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Trump Lashes Out After Congress Told Russia Is Helping Him In 2020; Early Vote Boosts Turnout In Nevada, But Concerns Remain. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired February 21, 2020 - 13:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

And America's democracy once again under attack by a foreign adversary, and America's president, who may stand to benefit, doesn't want to hear anything about it. In fact, he doesn't want Congress to hear anything about it.

But sources tell us that the U.S. Intelligence Community has been sounding the alarm that Russia is already taking steps to interfere with the upcoming presidential election and they're doing it to help President Trump get re-elected and also to make Americans doubt the integrity of the election process.

It's 2016 all over again, maybe even worse, but this time, hindsight is 2020. This information was delivered to lawmakers in a classified briefing and the president was angry about it, not because Russia is meddling, like any normal commander in chief would be, but because he wanted to hide the meddling from Democrats, specifically House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, the president fearing that Schiff could use the information against him politically in this election year.

Now, days after this briefing, President Trump sidelined the acting director of National Intelligence who oversees all of America's intelligence agencies. Then the president named a loyalist with no intelligence experience to take over that role, an acting role, until he can find a permanent replacement who likely is also loyal to him. He sidelined his intel chief for telling Congress what it already knows.

Here is a flashback.


DAN COATS, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Foreign actors will review the 2020 U.S. elections as an opportunity to advance their interests.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: We certainly are seeing, and have never stopped seeing, really, since 2016, efforts to engage in maligned foreign influence.

FIONA HILL, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S FORMER TOP RUSSIA ADVISER: Right now, Russia's security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election. We are running out of time to stop them.

ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: They are doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.


KEILAR: Jake Tapper is with me now. He's the Anchor and The Lead and CNN State of the Union.

Jake, you've been doing some really great reporting on this. Tell us what your sources are saying about this particular briefing that was given to Congress.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, let's just say, as you noted in the setup, there is no disagreement among any of the intelligence experts that Russia is attempting to interfere in the election one way or another as our other countries, so that's undisputed. What I am hearing is that the reason why this particular briefing of the House Intelligence Committee became more controversial is because the person doing the briefing, who is head of election security for the Office of the director of National Intelligence, Shelby Pierson, who is widely respected, but there is a feeling that maybe she perhaps, in the view of some intelligence officers, overstated the case as to how much election interference that's going on is being done definitively because the Russians want to help President Trump, because they have a preference for Trump.

She said at this briefing that the Russians have a preference for Trump. There are others in the administration who say, it's not that clear cut. It's probably a shade back, a step or two. They like President Trump, the Russians, they think they can work with him, he's a dealmaker. But the election interference, which, again, is undisputed, it's not necessarily about, we're trying to help President Trump, as they clearly did in 2016, as much as it's definitively about trying to sow confusion and mistrust in the American election.

KEILAR: So how do we square that with what was found about 2016, which was there was a preference for President Trump?

TAPPER: Well, first of all, at the time, Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee, so we know that there was somebody that Putin hated and viewed hostilely because she had been on the frontlines of calling out Putin for all his undemocratic actions. So that's one step.

And two, I think one of the things that's important for people to understand is that the Russians are really trying to wreak havoc. I mean, they want everyone in this country to mistrust everything, mistrust the media, mistrust elections, mistrust the White House, mistrust everything, which is not to say that Putin has not already come on the record and Helsinki said that he had a preference for President Trump. We just don't know, according to the intelligence as of right now, whether the interference is aimed at helping President Trump or more broadly just trying to sow more discord.

KEILAR: So what does that mean when you're talking big picture here for the Intelligence Community as they're seeing someone being sidelined, and what does this mean for election security?

TAPPER: Well, I think, first of all, there are a lot of professionals in the administration who are still working very hard on this. I think there are serious questions as to what now the president's commitment is in terms of -- first of all, I have yet to meet a national security official in this administration who doesn't want President Trump to have a different take on this.


He is constantly sowing seeds of doubt about what happened in 2016. That's one of the reasons he was impeached. He was trying to get Ukraine to basically undermine the conclusion of the intelligence agencies, said it was Russia that interfered in the election.

And there is a lot the president could do that he doesn't do when it comes to just talking about, don't believe everything you read on Facebook, don't believe everything you read on Twitter. There is a campaign to put out false information, let's be careful about that. In fact, he does the opposite. He shares a lot of false information. That said, there are a lot of professionals in the Trump administration working very hard to try to prevent this from happening, to try to sound the alarm whenever they can.

I think another question about that House Intelligence Community briefing, and that briefer, Shelby Pierson, is the House Republicans on that committee that were alarmed by what they saw as her overstating the case. How much are these House Republicans motivated by wanting precise, discreet information that is fact-based and how much are they motivated by trying to protect President Trump, because I think there's a serious question about that.

KEILAR: Yes, there certainly is. Jake, thank you so much. And you can get your Jake Tapper six days a week, 4:00 P.M. Eastern on The Lead and Sundays on State of the Union.

And the warning signs have been there, right, the warnings that Russia is still trying to meddle in U.S. elections. So what is being done in Congress to protect your vote?

Let's bring in CNN Congressional Reporter Lauren Fox. And, Lauren, let's check out this time period since the 2018 midterm elections a little over a year ago. Last week, Senate Republicans blocked three election security bills when they hit the floor, and this is just the latest in a string of thwarted efforts to address much needed election security. Take us through this.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, that's exactly right, Brianna. Remember, Democrats in the Senate have been trying to push these bills through for several years and without a whole lot of success, with the exception, of course, of some funding Republicans have agreed to. But last week, they made this case basically to fast- track three pieces of legislation in an effort, really, to put the spotlight back on election security. Remember, Democrats are transitioning from this impeachment investigation they've been engulfed in over the last several months, trying to bring the spotlight to what Congress can actually do next.

Now, they were blocked by Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, in their effort to fast-track these three bills, some of which Democrats say, look, these are just common sense. These are things like basically if a foreign government approaches a campaign and says, we want to help you in your election, we want to help do opposition research on your opponent, the campaign has to go to the FBI and say, this is what happened, what can you do to help us stop election meddling in our elections?

Now, the House of Representatives controlled by Democrats, controlled by Nancy Pelosi, they've had a little more success. They passed two standalone bills on election security, and it was such a priority for them, they concluded a bunch of provisions related to election security in HR-1, their very first big piece of rollout legislation when they got the majority.

Now, the bright spot is again on election security funding. Remember, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced in the fall of last year that he supported $250 million in boosting election security. Democrats said that was a big move, that was surprising, that was something that he had really turned a corner on. Now, that was far short of the $600 million that House Democrats wanted to have, but they came to a compromise. They settled on $425 million in the 2020 Appropriations Bill.

But you can bet, Brianna, this isn't going to be the last time Senate Democrats are trying to push this issue on the Senate floor. They're making a big case of trying to make this front and center in the 2020 election. Brianna?

KEILAR: They're making a big case and a big point too. Lauren Fox, thank you so much.

President Trump responded to all of this by tweeting, quote, another misinformation campaign is being launched by Democrats. We should fact-check this though. It's not being launched by Democrats. This is information, this is a warning coming from the Intel Community overseen by Trump's own administration, from the acting director of National Security. He's overseeing this, that Trump had appointed himself. He's now gone, of course.

Joining me now is Leon Panetta, former CIA Director under President Obama, as well as a number of other positions as well, but that's obviously very relevant to this.

So I want to get your sense, Secretary. Just-- what was your reaction when you found out that the president wanted to shut down this mention that Russia was meddling, but also favoring him, not just trying to intervene and sow discord in the election? LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR UNDER OBAMA: Look, the whole purpose of our intelligence agencies is to present truth to power.


And we've always known that the Russians are primarily targeting the United States to destabilize our country and to undermine the credibility of our institutions. Those are the facts. That's the truth. And I think the president would be far better served if he recognized the truth and acted on it rather than trying to pretend that somehow what the Russians are doing is not happening.

KEILAR: The president thinks that Adam Schiff, who is the chairman of the Intel Committee, should be excluded from information like this, from factual briefings like the one that Congress got. It seems that maybe could happen going forward because the president is installing a loyalist in the acting DNI job, clearly wants one in the permanent position.

What would the effect would be on the Intel Community's work getting where it needs to go when the messenger of the truth is getting shot essentially and there are key officials who could be excluded from getting information?

PANETTA: Well, there are three danger points involved with what the president did. Number one, if the president of the United States does not make decisions based on the truth, then he will make the wrong decisions. The intelligence is aimed at providing the truth in order to make the right decision.

Secondly, when he makes these kinds of comments, all he's doing is sending to Russia, that what they are doing is okay. They're going to be further encouraged to continue to interfere in our elections because they know that the president of the United States is not concerned about that.

And thirdly, it does impact on the morale of our intelligence services. If the president simply wants to fire people who tell him the truth and try to replace them with others, the signal that's being sent to our people in the frontline who are putting their lives on the line, is that all of the work they're doing to gather the truth, to gather intelligence, is being ignored by the leadership in this country, and that undermines what our intelligence agencies are supposed to do.

KEILAR: What is your reaction when you see Republicans who have been blocking efforts to shore up election security? Certainly, there is a political advantage that Democrats can seek here trying to put up bills and Republicans not being on board with them. But just, overall, break this down for us about where Congress should be unified in fighting this interference.

PANETTA: Well, we're all aware of the fact that there is really an ugly polarization in Washington, and that the Republicans are operating on the basis of blind loyalty and don't want to know what the facts are. They basically want to attack the process as always being something that the Democrats are involved in trying to distort.

So the Democrats, on the other hand, have to be very careful that they don't simply go after this issue on the bases of partisanship. Look, the bottom line here is that the Intelligence Committee is responsible for our intelligence agencies. They are supposed to work in a bipartisan way, to make sure that we are gathering truth and that we are presenting the truth to them, to the president and to the country.

And when they start engaging in these blind political attacks, very frankly, I think it is very damaging to the process that we ought to be involved with, which is to work together to make sure that the Russians don't have their way with our country.

KEILAR: And to that point, Russia's goal is to put elections at risk by making people think they can't trust the results, right? They can't trust the process. How serious is the risk right now where you think that the election could actually be in doubt?

PANETTA: I think it's a very serious risk and a very serious danger. I mean, our intelligence services are united in telling us that the Russians are continuing to interfere in our election process. They did it in 2016, they did it in 2018 and they're doing it in 2020.

They are going to be encouraged by what the president did that somehow they have a license to be able to continue to interfere in our election. They're going to be encouraged by this.


And what that means is that, you know, those that are trying to stop this are going to have a much tougher job trying to track what the Russians are doing to try to undermine the credibility of our election system. I think the election of 2020 is under serious threat as a result of what the Russians are doing.

KEILAR: Thank you so much, Secretary. We really appreciate you being with us, Leon Panetta.

PANETTA: Thank you.

KEILAR: Are the top candidates in the 2020 race going broke? We'll be looking at their bottom line going into these critical next two weeks.

Plus, is Michael Bloomberg's presence actually helping Bernie Sanders secure the Democratic nomination?

And the president completely ignoring his attorney general's warnings not to weigh in on Justice Department matters by weighing in on Justice Department matters over and over. Bill Barr's move, next.



KEILAR: So with the Nevada caucuses less than 24 hours away, Super Tuesday is less than two weeks away, the campaigns are running out of time and money. Right now, 2020 Democrats are canvassing the state. They're on a money chase as they make their final pitches to voters. And by the looks of it, the majority of them are just scraping by. We've learned that Senator Elizabeth Warren was previously forced to take out a $3 million line of credit to keep her campaign afloat.

Our CNN Correspondents have been out on the campaign trail traveling with candidates and tracking the fundraising efforts. First, let's go to our Kyung Lah with more on the Warren campaign.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: After a commanding debate here in Nevada, Elizabeth Warren raised millions of dollars, and she needed it. Campaign filings show that through January, the campaign spent twice what it pulled in just in the month of January. Her campaign was so worried about running out of cash, it took out a $3 million line of credit. The campaign says it did not have to dip into that loan.

Of course, the debate did turn all of this around. The Warren campaign announced so far in the month of February, it has raised $17 million. That is the best month of this campaign so far.

Now to my colleague, Ryan Nobles, with the Bernie Sanders campaign.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's no doubt the Bernie Sanders campaign feels pretty confident about their chances here in Nevada, so much so that Sanders is already looking ahead to Super Tuesday. He's spending the bulk of today in California, but he will have a big rally here tonight heading into the caucus tomorrow.

And the big advantage that Sanders against most of the field here in Nevada is that he has a lot more money, almost $17 million cash on hand. His next closest competitors only have about $7 million in the bank. That allows him to put boots on the ground, an huge organizational effort, which is so important in a caucus state, and that's one of the reasons they feel so confident.

Now, there's an expectations game here for Sanders. He needs to win if he's going to continue this momentum that shows him leading the national polls, leading in a lot of these states on Super Tuesday and closing the gap in South Carolina, regardless though, they're hoping for a very good day here in Nevada on Saturday.

For more now on the Buttigieg campaign, let's go to Vanessa Yurkevich.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Ryan. Pete Buttigieg raised about $6 million in January, but that's a small haul compared to Bernie Sanders who raised about 25 million.

But this month, Buttigieg pulled in about 11 million, and that's largely in part to that bump that he got coming off his win in Iowa and his strong second place showing in New Hampshire. But he's spending a lot of that money, and he's spending it very quickly, which is why he sent an email to supporters asking them to help them raise about $13 million by Super Tuesday in order to keep him competitive.

He also points out that he's not just running against Bernie Sanders, the perceived frontrunner, but against Michael Bloomberg, who has unlimited funds to keep his campaign going.

But, Brianna, Nevada will be a test for him, especially with black and Latino voters. Polls have shown that he is not doing as well with this group, which is a key electorate to doing very well here in the Nevada caucuses. Brianna, let's send it back to you.

KEILAR: Kyung, Ryan, Vanessa, thank you so much.

So what happens in Vegas, right, stays in Vegas, and Nevada's party chairman says, what happens in Iowa stays in Iowa. He says he is completely confident that the caucus mess in Iowa will not be repeated in the Nevada caucuses tomorrow.

So let's talk about all of this with Jon Summers. He is a senior adviser to the Nevada State Democratic Party. He was also formerly Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's communication director.

And, Jon, no Iowa repeat, you say?

JON SUMMERS, SENIOR ADVISER, NEVADA STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: No Iowa repeat. I'll tell you what, things are going really great here in Nevada right now. When you look at how things are going, particularly compared to 2016, 84,000 people caucused in 2016, which was a strong showing. But compare that to this year, we've already had nearly 75,000 people participate in four days of early voting. So that really, you know, sends a strong message to how strong these caucuses are going to go tomorrow.

You know, this is an opportunity where people were able to rank their preferences using a rank choice voting ballot to determine what they wanted their preferences to be, and they'll be counted just like everybody else who decides to caucus in person tomorrow. So it's a very exciting time to be here.

KEILAR: It is, but I think some people are not going to be able to exhale until they see this all over with and there's no drama, right?

SUMMERS: Well, I think that's true. The party has been working around the clock to make sure they get everything right, to build in a redundancy system. They've gone from what was going to be a very, very high-tech operation for the caucuses to one that's very low-tech now, that's paper based and based on phones. They're going to have phone lines manned by about 200 people who will be accepting calls from the precincts when it's time for them to report the results. So there's been a lot of work that's gone into it, they've been working around the clock to make sure they get this right.

I will say though, the reporting will take a little longer than it did in 2016, and that's for a number of reasons. One, we've got more candidates, we've got more people who are participating in the caucuses and then there are also some different reporting requirements that are required by the DNC. So that's going to slow things down a little bit, so people shouldn't be surprised by that.

KEILAR: All right, you're warning us this could be a long night. Okay, I hear you there. Let's talk about Senator Sanders, because your former boss, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, says, Sanders needs more than the plurality to win the Democratic nomination. He also says that a broker convention wouldn't be the end of the world. But I wonder what you think because I've spoken with other Democrats who think that broker convention would completely tear the party apart.

SUMMERS: I don't think anybody really wants a brokered convention, but I think Senator Reid makes a very strong point, that if you have a candidate, regardless of who that candidate is, if you have a candidate that has 35 percent support, that doesn't mean there are 65 percent of people who don't support him. And so there is a real discussion that we need to have about whether we need to have the majority of people or the 50 percent plus one, if that's the person who should get the nomination or if it's the person who gets the plurality. Senator Reid's position is it should 50 percent plus one. I happen to agree with him.

KEILAR: All right. Jon, thank you, Jon summers joining us from sunny Vegas. We appreciate it.

And after Nevada, it is on to South Carolina. You can join CNN for six Democratic presidential town halls. First up, Michael Bloomberg and Senator Bernie Sanders, that is Monday at 8:00 Eastern only here on CNN.

A grave warning from the Intel Community that Russia is once again trying to interfere in the U.S. elections, and the president is more upset at the messengers than the message.

Plus, after the attorney general says the president's tweets make his job harder, the president responds by tweeting another three dozen times.