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FBI Tracked Fake News on Election Day; Interview With New York Congressman Lee Zeldin; Russia Probe Expanding; President Trump Begins 17-Day Vacation; Trump to Spend 17 Days at His NJ Golf Club. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired August 4, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The FBI on election night watching this information in real time.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The president returned to friendly turf yesterday to blast the Russia story as a hoax, a total fabrication, despite quite a lot of evidence to the contrary, before heading off a 17-day vacation. Here in Washington, of course, the Russia investigation is taking no vacations.

Brand-new CNN reporting inside the FBI's election night war room, what counterintelligence officials were monitoring.

Plus, President Trump's national security adviser, a decorated general, so what's behind the right-wing smear campaign against Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster?

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

The special counsel's investigation into the possibility of collusion between members of the Trump team and Russia is picking up steam, with a grand jury now issuing subpoenas and investigators digging into the financial records of President Trump, his businesses, his associates and his family, sources tell CNN.

Faced with this bad news, the president went before a rally of supporters in West Virginia last night and besmirched the entire investigation as a hoax.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Russia story is a total fabrication. It's just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics. That's all it is.



TAPPER: Now, it's unclear what the president was calling a fabrication and a hoax. Was it the FBI investigation into whether anyone on his team colluded with Russians? Or was it the overall intelligence community assessment that the Russians attempted to interfere in the election? Or was it both?

It could be just the latter, though, given what he told Anthony Scaramucci, his now former communications director.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: He called me from air force I and he basically said to me, hey, this is -- maybe they did it, maybe they didn't do it.


TAPPER: But maybe we should do a quick check-in with the experts.

And by that, I mean President Trump's own senior intelligence officials. What do they think about whether or not Russia meddled in the election?


MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: I am confident that the Russians meddled in this election, as is the entire intelligence community.

DAN COATS, U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: There is no dissent, and I have stated that publicly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone is on board?

COATS: And have stated it to the president.

ADM. MIKE ROGERS, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY DIRECTOR: No doubt at all, and I stand behind the intelligence, intelligence community assessment that we produced in January.


TAPPER: Now, if President Trump was in fact attacking the investigation into possible collusion with Russians by members of his team, there is another factual issue at hand, that e-mail chain in which his son Donald Trump Jr. was asked if he would be interested in receiving incriminating information about Hillary Clinton from a Russian government lawyer, to which Donald Jr. said, "I love it."

That meeting in 2016 also attended by a Russian-American lobbyist with ties to Russian intelligence, as well as senior adviser Jared Kushner and campaign chair Paul Manafort, that meeting was hidden from the public for a year.

When Donald Trump Jr. was finally a approached about it by "The New York Times," his initial statement was so misleading as to be a lie.

This week, we learned that President Trump, according to the White House, helped write that misleading statement. And, yesterday, we learned that special counsel Bob Mueller has issued subpoenas for more information about that meeting.

But on stage last night, the president acted as if none of these facts existed and described the Russian examination as an attack on decent Americans.


TRUMP: I just hope the final determination is a truly honest one, which is what the millions of people who gave us our big win in November deserve and what all Americans who want a better future want and deserve.


TAPPER: President Trump last night in West Virginia refrained from any major attacks on the man leading the investigation, special counsel Bob Mueller.

The possibility that the president might fire Mueller has set off bipartisan concern in Congress. Yesterday, North Carolina Republican Senator Thom Tillis joined the Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware to introduce a bill to set up a judicial roadblock to President Trump firing Mueller.

A legislative rebuke like that of the president, that might be extraordinary, if it weren't now becoming part of a pattern. One could say this began when Congress overwhelmingly voted on the Russian sanctions bill that includes a provision opposed by the president forbidding the president from removing the sanctions without congressional approval.

While most Republican officials remain hesitant to criticize President Trump publicly, their actions on that issue speak louder than their lack of words.

Now, we do not know what the outcome of Mr. Mueller's investigation will be, but no matter how much the president attacks checks and balances and efforts to hold them accountable, whether from the FBI, Bob Mueller, judges, Congress, the media, we're going to continue keep letting you know when he says things that aren't true or misleading.

The president last night also said this:


TRUMP: We didn't win because of Russia. We won because of you. That, I can tell you.




TAPPER: The truth is that, as of now, we have no idea whether Russian interference played a role in any way in the Russian results, but we do know that there were, according to the intelligence community, successful Russian hacks of Democrats, leaks of that information, as well as a disinformation campaign spreading false stories.

CNN is now learning for the first time about the evidence the FBI was actually watching on Election Day in real time as it tracked the spread of disinformation.

And CNN's Pamela Brown and Shimon Prokupecz join me again now, after their big scoop yesterday.

And, Shimon, you're learning that the FBI, some FBI analysts spent Election Day scrolling through Facebook. Why?


And, basically, the point of that was to look for fake news. And we're told that counterintelligence analysts and investigators were huddled in a room at FBI headquarters on Election Day monitoring fake news.

And what they could see was streams of fake news, negative stories being posted about Hillary Clinton, some having to do with her health, according to multiple sources.

They were able to identify suspected Russian links to the accounts that appeared, Jake, to be pushing this news, these fake negative stories about Hillary Clinton.

TAPPER: And, Pamela, was the FBI, were they coordinating in any way with the White House?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: There were. There was constant coordination on election night.

You had the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the director of national intelligence holding conference calls every three hours with a team in the Situation Room in the White House to discuss any possible problems.

Of course, the big concern then was that the vote could be tampered with, that the machines could be tampered with by hackers. And while there were some minor issues that popped up across the country from Alaska to Georgia, there were no major incidents or disruptions of the vote, the sources said. And we should note, Jake, the FBI declined to comment.

TAPPER: And, Shimon, this might strike some people, I have to say, as inappropriate, the idea of the FBI monitoring what people are reading.

Now, there is a First Amendment, after all.


And certainly this is not an uncomfortable place the FBI wants to be in. But, you know, it was something they needed to do, you know, and this was definitely a concern for them. But it was something that they continued to monitor and sort of keep an eye on because they felt it was important.

But -- and it's still part of their investigation today into Russia collusion, because the point now is they need a better understanding of how fake news played into this, what role it had and whether or not anyone in the Trump campaign, in the Trump world worked with the Russians in this campaign.

TAPPER: And, Pamela, we know all of this fake news obviously was designed to spread misinformation, false information about Hillary Clinton, her health problems, how corrupt she was, thefts that she supposedly committed, murders that she committed, et cetera.

So when Trump won on election night, what was the reaction among these officials?

BROWN: It's interesting, because the reaction was divided. On one hand, you had some officials who were really relieved and then exchanged congratulations with one another because, in their view, there were no major problems, the votes wasn't tampered with, from what they can tell.

But one official in the Obama White House had the opposite reaction as these celebrations were taking place. And this person, apparently, as it was told to us, said, are you kidding me? What they did worked in terms of what the Russians did.

And this official thought that the government's response to Russia during the election was a failure of imagination in what the Russians were able to accomplish. So, while they were celebrating about the votes not being tampered with, this Obama White House official thought, well, the Russians got exactly what they wanted without having to tamper with the vote.

TAPPER: Just through the information and disinformation campaign.

BROWN: Exactly.

TAPPER: Shimon and Pamela, thank you so much.

Grand jury subpoenas are out in the Russian probe, as we're reporting, while, despite evidence to the contrary, the president says the story is a total fabrication orchestrated by Democrats. We're going to talk to one Republican congressman and see if he agrees next.



TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead.

President Trump is beginning a 17-day vacation at his New Jersey golf club, as the Russia investigation intensifies. CNN has learned special counsel Robert Mueller has issued grand jury subpoenas for records related to that meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, a Russian lawyer and others last year. Joining me now is Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York. He

serves on the Foreign Relations Committee and is a major in the U.S. Army Reserves.

Congressman, good to see you, as always.

What's your reaction to the news that grand jury subpoenas have gone out about that meeting?

REP. LEE ZELDIN (R), NEW YORK: Well, I'm not surprised by it. I would be surprised if we didn't have the level of cooperation that's needed in turning over whatever type of information would be in the possession of anyone involved in that meeting or answering any questions.

I would be surprised if the subpoena at the end of the day is actually needed. But the fact that one is issued, I'm not surprised by. I would be surprised if it turns out they need to actually use that to enforce it because they weren't getting cooperation.

TAPPER: You're kind of in an interesting position when it comes to that meeting because, when the initial stories came out, you expressed skepticism that there was much there.

And then the e-mails came out and you publicly said, wow. You expressed chagrin about the actual content of those e-mails.

Are you satisfied right now? Do you feel as though you know all there is to know about that June 2016 meeting between the Trump team and various Russians?

ZELDIN: Well, I may know everything there is to know. I don't know if there is anything else that will come out that I'm not aware of right now, and that's why the investigations are taking place.

There's obviously the one that you just point out, the special counsel. These individuals involved in the meeting also came over to Capitol Hill as well to answer questions. So, I might find out new information, but I'm not aware of anything at this point else about the meeting that hasn't come out yet.

TAPPER: Take a listen to what President Trump said at a rally in West Virginia yesterday about Democrats being behind the Russia investigation.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They can't beat us at the voting booths, so they're trying to cheat you out of the future and the future that you want. They're trying to cheat you out of the leadership you want with a fake story that is demeaning to all of us, and most importantly, demeaning to our country.


TAPPER: You're a Republican, a supporter of president Trump, and you also support Mueller's investigation and the ongoing congressional probes you just mentioned. Are you trying to cheat voters out of their futures?

ZELDIN: No. Well, I'm never interested in cheating voters out of their future. You know, if I asked people in my district, what's the most important issue to you, there are some people who will say Russia, some people will reference the economy or national security or taking care of our veterans. Right now, across the country, a lot of people have different top priorities.

I believe that the Russians meddled in the elections last year. I'm greatly concerned about the cybersecurity component of it. There have been aspects of this investigation that's come out where it was once reported that Director Comey went to Rod Rosenstein asking for additional resources to expand the Russian investigation and Rod Rosenstein said that wasn't true. And then it turned out that wasn't true.

So, I mean, we also have to be careful about the different reporting that comes out by anonymous sources, because sometimes a story comes out and it's spot on accurate, and we're learning something new that we didn't learn before. And other times a story comes out, and it turns out after more vetting that it's not true.

Now, the president knows a lot more than I do as far as whether or not there was any type of additional activities between the Trump campaign and the Russians, but if there was nothing else there, and I was in his shoes, I would obviously be infuriated as well because I'd rather be talking about how the stock market just passed $22,000 (ph), all these jobs were created and unemployment is at a lower level.

But these investigations are taking place, and if there's anything new to come out that's pertinent, we're all going to find out about it. And we just -- the good news about the investigations is if there is nothing else there, then the conclusions of Bob Mueller actually help clear the president with regards to some of these allegations that have been lobbed. So, there's that benefit as well.

TAPPER: All right. Congressman Lee Zeldin, Republican of New York -- thanks so much, sir. Always good to see you.

ZELDIN: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up, we play one of our lead office games. Is there a tweet for that? We'll dig into the Trump Twitter archive to see what he has said about presidential vacations. Here's a hint. We found more than a dozen tweets.


[16:22:23] TAPPER: Welcome back. Sticking with politics.

Two weeks and three days, that's how long President Trump will be gone from Washington on his first official vacation since taking office. That's twice as long as President Obama's first official vacation. Let's cue the game we play called "is there a tweet for it?" Is there

something in the @realDonaldTrump tweet archives in which he's slamming an opponent for the exact same thing he's doing now?

There's not just one tweet. Today, we found 16 of them. Let's pull one of them from October 2011. Quote, why is Barack Obama always campaigning or on vacation? And President Trump kept up those attacks during the campaign.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I promise you, I will not be taking very long vacations if I take them at all. There's no time for vacation. If you're at the White House and you have so much work to do, why do you fly so -- why do you leave so much? Why -- you know, you think you would want to work, work, work, straighten it out.


TAPPER: You would think -- why would you leave so much, you would think you want to work, work, work.

Let's go to CNN's Jason Carroll who's in New Jersey, ahead of the president's arrival.

Jason, the White House says this is not going to be entirely leisure time. It will be a working vacation, which is, of course, what the Obama White House said as well.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, right. We've heard this from previous administrations, and we're hearing it again from this administration.

What we're also hearing from is -- from, Jake, are some of the president supporters who say, look, this is just another example of the media and others being hypercritical of this president, but the numbers and the history just doesn't bear that out. You talk about and refer to some of the numbers there. Just to go over the numbers a little bit more for you so our audience can have some perspective on this.

President Trump to date has spent some 41 days away from the White House, whether it be at Bedminster or Mar-a-Lago. You compare that to President Obama who spent 21 days in places like Chicago or Camp David. Once again you've got the base saying, look, again, you are harping on this when you really shouldn't be.

But, again, you look at the numbers, you look at the history. You pointed out some examples of this president really going after President Obama any time he took a vacation. We heard it many times out on the campaign.

One specific example, he said, I'm going to be working for you. I'm not going to have time to go out and play golf.

Clearly, we've seen pictures and the president's own words now coming back to haunt him -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jason Carroll in New Jersey where President Trump is vacationing for 17 days.

Also in our politics lead, the president's national security adviser, a decorated army lieutenant general, has become a target of the right wing. The latest move from H.R. McMaster that has angered some of the president's base supporters after this short break.

[16:25:03] Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Topping our world lead today, CNN is back in Syria. Our team on the ground is seeing changes. Russia seems more openly involved in the civil war and Bashar al-Assad, not surprisingly, is thus stronger.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in the Syrian capital of Damascus.

And, Fred, you've been to Syria many times. You're reporting that it's clear Russia is helping Assad solidify his power in the civil war.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Oh, yes, absolutely. And you know what, Jake, you can really see how the role of Russia has increased a great deal since the last time we were here, which was about eight months ago.

Now, they've always been helping the Assad government on the battlefield. But now, they're taking on a more political role in Syria as well. What they're doing is they're brokering local cease fires with rebel groups. In many cases, we do have to say that these cease fires really forced on the rebels, often with rebels who are encircled, anyway.

But one of the new ceasefires is now north of the town of Homs, which is just brokered yesterday. And what it does is frees up some of those Syrian army forces, also affiliate forces like, for instance, like Hezbollah that then go on to fight ISIS, where the Syrian government actually, we have to say, has been making some significant gains over the past couple of weeks.