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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger; Trump Sides With Assange; Battle Over Obamacare. Aired 4-4:15p ET

Aired January 4, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:05]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Does the next president have more faith in WikiLeaks than his own spies? THE LEAD starts right now.

Trust nearly the entire U.S. Senate and all the intel or side with Julian Assange? Donald Trump unloading on his own intelligence community again over Russia's role in the hacking.

A battle that has been building for six years. President Obama heads to Capitol Hill to tell Democrats to fight as the next administration says job one is to rip Obamacare apart.

Plus, the future of really, really fast on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. The car that everyone is talking about, plus other gadgets that would make even superheroes jealous.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto.

And we begin today with the growing divide between Donald Trump and the U.S. intelligence community. One official telling CNN we are heading into a new era where it is -- quote -- "hostile."

Last night, the president-elect alleged that U.S. officials may be cooking the intel, tweeting -- quote -- "The intelligence briefing on so-called Russian hacking was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!"

But sources tell CNN that the meeting was never scheduled, in fact, for earlier this week and that President Obama, who ordered the review, by the way, has yet to be briefed himself, this as we are now learning the confirmation hearings for Trump's choice to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo, will be held one week from today.

That is, by the way, the same day the president-elect will hold his first news conference since last summer.

CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown joins me now.

So, dismay, confusion inside U.S. intelligence agencies.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, all of that.

The officials we have spoken with, Jim, all say there is this growing sense of dismay in the wake of these tweets from Donald Trump yesterday. And today, as one official told me, you never want to start off on the wrong foot with the new boss. And this growing divide comes as this Friday for the first time Donald Trump will come face to face with the leaders of the intelligence agencies he's been challenging for months.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, president-elect Trump escalating his ongoing battle with the U.S. intelligence community, tweeting just days before the high-profile briefing "The 'intelligence briefing' on so-called 'Russian hacking' was delayed until Friday. Perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange."

Intelligence officials are pushing back, denying there was ever a delay in the briefing, and that it was always scheduled for Friday. Trump also siding with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a man wanted by the U.S. for leaking classified information who in an interview with FOX News denied Russia had anything to do with handing over the stolen documents from the DNC and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

JULIAN ASSANGE, FOUNDER, WIKILEAKS: We have said, repeatedly over the last two months that our source is not the Russian government and it is not a state party.

BROWN: Trump tweeting: "Julian Assange said a 14-year-old could have hacked Podesta. Why was DNC so careless? Also Russia said did not give him the info."

On Capitol Hill today, vice president-elect Mike Pence defended Trump's skepticism.

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: The president-elect has expressed his very sincere and healthy American skepticism about intelligence conclusions. But we're going to sit down later this week.

BROWN: U.S. officials tell CNN Trump's continued public attacks are hurting morale in the intelligence community, with one official saying, "It's a sad day when politicians put more stock in Vladimir Putin and Julian Assange over the Americans who risk their lives providing objective nonpartisan intelligence analysis."

CNN has learned Trump has already been briefed by intelligence officials on the Russian hacks, but that the comprehensive report due this week will provide a fuller picture of why the U.S. is putting the blame on Russia.

JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: I would suggest to individuals who have not yet seen the report, who have not yet been briefed on it, that they wait and see what it is that the intelligence community is putting forward before they make those judgments.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BROWN: And U.S. officials familiar with those briefings Trump has had so far say that he is for the most part professional, deferential and polite.

Officials say he listen at times. He has challenged and questioned information, but officials we have been talking to say there is a disconnect between Trump's public behavior with those tweets against the intelligence community and behind the scenes when he's sitting across the table.

SCIUTTO: And how does the public receive those doubts from the president-elect as well? Pamela Brown, thanks very much.

Trump's apparent warming to Julian Assange seems diametrically opposed to his feelings about the WikiLeaks leader, this just back in 2010.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's going to talk about WikiLeaks. You had nothing to do with the WikiLeaks. You do think it's disgraceful?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I think it should be like a death penalty or something.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:05:05]

SCIUTTO: Death penalty there, you heard it right.

CNN's Sara Murray is outside Trump Tower in New York

Sara, to be clear here, it is many Republicans who have come out critical of Russia, the hacking, WikiLeaks as well.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. Everyone in the Republican Party is not seeing eye to eye when it comes to this. We have seen a number of Republican leaders today, Senator Tom Cotton, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senator Lindsey Graham, all out there being much warier of what Julian Assange is claiming and much more skeptical of Russia's role in meddling with the U.S. election.

Take a listen to what Lindsey Graham had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This was done by the Russians and I hope by Friday president-elect Trump will come to that realization and ignore Mr. Assange.

Not only should he ignore Julian Assange. He should condemn him for what he's done to our country, putting our soldiers at risk, putting our foreign policy at risk. Julian Assange is no friend of America and he's no friend of democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MURRAY: You can see there, Jim, even though the president-elect is out there questioning publicly the assessment from U.S. intelligence officials, not all Republicans are falling into lockstep, in fact, trying to convince him to wait and see what the report says, maybe change his view on this issue.

SCIUTTO: Someone else who turned a 180 on Julian Assange is former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. What can you tell us about what she said?

MURRAY: That's right.

Donald Trump may not have a lot of allies in the Republican Party today on this issue, but the big exception is Sarah Palin. She took to Facebook and she said: "To Julian Assange, I apologize."

She went on to say: "This important information that finally opened people's eyes to Democrat candidates and operatives would not have been exposed were it not for Julian Assange."

This is a far cry from what Sarah Palin had to say about Assange in 2012. That's when WikiLeaks published a trove of classified U.S. documents. At that point, her view of Assange was much dimmer. She called him an anti-American operative with blood on his hands -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Quite a turnaround, to say the least.

Sara Murray, thanks very much.

Joining me now is Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger out of Illinois. He previously served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He's also a military veteran.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: You bet.

SCIUTTO: Let's set politics aside, even the election aside.

Just look at Julian Assange. He leaked some of the America's most sensitive secrets. His stated goal, and I'm quoting from his own essays, is to undermine what he calls secret-conspiracy authoritarian conspiracy governments, of which he includes the United States.

Is the president-elect supporting Assange disloyal to his own country?

KINZINGER: I think it is absolutely the wrong thing to do.

Assange -- and let's keep in mind personally, he's wanted for sexual assault right now. That is a very important thing. This is no nice guy. He's exposed American secrets, which we have a right to do as a country to intel gather and things along that line.

And he's putting American operatives, American troops, American policy goals at risk. And, so, look, there's a lot of things with Donald Trump I'm excited to work with him on as a Republican, but this is one area where I'm still having a hard time understanding why there is such an intense desire, I guess, to say that the system was never hacked or to say that the Russians are actually not as bad as we think they are.

SCIUTTO: You're a veteran. He released the personal details of U.S. soldiers in the field.

KINZINGER: Yes.

SCIUTTO: And now Donald Trump is embracing him. Is that position by Trump disloyal to the U.S.?

KINZINGER: Well, that's a big thing to level, so, I'm not going to go there. But I think it is absolutely the wrong position.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Why isn't it disloyal if he has damaged -- he has damaged the U.S. military, damaged intelligence assets in the field, put their lives at risk. I'm talking about Julian Assange here. He exposed cables of private diplomatic conversations. Those are all damaging to the U.S.

KINZINGER: But to go to a level of disloyalty to say for Donald Trump to have tweeted about Assange is a big step.

Now, I will say this. He's going to be briefed on Friday with the information that the government has. I know some of that. I was briefed recently on that. And it's very compelling. So, hopefully, after that briefing on Friday, the president-elect says, look, you know, I was elected legitimately.

I believe he was.

But at the same time we have to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. And when you try to undermine the election system, that is undermining the Constitution itself. And our oath that I took yesterday compels us to defend it.

SCIUTTO: So what if Donald Trump doesn't change his tune? Because the fact is, this is not just this week or even just this month. For months, Donald Trump has questioned the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community, which dates back, as you know, to a month before the election.

KINZINGER: Yes.

SCIUTTO: First of all, do you expect the president-elect to see something that's going to change his mind? And, second of all, if he doesn't, what do Republicans like yourself do?

KINZINGER: I certainly hope he does. If he doesn't, then I think we're going to continue to be what we have been, which is to say we're going to defend the Constitution. We're going to defend what's right.

[16:10:02]

I have said, look, I intend to and I'm excited about supporting the president-elect in all areas I can. But I will oppose him where I must. And this Russia issue is one area where we don't see eye to eye.

SCIUTTO: How do you impose him, then? Do you pass new sanctions against Russia?

KINZINGER: I think you look at new sanctions, you look at things that we can do in Congress and in the Senate.

You continue to speak out about it and you educate the American public as to what the Russians have actually done. You look at Ukraine and the dead bodies in Ukraine as a result of Russian intervention, the shoot-down of an airliner by Russian missiles, the death of many innocent Syrians, including Syrian children, because of the regime of Russia and Iran backing Assad.

So, you continue to be out there with this and let the American people know what the cost is here.

SCIUTTO: If you pass sanctions against Russia and President Trump vetoes them, do you override that veto?

KINZINGER: I certainly hope so. And I think there is the support and the numbers in Congress to continue to hold Russia accountable to their behavior in the world.

Look, it's one thing to say we want to reach out and have a new relationship with Russia. Every administration has tried out. They have failed at it. But it's one thing to do that. There is nothing wrong with it. There is nothing even wrong with challenging behind closed doors the intel agencies and saying, well, prove this to me.

But it is another thing entirely to say despite the intelligence information, I'm going to go with Assange.

SCIUTTO: This is the president-elect who put intelligence in quotes in a tweet, right?

KINZINGER: Right.

SCIUTTO: A lot of this, you can't pull back. It's out there and many of his supporters are embracing it, members of the American public. He's calling into doubt for the American population the integrity of U.S. intelligence.

What happens when intelligence comes in and says, North Korea can put a nuke on a missile or there is an imminent terror attack?

KINZINGER: Yes, that's the danger. The danger in undermining the institution of intelligence, right -- there can be disagreements, it's an art, it's not a science and all that kind of stuff.

But the danger in undermining it is when you really need it and you go to the American people and say we have imminent reason North Korea going to launch a nuke, therefore, we are going to do preemptive attacks, the people can say, well, I thought you didn't trust intelligence, how do you know this?

So, look, I'm excited to support the president-elect when I can. We're going to have a great domestic agenda. But this is a concern and one I will continue to be outspoken on.

SCIUTTO: You have heard president-elect Trump constantly bring up the WMD intel on the Iraq War, for instance.

KINZINGER: Right.

SCIUTTO: We heard the director of the CIA, John Brennan, say last night on "PBS NewsHour" that that is not a fair comparison. Do you believe that's not a fair comparison?

KINZINGER: Yes, I believe it's not fair.

Look, there were mistakes made in the intel gathering, but our intel community took the best information they had, including from other intelligence agencies that said we have reason to believe there's WMD.

Saddam Hussein got rid of them without letting people know he got rid of them, so, as far as we knew, they were still there. But, look, they got it wrong. We understand that.

But that doesn't mean you throw the baby out with the bath water and say we're no longer going to do intelligence gathering, and when we don't agree with the conclusion, we're simply not going to believe it. This is very dangerous. Julian Assange is a bad person with probably American blood on his hands and definitely the information he's put out there has made our country far less safe.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Kinzinger, thank you very much. Look forward to having you on again.

KINZINGER: You bet. Yes.

SCIUTTO: Will Donald Trump change his mind about Russia and Julian Assange when he is briefed on Friday? We ask someone who has sat through many of those briefings, and that's right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:04] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Great deal to talk about. Let me bring in my political panel. Washington bureau chief at "USA Today", Susan Page, White House correspondent for Bloomberg, Margaret Talev, and CNN national security commentator and former House Intelligence Committee chairman, Mike Rogers.

Congressman Rogers, if I could begin with you. Julian Assange has by all accounts been a danger to America, exposing secrets of U.S. intel assets, soldiers stationed abroad, diplomatic correspondents. By embracing him, is Trump, in effect, endangering U.S. interests?

MIKE ROGERS (R), FORMER HOMELAND INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I don't know if he's -- listen, I think there is a maturation process you go through for somebody who has never been exposed to the national security portfolio of the United States and the sheer weight of it. This was to me a blunder. This was not something that he --

SCIUTTO: Oh, that's a fairly friendly interpretation. This is not isolated. Beyond Assange, he's been throwing the U.S. intelligence community under the bus for sometime.

ROGERS: I understand that. I'm not sure how well briefed he is. Somebody needs to march into his office and explain to him who Julian Assange is. By that tweet, I don't think he knows. I think if he knew all of the details -- this person is wanted for rape of a minor. He is hiding in the basement of an embassy because he is a fugitive from justice, number one. Number two, he has released information harmful to the United States that I do believe jeopardize soldiers in the field.

This is no one you want to be associated with, no one you want to say has any credibility and the president of the United States or the president-elect should not give this individual credibility. This is to me very, very serious for the people who are out there risking their lives.

SCIUTTO: Susan, Margaret, you might have seen the previous segment. Donald Trump in 2010 said Julian Assange should face the death penalty for his revelations. What is your sense, Susan, of what's happening here?

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: I know he's blaming Julian Assange over the coherent, the consistent conclusion of intelligence officials about what went on with Russian hacking. You know, this has an impact on public regard for U.S. intelligence, fairly or not. This has a corrosive effect on belief in that institution and it's -- here's the most remarkable thing about the interview. You asked a Republican congressman if the Republican Congress would vote to override a veto of a Republican president if he vetoed Russian sanctions and he suggested they would. What kind of breach is that within the GOP before he is being inaugurated?

SCIUTTO: No question. I mean, Margaret Talev, is this a battle Donald Trump wants with his own Republican-led House and Senate over Russian sanctions for election hacking?

MARGARET TALEV, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: I don't think he's really thought about it in those terms yet. It seems to me that, number one, he's trying to set the ground rules and the pecking order between himself and the intelligence community. And number two, he's still taking jabs at Hillary Clinton, President Obama and the Democratic Party in this waning couple of weeks before he takes office. Really interesting, Bloomberg did an interview with James Woolsey, the

former CIA director, earlier today, who said, this is really just a minor blip. Basically the intel guys ought to toughen it up, get thicker skin. This, too, shall pass. And, you know, a lot of stuff happens, eyes on the prize, protecting America's interests.

[16:20:04] But that is not the prevailing opinion, at least not the prevailing opinion that we're hearing expounded by the intelligence community.

SCIUTTO: I've spoken to people inside those buildings who express dismay and confusion over this.

Mike Rogers, you're chairman of the House Intelligence Committee during dangerous times, times when the U.S. is under threat from terror attacks, progress in North Korean nuclear weapons. What happens when Donald Trump has to go to the American public and say, the U.S. intelligence community says, I don't know, a North Korean missile can threaten America today, or that there is an attack imminent on New York, why do they believe him if he's been trashing the intel community on Russian hacking?

ROGERS: Yes. Again, I think there has to be a maturation process in this. He's going to need the CIA and the CIA is going to need him. It doesn't mean you agree with him all the time. It doesn't mean you push back all the time. Doesn't mean you give the wire brush treatment sometimes.

A matter of fact, I argue, they'll probably thrive on that a little bit to have that push back. There is always a dissenting voice that he can hear. When I was chairman, I always asked for the dissenting voice to be a part of either the product or a briefing because you want to come to the conclusion and see what kind of rustling they're doing with the pieces of information.

Intelligence should not ever be politicized. And I worry that if you start out by saying they're all wrong because it doesn't agree with my view of the world, you're going to get yourself in trouble. And, by the way, Barack Obama did this a few times along the way and got himself in trouble.

My argument is, look at what they did, avoid that like the plague, and start going in and saying, listen, on January 20th, you're my CIA, here's the kinds of things I need, not what I need, but I need, you go out and collect it, give me your honest assessment about what that is, then I'll make a decision.

You don't want this to be a big public fight from an agency that should not be heard of all that often.

SCIUTTO: But isn't a worry here that if the agencies come to him with intelligence that he doesn't find convenient, or that he just doesn't believe, that then he doesn't act on it?

PAGE: Well, you asked the congressman what happens if he wants to make this case to the American people based on intelligence. What happens if American intelligence agencies come to him and he doesn't believe them and, therefore, pursues some different policies? And I guess we'll find out what happens.

I think some people in the intelligence community and others worry also about a culture of respect for those who are serving our country. Just like people in the armed forces, people in intelligence agencies put their lives at risk. Follow careers that are often very difficult. You know, how many of us have met people who only when they retire do we find out they have spent a lifetime working for an agency like the CIA? And that should warrant a certain respect even if you're going to disagree with some of their conclusions.

SCIUTTO: One thing I should mention for the sake of the audience, accusations, again, for Julian Assange are for sexual assault of woman as opposed to raping, just important in terms of legal terms. But certainly -- and not a minor, but certainly he is someone who has been under this cloud for sometime.

I just wonder, is that an association, Margaret, Talev, that Donald Trump wants going in? And, granted, you know, maybe by next week, he'll have forgotten about it. But is that an association not only in term of the charges he's facing, but really the damage he's done to the U.S.?

TALEV: Right, it's a really important question. When you look at Donald Trump's base which is sort of heart land voter, maybe southern U.S. voters, working class voters, on the one hand these are really patriotic people when you go to a Donald Trump rally. He says, what do you like better, made in the USA or made in America? Everybody screams "Made in the USA".

So, from that standpoint, in a conventional sense Russia is not (AUDIO GAP) Russia or anti-U.S. person who may or may not be working in order to help Russia, but who is leaking stuff, you wouldn't think that would be an association Donald Trump would want. On the other hand, are those voters really thinking about leaking documents?

And the calculation is going to be -- maybe one of the calculations for Trump may be for those voters that really important base for him, are they so disenfranchised with the U.S. establishment because of Iraq intelligence, because of what have you, that they don't mind?

SCIUTTO: Right. Mike Rogers, final thought, you've spoken to a lot of presidents in difficult circumstances. What would you say to Donald Trump in a sentence or two to convince him to take this seriously, the threat of Russian hacking?

ROGERS: Well, first of all, I think he needs to get the full brief. He needs to understand the complete picture of what Russian activities are, not just in this case, but around the world. What kind of activities that Russian intelligence --

SCIUTTO: Ukraine, Syria, you name it?

ROGERS: Well, Europe, Latin America, United States. There are more Russian spies in the United States today than at the height of the Cold War.

They're playing this game for serious and for keeps. And they want to win. And they don't care about Donald Trump any more than they cared about Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. They don't care. Their interests are Russian interests, first and number one.

[16:25:01] And he shouldn't get entangled into this public fight.

My recommendation to Donald Trump, elect, would be you won the race, put that behind you. You have serious national security issues facing the country, some like I've never seen before when you look at the threat matrix. They're big and they're serious.

You're going to need all of your intelligence services, all 16 plus the DNI, plus the military, working for your end, your end game. Whatever that, you decide that is, they may not give you the picture that you want, but that's what leadership is. You're going to have to take that information and deal with it.

Listen, it's okay to push back on these intelligence reports and agencies and say, I want more or I don't think that's right, go back and get me more. That's all fair game. But they will be his intelligence agencies on January 21st, and if they're going to be effective, they need to know that when they're risking their life somewhere overseas that they have the president of the United States standing behind them.

Don't make -- maybe they don't like what he says or he doesn't like what they say, but he needs to understand that they are risking their life collecting small bits of information, including people who are working for the United States that aren't U.S. citizens.

SCIUTTO: Right. And to protect the U.S.

Mike, Susan, Margaret, thanks very much.

President Obama and Vice President-elect Mike Pence both on the Hill at the same time talking about Obamacare. Why the outgoing president is encouraging Democrats take a page out of the Tea Party playbook.

Then, jurors hear from Dylann Roof for the first time as he tries to save his own life. What the Charleston church killer said that made several victims' family members walk out of court.

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