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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

U.S.-Russia Relations Drop Further Over Election Hacking; Trump On Russia Relations: It's Time To Move On; Russia Choosing To Not Expel American Diplomats; Trump Aide: Enough "Russia, Russia, Russia" Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 30, 2016 - 11:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. John Berman is off. We have breaking news right now. The United States versus Russia and the entire world is watching the language both sides are using. The moves the two sides are making. It's changing practically every hour. Here's the very latest.

Russian President Vladimir Putin saying just this morning that he will not hit back on President Obama, surprising many considering the bad blood between these two men and the long diplomatic tradition of simply put, you hit me, I hit you back diplomacy. So no tit for tat at least for now.

This all comes after the big announcement from President Obama late yesterday kicking out dozens of Russian diplomats, shutting down two Russian compounds here in the United States and slapping sanctions on some top Russian officials.

This as retaliation for what American officials believe is Russia's cyber-hacking during the election, but this seems far from over. Because of that, let's bring in our correspondents.

We have them from Moscow to Washington. Gauging what happens next, CNN's Evan Perez is in Washington, Jessica Schneider is here in New York, and Matthew Chance is watching this all in Russia. Matthew, to you first. What is Russia saying right now?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this was a remarkable bit of political theater, Kate. First of all, we had the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov appear solemnly live on Russian television, state television, saying that he's recommending to the kremlin that 35 U.S. diplomats should be expelled from Russia in a tit for tat response to the expulsion of the 35 Russian diplomats from the United States.

He said it was for the Russian President Vladimir Putin to make the final decision and that of course set the stage for Vladimir Putin to step up and play Santa Claus and to effectively say no, I'm not going to stoop to that level of diplomacy.

Which is to paraphrase what he said, there aren't going to be any expulsions of diplomats, I'm not going to make it difficult for any U.S. diplomats, he said. In fact, he went even further and said he was inviting the children of U.S. diplomats in Moscow, to Christmas and New Year's celebrations at the kremlin.

He really was trying to sell himself as being magnanimous in this and to try and make the Obama administration look petty and vindictive which is essentially what they were called by the Foreign Ministry beforehand.

He said the restoration of U.S./Russian ties will now be dependent on the policies of Donald Trump so the Russian president now sitting tight and waiting for Donald Trump to take the White House.

Because he believes that the kremlin and the White House under Trump are going to be able to do a deal on all sorts of issues that have divided these two countries over the past couple of years.

BOLDUAN: Yes, you do wonder if you are allowed to be in the position of taking the high ground, though, if you are the one being accused of starting this by hacking in to the U.S. election.

But regardless of that, let me move on to you, Evan. There are a few parts to this retaliation coming from the United States. Where is the meat of this punishment? How does this compare to actions of the Obama administration has taken in the past already against Russia?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, actually, there's a lot of symbolic parts of this, of this package of sanctions that the Obama administration announced in the last 24 hours. We are talking about 35 diplomats that are now packing their bags and have to get out of the country by Sunday.

Nine entities and individuals that have been sanctioned including the GRU, which is a military intelligence agency, and the FSB, the internal security agency in Moscow, as well as shutting down these two compounds in New York and Maryland.

There's a lot of symbolism in all of this and what the administration was trying to do is to send a message but trying to make sure this thing doesn't get out of control.

Kate, I think part of the issue here is that if you compare it certainly to the sanctions the administration imposed after the Russians annexed Crimea, we are talking about economic sanctions, things that were meant to hurt the Russian economy and to hurt the Russian people so they could feel what Russia's foreign policy was doing to them.

So I think that's the comparison here. This is a lot more symbolic and I think that's one of the things the administration was trying to do, to make sure this was limited and if the Russians wanted to do tit for tat this would pretty much call it quits, you know.

BOLDUAN: Yes, exactly. Evan, thank you for that. Jessica, Donald Trump's response is that he's going to meet with intel leaders next week to get the facts of this situation, is essentially what he said. Do we know yet from the transition who he will be meeting with and if it is different than the intel briefers that have already been offered up to him ever since the election?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. We just wrapped up a transition phone call with incoming Press secretary Sean Spicer. He said we will be getting more information as to timing and participants possibly later today.

Now what we know obviously is that Donald Trump does consult daily with his National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. He does have those presidential daily briefings available every day. He's been getting about one to three times a week.

[11:05:10]But it does seem that Donald Trump wants a more focused and pinpointed examination of exactly what these intelligence -- this intelligence information entails. In fact, Donald Trump alluded to it in a statement he released last night after these sanctions were implemented.

Donald Trump saying that it is time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interests of our country and its great people, I will meet with the leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.

Now, Trump's team has repeatedly called for more information from the intelligence community. We heard from his adviser, top adviser, Kellyanne Conway. She seems to undermine some of this intelligence, casting doubt on it.

We heard from his incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, who says he wants information from the intelligence community in unison. He wants more details. And interestingly, Trump confidant Rudy Giuliani spoke out this morning and he put it quite bitingly, quite tersely.

He said that he would advise Donald Trump to actually have his own people do their own intelligence and issue their own report. He called the intelligence very flawed, incompetent, and politicized.

So a lot happening behind the scenes here, a lot swirling and Kate, we don't know the particulars of what new information or intelligence Donald Trump will be getting, but they are calling for more of it and they are doubting some of the old intelligence as well.

BOLDUAN: You also wonder what Rudy Giuliani is saying right there in terms of who would be gathering new intelligence, because the intel community, actually, for that, let me ask you, Evan, who would be gathering new intel for Donald Trump?

We are talking about the intelligence community that has put out this information, that has been gathering this information that these sanctions are all based on that's his intel community in 21 days.

PEREZ: Right. These are the people who will be working for him. These are professionals who do intelligence for a living. That's their job. So even if Donald Trump puts in his new leadership, Pompeo at the CIA, for instance, he hasn't even named a DNI, director of National Intelligence. You know, it's going to take some time and they will get that intelligence presumably from some of the same people who are doing the work right now. I think one of the things that's happening is that Donald Trump hears the stuff that the intelligence community's saying.

And what he hears is that they are calling into question his -- the legitimacy of his victory. I don't think that's -- that's not what's happening. The intelligence community is simply saying this is what the Russians were up to, this is what they were trying to do.

None of us will ever know exactly all the different reasons why people pulled the levers that they did on Election Day obviously and I don't think anybody is calling into question that Donald Trump would have won whether or not this had happened.

I'm not sure that anybody can ever say that. But Donald Trump simply is thinking that that is what people are doing and that's what he's hearing and that's what I think you hear him reacting to.

BOLDUAN: There might be a sensitivity there, but still we have even heard from the White House they are not calling into question the results of the election. It's two different things.

PEREZ: Right. Exactly. You can do both things.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Exactly. All right. That's part of the conversation for sure going forward. Guys, thank you so much. We are watching for more developments and they could be coming.

Many analysts and some Russian officials are comparing the tone of this back and forth now to the days of the cold war. Let me bring in right now, Jill Dougherty, a former CNN Moscow bureau chief, and also Bob Baer, a former CIA operative, for much more on this.

Guys, you heard the conversation that I was just having. Let's kind of continue it from there. Jill, is this the cold war again?

JILL DOUGHERTY, GLOBAL FELLOW, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: You know, it feels like it, especially in terms of this step by Obama to kick out the Russian diplomats, but I think what President Putin is doing is extremely different. It really changes everything.

It's a shocking move, you could argue kind of deft, because what he's doing is he's sending multiple messages. Obama, we are not even going to deal with you. I'm not going down to your level, I'm not going to answer your sanctions.

Mr. Trump, you are coming in, let's work together and keeping in his hand the possibility that he actually could have counter sanctions if Trump doesn't go along with what he, Mr. Putin, wants.

BOLDUAN: But also, Jill, I mean, Russia threatened last night they would respond in kind, but this line, you touch on it, kind of the message, and the tone this morning from Putin that he's not going to stoop to the level of irresponsible diplomacy. You call it deft. Does it surprise you that Putin has responded this way? DOUGHERTY: Well, I was caught off guard. Actually, I think a lot of people were, because, you know, predictably, what would happen and it started this way.

[11:10:06]The foreign minister said look, this is the way we always do it, we are going to take the same measures and we will expel American diplomats, and President Putin comes in almost immediately and says no, I'm not going to do that.

In fact, I am going to invite the children of those American diplomats to a Christmas party at the kremlin. Now, that is very different diplomacy. That's really kind of soft power and using his persuasion, a charm offensive, if you want, and that is very different. I think it was orchestrated.

I think it was orchestrated. I think that the foreign minister was playing his role and he knew that President Putin would be coming in. That is my theory, I think, but we may never know. But I think that's what's going on. They are really playing the public and playing the world to make Mr. Putin look like the adult.

BOLDUAN: From the diplomatic element of it, Bob, to kind of the intelligence element of it, do you believe what you're hearing from Russia?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: I find this the most fantastic thing I have ever heard in relations with Russia ever going back to the cold war. I have never seen the Russians ever attempt to manipulate American politics like this and so successfully.

Because not expelling American diplomats from Moscow right now is for me, is an attempt to delegitimize the new president, Trump. This is just amazing because the standard response as Jill said was to expel American diplomats. It's always been the way, it's what you do.

And the fact that he is saying look, Trump is our guy, I can get along with him, I'm going to ignore the president. This just feeds the conspiracy theories that Trump is the Manchurian candidate and there are people on the left that believe it.

Look at the Atlantic, all about the leaks and the rest of it. This hurts the Trump presidency. I think that's what Putin intends to do is delegitimize it, weaken it, cause an investigation to go on for years and even dividing the Republican Party.

I have never seen covert action like this so successful on the part of the Soviet Union, ever.

BOLDUAN: With that in mind, who has the next move, Jill?

DOUGHERTY: Well, let's see. I mean, this is kind of like a chess game, isn't it, but --

BOLDUAN: I am not a good chess player. Let me just point that out.

DOUGHERTY: Nor am I. Nor am I. But I think at this point, we have to -- we now know within a few weeks, President Trump comes in. I want to see what incoming President Trump says today. That would be very, very interesting, if he says something.

And then over the next few weeks, the ball now really is in Mr. Trump's court and he's going to have to decide how he plays back, because President Obama has already made his moves and we still have to hear that report which will analyze and apparently give some information about technically how the Russians did this hacking.

So that's still to come out, but I think really, the move is Mr. Trump, how does he analyze, does he hold out his hand to President Putin, with the danger that he could look as if he is being used by President Putin?

How does he respond to other Republicans who don't like this game with Putin going on? I really think it's Mr. Trump in the hot seat.

BOLDUAN: Bob, if you are in your old post and you are abroad right now, does the sum total of what has transpired in the last 24 hours make your job harder or easier?

BAER: Kate, it makes your job nearly impossible. You have a president coming in disregarding the intelligence, calling it into question, bringing up the CIA missteps, for instance, the bay of pigs, the Iraq war, which are completely different situations, but saying the CIA's incompetent.

It completely demoralizes it. And the fact that Trump is overlooking what clearly is Russian hacking and a hostile Russia, frankly, I would walk out the door at this point rather than serve for him for the next four years.

BOLDUAN: My goodness. That's putting it in stark terms. Guys, thank you very much. We appreciate it. As I said, it's changing every moment. I agree with you, Jill, very fascinating to hear, to see what we hear if anything from the president-elect today.

Coming up for us, motivated by politics, Trump's top adviser suggesting that President Obama was trying to box in the president- elect with these new sanctions against Russia. My interview with Kellyanne Conway next.

Right now, major cities across the United States are ramping up security as, of course, they are getting ready for New Year's celebrations. An extra layer of security is being added here in New York. We will explain ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:18:28]

BOLDUAN: Not long after the Obama administration rolled out its plan to sanction Russia for the hacks that could only, in their words, could only have been directed by the highest levels of Russian government, that's directly from President Obama himself saying that.

I spoke with a top Trump adviser, Kellyanne Conway, about it all. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: What was his reaction when he learned of President Obama's announcement today against Russia?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP TRANSITION SENIOR ADVISER: His reaction is reflected in his statement, Kate. He will receive an intelligence briefing in this coming week and in the meantime, he believes it's time to move on.

And I have been reading all the news reports about these retaliations, these sanctions put forward by President Obama and his administration. Some of them seem largely symbolic.

The GRU doesn't really travel here, doesn't keep its assets here. There's no indication allies, our allies, will follow suit. And we are yet to see all of the intelligence reports and we would be the president-elect so he will have that briefing next week

But in the meantime he repeated what he said last night to reporters here at Mar-a-Lago, which is he believes it's time to move on to bigger and better things for the country.

BOLDUAN: I want to ask about that. The statement says time to move on to bigger and better things as you just said. What does that mean?

CONWAY: It means exactly what the president-elect has said, which is we have been talking about this for a while. I think that all we heard all through the election was Russia, Russia, Russia. Whenever it came to anything Donald Trump said or did, it seemed most days.

Now since the election, it's just this fever pitch of accusations and insinuations and we know why Hillary Clinton lost. I think the keys and clues are pretty obvious.

[11:20:05]They were obvious to us all along. They are very obvious to everyone now. I don't believe Vladimir Putin deterred her from competing in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, states that Donald Trump carried for the first time as a Republican in decades.

BOLDUAN: I think what a lot of people want to know is that of course, the president-elect can reverse all of this when he takes office in a very short time. Will he reverse these actions taken by President Obama?

CONWAY: I won't make a statement on that at all tonight. I will tell you that even those who are sympathetic to President Obama on most issues are saying that part of the reason he did this today was to quote, box in President-elect Trump.

That would be very unfortunate if that were the -- if politics were the motivating factor here. But we can't help but think that's often true. Even the "New York Times" characterized it as such, that this may be an attempt to box him in to see what he will do as president. That's not the way peaceful transitions of administrations work in our great democracy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: That's Kellyanne Conway. Here with me now, Errol Louis, a CNN political commentator and political anchor for Spectrum News, Betsy Woodruff, a politics reporter for "The Daily Beast," Alice Stewart, a Republican strategist and CNN political commentator.

Matt Bennett is here, a Democratic strategist who cofounded the advocacy group "Third Way." Guys, thanks so much for being here. Errol, you listened to Kellyanne Conway. She and the transition, we heard it also from Reince Priebus when he was on TV, they are very least suggesting this is done with politics in mind.

It seems that they do think this is done with politics in mind. She says Barack Obama is trying to box in Donald Trump. How would this box in Donald Trump?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it would put him in a very uncomfortable position of allowing back in people who had already been expelled. It would put him in the uncomfortable position of undoing sanctions that had been imposed by the previous president.

It would put him in the uncomfortable position of explicitly denying what the intelligence services have found and repeated for months now. I think what we heard there, Kellyanne Conway, great lady, I consider myself to be friendly with her, worked with her for years, but they are still acting like a campaign.

They are still sort of suggesting that small tactical gains like trying to box in Donald Trump are what motivates this White House and what motivates the entire political discussion. The reality is, this is much too important to just move on.

There is no primary right around the corner, no election right around the corner. This is the real deal. When Donald Trump says gee, nobody knows what's going on, welcome to the presidency, where you have to make important decisions based on uncertain information, but the best information that we can find.

BOLDUAN: But to that point, they are still in campaign mode, I think the transition would say, Matt, that they feel like they have to be because they feel since the election, a steady stream of people have been trying to undermine their victory. Kellyanne really spoke to that in another bit of the interview last night and I want to play that for you and get your reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONWAY: Kate, let's be honest too. Every time Russian hacking is mentioned now, since Hillary Clinton lost, and it wasn't a squeaker, we got 306 electoral votes, 36 more than we needed. She lost states that Democrats hadn't lost in decades. Ever since then, the issue of Russian hacking has been discussed in context of the election and that's just, that's where the president is saying that we should move on. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: So Matt, is this motivated by Democrats who are still trying to undermine Donald Trump's victory?

MATT BENNETT, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No. This kind of peevish insecurity that you are seeing from the president-elect himself and from his people is bonkers. No one is saying he is not the properly elected president-elect and that he won't be president on January 20th.

What we are saying is that a hostile foreign power tried to interfere with our elections. Whether they did so or not is not irrelevant. If someone tried to rob a bank and they are unsuccessful, they still tried to rob a bank. That's a crime.

There is no doubt and as other guests have noted that 17 intelligence agencies have determined that the Russians attempted to influence our elections. That is terrifying. What's even more terrifying is the incoming president wants to move on from this enormous geopolitical and domestic risk to the United States. That is really scary.

BOLDUAN: Alice, respond to that.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think first and foremost, Russia has been a clear and present danger ever since Barack Obama took office. What have we had since he has been sworn in? We have had the Russian reset. We had him saying I will be much more flexible when I'm president.

We had him dismissing Mitt Romney's claims that Russia is a clear and present danger to the United States and a top threat and done nothing until this lame duck bravado he's showing at this point.

BOLDUAN: That was like 2011.

STEWART: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: Speak to the current situation right now happening.

STEWART: Well, certainly we all can agree that any type of foreign hacking is not appropriate. Certainly if anyone attempts to or successful in hacking American institutions and certainly in any way influencing the elections, that is not good. Donald Trump is not denying that.

He is saying he will look into it and talk to the intelligence agencies next week. But look, the key is we have known about this Russian hacking since before the election. Why all of a sudden as he's leaving office is Obama doing something about it now?

Did they think maybe Hillary Clinton would win and calling attention to it would disrupt that? That's the question, too. But he's known about this for quite some time. The question, why is Obama doing something about it at this juncture.

BOLDUAN: Betsy, is that fair criticism?

BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICS REPORTER, "THE DAILY BEAST": I don't think so. I think the defense that Obama and the White House make is that if the president had stepped in and gone after Russian hackers before election day, it would have been viewed and perhaps fairly as the president trying to interfere with the election results, as him using his perch at the White House for explicitly political ends.

Remember, Obama will get criticized by Republicans for politicizing everything no matter what. For instance, the fact that he's put sanctions on Russia is already being argued by folks like Kellyanne that that's pure politics.

Those criticisms would have been ten times louder and more pointed if Obama had stepped in before Election Day and suggested that Russian hackers were trying to tip the scales in Donald Trump's favor.

I think that's almost certainly the reason the president has waited until this point to move forward with these sanctions and really push this hacking issue. That's a large part of it.

BOLDUAN: Errol, I'm very interested, the transition said on the conference call this morning there will be more details, kind of a time and place and who will be briefing the president-elect, on this issue because it was basically a two-line statement.

That's one of the lines. Clearly this is an important thing in response to this. From what we see in the -- from the campaign to now, do you see a scenario where Donald Trump sits down with briefers next week, hears the facts, if he hears the facts of this case and dramatically changes his opinion of Russia's role here?

LOUIS: No, no. I see no scenario for that at all. Just the casual nature of it. He will be busy meetings with the likes of Don King and partying on New Year's Eve, I suppose, and when he gets around to it he will reluctantly accept a national security briefing about one of the most important issues we have ever faced as a nation.

That doesn't sound like somebody who is ready to take action. If you think back to his past statements where it was sort of at the level of almost like elementary school playground, oh, if Putin says nice things about me, I will say nice things about him, I met him in the green room, this is not a serious kind of conversation.

This is something he's tried to sort of push off over and over and over again. Frankly, it's probably tied to this question of his tax returns, what foreign powers including Russia he may owe money to or have other kind of financial relationships with. This is all just been opaque.

When he says, hey, let's just move on, that's him being as honest as he can saying he doesn't want to talk about it, he doesn't want to know about it, he doesn't want us talking about it and to the extent that it does come up, they want to try to put it in a narrow political frame that is completely inappropriate for the dimensions of this very serious issue. BOLDUAN: It seems, though, that it's not going to go away, regardless of what he says, it is time to move on. That's one of the important kind of elements of this. When Kellyanne Conway says she thinks President Obama is trying to box in Donald Trump, here are the statements, just some of the statements coming from top Republicans in Congress.

Mitch McConnell, "Sanctions against the Russian intelligence services are a good initial step. However late in coming." Paul Ryan, "Today's actions by the administration is overdue." John McCain, "They are a small price for Russia to pay for its brazen attack on American democracy."

Alice, do you truly believe those three men are trying to box in Donald Trump, too?

STEWART: I think, look, I think even Russian spokesman has said that the actions we have seen by Barack Obama have dealt a blow to Donald Trump. But in regard --

BOLDUAN: Alice, I venture to guess that you don't take a Russian spokesperson's word over the view of John McCain, Paul Ryan and Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell?

STEWART: No. I think what we are hearing, those three statements right there, clearly it's important that Barack Obama has taken action. Some say it's too little, too late. I don't see anyone dictating how Donald Trump moves forward. As he said, he's going to be briefed more fully. To Errol's point, he's briefed every day by General Flynn. To say he's not getting up-to-date information is not factually accurate.

BOLDUAN: But, Alice, he's saying he's going to get the facts of the situation in an intel briefing not today, yesterday or the week before, next week.

STEWART: Right. He's doing things on his time and as he gets them to being sworn in and he will set his own agenda on his own time table. It will be not --