Return to Transcripts main page


Obama Knew About Russian Meddling Before Elections; Eight GOP Senators Have Doubts on Health Bill; New Details Revealed About U.S. Ship Collision; White House Bans Cameras From Some Briefings; Meet Ronna Romney McDaniel. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired June 24, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:04] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: You're on the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Great to have you with us.

Tonight President Trump is responding to a stunning new report in the "Washington Post" that details how and when President Obama first learned that Russia was leading a major campaign to sway last year's election.

The president tweeting this, "Since the Obama administration was told way before the 2016 election that the Russians were meddling, why no action? Focus on them. Not T." And he writes, "Obama administration officials said they choked when it came to acting on Russian meddling of election. They didn't want to hurt Hillary," question mark.

The press report also details what actions Obama did take and how he and his advisers wrestled with various options for retaliation.

CNN senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski has the riveting details.


MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A bombshell report starkly laying out the U.S. Intelligence Community's case for Russia's meddling in the 2016 election and revealing it was directly ordered by Vladimir Putin.

"The Washington Post" detailing that intelligence sources had captured Putin's own instruction to disrupt and discredit the presidential race, with the goal of defeating or hurting Hillary Clinton and helping Donald Trump. The CIA delivered the intelligence by courier to President Obama in August.

"The Post" interviews with former senior Obama administration officials revealed the frustrations now among some of them that more was not done to punish Russia, quoting one, "It's the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend. I feel like we sort of choked." They say the administration was worried about appearing to try to influence the election themselves as well as provoking Russia.

One official explains, "Our primary interest in August, September and October was to prevent them from doing the max they could do." And after the election, some of the harsher options for punishing Russian like a massive cyber attack on them or sweeping sanctions faced concerns and roadblocks from a number of corners.

Former deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken defended the Obama administration.

TONY BLINKEN, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: Maybe the judgment was wrong. Maybe we should have acted differently. Maybe we should have done certain things that we didn't do. But given everything we were dealing with, given, first of all, again, the perception that Russia's main objective was to undermine confidence in the elections. That was really one thing that motivated us to be careful about how we played this in public.

KOSINSKI: The Obama administration did set the ball rolling for secret program to infiltrate Russia's infrastructure, with cyber weapons controlled remotely like digital bombs that could cripple Russia's systems. But Obama left office while it was still in the planning stage.

The White House says Trump stands by his January comment that he thinks Russia was involved in the hacking and has no plans to fire the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation, Robert Mueller, despite Trump in an interview expressing worry over Mueller's friendliness with fired FBI Director James Comey.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Which is very bothersome, but he's also -- and we're going to have to see.

KOSINSKI: In that same interview on FOX Trump also addressed why he alluded to possibly having recordings of his conversations with Comey when in fact he had none.

TRUMP: But when he found out that I -- you know, that there may be tapes out there, whether its governmental tapes or anything else, and who knows, I think his story may have changed. I mean, you'll to have to take a look at that because then he has to tell what actually took place at the events.

KOSINSKI: But when CNN pressed --

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: But my question for you is what is the White House -- what is President Trump now doing to prevent Russia from doing this again?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, this report is new and we'll discuss it with him later.

KOSINSKI: Again and again.

CAMEROTA: I mean, against Russia, what is he doing specifically to try to stop this?

CONWAY: Alisyn, I realize that you just like to say the word Russia, Russia to mislead the voters and I know that CNN is aiding and abetting this nonsense as well. But --

CAMEROTA: Kellyanne -- CONWAY: -- you've asked me the same question three times now and I am

answering it.

CAMEROTA: And you're not answering it, Kellyanne.

CONWAY: Yes, I am. He is the president of United States.

CAMEROTA: And what is he doing?

CONWAY: He has said -- he has said very clearly that he wants the voter integrity and the valid integrity to be protected.

KOSINSKI (on camera): So on the investigations as of the end of day Friday, which was supposed to be the deadline, the House Intelligence Committee was still waiting for James Comey's memos, as well as any official word from the White House that they don't have recordings of the conversations between Trump and Comey.

And as we see the investigations evolve now the Senate Judiciary Committee wants information from President Obama's former attorney general, Loretta Lynch, to see if she might have improperly influenced the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.

Michelle Kosinski, CNN, Washington.


CABRERA: Let's talk more about this report and President Trump's response to it. Joining me, former CIA director James Woolsey. He's also a former ambassador and a former senior adviser to the Trump campaign.

Ambassador, the "Washington Post" claims the CIA told President Obama in August that Russia was interfering in the U.S. election and that Vladimir Putin ordered it to help Trump win.

[20:05:10] Now if you were running the CIA at that time and had given President Obama this information, would you have expected him to do more than he did?

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I think so. I think that the best thing to have done would have been to have been able to take action quickly in the more devastating way possible against Russia and to say not a word about it. Teddy Roosevelt, speak softly, carry a big stick. Here, don't speak at all and carry a big stick.

I think if we had been able to do that, and that's sort of from Reagan and Casey did when the Russians were stealing some very highly sensitive technology back in the early '80s, they had the CIA make some changes in the technology so when the Russians stole it and installed it in their natural gas pipelines, they -- after a delay of a period of time it blew up their natural gas pipelines. And Reagan and Casey didn't make any public statement. They didn't say a word. They just acted. I think that's what you want to do.

CABRERA: Well, it was an election year, so do you think politics got in the way of policy here?

WOOLSEY: I don't know. I think that the Obama administration was really very tangled up with itself trying to figure out what to do. And I think in a case like that you have to set aside the fact that it's an election year and take action for the country and take action that will hurt Russia and do it rather decisively. And if you made the right preparations, as quickly as possible. Because we have two ways in which Russia is coming after the essence of our country. One is they could well have a handle on our electoral machinery because it's only 18 months now -- less than 18 months to our next national election.

And any of these voting machines that don't have paper associated, that are all just touch screen, those are very dangerous because you can't run a recount. And so if we wanted to give Putin the right to vote for Americans without a recount, then we would really have a challenge to our democracy.


CABRERA: Sorry, go ahead.

WOOLSEY: I was going to say we also have a real danger and risk from our electric grid. It is not well protected. It is not well supported. We don't see any major changes coming through as they work on infrastructure as part of the administration's plans. And the electric grid is important as or electoral machinery. If we lose one or both, we've lost a good part of our ability to function as a country.

CABRERA: You were hired as a policy adviser by the Trump campaign --

WOOLSEY: Not hired. I was a complete volunteer.

CABRERA: So you volunteered to be an adviser for him. If you were to advise him today, what would you tell him to do to prevent this from happening again? Because right now it's unclear as we showed in that piece before our conversation that -- it's unclear what action this administration is taking in a preventative sense.

WOOLSEY: I would ask the CIA to give me the three biggest dangerous and risks to the country over the course of the next number of months to a few years. I would say two of those three -- I'm not sure what the third is, but two of those three would be the electric grid and the electoral -- our electoral machinery, both of which have gotten badly fouled up.

And also to take the steps that are necessary in order to harden the grid, in order to keep the electoral machinery from being taken over by the Russians with hacking and work very hard and very fast on getting those done, and at the same time putting together whatever we would need to in order to damage and undercut whatever the Russians are doing with respect to causing risk and damage to us.

And if we are smart enough and able enough to pull something together that can be used quickly, then use it and don't say a word. Do what Reagan and Casey did. Just damage the other side and smile quietly.

CABRERA: Did then candidate Trump ever ask you what to do about Russia and what is Russia doing given your experience as the former director of the CIA?

WOOLSEY: No. We've never had a conversation about that.

CABRERA: Does it surprise you that he hasn't had that same conversation about Russia with other members of his current team, the press secretary Sean Spicer said he hasn't talked to him. We apparently have learned that Jeff Sessions hasn't talked to him about the Russia meddling in the election. We have learned from other intelligence agencies the president hasn't asked about this issue, asked James Comey about what happened with the Russia intelligence -- investigation prior to the campaign?


CABRERA: The election, excuse me.

[20:10:12] WOOLSEY: I haven't kept track of who the president's spoken with on things. And I think that we have the technology and we have the smarts in our national laboratories and places like DARPA and so forth to take these kinds of steps. We did before and we can again. But it takes the will. Someone has to make a solid decision that we are going to protect our electric grid, we are going to keep it from being knocked out, we're going to protect our electoral machinery.

We're going to do it now. We're going to spend the money and we are also going to put together a way of going after the other sides of machinery as quickly as we can if the need should arise. Except the politics --


CABRERA: Does President Trump have the will?

WOOLSEY: Say again? I'm sorry.

CABRERA: Does President Trump have the will?

WOOLSEY: I don't know. I don't know. I hope very much because for the next 18 months anyway our national ability to function depends on -- in many ways on his will.

CABRERA: Well, Ambassador Jim Woolsey, we really appreciate your time tonight. Thank you so much.

WOOLSEY: Good to be with you.

CABRERA: Five Republican senators come out against their party's latest health care bill. Can Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell get these crucial votes and help the president keep a campaign promise? We'll discuss next.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[20:15:410] CABRERA: You're looking at live pictures out of Pittsburg tonight. Senator Bernie Sanders is there speaking at a rally to protest against the Republican Senate health care bill unveiled just two days ago. Sanders is talking about how to improve Obamacare and the Vermont senator plans to hold similar rallies this weekend in Ohio and West Virginia as well.

President Trump is tweeting about your health care tonight and the new Senate bill. He tweets, "I cannot imagine that these very fine Republican senators would allow the American people to suffer a broken Obamacare any longer."

Five Republican senators oppose the bill. Three more GOP senators have concerns right now. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can only lose two Republican votes and still pass the bill.

Let's bring in former policy adviser to Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Marco Rubio, Avik Roy.

Avik, thanks for being with us. You write, "The Senate health care legislative draft will, if passed, represent the greatest policy achievement by a Republican Congress in generations."

Avik, if this bill went up for a vote today, it would fail. What do you think Mitch McConnell might sacrifice first to get the bill to get more yes votes?

AVIK ROY, FORMER POLICY ADVISER TO MITT ROMNEY: Well, if there's one thing we know, Ana, it's that Mitch McConnell is a crafty SOB, and I'm sure that he's got a lot of amendments and proposals in his back pocket to offer these recalcitrant senators in order to get their votes.

You'll know, Ana, and I'm sure you've talked about this already on your show, that the statements from these holdout senators were very, very carefully worded. They never said we're absolutely against this. They said well, I'm against it now, but with certain changes I could support it in the future.

CABRERA: Is he going to have to appeal more to the conservatives or the moderates of the Senate?

ROY: I think he's going to appeal to both. I think one thing that's kind of interesting is by and large the things that the conservative senators want and the things that the moderate senators want are not mutually exclusive. The moderate senators are very concerned about, for example, exactly how the Medicaid expansion repeal of Obamacare will phase down.

The conservative senators are much more concerned about regulatory reform, trying to give states more flexibility and how those regulations would work. So you can address both of those types of concerns in the same bill. CABRERA: Well, let's hear from one of those Republican senators you

just mentioned, Dean Heller, who's a moderate, and what he had to say about it.


REP. DEAN HELLER (R), NEVADA: If this bill passes, second biggest lie is your premium is going down. There isn't anything in this piece of legislation that will lower your premiums.


CABRERA: It's kind of hard to hear so I'm not sure if you caught all that. He said there's nothing in this legislation that will lower the premiums. What do you say to that?

ROY: Well, that's just not factually correct and maybe Senator Heller hasn't had enough time to review the legislation yet but the legislation actually contains a robust set of reforms that will lower premiums and the deductibles for the people who are participating in this market. So I think over time we'll get to --


CABRERA: How do you see it that way? How do you see the premiums going down?

ROY: Because what this bill does is it repeals two of the Obamacare regulations that have been most directly responsible for the premium increases that we've experienced over the last four years. Those are what are called age bans which basically overcharge young people and drive them out of the insurance market and actuarial value requirements which basically again force healthy people out of the market.

So by reintroducing incentives to get younger and healthier people into the insurance markets, overall premiums go down because younger and healthier people don't consume as much health care and premiums are driven by the average cost of the typical participants in the market. So the more low-cost people are in, the average goes down and premiums go down.

CABRERA: Now on the flip side, though, if there's no penalty for people not to have health insurance, which according to the Senate bill as it stands there wouldn't be any penalty, why would those younger healthy people who don't see a need to have health insurance even participate if they have no penalty for not participating and then getting it later when they may need it?

How would that actually help drive the insurance premiums down? If they're not in the market and the people who need insurance, who are the sicker, the older, the people who have preexisting conditions are the ones who are in the market and insurers are forced to provide coverage for them?

[20:20:02] ROY: Well, Ana, I think the I'd put is everybody in America wants to have health insurance. The problem is not their desire or lack thereof to have health insurance. It's how much it costs. And for young and healthy people particularly under Obamacare the premiums are just way too expensive relative to, A, what they can afford and B, what their actual expected health care consumption is.

If you're 27 years old and you're perfectly healthy, and you go to the doctor once a year, why would you want to pay $300 a month in health insurance premiums that you're never going to use? So in this bill by reforming those elements -- and also, by the way, by extending tax credits to younger people in a way that gives them more incentive to participate, this bill will, I think, have a much better mix of healthy versus sick, young versus old.

And I believe the Congressional Budget Office will score it that way eventually. There are a couple tweaks they need to make to get that result, but I think they'll get there.

CABRERA: Yes, that CBO score is supposed to come early this next week. Senator Bernie Sanders, by the way, just finished up speaking on his "Don't Take Away Our Health Care" tour. We showed it to you moments ago. He told the crowd in Pittsburgh the Senate bill's even worse than the one passed by the House. Listen.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Let me be as clear as I can be. This so-called health care bill passed in the House last month is the most anti-working class piece of legislation passed by the House of Representatives in the modern history of this country.


SANDERS: And the Senate bill in some respects is even worse.


CABRERA: Is this bill anti-working class?

ROY: You know, Ana, I regret to have to say this, but what Bernie Sanders just said is pure propaganda. As you know, because we talked about it on your show, the House bill actually had a lot of defects in terms of how it treated people in the working class particularly people who were nearing retirement.

This Senate bill works very, very hard and is very carefully and intelligently crafted to address just that problem. So this bill is actually much, much stronger in terms of the protections and the financial assistance it directs to people who are of lower income, the working poor, people in their 50s and 60s. And that's one of the reasons why I wrote that article that you cited at the beginning of the segment about why this bill would be such a policy achievement.

CABRERA: Avik Roy, thanks as always.

ROY: Thanks, Ana. CABRERA: We have some good news tonight. Republican Congressman

Steve Scalise is out of intensive care and is in fair condition. Scalise was shot in the hip last week's GOP baseball team's practice. He's still going through an extended period of healing and rehabilitation. But he is improving. And another victim of that shooting, Matt Mika, is in good condition and out of the hospital.

Here's picture of him at George Washington University. Hospital sent this picture of him with Jayson Werth of the Washington Nationals who stopped by for a visit on Thursday. Mika is expected to make a full recovery.

And U.S. military officials giving CNN some information about that deadly collision at sea. Seven American sailors dead aboard their destroyer last weekend. Up next, some preliminary investigation results. We have them live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[20:27:39] CABRERA: This weekend we know more about the collision of an American Navy destroyer and a giant container ship. A bizarre accident that cost the lives of seven U.S. sailors.

It happened last Saturday. The USS Fitzgerald and a massive container ship somehow smashed into each other badly damaging and flooding the Navy ship.

And we're learning about the victims from their families. Among the sailors who died in this horrific accident, Xavier Martin. He was just 24 years old from Maryland. His heartbroken father spoke to our Brooke Baldwin.


DARROLD MARTIN, SON DIED IN ACCIDENT ABOARD USS FITZGERALD: The way we communicated was with the WhatsApp. And last time I actually spoke or heard his voice was the previous -- well, that Tuesday. And throughout week, you know, we were texting but I -- well, I was texting him but he didn't hear anything. And what I understood that the crash actually happened at 2:20 a.m. and just looking at my phone, and at the top where it actually said his last time of activity, and that's how we communicated. It actually said 2:56 which was 36 minutes after the fact.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: So on this -- on WhatsApp, your son after his ship has been hit and the water is filling in.


BALDWIN: He goes to his phone --


BALDWIN: -- to reach out to you?

MARTIN: Yes. BALDWIN: How does that make you feel? ?

MARTIN: I can't help but think, and I would think any parent would never want to hear the last recording of their children or their child perishing, so thank God I wasn't able to hear that. But I try to block out the visualization that my son is perishing. And he's crying and screaming and I'm -- you know, dad. It's pretty hard to imagine.


CABRERA: So tough to hear his pain. Xavier Martin was one of seven U.S. servicemen who died aboard the USS Fitzgerald last weekend.

CNN's Ryan Browne has some new information now about what happened.

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Hi, Ana. What we're learning now is that the collision between the USS Fitzgerald and this cargo ship took place on the star board side of the ship, impacting immediately adjacent to where the U.S. sailors were sleeping in this birthing area board, as well as damaging the communications node on the Fitzgerald, forcing the crew to use satellite cell phones to communicate with their higher headquarters as they were responding to this collision, attempting to save ship and keep it afloat.

[20:30:20] Now one thing investigators are looking at is that how did this collision was able to take place without any of the crew aboard the Fitzgerald detecting this cargo ship coming up on them. So this is something they're going to be reviewing, they're going to be looking at radar data from those sophisticated Aegis Weapons Systems aboard the Fitzgerald, as well as data and information from the cargo ship, to really kind of understand what went wrong here and how something like this could take place costing the lives of seven U.S. Navy sailors.

Back to you, Ana.

CABRERA: Thanks, Ryan.

Coming up, White House press secretary Sean Spicer did two live interviews with a friendly news network on Friday, but he wouldn't go on camera for the press briefing. Why? Our senior media correspondent Brian Stelter said this should matter to the American people.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[20:35:16] CABRERA: And now a story about what you did not see on TV this week. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer standing behind a podium fielding questions. The White House banned cameras from some briefings, blocking you, the American public, from viewing live coverage. In some instances even audio could not be broadcast in real time.

The Trump team is defending its restrictions and here's how. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: I think that if there are people who wanted to make a name for themselves, increase their speaking fees by asking the same question 50 different times.

The press briefings don't need to be on camera to be useful to the public and to be useful for our press corps, Alisyn. Why? Because you'll get the same information. And by the way, I find the richest points of the entire press briefings that Sean or Sarah, or others do to be at the very beginning when they're literally reading what the president and the Cabinet secretaries are doing, and the vice president, that particular day. It gets such posit of coverage compared to the Q&A.


CABRERA: Here's why this matters. It's not about our ability to do our jobs at journalists, it's about you and your ability to know how your elected officials are doing their jobs.

Let's talk it over with CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," and "Chicago Sun-Times" Washington bureau chief, Lynn Sweet.

So, Lynn, how do these restrictions a affect the reporting you offer to the American public?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Well, actually, for a print reporter this is a little contrarian and certainly I support the premise these things should be on the record with cameras. But having said that, for a print reporter, the need is to get information and facts, not necessarily they have to be shown asking your question.

You know, and having said that, the matter of the briefing being on television means that all of America can see it in real time, not just the reporters. That can only be good even if you think there's not a lot of content in the briefing, let people decide that, let the people see that for themselves. That's the value in the transparency.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Isn't the bigger problem, Lynn, all the answers that we don't get during these briefings?


STELTER: Meaning ABC made a list this week of 26 different questions that Sean Spicer's been asked where he said, I don't know, but I'll get back to you, and then hasn't actually gotten back to anybody. So a list of more than two dozen topics that the White House is not addressing, big ones like whether the president believes in manmade climate change but also smaller ones.

SWEET: Well, I must say if I had a career list on that we would have an hour special of press secretaries who said we'll get back to you. That is sometimes just a polite way to say something.

STELTER: Get rid of you.



LYNN: So I think the -- if you think and the people think that you could sustain a career just by going to a briefing and answering -- getting some -- bobbing a question, that really isn't how it works.

And so, Brian, you know and maybe people don't know that reporters who have had access to that press area could walk in and talk to press people. They don't need just the briefing to ask questions. But everything depends on if you get information, whether it's in the briefing or just by asking a press person. The point is you don't get a lot of information. And if they have a better idea or different format, so be it.

Your point is the one that I think is most important. If you're not getting content, it's not better to have a gaggle where you don't learn anything or a press briefing than just having one for the sake of being on --

CABRERA: I think it's --

SWEET: On the record.

CABRERA: I think you know what is interesting about Kellyanne's response is that she seemed to imply that the substance of the press briefings changes based on whether it's on camera or not on camera, and I think that's what some of our colleagues have taken issue with.

Brian, you write this. "The White House has only held two on-camera briefings in the past two weeks. Inch by inch the administration has been rolling back press access which means less information for the public."

STELTER: Yes, inch and inch I think is the key point. These sorts of changes don't happen overnight or even in the span of a month. They happen over the span of many months. So the access we're seeing now versus let's take one year ago with the Obama administration is markedly different.

Jake Tapper, our colleague this week, said on the air, the White House is trying to operate in something close to accountability free zone. And briefing is just one example of that. Not releasing White House visitor logs is another example. Not providing spokespeople on television is another example.

Lots of different examples. But all of them add up inch by inch, time after time, to this portrait of a White House that's more closed off than I think the public would like it to be.

CABRERA: Lynn, what is the upside for the White House? What do they gain by adding restrictions and holding fewer briefings and fewer on- camera briefings?

[20:40:02] SWEET: Well, what they gain -- and I am interested on Brian's take on this. What they gain is that it's pre-damage control. They don't have the wild card question. They don't have Sean Spicer saying something that could be easily lampooned on "Saturday Night Live" or by the late-night comics.

So if they have something to say -- when Kellyanne said yes, you know, we -- no one covers the beginning where there's always a review of the day. That's partly because all that stuff is known. There usually is never a big reveal that says, oh, by the way, Trump did something that no one knew about.

CABRERA: We -- and CNN carries that part up live on our television and on our air as well as the Q&A.


SWEET: There you go.

STELTER: Usually it's a great chance for the White House to get its message out, but increasingly we're seeing Trump and his aides really only want to speak to his voters, to the 46 percent of the country that's got him into office. We're seeing him hold rallies, giving interviews on FOX, do lots of things that really only speak to the base and not to the broader population. And I wonder if pulling back on the briefings on camera is another example of that.

CABRERA: And Brian, how much of this do you think is about Sean Spicer's performance? We know they look --


SWEET: That's interesting. Right. Whether President Trump is happy with Spicer or Sarah Huckabee Sanders at these briefings. President Trump, say whatever you want about him, is a great television producer. He's a showman. He watches these briefings with the eye of a television producer.

We know the White House has been looking for a replacement for Spicer at the press secretary job. Spicer apparently getting a promotion so he's not on camera or not at the briefings all the time. But it doesn't seem like anybody wants the job right now. It's taken a while in this recruiting process and it's not clear if there's any person in line actually to become the new press secretary.

CABRERA: Lynn, some Republicans have pointed to Trump's Twitter use and say the president is communicating directly with the public there. And here's what a Republican former Cruz spokeswoman, Alice Stewart, had to say.


ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: And one thing, I do feel strongly that when the president tweets something, that is an official statement from the president. JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I agree with that.

STEWART: Can't be something he said on social media. So when a reporter asks a question about a specific tweet, I think it is the responsibility for them to be able to elaborate on that if asked and not say the tweet speaks for itself.


CABRERA: Lynn, do you agree with that?

SWEET: I think Alice said it. These tweets are very important official insights into what the president is thinking, most often early in the day. I would have loved to have known what President Obama, Clinton, and Bush were really thinking when they got up, and -- you know, sent out a note that everybody could read. So this is important.

For better or worse, it sets the agenda of the day far more than anything else because it's the president himself who's speaking. So by the White House keeps saying that these things speak for itself, obviously there are follow-up questions. Obviously there is more to be said. Even if he wanted to tweet on a policy issue, certainly the White House knows that 140 characters isn't the end of the story. Sometimes it's just the beginning.

And for them to continually deny that just seems to be denying the reality of how people want and get information. Even if they are playing to their base.

CABRERA: In fact, it was his lawyer, Jay Sekulow, last week who spoke to Twitter as limited because you can only use 140 characters. And so there was a little bit of lost in translation where he couldn't put the complete information in there. The response to one of questions from Jake Tapper.

Brian Stelter, Lynn Sweet, thank you both.

STELTER: Thanks.

SWEET: Thank you.

CABRERA: Coming up, Mitt Romney and Donald Trump have taken plenty of shots at each other, but that didn't keep the president from hiring another Romney for a top post and she's working to change the image of women in the Republican Party. Who she is, next, in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[20:48:03] CABRERA: As chair of the Michigan GOP, Ronna Romney McDaniel helped Donald Trump turn the state red. The first time for in almost 30 years. Now she's become only the second woman to chair the RNC in history and the first in a generation. Handpicked by the Republican president she helped elect.

In the latest "Badass Women of Washington," CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash sat down with Romney McDaniel to talk about her famous political family and how she's working to attract more women to the GOP.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: What do these pictures have in common?

RONNA ROMNEY MCDANIEL, CHAIRWOMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I don't know. Yes. There is a familiar theme here. I'm very happy to add a feminine touch to this wall.

BASH (voice-over): The Republican National Committee has a new face with a familiar name, Ronna Romney McDaniel.

(On camera): Your uncle ran for president, so did your grandpa.

ROMNEY MCDANIEL: Yes. And my mom ran for Senate and my dad had run for attorney general. And I thought, I kind of go get into party politics so I can figure out how to win and get some of my family members across the finish line. Unfortunately, this year, we didn't have any Romneys on the ballot. But I was so thrilled to work for Donald Trump.

BASH (voice-over): As chair of the Republican Party in Michigan, Romney-McDaniel did more than just help Donald Trump get across the finish line. She delivered the state to Republicans for the first time in almost 30 years.

ROMNEY MCDANIEL: I went to his very first rally right after he announced his candidacy, and there were 3,000 people there. I've never seen that for a candidate during a primary and obviously my uncle ran for president.

BASH: That uncle was Mitt Romney, the last Republican nominee for president who lost Michigan to Barack Obama in 2012 by nearly 10 points.

(On camera): You're uncle, Mitt Romney, was quite outspoken about his criticism of Donald Trump.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.

[20:50:03] ROMNEY MCDANIEL: It was just a difference of opinion as to where the country needed to go. But it didn't affect my relationship with my Uncle Mitt.

BASH: This is your grandfather.

ROMNEY MCDANIEL: This is my grandfather George Romney. And he was governor of Michigan. But he also lived right next door to me.

BASH: You were a woman whose mother ran for office. ROMNEY MCDANIEL: Yes. And my grandmother ran for Senate, too. So

for a period of time, my grandmother, Lenore Romney, and my mother, Ronna Romney, were the only two women in the Republican Party to ever secure the nomination for Senate. They were leaders. They were pioneers in our party.

RONNA ROMNEY, MCDANIEL'S MOTHER, FORMER SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Where they open a business without costing a thing. Higher and higher taxes.

BASH: Did you always know that you wanted to go into politics.

ROMNEY MCDANIEL: No, I didn't. I think because I'd seen the negative side of it at a young age, I was 19 when my mom ran for Senate, and it was a pretty tough race. And you walk away and you think, I don't know if I want to be part of that world. Part of reason I got involved was I saw a teacher get laid off at our school and we were in a budget crisis in our state and I thought this is just ridiculous. This is my kids' favorite teacher.

BASH: So that was your ah-ha moment?

ROMNEY MCDANIEL: That was my ah-ha moment. I thought, I've got to get more involved.

BASH (voice-over): After her success in Michigan, President Trump endorsed Romney McDaniel to succeed Reince Priebus whom he tapped his White House chief of staff.


BASH (on camera): You're the first woman to run this joint in a long time.

ROMNEY MCDANIEL: In a long time. In a generation.

BASH: So what do you think it means that you, a woman, is running the RNC?

ROMNEY MCDANIEL: Well, I think it signals that the Republican Party is a party for women. For a long time we've been put to the side as if we're single-issue voters or we're just a special interest group. Certainly in the Republican Party, we need to do a better job reaching out to women.

BASH (voice-over): One hard reality of stepping into the role of RNC chair is the constant travel and time away from home. For Romney McDaniel that means figuring out how to parent from around the country.

(On camera): You made the decision to come to Washington and your kids are staying in school in Michigan. Tough.

ROMNEY MCDANIEL: It is tough. It's -- well, first of all, I have the best husband in the world. It is a team sport for us. But he recognizes, my kids recognize that this is an opportunity to support our president.

I think any working woman, it's not unique to me, balance is tough. It's hard to balance giving everything you need to your kids and then being successful at work. And we're always juggling. And we have two full-time jobs.

BASH (voice-over): Her family visits when they can. And when I met her kids, Abigail and Nash, they seem to be thriving. And then some.

NASH MCDANIEL, SON: Hi, I'm Nash. Nice to meet you.

BASH (on camera): Nice to meet you, too.

N. MCDANIEL: You look good.

BASH: Why, thank you. And you look quite handsome, sir.

N. MCDANIEL: Thank you.


BASH: You do homework over the phone?

ROMNEY MCDANIEL: We do homework. My son's reading "Mr. (INAUDIBLE) Library," so I'm reading it along with him up here. And then Amazon Prime is great because I can send groceries home.

BASH: You do that from here?

ROMNEY MCDANIEL: I totally do.

BASH: How cool is it that your mom is chairman of the Republican National Committee?

N. MCDANIEL: It's really cool because we get to do fun stuff that I've never done before.

PATRICK MCDANIEL, HUSBAND: We're thrilled for Ronna and the opportunity that she has. And she really is a role model for not just, you know, our kids but for others.

ROMNEY MCDANIEL: I'm just trying to be cool to them. I'm still not cool yet.


ROMNEY MCDANIEL: My whole life is trying to get these guys to think I'm cool.

BASH: What's your message to women who probably you tried to recruit to get into politics?

ROMNEY MCDANIEL: We need more women to realize, say, they are 100 percent qualified for that position and that they should run and, you know, if you're a mom of young kids, sometimes you're not going to feel like that's the right time in your life to run for office, but I think they have a really valuable voice to add to the discussion.


CABRERA: Well, you might say he beat a life sentence. Just ahead, how this mobster is free once again and you won't believe how old he is now.

First, though, the painful decline of America's coalmining towns. Tomorrow on "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA," W. Kamau Bell goes to the Appalachia region to see if anything can save these communities.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We went from 18 mines in this town to three. We went from 1500 employees to 150 people working.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all went in economic downturn in the coal industry.

W. KAMAU BELL, CNN HOST: And this is the main industry of Appalachia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is. With the loss of those jobs, it's really devastating families and communities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We struggled to get by.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want a good job. That's it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No job leads to no money, which leads to the pressure, which leads to drugs.

BELL: How easy is it to fund drug down here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All you have to do is walk on the sidewalk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm concerned about the future.



[20:59:03] CABRERA: He just could not give up a life of crime, but now at 100 years old, mobster Sonny Franzese is a free man. The headline in the "New York Daily News" says it all. "Stone-old Killer Free."

The former Colombo underboss just wrapped up his latest prison stay, an eight-year stint for shaking down the Manhattan strip club. That's right. 2010 at the age of 93 and in a wheelchair he was convicted on extortion charges.

Sonny's son, Michael Franzese, tweeted, "It's official Dad has been released, 100 years old, a free man, praise God." Franzese was first convicted back in 1967 and paroled at least six times but each time ended up back behind bars. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons says he was the oldest man behind bars until his release this week. That's going to do it for me tonight. Thanks so much for being with

me. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. I'll be back tomorrow evening at 5:00 Eastern here on CNN. "ANTHONY BOURDAIN, PARTS UNKNOWN" marathon starts now. Good night.