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Interview With Maine Senator Angus King; Wave of Hacking; Senate Republicans Forced to Delay Controversial Health Care Vote; U.S. Warns of "Heavy Price" If Syria Launches New Chemical Attack. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 27, 2017 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hillary Clinton's former campaign manager facing new questions about his hacked e-mails and the broader Russia investigation. Did House Intelligence Committee leaders seek new information or a distraction?

And wave of counterattacks, hackers striking across Europe, crippling governments, banks and businesses on a huge scale and demanding ransoms. Tonight, the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring whether the crisis is spreading here.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, Republican senators face to face with President Trump after a new blow to their party's promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell forced to delay a vote on the GOP health care bill until after the July 4 recess. McConnell failing to secure enough Republican support to pass the legislation. Senate Republicans wrapping up a meeting at the White House just a while ago, as the president ratchets up the pressure to find a compromise.

The president insisting they are getting very close, but Senator Susan Collins and others are questioning whether tinkering with the bill will make a difference.

The GOP revolt intensifying after a nonpartisan report found that 22 million Americans would lose insurance under the Senate plan.

Also tonight, the United States is monitoring the situation in Syria after publicly warning that Bashar al-Assad may be preparing to launch a new chemical attack. The White House putting Assad on notice that he will pay a heavy price if he massacres his own people again.

The president ordered a missile strike on Syria in April as punishment for a deadly chemical attack on civilians, including children. Tonight, no specifics from the White House on how the president would respond if Assad defies his warning. This hour, I will talk about all those stories and more with Senator

Angus King. He's an independent on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

First, let's go to the White House for more on the president's meeting with Republican senators that just wrapped up.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is standing by.

Jeff, the Republican senators just left the White House. Give us the latest. What came out of that meeting?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Republican senators just left, as you said, and they talked about an hour and 15 minutes or so inside the East Room of the White House.

And I'm told that it was more of a listening session. The president talked at the very beginning of the meeting, but then sat and listened to so many of the concerns from the rank-and-file Republican senators. But after the meeting, Senator Mitch McConnell he said that no is not an answer. They must reach a consensus.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We made good progress. The president got an opportunity to hear from the various members who have concerns about market reforms and Medicaid, the future of Medicaid and Medicaid expansion.

So, I think the meeting was very helpful. The one thing I would say is that I think everybody around the table is interested in getting to yes, interested in getting an outcome, because we know the status quo is simply unacceptable, unsustainable, and no action is just not an option.


ZELENY: So, there definitely is a consensus to get something done, Wolf, but it is unclear if any progress was made on exactly what that might be.

But the seating chart at this meeting so interesting, and not by accident. Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, two of the most skeptical Republicans, if you will, sitting on either side of the president there in the East Room. They were expressing their concerns.

But, Wolf, I am told that Senator John McCain also raised some deep concerns about the secrecy of this entire bill. So, it was a bit of a venting session, a bit of a listening session. At the end of the day there, though, Senator McConnell was sugarcoating it a bit in the sense that everything's OK with this bill.

Wolf, that is not necessarily the sense here. There is a sigh of relief among Republicans that they don't have to go vote this week, but unclear when they come back from that recess if there will be a consensus, Wolf.

BLITZER: What was the president's message to these Republican senators, Jeff?

ZELENY: Wolf, the president's message basically was one of a cheerleader, one of a unifier, one of a party leader here.

He didn't offer any prescriptive solutions. He's not in the weeds of the bill. That is not necessarily his role. But he was urging them to find agreement among themselves.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To the country, we have to have health care, and it can't be Obamacare, which is melting down. The other side is saying all sorts of things before they even knew what the bill was.

This will be great if we get it done, and if we don't get it done, it's just going to be something that we're not going to like and that's OK and I understand that very well.


But I think we have a chance to do something very, very important for the public, very, very important for the people of our country that we love.


ZELENY: And the reality here there is that he was talking several times about how Obamacare, in his words, has melted down.

But, Wolf, the president and certainly people here at the White House understand that they now own this. They now have the burden of trying to fix this. The question will be, will he become more involved in this day to day?

Senator McConnell and other Republican leaders don't necessarily want the president to be having these individual conversations. That's where there are sometimes problems here. But it's back to the drawing board in some degree. The Republican senators have left the White House, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you, Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

Let's go to Capitol Hill right now.

Our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is on the scene for us.

So, Phil, the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said Senate Republicans made good progress in their meeting with the president, but how much trouble is this bill really in?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's in a lot of trouble, Wolf. That's just to put it bluntly. There are major, major concerns, and frankly major ideological divides within the 52-member conference that Mitch McConnell oversees.

The ability to bridge those gaps still an open question. But, as Jeff noted, it's in the building behind me, not at the White House, where those decisions, hopefully for senators' sake, those compromises can finally be made.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): Tonight, Republican leaders coming up short on health care.

MCCONNELL: Legislation of this complexity almost always takes longer than anybody else would hope. But we're going to press on.

MATTINGLY: At least for now. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell holding off his pledge to vote this week. The reality sinking in the votes simply were not there.

GOP sources telling CNN the goal will be to finalize the long out-of- reach compromise this week, get a new CBO score, and then vote after the July 4 congressional recess.

MCCONNELL: I had hoped, as you know, that we could have gotten to the floor this week. But we're not quite there. But I think we have got a really good chance of getting there. It will just take us a little bit longer.

MATTINGLY: But the decision coming late, even after the Senate's number two, John Cornyn, told CNN earlier today he wanted a vote this week.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I think we should vote this week. We have been debating this issue for seven years, and I think it's time for us to vote.

MATTINGLY: Leaders under pressure after five GOP senators came out in opposition of even taking up the health care proposal and others clearly uncomfortable with the bill's direction.

SEN. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (R), WEST VIRGINIA: I'm concerned about the bill in the form that it is now.

MATTINGLY: This a day after the blow of a nonpartisan CBO score that showed 22 million fewer Americans would have insurance by 2026 under their proposal, one that also showed that while average premiums would drop by an estimated 30 percent by 2020, older, less wealthy Americans would take a severe hit.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: It's difficult for me to see how any tinkering is going to satisfy my fundamental and deep concerns about the impact of the bill.

MATTINGLY: Republican senators, including Susan Collins, taking a bus to the White House to meet with the president and discuss a path forward.

TRUMP: We are getting very close, but for the country, we have to have health care, and it can't be Obamacare, which is melting down.

MATTINGLY: That path, according to senior Senate aides, not going to be easy. But the effort will be to complete things as quickly as possible.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I believe we can get to yes. I believe we will get to yes. It's going to take more discussions.

And the most critical question is, how do we lower premiums?

MATTINGLY: Democrats saying today's delay is progress and that Americans are listening to their arguments against the bill.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: No matter what tweaks they may add in the next week-and-a-half, no matter how the bill changes around the edges, it is fundamentally flawed at the center. The ultimate reason this bill failed is because the American people just didn't like it.


MATTINGLY: And, Wolf, just to give you a sense of how bad off Senate Republicans were, just an hour after Senator McConnell announced in that closed-door meeting that they would be postponing the vote, three new Republican senators came out with their opposition of the plan.

Again, this underscoring the reality here. While Senator McConnell is very well aware of what all the members of his conference need to get to yes, his ability to bridge that gap, bridge the divide between the idea ideological poles inside his conference, it is an open question whether he can actually do that.

Again, they're going to try and work quickly, they're going to try and hammer out details by the end of this week. But as it currently stands, as one Senate GOP aide told me, there's a lot of work left to do.

BLITZER: Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.

And joining us now, Senator Angus King of Maine. He's an independent. He's a member of both the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees.


We have got lots to discuss. Senator, thanks for joining us.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Glad to, Wolf.

BLITZER: We just heard from the Republican majority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell.

When he emerged from the White House, he was asked a question at the very of that little Q&A with reporters. What happens if the Republicans fail to pass legislation? Can you then go to the Democrats and work on a compromise to fix Obamacare, to improve it?

He basically said no. He said because the Democrats, they don't want any reforms of the market. They don't want any reforms of Medicaid. What's the point?

Now, you're an independent. You caucus with the Democrats. What's your response to the majority leader there there's really no need or no opportunity to come up with a compromise with Democrats?

KING: Well, with all respect to the majority leader, I just don't think that's true.

I have been meeting with a group of members of the Democratic Caucus for about three years trying to develop some fixes for Obamacare. Nobody argues that the ACA is a perfect law. And it can be -- it certainly can be improved. We have got to deal with things like premiums and deductibles and how the whole system works and how it works with small businesses.

So, there are lots of things that we can do. I have a radical suggestion for the majority leader. Submit the bill to the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, have hearings, have a markup, invite in experts, let's talk about it and understand it.

The process for this bill was horrible, where it was all done behind closed doors, and completely in secret. And it's not surprising that if you have a horrible process, you're going to have a horrible bill. And that's what happened.

Let's just take a deep breath and go back to the way the Congress is supposed to work, with input from all over the country and maybe we can come up with a good solution. I think we can.

BLITZER: If the president, if President Trump invited you to the White House, Senator, to discuss health care solutions, would you accept that invitation?

KING: It would -- I think the precondition would be that we stop talking about repealing and severely crippling Medicaid, if we're talking about improving the Affordable Care Act. And if the president really -- somebody asked me the other day, what's your position?

I said it's just like the president. I want everybody to have health care. I want reasonable premiums and deductibles, and I want no preexisting conditions. That's what he keeps saying, but these bills, the one that passed the House and the one that's pending in the Senate, don't do any of those things.

So, if he really wants to talk about solving this problem, I think people will be willing to talk, but not with the sword of Damocles holding over our head of these draconian, drastic cuts to Medicaid. This bill would take about a trillion dollars over 10 years out of the medical budgets of our country, and there's no way you can do that without harming people.

BLITZER: Your colleague from Maine, Republican Senator Susan Collins says she's not sure if more -- quote -- "tinkering," in her words, could really address her fundamental concerns about the bill.

Are there changes that the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, could propose, do you believe, that would the calculation for Senator Collins and others who are still on the fence?

KING: I don't think so, because the fundamental thrust of the bill is a huge tax cut for the people that least need it and a huge cut in Medicaid and the subsidies that support premiums in the Affordable Care Act, which, by the way, disproportionately hurt seniors.

I think Senator Collins is looking at largely the way I do. It's just a practical thing. How will this affect Maine? And the answer is, it's going to knock thousands of people out of insurance. It's going to hurt seniors, disabled people, children in Maine.

It's just -- it's a practical effect, not to mention, Wolf, one of the things that's not really being discussed very much is the effect on rural hospitals. I have had roundtables around Maine, and we're talking about -- well, eight in our 16 counties, the hospital is the largest employer and they're all telling me they would at least have to downsize, if not close.

And that would be an economic disaster, on top of the human disaster that this bill or something largely like it would impose on Maine people. So, if you want to stop talking about dismantling Medicaid, which is a lifeline for millions of Americans, and instead let's try to talk about what we can repair and make the Affordable Care Act work better, then, you know, I'm all ears, as the man says.

But if we're talking about these wrecking ball approaches, you know, that's not very interesting.

BLITZER: Yesterday, the president threatened to let Obamacare, in his words, crash and burn in a statement he released on Twitter yesterday. If you and your colleagues don't work to improve Obamacare where it needs that improvement, how concerned are you that the president and the Republicans could, in effect, help sabotage at least parts of the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, that are working? Because, as you know, Democrats deeply worried about that.


KING: Well, you're absolutely right.

And the word sabotage is an appropriate one. The administration is not doing a thing to help the system to stabilize and work. It's important, Wolf, that in the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office analysis, both of the House bill and the Senate bill, they specifically said the Affordable Care Act system can and will be stable.

And the actions that the administration has taken thus far, not enforcing, not informing, not encouraging people to sign up, has in effect made it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, the idea that -- this idea I keep hearing that it's going to implode and go out of business and go under just isn't true. And certainly if the administration would try to do what the president said a few minutes ago, he wants health care for people, this is the system we have now.

Let's -- if you want to change it, fine, but let's make it work as best we can until we can make those changes.

BLITZER: Senator, there's more we need to discuss, including the latest threat from the president to Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria, a new red line emerging on the use of chemical weapons. We will have that and more right after this.



BLITZER: We're back with Senator Angus King.

We're following the breaking news on an urgent meeting over at the White House after the Senate health care bill, the vote was delayed.

Senator, I want you to stand by. There is other important news we are learning, including about the Trump administration's evidence that Syria may be preparing to launch a new chemical weapons attack. The White House warning Bashar al-Assad that, if that happens, he will pay, in the words of the White House, a heavy price.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, President Trump, is he drawing a new red line in Syria?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it appears he just might be, Wolf. He is making clear he will not tolerate another chemical attack by the Assad regime, and this time hoping, at least, the Russians can make that stick.


STARR (voice-over): Syrian President Bashar al-Assad climbs into the cockpit of a Russian aircraft, the Kremlin's military chief of staff watching nearby, just as Moscow and Damascus get an ominous warning from President Trump about Assad getting ready for another chemical weapons attack.

A sudden overnight statement from the White House saying: "The United States has identified preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children," warning that Assad will pay a heavy price.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: The goal is at this point not just to send Assad a message, but to send Russia and Iran a message that, if this happens again, we are putting you on notice.

STARR: The U.S. had watched this Syrian air base at Shayrat for days, the same base the Syrians used in April when they attacked civilians with sarin nerve agent. The U.S. responded then, firing 59 Tomahawk missiles.

But fresh intelligence has the U.S. worried.

CAPT. JEFF DAVIS, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: The information that we have that we saw became more compelling in the last day.

STARR: U.S. imagery shows a Syrian aircraft in a shelter with chemical weapons nearby. It's not clear if Assad and his backers got the message.

HALEY: My hope is that the president's warning will certainly get Russia and Iran to take a second look, and I hope that it will caution Assad.

STARR: Trump's warning was closely held until the last minute. The White House and the defense officials say Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis knew about the intelligence, but many other officials unaware.

The U.S. military has options for President Trump if he decides to act. The president has drawn a red line, suggesting conditions for action, something he said he would not do.

TRUMP: I don't want them to know what I'm thinking.

STARR: But if Trump doesn't act, he's in the position of potentially knowing about a future attack against civilians and not stopping it.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: If we were to wait for an attack to happen knowing that it was about to happen, then, yes, we have abrogated responsibility under the U.N. charter.


STARR: Now, if Assad were to proceed, Pentagon officials are letting it be known they do have the assets in place to offer the president military options to deal with it all -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Let's get back to Senator Angus King of Maine.

Senator, did the president, did the White House draw a new red line with this statement that was released?

KING: Well, they didn't use the term red line, but when you say there will be heavy consequence if you act, I think that is about as close as you can come.

And I think the president has made it clear that there will be some response. The truth is that he's in the same box that President Obama was in some time ago. He's made that statement. If there is an attack of whatever size, he is committed to some kind of, as he said, heavy consequences, a serious response.

BLITZER: Because, as you saw pointed out, we saw the risk of the U.S. drawing a red line during the Obama administration. Was if a mistake for the Trump administration to put out a statement like that? A lot of us remember the red line that President Obama drew back in, what, 2012.

KING: And when President Obama didn't follow up on that when that red line was violated, it hurt our credibility throughout the Middle East and indeed I think in the world.


So, I thought the lesson from that was, don't draw red lines, but convey your message as strongly as possible through as many channels as you can. But, you know, let's agree that the use of chemical weapons is an awful thing to even contemplate.

It's been not part of a law of war for over 100 years since World War I. Virtually every country in the world has subscribed to that agreement. And, so, there should be some response. But, again, you want to be careful about red lines, because then you have blocked yourself in, and flexibility is what you always want to maintain in foreign policy.

BLITZER: Should President Trump get authorization from Congress before escalating the conflict in Syria, Senator, with more military action?

KING: Absolutely. The answer to that is yes. There is no authority now for the president -- for any -- there wasn't authority for President Obama, there isn't authority for President Trump to be operating in Syria.

We're -- they're working on an authorization that was passed a week after September 11. It is an entirely situation. It's an entirely different geography. And, Syria, Wolf, is an incredibly complicated place. There are 1,200 opposition groups. Iran is there. Hezbollah is there, Assad, ISIS.

I mean, what worries me is, as we get more aggressive and we talk about the possibility of shooting down airplanes and those kinds of things, about every 10 years or so, I reread a book called "The Guns of August" by Barbara Tuchman. And it's the story of the beginning of World War I, which was a series of miscalculations and accidents.

That's how wars start. And I think we need to have a clear definition of what we want to accomplish, why we're there, why we're doing what we're doing. And I think one of the frustrations that we have had -- John McCain has expressed this over and over. There's no strategy. There's no long-term definition of what our goals are, what our exit strategy is, what we're trying to achieve.

Historically, our only interest in Syria has been ISIS. And to the extent we're turning our attention to Assad, that's a new piece of authority. There is no authority. I understand, I just learned this morning that the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Senate is thinking about taking up a new authorization, and I believe they should.

BLITZER: Let's not forget the Russians are deeply involved in promoting and backing Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria as well with a lot of military activity.

But, Senator, if there were to be another Bashar al-Assad chemical attack against civilians in Syria, killing civilians and children, would you support another U.S. military strike on Syrian targets without formal authorization from Congress?

KING: I think if it's a limited strike that's strictly related to the chemical warfare side of things, the chemical weapons side of things, I think the answer to that is yes.

If it's a broader strike that strikes at different areas, different airfields, different parts of the Syrian regime, then, in other words, if it's an attack on the government of Syria under the guise of responding to a chemical attack, then I would certainly draw the line there.

And this is a good example of why this is so difficult and so dangerous. I think the president is right to be prepared to respond to a chemical attack. But my concern is it could easily escalate. And, as you say, there are Russian airplanes in that airspace. And that -- if we're going to go to war in Syria, we better know exactly what we're doing and why we're doing it.

And other than the chemical weapons, there isn't a justification that I have seen.

BLITZER: Senator King, thanks so much for joining us.

KING: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, new reaction to the delay of the U.S. Senate vote on health care and the president's attempts to pressure members of his own party.

We are also going to take you inside the Russia investigation, as one of the prime targets of the Russian cyber-attacks is questioned up on Capitol Hill.


BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, Senate Republicans summoned to the White House to meet with President Trump after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was forced to delay a vote on the Republican health care bill, which is facing very stiff opposition from some conservative and more moderate Republican lawmakers.

[18:34:04] Let's dig deeper with our experts and analysts. Gloria, how big of a miscalculation was this, at least so far, on the part of the majority leader?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I don't blame Mitch McConnell for trying here. I really don't. He wanted to get this done before the July Fourth recess, before members go back home and face their constituents. After all, this is a very, very unpopular bill.

So, this is what he tried to do. Perhaps he should have included more people in the deliberations. That's always a good idea. But it turns out that they have to go back to the drawing board. This isn't the first time this has happened in American history, and it won't be the last.

So, I think McConnell may have underestimated the kind of opposition this was going to receive, but I don't -- I wouldn't underestimate Mitch McConnell either.

BLITZER: Because there was a similar setback in the House of Representatives.

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: And eventually, they made some adjustments, and they passed it narrowly.

BORGER: Yes. And you know, they may be able to do it again. We don't know. I think it's going to be harder to get the moderates here than it will be to get some of the conservatives who want to get to yes.

BLITZER: One problem, Rebecca, this Trump-aligned group, preparing these really very, very tough negative ads against Republican Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, who's up for reelection next year, because he had serious questions about the bill. A lot of other Republicans were very angry at that.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, including Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader. I mean, this is the main political group for Donald Trump. His administration has given this group his blessing, their blessing.

And, so, you have to coordinate, to some extent, with the Republican leaders on Capitol Hill. You cannot just take Mitch McConnell by surprise with these attack ads when he's in the process of trying to get these votes together for a major complex controversial piece of legislation.

So, this was this group, I think, showing its age, in part. They're new at this. This has only been around a few months, and Donald Trump is still having this political operation built out. But it was no doubt about it a strategic misfire. They're taking the ad down today. It's now being reported.

But the damage has been done...


BERG: ... in what -- this is not good for Heller.

BLITZER: Yes. BERG: They're doing the Democrats' work for them.

BLITZER: Yes, we have confirmed they are pulling down that ad.

You know, Ryan Lizza, these Republican members of the Senate, they're going to be going back to their states. They're going to be having some town halls, presumably. What's going to be the impact of this delay on a final vote?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if you look at all of the commentary from Democrats and activists after McConnell pulled this today, it was "Keep doing what you're doing. The resistance is working. We made this happen." So, liberals and Democrats are extremely emboldened. They think that their calls and their campaigns against this bill are what had an effect on some of these senators.

Whether that's true or not, I'm not sure. But it surely had an effect on some -- perhaps some of the more moderate members, not necessarily the Rand Pauls of the world who want the bill to move to the right.

So, I think you're going to see some intense activism from the left, from the so-called resistance going to these town halls and confronting Republicans, especially when one of the main criticisms is the process that this legislation has gone through, or lack of process. It really has not been a very transparent process. There haven't been any hearings on this legislation. It hasn't been fully ventilated.

And I think these guys are going to go home, and they're going to hear from their constituents, is one reason why McConnell wanted to pass this thing before recess. And that's a bad sign. Any time politicians want to hide legislation and pass it before they go home to face their constituents, that does not pass the smell test.

You know, let me -- while this is all unfolding, there were some serious developments, Phil, overseas, including the effect on a U.S. pharmaceutical company, Merck. A bunch of companies and organizations, mostly in Ukraine, but elsewhere in Europe, were hacked; and there is deep concern this may just be a test to see if they can do it there, maybe they can do it here, as well.

This is raising a lot of alarms right now. If you take a look at the cyberattack in Ukraine, politicians, postal service, central bank, even the Chernobyl nuclear plant, they were all hit.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, if you look at what's happened over the last 8, 10, 12 months, Wolf, cyber warfare has come to the front of Americans. Not only we saw the hack during the American election. This is totally different. Not state-sponsored. You're talking about private organizations that are getting into companies, as you said, banks, transportation, extremely disruptive in Europe. This is also hitting Russia. It's hitting South Asia. You mentioned hitting Merck in the United States.

What's happening here is what we called ransomware. That is, organizations that operate on the deep web, in the dark, are going into organizations, freezing their information and saying, if you want to get your information freed, if you're a bank, if you're a transportation company, you've got to pay us, and you've got to pay us with untraceable money.

This hacking problem is exploding. This is maybe one of the biggest hacks we've seen out of Ukraine.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a huge, huge development. It's causing, I know, a lot of concern here in Washington, as well.

Everybody stand by. Just ahead, global confidence in the U.S. president now down. We're going to take a closer look at how that's impacting the Trump administration's foreign policy.


[18:44:01] BLITZER: President Trump is hinting at a possible new military strike against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. In a statement, the president said the United States is aware that the Assad regime may be preparing for another chemical weapons attack against civilians and warned that the government will, quote, "pay a heavy price" if it's carried out.

So, Phil Mudd, did the White House draw a new red line with this latest statement, as far as the Syrian regime is concerned?

MUDD: They sure did. I mean, this one is drawn with a Magic Marker, doubled down. You can't go into a new administration and say, "We're going to be different than President Obama, who did not respond when Assad used chemical weapons. Use our military capability the first time Assad uses weapons and not use them this time."

I think there are some tough questions, though, Wolf. Last time significant -- significant operation, but against one air field, I think if you're in the White House, you've got to say, you make it bigger. For example, you get out of an air field and go after a regime target to really make Assad sit up.

Second big question: the Russians know this is coming. What do they do? Do they respond in kind in a way that we're not anticipating? But I think, yes, there's a red line drawn. If they use chemical weapons, the president has got to hit the go button.

BLITZER: You know -- go ahead.

BORGER: Here's the question I have, and maybe you can answer, which is why do this publicly? You know, this is a president who says he doesn't like to telegraph what he's thinking to anybody. Would you ordinarily be letting the Russians know in a different way that you're onto them, or is this something that's completely acceptable to do it in a public way?

MUDD: I think there's a couple reasons to do it publicly. Number one, there is a potential, I suppose, the Syrians say, we're not going to do this. Number two, you limit casualties at the location, potentially Russian casualties, by saying if you guys are at the location -- the Russians that is -- where the Syrians are hosting airstrikes, you better get the heck out because there's TLAMs, or missiles coming in to hit that airfield.

So, I think there are two reasons, including humanitarian reasons.

BLITZER: You know, Ryan, it's interesting, because during the campaign, presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump really went after the Obama administration often on the campaign trail saying that the Obama administration -- the United States was not being taken seriously by friends or enemies around the world.

Listen to a few of his comments during the campaign.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The world is laughing at us, folks.

They're laughing at us, at our stupidity.

They laugh at us. They're laughing at us. It's crazy what's going on.

Everybody is laughing at us.

They're laughing at us. We don't know what we're doing.

They're laughing at us because they think we're stupid.

The whole world is laughing at us. They're laughing at this -- at what's going on in our country.

The world laughs at us, folks. The world laughs at us.


BLITZER: You get the point what he was saying during the campaign. But according to a brand-new Pew Research Center poll just out, by the end of President Obama's presidency, 64 percent of the people in these 37 countries surveyed had confidence in the U.S. president. That now stands at 22 percent for President Trump.

So, how much more difficult does this make U.S. foreign policy?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: A lot more difficult. I mean, just as Trump has a credibility problem at home because he misstates the facts frequently and says things that aren't true. He has a similar problem abroad where a lot of foreign countries are not looking to the United States for leadership in the way that they once were.

A lot of our European allies have said this, like Angela Merkel in Germany. And some of our alliances in Asia are not as strong as they were at the end of the Obama administration because Trump, you know, for either because he's sort of stumbled into it or because he genuinely believes it, he has adopted this sort of America first, we're going to take care of us and not, you know, not emphasize the alliances that we traditionally had since World War II.

I will say on Syria, you know, there was a lot of uncertainty and lack of clarity about what our policy was in Syria and what his view of the use of force was. You have to give the White House credit for being crystal clear now. They have one red line, that is, chemical -- if Assad uses chemical weapons, that will precipitate a U.S. military response. They don't seem to care about anything, you know, beyond that, but they have a very, very clear policy about the use of force on that.

BORGER: What about beyond that?

LIZZA: The complicating thing is it is a little unsettling that we don't have a use of force resolution to govern this, right? And that is something that Congress really should look at. You know, the president says now determined that he can use force against the Assad regime without going to Congress and without a use of force resolution.

BORGER: Congress is reluctant.

LIZZA: Oh, absolutely.

BLITZER: You know, Rebecca, because those 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles, they were launched against Bashar al-Assad's regime at that air base back in April. The U.S. could do that again.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, absolutely. And with this public statement that warning Syria that they should not launch another chemical weapons attack, it's a red line. I mean, that's basically sending a message that if you do take this action, if Syria, you do launch another chemical attack and move forward with that, there will be a U.S. response. If there isn't, that is problematic for the administration because they put out this statement. And then you have a question of what do those words actually mean.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by. There's more unfolding efforts to get the Republican health care bill through the Senate. Now in disarray with the vote on the measure postponed. What is President Trump telling lawmakers tonight?

Plus, a CNN special report uncovers new details of Russian cyber meddling in the U.S. election.


[18:54:08] BLITZER: New tonight, Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign chairman interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee as part of its Russia probe. John Podesta says he was happy to cooperate with investigators digging into Russian cyber meddling in the 2016 presidential election, including the hack of Podesta's own e-mails which were made public by WikiLeaks during the campaign.

Moscow's election interference is the subject of a CNN special report tonight, "THE RUSSIA CONNECTION: INSIDE THE ATTACK ON DEMOCRACY". Jim Sciutto anchors that special report. Here is a preview. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN HULTQUIS, DIRECTOR OF INTELLIGENCE ANALYSIS, FIREEYE MALE: In addition to the organizations that were targeted, multiple individuals were targeted with spear-phishing e-mails that resembled Google warnings.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST (voice-over): John Hultquis is the director or intelligence analysis at the cyber security firm, FireEye.

HULTQUIS: They clicked on those thinking that they were security warnings, and those basically transported them to a place where the adversary could collect their credentials and reuse them to gain access to their accounts. It was a reasonably realistic e-mail. It looked fairly legitimate.

SCIUTTO: A prime target was the chairman of Hillary Clinton's campaign, John Podesta.

JOHN PODESTA, FORMER CLINTON PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN CHAIR: There was a Google alert that there was some compromise in the system and to change the password.

SCIUTTO: This seemingly benign message was a spear phishing e-mail. It warned someone just used your password and prompted Podesta to change his e-mail immediately by clicking on a link. It was signed innocuously, "Best, the Gmail team".

PODESTA: It actually got managed by my assistant who checked with our cyber security guy and through a comedy of errors, I guess, he instructed her to go ahead and click on it and she did.

SCIUTTO: The fatale error, Podesta's I.T. person wrote back calling the e-mail legitimate, when, in fact it wasn't.

(on camera): He meant to say the opposite, right?

PODESTA: Right. He meant to say that it was illegitimate. He said it was legitimate. The rest is history.


BLITZER: And our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto joins us now.

Looks like a great documentary you put together. As you know, Jim, the former Clinton campaign chair, John Podesta, we just saw in that interview with you, he met with members from the House Intelligence Committee. You spoke to him for the documentary.

How might he help shed light on this hack that he fell victim to?

SCIUTTO: You know, I think one of the big takeaways, Wolf, is just how easy it was in retrospect. A spear phishing e-mail looks like something from Gmail. And even that fatal mistake John Podesta just described there in the

documentary, that his cyber team meant to say don't click on it, it's illegitimate, a typo, auto correct, who knows how it happened, and he says it comes across as legitimate. They click on it. That gives the Russians access to 50,000 of his e-mails, his entire private e-mail account for years and it was those e-mails that, as we saw as the campaign -- as the election got closer, that were released really on a daily basis and had an enormous effect certainly on how the campaign was covered and from Podesta's point of view, had an effect on the outcome.

BLITZER: What do you think some of the questions that members of the House Intelligence Committee asked today of Podesta?

SCIUTTO: I think of him and of others, it is, what were the missed signals? What should have been done earlier to stop this from getting bigger? And something that came across to us, it wasn't just Podesta's I.T. team, it was the Democratic National Committee. It was the FBI. Even the intelligence community, as they saw this playing out early, none of them had a sense of how big this was going to become.

And in retrospect, you can argue that all of them should have acted with more urgency to handle this. But the trouble was, there wasn't really precedent for this kind of attack on a U.S. election and no one could predict at that point what Russia was going to do with all these e-mails and documents. Of course, we saw it in real life as it played out. But in those early months no one predicted that effect.

BLITZER: Yes. We saw -- we were reminded of that today. We got massive hack of all sorts of institutions in Ukraine, elsewhere in Europe, including here in the United States as well.

Your documentary takes viewers inside the Russia investigation. Explain a little bit more about what you uncovered.

SCIUTTO: Well, here is another thing. One, it is continuing. That these attacks did not end on November 8th, 2016. In fact, Russian hackers are still probing both Democratic and Republican political organizations, voting systems, et cetera, and that's a real concern going forward because in this election, while there is no evidence -- the intelligence community has been very public about this -- that vote tallies were affected, there is nothing to stop that from being different in 2018 or 2020, and it doesn't stop at Russia because China, Iran, North Korea, they all have very active cyber programs. They were all watching how this played out in the 2016 election.

And when I spoke to both Democrats and Republicans on the relevant committees on the Hill, in law enforcement, in the intelligence community, all of them say they were watching and we need to brace ourselves and protect ourselves so that this doesn't happen in even greater form in future elections. It's a real concern going forward.

BLITZER: Certainly is. Jim Sciutto doing amazing work for us as he always does. Thank you for doing this documentary later tonight. And to our viewers, be sure to join Jim later for the CNN special

report, "THE RUSSIAN CONNECTION: INSIDE THE ATTACK ON DEMOCRACY". It airs at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Must-watch TV.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.