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Interview With California Congressman Adam Schiff; Venezuela Erupts; Longtime Trump Confidant to Testify in Russia Probe; Republicans Struggling to Pass Health Care Legislation. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 28, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: A former top diplomat saying that Trump's inaction on Russia is close to dereliction of duty.

THE LEAD starts right now.

A new warning on Russia that Vladimir Putin hacked and will hack again, as CNN learns in brand-new reporting breaking this hour that some administration officials are frustrated that the president will not act.

Protesters taking over offices on Capitol Hill, as the Republican health care effort goes from repeal and replace to rewrite. Moments ago, President Trump claiming the GOP has a big surprise.

Total political chaos, violence, a police officer going rogue, jumping in a chopper and firing at the Supreme Court as Venezuela erupts.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to begin today with our politics lead.

Another stern warning on Capitol Hill today. Russia is the United States' most dangerous adversary and Russia, in all likelihood, will attempt to interfere in U.S. elections again. This stark warning comes despite the fact that President Trump has often dismissed Russian meddling in the U.S. election as a Democratic tool to attempt to delegitimize his November victory.

On one level, President Trump did seem to this week finally acknowledge Russian interference, though he only did so as a vessel to blame his predecessor, former President Obama, for doing -- quote -- "nothing" in response.

Now, that's not entirely accurate. There were Russian compounds seized in the U.S. and diplomats ejected from the U.S., though certainly even Democrats have faulted President Obama for not doing enough.

And on the same day as those sanctions, we should note Mr. Trump's incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was discussing sanctions, among other things, with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. CNN's Michelle Kosinski has the story.


MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee heard strong words from former Ambassador Nick Burns, who has served both Republican and Democratic presidents.

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: It is his duty, President Trump's, to be skeptical of Russia. It is his duty to investigate and defend our country against a cyber-offensive, because Russia is our most dangerous adversary in the world today. And if he continues to refuse to act, it's a dereliction of the basic duty to defend the country.

KOSINSKI: But Burns also had criticism for the Obama administration for not doing more about the Russian hacking and faster when they were trying to avoid appearing like they were attempting to influence the outcome, something Trump, his White House and his lawyer have grasped onto.

JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Why don't we have the special counsel reviewing why President Obama did nothing after he assured the American people, he gets intelligence briefings, but then assures the American people that Russia did not interfere with the election?

KOSINSKI: To which the ranking member of the Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee had an equally sharp response today.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: The president is criticizing his predecessor for not doing more to speak out on Russia at the very time the president, the current president, is refusing to speak out on Russia.

KOSINSKI: And his committee is now set to hear testimony behind closed doors July 24 from Trump confidante Roger Stone, the man who said he had contact with Russian hacker Guccifer 2.0, believed to be connected with the Russian government, as well as WikiLeaks, during Trump's campaign.

ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: I have actually communicated with Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation, but there is no telling what the October surprise may be.

KOSINSKI: Stone has repeatedly and publicly denied he had any contact with Russian officials during the campaign. The committee wants to talk to him after hearing yesterday from Hillary Clinton's former campaign adviser, John Podesta, whose e-mails were hacked and leaked to the world.

He sat down with CNN's Jim Sciutto.

JOHN PODESTA, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: We know that Roger Stone had at least previewed that they may be doing something like this as early as late August. So at least there seems to be some indication of some contact between forces closely associated with the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks.

KOSINSKI: Now Stone tells CNN: "I'm confident that Podesta most likely repeated his lie that I knew in advance about the hacking of his e-mails, and I'm anxious to rebut this falsehood. I'm still unhappy that my testimony will not be in public, but believe it is more important to resolve the issue of Russia collusion with the Trump campaign, which I believe was nonexistent."


KOSINSKI: The Trump administration has been responding to all this with its descriptors, witch-hunt and hoax, even though now they are acknowledging that Russian meddled in the election.


But the fact remains these are very real investigations that are pushing forward. And, today, CNN spoke to the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who said that his committee has now interviewed more than 40 witnesses. They're still looking into whether the question of whether the Russians might have colluded with the Russians, whether there was any coordination there.

And, Jake, he would not repeat what some have said publicly that at this point there is not evidence of collusion.

TAPPER: Interesting. Michelle Kosinski, thank you so much.

The U.S. intelligence community has concluded Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 presidential election definitively and finally, so why will President Trump not take on Vladimir Putin on this issue? Where are the new sanctions? Where are the public warnings not to do this again?

Well, today, sources are telling CNN that President Trump's apparent unwillingness to publicly call out and punish the Kremlin for the interference has some administration officials increasingly frustrated.

And CNN's Sara Murray joins me now with this brand-new reporting.

And, Sara, what are you learning from inside the White House?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, multiple senior administration officials say that they have struggled to convince President Trump that Russia still poses a threat to the integrity of America's elections.

One officials told there is -- quote -- "no evidence" to show Trump is actively engaging on the issue. Now, the president still gets his daily briefing. And of course that includes updates on Russia, but beyond that, an administration official says, there is no paper trail, no schedule, no readouts, no briefing documents to really indicate the president is convening meetings or roundtables on the subject, the way that he has with other threats, for instance, threats against the U.S. power grid.

Now, on top of that, sources tell my colleagues Dana Bash and Jim Sciutto that National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers actually expressed to lawmakers how frustrated he is that he can't convince Trump to even accept U.S. intelligence that Russia meddled in the election.

TAPPER: Sara, top intelligence officials have called Russia and their threat to do this again a major threat. Why is President Trump so reluctant to address this issue?

MURRAY: Well, Jake, people who have spoken to the president about this say he's really struggling to separate the investigation into his campaign's possible collusion with Russia from the investigation into Russia's meddling in the election itself.

Now, one source close to the president said Trump sees everything regarding Russia as "being organized to challenge him," basically a move to undermine his presidency.

TAPPER: What are you hearing from the White House about this?

MURRAY: Well, the White House insists that Trump is taking this seriously.

Sean Spicer says the White House is taking action, but they're just doing it quietly. In a statement that Spicer provided to CNN, he said: "The United States continues to combat on a regular basis malicious cyber-activity and will continue to do so without bragging to the media or defending itself against unfair media criticism."

Now, Spicer also pointed out that the Trump administration has upheld the Obama administration's sanctions against Russia. Now, in Congress, they're pushing for yet another package of sanctions. Some congressional sources say they believe the White House is trying to water those down.

TAPPER: Right, the ones on the House side. They were strong in the Senate, those reports, the White House trying to undermine the ones as it moves in the House.

Sara Murray, thank you so much for that excellent reporting.

If the president is unwilling to acknowledge Russia meddled in U.S. politics, what threat might that country pose in upcoming elections?

Congressman Adam Schiff is the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and he will talk to us about the threat next .



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Sticking with our politics lead and CNN's reporting that administration officials within the Trump administration are increasingly frustrated by the president's refusal to engage on the Russia threat.

Ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Congressman Adam Schiff joins me now to discuss.

Congressman, thanks for being here.

Let's put aside for the sake of discussion talk of collusion. Let's just talk about the threat from Russia, if we can, in this block. If President Trump is not willing to engage when it comes to Russian election interference in the past and potentially in the future, what are the ramifications?

SCHIFF: Well, they're very serious, because the best defense that we can have against further Russian cyber-attacks on our elections or interference in our political affairs is a well-informed public, as well as a deterrent, neither of which is really possible if the president himself won't acknowledge what has happened.

Probably the easiest way to look at this is, what should the president be doing that he is not? First, he should confront Russia over what they did. He should make it plain that it won't be tolerated again, that there will be severe repercussions.

And, second, he ought to be leveling with the American people and saying, look, this is what Russia did. If they do this again, Democrats and Republicans need to come together and we all have to reject it, no matter who it helps or who it hurts. It has to be rejected. We have to essentially educate ourselves about how they do, what they do, what to look out for and reject it.

We also need to work closely with our state and local election officials to help prepare them. None of that is going on, because at the very top the president doesn't accept what happened. And I think your analysis is exactly right. He doesn't want to look at any of this because he views it as undermining legitimacy of his election.

He needs to get beyond that, because the country needs him to defend the country against a potential next Russian attack.

TAPPER: Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO and George W. Bush State Department official Nicholas Burns earlier today in Congress suggested that President Trump would be in dereliction of duty if he -- quote -- "continues to refuse to act on Russia."

That seems rather strong. What do you think?

SCHIFF: Well, I would completely agree with that.

The national security needs of the country have to come first. They certainly have to come as a higher priority than whatever effect this would have on, you know, how he views the legitimacy or the size of his election victory.

[16:15:00] That is not what's of great consequence here. What is of most consequence is preparing the country for another potential Russian interference in our affairs. Right now, the message the Russians are getting is they're not going to pay much of a price for this. Indeed, their best spokesperson is the president of the United States because he is the one casting doubt on what they did.

So, we are, I think, very poorly prepared if the Russians interfere in the midterms. If the president won't acknowledge what happened in his own election, what hope do we have that he will speak out if they do this again?

TAPPER: Just to make sure I understand -- you're calling for not only deterrence in terms of a punishment for them, but also a defense in terms of computers and making sure the voting systems, that there's integrity there, and also something of an education campaign because part of what Russia did had to do with the spread of information and disinformation.

SCHIFF: Well, that's absolutely right. I think, you know, in the order of greatest importance, the single most important thing that we could do to defend ourselves is to have a well-informed public, but also to develop a consensus that we didn't have during the last presidential campaign that we will reject foreign interference no matter who it helps or hurts. That's probably the single most important thing.

I would add to that that one of the reasons the Russian effort was so successful is they could play on these incredible divisions within the country. And we have seen, really, little to nothing done at the top of the ticket to bridge those divides that existed during the campaign to bring the country together, and essentially establish that idea that we won't abide by any foreign power meddling in our affairs, that we are going to not only reject it, it's going to be deeply counterproductive, whoever they aim to help is going to be hurt by that kind of intervention, and that we will respond vigorously to that kind of attack on our democracy.

I hope that is the kind of message that he will deliver when he meets with Putin. That's the kind of message Putin needs to hear, but it's also the kind of message the American people need to hear.

TAPPER: All right. Congressman Schiff, stick around. We're going to take a quick break.

When we come back we're going to ask whether the Obama administration deserves at least some of the blame for mishandling the Russian threat.

We'll be right back.


[16:21:28] TAPPER: And we're back with Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, yesterday, Hillary Clinton's former campaign chair John Podesta met with House investigators who are investigating Russian interference in the election.

Here's what Podesta had to say about the Obama administration's response last year.


JOHN PODESTA, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: Look, I think the president and the entire administration were dealing with the unprecedented incidents of the weaponization of the fruits of Russian cyber activity and I think they were trying to make the best judgments they could.


TAPPER: I know you feel that the Obama administration should have done more. What doo you think they should have done?

SCHIFF: I think John Podesta is right. They were in an unprecedented and difficult situation, and they were trying to make the best decisions they could. But nonetheless, I think they should have come out earlier and attributed this conduct to Russia while it was going on. In fact, Senator Feinstein and I, at the time this was happening, were urging them to do it, and when they were not willing, we did so ourselves, but that didn't have the same effect as an administration statement of attribution.

When they ultimately did in October, it was only a written statement by two agency heads rather than the president himself, and, of course, there wasn't action to implement sanctions against Russia in real- time, which I also think should have been the course.

But there is a lot of responsibility here to go around. The Obama administration, I think, was doing this because they didn't want to be perceived as trying to influence the election. I think that was a legitimate motivation but didn't outweigh the public's need to know.

But at the same time, Donald Trump is not exactly in a position to cast stones given that he was egging on the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton's e-mails and, of course, trumpeting every WikiLeaks' release of these ill-gotten gains. So, it's hardly the person to criticize, but nonetheless, I do think administration bear some responsibility for not speaking out earlier and more forcefully.

Finally, Jake, I would say that, you know, Democrats as a party also have a responsibility here. We failed to persuade the country why they should care more about the fact that a foreign adversary was interfering in our affairs than anything that was contained in these otherwise fairly innocuous e-mails.

TAPPER: So, let me also ask you in the minute we have left. The Senate passed overwhelmingly in legislation, harsher new sanctions on Russia for election interference. It's going to go to the House now. There are reports that the White House is trying to water down this bill.

Are those reports accurate? SCHIFF: I wouldn't be a bit surprised. I don't know that personally,

but I would be surprised if they haven't weighed in and that doesn't account for why there's been a delay in this otherwise very strongly bipartisan bill that I think would come flying out of the House if we were to vote on it. I think we ought to insure that these sanctions remain in place. Enough of us on both sides of the aisle have a question about whether this president can be trusted to maintain those sanctions when they're still very much needed. So, I would hope that the speaker won't capitulate to any pressure being placed on him by the White House.

TAPPER: Congressman Adam Schiff, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

TAPPER: Also on the Hill today, Senate Republicans are back behind closed doors trying to meet in the middle on health care. Outside their offices, a rallying cry, "kill the bill." Can a new deal happen in just the next two days? We'll talk about that next.


[16:29:02] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

This afternoon, President Trump was raising expectations as Senate Republicans tried to revamp their health care bill.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Health care is working along very well. We could have a big surprise with a great health care package. So, now, they're happy.

REPORTER: What do you mean by a big surprise?

TRUMP: I think you're going to have a great, great surprise. It's going to be great.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.


TAPPER: A great, great surprise. What does that mean?

CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly joins me now live.

Phil, do we have any idea what surprise President Trump might be talking about?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think this is one of those moments where the shrug emoji might be the most effective response here. Look, in talking to Republican senators throughout the day, a big breakthrough or a big surprise, that's not necessarily in the offing. But there's no question, having space now to try and work out very real issues, very real divisions, helpful, providing some sense of optimism. But there is also a reality, they're still at least at this point, no

closer to a deal.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): For Senate Republicans, more time, but still no clear path.

SEN. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (R), WEST VIRGINIA: I think we also know that it's art of compromise here in the Senate. And so, at this point, we haven't reached that critical point of compromise.