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Sen. Bernie Sanders Briefed by U.S. Officials on Russian Efforts to Help his Campaign; US Officials Tells Sanders Russia Is Trying To Help His Campaign; Nevada Caucus Volunteers Given Confidentiality Agreements. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 21, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:10]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in the SITUATION ROOM.

And we are following breaking news. "The Washington Post" is now reporting that Bernie Sanders has been formally briefed by top U.S. Intelligence officials on Russian efforts to help his presidential campaign. We are also learning new details tonight in the heated intelligence briefing U.S. lawmakers got on Russian interference designed to help re-elect President Trump.

Let's get some more on the breaking news right now. Our senior justice correspondent Evan Perez is joining us. Evan, a pretty significant development, a formal briefing now by the U.S. Intelligence Community to Senator Sanders that the Russians are trying to help him.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. It is happening again. And this is exactly what certainly the Intelligence Community has been looking for. They were waiting for some time this year in the election season to brief the campaigns about what exactly they are seeing. And it appears according to "The Washington Post," that they have now approached the Bernie Sanders' campaign to let him know that the Russian government is behind some efforts to try to assist this campaign.

Now we don't know exactly what those efforts entail, but we certainly saw it in 2016. There were some efforts by the Russian online trolls to not only help Donald Trump, but to help Bernie Sanders' campaign to try to hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign. And again, this is something that we saw in the 2016 campaign.

But here's a statement from Bernie Sanders' campaign today reacting to this news. They say quote, "Unlike Donald Trump, I do not consider Vladimir Putin a good friend. He is an autocratic thug who is attempting to destroy democracy and crush dissent in Russia. I don't care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president. My message to Putin is clear: stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do."

Wolf, again this is the same playbook that the Russians used in 2016. If you remember in the Mueller report, there is some discussion of this including the efforts to try to go and hurt other campaigns. Marco Rubio's campaign, Ted Cruz' campaign to try to help Donald Trump's campaign and the Republican side of the field.

On the Democratic side, they were trying to cause some issues for Hillary Clinton by trying to propel Bernie Sanders. So this is not something that the Intelligence Community is not used to seeing. And it tells you a lot that the Intelligence Community is now going to the campaign at this point, months before the election to try to discuss some of this so that everybody is aware.

BLITZER: Standby for a moment. Shane Harris, the reporter from "The Washington Post," who broke this story is joining us on the phone right now. So, tell us more, Shane. Tell us about this formal briefing that Senator Bernie Sanders received from the U.S. Intelligence officials that the Russians were trying to help promote his presidential campaign?

SHANE HARRIS, SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY WRITER, "THE WASHINGTON POST" (via telephone): Well, Wolf, what we know right now is that the senator was informed about that -- that officials had developed intelligence that indicated to them that Russia was trying to lend support to the campaign.

Now, importantly, we don't know precisely the content of that briefing, but I thought it was telling though in Senator Sanders' statement that he gave to us, that he noted that it was possible that there may be some of his supporters online who are not genuine. I don't think that's the confirmation that that is what that briefing was about, but I thought it was notable, and he has actually spoken about that this week. And even on a debate on Wednesday, he kind of pointed to Russia as a possible source of people posing as his supporters online.

But this is really notable. I mean campaigns are used to getting briefings from the FBI on general security precautions. They should be taking and how they might be targets. But this is the first we've heard of U.S. officials actually going to one of the campaigns and saying, look, we are seeing the kind of trade craft from 2016, an assistance lent to the Trump campaign, and we are seeing that here with your campaign now.

BLITZER: It is interesting that you should mentioned, Shane, 2016, because if you are going to that indictment that Robert Mueller, the then-special counsel filed against these Russian trolls, the Internet research agency among others, a very lengthy indictment among other things.

One element says this, "Specialists were instructed to post content that focused on 'politics in the USA' and to 'use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump - we support them).' "

I'm sure you have seen that reference to the allegations that the Russians were not only trying to help Donald Trump in 2016. They were also trying to help Senator Sanders in his battle against Hillary Clinton.

[17:05:00]

HARRIS: Yes, that's right. And of course, "WikiLeaks" posted the stolen DNC emails right before the Democratic Convention in 2016 which had the real effect of you know aggravating and really I think dispiriting a lot of the Sanders' supporters as well.

So, in some ways we have seen this play before with respect to Senator Sanders, but what we didn't have in 2016 of course was the Intelligence Community or the FBI going to the campaign and identifying it. If you remember back then, the fact that Russia was even interfering in the election was a very closely held secret and not something that the U.S. acknowledged until very late in the campaign.

So I think this tells us now is that you're going to see a different posture from the Intelligence Community of being much more proactive in going out and telling campaigns when they think they have developed information that that campaign needs to know. And it will be interesting to see as well I think from the Sanders' campaign, did they ever consider making this information public and if not, why not?

BLITZER: That is very significant. They should inform these campaigns if the Russians are directly interfering, one way or another. Shane, the online harassment that we have seen from some of individuals claiming to be Sanders' supporters, do we know right now, does the U.S. Intelligence Community, the FBI know, if in fact Russia has been behind at least some of them?

HARRIS: I don't know if we -- we don't know that right now in our reporting. I did think it was notable that Senator Sanders made a reference to that in the statement that he gave us when we published the story about the briefing. And did not comment about the briefing particularly. But that is something that we're going to try and look at as well. And again, Senator Sanders -

BLITZER: Shane - Shane -- Hold on one moment. Senator Sanders is speaking in Bakersfield, California, right now. We want to listen in.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And to acknowledge that they did interfere in 2016 and the Intelligence Community is telling us they are interfering in this campaign right now in 2020. And what I say to Mr. Putin, if elected president, trust me, you are not going to be interfering in American elections.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Senator, when were you briefed on this?

SANDERS: I'm guessing about a month ago.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And what are you going to do now that you know this?

SANDERS: Well, it was not clear what role they were going to play. We were told that Russia, maybe other countries are getting involved in this campaign. And look, here is the message to Russia, stay out of American elections. And what they are doing by the way, the ugly thing that they are doing, and I have seen some of their, you know, the tweets and stuff is they try to divide us up. That is what they did in 2016 and that is the ugliest thing they are doing, is they are trying to cause chaos. They are trying to cause hatred in America. It is an ugly business and all of us have got to say sorry, you're not going to do this in this election.

And again, as president of the United States, Mr. Putin, you will not interfere in our elections. Thanks very much.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- a month ago -- how do you think it came out now if you had the briefing a month ago?

SANDERS: I will let you guess about -- one day before the Nevada caucus. Why do you think it came out? It was "The Washington Post?" Good friends.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you troubled by the fact --

BLITZER: All right. Shane, I want to go back to you. You just heard Senator Bernie Sanders. A very tough statement against the Russians saying they should not be interfering and if he were president, they would not be interfering right now. A very damming statement of the Russians right now, confirming what you at "The Washington Post" have reported that he has now been formally briefed by U.S. authorities that the Russians are trying to interfere in the 2020 election with one goal of helping his campaign, another goal of helping Trump's campaign.

HARRIS: That is right. And I think that -- it was notable as well that the senator said that he got this briefing a month ago. So for some time they have obviously known about this, and have been able to factor that perhaps into some of the responses they have been getting about some of the social media that's being done on behalf of purported Sanders' supporters. So that is notable.

And what is also interesting here as well and this is a point that I think Senator Sanders is going to keep emphasizing -- his response to this is to push back forcefully against Russia and to say we reject this. We don't want any of it. He is going to I'm sure contrast that with President Trump's response which is to dismiss intelligence reporting even as recently as this week that the Russians have developed a preference for him and maybe trying to help him as well. And of course, President Trump has always called that you know a hoax and sort of a product of the deep state and Intelligence Community. So those two reactions are really Senator Sanders and President Trump's, are kind of polar opposite ends of the spectrum.

BLITZER: Yes, the very different reactions as you correctly point out. From Senator Sanders, condemning the Russians. One for President Trump, dismissing these allegations.

Hold on for a moment, Shane. Evan Perez is still with us. The original U.S. Intelligence assessment in 2016, 2017, when it came out was that one other goal of the Russians was to sow political dissent, try to keep create as much political chaos here in the United States as possible. It seems like they're still after that.

[17:10:04]

PEREZ: No, exactly. And that is the goal. That's the overall goal, Wolf, but to Shane's point, I think Shane raises a very good point. If Senator Sanders, I think just said during the - told the reporters there that he was briefed about a month ago on this. So why not make this public.

I think one of the criticisms of the Intelligence Community, of the FBI, of every one of the Obama administration in 2016 was why didn't they say something sooner so that everyone could know what was going on.

The Obama administration folks thought that it would - that it would come across as they were interfering in the election. It turns out tough that keeping that information from being public, actually ended up helping the Russians.

And I think that much is clear. And that's why it is very notable that the Intelligence Community is trying to be a little bit more forward thinking and went to the Sanders' campaign and provided this information. But Shane raises a very good point, why don't you just provide that information. Certainly, they have known about this for a month. They should have told the public, so that people could know especially because as you've pointed out, there's been a lot of discussion about these trolls and about this Twitter activity that appears to be generated by trolls who are trying to divide the Democratic voters, so why not tell the public about it.

BLITZER: It is a very important point indeed. They should tell the public about it. Everybody should know about it.

Jim Acosta is our chief White House correspondent and over at the White House right now. So what are you hearing over there?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I will tell you. I have talked to a source who was present at this briefing last week with the House Intelligence Committee just to echo what Evan was saying a few moments ago, who said that the Russians are right now interfering in the 2020 election. That they're interference efforts are already underway. And when I asked this source who was present at the briefing, whether or not the briefing they received -- the information they received was alarming, this source said, quote, "very."

And so, I think there is a concern among lawmakers who are already hearing this information that the Russians are now trying to interfere in this 2020 election. The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said there are briefings coming up and I believe there's going to be one on the Senate side coming up in the next couple of weeks. One thing that we should point out, Wolf, and Shane Harris was just talking about this a few moments ago, is that Senator Sanders had a very different response to his briefing by the Intelligence Community than what the president heard. The president was at a rally in Las Vegas just a short while ago and he was describing it as quote, "disinformation." He was blaming Democrats for this.

Just reading what he said. He said that is the only thing they are good at. They're not good at anything else. And the president went on the say that Putin wants to make sure I get elected. Listen to this. Doesn't he want to see who the Democrats are going to put up? Wouldn't you rather have - let's say, Bernie. The president said in reference to Senator Sanders.

Now, it is not clear whether or not the president knew about this briefing that Bernie Sanders received about a month ago as Senator Sanders said, but as you heard the senator say just a few moments ago he was indicating that perhaps some of these Russian interference tactics had to do with social media. We have obviously seen some of that before. He did not elaborate. But he also indicated one reason why this may be coming out now is just before the Iowa caucuses.

So, Wolf, as Evan was just saying a few moments ago, and I think it's been underlined by some of the president's comments as he is once again calling this a hoax and everything else is that the Russians appear already to have achieved one of their objectives that has been laid out by the U.S. Intelligence Community and that is to sow discord in American democracy to get all sides fighting with one another, and that they seem to be stoking this already. Here we are many, many months before the general election, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's an important point indeed. Jim Acosta, standby. I want to get some more right now on the breaking news.

Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia is joining us. He is a member of both the Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. What is your reaction to the breaking news that Bernie Sanders have now been formally briefed by the U.S. authorities on Russia is trying to help his campaign?

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): I guess I'm not surprised, because we know that the Russians have been probing various campaigns both in '16 and this year. I must say the contrast between Bernie Sanders' reaction of Russian interference and that of the President Donald Trump is night and day.

Bernie couldn't have been more forthright in condemning that interference, making crystal clear he does not welcome it, and that should he be elected, he will shut it down. In contrast with Donald Trump still saying, I think that is fake news. How do we know it was really the Russians? My friend Vladimir Putin told me he didn't do it. I believe him. And has rejected his own Intelligence Community assessment including firing the acting director of National Intelligence because of a briefing on this very subject before a House Intelligence Committee members.

BLITZER: You know it is interesting, Congressman.

[17:15:00]

According to that and I have it right here in front me the February 16th, 2018, then-special counsel Robert Mueller indictment of these Russian entities, these Russian trolls, there is an intriguing line in there and I will read another one. I read one earlier, but this is a different one. Let me read it to you, Congressman, and I will get your reaction.

This is Mueller in 2018. "By 2016, Defendants and their co- conspirators used their fictitious online personas to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. They engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump."

So give me your reaction. That's what Mueller wrote in February of 2018 when these charges were levied against these Russian entities.

CONNOLLY: So, people have forgotten that volume one of the Mueller report lays out a very disturbing pattern of Russian interference and Trump campaign cooperation. The focus Barr put on that report was that there was no collusion, no crime.

Well, what Mueller says is I cannot prove a criminal conspiracy, but I certainly can document highly unusual, very disturbing connections between Trump campaign people, and Russian officials and independent of that Russian interference in our election.

And so, I think that volume really deserves a lot more attention than it got. This was far more systemic, and it was welcomed by the Trump campaign. There were lots of connections and meetings about which by the way most of these people lied. If the meeting was perfectly OK, why would you lie about it? And why would you be meeting with Russian officials about an American election?

BLITZER: It is interesting, because the president as you know going way back has repeatedly tried to cast doubt on Russia's interference on his behalf. Do you believe he is putting his own personal political interests over the security, over the 2020 election, because the current assessment from his own Intelligence Community that briefed the House Intelligence Community the other day, his own intelligence officials are making the same charges right now that the Russians are already interfering.

CONNOLLY: That is right. There's been a consistence, a consistency of the reporting from the Intelligence Community across the board, unanimous, that the Russians most certainly did interfere with the 2016 election with the purpose of electing Donald Trump. Donald Trump doesn't like hearing that, because well, it may be true and he may have known about it, but at the very least, he does not like it, because it cast doubts on the legitimacy of his own election in 2016.

But now he has gone further and basically rejecting and renouncing the intelligence findings of our own government. And that is a very serious and concerning matter if we need a united front, and we do, to resist Russian interference. It has to come from the top. And the decisions and words of Donald Trump are very disturbing and really I think provide comfort to the Russians.

BLITZER: I just want to once again point out the reaction from Senator Sanders totally different than the reaction from President Trump among other things. Senator Sanders said, "Unlike Donald Trump, I do not consider Vladimir Putin a good friend. He is an autocratic thug who is attempting to destroy democracy and crush dissent in Russia."

We're going to leave it on that. Congressman, Gerry Connolly, thanks for joining us. We're following obviously the breaking news.

CONNOLLY: My pleasure.

And stay with us for more. Senator Bernie Sanders, he's been told by U.S. officials once again that Russia is trying to help his presidential campaign. We're going to talk about it and continue on our special coverage with the national co-chair of the Senator's campaign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:23:25]

BLITZER: This hour's breaking news, U.S. officials have now told that Senator Bernie Sanders that Russia is trying to help his presidential campaign.

Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California. He's a national co-chair of the Bernie Sanders campaign. Congressman thanks so much for joining us. I don't know if you heard what Senator Sanders just said a few moments ago, but let me play this little clip. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: Let me tell Mr. Putin that the American people whether you are Democrats or Republicans or Independents are sick and tired of seeing Russia and other countries interfering in our elections. The Intelligence Community has been very clear about it, whether Trump recognizes it or not or acknowledges it or not, they did interfere in 2016 and the Intelligence Community is telling us they are interfering in this campaign right now in 2020. And what I say to Mr. Putin, if elected president, trust me, you are not going to be interfering in American elections.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Congressman, as I said, you are the national co-chair of the Bernie Sanders campaign. Have you been briefed on Russia's efforts personally to help his campaign?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): I have not been personally briefed, but the senator, my understanding, he has been briefed and he has made it very, very clear it is completely unacceptable. We're going to stand up against it. He has supported as all of us stated, the House, the bill to stop Russian interference.

Mitch McConnell has refused to move that legislation. We're going to continue to push for legislation to empower our law enforcement agencies to cooperate with tech to prevent this kind of interference.

[17:25:02]

BLITZER: He said he was briefed a month ago by U.S. Intelligence, Law Enforcement officials on the Russian effort to interfere on the campaign and try to help his campaign, also clearly to try to help by the Trump campaign.

Why do you think it's remained quiet? Why didn't he come out publicly, Senator Sanders, and let his supporters, let everyone know.

KHANNA: He wants to make it clear that there is no interference, but I think he would be revealing what could have been a classified briefing. I don't think he would want to reveal that publicly, but he has made clear is that there's going to be no room for Russian interference. And he's been pushing to work with the Senate to actually get the legislation done. And I also think social media companies have a bigger responsibility. They need to make it clear that they will remove any disinformation posts. That they will remove any posts from foreign actors.

BLITZER: Yes, he issued a very tough statement as we have been saying and much in contrast from the reaction that we're getting from President Trump, who has also been told and he dismissed as if that the Russians are trying to interfere to help his campaign. Why do you think Congressman, Russia wants to help the Bernie Sanders' campaign, let's say, rather than the campaigns of some of the other Democratic candidates?

KHANNA: Well, I have no idea what motivates Vladimir Putin. I mean, he makes decisions that are dumb all the time like annexing Crimea. All I can say is I think he wants to create the maximum level of confusion and division.

Look, Russia is a has been power. Their economy is in the dumps, and they see the rise of China, and they are basically realizing that their only method of competing in the world unfortunately is sowing discord in other democracies. That's not going to work. And we need to clearly stand up to Putin and say, this is unacceptable, and you are not going to endear yourself either to the United States or to Europe if you continue down this path.

BLITZER: Let me read to you something from the statement that Senator Sanders put out a little while ago. I will read a quote. "Some of the ugly stuff on the Internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters."

Do you believe, Congressman, that campaign has evidence that some of this online harassment we have all been reporting about supposedly attributed to Bernie Sanders' supporters has really been coming from Russia? KHANNA: I don't want to speculate on that, because that would be going too far. What I will say is this. We have a responsibility in the Sanders' campaign to live up to his ideals. No Sanders' supporter should be bullying or harassing online and no one should be saying something that is making other people uncomfortable to participate as equals, and we needed to be inclusive in our campaign. If there is interference, obviously, we need to get to the bottom of that, but I don't want to speculate on something where we don't have hard evidence.

BLITZER: This is basically the second time he has suggested, Senator Sanders, that maybe some of these ugly harassments coming from people supposedly supporting his campaign really, he doesn't say it hard, but he says maybe coming from the Russians. He is willing to go there at least in part, but you are not.

KHANNA: Well, I think that we can call for an investigation. I think I would trust the intelligence agencies, and I do think they ought to be looking at what the interference is. And are the Russians having bots online that are spreading misinformation or spreading hate. And I would defer to the intelligence agencies as would Senator Sanders and that this is the big difference between him and President Trump. We believe in the intelligence agencies in this country. We believe they are professionals. We believe in their competence and we will look at the facts and ultimately, I think what Senator Sanders would want is for the intelligence agencies to look into this and who is causing the disinformation and what kind it is.

BLITZER: Clearly, the Russians are still trying to sow political dissent turmoil, political turmoil here in the United States by doing what they did in 2016 and what they are apparently doing right now as well. Congressman Ro Khanna thanks for coming in.

KHANNA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to have much more ahead of the breaking news. Once again, Senator Bernie Sanders now, confirming publicly, that U.S. officials have told him Russia is interfering in his campaign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:30:00]

BLITZER: This hour's breaking news, US officials have told Senator Bernie Sanders officially that Russia is trying to help his presidential campaign. Let's get the insights of our experts. Phil Mudd, let's talk about this.

And it's interesting because in that 2018 Robert Mueller indictment of those Russian entities, he said in there specifically that the Russian entities not only were trying to help then candidate Donald Trump, but also trying to help Bernie Sanders' campaign against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: But let me play the adversary which is what I had to do for living for 25 years. The adversary is looking, saying what's to our advantage? Over the past few years, you've seen during the Trump administration advantages for Russia and Syria, advantages in places like Europe where Americans are more divided than they ever had than I think with NATO. These are all playing to Russia's advantages.

[17:35:01]

So if you look from the Russian perspective you say, how do I continue to divide America's so their attention is diverted, and which candidate might help us continue divide America, and get Donald Trump elected. I think that's what's going here. It's not just about an election. It's about a chance for Russia to asset assert dominance in Europe and elsewhere.

BLITZER: Because the Russian are clearly, Gloria, want to soak political dissent here in the United States, that weakens the United States at they believe strengthens Russia right now. Bernie Sanders issued a very tough statement in contrast to the reaction that we've seen from President Trump. Bernie Sanders among other things said, "Let's be clear, the Russians want to undermine American democracy by dividing us up and, unlike the current president, I stand firmly against their efforts."

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It is very different from Donald Trump who going back to the Mueller investigation with calling all of this a hoax and a witch-hunt, et cetera, et cetera.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And before that.

BORGER: And before that. And despite the fact that a united front of intelligence agencies all said Russia is meddling. My question right now, and I'm checking my twitter feed is to see what the President tweets about this news about the Russians trying to intervene on behalf of Sanders, what will he say? Will he believe it? He will continue to say that Russian interference is a hoax, but only on his part? What will -- I just -- it's going to be very interesting to see how the President reacts to this when it is not about him.

He can make a political statement, say, well, of course, Bernie honeymooned in Moscow or whatever. And so he could do that, but he can't, of course, he can talk out of both sides of his mouth. But if it is a hoax for him, is it a hoax when it's Bernie Sanders?

BLITZER: What do you think, Elliot?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So here's the thing, you know, like everybody has mentioned thus far the Mueller probe. We know now that the Russia investigation was legitimate. We knew it back then, we know it now, we know they're still trying to intervene.

Now, here's the advice to Bernie Sanders' campaign, he ought to make sure and keep an eye on not just the friends, but his friend's friends, not unlike Donald Trump's campaign. Now, think about it.

Both of the campaigns were built on the notion that there were insurgents. They are people outside of Washington. And the question is, you know, Bernie Sanders does not want to have a Roger Stone. He does not want to have a person sort of outside in his orbit that is still willing to accept the help of Russians. So, you know, we have to be really -- you know, we're talking about which campaign this benefits and so on, but the simple fact is, this requires vigilance on the part of Bernie Sanders' part.

BLITZER: I think it was very intriguing, Bernie Sanders saying a little while a go, he was briefed a month ago or so. He said a month and we're only learning about this now.

PEREZ: Right. And, you know, it's interesting that to me that the intelligence community usually, they do this what they call defensive briefings. They come usually, Wolf, much later in the election season, usually after the two parties have picked their frontrunners or their nominees.

The idea that they're doing these now, it tells us that they are being much more proactive than they were in 2016. They've learned from what happened in 2016, where keeping this quiet ended up helping the Russians, and really propelling the effort by allowing to happen.

And also, in some ways, helped create some suspicion that President Trump still has about whether this even happened, right? So if you go and you talk to the campaigns early on, I think it does make a difference. And I think, you know, to your point, it does mean that the Sanders' campaign has a responsibility now to check inside their campaign, to make sure their systems are clean, to make sure that there's no chance of an intrusion that could end up causing additional problems.

BLITZER: Everybody, hold on your thought for a moment, we're going to continue on a special coverage of the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:40:00]

BLITZER: All right. We're following this hour's breaking news. US officials have now told Senator Bernie Sanders that Russia is trying to help his presidential campaign. Let's get more insight from our (inaudible).

And, Gloria, we're just getting some reaction from former Vice President Joe Biden to these reports that the Russians are directly trying not only to help President Trump but also Bernie Sanders. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I haven't seen the report. Let me put it this way. I know Russia doesn't want me to win. As you well know, there already in Facebook, they have taken down all of the bots, the thousands of bots run by Russians to try to tell lies about me. And so from the beginning, it is clear that Putin doesn't want me to be the nominee, and Donald Trump doesn't want me to be the nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think?

BORGER: I think predictable but makes a lot of sense that Trump doesn't want me to be the nominee. We've over and over again since the Ukraine story broke. And now, he can say that, look, I'm the only one that Vladimir Putin is afraid of. So he feels like he can clearly use this to his advantage.

PEREZ: But it goes beyond that. I mean, just -- think about just in the last few months, we've been talking about the Russian disinformation campaign that helpfully been carried forth by Rudy Giuliani, right? The whole idea that Joe Biden was corrupt, some of the stories which have been discredited have been making the rounds.

And the intelligence community has been warning and even Lindsey Graham, the senator who is a supporter of the President, has been warning saying some of the stuff is the product of Russian disinformation. So you should got to be careful with it. And Rudy has been going around propelling this. So, you know, Joe Biden has been sort of, you know, at the victim of some of this for some time.

[17:45:03]

WILLIAMS: Now, just a reality check for a moment, though. You know, we're focusing on who the Russians want to win. And that is ancillary to the central point, which is that our system of elections is under attack, and what are we doing about it.

Now, Bernie Sanders is a senator, I understand he's running for president, but where in the statement was, as a senator, these are the hearings I'm going to call for, these are the FBI officials I need to hear from, this is how we're going to secure the election. But it's all about, is it Donald Trump, or Joe Biden, or Bernie Sanders? And that's --

BORGER: Well, I couldn't agree more.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

BORGER: Imagine that we're talking about who the Russians want to win in terms of who they are helping in this election. You're -- fast forward to the election. What happens if the American public -- some of the American public says, well, I don't like what happened, it's because there was election interference. So it doesn't matter what side you're on now, the American public may well be able to say, I don't trust it. I don't trust it anymore.

PEREZ: And that's the greater goal.

BORGER: Of course.

BLITZER: Phil, what do you think?

MUDD: I think there's a simple bottom line. The President's responsibility is not getting reelected. He's the commander in chief who's supposed to protect us. Instead of saying, as we've learned in the past 48 hours that people should not, from the intelligence committee -- community be briefing Congress, he should be the reversing, as commander in chief, here's where Homeland Security is intervening with election officials, here's where State Department is pressing Moscow, here's how the CIA, he wouldn't say this publicly as collecting information. He would be telling NSA, I want you to hack the Russians yourselves.

He should be protecting us by creating a plan to go out to the Russians, but also telling us how he's protecting us. Instead, it's all about him.

WILLIAMS: Make us feel safe. Don't make us find out who's going to be -- who's going to win the election.

BORGER: And here's the other question. Did he know, did Donald Trump know about the Bernie briefing?

PEREZ: Yes, the Washington Post says that he did.

BORGER: So he did know about the Bernie briefing. So what upset him, if you want to unspool that a little bit, what upset him --

BLITZER: Well, he doesn't believe that the Russians are serious about this. He's pooh-poohed it for three years.

BORGER: Right. Did he learn about it after Bernie Sanders was brief? So --

MUDD: Just a technical point, I briefed opposition candidates when I was at the CIA, typically --

BLITZER: What does that mean opposition candidates?

MUDD: In other words, during a campaign you would brief, for example, I brief Senator Kerry as part of his campaign when he was a nominee. You would typically be coordinating with the White House to say, just crossed your t's dot your i's as his formal process. This is normal we're briefing other candidates related these issues. You might not tell them the nature of the briefing --

WILLIAMS: Right.

MUDD: -- but you're going to say here's the subject. So the White House, if they didn't know, I'd be shocked.

WILLIAMS: Right.

BLITZER: It's a serious moment right now. Because Gloria, you make an important point. We want to make sure that the American public has confidence in the outcome of the election. And if there are concerns that the Russians are interfering, some will have doubts

BORGER: Of course. And Bernie Sanders in his statement, and in the debate the other night raised the point, "Some of the ugly stuff on the internet, attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters". So who is it coming from?

PEREZ: And that's why you need a president who is willing to not only accept this, but also say, look, we know what's going on. This is what we're doing, as to Phil's point. The problem is that the President won't accept that this is actually happening. He wouldn't accept it in 2016, and then raise doubts as to whether or not he would accept the results of the election.

WILLIAMS: And my goodness, if he loses, my goodness, imagine --

PEREZ: Right.

WILLIAMS: -- Donald Trump on day one after the election and sort of the discord that could be sold in the United States in thereafter.

BORGER: All the candidates --

BLITZER: The Russians would say mission accomplished if that were to happen then.

BORGER: All the candidates should join together, every single candidate join together and say, we cannot let this occur, that will not happen.

BLITZER: Stick around, there's more news we're following as we -- as well as a look towards tomorrow's Nevada caucuses, why are some volunteers being asked to sign confidentiality agreements.

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[17:51:46]

BLITZER: This hours breaking news, US officials have told Senator Bernie Sanders that Russia is trying to help his presidential campaign as well. This comes right on the eve of the Nevada caucuses. CNN National Correspondent Dianne Gallagher is in Las Vegas for us.

Dianne, we've learned that site leaders for tomorrow's caucuses are being asked to sign what, confidentiality agreements?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The site leads who were in charge of the different sites that have multiple precincts inside are being asked to sign non-disclosure agreements that prohibit them from speaking with the media or making disparaging comments about the party. Now, Wolf, the Nevada Democratic Party tells me that this standard practice have volunteers and staffers signed these NDAs because they're privy to strategic information.

But at least one of those site leads said that he felt that the language was too broad and that he simply could not comply. He'd been raising flags all along hoping that his state was going to be ready come tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GALLAGHER (voice-over): Tonight, it looks like Nevada's first ever early voting in a caucus is paying off with huge numbers, but will it make getting results more complicated? The Nevada Democratic Party says nearly 75,000 participated in the first ever early caucusing, nearly the total number of voters in the 2016 caucus when roughly 84,000 people participated on caucus day. In 2008, 118,000 Nevadans caucus in the Democratic race.

And while the party celebrated the high turnout, it adds the uncertainty of whether Nevada is ready for Saturday, or if it will be a repeat the Iowa fiasco where final results are still pending.

TOM PEREZ, DNC CHAIRMAN: Our goal is to have a successful caucus. And we provide multiple sets of eyes and ears and wisdom and observations and lessons learned from Iowa so that we can be successful here in Nevada

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Volunteer Seth Morrison raised a red flag early in the training process. Now he's more optimistic saying things are getting better but worried about lingering issues.

SETH MORRISON, DNC VOLUNTEER: One is we still don't know any details of the back office of how the early votes were tabulated, how this tool works. Second of all, there's a massive shortage of volunteers.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): The Democrats are scrambling to train caucus volunteers having added 55 additional training sessions. Volunteers can now also try out the much talked about caucus calculator, which Morrison says is user-friendly.

MORRISON: The tool is very well designed. It's very intuitive.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): But he does see potential problems for people who aren't familiar with iPads.

MORRISON: Somebody who has not used that kind of technology would find it challenging.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): These slides replicate what CNN saw during a party hosted demo with the calculator. They did not allow our cameras to film the demo. The calculator will have pre-loaded early vote information which will be combined with the choices of the people there on Saturday to determine the winners and losers through two rounds of eliminations. The backup, if the calculator doesn't work, and those early vote totals aren't available, is tedious, unlikely link the process of manually searching a paper list of early voters ranked choices.

Still, the Chair of the Democratic National Committee says he believes everything will be smooth sailing come Saturday.

[17:55:05]

PEREZ: I am very confident that we have thought of every contingency.

(END VIDEOTAPE) GALLAGHER: Now, Seth Morrison slightly, that you just heard from right there, says that the Democratic Party did try to offer him a lesser position that did not require an NDA. But, Wolf, Seth tells me that he said no thanks and he quit. So he's no longer going to be a site lead on caucus day tomorrow.

BLITZER: Interesting. All right, Dianne, thank you very much. Dianne Gallagher reporting.

There's breaking news next, Senator Bernie Sanders told by US officials that Russia is trying to help his presidential campaign as part of its effort to meddle with the upcoming US presidential election.

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