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CNN SPECIAL REPORTS
The Russian Connection. Aired 11-11:59p ET
Aired July 7, 2017 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[23:00:00] FAREED ZAKARIA, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS SHOW HOST: The following is a CNN special report.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The nation's bitter adversary, dangerous and deceptive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A reasonably realistic email.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He meant to say it was illegitimate. The rest is history.
SCIUTTO: Their weapons insidious and unsuspected.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are looking to weaponized information.
SCIUTTO: Threatening American votes and striking at the heart of democracy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think they see their interference in this election as a success?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do.
SCIUTTO: A spy story in cyber space.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't believe that domain is owned by (inaudible) so we investigated.
SCIUTTO: That would lead right to Putin's doorstep.
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: If Mr. Trump gets in his way it will be like Christmas in the Kremlin.
SCIUTTO: And when words of warning were not nearly enough.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw President Putin tell him to cut it out.
SCIUTTO: Tonight a CNN special report, the Russian connection, inside the attack on democracy. It was an unprecedented attack on the very heart of American democracy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Russia is directly behind a series of cyber attacks targeting the upcoming Presidential election.
SCIUTTO: And in one remarkable year catapulted Russia, the old cold war adversary once again to the center of American politics and the American psyche on an almost daily basis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think every American should be concerned about what the Russians did.
SCIUTTO: Hampering a presidency.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don't have any deals in Russia.
SCIUTTO: And undermining and even ending the careers of top Presidential advisors.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President was very concerned that General Flynn had misled the Vice President and others.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The President's first national security advisor, Michael Flynn, lied for lying about conversations with Russia.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't want your national security advisor compromised with the Russians.
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have recused myself in the matters.
SCIUTTO: Forced to recuse himself from all Russia investigation for not disclosing his own contacts with Russian officials.
TRUMP: I don't think anybody knows it was Russia.
SCIUTTO: And Trumpism is repeatedly questioning the intelligence community's high confidence judgment that Russia interfered with the election that brought him to the oval office.
TRUMP: Could also be China, could also be lots of other people. Could also be someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds. Ok.
SCIUTTO: And dramatically, Mr. Trump firing his FBI Director.
TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey, my decision.
SCIUTTO: Over a Russia investigation the President simply does not trust.
JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: It's my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation.
SCIUTTO: Now a special counsel. The FBI and four separate congressional committees are pursuing investigations. How did we get here? And how did Russian influence potentially reach the highest levels of the U.S. Government?
Can I say when you were first made aware that Russia or some country was attempting to infiltrate U.S. Political organizations?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes in the summer of 2015. SCIUTTO: James Clapper was then the Director of National
Intelligence. The nation's senior most intelligence official.
Was it clear to you how serious it would become?
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER INTELLIGENCE CHIEF: I don't think it was because obviously the Russians have us as maybe the primary intelligence target anyway.
SCIUTTO: The first quiet warning came September 2015 when a midlevel FBI agent notified the Democratic National Committee that Russian hackers had compromised at least one DNC computer.
JOHN PODESTA, CLINTON'S CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: They left a phone message at the help desk at the DNC. They didn't treat with a kind of seriousness that I think it deserved.
SCIUTTO: That was the FBI's first direct contact with the DNC. A message left for a low level computer technician that did not return the FBI's call.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bureau is a busy place, there is a lot of stuff to do, and I suspect if they had to do over again, they would do it differently in retrospect.
[23:05:00] SCIUTTO: The DNC technician, an outsource employee did scan the system network, but found nothing. And the I.T. department apparently did not share the FBI's concerns with more senior DNC staff. The breach would prove to be enormous, hackers gaining access to countless emails, communications, and documents.
STEVE HALL, RETIRED CHIEF OF CIA RUSSIAN OPERATIONS: I can imagine him sitting down a couple weeks later and saying we're in.
SCIUTTO: And as the campaign for President was already well underway. For weeks the FBI kept calling the same computer help desk number at the DNC, never reaching out to DNC leaders, and never making the short trip in person to DNC head quarters.
HALL: Looking back I think they would say I think you should have been a little more aggressive.
SCIUTTO: The FBI tells CNN it made repeated attempts to alert more senior DNC staff including sharing information on how to identify breaches in their systems. By November 2015 polls show Hillary Clinton leading the pack of Democratic contenders.
CLINTON: You are my campaign. Join this effort. Let's go win for America.
SCIUTTO: It was now one year to Election Day and the FBI agent called again with even more alarming news. A DNC computer was now transmitting information back to Russia. Still DNC executive's claim they were not made aware of the threat, leaving the Russians to roam free inside the Democrats computers for months in the end, giving them further and further ammunition to disrupt the U.S. ammunition. PODESTA: A hostile foreign power is trying to actively engage in our
electoral process, you would have thought that would have risen on the other intelligence agencies in the White House itself.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It goes to the fundamental core of our democracy.
SCIUTTO: Tom Donilon, President Obama's national security advisor came face to face more than once with the Russian leader behind the attacks.
TOM DONILON, PRESIDENT OBAMA NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It was alarming because it was absolutely consistent with Putin's intent to undermine the institutions of the west.
SCIUTTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB spy, famous for his boldness, even ruthlessness. At home, some of his opponents end up dead. Abroad, his prime target is the U.S.
HALL: There's no doubt that Vladimir Putin was involved from the beginning and might have been the intellectual author and was probably eager to see are we really going to be able to pull this off?
SCIUTTO: Next, a nation brought to its knees by a massive Russian cyber attack.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People started asking what's going on. Who's in charge?
[23:12:00] SCIUTTO: April 2007. The eastern European country of Estonia, a NATO allies and neighbor of Russia is rocked by violent protests after the relocation of this soviet war memorial. Jaanus Lillenburg was working for an Estonian newspaper at the time.
JAANUS LILLENBURG, ESTONIAN NEWSPAPER: They attacked cars that were parked at road side, threw stones, bottles.
SCIUTTO: Riot police struggled to restore order. But the chaos continued. Estonia's foreign minister recalls a growing sense of fear among his countrymen.
SVEN MIKSER, ESTONIA'S FOREIGN MINISTER: Dozen or so cars being turned upside down and people get nervous when things like that happen.
SCIUTTO: Estonia, a tiny nation of just over one million people perched on the border with Russia had not seen anything like this since it regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Witnesses quickly notice that rioters have one name, one country on their lips.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're shouting Russia, Russia which means Russia.
SCIUTTO: Estonians did not for a moment believe that was an accident. Then Defense Minister (inaudible) he had only been in the job for three weeks. You believe those protests were orchestrated?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, to a certain extent.
That kind of violent protests, this just doesn't happen in Estonia.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly. It's like -- I don't know. It just doesn't happen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So the belief was these protests were orchestrated, manufactured.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I guess that is pretty much describing term.
SCIUTTO: The violence on the streets wasn't the worst of it. Silently in cyber space an invisible army was mounting an attack, an attack that would foreshadow the turmoil that would soon come to Western Europe and then America.
SCIUTTO: How did you know that you were under attack? What gave you your first chance?
CLAPPER: I asked what's going on, the same thing.
SCIUTTO: You suspected the cyber assault?
CLAPPER: Yes. That was clear that it's not back.
[23:15:05] SCIUTTO: While the U.S. Election was a new target, Russia has been waging cyber warfare across Europe for years and one of its most frequent targets was its neighbors. The 2007 attack left Estonians with no news websites, no government websites, and very little information.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And people started asking what's going on? Who's in charge?
SCIUTTO: Electronic banking at ATM's and online, which at the time accounted for the vast majority of all transactions in Estonia, was completely down.
CLAPPER: People were scared. And we were by then rather intimate based society already.
SCIUTTO: Tiny Estonia with its medieval walls and cobble stone streets is actually a technology power house. It was the first country to allow online voting and it's known for being the birth place of Skype but now it was under one of the most crippling cyber attacks the world had ever seen. The attackers created so-called botnets, taking over hundreds of thousands of computers to launch the attack.
CLAPPER: They flooded the inputs of servers.
LILLENBURG: It's 10s and hundreds of times more than the servers could handle. SCIUTTO: And the assault went on for weeks. Eventually Estonia had
to block all international web traffic to stop the onslaught, disconnecting one of the most connected countries from the rest of the world.
LILLENBURG: They couldn't get any information from Estonia. I think that was the aim actually.
SCIUTTO: To cut you off?
SCIUTTO: So who was behind it? Estonia's foreign minister at the time blamed Russia, who Moscow has repeatedly denied involvement.
TRANSLATOR: We consider the European Union under attack by Russia. The attacks are psychological, virtual and real.
SCIUTTO: Today, perhaps furring the consequences of publicly assigning blame to Russia, Estonian officials are more careful.
CLAPPER: We found out these attacks was not that spontaneous?
SCIUTTO: And did that lead you to a suspect?
CLAPPER: In 2007 and now 10 years later we don't have the smoking gun. We don't have the finger prints or foot prints. But when we say most probably one of our neighbors is concerned, we --
SCIUTTO: And that leaves Russia?
CLAPPER: Yes. The evidence -- indirect evidence clearly shows in that direction.
SCIUTTO: Would it be reasonable to think it was anybody else but Russia? Would it make sense?
CLAPPER: It would make sense.
SCIUTTO: After carrying out increasingly bold cyber attacks across Europe, including here in Estonia, Russia's President Vladimir Putin turns the country's attention to the U.S. and the 2016 Presidential election. Coming up how the hackers tricked the Democratic Party.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a reasonably realistic email. It looked fairly legitimate.
SCIUTTO: And the trail of evidence leading right back to Russia.
[23:22:35] SCIUTTO: March 2016, eight months to Election Day. The Republican and Democratic primaries were full of sound and fury.
TRUMP: Who wants Hillary? Who wants Trump?
SCIUTTO: More and more of it about Russia.
CLINTON: If Mr. Trump gets his way, it will be like Christmas in the Kremlin.
SCIUTTO: By now Russian hackers had penetrated the Democratic National Committee for months and were setting their sites on new targets, using the crudest of cyber weapons, so-called spear fishing emails.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Multiple individuals were targeted with spear fishing emails that resembled Google warnings.
SCIUTTO: The Director for intelligence analysis at the cyber security firm, Fireeye.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They clicked on those thinking they were security warnings and basically transported them to a place where their adversary could collect them and reuse them to gain access to their accounts. It was a reasonably realistic email. It looked fairly legitimate.
SCIUTTO: A prime target was the chairman of Hillary Clinton's campaign, John Podesta.
PODESTA: There was a Google alert that there was a compromise in the system and it changed the password.
SCIUTTO: This seemingly benign message was actually a spear fishing email. It warned someone just used your password and prompted him to change his password immediately by clicking on a link. It was signed innocuously, best the Gmail team.
PODESTA: It actually got managed by my assistant that checked with my cyber security guy and through a comedy of errors, I guess, he instructed her to click on it and she did.
SCIUTTO: The fatal error, Podesta's I.T. person wrote back calling the email legitimate when in fact.
PODESTA: He meant to say it's illegitimate. The rest is history.
SCIUTTO: One typo, one click and they the Russian gained free rain throughout the email for the man running the Clinton presidential campaign.
[23:25:00] CLAPPER: The initial weapon as it was a cyber weapon was pretty simple. It was not high level stuff.
That is one of the frustrations, I think for all cyber security experts.
SCIUTTO: Russia had now successfully breached two Democratic Party computer systems, that of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were kind of blown away by the brashness that they're operating with, almost like they didn't anticipate any consequences for their actions.
SCIUTTO: Back on the campaign trail, it was looking more and more likely to be Hillary Clinton.
CLINTON: Love Trumps hate verses Donald Trump.
SCIUTTO: Versus Donald Trump.
TRUMP: And we're going to beat crooked Hillary so badly.
SCIUTTO: April 2016, seven months to Election Day, nine months since the first intrusion into the Democratic National Committee. The DNC's computer technician finally discovers the breach. The DNC notified the FBI and hired the cyber security firm, crowd strike. Crowd strike's forensic work quickly identified two culprits. Both linked to Russia. One dubbed fancy bear, the other cozy bear, and familiar foes for cyber security experts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Long before any of this transpired around the election, we've known them for many years. There's a lot of evidence this actor is Russian or Russian speaker.
SCIUTTO: Some of it surprisingly simple such as time stamp showing that hackers were starting and finishing their work days on Moscow time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The mistake they made was leaving these time stamps. You get a picture of what actual hours this operator is working and what they come down to is work schedule that fits right in with western Russia's time zone, beside that there are a lot of Russian language artifacts.
SCIUTTO: That means computer code written in the Russian alphabet. They did not let down their guard for new intrusions and by the summer of 2016 they detected fancy bear sniffing out more prey.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's really exciting to catch these guys in the act.
SCIUTTO: The Russian hackers had infiltrated act blue, Democratic Fund Raising website.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They went from a donation system to a server that they owned.
SCIUTTO: (inaudible) Showed us exactly what they found.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the website of the d triple c, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on July 19th, 2016. If you right click and go to view page source, it will bring you the html source. In this case what was interesting is that normally here -- this is a hyperlink. In this case it goes to secure dot app blues with an s.
SCIUTTO: Act Blues with an s had nothing to do with the Democrats and appeared to be a Russian cover. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The second I saw there were emails flying
everywhere, including the targeted organization, we wanted to give them a heads up.
SCIUTTO: It was one more brazen intrusion into the political process.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have high confidence this is a Russian intelligence organization. We've seen so many artifacts, forensic and otherwise that suggest this actor is carrying out Russian intelligence missions.
SCIUTTO: Next what would Russia do with the 10s of thousands of emails they found inside Democratic Party organizations?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were looking to weaponized.
SCIUTTO: As Hillary Clinton opponent Donald Trump gleefully take them on.
TRUMP: WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks.
[23:32:52] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hackers allegedly connected to the Russian government break into the servers of the Democratic National Committee--
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: June 2016.
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Donald Trump is not qualified to be President and commander in chief.
SCIUTTO: Five months to Election Day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Russian hackers manage to infiltrate.
SCIUTTO: And the world is getting the first hint of the deluge of stolen emails and documents to come.
TRUMP: It's a deep breached. No questions about it.
SCIUTTO: A mysterious blogger or bloggers nicknamed Gooseefer 2.0 began posting the first set of stolen documents.
JOHN HULTQUIST, FIREEYE DIRECTOR OF INTELLIGENCE ANALYSIS: They love putting on these false personas and carrying out operations through them.
SCIUTTO: So what was Russia going to do with all the stolen information? Steven hull is the CIA's former station chief.
STEVE HALL, RETIRED CHIEF OF CIA RUSSIAN OPERATIONS: they are looking to weaponized information.
SCIUTTO: Steve Hall is the CIA's former Moscow station chief. HALL: Given my background into the Russian intelligence officer. And
so I can imagine these guys saying can you imagine they're pulling together an influence operation. Somebody said why not. Let's give it a shot.
SCIUTTO: Goosefer 2.0 took its first shot within days of the story breaking of the DNC has been hack. Releasing batches of materials not just from the Democratic National Committee, but from the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic congressional campaign committee, all had been infiltrated by Russian hackers.
HALL: It's the Russian services taking the goal, making something out of it that in turn can be used against their adversaries and in this case the United States and we continue to be their primary enemy.
SCIUTTO: Goosefer 2.0 would soon be joined by other rogue publishers, such as WikiLeaks. Site founded by Julian Assange.
HALL: You want somebody like I don't know, WikiLeaks.
[23:35:00] SCIUTTO: And on July 22nd, WikiLeaks said they would release more than 19,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee.
So in effect you have electronic evidence of a middle man between Russia and WikiLeaks.
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER INTELLIGENCE CHIEF: We were pretty high in our confidence. I'll put it that way.
SCIUTTO: WikiLeaks however continues to deny receiving the hacked documents from Russia. Just three days before the start of the Democratic Party convention, the stolen emails would suggest that top leaders of the Democratic National Committee were biased in favor of Hillary Clinton and against Bernie Sanders for the Party's nomination.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right everybody now. Settle down.
SCIUTTO: The chair of the DNC Debbie Wassermann Schultz was forced to resign. The first scout of Russia's influence operation and the press quickly shifted focus towards the controversy. Russia's influence appeared to be having in effect.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there any direct reaction coming from the protesters about this shake up in the DNC?
SCIUTTO: A delighted Donald Trump tweeted "the new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC emails which never should have been written, stupid, because Putin likes me and now he took the alarming step of egging the Russians on to hack Hillary Clinton's private email server.
TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.
SCIUTTO: Trump was not alone in his circle celebrating the Russian hacks.
TRUMP: WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks.
SCIUTTO: One supporter in particular, the long-time conspiracy theorist, Roger Stone hinted that he had advanced knowledge of the releases, raising question for the first time of possible cooperation between Trump associates and Russia.
ROGER STONE, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LONG-TIME ASSOCIATE: I actually have communicated. I believe the documents pertain to the Clinton foundation but there's no telling what the October surprise may be.
SCIUTTO: In October roger stone once again seemed to signal advanced knowledge of WikiLeaks plans tweeting quote Wednesday, Hillary Clinton is done, #WikiLeaks.
JOHN PODESTA, CLINTON'S CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: There seems to be some contact between forces closely associate would the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks. It certainly seemed like an interesting coincidence.
SCIUTTO: Later Stone denied speaking with Assange directly or colluding with the Russians. As for the Russian President himself Vladimir Putin laughed at the idea of Russian involvement in an interview with Bloomberg news.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don't know anything about that.
CLAPPER: I did have a very visceral feeling in the pit of my stomach that I thought this was a really serious thing. An assault on the very heart of our democracy and that is one of the reasons I felt so strongly about putting out the statement we did in October.
SCIUTTO: On October 7th, one month and one day before the election, U.S. Intelligence agencies publicly named and shamed Russia. Their statement read quote the U.S. Intelligence community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from U.S. persons and institutions. Coming up the release of stolen emails accelerate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Emails, emails, emails.
[23:43:00] SCIUTTO: John Podesta, chair of the Hillary Clinton campaign will never forget October 7th, 2016.
PODESTA: Early in the morning the Director of homeland security and the Director of national intelligence released a statement that the Russians were actively interfering in the election. Later in the day the access Hollywood tape came out.
TRUMP: She was married.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And of course everyone's attention turned to what Donald Trump had been saying to Billy Bush on that bus.
TRUMP: I'm automatically attracted to beautiful -- it's like a magnet.
SCIUTTO: A break for the Clinton campaign. That is until just moments later.
PODESTA: Within minutes. I think 23 minutes later the first of the emails was posted to WikiLeaks with a post saying we have the contents of his email system and we're going to release them all in the course of the campaign.
SCIUTTO: That is the entire contents of John Podesta's private account, totaling more than 50,000 emails. Once again the source of the email trove was WikiLeaks. And Democrats and later the U.S. Intelligence Committee suspected the release had been timed for maximum impact.
Do you have any doubt those two events that day, the access Hollywood tape and the release soon after of your emails --
PODESTA: It's a pretty massive coincidence they would choose to pull the trigger on a Friday evening when they'd been sitting on it for a while.
CLINTON: No, I have nothing to say about WikiLeaks other than I think we should all be concerned about what the Russians are trying to do to our election.
SCIUTTO: That Friday night email dump was just the first of many.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is Russia behind these hacks.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A brand new batch of emails posted by WikiLeaks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Emails.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Emails.
SCIUTTO: And those releases quickly became a dominant story line of the campaign.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Emails.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Emails.
[23:45:10] CLAPPER: Russians are pretty intense observers of what goes on in this country and try to both collect information on it and as we saw where they can, exploit it.
SCIUTTO: Russia's exploitation would expand to new targets. A long - time Hillary Clinton confident was on her transition team.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think I saw the name on one of the TVs and I was like, what happen?
SCIUTTO: The internal and sometimes critical comments on the campaign revealed to the world. In one email conversation with Podesta, Tannen says quote Hillary, god, her instincts are suboptimal. On the campaign trail, Donald Trump eagerly attempted to take advantage of the stolen emails quoting them or attempting to in the third Presidential debate.
TRUMP: Now John Podesta said you have terrible instincts, Bernie Sanders said you have bad judgment. I agree with both.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I still remember watching the TV and wanting to put my head under pillow.
SCIUTTO: The releases of the stolen Clinton campaign emails and memos continue right up to and even beyond Election Day.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were getting dumped day in and day out and every morning I basically woke up with dread for what's next.
SCIUTTO: Inside the White House sometimes bitter debate was unfolding. Some senior advisors including Secretary of State John Kerry pushed for a more robust response, including stiffer economic sanctions. But abroad the President feared escalation with Russia and at home charged with influencing the election.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At time when anything said by me or anybody in the White House would be seen through a partisan lens. I wanted to make sure that everybody understood we were playing this thing straight.
SCIUTTO: As the election approached, the Obama administration greatest fear was that Russia would disrupt actual voting systems. The fear is so great that President Obama warned President Putin face to face at the G20 meeting in China.
OBAMA: I felt the most effective way to insure that didn't happen was to tell him directly and tell him to cut it out or there would be serious consequences if he didn't.
SCIUTTO: Later Obama made use of a secure direct messaging system to the Kremlin similar to emails originally intended to avert nuclear war, this time to warn Putin again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. CNN projects that Donald Trump will carry the state of North Carolina and CNN projects Donald Trump will carry the state of Florida. CNN projects Donald Trump wins the presidency.
SCIUTTO: How damaging was this to the Clinton campaign?
PODESTA: Look, it was our job to win and we didn't do it. What went into that? A lot of things. And we bare our own sense of responsibility for that. But I think it was an important element of electing Donald Trump and I think Russians got what they paid for.
SCIUTTO: After Election Day was growing urgency, the Obama administration finally retaliated. Closing Russian compounds in the U.S. believed to be used for spying. Expelling some 35 Russian diplomats and imposing more sanctions on Russia. In secret Mr. Obama considered taking more aggressive steps, including initiating a plan to place cyber weapons inside critical Russian systems. For potential activation if Russia were to attack again. Next was President Trump also in Russia's cross hairs, the emergence of a mysterious dossier.
CLAPPER: We thought it was important that he know about it.
[23:58:22] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In my best of ability, pre serve, protect and defend --
TRUMP: Preserve, protect and defend --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The constitution of the United States.
TRUMP: The constitution of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So help me God.
TRUMP: So help me God.
SCIUTTO: By the time Donald Trump took the oath of office, the U.S. Intelligence community had assessed with confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered an influence campaign, aimed at undermining the U.S. Presidential election.
Why the level of confidence there?
CLAPPER: I'll just say it was multiple sources. And that all of us, the three agency heads and myself, were very high in our confidence that the direction and orchestration of this came from the highest levels of the Russian government.
SCIUTTO: What is your U.S. Intelligence community's understanding of Russia?
CLAPPER: It's not perfect but it's pretty good.
SCIUTTO: So good, in fact, as first reported by the "Washington Post," that the U.S. had sourcing deep inside the Russian government, detailing Putin's direct involvement.
HALL: You would have been Russian policy officers saying this is a chance to strike at one of the founding notions. One of the under partnership of liberal democracy which is our number one enemy of the world.
SCIUTTO: And multiple sources say the U.S. Spy agencies went further determining again with confidence the Kremlin had a more ambitious aim. Discrediting Hillary Clinton and helping Donald Trump.
[23:55:06] CLAPPER: I think it is pretty clear, if there was a prospect that he might win, that clearly wanted to influence the election in favor of him because they thought they could make deals with him.
SCIUTTO: One compelling reason for that judgment is that Russia had also hacked into the e-mails and files of Republican Party organizations and individuals. Including members of congress, but crucially did not release the bulk of that information.
Do you think they see their interference in this election as a success?
CLAPPER: I do. No way to gauge whether from the intelligence community's perspective, what effect it has, but regardless I feel sure they consider it a success.
SCIUTTO: Russian officials repeatedly and vehemently denied any interference in the U.S. Election, until earlier this month, seven months after Election Day. President Putin for the first time opened the door to Russian involvement.
TRANSLATOR: Hackers are free spirited people. If they are patriotically minded they make their own contribution to what they belief is the good fight against those who speak badly about Russia. Is that possible? Theoretically, it's possible.
SCIUTTO: It was a startling and frank revelation. Still more alarming questions remain unanswered today. Most prominent among them, did Russia have help from anyone inside the Trump campaign? The possibility of collusion remains a subject of congressional and now special counsel investigations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you stand by your testimony that there is an active investigation -- counter intelligence investigation, regarding Trump campaign individuals and the Russian government as to whether or not they collaborated?
JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: To see if there was any coordination between the Russian effort --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. Is that still going on?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So nothing has changed. You stand by those would statements.
SCIUTTO: Another continuing question for investigators, does Russia hold information that could be damaging to Donald Trump if made public? The collection of such compromising material in Russian is standard operating procedure for Russian spy services.
HALL: It is almost impossible to believe they wouldn't have collected on Donald Trump. He would have been a really rich guy who might come in handy at some point if you need him down the road. The easiest way to make people more malleable is if you have some dirt on them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This information was provided as part of last week's classified intelligence briefings.
SCIUTTO: The nation's senior most intelligence officials took possibility of potentially compromising information seriously enough to brief both then President-Elect Donald Trump and then President Obama on the existence of a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent and funded by Trump's political opponents. News first reported by CNN. In conversations described in the dossier, Russian officials and others claim to have personally and financially compromising information on Trump.
Can you tell us your thinking as to why you included a summary of the now famous dossier on the President-Elect and the President?
CLAPPER: Well, we thought that it was important that he know about it. That was the main point. Not to comment on the veracity.
SCIUTTO: So what happens the next time Americans vote? Lawmakers of both parties and the senior most intelligence officials are unanimous in their answer. Russia will strike American democracy again.
COMEY: It is not about Republicans and Democrats. They're coming after America. They want to undermine our credibility in the face of the world and they'll be back, because we remain that shining city on a hill and they don't like it.
SCIUTTO: Is there any reason to believe Russia is not right now today he continuing to attempt to, or to infiltrate U.S. Political organizations?
CLAPPER: I'm quite sure they are. I think it is in their DNA, during the soviet era or now.
SCIUTTO: A return to the cold war, this time in cyberspace with a direct and ongoing threat to American democracy, even the soviets never matched.