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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

U.S.-Russia Relations Drop Further; Senate Panel Hearings on Hacking; Trump Receives Briefings. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 30, 2016 - 12:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:00:14] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. It is the top of the hour. Thanks for sticking with us.

Breaking news today, Russia responds to President Obama slapping new sanctions on Moscow over election year hacking. Russia's response? Nothing. The Russian president today saying he will not retaliate against his American counterpart. Instead, Putin went as far as to invite the children of American diplomats over there to a holiday party at the Kremlin, and he said that he'll wait to work on U.S. relations when Donald Trump is in the White House.

Also just in, the Senate Armed Services Committee, led by Republican Senator John McCain, has just announced it will be holding hearings next week on cyber threats, including election hacking. This will be just as Congress returns from their winter break. It's clearly setting the tone of where Congress stands on this issue going forward.

Our correspondents are following all of these developments. Jessica Schneider is here in New York. Matthew Chance is in Moscow.

Matthew, let me start with you, since that seems to be where all the action is happening at the moment, or lack thereof. With this back and forth and Putin then going the step of inviting children to a holiday party at the Kremlin, is he trying to play mind games here?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, possibly. It was certainly a bit of pantomime, wasn't it, for the season. Great political theater. We had, you know, Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, appear on state television looking all stately and solemn saying that it should be a tit for tat response to this U.S. expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats. We should - we should, he said, I'm recommending, he said, that the Kremlin expel 35 U.S. diplomats from their posts here in Moscow and elsewhere.

But then Putin stood up, you know, as if he was playing Santa Claus and said, no, you know, I'm not going to ruin people's Christmas. I'm not going to ruin their New Year holidays. I'm not going to have - make it difficult for U.S. diplomats at all. I'm not going to expel anybody.

And I'm going to go further than that, he said. I'm going to invite all the children of U.S. diplomats that are accredited in Russia, to the New Year and Christmas performances at the Kremlin. And so, you know, he really was trying to play the good cop in this and he said that any future relationship with the United States will be determined by the policies of the next U.S. president, Donald Trump.

So Putin trying very much to sort of cast aside the Obama administration in the last few weeks of its government and to look forward ahead to - to, you know, building ties again with Donald Trump and the administration he believes will be much more sympathetic to Russia's cause.

BOLDUAN: Now following this breaking news from Vladimir Putin that they're not - there's not going to be a tit for tat, we have yet to hear from the White House and we have yet to hear from Donald Trump, if he has anything new to say. But after - Jessica, after the announcement yesterday from Barack Obama, Donald Trump's response himself was that he wants - wanted to move on. Do you think that Trump is going to say more today? Do you get a sense that he will?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's quite possible, Kate, considering in the past 24 to 48 hours, Donald Trump has been very vocal. Of course, he stood outside Mar-a-Lago telling us American that we should get on with our lives and then, of course, he issued that statement saying that Americans have bigger and better things to worry about, but then simultaneous saying that he will, in fact, meet with intelligence leaders next week.

His advisers being quite vocal as well. Kellyanne Conway casting doubt, once again, on the intelligence community, also telling - saying that President Obama is playing politics with this entire issue. Also, incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus is also speaking out. He's saying he wants the intelligence community to speak out in unison and to give the Trump team more details. And, notably, Trump confidant Rudy Giuliani also speaking out and urging Donald Trump to take matters into his own hands.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, ADVISER TO PRESIDENT-ELECT TRUMP: You get your own people to review it. There's no question that the intelligence that President Obama has been getting has either been incompetent or politicized. I would urge President Trump, when he becomes President Trump, have his own intelligence people do their own report, let's find out who did it, and then let's bang them back really hard. Not some moving a couple of this ones around and that ones around. They're not - they're not hacking from those places. It's totally absurd.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: So Rudy Giuliani advising Donald Trump to get information from his own intelligence people. Not clear as to exactly who that would be. Obviously, Donald Trump consults daily with his national security adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. Also just this week, he named Thomas Bossert to be his adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism. But just wrapping up a transition phone call, incoming press secretary Sean Spicer says that we could know some more of the details as to timing and as to participants as to who Donald Trump will be talking with in the intelligence community about these alleged Russian hacks next week. We could get more information about that later today.

Kate.

[12:05:02] BOLDUAN: And, Jessica, of course, these - this is information that is classified because we're talking about these presidential daily briefings that the president-elect is involved in, but are they giving you any indication that this issue of the allegations of election year hacking, Russia's involvement, that this has come up already in his intel briefings?

SCHNEIDER: We really haven't gotten much information as it pertains to the intelligence briefings. We do know that Donald Trump has the daily briefing available every day. We know he's received it on average about one to three times a week. Donald Trump has been very resistant to these - this idea of Russian hacking to these allegations. We're not sure what he's getting. But we do know that he wants to get more. His team is being very forceful about saying they want more information. Could he get that next week when he meets with those intelligence leaders? That's quite possible considering everything we've been hearing over the past 24 hours.

BOLDUAN: Matthew, the view from your perch is, who has the next move here, do you think?

CHANCE: Well, I think that the Kremlin is very aware of the fact that Donald Trump, as he enters the White House, is coming up against a lot of opposition to his stance on Russia from his own party and from Congress in general. And, you know, this was an attempt to provide a gesture to him and perhaps an attempt to disarm some of his critics in the United States, and the critics of Russia in the United States because, you know, make no mistake, I mean Russia really needs a White House which is much friendlier towards its positions than the Obama White House has been. It wants sanctions lifted. It wants U.S. participation in its attempts to bring to an end the conflict Syria. It would ideally like the peninsula of Crimea to be acknowledged as being legitimately part of Russia as well. And so, you know, there are all sorts of reasons why Russia has a massive interest in having a president of the United States who sees the world from the same point of view as it does. And so I think you get the sense it's trying to help Donald Trump in that process.

BOLDUAN: Hmm. Matthew Chance, Jessica Schneider, great to see you both. Thank you.

Joining me now with much more on this, Jill Dougherty, she's CNN's former Moscow bureau chief, and also David Rohde. He's here. He's CNN global affairs analysts and national security editor for Reuters.

Guys, thanks gain for your time.

Jill, this part of Vladimir Putin's statement sticks out, I think we can say, when he says - when he says that they're not going to be kicking anybody out of Russia, and then this. "Moreover, all the children of American diplomats in Russia," he goes on to say, I'm inviting you to the Kremlin for a holiday party. There - you see it right there. What is your read on that? JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Well, number one,

completely out of the blue, unexpected. And President Putin likes to shock people. He does unexpected things. This is probably the most unexpected of all so far. It - I think what he's trying to do is make President Obama look like scrooge, make President Obama look mean, petty, and make himself, Mr. Putin, look like a magnanimous person who is not going to stoop to even fight with Obama at this point, because Mr. Obama is walking out the door. The new guy's coming in. And there's a lot of that message that he is - that Mr. Putin is above this and - and is ready for a relationship with Donald Trump. But, of course, on Putin's terms.

BOLDUAN: David, what is your sense, beyond kind of the words that have been spoken, the actions that the White House has taken, do you get the sense that it is enough to deter Russia from doing this again?

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I don't think so. I mean and I - I feel like Putin, this was a very smart move here. Matthew calmed it sort of political theater. And I think they want to start a new relationship with Trump. They hope he will drop these sanctions. But I think if Putin doesn't get what he wants, he plays hardball. He's shown that over and over again with different leaders, American leaders, European leaders. So this could happen again.

BOLDUAN: So this is - this is only the beginning in your view?

ROHDE: Again, we might have an amazing, you know, rapprochement between Trump and Putin, but there are core, you know, tensions about eastern Europe, about Ukraine, about Syria that, you know, all these Republican members of Congress say go beyond, you know, Republican or Democratic administrations. So are all those tensions going to go away? It's not clear.

BOLDUAN: Jill, I've heard some mention that this might not have anything to do with this moment. This might have more to do with Vladimir Putin thinking the long game. Long game in terms of the sanctions that have - by all accounts really carried some bite. The sanctions against Russia with regard to the annexation of Crimea. Do you think that is part of this chess game as we discussed last hour?

DOUGHERTY: You know, I think it's part of a chess game that we've been seeing now with President Putin on a number of different levels. I mean, militarily, Russia does not really match NATO. Economically, it can't really compete because its economy is very small. So President Putin has started using what's called soft power. Diplomacy. Making himself look like a different person. Kind of asymmetrical. He's now looking like the kind adult. And he's done that in Syria. He's tried to look very much with this peace agreement like the guy who can solve problems.

[12:10:29] He - in - remember in Ukraine they said, we have polite people. That's the way they described their soldiers who went into Ukraine under cover. So this is all part of playing with the image of Russia, softening it, and it doesn't cost that much. All you have to do is act out your role and then use the echo chamber of social media, tweets, et cetera. I mean just go on to Twitter and see what the Russian ambassador in London and others are doing.

BOLDUAN: Right.

DOUGHERTY: This is a Twitter war all over the place with the Russians. So a lot of it is kind of, you know, PR, soft (INAUDIBLE).

BOLDUAN: But back here at home, the indication for the White House, David, was that they did give a heads up that this announcement was coming to the Trump transition. Donald Trump's statement saying that next week he wants to meet with intel leaders in order to get the facts of this situation. Would this in - in a normal - in any other transition, would this issue have come up in intel briefings, in the daily briefings that a president-elect gets? Should it have come up already, do you believe?

ROHDE: Yes. Yes. And I just spoke to a U.S. official this morning. This was a career person. This is not an Obama appointee. They said, this would have come up in briefings. They said that, you know, as Jessica said earlier, President-elect Trump has only been receiving once a week on average the presidential daily briefing. Instead, Vice President Pence is getting it and president -

BOLDUAN: And that remains the same from your information?

ROHDE: And that remains the same to this day. And that when President Trump is corrected - I'm sorry, requested a specific briefing on a topic such as North Korea, that's happened. And my understanding is he - there was never a request from President Trump for a briefing about Russia or any of this information so far.

So, yes, this would have come up in the president's daily brief but Trump is getting it once a week. Mike Pence and apparently General Kelly, excuse me, General Flynn, the national security adviser, they are getting it instead. So if he wants this information, he would get it immediately. He wouldn't have to wait until next week. He is the president-elect and this was, again, from a career U.S. official that has dealt with transitions before.

BOLDUAN: That is an element of this.

Jill, how do you - what do you think the - kind of our allies, how they're viewing this strange triangle that is setting up on such an important issue between Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, and everything that has kind of transpired in the last 24 hours? Because, let's be honest, by all accounts, the United States is not the only country that Russia is - that there are allegations against Russia hacking into. You've got our allies who are - who are suffering, or putting forth allegations of very much the same.

DOUGHERTY: Yes. I think that those who know President Putin, those from the neighborhood, Russia, let's say, can understand this behavior very easily by President Putin and probably know exactly what he's doing. I mean a lot of this is political theater. So that's one part of it. But I think what they're very worried about, and especially in those areas where John McCain has been going to and Lindsey Graham, areas of the former Soviet - BOLDUAN: In the Baltic states, yes.

DOUGHERTY: Yes, Baltic states, Georgia, Ukraine, they are worried because they are not quite sure what Donald Trump will be doing. I think they're probably quite worried right now about Putin. You could argue deftly moving around, maneuvering, taking his kind of judo-like steps to play out the clock. I mean what he's saying is, I'm not dealing with Obama. Three weeks left to go. I'm going to deal with President Trump.

And President Trump, too, he could have ordered the briefing, as we were just hearing, today, but he's doing it next week. So I think there's a lot of this playing out the clock, waiting until he's in office, and giving him time to really figure out now that it's serious, now that he doesn't have to focus or shouldn't be really focusing on the 2016 election and what Russia did. The real issue is, what does Russia do, period, and what has it been doing for ten years? So that's the issue.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

DOUGHERTY: And that's going to confront him when he gets into office.

BOLDUAN: Yes. One of many pressing issues that will be front and center on his desk the moment he steps into the Oval Office, that's for sure.

Jill, David, thank you both very much.

Coming up for us, these actions by President Obama against Russia comes, as we've been just discussing, days before Donald Trump moves into the Oval Office. Where does the president-elect stand today on these sanctions? He can reverse them on day one. Will he keep them? Will he make them go? We're going to talk about that, ahead.

[12:15:21] Also this, terror attacks in Europe have prompted very different security measures for New Year's Eve celebrations in New York's Times Square. We have details on all of the preparations ahead.

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BOLDUAN: Just moments ago we heard the fallout from the United States, sanctions against Russia is reaching Capitol Hill already. Senator John McCain announcing that they will be holding hearings in the Senate Armed Services Committee next week on foreign cyber threats. This is, of course, just when Congress returns after their winter break.

So where does this brewing fight go from here, especially as Donald Trump in preparing in just days to take office? Joining me now with their thoughts, Bob Cusack, he's editor in chief of "The Hill," Kristin Soltis Anderson, GOP strategist and columnist for "The Washington Examiner," Andre Bauer is here, he's a former lieutenant governor of South Carolina who supported Donald Trump, and Robert Zimmerman, Democratic strategist who supported Hillary Clinton. Bob, I haven't gotten your thoughts on what all has transpired in the

last 24 hours. Where do things stand, in your view, politically speaking?

BOB CUSACK, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "THE HILL": Well, I mean, politically, this move, Democrats wanted the Obama administration to do this, these sanctions, a lot earlier, but they're basically saying, well, better now than ever. So, overall, I think this is an issue where politically Democrats could divide the GOP. Certainly we saw a lot of comments from Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and John McCain praising, in so many words, what the Obama White House did, and, of course, that is - there's some tension there with Donald Trump saying move on. Though I do think that once maybe Trump gets his guys in there, maybe they'll change or soften his position a little bit on this, you know, whether the hacking occurred or not.

[12:20:22] BOLDUAN: Andre, do you leave open the possibility that Donald Trump will change his position on Russia after this meeting that he has with intel leaders next week?

ANDRE BAUER (R), FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA LT. GOVERNOR: Well, I think you're going to see a change in tone and tenor. If there are facts, that in fact that he is presented -

BOLDUAN: That will be a first with regard to Russia.

BAUER: If, in fact, he's shown facts from people that he trusts, that he really respects and thinks he's getting the proper information, then he very well may do that. But I think it's quick of the president currently to immediately act. I think it's important that Senator Graham, Senator McCain are, in fact, looking into this. We want to know if we have flaws.

But, again, the conversation has turned only to Russia instead of the DNC meddling in the process, instead of talking really about the e- mails. And I know you and I have had this discussion before as to whether all the agencies agreed or not. But, again, I haven't seen any facts. I've heard via the media, but I haven't seen the facts where we know for sure that Russia actually did this.

BOLDUAN: All right, well, a lot of this - I mean, and a lot of this, Andre, and that's kind of how this works, is, it's - a lot of this is classified. A lot of this you and I are not going to see, but a lot of this is offered up to leaders who have classified status. That's how this works.

BAUER: Absolutely. And so I - so and with these two senators that I respect, with them getting the facts, digging into it, having hearings on this, I think then we'll know for sure where the leaks are, where they came from, if the Russians actually did have their fingerprints on this, and then what actions we should take accordingly.

BOLDUAN: Robert, on this point, as Andre says that he - he does leave open the possibility that Donald Trump will have a different tone and tenor when he sits down and he gets more facts if he's shown the evidence that Barack Obama believes that he has. If that happens, I do wonder, because we do live in very political times, will Democrats, will you, offer the space for an evolution on this topic, or will it be immediately ridiculed?

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, obviously, first of all, we all want to see the president-elect respect the opinion of the intelligence community, and respect the opinion of both Republicans and Democratic senators and the Republican leadership and Congress. You know, when Andre talks about Donald Trump meeting next week getting information from people he trusts, who's he going to turn to? Omarosa? I mean let's understand the reality here that we have an unprecedented coalition of every intelligence - every sector of our intelligence community. We have Republican leadership in Congress with the - with the Democrats coming together and acknowledging that our country was attacked. Mike Morell, who was the acting CIA director, who served Republican and Democrats, called this the political equivalent to 9/11. That's how serious it is. And Donald Trump is waiting for next week to be briefed about it?

BOLDUAN: Kristin, I had an interesting - a very interesting conversation with top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway last night. And in part of the conversation she said, one of the reasons that Donald Trump isn't weighing in further at this moment is the policy of - there is - we - the country only has one president at a time. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP TRANSITION SENIOR ADVISER: He is - is, as I said, next week going to receive additional intelligence briefings. But he's been very clear on this. And, you know, to talk any further about it actually is to violate what everybody insists that we have, which is one president at a time, which, of course, I agree with.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: But look no further, Kristin, than his Twitter feed just since the election, and you know - we know very well that he weighed in very forcefully on Israel, he inserted himself on nuclear policy. We also know even to the level of the new Air Force One and the F-35 program. He weighed in on that. Why is this one different?

KRISTIN SOLTIS ANDERSON, COLUMNIST, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": I suspect it's because there are two, I think, haves to this issue. On the one hand, there's the question of, did Russia and all the way up to the highest levels of Russian government, have a role in hacking the DNC, in trying to conduct sort of cyberattacks against major American institutions with a goal of influencing the election? I think the second question is, did Donald Trump become president because of Vladimir Putin? And I think if the intelligence briefing comes in and says, Mr. president-elect, we believe that the reason why you were elected is because of Russia, I believe he will react very badly to that. I believe that he will not want to believe what he's hearing from the intelligence agencies and that will go very badly.

I believe, however, if we - if as Trump has been saying, we need to move on from this discussion of, you know, what influenced the election or not, if it gets away from the politics and did Vladimir Putin make Donald Trump president or not, and gets back to this question of, is a foreign government trying to tamper with major American institutions? And it becomes less about, does Donald Trump's win have an asterisk next to it? Does he not actually count as president? And instead we get to a question of major national security issues.

[12:25:14] BOLDUAN: Right.

ANDERSON: I suspect his advisers don't want him to get to far out there, being to pro-Russia, sort of suspecting that on that first, and I think the most important question, there really is stuff that we need to investigate, that the Senate Republicans, led by John McCain on this question, are absolutely right.

BOLDUAN: Right.

ZIMMERMAN: Yes. Let me -

BOLDUAN: Well, and exactly on that point, I mean, that seems to be what you touched on right there, kind of what John McCain is - is - cares so much about, is exactly what we're hearing from our reporters who are connected with the intelligence community say that what he's going to get in these briefings.

ANDERSON: Yes.

BOLDUAN: They're not going to weigh in on if these are the reason - if this is also now the reason why you won is that they tampered in the system.

That does make me wonder, though, Bob, there is this sensitivity very clearly, I sensed it again still with Kellyanne Conway last night, that there is an attempt with this whole conversation and this move by the White House to undermine his victory. But when you see the statements from Republicans, this sure seems to be setting up to, do you think, be the first big fight between Donald Trump and his own party on Capitol Hill?

CUSACK: Oh, it could be and certainly John McCain is no shrinking violet, so he's going to go forward with investigations, as will the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. But, of course, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Chuck Schumer, they want this select committee that has been rejected by Mitch McConnell. But I do think there is going to be tension here. But I - the biggest issue though is, there is still an election hangover on both sides. I've talked to a lot of Democrats who are still dealing with the results and still in denial, I think, that Donald Trump won. Donald Trump, when he hears about this, he sees it as another excuse of why he won and he doesn't like that. So I think that the electoral politics, amazingly, and we know we're at the end of the year, the election was November 8th, they're still lingering.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

Robert. ZIMMERMAN: Bob, I have to respectfully disagree with that analysis because, quite realistically, there is no evidence, and no one's putting forth evidence, that the Russia hacking into our democracy, into the election, had anything to do with changing any votes. Our intelligence community says clearly there was interference, clearly it was designed to hurt Hillary Clinton, but no one is claiming that the election was in any way, the vote count was in any way impacted.

ANDERSON: Well, it -

ZIMMERMAN: And I think when Republicans and Donald Trump bring that up, that's a way of ducking the real issue. And the real issue here is the need for taking urgent action to respond to a - to a Russian attack on our country.

BOLDUAN: And we'll see if -

ANDERSON: But I -

BOLDUAN: And we will see if we have - if we hear more today - today from either the president-elect or President Obama with respect to all of this. We're watching for that very closely, especially after the surprising statement and position coming out of Russia from Vladimir Putin.

Guys, have to leave it there. Thanks so much for your time. I appreciate it.

ANDERSON: Thanks.

BAUER: Thank, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, three months, that's how long the Iraqi prime minister says it will take to completely wipe out ISIS in Iraq, three months. And the United States says more than 50,000 ISIS fighters have already been killed in the fight. Just ahead, a status check on where the war against ISIS stands now as we rush into the year 2017.

And also this, almost 2 million people are expected to gather in Times Square to ring in the New Year. That's quite a party. It also just happens to be just blocks from the residence of the president-elect. What law enforcement is doing right now to keep the celebrations safer and secure. An update ahead.

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