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Sen. Graham Begins Hearing on Russia Using Social Media to Meddle in Election; White House Daily Briefing. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired October 31, 2017 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:31:05] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Facebook, Twitter, Google, all on Capitol Hill right now. This is happening at the Senate Judiciary hearing. Just getting started now, where Senators are about to grill the social media giants how Russia used their platforms to meddle in U.S. politics and specifically in the 2016 presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The numbers tell the story here. Consider this, provided by Facebook, here in a stunning statement, 126 million Americans -- let me say that again -- 126 million Americans might have seen content provided by the Russian government in the weeks leading up to Election Day. Compare that to the number of people voted last year, 139 million.
Let's go straight to Drew Griffin, our senior investigative correspondent, who is there in Washington listening in to this all- important hearing. I mean - actually, forgive me, Drew.
Let's listen in to Senator Lindsey Graham.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: -- certainly, allowed to do so. The title of this hearing is "Extremist Content in Russian Disinformation Online, Working with Tech to Find Solutions." That's what we want to do. So we are here to try to find solutions.
Let me describe the challenge. "I doubt if I would be here if it weren't for social media." President Trump told FOX News on October 20, 2017. So this is the president of the United States saying that, from his point of view, social media was an invaluable tool to help him win an election. I would dare say that every politician up here today asking you questions uses your service. And we find it invaluable to communicate with our constituents and get our message out. Not only do we use it and does the president use it, millions of Americans use your technology to share the first step of a grandchild, to talk about good and bad things in their lives. And I would like to say to all of you you've enriched America. We have more information available to us because of what you do. We can find almost an answer to any question. When was the Pentagon built. We can share aspects of our lives with those who mean the most to us. And we can talk among ourselves in 140 characters, some are better than others, some people should probably do less of it.
But the bottom line is these technologies also can be used to undermine our democracy and put our nation at risk. The platforms that I've just described that add value to individual American lives and to our country also can be used by terrorists to recruit in cyberworld people to their cause, can be used by foreign governments. We have seen an example of that in 2016, to create chaos within our democracy. Information is power. Ideas are the essence of democracy, the exchange of ideas. Being able to criticize each other is one of the things that we cherish the most. But what we have to be on guard as a nation is having people who want to undermine our way of life using these platforms against us. And I think this is the national security challenge of the 21st century.
Here's what General Petraeus said about jihadists online. "Jihadists have shown a particular facility in exploiting ungoverned and even the inadequately governed spaces in the Islamic world. They are also exploiting the vast, largely ungoverned spaces in cyberspace, demonstrating increasing technical expertise, sophistication in media production, and agility in the face of various efforts to limit its access. It is clear that our counter extremism efforts and other initiatives to combat extremism online have until now been inadequate."
I think that's a fair statement.
[14:35:04] And the purpose of this hearing is to figure out how we can help you. I believe that each of you in your own way are taking these problems seriously. The one thing I can say without a doubt, what we are doing collectively is not working. You had a foreign government apparently buying thousands of dollars-worth of advertising to create discontent and discord in the 2016 election. You have foreign entities going to Web sites to create fights among Americans, like we don't have enough to fight about on our own. So the bottom line is these platforms are being used by people who wish us harm and wish to undercut our way of life.
If you are a man like Putin, democracy is your worst nightmare. If you live in Putin's Russia, the idea that changing information about what's good and bad about your government is something you dare not do because you won't last very long. So to those who wish to undermine the American way of life, they found portals into our society that are intermingled with everyday life. The challenge of this hearing and this focus is how do we keep the good, and deal with the bad. We'll never be 100 percent perfect, but the goal is to be better than we are today. And to the extent that legislation can help, we would like to know about what we can do to help. To the extent that the status quo is acceptable, we all want to be on the record and say it is not.
So with that, I'll turn it over to Senate Whitehouse.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, (D), RHODE ISLAND: Thank you, Senator Graham for organizing this fourth subcommittee hearing into Russia's meddling into the 2016 election. I'm very proud of the work we are doing on this issue. I hope it will continue. And I hope that you and your team see me and my team as loyal partners in this effort.
Understanding what happened, how Russia applied the varied methods in its election interference toolbox to interfere with our democracy is an important step towards protecting the integrity of future elections and of our democratic process. Each hearing the subcommittee hold gets us closer to that understanding.
In our first hearing in march, we talked about the subcommittee's intent, and I quote, "To begin a public conversation about the means and methods Russia uses to undermine democratic government." We heard testimony from expert witnesses who outlined the various tools through which the Kremlin exerts influences abroad, from traditional intelligence methods, like compromising corrupt business and political figures, to hacking.
BALDWIN: All right. Here she is, Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the White House.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon. Happy Halloween.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I thought for sure I would see some costumes today.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: We're dressed as reporters.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: That's not nearly as exciting as what you could have come but we'll let it slide for today.
Today, I'm once again pleased to talk about the topic that we and, more importantly, the American people are excited about, tax cuts. We are approaching the release of legislation based on the tax reform framework the president supports. No matter how great the plan is for the hardworking families, Democrats are expected to criticize the tax cuts as they've done in recent years putting partisan politics ahead of their constituent's pocketbooks. While arguing over President Reagan's 1981 tax cuts, Democrats claim it would only benefit the rich. The Democrat speaker of the House at the time, Tip O'Neill, called them "royal tax cuts" because he claimed they favored the wealthiest Americans. What really happened was more than 14 million new jobs were created over five years, incomes grew by over 22 percent for the next seven years, and the economy grew by over 3.5 percent on average for the rest of the decade. Some Democrats must have been paying attention to history because as recently as last year they publicly supported many of the principles for which the president is advocating today. That includes lowering the corporate tax rate which is the highest among developing nations, so our businesses can be more competitive. In fact, President's Obama and Clinton both advocated for cutting corporate tax rates. Senate Democrat Leader Chuck Schumer in the past called our tax system upside down and inside-out. And last year, he actually admitted that cutting corporate taxes is, quote, "really important" for American competitiveness. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi apparently agreed because she said, quote, "It is long since past time for tax reform that would lower the corporate tax rate." The only thing that's changed since then is who occupies the White House.
[14:39:58] Since day one, the president has been committed to jump starting out economy and giving hardworking Americans the raise they deserve. Under the framework supported by the president, our economy will grow, businesses will invest back in the country, and American workers will see their wages grow. In fact, the Counsel for Economic Advisers estimates that a typical hardworking American family would get a $4,000 pay raise. So to Democrats and Congress, particularly those who would like to place American jobs and middle-class tax relieve ahead of politics, the question is very simple, do you believe the American people deserve a pay raise. We certainly do. And that's what we'll be focused on in fighting for. The choice is yours.
And with that, I'll take your questions.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sarah, where does the president stand on the tax reduction for state and local taxes? That seems to be in dispute?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: We laid out our priorities for the tax cut plan. Those haven't changed. The president is going to continue working with both the House and Senate to push forward and make sure that the principles he laid out are achieved. And we haven't made any adjustments to that at this time.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What about the mortgage interest deduction?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, same point here. We haven't made any changes to the priorities that we laid out. I'm not going to negotiate between you and I. But the president is going to be involved in ongoing conversations with members of both the House and Senate. We have laid out what our priorities are and going to stick to those as we move forward.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Has he had conversations with Speaker Ryan just now?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: They're still meeting now and we'll have a read out on that meeting once it's completed.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thanks, Sarah. Question on yesterday's Mueller news. President Trump's nominee to serve as chief science advisor over at the Agriculture Department is Sam Clovis. And Clovis was the campaign supervisor cited in that Padopoulos plea, and his lawyers since acknowledged that he was the one in that plea who encouraged Papadopoulos in August 2016 to make ha trip to Russia to meet with Russian officials about the campaign. Given all that is the president still comfortable with him Sam Clovis serving in the administration?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not aware of any change that would be necessary.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And on it that note is the administration aware of who the other three or four campaign individuals who were referenced in that Papadopoulos plea were and are any serving in in the administration?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not aware of the specific individuals. What I can say is I think Papadopoulos is an example of actually somebody doing the wrong thing while the president's campaign did the right thing. All of his e-mails were voluntarily provided to the special counsel by the campaign. And that is what led to the process and the place that we are in right now was the campaign fully cooperating and helping with that. What Papadopoulos did was lie and that's on him not on the campaign and we can't speak for that.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Chief of Staff John Kelly said this special counsel investigation has been very distracting for the president. Can you elaborate on that? Is this affecting his ability to get his job done?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't think it's affecting his ability to get the job done. That wasn't the point he was making. You seem completely obsessed with this. While a lot of other things happening around the country and frankly people care more about. The media refuses to cover it. And that's the distraction. Instead of the focus being on constantly on tax reform. If you look at the records the questions I take in day out have far more to do with investigation that frankly Americans don't care a lot about and whole less about policies that affect them.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why are you so confident that the investigation won't go on further?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: We have confidence that it's going to come to a close in short time.
Glen, go ahead.
Glen has a call. Maybe he needed a phone in to get help with his question.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sarah?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Glen, I had more faith in you to be able to ask a question all by yourself, but.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The other thing that General Kelly said yesterday was in reference to General Lee and he said that the Civil War was the result of the failure to compromise. Was he suggesting that there would be compromise on the ablution of slavery? Can you explain exactly what he was talking about?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, all of our leaders have flaws. That doesn't diminish the contributions to our country, and certainly can't erase them from history. And General Kelly was simply making the point, because history isn't perfect, it doesn't mean it's not our history.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You are a proud daughter of the south. When you see a statue, like Nathan Forrest, who was responsible for a massacre, is there a differentiation? Do you think there are certain figures that don't deserve to be honored?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I don't think we should debate every moment of history. I think those moments took place. There are moments that are going to be a lot less proud of than others. But we can't erase the fact they happened. You have to determine where the line is. The president has said those should be something left up to state and local governments. And that's not who I'm representing today, so I won't get into the back and forth of it.
[14:45:14] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thanks a lot, Sarah. Follow up what you said today and reiterated today about this and your belief it's going to be wrapping up soon.
Yesterday, you said those are the indications that we have at this time. From your point of view, is what you are saying wishful thinking? Is it spin? Are you getting leaked information? Why do you continue to say that you believe it is wrapping up soon?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Again, that position has not changed. And we do think that it will wrap up soon. I didn't say it would be three or four days. I said soon. And we hope that's the case. In large part, because we know that the facts are on our side. There was no collusion. And we are looking forward to moving forward. And hoping that you guys can as well. And we can actually start talking about and focusing on some of the things that, I mentioned to Jonathan, that we feel the American people would rather the conversation be turned towards.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Sorry, I'm going to keep moving on.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: One of the prosecutors that is on Bob Mueller's team, the plea hearing from Mr. Papadopoulos last month at the hinted at the possibility more to come in the investigation. He said the Mueller probe is quote large scale ongoing investigation of which this case, the Papadopoulos case, is a small part. So given what he said, as an officer of the court, are you disagreeing with anything that he said in his remarks during that plea hearing?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Maybe his references in looking more to come between the Democrats and the Clinton campaign, since I think if there is any evidence to date it's between them colluding with other foreign governments. Certainly not from our side.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: One question about what the president said today, and then question broadly. But first question is the president mentioned in the tax reform meeting there that he was going to be announcing, quote, "soon" some companies that are coming back to the United States. Can you either name them or give us the industry that we are talking about?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: You know I'm not going to get ahead of announcement the president was going to make. If he wasn't willing to tell you the answer, I won't tell you.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And then the speech that he's making in APAC is being billed as a theme for the trip as well as Indo Pacific. Does this administration see India as strategy?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly, plays a big role. And General McMaster will be here later this week to discuss the trip in greater depth and more detail and be happy to address more of those questions at that time.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: White House Steve Bannon is saying the administration should push back harder against Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Does the president support the special counsel?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: No, I'm not sure what we would push back against since so far they were shown more and more no connection between the Trump campaign and collusion with Russia.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you, Sarah. Two questions, please. First, the president is quoted last year as calling Mr. Papadopoulos, and I quote, "a great guy." And today it's was "a liar." And I wonder just to kind of clear the air how well did he actually know him? And was he briefed by him often? Did he have frequent meetings? How well does he know this man?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: My understanding the only interaction he had was the one meeting that advisory council gathered together where he was in large group with other people in the room. And to my knowledge that's the only interaction he had. He was a campaign volunteer. He wasn't somebody that was a senior advisor you want to build him to be. He was someone that played a minimal role, if one at all, as part of a voluntary advisory board, that's it.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And only met the president one time?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: That's only one we are aware of.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Other thing I wanted to ask, a few weeks ago when the president sent out Twitters about the media, he suggested that equal time be applied. Now, to many, many people, that was a euphemism for the Fairness Doctrine. Something that President Trump Ronald Reagan helped eliminate and since Nancy Pelosi tried to revive. Is he seriously in favor of reviving the Fairness Doctrine? And I might add that it's premier opponent of revival was a young congressman named Mike Pence.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't know that he's into the deep weaves of the Fairness Doctrine. But I know he's certainly believes in fairness. And I think he would like to see that applied certainly to his administration in a way that it probably hasn't been so far. Charley?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: On the president, sorry, Republican Senate Candidate Roy Moore's on Capitol Hill today. Does the president have plans to meet with him before he leaves for Asia?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: No planned meetings at this time.
[14:50:12] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: There are still lots being negotiated on taxes, salt, which was just brought up, possible phasing incorporate rate just to name a couple. When the tax bill, whatever of it is released tomorrow, will the president wholeheartedly endorse this as his plan?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: As of right now, we see no reason to feel otherwise. But until we see the details of that, I'm not going to speculate on where we are. We have laid out what our principles are and expect that piece of legislation to reflect those principles. If it does, you'll certainly see the administration come in with full support.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I'm not asking you to give a name.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: What if I did, wouldn't it be fun?
That's the most excitement we've gotten out of this room. Sorry.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: If you want to give us a name, we will take it. If not, my simple question is, has the president made his decision or is he still debating it?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I can tell you it's not Major Garrett, but beyond that, I don't have anything to weigh in on.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: President Trump during the campaign repeatedly castigated Hillary Clinton for not coming forward and clean when she got debate questions ahead of the debates. Why didn't anyone in the Trump campaign, including his son, come forward, when there were solicitations from Russian agent to provide dirt on his opponent.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not sure how those two things are remotely related, so I couldn't figure out how to answer that question.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I'm getting to the sense of pro-active duty to come clean when there is an ethical question. And is the president upset that people in his campaign did not come clean when there were ethical questions?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't believe that to be an ethical question. That's a pretty standard campaign operating procedure.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The Russians?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: That's not collaboration with the Russians.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I have two questions. You've been very clear that Trump didn't collude and Hillary Clinton did. What's your definition of collusion?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think exchanging millions of dollars to create false information is a pretty big indication. I think taking millions of dollars into a foundation that benefits you while making decisions that impact people that gave that money. I think those are certainly areas of collusion that should certainly be looked at.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And my second question, just to follow up from Glen, Robert E. Lee, aside, and I understand your point about how leaders have flaws. What Kelly said yesterday was an inability to compromise led to the Civil War. And back in the spring, the president said that he thinks that Andrew Jackson could have made a deal to avert the war. What is the compromise that they are talking about, to leave the southern states slave and the northern states free? What was the compromise that could have been made?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't know that I'm going to get into debating the Civil War. But I do know many historians agree that a failure to compromise was a cause of the Civil War. There are a lot of historians that think that. And there are a lot of different versions of those compromises. I'm not going to get up here and relitigate the Civil War but there are certainly I think some historic documentation that many people, and there's pretty strong consensus, people from the North, South, right, left, that believe if some of the individuals engaged had been willing to come to some compromises on certain things that it may not have occurred.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thanks. Apropos what's going on in the Hill this afternoon and Facebook disclosing that more than 100 million Americans were apparently exposed to what amounts to Russia propaganda. What is the White House view of that notion that more than 100,000 people have been reading and watching what this Russian outlet has been putting out? And what do you think of the motion there ought to be some kind of requirement that Facebook be required to disclose the way that broadcasters are required to disclose political affiliations?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think we have to see how the process works out. Some of the questions you'll have to ask Facebook. That's not something that the federal government can weigh in at this point until the findings of that investigation and those hearings are completed.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I'd like to follow up on something you said earlier, but also follow up on the conversations happening about the slavery compromise. I'm not asking you to relitigate the Civil War. We don't need a history lesson. But does the White House acknowledge that the chief of staff's comments are deeply offensive to some folks and historically inaccurate?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: No. Because as I said before, I think that you can't --
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Because you don't like history doesn't mean that you can erase it and pretend that it didn't happen. And I think that's the point that General Kelly was trying to make. And to try to create something and push a narrative that simply doesn't exist is just frankly outrageous and absurd. I think the fact that we keep trying to drive -- the media wants to make this and push this is some sort of a racially charged and divided White House, frankly the only people I see stoking political racism right now are the people in the groups that are running ads like the one you saw taking place in Virginia earlier this week. That's the type of thing that I think really is a problem. And I think it is absurd and disgraceful to try to keep making comments and take them out of context and mean something they don't.
[14:55:43] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can I follow up on that?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: New poll out that shows the public seems to trust some of the media mainstream that he criticizes more than they trust the president himself. Why do you think this would be? And do you think the White House agrees with that.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I haven't seen anything to suggest that. I'd have to look into that. I certainly can't comment on something that I know nothing about and don't agree with.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Given some of the criticism we've heard from the president's outside advisers the president happy with his legal team right now? Does he feel well represented and defended when it comes to the Mueller probe?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not sure how he couldn't, considering with what I said yesterday and presented several times today, all the revelations that have taken place over the last several days and hours have nothing to do with the president, have nothing to do with his campaign. And I think the further we get into it, the more and more we see that happening.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Kevin?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you, Sarah. I wanted to ask about taxes and make a quick follow up on the discussion about compromise. If I'm understanding you correctly, what you are really saying he's not suggesting a compromise on slavery, but other things that are germane to history?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: He didn't get into the specifics because that's something that's been discussed very widely by many historians, again from both the North and South right and left, and he didn't get into the details of it because it wasn't the point he was making.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: On taxes, I want a sense of what the president might be interested in. As far as the child tax credit, and as far as Obamacare mandate, is it your thing that the president would be major tenet of the tax reform that will be unveiling this week?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: He certainly supports the child care tax credit. What was the other?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Obamacare mandate, does that have to be part of the tax reform?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't believe it has to be part of tax reform, but the child tax credit is something he would like to see.
One last question.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sarah, you said to us a few moments ago the Papadopoulos plea agreement and example of an individual doing the wrong thing and the campaign doing the right thing. Does that extend to Sam Clovis encouraging Georgie Papadopoulos to go to Russia on behalf of the campaign to solicit information?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: My understanding is there wasn't encouragement. He made multiple attempts at setting up a variety of meetings that were constantly rebuffed. He also made false statements to the administration. That was nothing that the administration would support. All of his e-mails were provided to the special counsel by campaign and that is how they got to the place they are in right now.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you saying Clovis is being misinterpreted by Papadopoulos?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not getting into the detail of that. I'm not talking about the multiple attempts that he made in setting up a variety of meetings. There was more than one instance in which he tried to set up meetings that were rebuffed by the campaign. He lied about a lot of those activities. And that is the place that I think you see come through in the e-mails voluntarily turned over.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You were asked at one point when the president became aware that Russia was behind in possession of e-mails, you said I'm not sure of the specific date when that took place so I'd have to look and get back to you.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Yes, I can respond to that now. The president was briefed in a pretty widely publicized meeting in January. Later that day, he said he receiving the intelligence briefing and said he believed Russia was behind the hacks. (CROSSTALK)
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Thank you very much. I hope you have a happy and safe Halloween. Thanks, guys.
BALDWIN: OK. Before we get into the panel, just quickly, my memo to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, if she thinks the press is obsessed with this story, she needs to check her boss's Twitter feed.
Gloria Borger, let me hear your voice, first, on every bit of that that we heard from the White House. How does any of that hold water?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Which part?
Let's talk about the Russia story.
BORGER: And Sarah Huckabee Sanders making the case today, as she did yesterday, that none of this has anything to do with the president and the campaign.