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China Detains 100 Christians amid Concerns of a Crackdown; 12- Year-Old Boy Honors His Friend for Life; New Report Shows Extent of Russia's Support for Trump Online; A 7-Year-Old Guatemalan Girl Who Died In The Custody Of Customs; A Texas Judge Rules ObamaCare Is Unconstitutional; Volatility Is The New Normal On Wall Street. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 16, 2018 - 18:00   ET


[18:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: This is according to a nationwide poll conducted by NBC News and the "Wall Street Journal." And that survey just released today, asked people about issues important to them and how they feel about the direction of the country is heading.

And one question was about the President and whether they perceive him as telling the truth or lying about the Russia investigation. Sixty- two percent say they feel the President is not being honest. The President not mentioning this poll in a flurry of tweets today but he did break out a new word to describe his former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen. The man just sentenced to three years in prison for his role in a hush money scandal directly linked to President Trump.

This tweet from the President today. Remember, Michael Cohen only became a rat after the FBI did something which was absolutely unthinkable and unheard of until the witch hunt was illegally started. They broke into an attorney's office. Why didn't they break into the DNC to get the server or crooked's office? Crooked is the nickname the President has given to Hillary Clinton.

Rudy Giuliani is the President's current lawyer who also went after Cohen on TV in interviews this morning.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: The man is pathetic. That's a lawyer you were interviewing. And he says he directed me to do it. Oh, my goodness. He directed me. He is a lawyer. He is the guy you depend on to determine whether or not you should do it this way or that way. Whether you are Donald Trump or you are me or you.


CABRERA: CNN White House correspondent Boris Sanchez is live with us now.

Boris, we have to mention some factual errors in the President's tweet this morning. He is wrong about the special counsel investigation being illegal. He is wrong about the FBI breaking into Michael Cohen's office. They had an approved search warrant. But putting that aside, what are we seeing here?


Yes, well, the White House very clearly trying to discredit everything that Michael Cohen has been saying even in that tweet. Shortly after FBI agents served that warrant, Cohen said that they were respectful and courteous. The President mischaracterizing exactly what happened when the FBI agents went to visit Michael Cohen's properties there.

Beyond that, Rudy Giuliani earlier today as you noticed in interviews, on the defensive going after Michael Cohen, saying that the only way to believe the claims that he has made about President Trump is to take him at his word. That is simply not the case because as you know, Ana, the southern district of New York has corroborated much of what Michael Cohen has said with outside evidence.

We know that AMI, the company that owns the "National Enquirer," the paper that ended up not publishing those stories about Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal and their alleged affairs with the President, they also corroborated some of what Michael Cohen was saying.

Beyond that, Giuliani is suggesting that the payments that were made to those women were not campaign contributions. Well, two of the charges that Michael Cohen plead guilty to were campaign finance violations based on those payments. We may also have not heard the last of Michael Cohen.

Representative Elijah Cummings was on "STATE OF THE UNION" this morning with Jake Tapper. He is likely going to be the chairman of the house oversight committee. And he said point-blanc that wants Michael Cohen to testify again in Congress. Listen to this.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I'm hoping that Mr. Cohen will come before the Congress where he can tell the American public exactly what he has been saying to Mueller and others without interfering with the Mueller investigation. I think the American people just voted for transparency and integrity in our hearings. They want to hear from him. I certainly would like to see him come in the month of January before the Congress and so the people's representatives will have an opportunity to ask him questions.


SANCHEZ: The other big question is whether the President will sit down for an interview with Robert Mueller. Remember that on Friday, CNN reported the special counsel was still interested in an interview with the President despite those written answers to questions that the President submitted last month. Giuliani was asked about that this morning. He sort of played coy in one interview. Watch this.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Has his office reached out to you about sitting down for an in-person interview with the President? GIULIANI: Yes. There are several unpaid parking tickets back in

1986, 1987 that haven't been explained.

WALLACE: Seriously.

GIULIANI: Seriously. Unpaid parking tickets. The proper fee.

WALLACE: No, no, no. He is a special counsel. Does he want to interview the President?

GIULIANI: Yes, good luck. Good luck. Yes, after what they did to Flynn, the way they trapped him into perjury and no sentence for him, 14 days for Papadopoulos. I did better on traffic violations than they did with Papadopoulos.

WALLACE: So when you say good luck, you are saying no way. No interview.

GIULIANI: They are a joke. Over my dead body but I could be dead.


SANCHEZ: He didn't make any jokes about parking tickets in another interview. He struck a much serious tone. He was asked about, again that interest in the special counsel and interviewing President Trump. He said he couldn't comment on that specifically. But he did leave a slight opening saying that in an agreement between the President's attorneys and the special counsel, there is a possibility for there to be more time for them to continue discussion about the special counsel's further questions for the President, Ana.

[18:05:25] CABRERA: All right, Boris Sanchez at the White House. Thank you.

While Giuliani tries to argue there's no there there and this investigation needs to end, a reminder that most Americans don't agree with him. We showed you this poll at the top of the show showing that 62 percent say they think Trump hasn't been truthful when it comes to the investigation into Russia's election interference. And that same poll found that more people want the investigation to continue than those who want it to end.

Joining us now to discuss, senior editor for "the Atlantic" Ron Brownstein and senior White House correspondent from "Bloomberg News" Margaret Talev.

Ron, do President Trump's claims that this is all a witch-hunt now ring hallow given as we just saw the majority of Americans aren't buying it?


Look. I mean, I was struck by the sheer disdain that Rudy Giuliani, yes, you know, projected for the investigative process. And that is kind of posture they want to take within the close circle of consolidating and mobilizing their base. But as we saw in the election and as this poll underscores, everybody else is listening too. And they are reaching a very different verdict. Because as you know, not only do 62 percent of the poll say - today say that the President is not being truthful with regard to the Russia investigation. But by a double digit margin, more and so said they wanted the investigation to continue than end.

Fifty-five percent, a very solid majority said they want to see more oversight from the House once the Democrats take over the majority. And in one other finding that I thought was particularly striking, the share of people who said that all of these guilty pleas and judgments against people around Trump indicate that he, as well, has done something wrong is growing and has reached nearly half the country.

So the country is paying attention to this. And as the investigation grinds on and produces these results, the dismissals I think become more hallowed.

CABRERA: And the President goes on twitter. He has never just allowed his attorneys to do the attacking. He does this as well tweeting this earlier today that Michael Cohen was a rat only after the FBI broke into his office and that the FBI shouldn't have done that because he was an attorney.

I mean, we put this tweet beside a fact check just to make clear what is true here. Former FBI director James Comey also responding by tweeting this is from the President of our country lying about the lawful execution of a search warrant issued by a federal judge. Shame on Republicans who don't speak up at this moment for the FBI, the rule of law and the truth.

Margaret, why aren't Republicans speaking up? If defending the rule of law is seen as not supporting the President, isn't there something wrong with that?

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, I think heading into the midterms you could understand the strategy which is that the only thing politically more dangerous than sticking close to the President was to cut the President loose.

But I think we are in a new era now for some of the reasons that Ron mentioned in terms of public sentiment but also because of the very obvious fact that the Democrats of wanting to control of the House of Representatives are now in-charge of the investigation - in investigative arm. And they are going to want to both replicate what Mueller starting on their own stage so that they can have that moment and to some extent kind of fill in those gaps also.

So we are seeing now these early calls to have Cohen come back to testify before Congress again. Now that the Mueller portion of this probe is, you know, perhaps done on his front.

I think we are seeing some changing dynamics. I don't know whether that is going to extend to whether the Republicans will kind of join Democrats, but I do think you have a different dynamic, a different political dynamic. And a lot of questions including about Roger Stone, including about

the connections to Wikipedia that Mr. Mueller's team still wants answers as each of those pieces moves forwards. It makes sense for the President to try to discredit Michael Cohen but it becomes a little bit harder to do Wikipedia.

CABRERA: You said Wikipedia. I think you meant WikiLeaks.

TALEV: I'm sorry.

CABRERA: Not confused others. Easy to do.

Ron, let's also remember remind our viewers that it is not just Mueller investigating Trump. We have the SDNY, Manhattan attorneys' office, New York attorney general, possibly other jurisdictions. And don't forget about Congress as Margaret just mentioned. Democrats are about to take control. And with it subpoena power. Is this Trump's worst nightmare?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The subpoena power certainly. I mean, you know the defining gamble of the Republican Congress in the first two years was to essentially abandon any kind of meaningful oversight of the administration in the hope of locking arms to advance their policy goals. And ultimately paid for that. I think it was very clear in the election that the voters were looking for more of a independent posture and more checks and constraints.

Ninety percent of the people who disapprove the President Trump's job performance voted Democratic for the House. That was the highest percentage of the people who disapprove to the president, vote for the other side since 1982.

There has been no indication since the election of Republicans changing their calculation in any meaningful way. I'm struck, you know, in Manu Raju's reporting and others over the last week are the utter unwillingness of Republicans in the Senate to grapple with the implications of the southern district of New York which is part of President's own justice department.

Effectively, labeling him as an unindicted - virtually unindicted co- conspirator in the Michael Cohen case. And as you noted, as far as noted before, they not only argued that it was Cohen saying that the President directed him to undertake these illegal acts. They said it on their own dime, in their own language and said Cohen later admitted to it. So you know, the question of how this proceeds I think is a ticking time bomb. What will be the legal ramifications of the southern district of New York reaching this determination about the President's conduct in the hush money payments during 2016.

I don't think we have heard the last word on this. And certainly hearings involving Michael Cohen could be the beginning of a much further discussion about what are the implications of this, the remainder of this presidency.

[18:11:22] CABRERA: All right. Ron and Margaret, stand by. Much more to discuss. Meantime, the father of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in the

custody of customs and border patrol says he has no complaints about how he and his daughter were treated by agents, but an attorney for his family says the man doesn't speak English and he only speaks Spanish as a second language suggesting he didn't understand what he was saying when he signed paper works stating that the girl was in good health at the border. Now attorneys are pushing for a thorough investigation looking into the young girl's death.

Out Ed Lavandera is continuing to follow this story from El Paso.

Ed, family lawyers say the girl was not suffering from lack of food or water when she was taken into U.S. custody and yet she died less than 48 hours later. What more are you learning?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is one of the issues in dispute that the father has with some of the initial accounting of how the department of homeland security described the situation with this young girl, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin who died a little more than a week ago.

Initially, DHS had said that the young girl had traveled several days through the remote desert there south of New Mexico without food and water. The father tells us through his attorneys in an attorney statement that indeed the young girl did have plenty of food and water and she was fine when she showed up at the border check point there in remote area of eastern New Mexico, along the border there with Mexico and that she didn't become ill until several hours after being in the custody of border patrol.

Despite having said all of that, the father also did go onto say that he was grateful for the efforts of boarder border patrol agents inside the bus and the medical teams that helped. And he said that he believes that those medical professionals and border patrol agents did everything they could to save the young girl's life.

The father has been staying here at a shelter that helps migrant refugees and the director of that shelter spoke on behalf of the father. And this is what he had to say when he met with reporters here yesterday.


RUBEN GARCIA, DIRECTOR, ANNUNCIATION HOUSE: Prior to going into CBP custody and contrary to the report that Jakelin had not eaten or had water for several days, Jakelin had not been crossing the desert for days. Jakelin's father took care. Jakelin and made sure she was fed and had sufficient water. She and her father sought asylum from border patrol as soon as they crossed the border. She had not suffered from lack of water or food prior to approaching the border.


LAVANDERA: And also there was some of the initial reporting on this case also included some details of how the young girl might have died that the father was also taking issue with. He said any kind of speculation, Ana, as to how this girl died should stop and every one should wait and see what the medical examiner and what the full autopsy report shows as this family tries to grapple and try to figure out exactly how things turned so tragic so quickly that in those overnight hours a little more than week ago here along the border with Mexico -- Ana.

CABRERA: The family and an entire country waiting for those answers. Thank you, Ed Lavandera.

Now turning back to what we saw happen during the midterm campaign. President Trump and Republican candidates repeatedly vowed to protect millions of Americans with preexisting conditions, but now a decision by a federal judge could to strike down the affordable care act could put them between a rock and a hard place. We will discuss that.

Plus, a boy loses his battle with leukemia. And when his mother is unable to afford a headstone for her son, she gets help from his best friend. We will talk to them coming up.


[18:19:12] CABRERA: A Texas judge rules Obama care is unconstitutional. Suddenly moving the health care debate back to center stage and leading Republican today saying the controversial court ruling won't last.

Here is Senator Susan Collins o CNN "STATE OF THE UNION.".

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I don't. First of all, I would point out this really is not going to affect people who are currently enrolled or in Obama care policies or their policies for 2019. There is wide spread support for protecting people with preexisting conditions. There's also wide spread opposition to the individual mandate and here's why.

The individual mandate penalties, 80 percent were paid by people -- 80 percent of the people who paid the penalty earned under $50,000 a year. This hurt low and middle income families who couldn't afford the cost of health insurance. It's telling that when the tax bill was on the floor not a single democratic senator offered an amendment to strike the repeal of the individual mandate. That's how unpopular it was. I think this will be overturned on appeal.


[18:20:34] CABRERA: Back with us now, Ron Brownstein and Margaret Talev.

Margaret, this ruling is what Republicans probably dreamed about six, maybe eight years ago. Now has it become an albatross around their nets?

TALEV: For many Republicans, yes, it most likely would be heading into 2020. And there's a question of how it would play in the Presidential election in some of these key areas as well. But President Trump is happy about this. Praised the judge's decision.

The trouble particularly in suburban districts is that even among Republican voters who don't like president - former president Obama, they like the protections for preexisting conditions in some of these other points that has become in practice, at least the ideas, the principles embodied in it very popular. The cost not popular, in some cased the increase in difficulty of getting it not popular. But if Republicans are looking in the situation where they would be potentially blamed for taking away people's health care, that's not a position many Republican officials want to be in.

CABRERA: Ron, listen to Senator Chuck Schumer this morning.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: It's an awful, awful ruling. We are going to fight this tooth and nail. And the first thing we are going to do when we get back there in the Senate is urge, put a vote on the floor urging an intervention in the case.


CABRERA: Ron, this is coming from the Democratic minority leader. Do you think Mitch McConnell will be on board?

BROWNSTEIN: No, I don't. Look. The Republicans are in an extraordinarily complex and difficult position on preexisting conditions. Because as Margaret noted, the protections are even more popular than the ACA itself at this point. I think three quarters of the country in polling by Keiser and others to support of the law's provisions on is the conditions on preexisting conditions.

The problem is that eliminating those protections is not a byproduct or something ancillary to the Republican alternative to the ACA, it is core to it. Because the basic argument that Republicans have made over the last two years particularly against the law is it requires younger and healthier people to spend too much, to buy too much insurance to subsidize coverage for people who are older and sicker.

And so, eliminating the protection for preexisting conditions in effect adimizing that the public and the risk pool enforcing everybody to kind pay their own way is central to how they try to reduce the costs of premiums for younger and healthier people. There is no easy way around this despite all of these Republican office holders saying, as Susan Collins, that everyone supports preexisting conditions. In fact, they don't. And maintaining those provisions undercuts as well as the essential health benefit which is are part of it. Undercuts their ability to get the costs down in the way that they promised their alternatives will do.

CABRERA: Margaret, President Trump has claimed this is a victory but the most recent poll shows the majority of adults, 53 percent approve of the affordable care act, not to mention the Democrats campaign heavily on healthcare in the midterms. And as we have discussed, picked up 40 seats in the House. So i this a victory for the President? And what do you think his next move might be? TALEV: Well, on his sort of mission accomplish list, this was central

to the 2016 bid and his promise, you know, to repeal this and basically to undo a lot of what the Obama administration have put into place. But if the 2018 midterms were any test of this and most people think they were, many of those Democrats who ran for House seats and won and in fact the engine that you can most closely associate from a policy perspective with the takeover of the House was health care. The health argument about trying to preserve the affordable care act or improve the affordable care act, protect those principles most especially the one about covering preexisting conditions.

This is now gone from a debate in the years before the affordable care act passed to essentially an American consensus that people want, at least for themselves, for their own insurance to be covered. To be able to get insurance and to be able to have their insurance cover problems that they have.

And so, it has flipped from something that didn't exist that could exist to something that does exist and would be taken away. And that is an entirely different political calculation.

BROWNSTEIN: Ana, I can say real quick?


BROWNSTEIN: I mean, just how extraordinary this is in historical terms that we are still having this fight. Republicans attorneys general, a Republican appointee judge, you know, trying to eliminate the law.

If you go back, Medicare passed in 1965. No one - Richard Nixon in 1968, did not no one ever ran on repealing it. Social Security passed in 1935. The Republican nominee in '36 outland and ran on repealing it. He won two out of 48 states and they never ran on repealing it again.

This is essentially, the third -- if President Trump runs in 2020, although I think he will, on repealing the ACA or revamping it, it will be the third consecutive election, presidential election which Republicans have run on undoing the law. There has never been that kind of sustained gorilla warfare against a new entitlement I think in American history.

And to Margaret's point, it is now in place. And as they discovered, it was not only Republicans who gained coverage. In fact, in states that decided the election, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, a majority of the people were gained coverage were non-college whites. So there's real risk here in terms of the ideology of the party cutting against the actual material interest of the core of its modern coalition.

[18:25:58] CABRERA: Can you imagine if we have another election on Obamacare.

Thank you both. Great to have you with us, Margaret Talev and Ron Brownstein. Appreciate it you guys. Just weeks before Christmas, 100 Christians including pastor are

detained in China in what is being called a religious crackdown. What's behind their arrests, next. .

But first, the last few weeks on Wall Street have been just a little volatile, to put it mildly. So what's in store for investors this week? Christine Romans has this week's before the bell -- Christine.


Volatility is the new normal on Wall Street. The trade war, a fight over government spending, Brexit chaos all making for wild swing in the stock market. This week focus shifts to the Federal Reserve. The central bank is wildly expected to hike interest rates on Wednesday.

Current ad put a rate hike at nearly 80 percent. The fed chief drone file holds a press conference after. And investors will listen carefully to what he says about next year. If he hints at fewer rate hike, stocks could rally. That's what happened last month when Powell said this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know moving too fast would risk shortening the expansion. We also know that moving too slowly keeping interest rates too low for too long could risk other distortions in the form of higher inflation or destabilizing financial and balances. Our path of gradual increases has been designed to balance these two, both of which we must take seriously.


ROMANS: Now some economist predicting just one rate hike next year. And Powell's remarks this week will provide more clarity.

In New York, I'm Christine Romans.


[18:32:13] CABRERA: Concerns of a religion crackdown in China are growing after 100 Christians were detained last week, including Wang Yi, a prominent Chinese pastor. This apparent crackdown on religious freedom comes as China is attempting to negotiate a trade deal with the U.S.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced 10 countries the U.S. has deemed guilty of severe religious freedom violations, and China was one of those countries named.

CNN's Will Ripley has the latest on what civil rights advocates are calling the most recent case of religious persecution in China.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It has taken us days to confirm the details in this story because of the secrecy, the lack of transparency in the Chinese legal system, but here is what we know. Wang Yi, who is a high-profile pastor and former legal scholar, was

arrested early last week, along with his wife, Jiang Rong, and 100 Christians. All of them detained in the Chinese city of Chengdu, all of them members of the Early Rain Covenant Church of which Wang is the Pastor.

Now, this church is accused of being in violation of Chinese law which requires churches to register with the National Religion Bureau. Essentially so that the Communist Party can keep an eye on those churches and surveil them to make sure that the pastors aren't saying anything controversial or that goes against China's authoritarian government.

So when Pastor Wang is seen on the Internet holding up a sign -- and you can see it here. It's in Chinese, but it translates to pray for the nation on June 4th, referring to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre which China has essentially tried to erase from its history.

The fact that he is openly talking about things like this leads the Chinese government to believe that his church and others like it are acting to try to subvert the government. And in China, political dissent is simply not tolerated. It is stomped out very quickly by the government with little mercy.

And so Early Rain, according to police -- technically, they are accused of operating without registering, but perhaps the real crime is that this church doesn't support the Communist Party. And there is concern that this is part of a crackdown, a growing crackdown on independent religious practice.

Allegations of systematic human rights abuse -- think of the hundreds of thousands of Muslim Uighurs. China says they are combatting violent extremism by restricting the Uighurs, but critics say it's -- they have essentially set up an Orwellian surveillance state.

And other religious groups have been discriminated against as well. Think of the Tibetan Buddhists, for example. So it's not just Christians.

But Sam Brownback, who is the U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, he says that China has been designated as one of 10 countries of concern. Meaning that people there do not have the freedom to worship.

And while China is an atheist state, religion is supposed to be legal there. Although many critics say, on the ground, that is simply not the case.

[18:35:04] Will Ripley, CNN, Hong Kong.

CABRERA: Twelve-year-olds Kaleb and K.J. -- you've got to hear this story -- they were best friends. They were inseparable. So when K.J. died after lifelong health struggles, Kaleb was devastated. But he turned that into action. Ahead, what he did to help make sure his friend has a headstone.


[18:40:00] CABRERA: This holiday season, I want to bring you a story of two friends with an inseparable bond.

When Kaleb Klakulak began second grade in Michigan, he was the new kid at school. He was shy. He didn't make friends easily. And then he met K.J. Gross. They became inseparable.

Even though K.J. struggled with many health complications, the two were best friends from the beginning. And then in May, K.J.'s health failed. He died from congestive heart failure after a long battle with leukemia.

K.J.'s mother buried her son in a family plot but couldn't afford a headstone, so Kaleb stepped in. And he began doing odd jobs to help raise money and even set up a PayPal account asking for donations. And the donations came pouring in, allowing K.J.'s mother to honor her son with a gravestone.

And Kaleb and K.J.'s mother, LaSondra Singleton, are joining us now.

Wow, what a story. First, I'm so sorry for both of your loss. K.J. sounds like such an incredible kid.

Kaleb, he must have really been an amazing friend. What was it that led you to do this for him and his family?

KALEB KLAKULAK, RAISED MONEY FOR HIS BEST FRIEND'S HEADSTONE: I didn't want his mom to visit an unmarked grave.

CABRERA: And so you were so courageous. You, at a young age of 12, knew what to do. Tell me a little bit about your friend and how much he meant to you.

KLAKULAK: We met in second grade. And at school, we always liked watching our other friend do backflips. And one time, he invited me over to his house for his niece's birthday party. And that was the first time I went to his house.

CABRERA: And so that's where that bond formed.

LaSondra, obviously, there was this incredible friendship. Walk me through that moment, though, when you found out what Kaleb was up to.

LASONDRA SINGLETON, MOTHER OF K.J. GROSS: They came over to my house for a visit, and it wasn't uncommon for them to come visit. So, you know, she said we want to come over Wednesday to visit you, me and Kaleb. I said OK.

So when they came over, we were sitting and talking. They brought me some roses and a pie her daughter had sent. And we were talking and she said, you know, we have two reasons for being over.

One, we wanted to see you. And, you know, she told me about Kaleb and what he had -- you know, the idea he had come up with the PayPal account. I had no idea, totally. It blew me away. I had no idea that he was thinking along those

lines. We were still trying to figure out how we were going to get it done. And, you know, it just blew me away that he still had that type of love for my son. And -- yes.

CABRERA: Oh. I can't imagine losing a child. What does it mean to you, this gesture, and to, obviously, know how much your son was loved by Kaleb?

SINGLETON: I could never find the words to express how much Kaleb and his family mean to me and what this gesture does because my son meant a lot to me.

And, you know, to him -- to a lot of people, he was just, you know, a sick boy. But I believe that Kaleb and Miss Christy (ph) love my son just as much as I did. And it shows through the gesture that they did, and it shows through the outpouring of support that we got for Kaleb wanting to do this for my son.

CABRERA: Well, Kaleb, you have been a shining light for all of us to learn about this story, to see what you have done to help your friend, to help his family.

Kaleb and LaSondra, thank you both for being here. I really appreciate it.

SINGLETON: Thank you.

CABRERA: Wishing you the very best this holiday season. We'll be right back.


CABRERA: Breaking news, "The Washington Post" has just obtained a draft of a report that has been prepared for the Senate about Russia's interference in our 2016 election, and it describes it as the most sweeping analysis yet of Russia's disinformation campaign.

The report studied the millions of social media posts provided by technology firms and here is what it found, according to the paper. That Russia used every major social media platform to help elect Trump. That all of Moscow's messaging was intended to benefit the Republican Party, specifically Trump.

And that on Facebook alone, Russia's campaign reached 126 million people. It reached another 20 million people on Instagram.

With us now, one of "The Washington Post" reporters that obtained this report and is breaking this news, Craig Timberg, and our chief media correspondent Brian Stelter.

Craig, how is any of this different from what we've already learned about Russian interference? Let's start there.

CRAIG TIMBERG, NATIONAL TECHNOLOGY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: This, in many ways, is the report we have been waiting for. It's sweeping, it's comprehensive. It uses the fullest data set we have seen yet from the companies who turned over lots of information to the government that they didn't turn over to anybody else.

And so this is -- it doesn't exactly tell us things that we didn't suspect or haven't heard, but it puts it all together in a new way and it's very comprehensive and compelling. I feel like they kind of reverse-engineered the entire Russian disinformation campaign in this one report.

CABRERA: In your report, you write that this report found the Russians, quote, worked even harder to support Trump while in office. While in office! How so?

TIMBERG: Every platform that these researchers tracked posted more often after the election. YouTube, in particular, went up by some remarkable degree.

[18:50:03] And so, you know, we tend to think of this narrative in terms of, you know, coming up to Election Day but actually intensified after Election Day and was still intensifying when the social media companies took this data, took these accounts down from the Internet research agency in Russia sometime around the middle of 2017.

CABRERA: Now, this Russian campaign, as we mentioned, Brian, reached 126 million people on Facebook, another 20 million on Instagram. Is that a lot in the world of social media?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes. On Web sites where there are billions of accounts, a hundred-plus million is a very big number.

It doesn't mean that every person who viewed this content was manipulated or persuaded by it, but, obviously, the Russians didn't need to persuade a hundred million people. They only needed to persuade a relatively small number of people in order to affect the outcome of the election.

Now, whether that is what actually happened or not, I don't think we will ever be able to say for sure. But with all the talk lately about who knew what when, new elements about collusion, new claims about the Mueller probe, this takes us back to what really happened and just how concerted the Russian effort was to try to persuade voters.

And like I said, it didn't take a hundred million people to be persuaded. What happened, because of these Russian trolls, these hackers and criminals, is it changed the conversation around the election.

And I think most importantly, Ana, as you pointed out, this reporting from these researchers, is it ramped up even more intensely after Election Day. That makes you think about Trump's relationship with Russia, Trump's relationship with Putin after Election Day in the early days of the presidency, and what was going on. Why were these Russian agents still trying to affect Americans' thinking?

CABRERA: One of the details, Craig, in this report is that it found that Russians targeted African-Americans, specifically, with misleading information about how to vote. Tell us more about that.

TIMBERG: Well, one of the major parts of this campaign was keeping people from going to the ballot box, people who would have voted for Hillary Clinton, at least in the view of the Russians, apparently.

And so there was all this messaging around, hey, you know, we can't trust elections or Hillary Clinton isn't any better than Donald Trump. And we've known that for a while, but to see it put together in a single comprehensive report is really impressive.

And it looks like the effort to reach African-Americans was nearly as extensive and as effective as the effort to get conservatives activated around gun rights or around immigration issues. So, really, they worked both sides of the coin, if you will, really effectively.

CABRERA: Craig --

STELTER: And some of it was about promoting conservatives and encouraging people to vote for Trump, others were about discouraging voting for Clinton, but all of it was in the same direction, right? All of it was in the Trump direction.


STELTER: Even though they were pressing different buns for different people.

CABRERA: Craig, does this report reach any conclusion as to how this may have impacted the election?

TIMBERG: It does not wrestle with that question. And of course, on some level, it's unanswerable, right?


TIMBERG: There's no way we can go and run the election again and take this out and see what happened.


TIMBERG: But it does suggest that the campaign was really shrewd, was sophisticated in its understanding of American politics, was sustained, and was -- and kept going even longer than most of us really understood.

And in fact, there's no reason to think this ended in 2017. I mean, the social media companies, Facebook and such, were still taking down, you know, accounts affiliated with this, you know, right up until the -- almost to the midterm election.

Now, this report doesn't reveal what happened with that kind of data, but there's no reason to think the Russians stopped. I mean, why would they?

CABRERA: Let me read just a quote here. It says, social media have gone from being the natural infrastructure for sharing collective grievances and coordinating civic engagement to being a computational tool for social control, manipulated by canny political consultants and available to politicians in democracies and dictatorships alike. Brian?

STELTER: Right, and that applies to more than just Russia, more than just one foreign government.

It happens to be Russia that is the central focus of this probe, but other foreign actors, other groups were also using social media in this way. And Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, Google, they have belatedly woken up to these facts. Way too late.

Our colleague, Donnie O'Sullivan has a new reporting that suggests maybe these researchers were only given the bare minimum of help from the social tech -- social networks. Now, we'll have to see what the networks say.

Facebook may say that it was enormously helpful to these researchers, but that's been a concern for the past couple of years, how open have Facebook and Twitter been to letting us reconstruct what went wrong in 2016 and what might still be going wrong today.

Because I think as any user of Facebook or Twitter knows, there's been some changes. There have been some improvements in some ways, but it's pretty easy to go down a pretty dark rabbit hole and find a lot of nasty content on social media these days.

Some of it, just published by Americans. But some of it, published by people pretending to be Americans. And that's the root of this report, that's the root of this problem, people that are posing as Americans, trying to sow division in our country.

CABRERA: And, Craig, as we point out, again, this report suggests that Russians didn't stop once Trump was in office. Do we have any indication if they're doing it right now?

TIMBERG: Look, there's every reason to believe that they are, but there's also a lot of reason to believe that they got more sophisticated.


TIMBERG: So as Brian points out, the researchers do, in the report, do take issue with how the social media companies handled the requests by the government.

[18:55:03] Google, in particular, comes in for criticism for not being more open with its data about how YouTube was used. There's some fairly pointed language about that. But it's also true that the companies are doing more now, and it's also true that the Russians and others presumably are getting more sophisticated all the time.

A lot of this, you know, the ads on Facebook, were paid for in rubles, right? The Internet addresses were in St. Petersburg, Russia. It almost feels like the Russians weren't trying very hard to cover their tracks back in 2016. I think there's every reason to believe they're better at this now, and there's every reason to believe that it's still going on.

CABRERA: Of course.

STELTER: And it's not something you can fix. It's only something you can manage. It's like a chronic condition. It's like diabetes. It's something you have to constantly be on top of and manage.

And the question is whether these companies that really manage our digital lives are able to manage this misinformation problem. That's still an open question.

CABRERA: Brian Stelter, Craig, thank you both.

Craig Timberg, we appreciate it.

We'll be right back. And a quick programming note for you, don't forget to join CNN as Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen co-host New Year's Eve coverage live from Times Square starting at 8:00 Eastern on New Year's Eve.