Return to Transcripts main page

AT THIS HOUR

Leaders Of FBI, Intel Agencies Face Senate Intel Committee; FBI Differs With White House Timeline On Porter. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 13, 2018 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- breaking news. That is all for me. I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR" picks up right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Kate Bolduan. We have been watching this Senate Intelligence Committee hearing where we are hearing from really the representatives of the entire intelligence community at a very key time, talking about Russian meddling.

Talking about the timeline for the FBI informing the White House when it comes to a top aide, Rob Porter, who was just resigned or pushed out depending certainly on who is characterizing what happened following allegations of physical abuse from his ex-wives and ex- girlfriend.

How does the FBI fit into that? We actually just learned some very interesting if not completely clear information from the head of the FBI director.

I do want to bring in Chris Cilizza, who is here with me to discuss this. There is a lot to unpack here from Russian meddling in the election and how that's going to affect the midterms coming up.

But I do want to talk about the timeline when it comes to Rob Porter, because you know what, pause for a moment, Chris, let's return to the testimony at the Senate Intelligence Committee.

[11:01:23]

WRAY: -- and they're out in the community, and I can tell you the community values what they do on the island.

HEINRICH: Thank you.

An op-ed by a number of foreign intelligence analysts called the Nunes memo and its release, quote, "one of the worst cases of politicization of intelligence in modern American history," end quote. You said you had concerns about that memo.

I know you can't get into the gritty details of that, but can you -- can you say, in your view, whether or not one of those concerns is that it may have selectively cherry-picked information without presenting the entire fact pattern that led up to that FISA warrant application? WRAY: Well, Senator, I would just repeat what we said at the time, which is that we had then, and continue to have now, grave concerns about the accuracy of the memorandum because of omissions.

We provided thousands of documents that were very sensitive, and lots and lots of briefings, and it's very hard for anybody to distill all that down to 3 1/2 pages.

HEINRICH: Director Pompeo, have you seen Russian activity in the lead- up to the 2018 election cycle?

POMPEO: Yes. Senator, I paused only -- I'm trying to make sure I stay on the unclassified side. Yes, we have seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle here.

HEINRICH: Director Coats?

COATS: Yes, we have.

HEINRICH: Anyone else? Admiral Rogers?

ROGERS: Yes, and I think this would be a good topic to get into greater detail...

HEINRICH: This afternoon?

ROGERS: ... in -- this afternoon.

HEINRICH: According to news reports, there are dozens of White House staff with only interim security clearances, still, to include Jared Kushner; until last week, to include White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who I would assume would have regularly reviewed classified documents as part of his job.

Director Coats, if someone is flagged by the FBI with areas of concern in their background investigations into White House staff with interim clearances, should those staff continue to have access to classified materials?

COATS: Let me first just speak in general, relative to temporary classifications. Clearly, with the new administration in particular, we're trying to fill a lot of new slots. And the classification process and security clearance process has been mentioned.

(CROSSTALK)

HEINRICH: Yeah, I'm only speaking with regard to folks who may have had issues raised, as opposed to just being in the matter of course of going through the long process.

COATS: Well, I'm not in a -- in a position -- and we can talk about this in the classified session, but I'm not in a position to discuss what individual situations are for specified individuals. I might just say that I think, sometimes, it is necessary to have some type of preliminary clearance in order to fill a slot. But I have publicly stated, if that is the case, the access has to be limited in terms of the kind of information they can -- they can be in a position to receive or not receive. So I think that's something that we have to do as a part of our security clearance review.

This -- the process is broken. It needs to be reformed. It doesn't -- as Senator Warner has previously said, it's not evolution; it's revolution. We have 700,000 backups. So we have situations where we need people in places, but they don't yet have that. Your specific question, I think, I'd like to take up in the classified session.

HEINRICH: Chairman, I'm over my time.

Thank you, Director Coats.

BURR: Senator Blunt.

BLUNT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Director Coats, Director Pompeo, Admiral Rogers, I think you all talked about evidence that the Russians would intend to do things to be active in our elections. There really seems to be two divisions of that activity: One is information that's put on the record that -- misleading, false -- trying to -- trying to develop that level.

The other, even more sinister, might be the level of dealing with the election system itself -- the voting day system, the registration system -- and, of those two, clearly, the voting day system -- the one we need to have the most concerns about -- that critical infrastructure.

This committee has been working toward both of those goals of trying to shore up critical infrastructure on election day, as well as alert people to and decide what might be done about misinformation on the other side of the ledger.

Voting begins in March. That's next month. If we're going to have any impact on securing that voting system itself, it would seem to me that we need to be acting quickly. I think a great part of the strength of the system is the diversity of the system -- different not only from state to state, but from election jurisdictions within those states.

That's a strength, not a weakness, in my view. But what are some of the things we can do to be more helpful to local election officials in encouraging them to share information when they think their systems are being attacked, getting more information to them than we have?

There was a lot of criticism in the last cycle that we knew that some election systems were being attacked and didn't tell them they were being attacked.

And so, the three of you in any order -- let's just do the order that I start with, Doctor (ph) -- Director Coats, Director Pompeo, Admiral Rogers -- any thoughts you have on what we can do to protect the critical infrastructure of the election system and how quickly we need to act if we intend to do that this year? COATS: Well, the intelligence community -- all elements of it are aware. And we want to provide -- collect and provide as much information as we can, so that we can give those warnings and alerts, so that we can share information back and forth with local and state and -- election processes with the federal government.

The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of -- FBI, obviously, are more involved given these are domestic issues. But we do look to every piece of intelligence we can gather, so that we can provide these warnings.

It is an effort that I think the government needs to put together at the state and local level, and work with those individuals who are engaged in the election process in terms of the security of their machines. Cyber plays a major role here.

And so I think it is clearly an area where federal government -- foreign collection on potential threats of interference, warnings, and then processes in terms of how to put in place security and secure that to ensure the American people that their vote is sanctioned and well and not manipulated in any way whatsoever.

BLUNT: Director Pompeo?

POMPEO: (Inaudible) when I answered Senator Heinrich's question earlier, I was referring to the former -- the first part of the question, not truly to the latter. The things we've seen Russia doing to date are mostly focused on information types of warfare, the things that Senator Warner was speaking at (ph) most directly earlier.

With respect to the CIA's role, and I think Admiral Rogers will say his, too, we have two missions. One is to identify -- identify the source of this information, make those here domestically aware of it so that they can do the things they need to do, whether that's FBI or DHS, so that they have that information.

We are working diligently along many threat vectors to do that. And then the second thing, and we can talk more about this this afternoon, is we have -- we do have some capabilities offensively to raise the cost for those who would dare challenge the United States' elections.

BLUNT: And, after Admiral Rogers, Director Wray, I may want to come to you and see, on that same -- sharing information -- any impediments to sharing that information with local officials, or any reason we wouldn't want to do that?

Admiral Rogers?

ROGERS: Senator, the only other thing I would add -- and this is also shaped by my experience at Cyber Command, where I defend networks -- is one of the things that we generally find in that role: Many network and system operators do not truly understand their own structures and systems.

And so one of the things that I think is part of this is, how do we help those local, federal, state entities truly understand their network structure, what (ph) its potential vulnerabilities -- and harness this information that the intelligence structure and other elements are providing them?

It's not necessarily a -- an intel function, but I think it's part of how do we work our way through this process.

BLUNT: Director Wray?

WRAY: Senator, I think this is one of the areas that -- there's been a lot of discussion about whether we're doing better, and this is one of the areas I think we are doing better. We, together, at the -- at the FBI, together with DHS, recently, for example, scheduled meetings with various election -- state election officials.

And, normally, the barrier there would be classification concerns -- you know, whether somebody had clearances. We were able to put together briefings appropriately tailored, and with nondisclosure agreements with those officials.

So there's -- there are ways, if people are a little bit creative and forward-leaning, to educate the state election officials, which is, of course, you know, where elections are -- are run in this country.

BLUNT: Well, hopefully, we'll be creative and forward-leaning, and we'll want to keep track of what we're doing there.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

BURR: Senator King.

KING: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

First -- first statement I want to make is more in sorrow than in anger. I'll get to the anger part in a minute. The sorrow part is that, Director Coats, in response to a question from Senator Collins, you gave an eloquent, factual statement of the activities of the Russians and the fact that they're continuing around the world and that they're a continuing threat to this country.

All of you have agreed to that. If only the president would say that. I understand the president's sensitivity about whether his campaign was in connection with the Russians, and that's a -- that's a separate question.

But there is no question -- we've got before us the entire intelligence community -- that the Russians interfered in the election in 2016, they're continuing to do it and they're a real, imminent threat to our elections in a matter of eight or nine months.

My problem is I talk to people in Maine who say, "The whole thing is a witch hunt and it's a hoax because the president told me." I just wish you all could persuade the president, as a matter of national security, to separate these two issues.

The collusion issue is over here, unresolved. We'll get to the bottom of that. But there's no doubt, as you all have testified today, and it would -- we cannot confront this threat, which is a serious one, with a whole-of-government response when the leader of the government continues to deny that it exists.

Now let me get to the anger part. The anger part involves cyber attacks. You have all testified that we are subject to repeated cyber attacks, cyber attacks are occurring right now in our infrastructure all over this country.

I am sick and tired of going to these hearings, which I've been going to for five years, where everybody talks about cyber attacks, and our country still does not have a policy or a doctrine or a strategy for dealing with them.

And this is not a criticism of the current administration. The prior -- I'm an equal opportunity critic here -- the prior administration didn't do it either. Admiral Rogers, until we have some deterrent capacity, we are going to continue to be attacked. Isn't that true?

ROGERS: Yes, sir. We have to change this current dynamic, because we're on the wrong end of the cost equation.

KING: And we are trying to fight a global battle with our hands tied behind our back. Director Coats, you have a stunning statement in your report. "They will work to use cyber operations to a tree (ph) -- to achieve strategic objectives unless they face clear repercussions for their cyber operations."

Right now, there are none. Is that not the case? There are no repercussions. We have no -- we have no doctrine of deterrence. How are we ever going to get them to stop doing this, if all we do is patch our software and try to defend ourselves?

COATS: Those are very relevant questions, and I think everyone, not only at this table, but in every agency of government, understands the threat that we have here and the impact already being made through these cyber threats.

We -- our role as the intelligence community is to provide all the information we possibly can as to what is happening so our policymakers can take that, including the Congress, and shape policy as to how we are going to respond to this and deal with this in a whole-of-government way.

KING: It just never seems to happen.

Director Pompeo, you -- you understand this issue. Do you not? OK, we are not going to be able to defend ourselves from cyber attacks by simply being defensive.

We have to have a doctrine of deterrence: If they strike us in cyber, they are going to be struck back in some way. It may not be cyber.

POMPEO: I -- I would agree with you. I would also argue that -- and, while I can't say much in this setting, I would argue that your statement that we have done nothing does not reflect the responses that, frankly, some of us at this table have engaged in and the United States government has engaged in, both before and after this -- or excuse me -- both during and before this administration.

KING: But deterrence doesn't work unless the other side knows it. The doomsday machine in the -- in Doctor Strangelove didn't work because the Russians hadn't told us about it.

POMPEO: It's true that it's important that the adversary know. It is not a requirement that the whole world know it.

KING: And the adversary does know it, in your view?

POMPEO: I'd prefer to save that for another one (ph).

KING: Well, I believe that this country needs a -- a -- a clear doctrine. What is a cyber attack? What is a act of war? What will be the response? What will be the consequences? And, right now, I haven't -- I haven't (inaudible)...

POMPEO: Senator, I agree...

KING: ... five years; I haven't seen it.

POMPEO: I agree with you. We collectively -- it is -- it is a complicated problem, given the nature of...

KING: I would (ph) include us, by the way.

POMPEO: Yes, I would, too. And, as -- when -- as -- I sat as a member of the House of Representatives for six years, I take responsibility for not having been part of solving that, too.

There is a lot of work here to do. We do need a U.S. government strategy and clear authorities to go achieve that strategy.

KING: I appreciate it. I just don't want to go home to Maine when there's a serious cyber attack and say, "Well, we never really got to it. We knew it was a problem, but we had four different committees of jurisdiction and we just couldn't work it out."

POMPEO: Yes, sir.

KING: That's not going to fly.

POMPEO: Yes, sir.

KING: Thank you, gentlemen, for your service.

COATS: Senator, I might just add that we don't want to learn this lesson the hard way. We look (ph) -- 9-1-1 -- 9/11 took place because we were not coordinating our efforts. We are now coordinating our efforts, but we didn't have the right defenses in place because the right information was not there.

Our job is to get that right information to the policymakers and get on with it, because it's just common sense. If someone is attacking you and there's no retribution or response, it's just going to incent -- incentivize more contacts (ph). So, right now, they -- a lot of -- there are a lot of blank checks. There's a lot of things that we need to do.

KING: Director Coats, thank you. I appreciate that.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

BURR: Senator Lankford.

LANKFORD: Thank you.

Director Coats, you and I talked last year about this same issue that Senator King was just bringing up, as well, about cyber doctrine and a point person on who that would be and a defined person that would give options to the president and the Congress to say if a response is needed and is warranted.

This is the person, this is the entity that would make those recommendations and allow the president to be able to make decisions on what the proper response is. Has that been completed? Is there a point person to be able to give recommendations on an appropriate response to a cyber attack to the president?

COATS: That has not yet been completed. Of course, you've -- your understanding of the standup of Cyber Command and the new director that will be replacing Admiral Rogers -- the decision relative to whether there would be a separation between the functions that are currently now NSA and cyber is yet to be made.

General Mattis will -- is contemplating what the next, best step is, and there's -- they've involved the intelligence community in terms of making decisions in that role. But we, at this particular point, cannot point to one sort of cyber czar.

But various agencies throughout the federal government are taking this very, very seriously, and there are individuals that could be (ph) -- continue to meet on a regular basis.

The ODNI have something called CTIC, and that is a coordination of (ph) effort for all the cyber that comes in, so that we don't stovepipe like what we did before 9/11. So things are underway, but, in term -- in terms of putting a finalized "this is how we're going to do it" together -- is still in the process.

POMPEO: Senator Lankford, with respect to responses to that, these are Title 10 DOD activities, unless they are granted to some other authority, a Title 50 authority. So there is a person responsible. Secretary Mattis has that responsibility -- to advise the president on the appropriateness of responses in all theaters of conflict with our adversaries.

LANKFORD: OK, thank you.

I want to bring up the issue of the rising threat of what's happening just south of our border, in Mexico. In Mexico, the homicide rate went up 27 percent last year. We had 64,000 Americans that died from overdose of drugs; the preponderance of those came through or from Mexico.

We have a very rapidly rising threat, it appears to me. And what I'd be interested in (ph) from you all is, on a national security level and what you're seeing, what are we facing? What's changing right now in Mexico, versus 10 years ago in Mexico, in our relationship and the threats that are coming from there?

COATS: I would defer to --

[11:20:01]

KEILAR: All right. You are watching the Senate Intel Committee there with all of the heads essentially of the intelligence community. We have learned a lot of new information about Russian meddling in the election, what is planned for the upcoming midterm election in 2018 and also some breaking news when it comes to how the FBI informed the White House when it came to the Rob Porter scandal. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back with more after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Welcome back to CNN where we have been monitoring this hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee that you're seeing live ongoing now. This is the worldwide threats hearing.

But this comes at such an imperative time when it comes to Russia's meddling in the election, how Russia is going. We have just heard from the heads of intel agencies is going to try to interfere is already under way when it comes to the 2018 midterm elections.

We have been hearing from the director of National Intelligence, the head of the CIA, the head of the FBI, the head of the DIA, Defense Intelligence Agency and others. I want to bring my panel back in to talk about this.

[11:25:08] We have Josh Campbell, a former FBI special agent, now a CNN law enforcement analyst, Dana Bash with us as well, our chief political correspondent, and Chris Cilizza, CNN politics reporter and editor at large.

There are so many places where we could start. This has been a pretty informative hearing as we were hoping it would be that we could learn more information. I want to start with the Rob Porter scandal.

And how the FBI, we just heard from the director, Christopher Wray, he was asked about as we really don't know the timeline coming from the White House, about what they knew about Rob Porter, allegations that he had physically assaulted his two ex-wives and a girlfriend as well.

And the -- and Christopher Wray said this when asked about the interactions between the FBI, which does that background check for security clearances, did one on Rob Porter. Here is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March and then a completed background investigation in late July, soon thereafter, we received requests for follow-up inquiry. And we did the follow-up and provided that information in November and then we administratively closed the file in January and then earlier this month we received some additional information and we passed that on as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: All right. Dana, I mean, when you look at that, and he also said before that, because he didn't want to get into specific conversations, but he said that the FBI followed established protocols. The FBI has not come under fire when it comes to this.

It is really the FBI, what did they know, did they just -- was ignorance bliss in a way in keeping Rob Porter in such a key role where he's privy to so much classified information, where he's so close to the president.

And this makes it clear that there were multiple -- it does not stand to reason that the top aides at the White House were not aware of the type of allegations that were being made about Rob Porter.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. What we just heard from the Trump appointed director of the FBI is that ignorance was not bliss because there was no ignorance. The White House knew at multiple stages, at least maybe -- he didn't say who was informed.

You have -- it would be very difficult to think that at least the White House counsel didn't know and then the White House chief of staff ultimately in November when this -- the full report was completed, and certainly by last month, in January, when he said the administration closed the case.

So, this completely throws the revolving, evolving White House explanations of what happened into disarray. It completely counters that and I think at the end of the day, now the question is are we going to get answers from the White House Counsel Don McGahn?

Are we going to get answers that we have not yet gotten from the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, and can they keep their jobs? And lastly this is what happens when you send a press secretary out to say something that is just flat wrong which is what Sarah Sanders did yesterday, when she said this isn't us, this is the FBI.

Well, guess what, the FBI director just happens to be in a public forum the very next day and he can completely contradict that given the facts of how the process goes, but also how this particular process goes.

KEILAR: That seems to be kind of a desperate play in a way, right, after days of what -- this is so clearly -- it is so clearly an unforced error and internal error on the part of the White House to then hear Sarah Sanders say that about the FBI.

CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes, and, look, last Thursday Raj Shah was in a similar position. He at one point said that Porter had been terminated, which was patently untrue. He, to Dana's point, he said the FBI background check is ongoing.

That was February 8th. If the case had been -- the file had been closed according to Director Wray in January, it seems unlikely. I think what you have is two -- three main principles there.

Don McGahn, the White House counsel, John Kelly, the White House chief of staff and the president of the United States, all of whom are not -- first two cases, the staffers not necessarily it seems like sharing the full story at the start with the staff.

And that's hugely problematic. Trump is in his way different in that no one questioned that he knew about this prior to last Tuesday, I believe. The issue for him is different. It is, well, people say privately he's very upset and condemns this, but publicly, he seems to be sympathizing with Porter so that's should have what we are --