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WAPO: Obama Feared Putin Would Hack Voting Systems; WAPO: Obama Ordered "Digital Bomb" For Russia Revenge; WAPO: Obama To Putin Before Election: "Stop Or Else"; Trump: Mueller's Friendship With Comey "Bothersome"; Senate GOP Doesn't Have Enough Votes To Pass Bill. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired June 23, 2017 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks, John Berman. No tapes, case closed, right? Not so fast. Did President Trump's admission about not recording James Comey just open up a new can of legal worms?

Plus Hollywood hate, Johnny Depp making outrageous remark about a presidential assassination. Is anti-Trump rhetoric crossing the line now?

And fact, the Republican health care bill brings deep cuts to Medicaid, but the White House putting a new spin on it today.

But first, this, the new and revealing details about exactly how the Russian meddling in the 2016 race went down and how the Obama administration struggled to respond.

"The Washington Post's" brand-new report says the marching orders to hack the election came directly from the top, President Vladimir Putin himself with an expressed goal of hurting Hillary Clinton and helping Donald Trump.

The report also get the behind the scenes play-by-play of President Trump and President Obama and his team deliberating over their response.

"Washington Post" national security correspondent, Greg Miller, joining me now. He is one of the reporters behind this major, major story. Greg, thanks so much for joining me.

This is the first time as I can see it that folks are really hearing not only of Vladimir Putin's direct involvement in the attack, but also that intelligence captures his specific instructions and the objectives that he wanted to obtain. How and when was the president first alerted?

GREG MILLER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, that's one of the important facts here is that this intelligence bombshell surfaces in the very beginning of August last year. So not long after both parties had held their conventions and way before the election, of course. So, one of the things our story explores is why is it that it was only five months later that the administration shared any of this information with the public?

BOLDUAN: You also spoke to more than two dozen current and former U.S. officials for the story. It doesn't sound like there was much consensus or at least complete consensus on how and when the Obama administration should respond to all of this. What was the level of hand wringing in there?

MILLER: You are exactly right. There was a lot of disagreement and sometimes intense disagreement. There were factions within the administration that wanted to respond much more aggressively to Russia and then there were those who were much more cautious, who worried about making the problem worse, about provoking Putin further and perceived as interfering in the election.

So, there were moments we described in the story that were really interesting to me, where John Kerry, the secretary of state, shortly before the election is pushing one last time, can we please tee up some sanctions or something to retaliate against Russia?

Maybe we can announce them right after the election if you don't want to do anything for him and he's basically told, go away, we are not talking about this right now. So a lot of our story is focused on why? Why there was such hand wringing about this and such hesitation.

BOLDUAN: I mean, this was a tough call, no doubt, being in the middle of the election. The response that John Kerry got is very telling and interesting one. What degree did you find in your reporting or did folks think that the administration let politics shape their response to a national security crisis?

MILLER: I think there are many former administration officials who fear that became true. Weirdly, the administration's determination not to be seen, not to be seen as politicizing the national security issue meant that because of politics, it was refusing to act. It had this perverse outcome.

The level of remorse and regret varies, of course, senior officials close to Obama defend those decisions and say they did the right thing. Then, you know, there were some very interesting quotes in the story.

We quote one former official saying, you know, this is the hardest thing in all my work in government for me to defend. I feel like we sort of choked.

BOLDUAN: Yes. That's a quote everyone is definitely taking note of today. One thing I want to make sure we get out as well, you also seem to reveal, uncover that President Obama, he approved a secret program after all this happened before he left office, planting cyber bombs in Russian infrastructure. Where was that in terms of rolling out or putting that in place when they left? Is there any sense of what the Trump administration has done about it since? MILLER: That's the oddest thing about this part of the response. So this was something that was not announced. It was a covert measure. Obama signs a secret classified finding to approve this and it is basically designed to prepare for a day down the road when U.S. might find itself in some kind of cyber exchange, a cyber-combat with Moscow.

[11:05:06]And it wanted to have more weapons at its disposal. He instructed his spy agencies to begin finding places to put those. It could be detonated remotely someday. This is something he sets in motion. It's going to take time to work on, time to complete.

It will be up to President Trump or the next president after that, to decide whether to use any of this capability and so far, I mean, it seems obvious that he hasn't nor could we see any evidence that Trump had to undo anything that Obama had set in motion here.

BOLDUAN: Well, Greg, thank you so much for coming on. It's a really important read. I really encourage folks to go to "Washington Post" and take a look at it. Thanks for coming on. I appreciate it.

MILLER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: All right, joining me now, Tony Blinken, former deputy national security adviser and deputy secretary of state to President Obama and the Obama administration. Tony, it's great to see you.


BOLDUAN: So Greg, laid it out a little bit. It's a big read. A big report that they did, looking back at the process of how it went down and the level of struggle within the Obama administration to the response. Everything you have seen in this report so far, now that it's out there, is the post accurate?

BLINKEN: Yes. They did a terrific job in reconstructing what happened, a lot of the deliberations and concerns. But when go back, this was a moving picture. It's not like we had an immediate clear snapshot of what the Russians were up to. It evolved overtime.

At first, we thought they were simply trying to do what they always do, which was pull information, see if they could get something to use later down the road. Then, it looked like they were trying to basically interfere in the election mostly by creating doubt about our institutions. That's part of the reason.

BOLDUAN: Even letting themselves be known.

BLINKEN: Exactly. That's part of the reason why, as we deliberating this, the more we play this in public, the more we play their game. We actually create even further doubt by making this into a big, public matter. That was one of the things that was a concern.

The other thing that we thought they were doing is at one point we thought they were actually trying to interfere in the elector system themselves. We made massive efforts to make sure they couldn't do that.

All of this, though, led to two things, first, President Obama issued a very stark warning to President Putin in September at the G20 conference in China. What we saw or thought we saw after that, it looked like the Russians stopped their efforts to actually get something.

But, the damage has already done. They had taken information before. They passed it along to Wikileaks and it's still continued to come out. So we thought we had deterred them from doing more and then the thought was let's wait until after the election to look at how we can punish them.

BOLDUAN: Of course, the hindsight, yes, but there a lot of folks feel differently and how things should have gone out. I want to get to that in a second. The quote that Greg Miller had from a former administration official that sticks out.

This former administration official says, "It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend. I feel like we sort of choked." Do you feel like that?

BLINKEN: No, I don't think we choked and of course, you can go back and say, well, maybe the judgment was wrong. Maybe we should have acted differently and we should have done certain things that we didn't do.

But given everything we were dealing with, the perception of Russia's main objective was to undermine confidence in the elections that was really one thing that motivated us to be careful how you play this in public.

It turned out it was really only later that there was consensus view that not only were they trying to undermine confidence in the elections, they were actually trying to defeat Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump.

Now if that picture had been clearer sooner, maybe we would have done more. This was another element, though, Kate, that was important. We thought on something like this that was really important to try to speak with one voice and show united front.

We went to Congress in September to bring this information to them. The "Post" article reflects this.


BLINKEN: And to our surprise, and I'd say even shock, a number of leaders in Congress, some on the Republican side, accused us of playing politics. They didn't believe it. They said we were making it up.

BOLDUAN: The "Washington Post" quotes Mitch McConnell saying that he actually at the moment did not believe the intelligence and did not respond to a request for comment to "The Washington Post." But you know now that there are Democrats on Capitol Hill who are frustrated looking back at how things played out.

Adam Schiff is one of them. Look no further than the hearing that he has with former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. He expressed that in the hearing. Here is a moment to remind viewers.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Why did it take the administration so long to make a public statement that a foreign adversary was trying to influence the American election. The statement didn't come until October. Why did we wait from July to October to make that statement?

JEH JOHNSON, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, Congressman, I'm going to disagree that there was some type of delay. This was a big decision and there were a lot of considerations that went into it.


BOLDUAN: What are the considerations that Jeh Johnson even knows right there, Tony? Just after that. There is one candidate who is saying that this election was going to be rigged against him. Was politics a consideration?

BLINKEN: Look, I think to some extent it was.

BOLDUAN: Is that OK?

BLINKEN: Look, in retrospect, you could say, you know what? You should always put that to the side and just do what the right thing is. But again, the concern was it was politics, but in the broader sense.

[11:10:08]You had one candidate saying that the election was going to be rigged. You had Russia trying to sow doubt in our institutions, in our democracy, in our election. So the more you play it up yourself, the more you actually feed exactly what the Russians were trying to advance which is sowing doubt.

BOLDUAN: Can you answer, real quick, there is a thought that one of the reasons that the president decided to go slower, wait, was that he thought Hillary Clinton was going to win. At the moment of the polls, she was up. So he thought the outcome was going to be OK. Anyway, we can deal with this after the fact. Can you respond to that?

BLINKEN: Look, I think the main motivating factor was one was not wanting to advance the Russian's own game like playing this up. Two, trying to figure out how we could stop them from doing what they were doing. And again, the president's warning to Putin seemed to have that effect.

But after all, Jeh Johnson and the director of National Intelligence put out an unprecedented statement in early October raising these concerns to the American public, the very same day the "Access Hollywood" tape came out and drowned out the whole story.

So strange things happen too but unbalanced, I would say. We thought we were playing it the right way.

BOLDUAN: No regrets?

BLINKEN: There were always regrets. When you go back and look at something because hindsight is 20/20.

BOLDUAN: Sure is. Great to see you, Tony. Thanks --

BLINKEN: Thanks, Kate. Great to be here.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. Much more to come on that.

Brand new this morning, though, the president talking about his tapes admission and what bothers him now about Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating the Russian meddling affair. That's next.

Plus, first Madonna, then Cathy Griffin. Now, Captain Jack Sparrow. What Johnny Depp said about the president and an assassination? That's coming up.



BOLDUAN: Brand-new this morning, President Trump is now publically criticizing Special Counsel Bob Mueller, the man leading the main investigation, of course, into Russia's meddling in the election and the president's firing of former FBI Director, James Comey. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: He is very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome, but, he's also -- we are going to have to see. We are going to have to see in terms. Look, there has been no obstruction. There has been no collusion.

There has been leaking by Comey, but there's been no collusion or obstruction and virtually everybody agrees to that. So we'll have to see. I can say that the people that have been hired are all Hillary Clinton supporters. Some of them worked for Hillary Clinton.

I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous, if you want to know the truth, from that standpoint. But, Robert Mueller is an honorable man and hopefully he'll come up with an honorable solution.


BOLDUAN: Some of the attorneys that were hired have contributed to Democrats over time, some contributed to both Republicans and Democrats. Those comments came just after the president admitted what many expected that he did not record conversations with James Comey, ending weeks of speculation that the president, himself, started.

Joining me right now, former U.S. attorney, Michael Moore, a CNN legal analyst, and Michael Zeldin is here as well, who served as assistant to Special Counsel Bob Mueller at the Justice Department, CNN national security analyst and former spokesman for the National Security Council under President Obama, Shawn Turner is here, and CNN political analyst and White House correspondent for "Politico," Tara Palmeri. Great to see you all. Thanks so much for being here.

Michael Zeldin, first to you. You worked with Bob Mueller at the Justice Department. Do you have a sense, because the president brought it up as a problem saying that they were very, very close. Do you have a sense of how close of friends Bob Mueller and James Comey are and how much of a problem do you think that is today?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think it's a problem at all. They could be best of friends and Bob Mueller knows what his mandate is under the Constitution and order of Rosenstein. He's going to fulfill that mandate. Friendship be damned, if you will.

So I don't see that as an issue. The president, in fact, even said Mueller is an honorable person at the end of his statement. That is the correct answer. Mueller is an honorable person. He will do the right thing. I have no hesitation at all thinking that the friendship will not interfere with this.

BOLDUAN: That is an important bit of this. Another important bit of this, Michael Moore, what do you think the president is trying to do here? Do you think he's trying to discredit Bob Mueller? What does this get him?

MICHAEL MOORE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I think he's probably doing the same thing that he's done since the campaign. When somebody starts getting close and nipping on his heels a little bit, he starts to attack and gives praise, then turns around and talking about maybe they have a conflict.

He did the same thing to Ted Cruz. You go down the list of candidates he ran against. He's trying to cast some doubt in case things turn against him. Like he said in the election, this thing is rigged against me. We know what was going on.

I think really he's just coming in, trying to plant seeds of doubt. I don't think that the relationship between Mueller and Comey is anything to be alarmed about, nor do I think appointing Democrats matters.

Really, everybody who is appointed by the president is likely a supporter of President Trump. I just don't know those things, I think he's throwing red herrings out there to try to throw the public off and keep us guessing. This is the same basket as it has taping comment.

BOLDUAN: We'll get to tapes in one second. Sean, jump in on this. As Michael says, he's trying to sow the seeds of doubt about the special counselor. If he's doing it, he clearly thinks this will help him, will it?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I don't think it will. At this point, as Michael points out, this is the president's M.O., but I think that where he's making a mistake here is, look, if Bob Mueller was an unknown entity, the president might be able to say these things. People might not look without a real understanding of whether or not that's true or not.

But when the president says these things about Bob Mueller and Jim Comey, look, these people are known entities. They have a reputation. Everyone knows their reputation is beyond reproach. I don't think this is -- this strategy is going to work with regard to Bob Mueller.

[11:20:06]And I think the president, as I've said many times, will be well served to simply take a step back from this. Let Bob Mueller and the team that he's putting together do their job and, in the end, I think the president does that.

I think that the damage that he's already done to himself by making all of these comments, you know, he will at least stop it by not making any further comments against Bob Mueller.

BOLDUAN: And kind of -- Tara, with regard to the ongoing investigation and how much it does bother the president, clearly, this is something that keeps him up at night and wakes him up early in the morning.

There's new reporting by "The Washington Post" that there's a new strategy in place to try to help deal with that, with his legal team. Somebody gets on the phone with him early in the morning like 6:00 or 6:30, let them hash it out in hopes that then he won't -- you know, he'll be to get on to business of the day and not stew over this. Is there any evidence that that strategy is working?

TARA PALMERI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's unclear that that strategy is working because he's already started firing off tweets. Although we know that yesterday was a planned tweet that was drafted with the communications department to address the tapes issue.

It was even pre-leaked to a reporter an hour before the actual tweet came out saying that he did not in fact tweet. So maybe they are becoming a little bit more strategic with the tweets. Perhaps the president who really does hold grudges is benefiting from being able to speak in the morning.

Because he tends to wake up angry according to some of his aides that I have spoken to. He can go to bed at night seeming OK, but he slept on it. He had some talks to his friends in the evening, wakes up and watches the morning shows and he's angry. That's how he's starting his day.

I don't think any executive especially the commander-in-chief should start their day that way. So clearly his team is starting to learn how to manage him a bit.

What I have heard from White House officials is they have to tone him down. A lot of things he wants to put in tweets are farther than hyperbole and he needs to be restrained often. This is actually a full-time job. GORANI: Let's talk about that one planned statement that came up yesterday on the tapes. Michael Zeldin, this ends the speculation of 41 days, which many people thought there were no recording. I want to play for you how Sean Spicer, today, explained the tweet and explained exactly what they were trying to do with the tapes conversation to begin with. Listen to this.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The reality is that he wanted to make sure that the truth came out and by talking about something like tapes made Comey think to himself, I'd better be honest and tell the truth about the circumstances regarding the situation.


BOLDUAN: So, what he wanted to do was try to make sure, by doing it that Comey would tell the truth when testifying. Does that have legal fallout?

ZELDIN: Look, firstly, it doesn't resonate as being ingenious. It strikes me, firstly, Comey is going to testify honestly, period. He's an honest guy. He swore to tell the truth, he's going to tell the truth and he did tell the truth.

This strikes me more along intimidation than it is along the -- let's encourage him to be truthful. I think that the effort to say he better hope there are truth in the tapes that is a veil threat.

I think that's what this was more than it was an aspirational statement that Comey would be truthful and encouraging him to do the right thing, FBI Director Comey.

BOLDUAN: The second part of it, as we are getting to it, Shawn, is that President Trump suggested in his tweet and Kellyanne Conway actually went further in discussing it saying that he didn't tape it. Clearly leaving open the possibility that someone else may have taped something, as in the intelligence community. Can you address that?

TURNER: Yes, I can. I have to tell you, I think that aspect of this tweet, particularly, if, as Tara said, if this was a tweet that was vetted with people on the president's team that it is unconscionable that no one said to the president, Mr. President, there's absolutely no reason to attack your intelligence community and to insinuate that people in the IC might actually be surveilling you or listening or taping your conversations.

The president has to understand that the intelligence community exists to support him and to provide him with the information that he needs to make the decisions to be able to protect his country, his most important job.

So you know, when I read that, I really felt for all my former colleagues in the intelligence community because all they want to do is provide the president with decision advantage. There's no reason for the not so subtle swipe at the IC. BOLDUAN: Yes, not so subtle. Thank you all so very much. I really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, Johnny Depp becoming the latest celebrity to cross the line. What he said about President Trump that has the Secret Service now taking note.

Plus the controversial Republican health care plan right now in serious jeopardy as several Republican senators refuse to support it at the moment. What are they demanding and where is this thing heading?



BOLDUAN: It was one of the best kept secrets on Capitol Hill. Now, it could spark one of the biggest showdowns in the Senate, the Senate Republican health care plan. It's drawing anger from Democrats, no surprise. They are upset that it could gut essential benefits for folks, which could mean less coverage and fewer treatment options for patients including those with pre-existing conditions.

It also phases out Medicaid expansion starting in 2021. But what is surprising is how many Republicans are also a no go right now. Four GOP senators have gone public with their opposition to the plan for various reasons.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can only serve to lose two GOP votes to still get this thing over the line. His goal is to hold a vote on this next week. Now President Trump says he supports the bill, despite promising Medicaid and long-term Medicaid cuts despite during the campaign promising not to cut Medicaid.

Let's talk more about this right now with former Democratic Senator Max Baucus. He played a key role in ushering through Obamacare when Democrats passed it seven years ago, and former Republican congressman from South Carolina, Bob English. He was known for his work across the aisle with Democrats, as dangerous as that can be these days. Gentlemen, it's great to see you. Thanks so much for coming in.

So Senator, first to you, Democrats call this plan mean. President Obama joined in on that yesterday in issuing this statement on Facebook. He said this, "Simply put, if there's a chance you might get sick, get old or start a family, this bill will do you harm.

And small tweaks over the course of the next couple of weeks under the guise of making this bill easier to stomach cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation." Do you think this legislation -- do you think this bill is mean or think it's politics talking?

MAX BAUCUS, FORMER U.S. SENATOR, HELPED PASS OBAMACARE: Frankly, I think it's mean because it's about an $880 billion cut in health care benefits to lower income people and the seniors. It's a big tax break to most wealthy of us at the same amount. That's not right. It's morally wrong for the United States of America to give a big tax cut to the most wealthy at the same time cut health benefits for the poorest.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, conservatives who aren't happy with how this is, they say it doesn't go far enough. One of the things that they say that this bill does actually more to rescue Obamacare than it does to repeal it, which is what they have run on so many times. Should Republicans be happy about this bill?