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Facebook Doesn't Know Extent of Russian Ad Buys in 2016; Interview with Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma; Treasury Department Inspector General to Look Into All Mnuchin's Jet Requests. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 14, 2017 - 16:30   ET


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Russian Internet trolls set up this Facebook group, Secured Borders, which had 129,000 followers, and even tried to organize an anti- immigration rally in Idaho last summer.

[16:30:06] That's according to Russian journalist Andrei Sakharov who uncovered the Secured Borders' Facebook site as part of his investigation into Russian trolls.

He says more than a dozen Russian-backed Facebook groups had millions of followers.

ANDREI SAKHAROV, RUSSIAN JOURNALIST: They had about 12 or 15 million visitors to that Facebook groups per week.

GRIFFIN: The fake sites, the fake stories, were mostly negative about Hillary Clinton, and either supported or promoted far right conservative positions that were being pushed by Donald Trump.

Experts say the overall effect was to spread so much disinformation it all just started to look real. Attacks on so the-called mainstream media played right into the Russians hands.


GRIFFIN: How did Facebook not see this, Jake? That is a big question. Not just for Congress, but we're learning inside Facebook as well. One of the reasons Facebook says the Russians bought all of those ads using its self-service tool. Basically buying ads like you'd make on online purchase, no human interaction at all. No Facebook employee involved -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Drew Griffin, thank you so much.

And we're back with the Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. He serves on the Senate Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees.

Senator, Facebook sold ad space to Russians last year, and much of that was used to boost or spread fake news, attacking Hillary Clinton. Now, we have no idea how this effected the election, but it happened.

How serious a problem is this and what do you think should be done to combat it if anything? SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yes, it is

incredibly serious. It's one of the issues that Facebook is trying to be able to walk through the process on how do they handle this on the future?

It wasn't just fake news to attack Hillary Clinton. It was fake news to attack everything. It was the most divisive issues that they could find in the American culture and they would spread it as fast and far as they possibly could.

So, Facebook has been very outspoken to talk about it. This is an issue, they've - started the process on it. We need to be able to continue the process dealing with Facebook and to try to figure out how to be able to resolve this.

The government does not need to be in the business of trying to edit social media or edit any media of any type. But Facebook is aware they don't want the platform to be used for situations like this. They have already dealt with situations like this in Europe on the Facebook platforms there, as the Russians attacking the French elections or German elections or other things.

So, they're not new to this, but they're new to dealing this with the American version of Facebook. And so, we've got to be able to help them resolve this and they've got to be able to take the lead on their own platform.

TAPPER: Do you think Facebook should be held accountable? In other words, should the Intelligence Committee, which you're a member of, should they call them, the executives from Facebook, to testify or should they produce the ads and all information and have complete transparency about their role in the Russians trying to interfere in the election.

LANKFORD: Yes, let me be clear on this, I don't think Facebook was complicit in trying to help the Russians. I just think they weren't attentive to something that they should have been attentive to and they can set up algorithms to be able to pick up and detect and then determine what they're going to do. I think it is entirely appropriate to be able to continue to visit with the intelligence committee and maybe even in a public setting to do that, and to be able to get the word out. Here's what we've seen, here's what happened, here's what we're doing as a responsible actor to be able to make sure that our platform is not used for nefarious means in the future.

But again, that should be them taking the lead on that. We can be a participant in that and to encourage it. I think the American people would encourage that. But we do not need to have government trying to step into a social media platform and determining for them what's appropriate content and what's not appropriate content.

TAPPER: All right. Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, great to see you. Thanks for being here.

LANKFORD: Good to see you again. TAPPER: Twenty-five thousand dollars an hour, that's the cost of

taxpayer-funded government jet that the treasury secretary wanted to use for his honeymoon. Now, the Treasury Department inspector general, he has some questions for Steve Mnuchin.

Stick around.


[16:38:08] TAPPER: Welcome back. We're going to stick with politics now.

Before Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin flew to Europe for his June honeymoon with his new wife, Louise Linton, third wife, he asked about using a government jet to fly them off to Scotland, France, and Italy. That move would have cost taxpayers $25,000 an hour. Mnuchin later withdrew that request so it did not happen. The Treasury Department inspector general however today announced that he will be looking into every request for and use of a government plane by Mnuchin.

You might remember last month, when the couple flew to Kentucky in the path of totality where they watched the eclipse from the roof of Ft. Knox, Linton posted this pic of herself exiting the government jet on that trip and then mocked a woman on Instagram who asked if the government paid for the journey.

Joining me now is CNN senior Washington correspondent Brianna Keilar.

What is the official explanation, Brianna, for why Mnuchin felt like he needed a government jet to fly him on his honeymoon to Europe?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: They're saying basically it was him making sure that he could do his job. So, he had asked to use the aircraft on the honeymoon, Treasury says, because the U.S. has, quote, multiple issues around the world with the secretary is directly involved in national security, notably North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela, among others, and it is imperative that he have access to secure communications.

But in the end, the department said that the secretary's office determined they could get secured communication capabilities without using a military aircraft, so then the request was pulled.

It's a let them eat cake moment that comes on the heels of another, the I.G. is already reviewing the other trip you mentioned, Jake, a supposedly official trip that Mnuchin and Louise Linton took, that included that viewing of the solar eclipse on the roof of Fort Knox, and Linton did get into big trouble when she posted that very glamorous photo of her and her husband exiting the government plane that they rode on Instagram. She tagged all the high end designers, whose clothes she was wearing, the outfit that she was in was at least $3,000 worth of clothes, not including her handbag.

[16:40:05] And so, when a working mother of three criticized her in the comment section of Instagram and Linton laid into her, calling her, quote, adorably out of touch and saying that the woman hadn't given more to the economy than Linton or Secretary Mnuchin, either in tax or just self-sacrifice, it was really a huge controversy. And now, you have the I.G. looking into all of the travel on government planes and all of the requests for travel even as an outside watchdog group has sued for information on that Kentucky trip.

TAPPER: And we should say, Brianna, it's not just Democrats and good government groups talking about this, Republicans are annoyed with him, but it has to do with his handling of the debt ceiling.

KEILAR: That's right, because the president agreed with Democrats to this three-month extension of the debt ceiling, much to the chagrin of Republicans. And so, Secretary Mnuchin went to the Hill to try to sell them on it. A lot of them came out of the meeting with him and said they were actually less sold on it than they were going in, which is quite an accomplishment.

And the thing that really upset them was that he said quote, do it for me. They felt that was ridiculous that he had said that. And all of this happening with Secretary Mnuchin, it's coming as he, the administration and Republicans are set to reveal details of individual and corporate tax cuts, right? And they're expected to yield rich people getting tax cuts.

So that is the backdrop in which all of this is happening.

TAPPER: I think a Republican congressman said that the meeting with Mnuchin was even more tone deaf than his wife's Instagram post. That's how bad it was.

KEILAR: The achievement.


Brianna Keilar, thanks so much.

We have a lot to discuss with my political panel. Let's start with President Trump and his comments about his meeting with Senator Tim Scott. Tim Scott, of course, a conservative Republican, African- American from South Carolina, who expressed concern about President Trump abdicating his moral leadership in the Charlottesville, in the wake of Charlottesville fight, melee, poor woman being killed.

Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think especially in light of the advent of antifa, if you look at what's going on there. You know, you have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also. And essentially that's what I said.

Now, because of what's happened since then, with antifa, you look at really what's happened since Charlottesville, a lot of people are say, in fact, a lot of people have actually written, gee, Trump might have a point. I said, you've got some very bad people on the other side also, which is true. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: He had been asked, Mary Katharine, about his meeting with Tim Scott, Tim Scott who had a private meeting, wanted to express why he was concerned about his comments, and that was his response.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, he wants to be right and he's not good at laying things to rest. And as usual, these are some of the things he said. It's not all that he said. And in fact, the most egregious things he said was that there were some fine people at the white supremacist rally.

Like on the part about there being different kinds of political violence and people actually acknowledging that in the weeks following that. That part is true. But I'm not sure it helps his relationship with Scott or this story to continue to revisit it, but he will.

TAPPER: Stephanie, Senator Scott responded just a few minutes ago saying when read the quote from President Trump: That's who he is. It's who he has been, and I didn't go in there, meaning the White House, to change who he was, I wanted to inform and educate a different perspective. I think we accomplished that. And to assume that immediately thereafter, he's going to have an epiphany is just unrealistic.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yes, an epiphany -- an epiphany about how bad white supremacy, an epiphany about the long history in this country about racism.

It's a pretty pathetic day when we're talking about a president needing an epiphany on those subjects. And I appreciate Senator Scott going in there and trying to educate the president, but I think Mary Katharine is right, he is who he is. This is what he believes. Nothing's going to change that, no matter how much this White House tries to spin a story otherwise.

TAPPER: There's also some breaking news this afternoon, "New York Times" reporting, we talk about it with Maggie Haberman, one of the reporters, about this meeting between President Trump and Jeff Sessions where President Trump so was upset about the appointment of Robert Mueller to be the special counsel that he furious at Sessions who had recused himself from the matter, called him an idiot, suggested he should resign. Sessions apparently very emotionally shaken by the meeting did submit his resignation. Ultimately, President Trump did not accept it.

But another window into how difficult it can be, can be, to work for President Trump.

HAM: Look, I think the long and probably successful campaign to make Jeff Sessions sympathetic continues apace. So Donald Trump has achieved that.

Look, I think this is a very hard administration to work in. And you do not know when you're on his good side or bad side. I think Scaramucci thought he was until the very moment that he wasn't. TAPPER: Yes.

HAM: As all of them do. It seems like they have healed this relationship to some extent, but I think probably a "New York Times" story will make him think about this again and perhaps make him angry about it again, and then it will be revisited as many things are.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And again the point of this, the point of why he's upset is that he's upset that Attorney General Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation so that he did not have control over Jim Comey, and, you know, Bannon, Steve Bannon has said it was President Trump's firing that was the mistake there, although I think Bannon was kind of suggesting it was Kushner's fault as well. But really, I mean, when you get down to it, this is about Russia and the Russia investigation.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Oh, absolutely. And I think that President Trump's reaction to it shows you just how weary he is. The fact that Bob Mueller is running a Special Investigation into everything about your life and everything about the people around you --

TAPPER: A wider -- a wider investigation than I think Comey was going to do.

CUTTER: Well, I think that's probably true. But, you know, everybody knows Bob Mueller's track record and his credibility and his professional record on this. And you know, I think -- I think Trump is going to be upset with Attorney General Sessions for a very long time.

TAPPER: Let's talk about President Trump's dinner last night. He had Chinese Food with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. And I don't know what was in the general toast but they walked out with something of the contours of an agreement of some sort about finding some sort of protection for Dreamers. Maybe with increased security at the border, although not funding for the border wall. I've read a lot of angry tweets by Conservatives today. Angry at -- while some are angry at President Trump, some are angry at Republican leadership, I don't really follow that.

HAM: Yes, no one knows why they're angry at anything. No, I think -- look, who could have imagined that Donald Trump a non-ideological lifelong Democrat until he became a Republican, he would sit down with a fellow New Yorker and hash out a deal over Chinese Food. I'm shocked. But look, I think, look, I am -- I am on board with protecting the Dreamers. I'm wary about how you do that and how you make that deal. I think many Republicans in leadership are fine of making the deal. And frankly, it is a step to the right to make it a constitutional way to protect them instead of the unconstitutional way that Obama admitted that he did it. And so -- but this is not what Trump voters signed up for. And the question is, can he shoot the wall in the middle of Fifth Avenue and get away with it. That remains unclear.

TAPPER: That's nice. It's very good. I want you -- Stephanie, listen to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. He had a hot mic on the Senate floor -- they will never learn -- talking with his aides about his relationship with President Trump.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: He likes us. He likes me anyway.


TAPPER: He likes us, he likes me anyway. A little Sally Field moment a little bit there.

CUTTER: He loves me, he really, really loves me. I think that's probably true. I mean, they do have a relationship that goes pretty far back. Chuck Schumer is the Senator from New York. And I think that Chuck Schumer knows how to make deals. And you know, the President wrote a whole book on that. So, we don't know what happened in that room but I think the President understands that he needs to actually finally get something done. And Democrats will work with him on that as long as he is willing to come forward and protect these young people. But I don't think they're willing to give in on any of the hard core principles that we've fought for.

HAM: Speaking of which, since (INAUDIBLE), not knowing why anyone is angry for any reason. When Ryan and McConnell hold up this bill to try and add some actual border security because they don't feel like it's sufficient and the entire party turns on them, we're just -- we're done. We're through the looking glass. I don't know.

TAPPER: It's interesting because, I mean, this is -- this is -- I mean, this is not very, very different from what Hillary Clinton would be trying to do that the point. I guess she would have


TAPPER: -- she would have -- she would have tried to pass a law protecting the Dreamers. Maybe throwing some border security. Democrats have voted for border security in the past.

CUTTER: Except, I don't think that she would have had a willing Republican Party coming to the table wanting to work with her on that. I think that the Ryan, McConnell party would have made things very difficult for her if she had won. They would not have wanted to -- look what they did to Barack Obama.

TAPPER: Speaking of Hillary Clinton, she spoke with Anderson Cooper last night, revisiting 2016. Take a listen to what she had to say about Russian interference.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Republicans will say no vote was ever changed, this did not affect the outcome of the election.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I would say two things. This was a highly sophisticated influence operation. I believe it did affect people's votes.

COOPER: You think it cost you votes?

CLINTON: I think it cost me votes.

COOPER: The fact that those e-mails were --

CLINTON: Well, and that they were weaponized.


TAPPER: What do you think?

HAM: I'm just unconvinced by the whole tour and I think many -- frankly, there are many times that I think, how the heck did Donald Trump become President and then Hillary shows up in the scene sort of reminds me how bad the two choices were. And I don't think she's grappling with what actually happened here. And that doesn't mean there aren't many reasons that she lost but she is a principal reason that she lost.

[16:50:11] CUTTER: And she has said that. She said she takes responsibility and --

HAM: But.

CUTTER: -- for pretty much everything. But I think she's right to point out that there was Russian interference, and it probably did cost her votes. We don't know how many, but when you lose an election by 77,000 votes, which ultimately that came down to, there are a lot of different reasons she lost that vote. And she's the candidate. She says she takes responsibility. I think she has every right to be doing -- writing this book, doing this tour.

TAPPER: No one questions her --

HAM: (INAUDIBLE) in public. All within her rights.

CUTTER: And everybody is --

TAPPER: All right, Mary Katharine and Stephanie, thank you so much. That was me doing Hillary Clinton's yoga nostril breathing by the way. Guess anybody is casting any (INAUDIBLE)

Coming up, more seriously, hundreds of people being killed, thousands of others fleeing for their lives. We're going to go to the front lines of what is being described as a textbook ethnic cleansing. That horrific story next. Stay with us.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: We have breaking news in our "WORLD LEAD" now. A short while ago, CNN learned that a U.S. citizen who had been fighting for ISIS had been captured in Syria. A U.S. military official told CNN that the American surrendered and was detained by the U.S.-backed Syrian democratic forces. The Daily Beast was first to report the story. CNN has reached out to the State and Justice Department and the FBI but they all declined to comment. This is of course not the first U.S. citizen fighting for ISIS to be detained by U.S. allies in the region in March 2016. An American was captured in Iraq by U.S.- backed Kurdish Peshmerga forces. We'll bring you more on the story when we get more information.

Now to our "BURIED LEAD," that's what we call stories we believe we're not getting enough attention. The U.N. Secretary General this morning referred to the situation in Myanmar as a "Humanitarian catastrophe." And today, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for an end to horrors as country formally known as Burma is accused of brutal ethnic cleansing against the Muslim minority called the Rohingya, forcing hundreds of thousands to cross the border fleeing into Bangladesh to escape murder, rape, and other devastation. Myanmar's Leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Laureate has been facing intense criticism for being complicit in this horror which is being led by the country's military. CNN's Alexandra Field joins me now from Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Alexandra, you just got back from the front lines of this horrific crisis, tell us what you saw.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're seeing hundreds of thousands of people who find themselves in an absolutely desperate situation, Jake. They have arrived here in Bangladesh, the government in this country says, they don't have the capacity to help all of these people who are here in need of help and without any resources. A massive humanitarian crisis, not just on this side of the border, but also in Myanmar where tens of thousands of Rohingyas are still believed to be trapped, trying to get out without any help (AUDIO GAP)


FIELD: There's nowhere the pain hurts worse than here. (INAUDIBLE) was running for his life when a land mine ripped his body apart.

And he's -- we just got here and he's saying over and over again, what is he saying?.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He lost eyes, both the eyes. He's telling me again, he's saying that (INAUDIBLE) my eyes so that I can see.

FIELD: (INAUDIBLE) took a bullet. That hardly compares to the pain of watching her two young sons shot to death at her side. They are among most badly injured refugees who made it to Bangladesh. Nearly 400,000 streaming across the border since August 25th fleeing a violent military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, a minority group in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country. Textbook ethnic cleansing says the United Nations. It's now fuelling a humanitarian catastrophe.

We're seeing just some of the tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees who are arriving here in Bangladesh from Myanmar every single day. Most of them have saved nothing but their own lives. When they get here, they're finding that the official refugee camps are already full. So they're setting up any kind of shelter that they can find, but they need food, they need water, they need help. Global aid organizations are underprepared to meet the needs of a mass

exodus. And Myanmar's Leader, Global Human Rights Icon Aung San Suu Kyi is under fire for failing to stop it. Her supporters say the military retains overall power. 1,000 people left dead since the military launched a violent campaign against Rohingya. They say they're targeting terrorists following a militant attack in late August on border posts that killed 12 police officers.

(INAUDIBLE) is 13 years old. She tells us she was shot by the military, so was her mother.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After walking for ten days, she was almost at the border of the Bangladesh.

FIELD: The Rohingya are often called the worlds most persecuted people. They've lived in Myanmar for generations and never been recognized as citizens. Now their towns are burning to the ground. The exodus has left 40 percent of their villages empty.


FIELD: Aung San Suu Kyi was scheduled to travel to New York next week. She has canceled that trip amid mounting crisis. Instead, she will stay home to address the nation. The Rohingyas here in Bangladesh and those still at home in Myanmar are waiting to hear if it is a place that will ever be safe for them to return to. Jake.

TAPPER: Alexandra Field, thanks so much. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. Turning you over to the "SIT ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer.