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CNN NEWSROOM

Microsoft Confirmed Russians Tried to Hack Senate, Conservative Group; President Trump Claims He Could Lead the Mueller Probe; Trump Suggests James Clapper is "Being Nice" to Him to Keep His Security Clearance; Trump Threatens Pulling Security Clearance of Ex-FBI Official Phil Mudd; Ben Shapiro: Trump Treats Security Clearance like "The Apprentice;" Hillary Clinton to Headline DNC Fundraisers this Fall; Day Four of Jury Deliberations of the Trial of Paul Manafort Begins; Stocks Set to Open Higher Ahead of U.S.-China Talks. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired August 21, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] CHARLES BILTON, ESCAPED MONTANA WILDFIRE: And it was getting dark.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Oh my gosh.

BILTON: So they came, they picked us up, they drove us back to the campsite.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

BILTON: We packed up and they took us to the other end of the lake.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

BILTON: And they saved our lives.

CAMEROTA: Well, you have guardian angels.

Charles and Justin Bilton, we congratulate you on your composure and thank you so much for sharing this incredible video and your story with us. Best of luck to you.

BILTON: You're welcome.

JUSTIN BILTON, ESCAPED MONTANA WILDFIRE: Thanks for having us.

CAMEROTA: Time for "CNN NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. So glad you're with me this Tuesday.

This morning we are learning about new attacks from Russian hackers on this country. Just months before the midterm elections. Overnight Microsoft announced it had thwarted a group of cyber attackers linked to the Kremlin. The tech giant said it detected and seized six Web sites, Web site that were set up as a trap to luring users and then steal their sensitive information. This is the same group of hackers who targeted the DNC in 2016 in the

midst of the election. This time it targeted the Senate and conservative think tanks, think tanks with prominent Republican lawmakers in their ranks, also tying together all of the targets of this attack they have either broken with President Trump or are pushing continued sanctions on Russia.

So far no reaction on this from the president this morning. He's reacting to a lot else. He's reacting to the blue wave, security clearances, President Obama and talking about the border. But let's get back to the main story this morning and that is, that hack overnight, our Senior International Correspondent, Alex Marquardt joins me now.

This is huge. This is another attack on the integrity of our democracy, on our elections. How did it happen and how did Microsoft find it?

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Microsoft says overnight that they had detected last week the six different Internet domains or Web sites that were attempted spear fishing attacks and spear fishing attacks are a way to get users to give up important information like e-mail passwords and the like, and when you dig down and look at the names of these fraudulent Web sites, what's really remarkable is that two names come to mind.

The first is made to look -- there's Web site was made to look like it belonged to the Hudson Institute. The second was made to look like it was part of the International Republican Institute. Now, Poppy, as you mentioned, those are both prominent conservative think tanks. These are both think tanks that have parted with President Trump. They've criticized President Trump and they have also leveled fierce accusations against Russian president Vladimir Putin.

On the board of IRI you have some of the most prominent anti-Putin critics like Senator John McCain, former National Security adviser H.R. McMaster and Mitt Romney. And then when you look at the other names of these six different Internet domains, three of them contain the word Senate, so it looked like these Russian hackers from the hacker group Fancy Bear, which is tied to Russian military intelligence, you may remember that name because they're the ones who are accused or indicted for attacking and hacking into the DNC and the Clinton campaign.

And it looked like they were going to -- try to go after members of the Senate or Senate offices, but Microsoft swooped in before they were able to. So it's unclear which senators they were attacking. But we have to remind our viewers that Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri was also the target of an identical attack that was also found out by Microsoft.

Microsoft in this statement overnight said that despite last week's steps, that's when they found those Web sites, "We are concerned by the continued activity targeting these and other sites directed toward elected officials, politicians, political groups and think tanks across the political spectrum in the United States. Taken together this pattern mirrors the type of activity we saw prior to the 2016 election in the United States and the 2017 election in France."

Poppy, so Microsoft really stepping up their game helping out with election meddling, helping the federal agencies who really need all the help they can get ahead of these midterms and beyond.

HARLOW: Yes. I mean, thank goodness, right? Thank goodness they solved this and caught this. And Kremlin is denying any involvement, right?

MARQUARDT: Yes. Shocking, right? So the Kremlin came out this morning saying that they really didn't know anything, they don't know anything about this. And I want to read a pretty remarkable statement. They say in part from the U.S. we hear that there was not any meddling in this elections. Whom exactly are they talking about? What is the proof? And on what grounds are they reaching such conclusions?

So, Poppy, not only are they denying that they know anything about the hacking, but listen to that line. "From the U.S. we hear that there was not any meddling in the elections." Where did they get that impression? Everybody at the highest levels of government in this country except for the president of the United States has said that there's no doubt that the Russians meddled in 2016 and who continue to meddle now -- Poppy.

[09:05:02] HARLOW: And that's the danger in the president standing on the world stage literally next to Putin. Right? And questioning that. Even if there is a walk back later.

Alex, great reporting. Thank you.

Let's talk about all of this to our national security analyst and former attorney for the National Security Agency, Susan Hennessey is here with me this morning.

Susan, the fact that this is an attack on very clearly high level Republicans who have broken with the president, the head of Microsoft says this is an uptick that we're seeing in the attacks and says this shows that there is a broadening of the types of groups that Russia is targeting here. What do you make overall on this attack and who was targeted?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, look, this was never about Republicans or Democrats and in fact Republicans were targeted during the 2016 election including some of President Trump's primary opponents. You know, I think this really does speak to Trump's own administration. Has been really raising the alarms, talking about the lights blinking red, DNI Director Coats, CIA Director Pompeo, while he was in office. You know, the only person that appears to not understand that this is an ongoing and an incredibly serious threat, you know, is the president himself.

HARLOW: Because he sees it tied to his win, right, I mean, he cannot seem to see the two apart and so this morning a series of tweets from him but none of them condemning this. You know, I was reminded instantly reading this, this morning, Susan, of Marco Rubio. Marco Rubio, the Republican running for president in 2016, warned when the John Podesta e-mails were coming out through WikiLeaks , from that DNC hack, from the same group, quote, "I want to warn my fellow Republicans who may want to capitalize politically on these leaks, today it's the Democrats, tomorrow it could be us." So what should the president say?

HENNESSEY: Well, I think this is another example of Donald Trump being unable to just sort of separate his personal interest, his own ego from the best interests of the United States. You know, that statement from Marco Rubio, note that he was a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time, you know, that is the kind of statement that we would expect to hear from any president, a president of either party.

And that's to say, you know, look, maybe this benefits me in this small moment but this is about a larger principle. This is about an attack on Republicans or Democrats. This is about an attack on democracy. I think that is why we've seen such a unified response, a really remarkable bipartisan response in a really fractured political time. You know, and it is just another example of the president sort of not being able essentially to put the country before himself.

HARLOW: Do you think that these continued attacks tied right to the Kremlin, by the way, indicate that Vladimir Putin does not believe that -- or does see a weakness, rather, in U.S. intelligence agencies and in term of being able to stop this?

HENNESSEY: I don't know that it's U.S. intelligence agencies or the president himself. Look, there are two ways that you can sort of deter this type of conduct. One is deterrence by denial. You essentially make it impossible for the adversary to succeed through strong cyber security practices. We saw that 30-minute NSC meeting, you know, a president who is not taking this particularly seriously on that front.

The other way of sort of traditional returns, you impose a cost such that your adversary says, you know, maybe this isn't such a good idea. You know, you have to ask yourself, if you're sitting in Vladimir Putin's shoes, you know, a rational actor by all accounts and you're listening to the words and looking at the actions of President Trump, are you telling yourself that after the enormous payoff that you got in the 2016 election, you know, that this is something that isn't going to be worth it, or are you looking at Trump and saying, you know, this is the guy who's sort of giving you the wink, and essentially giving you the green light.

HARLOW: All right, Susan, stay with me. I want to jump over to the White House and I'll be right back with you because the president is insisting in a new interview that he could run the Mueller probe, the Russia investigation if he wanted to. That's what he told Reuters.

Let's go to Abby Phillip. She joins me this morning from the White House.

So, good morning, Abby. This is a president who's changed his tune. I mean, for months and months he's been saying look, I want to sit down with Mueller and his team for an interview. It's just my lawyers, they won't let me, they're figuring it out. But now in a number of ways he's really echoing his legal team.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy. The change of tune from President Trump, the attacks on the special counsel that seems to have escalated in their tone over the weekend really points to a sense of growing anxiety from the president about where this probe is all headed.

Poppy, just take a look at how often just this month alone President Trump has attacked the special counsel in tweets, 67 times just this month. And now in this interview with Reuters the president is saying something a little different than we've heard before. He's saying this idea of a perjury trap is real, he says, that he believes perhaps that because what he claims Comey is best friends with Mueller that Mueller might believe Comey over him prompting him to get into some trouble.

But he also said this about the probe, indicating that he still believes that he has the ability to exert control over it. He says, "I can go in, I can do whatever. I could run it if I want.

[09:10:05] "But I decided to stay out. I'm totally allowed to be involved if I wanted to be. So far I've chosen to be -- I haven't chosen to be involved. I'll stay out."

He's leaving the door open but he's saying so far he's left it to the probe itself, but he also added about the Mueller probe that he believes that the Mueller probe is actually playing into the hands of Russians. He said, "Mueller's probe played right into the hands of Russians, if it was Russia, they played right into Russia's hand."

Now earlier in the program you were just talking to Alex about this report from Microsoft. There the president seems to indicate that again he's doubting whether or not it was the Russians. But again all of this comes back to the Mueller probe for him -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. Abby, thank for the reporting from the White House this morning.

Susan Hennessey, let me bring you back in to get a few beats with you on all of this.

Let me read you the quote from the president where he tells Reuters, yes, I think a sit-down with Mueller could be a perjury trap. Quote, "It's my word against Comey's and he's best friends with Mueller so Mueller might say, well, I believe Comey, and even if I'm telling the truth that makes me a liar, that's no good."

I don't know that Comey and Mueller are best friends. That aside, Comey does have these contemporaneous memos, right, which, you know, could hold a lot of weight in the eyes of Mueller's team but ultimately if it would be Comey's word versus the president's word on the obstruction issue, doesn't it have to do a lot with what other witnesses say and who is corroborated by other witnesses? HENNESSEY: Well, so I think it goes to the basic question of what

perjury is. Perjury is not, you know, Bob Mueller saying, I believe one person or the other.

HARLOW: Right.

HENNESSEY: No, a perjury trap is a real concept. It's not -- it doesn't mean what the president wants it to mean here, it's wherever law enforcement conducts an interview not for investigative purposes but just because they want to prosecute someone for perjury. That's a separate question from actually proving perjury, right? This is not up to the discretion of the special counsel if the president of the United States lied under oath about a material fact, all elements of the crime, that would have to be charged and proved beyond a reasonable doubt in court, you know, so this notion that somehow the president is accidentally going to violate the law here, you know, that's just not true. That's just not reasonable. You know --

HARLOW: No, just on that point, too, when it comes to sort of the key witnesses for Mueller, Susan, we know a little bit more about Don McGahn, the White House counsel's 30 hours before Mueller's team because there's new reporting in the "Washington Post" this morning that says that McGahn's own attorney, Burck, has told Trump's legal team that McGahn doesn't believe in that in those, you know, three days, 30 hours of being interviewed that he implicated the president in any legal wrongdoing. How significant of a development is that?

HENNESSEY: Well, so he left the question open, he was quite clear that they don't know -- that McGahn didn't feel he personally witnessed criminal conduct and that he would have resigned if he had. You know, they say, you know, that they don't know what other people might have told.

You know, I do think there's a larger message here and that's when that came in the prior story regarding Don McGahn, and that was McGahn was motivated to have this extensive cooperation with the special counsel's office, because he was of concerned that Trump might be throwing him under the bus, it might be a John Dean situation where the White House counsel is the one who ultimately serves jail time.

HARLOW: RIGHT.

HENNESSEY: And that means that Don McGahn who is an experienced attorney through either atmospherics or because he knows specific believe that there might be criminal liability here and he is sufficiently convinced about but he is actually taking steps to protect himself against that.

HARLOW: OK. Susan, thank you for the expertise in all of this, this morning. Nice to have you.

Ahead for us, security clearance turned political weapon? The president threatens one ex-CIA officer's official clearance over a television appearance and now suggests former intel chief James Clapper is, quote, "being nice to him to keep his clearance." Also, three days of deliberations still no verdict in the highest

stakes trial for ex-campaign Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. We're minutes away from day four kicking off .

And the Colorado man accused of killing his wife and two little kids is now blaming his wife for their death. To the two daughters' death. Christopher Watts will appear in court in just hours. Wait until you hear this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] HARLOW: Welcome back, I'm Poppy Harlow in New York, and this morning, the president is suggesting former Intel Chief James Clapper is quote, "now being nice to keep his security clearance.

So is that it? Be nice to the president and keep your clearance? Hours earlier the president reacted to a clip between former CIA official Phil Mudd facing off with Trump supporter Paris Dennard, both for the record are CNN contributors.

The president called Mudd, quote "unglued, weird" and then asked if Mudd should have his clearance pulled. This after Mudd, a critic of the president took offence to the notion that he profits off that clearance -- just watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PHIL MUDD, EX-DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE CIA'S COUNTERTERRORIST CENTER: Let me ask you one question, how much do you think I'm paid to do that at the request of the U.S. government? Give me one answer and you got 10 seconds. How much?

PARIS DENNARD, CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL SPEAKER: I'll give you -- I'll ask you a question, how much are you paid for your consulting contracting --

MUDD: Answer the question --

DENNARD: Get for being a -- for being a former official --

MUDD: I have no contract with the U.S. government that pays money --

DENNARD: I'm not talking --

MUDD: Zero --

DENNARD: In this -- you get more money --

MUDD: We're done, Joe --

DENNARD: To have it --

MUDD: We're done. Get out!

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: All right, let's discuss with CNN Political Analyst, Margaret

Talev, the national reporter for RealClearPolitics Caitlin Huey-Burns. That was a wild raucous debate and it goes to the heart of this, right?

I mean, whether it's actually profiting from what the use and utility of these security clearances are to the Intel agency which they are important. Margaret, here's what the president wrote this morning about James Clapper, quote, "even James Clapper has admonished John Brennan for having gone totally off the rails.

[09:20:00] Maybe Clapper is being nice to me so he doesn't lose his security clearance for lying to Congress." He's talking about James Clapper on Jake show on Sunday when Clapper said, look, sometimes, you know, Brennan's head(ph) probably can be too much.

But he shares the same fears and concerns that we all have here. Can the White House at all dance around the president clearly, putting out there that this is about loyalty, and if you're nice to him and if you say nice things about him then you're good, you can keep your clearance?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I'm not sure that there is any aide in the White House who can sort of make a parallel argument for what President Trump is doing because it sort of reveals itself.

Clapper, I don't think has necessarily laid down a history of being nice to President Trump --

HARLOW: Right --

TALEV: But I think what you're seeing across the board and different Intel or former Intelligence officials are expressing it sort of with different decibel levels is a genuine dismay that the president is politicizing their careers and their efforts and the president is doing what he's doing because he feels that he can politically.

He doesn't feel that there are repercussions at the ballot box for him. He doesn't feel that Republicans in Congress are going to push back against him, and he feels that it's an effective counter-argument or distraction for some of the very real questions that the Mueller probe has dredged up about his team during the campaign and since he took office.

HARLOW: Let me -- Caitlin, for you, read you something that struck us from conservative radio host, former editor-at-large of "Breitbart" Ben Shapiro. Here's what he wrote about the president's handling of security clearances.

"Trump likes pardons and security clearances, anything he can treat as a reward or punishment in this governmental version of "The Apprentice"." Fair analysis?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL REPORTER, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Yes, I mean, we've seen with pardons and hear with the threats and actual going forward with those threats to revoke security clearances are very, you know, Trumpian tools of the presidency that this particular president is taking advantage of.

I mean with those tweets he is abandoning any pretense set by the White House that this was about national security. We saw last week, Trump was talking about the Mueller probe, talking about the Russia investigation when he was talking about revoking James -- sorry, revoking Brennan's security clearance, and of course, he hinted and said publicly that there could be others.

What's really interesting here, too, is the animosity towards Brennan among some Republicans has been helpful to Trump. We know that he is using Brennan as a foil, as a way to hit back at the Mueller investigation and to win in the court of public opinion which is very much part of the larger strategy here and then by talking about these other officials, there is a sense that there might be some kind of -- people might be desensitized to it because of Brennan's position.

HARLOW: But let me give quickly on something completely different, but really interesting and that is Hillary Clinton back on the main stage, if you will, she's going to headline these three fundraisers, Margaret, in big cities, right? In San Francisco and Chicago and New York City.

You know, I do think it's interesting that she's focusing on at least right now these fundraisers in these big cities. Focusing on Democrats in, you know, cities not in some of these rural areas, not in states at least right now where she needed to win and she didn't. Is that the right calculation and miscalculation? And is she what Democrats need right now?

TALEV: Yes, I mean, Poppy, I think it looks certainly like she is trying to do this in a measured way that's helpful and not unhelpful. So --

HARLOW: Yes --

TALEV: You're seeing not just, you know, sort of geographically where she's getting involved, but the fact that these at least right now are closed door events and not large public rallies. So that seems to be her way of trying to split the difference, engaged some parts of the base without making it a public story about her, but different public and party.

Doing what any part would do, trying to seize on this -- to hurt those Democrats who might be benefitting from her. I got a --

HARLOW: Yes --

TALEV: In my inbox this morning --

HARLOW: And --

TALEV: A note saying from the Republican Party entitled "still with her?" Drawing attention to this and raising questions about the efficacy of it, so I think we'll see. HARLOW: We'll see. Caitlin, very quickly, before we go, Chelsea

Clinton a quote, "definite maybe" in terms of a political run for the future. Talks about, you know, would she -- it could -- if it could have a positive impact then maybe. What do you think?

HUEY-BURNS: I don't know that there's a big appetite among Democrats in this day and age for the Clinton era. I think the election was -- you know, showed us -- showed us that. I think what's really interesting here is that we're seeing Republican campaigns still seize on the Clintons as an anchor around Democratic candidates.

[09:25:00] And it's a way to appeal to those kind of soft Republican voters, those voters who either voted for Trump reluctantly or didn't at all to kind of tried to remind them in their view of the Democratic Party, this of course as they're trying to combat Trump's own unpopularity.

HARLOW: Thank you both, Caitlin, Margaret, appreciate it. Next for us, we are back to verdict watch, day four of deliberations about to kick off in the trial of Paul Manafort, and we are minutes away also from the opening bell on Wall Street and the lovely Christine Romans --

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning --

HARLOW: Is with me -- let's look at the markets, good morning.

ROMANS: It looks like you could see a little bit of pop in in stocks this morning, but really things are quite quiet here, and I'll tell you why? The president lashed out at the Federal Reserve --

HARLOW: All right --

ROMANS: And that's getting a lot of attention and moving the dollar. Also we've got some big headlines this week about China-U.S. trade, a trade delegation coming to Washington, will there be any progress? The president seeming to underplay --

HARLOW: Downplay it --

ROMANS: That, so there is a lot of talk about trade, about the dollar, about currency manipulation and the Fed and the commander-in- chief here, so we'll talk about all that when we come back after the bell --

HARLOW: Thanks, and I'll look at markets, we'll be right back.

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