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CNN NEWSROOM

Hacker Who Stole DNC Emails Is a Russian Spy; Conway Open to Communication Director Job; Activist Demand Gun Safety Measures. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired March 23, 2018 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Spencer Ackerman, a senior national security correspondent for "The Daily Beast" and the one who broke the story. So, Spencer, thank you so much for talking to me today. It's my understanding the suspect sort of slipped up at one point in time and was it that mistake that blew his cover? Tell me about that.

SPENCER ACKERMAN, SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE DAILY BEAST": That's right. This was a crucial, if fleeting, mistake in trade craft. Basically no one had ever heard in hacking circles of Gucifer 2.0 before mid June 2016 when this persona came out of nowhere and claimed to be a lone hacker that penetrated the networks of the Democratic National Committee. Few people believed that.

Suspicion very quickly centered on Russian intelligence. It turns out that the way this attribution was able to be made definitively is because at one point when this persona was accessing a social media company, it could have been Twitter, or it could have been Word Press. Neither of those companies would answer our questions. But those were the ones that Gucifer 2.0 principally used, forgot to mask its IP address, and got traced back to the headquarters of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency.

BALDWIN: OK, and now what about Roger Stone, this long-time former political advisor to Trump, how does he play into this whole thing? We know he admitted to exchanging messages with Gucifer.

ACKERMAN: Yes, this means that Roger Stone, the President's long-time adviser, was in touch, wittingly or otherwise, with an agent, an actual officer of Russian intelligence. That's going to be something that he's probably going to have to answer for in the days to come.

BALDWIN: You report that Mueller's team, they're now investigating this Russian hacker. What are the implications for the criminal probe and potential collusion between Trump and Russia?

ACKERMAN: For Stone, they're probably pretty serious. It's perhaps likely that investigators working for Mueller are going to want to talk to him. In the broader sense, there are going to be questions about who else connected to the Trump administration, the Trump campaign, was this Russian officer, intelligence officer in contact with. This basically puts the probe, if it turns out that Mueller it is going to bring an indictment against the Gucifer 2.0 persona even closer to the president.

BALDWIN: Spencer with the scoop from "The Daily Beast" today, thank you so much.

Coming up next, General Kelly, the White House Chief of Staff, has the job for now. But he has long since been rumored to be on his way out. Steve Bannon, former chief strategist over at the White House, says he thinks Trump wants to do the job himself. Seriously? Let's talk about that.

[15:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: President Trump has named his third national security adviser in 14 months. The question a lot of people today are asking is who is next, Steve Bannon, the President's former White House Chief Strategist is speculating what could happen if White House Chief of Staff John Kelly leaves.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: If General Kelly, at any time, does decide to leave, the President decides it's time for him to move on, I don't believe there will be another chief of staff. I think there will be five or six direct reports like there was at Trump Tower. I think the president is a very hands-on manager. He feels more comfortable with it. I think the structure and process that General Kelly put in was probably too much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's talk to Chris Whipple about this, writer and documentary film maker and author of "The Gate Keepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency." Chris, the very title of your book, how they define, you know, these different administrations and to take Steve Bannon's idea of a chief of staff- less White House, what would that even look like.

CHRIS WHIPPLE, AUTHOR OF "THE GATE KEEPERS": Boy, god knows. I was fascinated to hear Steve Bannon so that. This is the most dysfunctional White House in modern history as we all know. Just about the only thing I could think of that would make it even more dysfunctional would be to get rid of the White House Chief of Staff. For the new chapter of my paperback, I interviewed not only Reince Priebus and also Bannon, who had choice things to say about Donald Trump and about Priebus and Kelly. All you have to know is that Steve Bannon is against the idea of replacing John Kelly. Bannon knows nothing about governing, Bannon is a disrupter, a chaos agent. That's exactly what you would get if you got rid of John Kelly.

BALDWIN: Why is it so important to have a chief of staff, quickly? Then I want to move on.

WHIPPLE: Every president learns, often, the hard way that you cannot govern effectively without empowering the White House Chief of Staff as first among equals to execute your agenda but most importantly to also tell you what you don't want to hear. In my opinion, John Kelly has failed in that second respect, and that may be the most important job of all. But history is just littered with the wreckage of presidents who tried to do this, who have tried to govern without a White House chief. Gerry Ford have tried it, Jimmy Carter tried it and it never ends well.

BALDWIN: You say dysfunction, others would say, hey, Trump now has his sea legs. The other big story with H.R. McMasters out as National Security Advisor and John Bolton in, there was reporting there was going to be this one big band-aid rip, if you will, with McMasters leaving and also Carson and also Shulkin.

[15:40:00] That, obviously, didn't happen. Looking ahead, Chris, does the president need to keep, you know, Carson and Shulkin on for stability or what?

WHIPPLE: I think the first six months of the Trump White House were proof that you cannot govern effectively without an empowered White House chief. Reince Priebus never had the authority to carry out the President's agenda and we saw

the results. It was a broken White House. The couldn't do anything right. The couldn't pass legislation. They couldn't issue executive orders that were enforceable. The could not prioritize the President's agenda. The couldn't get anybody on the same page.

Nobody knew from day to day what the policy was. That's continued, frankly, on John Kelly's watch. To try to do it without a White House Chief of Staff, that way really lies madness. You simply cannot run the White House as we have now learned, the way you run the 26th floor of Trump Tower.

BALDWIN: We know the President does a lot was on PR, right, especially we've seen today about the spending bill. And woke up this morning with a tweet about vetoing. And now he tweeted about some sort of news conference where he is and ultimately signed this bill. I bring that up because I want to ask you about this Communication Director job, the chief comms job over at the White House. That's now vacant because Hope Hicks has said she is resigning. This morning, Kellyanne Conway left open the option of taking the job. Here she was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: I'm here to support the President however he sees is most important. I don't have any personnel announcements at this time the President controls the time and content and tone of all of his personnel announcements.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: And, Chris, here is what President Trump had to say about her yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can take Kellyanne and put her right into the heart of the battle, to somebody who -- the level of hatred back there is so incredible. 7:00 in the morning. The cameras are on, the lights are on, she's there and she'll just take them on. Great courage. Really great courage. A lot of people say please, please. A lot of people say please Mr. President don't put me in there. She'll say where do you want me to go, right?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Last question, Chris, how important is the Communications Director role at the White House?

WHIPPLE: Here is the fundamental problem. Truth was the first casualty on the first day of this presidency when Sean Spicer stepped up to the lectern and told those fragrant lies about the size of Trump's inaugural crowd versus Obama's. It's been true ever since. That is not only on Donald Trump but it's also on the Chief of Staff. And, obviously, on the Director of Communications. But until this White House can learn to tell the truth, then no personnel choice is going to fix that problem. It's a fundamental problem that has been with us since day one. I write about it by the way in the new chapter of "The Gatekeepers."

BALDWIN: Chris Whipple, thank you.

We are here today and throughout the weekend because of this march in Washington DC, March for Our Lives. I sat down with a group of people, all of whom have survived gun violence, all of whom have grieved. It was an emotional conversation, important conversation. Why they're here to march and why they have hope, next.

[15:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Tomorrow thousands from across the country, including those survivors from last month's deadly high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, will march in Washington. It's called the March for Our Lives. They're demanding lawmakers and President Trump do something to stop gun violence and mass shootings at our nation's schools. I just wanted to come to Washington and talk to Americans who have grieved, survived and are pushing for change.

And last night I listened to 11 people, thanks to the help of Every Town for Gun Safety, ranging from a woman who lost her father in Columbine 20 years ago to students at Parkland, Florida, who lost students and friends last month. And a librarian who shielded young children at Sandy Hook. And what I walked away with was this. Despite their irreplaceable losses, they have new hope, thanks it powerful young voices in Parkland, Florida. Here is the second part of our conversation. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN: The president has gone back and forth on some of these gun control issues. At times saying things that could be encouraging to this crowd, at times perhaps not.

LUCY MCBATH, SON KILLED IN ARGUMENT OVER LOUD MUSIC: The fact that President Trump waffled on what he said he was going to do in support and in terms of gun, stronger gun measures, he waffled within a number of days simply because the NRA gun lobby and the leadership said, I'm believing they said we put you in office, we spent this amount of time, money and resource and we expect you to be beholding to us. [15:50:00] CONI SANDERS, FATHER KILLED IN COLUMBINE SHOOTING: I think

he said those things and meant them in the moment but then when the politicians get ahold of him, he goes their direction. He's going whatever direction they pull him. And, you know, in that moment we all felt a sense of hope and a little bit of shock and awe at the same time.

BALDWIN: Did you feel helped when he said, maybe raising the age limit?

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): Sounded like he meant it.

BALDWIN: Sounded like he meant it.

SANDERS: He likes people to like what he's saying but we need to like what he's doing.

DIANA PERRI HANESKI, LIBRARY MEDIA SPECIALIST DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: I was very excited. I thought he's going to do something. He is going to make a change. And there's plenty of people who doubt he's going to be able to do something like that. I was very hopeful. I was like, here's his chance. Then I guess the NRA got to him.

NATASHA MARTINEZ, STUDENT, DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: My classmates and I have been speaking out. A lot of people are taking it as well, wherever you when Obama was in office? Were you when this was happening in the past? I was 10, 11. I'm sorry. And then he's President now. He holds the power now. He holds the power to change our future now and he's not doing anything.

BALDWIN: How many of you think that the country should consider arming teachers? Arming teachers.

REV. SHARON RISHER, MOTHER AND COUSINS KILLED IN CHARLESTON CHURCH SHOOTING: just: That's the craziest thing.

BALDWIN: Why is it crazy, Sharon?

RISHER: It's crazy. Think about, you have to give your focus on teaching and forming these young minds. Where are you going to try on get your brains to function if something happens in your class? Are you going to have your gun on your hip? Is the gun going to be locked in a closet? So, the whole picture of that just seems ludicrous to me.

YVONNE CECH, RETIRED LIBRARIAN, SANDY HOOK: On the day of the shooting at Sandy Hook School, it would be completely normal for a kindergartner to climb up and try on sit in my lap. If I have a gun on my him, I'm assuming that is how that would work. And I have a kindergartner climbing my lap while I'm reading a story. I can't imagine first of all that would be the safest situation. In order for it to be an effective weapon, I'll imagining it has to be loaded. So, I have a loaded weapon on my hip and I have kindergartners sitting around me.

JULVONNIA MCDOWELL, 14-YEAR-OLD SON ACCIDENTLY SHOT AND KILLED: As a parent wow lost her 14-year-old to a preventable gun incident, I think for the most part, if you arm teachers, then you run the risk of where are they going to store that gun? If it gets in the hands of the wrong person. Maybe it's a student that's having a bad day. Something is going on and they find the gun. They stumble across it some kind of way. You're creating an environment that is truly unsafe. More guns is definitely not the solution.

BALDWIN: What is the solution? Arming school resource officers? Having more around? Not just one, I mean --

SANDERS: In some of the rural areas there is some concern. I was a first responder convention and they were talking about the rural areas. If they call police, it's going to be 20 minutes before somebody can respond. So, they talked about, who would be the most appropriate person on campus? But they're not talking about arming the librarians.

BALDWIN: You guys are in high school. Jump in. What are you thinking?

(UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE): I've had a teach here didn't know how to turn on the computer. Just the idea of how they all of a sudden have this idea that they're going to be able to arm so many teachers in every school that they have money for this. Schools have been underfunded for way too long. Teachers are underpaid, overworked. Someone saying arming my teacher is going to make me feel safe, they're not asking us.

(UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE): It is very upsetting though that that can get passed, you can have someone on campus with a gun. When all these other issues that make so much more sense have not been passed in legislation. I don't understand. I'm sad that they can say, oh, yes, we'll solve that with more guns. How can that happen in the United States of America?

(UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE): When we were hiding behind the trailer during the shooting in Las Vegas, there were people around me saying I wish I had my gun and they were drinking all day. He wasn't in the festival. These people would have had guns on them while also having been drinking. And going into the crowd with no information about where the shooter was.

[15:55:00] CECH: It was an incredible response from first responders to Sandy Hook School and it still took them hours to exactly figure out how many shooters were there. Was there still someone they were looking for? If you imagine that situation and you imagine a teacher running down the hall with a gun, my guess is, the teacher would be shot by the law enforcement because they wouldn't have any way to know that was a good guy with a gun.

MCDOWELL: You never know how you're going to react when you're in a situation and you're scared. When fear takes over, you don't know what your response would be. We can be trained all day long that doesn't mean things don't go another way. And who will be there to guide that way when something goes wrong?

BALDWIN: Who thinks there's a chance that the President may jump in and do something in your favor? Wow. No one.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN: Although they emphasized they do feel very hopeful and they are marching this weekend. If you want to march, you go find out where marches are happening near you. Text march26433 and please come back tomorrow. CNN will be live much of the day for this March for Our Lives. We'll be hosting from Washington tomorrow from 2 to 4 Eastern. So, we will see you tomorrow.