good
people. We don't want to make them feel like they are living in a police state where everything they post is going to be scrutinized, and if they say the wrong thing they are going to lose their job. So, it's not like we can draw are a bright line here, but nonetheless, if there are signals being sent out that should sound an alarm, we need to be able to hear them.
And I'm sure that in the wake of this we're going to be examining, OK, there's the front end check of social media. Do we need an ongoing check or does that is just take place when someone's clearance comes up for additional review?
TAPPER: One quick question on the substance you might not been able to answer, "The Intercept" says that the hack shows that the Russians hacked into voting software and sent phishing e-mails to more than 100 local election officials days before the election, and they also said that it was run by the Russian military intelligence, specifically Russians general staff, main intelligence director GRU. Is that true?
SCHIFF: Well, I can't say this because we talked about this, the I.C., in the unclassified assessment. We know that they were involved in hacking into some of the state and local election board infrastructure, not to alter the vote count but rather I think to prepare the battlefield. I look at this like any other critical infrastructure the way the Russians and the Iranians and the Chinese and others may probe everything from our hydroelectric plants to our power grid in an effort to determine, OK, if we decide to escalate or we get into a hot conflict, what kind of damage can we do?
[16:20:04] The fact that they are probing these, even if they didn't take action in the last election ought to cause us to take every precaution, and I would hope that our state elections officials are working closely with the Department of Homeland Security to make sure that their defenses are the best that there are.
TAPPER: Congressman Adam Schiff, thanks so much. Really appreciate you being here.
Before James Comey testifies, there might be more fireworks on the Hill when the deputy attorney general testifies in public for the first time since Comey was fired. What lawmakers plan to ask Rod Rosenstein, next.
TAPPER: Welcome back.
More in our politics lead. Everybody is talking about Comey testifying Thursday, but tomorrow, four top national security officials will testify on Capitol Hill and they are sure to be asked about the ongoing Russian investigation, as well as possible charges of obstruction of justice.
CNN's Manu Raju joins me now live from Capitol Hill.
And, Manu, what should these four national security officials who are testifying, what should they expect?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, Jake, this is supposed to be a hearing about reauthorizing the key federal surveillance law, but expect a lot of questions about Russia, the investigation as well as whether or not President Trump in any way tried to tamper with that investigation.
[16:25:02] Now, I'm told by several senators on the committee that they plan to push a number of these officials to explain their interactions with President Trump, namely Dan Coats, a former director, the former senator and current director of national intelligence who reportedly came under pressure by President Trump to publicly rebut that this investigation came to any conclusion about collusion between Russian officials and Trump officials.
Now, when Coats went before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, he would not discuss his interactions with Trump and Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Committee, earlier today told our colleague Jeremy Herb that Director Coats will be happy to tell the whole truth before the appropriate committee, meaning the Senate Intelligence Committee. Now, Rod Rosenstein, another person to watch, Jake, the first time the deputy attorney general has talked in public since the firing of James Comey.
A lot of questions will be asked about the circumstances around the firing. Ron Wyden, a senior Democrat on committee, Jake, tells me that he plans to ask him whether or not he was fired because -- because the president wanted the Russia investigation to go away. That's what we can expect at a hearing with a lot of fireworks tomorrow, Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill for us -- thanks so much. How will President Trump's tweets about Qatar impact the safety of thousands of U.S. troops stationed in that country?
We'll take a look at that next. Stay with us.