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Trump Campaign Asked WikiLeaks for Clinton E-Mails; Interview With Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker; Veteran Journalist Accused of Sexual Harassment. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 26, 2017 - 3:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: The communication was about how WikiLeaks could help this firm campaign -- firm is called Campaign (ph) Analytica -- actually access the 33,000 e-mails deleted from Hillary Clinton private e-mail server.

Julian Assange not only corroborated the interaction via Twitter. He added this.

Let me read this for you. He said: "And can confirm it was rejected by WikiLeaks."

Clinton's deleted e-mails have no so far not resurfaced and sources are not clear whether Alexander Nix, the CEO of this campaign, Campaign (ph) Analytica, actually reached out to WikiLeaks before or after his firm was hired by the Trump campaign.

So let's go through this in detail. I have got Chris Cillizza joining us, CNN politics reporter and editor at large, Jeffrey Toobin, our CNN chief legal analyst and former federal prosecutor.

Just beginning with you on the legality of this, do we know at all if the Trump campaign broke any laws?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: We certainly do not. That's important.

BALDWIN: OK.

TOOBIN: But I think a lot of people find these stories very confusing.

BALDWIN: It's a little wonky.

TOOBIN: Exactly.

Let me see if I can just sort of break this down a little bit.

BALDWIN: Hit me.

TOOBIN: You have the Trump campaign and Cambridge Analytica, which is the data firm affiliated with it.

And we know the Trump campaign has -- was friendly towards Russia, candidate Trump saying lots of nice thing about Putin, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: We have the Russian government, which was interested in helping Trump win.

BALDWIN: Yes.

TOOBIN: But the investigations are all about is whether there was any connection between the two, any so-called collusion.

And what makes the Daily Beast scoop so important is that it establishes a contact between Cambridge Analytica, the Trump data firm, and Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, which was clearly in some way affiliated, associated with the Russian government in releasing e- mails.

Doesn't prove any illegality, but it does begin to establish a possible tie between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

BALDWIN: Well done.

TOOBIN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Would you like to sit here instead?

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: No. No. I couldn't possibly--.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: So, in terms of breaking laws, we don't--

TOOBIN: Right.

This is one of the key things about this collusion investigation. It's not clear what federal crimes might be committed. It could be aiding and abetting hacking. It could be some sort of money laundering. But collusion itself is a pejorative word, but there is no crime in the federal code called collusion.

BALDWIN: OK. OK. Hang with me. I have two more voices.

Gloria Borger is with us. Michael Zeldin is with us here as well, former adviser to Bob Mueller, the special counsel here in this investigation.

And so I know you have all been listening to the very bright Mr. Toobin here explaining all of this to everyone else.

Michael Zeldin, would you agree on the legality we just -- how do you see this?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I see it similar to Jeffrey, with one caveat, which is that the WikiLeaks which was solicited was stolen material.

It's not in any question that this is stolen material. And when you have a campaign or a cut-out of a campaign saying can you give me stolen material or can we participate in the distribution of stolen material, I think that it implicates the anti-hacking statute. I think that it implicates the possibly of defrauding the Federal Election Commission, of the integrity of the election.

So I think there is closer connections to crime, conspiracy, aiding and abetting, receiving stolen property, and general defrauding the integrity of our election process then maybe Jeffrey thinks. But that's how I see it.

BALDWIN: Do you want to respond?

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: It could be. It could. I just think the evidence isn't there yet.

I'm sorry, Gloria. Go ahead.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I was just going to say, isn't there also a question of who directed Alexander Nix, who was the person who sent the e-mail, to do this? Was it at the behest of anybody in the campaign? Was it at the behest of anybody funding the campaign?

You know, it seems to me that somebody who is an operative doing analytics for a campaign would have a hard time doing this on his own. So would that make a difference?

ZELDIN: Well, it does, yes.

And it also is part of a pattern. Remember, Nix is not the only one who is reaching out for this data. It's alleged that General Flynn is. It's alleged that his son is. That Don Jr. meeting on June 9 is.

So there are a lot of people reaching out for this data, which is a lot of touch points to the campaign.

BORGER: Right.

ZELDIN: And it's hard to say that these people are all acting independent of the campaign. It sort of defies credulity in some respects.

Jeffrey is right, you have to prove it, but to me there's just too many red flags, too many coincidences to just chalk this up to just two distinct organizations operating in tandem.

(CROSSTALK)

[15:05:03]

BALDWIN: OK. Let me -- Chris, I want to get you in this, and then I want to get to the administration response, right, this Glassner statement, because the key thing that's missing in -- Michael Glassner, who was the campaign executive director, they issue this whole statement.

There is zero mention of Cambridge Analytica or WikiLeaks. We can flash the statement up on the screen. Also, you have Jared Kushner, who oversaw the campaign's data analysis.

He told "Forbes" magazine last November that the campaign relied on both the RNC and Cambridge Analytica's operations. So, which is it?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: again, that quote from Michael Glassner is sort of red herring sort of stuff.

It's essentially saying -- it's denying something that wasn't alleged, which is they said we used the voter data from the RNC. The issue has nothing to do with that. The issue is was Cambridge Analytica under the employ of the Trump campaign when Alexander Nix reached out to Julian Assange about the e-mails, the deleted Hillary Clinton e-mails?

That's not addressed by the Glassner statement in any way, shape or form. The timing to me -- I always defer to Toobin in legal stuff because he's about a million times smarter than me.

But the timing politically matters, because, yes, Michael makes the point there's all these people, all players moving around and how could it not happen. But I do think if Cambridge Analytica was being paid by the Trump campaign at the same time that this guy reached out to Julian Assange, that seems to me, that timing issue seems to me to matter a lot in terms of where we go from here.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: If I could just add. Sorry, Gloria, go ahead.

BORGER: We know they were being paid $6 million by the campaign.

And we know because many of us who were covering the campaign dealt with people from Cambridge Analytica all the time who were happy to talk about what they were seeing and the kind of research that they were doing for Trump.

So, we know, yes, the RNC had quite an operation going, and the RNC was happy to talk about them. But these people worked in tandem. And we know that for a fact because we dealt with them all the time.

TOOBIN: And I think sometimes we can miss like what is right in front of our eyes.

Remember, Donald Trump was staying on the stump, I love WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: So the idea that there might be some connection between his campaign and WikiLeaks is not highly improbable, right?

CILLIZZA: I still remember, by the way -- I still remember sitting in a coffee shop in Philadelphia before the sort of day's program at the Democratic National Convention got under way, when he famously said, Russia, can you find those e-mails?

I mean, it's not as though we have to connect that many dots in terms of -- you know, I mean, he said it publicly.

BALDWIN: Last July.

CILLIZZA: In a very high-profile format.

ZELDIN: And then you also have Peter Smith, and that whole reach-out from him, and his unfortunate death that will deny us true knowledge of what happened, but that's another actor who is making the same overtures to get information to use against their political rival, Hillary Clinton, that is.

BALDWIN: OK. Let me hit pause on this very smart conversation, because we have more I need all of you to analyze.

We have some breaking news coming in now from our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu, what's your scoop?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right.

We are now learning that John Podesta, the former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman, as well as the former Democratic National Committee campaign chairwoman both met privately with the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month.

Actually, Debbie Wasserman Schultz met around October. Podesta met in September. Both discussed the Fusion GPS issue about the funding that led to the creation of this Trump dossier.

Now , they were asked explicitly at this interview, we are told, about whether they had any knowledge of the Clinton campaign or the Democratic National Committee in funding this opposition research that led to this dossier. They both denied having any knowledge whatsoever.

In fact, Podesta, we are told, said that he had no knowledge if there was any sort of contractual relationship between the Clinton campaign and Fusion GPS, which is the firm that led to the production of that Trump dossier.

Now, of course, we have now learned this week that the Clinton campaign and the DNC did pay for that Fusion GPS.

But, Brooke, it had actually retained a separate law firm to actually go ahead and retain Fusion GPS as a client, giving it some deniability.

[15:10:01]

Now, what is also interesting here, Brooke, is that the attorney who did retain Fusion GPS as a client, Marc Elias, was sitting alongside John Podesta during this interview in which Podesta denied having any knowledge of having Clinton campaign ties to Fusion GPS.

Now, Elias was not a witness and he did not have to answer any questions about his own knowledge about Fusion GPS' ties. But the firm, that law firm has now just said that they told their clients, the Clinton campaign and the DNC, that they had worked with Fusion GPS, they had retained them as a client to develop this dossier.

And so this all is part of this larger effort by -- Republicans want to scrutinize this a lot further. The president, of course, has said that this is a Democratic-funded effort to undermine his campaign.

Of course, Republicans had paid Fusion GPS during the primary season.

But a new development here, John Podesta and Debbie Wasserman Schultz privately telling the Senate Intelligence Committee that they had no knowledge of the DNC and the Clinton campaign having any ties to Fusion GPS -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK. OK. That's a lot. I know we are throwing a lot at the viewer.

So let's just step back two seconds. And I have got my panel.

Manu, thank you so much for all of that.

These are two separate stories. Right? I just want to make this crystal-clear. These are two separate stories. Cambridge Analytica, Trump campaign, WikiLeaks, Assange, one category. Fusion GPS, anti- Trump Republicans, Clinton campaign, DNC, dossier. OK?

Two stories. And that was information on the latter from Manu.

And so, Jeff Toobin, I'm going to start with you again on this.

The fact is, as we just heard this week on reporting on the fact that it was ultimately -- what became this dossier, this now famous dossier, that the DNC and Clinton campaign paid for it, right? They wanted this information, this opposition research.

Podesta, Debbie Wasserman Schultz are saying didn't know anything about it.

TOOBIN: This is very peculiar.

First of all, I think, just big picture, people need to know there is nothing wrong for paying investigators for opposition research. Republicans did it with this same firm. And then apparently the Clinton's campaign did it.

(CROSSTALK) TOOBIN: What's bizarre here is why the Clinton campaign didn't just say that they did. And did John Podesta and Debbie Wasserman Schultz really not know? And why didn't Marc Elias just say it?

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: I find the disclosure here peculiar.

But the underlying issue is not all that complicated, but just, like, why didn't they say that they had paid for this research?

BALDWIN: Michael Zeldin, do you find it peculiar?

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Go ahead.

ZELDIN: No, not in the same way that Jeffrey does.

I see it this way. Firstly, Perkins Coie, the law firm, also said to its spokeswoman that the DNC and the Clinton campaign knew nothing of the hiring of Fusion GPS. Brian Fallon, who was then spokeswoman for the campaign, said the same thing.

So the whole campaign and the law firm have said that the Clinton campaign and DNC didn't know anything about it. What does that mean? It means probably that the DNC and Clintons had Perkins Coie on retainer to do a whole host of things.

And one of those things was probably opposition research. So Perkins Coie I think on its own hires Fusion GPS to see whether it can find stuff. So I don't -- the one thing I disagree with, with Manu's sort of statement is, I don't Perkins Coie as a cut-out. I just see them as consultants hired by the campaign to do research and report back to the campaign as they see fit.

I think that Jeffrey is right that, if they knew about this, they should have been a little bit more transparent about it. But I don't see this as cut-outs and deceitfulness on the part of the Clintons or the DNC.

I just see it as normal consultants being hired to do work to develop work product, and then give it to their client if relevant.

BORGER: So, in the world of -- in the dark world of opposition research, which is key to any campaign, and candidates very often start by having people do opposition research on themselves, so they will know what's coming at them, for example.

What you want to do, I assume, is establish an awful lot of distance between the candidate and the people close to the candidate and the people who are doing the opposition research.

So, a law firm might hire a firm like Fusion GPS to do opposition research and, if it is useful, eventually, it will make its way up the ladder. And at some point, the candidate may know about it, but may not even know where it came from.

[15:15:08]

What you want to do is keep the candidate with a certain amount of deniability. And I think that this is the way it works.

And the question that I have is, how far up the chain -- we don't know the answer to this -- did what was in the Steele memo, how far up the chain that go in the Democratic -- in Hillary Clinton's campaign?

BALDWIN: Go ahead, Chris.

CILLIZZA: I'm with Gloria on the point of insulating the candidate. They all do that.

BORGER: Sure.

CILLIZZA: But the thing we are talking about here is Podesta.

I get Michael's point that, yes, they were on retainer. But someone -- this is her campaign. You have to be answerable for it, what they do. They were being paid through her campaign.

So what Marc Elias did through Perkins Coie matters. Whether she knew about it or Podesta knew about it, someone should have known about it.

The thing I will say, in Wasserman Schultz's defense, the Podesta thing, I think I'm with Jeff. Sort of it's odd to me wouldn't know or he shouldn't have known. It's possible he didn't know, but as the campaign chairman, you would think he did know.

On Debbie Wasserman Schultz, let's remember the DNC -- she was sort of the DNC chair in name only for most of that campaign. They talked about potentially removing her. They decided not to.

She was pushed out of the convention after the WikiLeaks stuff came out.

I could see her being sort of out of the loop, in that they kept her in that role as a functionary, but, operationally, she wasn't involved day-to-day.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: But, sometimes, sometimes, you hire these firms to disseminate this information to people like us and have us pursue it.

They will say, OK, I have a tip for you about Donald Trump, X, Y, Z, and that may be the firm's job, which is just to get this stuff out there in the ether to feed this information about Donald Trump or about his family or about his campaign, get it out there in the media, have the media write stories about it, give them tips.

And it may not be anything that a candidate herself would ever use.

(CROSSTALK) TOOBIN: Let's just look at this from the perspective of the Senate Intelligence Committee. They ask straightforward question of the people affiliated with the Clinton campaign, John Podesta.

They say, did you pay for -- wait -- did you pay this study?

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: And John Podesta and company says no. Well, the answer apparently is yes.

BORGER: Yes.

TOOBIN: Now, there is something wrong there. I mean, Congress is entitled to accurate information.

BORGER: I agree with that.

TOOBIN: And even if -- it sounds like if the answer was yes, the response may have been, so what? That's what campaigns do.

But if the answer given to Congress is incorrect, that's just not right.

That's just not how the system is supposed to work.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: We have got to end there. I appreciate everyone jumping in. It was a really bright and full conversation. We are going to end it on Toobin and Congress should know.

Thank you all so very much. I appreciate every single one of you here.

We have got to move on.

Coming up here on CNN, the Pentagon holding a classified briefing today about the deadly ambush against the U.S. troops there in Niger. We will talk to someone who was actually just in that classified briefing. That will come next.

Also, a veteran journalist stepping down after five women allege sexual harassment. How NBC Mark Halperin is responding to these accusations.

Also today, five decades after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, President Trump is expected to release classified documents that have been held from the public eye for decades. We will look ahead to what could be revealed.

You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:23:21] BALDWIN: You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

CNN is getting more clarity today about what happened in the hours before that ambush attack in Niger that resulted in the death of these four American soldiers.

Accompanied by troops from Niger, U.S. military officials tell CNN that these soldiers were gathering intelligence on a terror leader. They came under attack on their way back to the operating base when they stopped in a village to enable Nigerian troops to replenish resupplies. They also met with local leaders as a courtesy.

A remotely piloted drone arrived overhead within a couple of minutes of requests for help, but was unable to carry out airstrikes because it wasn't armed. Five Nigerian soldier were also killed.

The Senate Armed Services Committee received a classified briefing today from the Pentagon.

And my next guest is senior member of that committee.

He is Republican Senator Roger Wicker, who is with me now.

Senator, thank you so, so much for the time.

SEN. ROGER WICKER (R), MISSISSIPPI: Hello, Brooke. Glad to be with you.

BALDWIN: All right, so I know there is a lot you can't say, as this was a classified briefing.

WICKER: That's right.

BALDWIN: But of the information that you can, how can you describe to us what you learned today?

WICKER: Well, I think you have given a pretty good gist of what happened.

Let me just say, in a general sense, I think we're right to be there. And we have some 800 troops in Niger. About 100 of them are Special Operations. And they are there in the American national interest. They are assisted greatly by our French allies and by British allies.

And what we are doing is trying to prevent this area of Africa from becoming another staging ground, another training ground for terrorist groups like Boko Haram and al Qaeda.

[15:25:10]

So, if we want to prevent another 9/11 being staged from a place like Afghanistan, we need to be where we are now in Africa. And so I think it's an important mission. And we got specific details about this tragedy, but also some overall guidance about where we are in the region.

BALDWIN: Senator, I just jotted down what you said off the top there. You said we are right to be there.

WICKER: Yes, ma'am.

BALDWIN: Do you think we should have a greater presence there, based upon what you know?

WICKER: Well, we're going to listen to the generals on that.

But we are there in a train, assist and advise capacity. We are not there to have combat troops. And, clearly, if we are fired upon, as we were in this situation, we are going to engage and defend ourselves.

But we continue to listen to the top experts in the Pentagon. And when they say we need something to get the mission done and prevent terrorism from coming to our shores, we will listen to these generals and give them what they need, give our troops what they need.

BALDWIN: Senator Wicker, obviously, there were questions, and I'm sure you all asked, about this 48 hours later, when Sergeant La David Johnson's body was found. He was separated from the team. Found about a mile away. Did you get any clarity into why that was?

WICKER: No, we didn't, actually, no.

BALDWIN: Were those questions asked?

WICKER: And the clarity we got is that the Pentagon acknowledges that they need to drill down more on that particular question and get back to us, get back to the families.

The information that we have indicates that he was killed in that exchange. And it wasn't some hours later or some days later. But we don't have that information. And they are not able to tell us.

But I know they owe it to the families and to the American people to get better information, and I expect they will. I thought that they were being very forthright with us. They told us what they knew and they told us what we still had questions about. Still need to dig further.

BALDWIN: We heard from the president yesterday and he addressed this. And he said he himself did not specifically authorize this particular mission in Niger, but that he had given his generals the authority to make these sorts of calls. Is that at all a concern for you?

WICKER: Well, this particular exercise was -- it turned into kinetic activity when they were fired upon. But, certainly, the commander in chief knows that we have troops in the Lake Chad area, and he knows exactly why we are there.

And why we are there is to fight international terrorism and to protect Americans here in the homeland. So, that particular event would not have required authorization. Our folks were attacked and they fired back. And tragedy happened. Let me also add, I heard today on one of the news stations that these

particular Americans were not highly trained. And I do want to make it clear that that is not accurate. These were Special Operations personnel.

They volunteered for the most dangerous type of military action. And they were highly trained. And they are all the more honored because they stepped forward into something very, very dangerous.

BALDWIN: Absolutely. And we thank them and their families for their service.

WICKER: Absolutely.

BALDWIN: I hope we and the families and you get the information that we are all looking for.

Senator Wicker, I appreciate you. Thank you.

WICKER: They owe us some more information, and I do think we will get it.

BALDWIN: They do. Keep asking for it. Thank you, Senator, very much.

WICKER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next here, veteran journalist Mark Halperin of NBC News is out today after five women accused him of sexual harassment. CNN has his response to this.

Also, 50 years after his assassination, President Trump is set to allow the release of highly anticipated government files on what happened to JFK -- details on what we are expecting moments from now.