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Intel Chiefs Testify Before Senate Intel Committee; Porter Was in Talks for Promotion Despite Abuse Reports. Aired 11:30-12p ET
Aired February 13, 2018 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: 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. That's sort of over here. But McGahn and Kelly are really making it difficult for the Sarah Sanders, the Raj Shahs, and anyone else trying to plan -- make a cohesive story that is internally consistent.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Josh, what did you think hearing Christopher Wray say that, he couldn't comment on specific conversations, but he made it clear the FBI was following up -- after the partial report, the completed report, they were asked for more information, the FBI was. They gave more information and they closed -- that was in November. In January, they closed the investigation, got more information in early February and passed it on. It is -- you would expect and maybe you can speak to this, that was substantive information that the FBI was passing on about Rob Porter that had to do with the allegations.
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It is true. I think what we saw there is the classic Chris Wray, even keel, provide the information, they knew what they were getting when they brought him on as the FBI director. And many in the FBI have said, he's going to provide information and go along with what the facts are. So they had to have known that the facts would get out at some point. I can't understand for the life of me why they would have come out, violated the crisis communication 101 rule, tell it all, tell it fast, and provide this narrative that they knew the FBI would come in and counter.
KEILAR: We're going to listen in, Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton asking Chris Wray, the FBI director, about the Steele dossier.
SEN. TOM COTTON, (R), ARKANSAS: -- to the threat posed by China and Chinese telecom companies. Senator Rubio spoke earlier, and I agree with what he said about the threat of a rising China and the threat of Confucius Center and telecom companies and also Unicom and Telecom pose to our country. That's why I've introduced legislation with Senator Cornyn and Senator Rubio to say the U.S. government can't use Waway (ph) and UTE and the U.S. government can't use companies that use them. And I'm glad some companies like Verizon, AT&T and others have taken this threat seriously. Could you explain what the risk is that we face from ZTE and Waway (ph) being used in the United States, the risk that companies, state governments, local governments might face if they use Waway (ph) or ZTE products and services.
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I think probably the simplest way to put it in this setting is we're deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any --
KEILAR: We're monitoring the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, hearing from the leaders of the Senate of the intelligence community. We're going to take a quick break and continue to monitor it. Be right back.
[11:36:58] SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, (D), CALIFORNIA: -- information that could complicate an ongoing investigation into his own campaign?
WRAY: Well, Senator, as we have been very clear, what our view was about the disclosure and accuracy of the memo in question, but I do think it is the president's role as commander-in-chief under the rule that was invoked to object or not to the declassification. So I think that, you know, that is the president's responsibility.
HARRIS: Regardless of whether there is an appearance of actual conflict of interest.
WRAY: I leave it to others to characterize whether there is appearance or actual conflict of interest.
HARRIS: If the president asked you tomorrow to hand over to him additional sensitive FBI information on the investigations into his campaign, would you give it to him?
WRAY: I'm not going to discuss the investigation in question with the president, much less provide information from that investigation to him.
HARRIS: And if he wanted -- if he received that information, and wanted to declassify it, would he have the ability to do that from your perspective?
WRAY: Information from the --
HARRIS: However he received it, perhaps from members of the United States Congress.
WRAY: I think illegally he would have that ability.
HARRIS: And do you think the president should recuse himself from reviewing and declassifying sensitive FBI material related to this investigation.
WRAY: I think recusal questions are something I would encourage the president to talk to the White House counsel.
HARRIS: Has the FBI done any legal analysis on these questions?
WRAY: Well, happily I'm no longer in the business of doing legal analysis. I now get --
WRAY: I now get to be a client. And blame lawyers for things instead of being the lawyer who gets blamed. So ---
HARRIS: Have you blamed any lawyers for their analysis --
WRAY: What's that?
HARRIS: Have you blamed any lawyers for their analysis?
WRAY: I have not yet, no.
HARRIS: OK. Is the FBI getting the cooperation it needs from social media companies to counter foreign adversaries on their influence on our elections?
WRAY: I think the cooperation has been improving. I think we're continuing to work with the social media companies to try to see how we can raise their awareness so that they can share information with us and vice versa. I think things are moving in the right direction. But I think there is a lot of progress to be made.
HARRIS: What more do you need from social media companies to improve the partnership you would like to have with them to counter these attacks in.
WRAY: Well, I think we always like to have more information shared more quickly from their end. I think from their perspective, it is a dialogue. They're looking to get information from us about that it is we see, so that they can give responsive information. So I think we're working through those issues.
HARRIS: Do you believe the social media companies have enough employees that have the appropriate security clearance to make these partnerships real?
[11:40:07] WRAY: That's not an issue I've evaluated, but I would be happy to take a look at it.
HARRIS: Please do and follow up with the committee.
Director Coats, one of the things that makes guarding against foreign intelligence threats on social media so complex is that the threat originates overseas and so that would be within the jurisdiction of the CIA and the NSA and then it comes to our shores and then it passes on to the FBI and also the social media companies themselves. I'm not aware of any written I.C. strategy on how we would confront the threat to the social media. Does such a strategy exist? In writing? DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I would have to get
back with you on that. I would be happy to look into it from my perspective right now. A written strategy, specific strategy is not in place, but I want to check on that.
HARRIS: Please do follow up.
And also last year Congress passed a bipartisan Russia sanctions bill. However, the administration has not imposed those sanctions. From an intelligence perspective, what is your assessment of how Russia interprets the administration's inaction?
COATS: I don't have information relative to what the Russian thinking is in terms of that particular specific reaction. There are other sanctions that are being imposed on Russian oligarchs and others through the United Nations and through other things that have been done. In reference to the JCPOA but specifically on your question, I don't have an answer for that.
HARRIS: Can you --
MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: May I make a comment? I think it is -- I think we ought to look at that in a broader context, how the Russians view all of the actions of this administration, not just a particular set of sanctions or the absence thereof. As we have watched the Russians respond to this administration's decision to provide defensive weapons in Ukraine, to push back against Russian efforts in Syria, sanctions placed on Venezuela were directly in conflict with Russian interests. The lists of places that the Russians are feeling the pain from this administration's actions are long.
HARRIS: But, Director Pompeo, I'm sure you would agree that in order to understand the full scope of effect it also important that we analyze each discreet component, including what is the interpretation of this administration's failure to enact the sanctions as has been passed and directed by the United States Congress in a bipartisan manner. Have you done that assessment?
POMPEO: Senator, in a closed session I'll tell you what we know and don't know about that discreet issue. Yes, I agree with you, it is important to look at each one in its own place. But I think what we most often see in terms of Russian response, it is to the cumulative activities in response to Russian activities. How the United States responds to those in a cumulative way.
HARRIS: I look forward it our conversation, thank you.
POMPEO: Yes, ma'am.
SEN. JON CORNYN, (R), TEXAS: Director Coats, you alluded to the activities of trans national criminal organizations. I'm thinking particularly as regards our neighbors down south. Of our border. Recently I heard somebody refer to the cartels, the transnational criminal organizations as commodity agnostic. In other words, they'll traffic in people, they'll traffic in drugs, and other contraband all in pursuit of money.
COATS: Whatever brings in the most dollars.
CORNYN: Senator Manchin I know and others alluded to their concern about -- and certainly we all share the concern about the deaths and overdoses caused by drugs in America. Much of which comes across our southern borders --
KEILAR: You're watching the Senate Intel Committee as it questions the heads of the intelligence community. And specifically, we just heard California Democratic Senator Kamala Harris asking Christopher Wray, the FBI director, about perhaps conflicts with the president declassifying information that had to do with a member of his campaign. That was in the Nunes memo that we saw the declassification of.
Chris Cillizza, I want to ask you about this. It seemed to me that Chris Wray wasn't biting. He said this is the president's job. Whether to classify or declassify, she kept -- she asked repeatedly even if there is a perceived conflict and he said that's for other people to decide.
CILLIZZA: He's not going to get -- you don't -- you don't get to become the FBI director by being dumb about politics. You know, these jobs have a big element of politics in them. He is not going to get in the middle of litigating what remains a hypothetical situation. He won't say, if this happened, then this.
[11:45:04] KEILAR: Senator Risch said to him not too long ago -- well, he said to everybody, but then he singled Wray out -- warned them about getting enveloped in domestic politics.
CILLIZZA: Remember, the criticism, theoretically, the reason the White House originally gave for the firing of Jim Comey was the mishandling and this sort of -- the going around the chain of command as it related to his handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation during the 2016 campaign. Now, Donald Trump later said, well, the Russia thing to Lester Holt and that has clouded it. The real explanation of why Comey was fired, the Rod Rosenstein memo that Trump allegedly based the firing on was this idea that Comey had gotten to -- had inserted himself in the political process which makes Chris Wray more mindful not to.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He might have said I'm not going to get involved in the politics. But he did it in a clever, very direct way by saying more than once that he had grave concerns. Which we know that he had because the FBI put out a very unusual statement before the president ended up declassifying the Republican memo. But as you were saying, when we were watching, one thing to see it on pap, another thing to hear him say it repeatedly. He might not be getting involved in politics, but he's making his stance very, very clear, which is political.
KEILAR: And choosing, Josh, his moments.
CAMPBELL: He is. He walks a fine line between his boss, the president of the United States, and the rank-and-file who want to know that someone is out there defending them.
CILLIZZA: One other thing I think is really important. Remember, Donald Trump ignored the statement from the FBI, grave concerns, what Chris Wray has reiterated today, ignored the recommendation of the FBI and Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, to not release the Nunes memo for fear it presented an incomplete picture factually. Donald Trump cited Chris Wray, the FBI, Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department, for their concerns about the Democratic Adam Schiff memo. In one-week span. So on one hand, he ignored it. On the other hand, he cited it. If you work for the FBI, that has to be -- you're clearly being used when it is advantageous to Donald Trump. And when it's not, he ignores it.
CAMPBELL: And I agree with everything you just said. I think the intel community, to include the FBI, has taken -- is trying to take the high road and say, even though one memo was released, which they disagree with, they don't look at it, well, we have to release the other one because the first one was released. They care about the protection of the information and that's going to be their theme.
KEILAR: Dana, I want to see what you thought about something that Senator Susan Collins, Republican from Maine, talked to the FBI director about, who really I was surprised has been somewhat the star of the show when it comes to this hearing. Here's what she was asking him about when it came to what a really unprecedented in recent decades, clearly politically motivated attacks on the FBI, on the DOJ, by President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R), MAINE: The president has repeatedly raised concerns about current and former FBI leaders and has alleged corruption and political bias in the performance of the FBI's law enforcement and national security missions. I want to give you the opportunity today to respond to those criticisms. What is your reaction?
WRAY: Well, Senator, I would say that my experience now six months in with the FBI has validated all my prior experiences with the FBI, which is that it is the finest group of professionals and public servants I could hope to work for. And every day, many, many, many times a day, I'm confronted with unbelievable examples of integrity and professionalism and grit. There are 37,000 people in the FBI who do unbelievable things all around the world, and though you would never know it from watching the news, we actually have more than two investigations. And most of them do a lot to keep Americans safe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: That part was actually kind of funny, Dana. There's more than two investigations? They are doing a lot of work, but he seemed to seize this moment to speak to his rank-and-file who may be feeling bruised by these attacks.
BASH: No question. And look, this was a toss over the plate, a softball from Susan Collins so that he could get that kind of comment out about the FBI rank-and-file in a way that, frankly, some people have wondered and have criticized him for not doing in a more robust way when the president has criticized the FBI. I thought that was really noteworthy.
Then if you kind of take a step back, Bri, on the whole crux of this hearing which is supposed to be worldwide threats, her colleague from Maine, Angus King, reminded everybody about what this is all about, which is Russia interfering in the 2016 election. And he pleaded with all of the intel heads, please convince the president of the United States that this is a real threat. I mean, can you imagine that that's where we still are, that he doesn't really take it seriously and that a United States Senator on the Intel Committee has to plead with the whole I.C. to try to convince the president?
[11:50:41] KEILAR: He wanted them to impress the national security importance of that on the president. You wonder, of course, they've probably already tried to do some of that, but it was so interesting to hear Senator King reemphasizing that.
I do want to go to Kaitlan Collins, live for us at the White House with some really interesting breaking news.
Kaitlan, you talked to your sources about the Rob Porter allegation and what was going on at the time the scandal of his ex-wives broke? Tell us what you learned.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: This comes out of a shift of the narrative coming from the White House about who knew what when about Rob Porter, when these allegations of abuse first surfaced, and he abruptly resigned last week. We're learning not only had Rob Porter taken on an elevated role when John Kelly became the chief of staff late last summer. Not only that, Rob Porter was in serious discussions to be promoted when he abruptly resigned last week from the White House. Now, he was the staff secretary, a very crucial role in this White House because he handled all the paper flow that came to the president's desk, executive orders and whatnot. But not only that, he was being considered for several other positions, elevated policy roles across the administration, as well as the deputy chief of staff role, a position that the person who had been serving in that role for less than three months stepped down last week, as CNN reported. We now learned that not only that, Rob Porter was considered being elevated, considered being promoted even further in this West Wing, which just shows these White House officials who were aware of the allegations against Porter were able to overlook these potential indications of trouble in his past they had been alerted to by the FBI in order to have someone who is seen as a professional, seen as someone really competent in this very chaotic West Wing. And that really just goes even further with what we just saw from the FBI director, Christopher Wray, right there -- Brianna? KEILAR: Kaitlan Collins, thank you for that update. Really
interesting detail that there were discussions of a promotion for Rob Porter at the time all of this broke.
We're going back to dip right now back into the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing and listen to Senator Jack Reed ask a question here. Let's listen.
SEN. JACK REED, (D), RHODE ISLAND: and state elected officials are critical?
COATS: Well, we essentially are relying on the investigations that are underway.
REED: So the answer --
COATS: Both with this committee and the HPSY committee as well as the special counsel.
REED: You're not taking any specific steps based on the intelligence to disrupt Russian activities that are occurring at this moment?
COATS: We take all kinds of steps to disrupt Russian activities in terms of what they're trying to do. I think I'll turn it over to Director Pompeo to --
REED: Let me finish with this.
Are you finished, Mr. Coats? Director Coats?
REED: Thank you. Thank you, sir.
POMPEO: Yes, Senator, we have a significant effort I'm happy to tell you about in closed session. And it is not just our effort. It is an all of I.C. effort. There may be others participating as well to do our best to push back against this threat. It's not just a Russian threat, it's the Iranians and Chinese.
REED: I understand, Director, we have mutual threats. But one threat that has been central to our -- and you've testified this publicly -- the last election there was a Russian influence. This election they seemed to be more prepared. They've learned their lessons. The simple question I pose, has the president directed the intelligence community in a coordinated effort to not merely report but actively stop this activity? And the answer seems to be, I'm hearing, the reporting is going on as we're reporting about every threat coming into the United States.
Let me get back to, quickly -- do the other panelists have anything on this point?
MIKE ROGERS, NSA DIRECTOR: For us, I can't say I've been explicitly directed to, quote, "blunt or actively stop." On the other hand, it's generally clear to generate knowledge and insight, help us understand that so we can generate better policy. That directive has been fairly explicit, in fairness.
[11:55:06] REED: Again, you may agree or disagree, collecting intelligence and acting on it in a coordinated fashion are two different things.
ROGERS: Yes, sir. I also argue what is our role as intelligence officials.
REED: Let me and I've got a few moments for me.
We've talked a lot about China, Sifias (ph), their involvement trying to buy companies in the United. What I think has to be pointed out, too, they are undertaking a significant national investment in artificial intelligence and quantum computing. That is dwarfing anything the administration is proposing or suggesting. If artificial intelligence has even half of the benefits its promoters claim, it is going to be short of disruptive. Quantum computing has the capacity to undercut cryptology as we know it. The experts can correct me if I'm wrong. Some of the negativisms that quantum computing can generate based on infinite amounts of water which people have to be wondering.
What is our national Manhattan program for A.I. and quantum computing that will match the Chinese?
Director Coats, you seem anxious to answer that. And I want you to do that.
COATS: I think there are some things we ought to talk about in a classified setting here. We're treading a very narrow line here relative to discussing this in an open meeting.
REED: I don't want to tread that line, but we do have to recognize that, again, the Chinese activity to appropriate or intellectual property is obvious. They're generating they're own intellectual property at a rate that could be disruptive, and we are not matching them. Again, this Manhattan analogy may be a little out of date, but when we saw the potential effects of a scientific development back in the '40s, we spared no expense so that we would get it first before our opponents. The Chinese seem to be making that type of commitment very publicly. Billions of dollars that they said publicly they have a plan and will implement.
COATS: And we will provide that information to the extent we can collect that information. But just like the Manhattan Project, we don't share steps taken to address it.
REED: I understand.
COATS: Thank you, Senator. REED: Thank you.
SEN. RICHARD BURR, (R-SC), CHAIRMAN, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thank you, Mr. Reed.
I hope you'll come back to the closed session this afternoon. I think you'll get some fidelity in that closed session.
I want to turn -- we're about to wrap up. Everybody can look up. There are no more questions, so you don't have to lose eye contact with us hoping you're not the guy they're going to ask to answer.
You can tell who the newbies are --
KEILAR: You're watching all the intel chiefs testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. We have heard a number of interesting things about U.S. preparedness for Russian meddling in the upcoming election. It is expected to be fierce. That is very clear from what we have heard from all of these heads of different agencies.
Also, when it comes to the Rob Porter scandal, that top aide to President Trump who resigned or was pushed out after allegations by his ex-wives that he abused them, made very clear by the FBI director that they kept the White House in the loop. Not looking good there for the White House as we head into the rest of the day looking for more information from the White House.
We'll continue to monitor this. We'll be right back.