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Clinton State Department Aide Involved in Clinton Foundation; DNC Forms Advisory Board After Email Breach; Trump "Fine" With Sending U.S. Citizens to GITMO; Trump: My Calling Obama ISIS Founder Was "Sarcasm". 1:30-2p ET

Aired August 12, 2016 - 13:31   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: A CNN investigation has found new information involving ties between the Clinton Foundation and one of Hillary Clinton's top staffers at the State Department. During Hillary Clinton's time as secretary of State of chief of staff, Cheryl Mills traveled to interview two candidates for a top job at the Clinton Foundation.

The campaign spokesman, Brian Fallon, released this statement, quote, "Cheryl volunteered her personal time to a charitable organization as she has to other charities. Cheryl paid for her travel to New York City personally.

And it was clear to all involved that this had nothing to do with her official duties. The idea that this poses a conflict of interest is absurd. Joining us now to discuss, the CNN Political Commentator and former adviser to President Obama, Van Jones.

Van, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: But you see the commotion that's generated, the appearance that maybe this wasn't the right thing for a sitting secretary of state's chief of staff to do, to go to New York and -- and interview two candidates for top jobs at the Clinton Foundation.

JONES: Look, you know, I've been -- I've been tougher on Hillary Clinton than most Democrats. I've gotten a lot of flack(ph) for that. And I'll keep being tough on her when I think it's wrong.

This, I just don't get. I really don't get this one. It's almost impossible to imagine what could -- what bad thing could happen if a government official goes and helps a charity hire a good person. Helping a charity hire a good person is what we often want a big official to do.

You love it when the mayor or the deputy mayor sits in on that advisory committee and helps out. Suddenly, anything that involves the Clinton Foundation is by definition a scandal, even nothing bigger (ph) like this.

Because when she became the secretary of state, she said, you know, she would -- she would sever her ties with the Clinton Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative and focus on...


BLITZER: ...simply being secretary of state.


BLITZER: And -- and in this particular case, her chief of staff was also focusing at least part of her time on -- on seeing who should get a job at the Clinton Foundation.

JONES: Yes, but I mean, OK, so I still don't get the foul there. So she says I'm going to sever ties. I'm going to work on these things or whatever.

But people often, when you're in public life, if you're a government official, you often volunteer. You do charitable stuff. The fact that her chief of staff -- not her -- it's not like she's going over, and making hires -- I don't think people are being honest about how these networks work.

You -- you know a bunch of people. You work together. You're on this committee together. You're in that committee (ph) together. You go golfing, you -- whatever.

And so you -- somebody picks up the phone and say, hey, listen, we've got to make a hire. You're smart. Come help me.

BLITZER: Well, part of the argument...

JONES: I just don't get -- well, how is this going to destroy America because somebody helps somebody...

BLITZER: You've -- you've heard the argument from the critics. And she's got a lot of critics...


BLITZER: ...out there who say, you know what, some individuals wanted to give a lot of money to the Clinton Foundation or the Clinton Global Initiative because they had business interests, that a secretary of state could help them with investments in the United States or elsewhere around the world. Just to be on the safe side, keep -- keep a line of separation, a wall, if you will, between these two very -- because the secretary of state, you can direct AID money.


BLITZER: You can -- you can -- you can make decisions...

JONES: Now, listen, now that stuff (ph)...

BLITZER: ...that could be beneficial to some wealthy billionaire in Europe or Asia or Africa or someplace else.

JONES: On that stuff, even the appearance of in impropriety on that stuff is very bad. We beat Trump up everyday and we should beat him up everyday because he's not careful with his words and words matter.

I think people who are tough on Hillary Clinton say, even if you weren't wrong, there's some appearances here, it's fine to put pressure on her for that. But on this one, whereas literally, just one of your staffers goes and helps to hire somebody, I think it's a much to do (ph) about nothing.

And it's just trying to drive this narrative that the Clinton Foundation is some scandal-prone thing when, in fact, they've done a lot of good. There's a lot of people who are alive in the world today because the Clinton Foundation helped on aids and water.

I just think sometimes, you know, it's just much to do about nothing.

BLITZER: There is no doubt that a lot of the work that the Clinton Global Initiative has done, has saved lives in Africa and South America, elsewhere around the world. I know he's been very involved in Haiti as well. God knows, those -- the folks over there need a lot of help.

JONES: Needs help (ph) with that (ph).

BLITZER: But it's just this appearance, this -- this separation...


BLITZER: ...big-time billionaires around the world give money to the Clinton Foundation.


BLITZER: Then they look for a favor from the State Department to help them in some investments that they have. And...


JONES: Hey, listen, that proves -- now, listen, here is the deal. There is concerns about that. The FBI looked into it. Some people in the FBI said, I think we should investigate more.

The Department of Justice says not (ph). Listen, all of that stuff, even those out there, not of that's been proved. So even the stuff that's serious hasn't been proved.

This is literally one of our government officials going to help a charity hire a good person, not a bad person. We should have more...


BLITZER: You saw those (ph)...

JONES: of our government officials doing...

BLITZER: ...that they were (ph)...

JONES: ...what Cheryl did was good. I mean, can we live in the real world? Helping a charity hire a good person is good. I wish more government officials would go out there and help these not-for- profits.

BLITZER: There were some FBI field officers that wanted a formal investigation.


JONES: Yes, some wanted more. Some didn't.

BLITZER: Department of Justice said, not -- not necessarily.

JONES: And en the Department of Justice crush it. That is totally normal because the -- the DOJ reviews all this stuff. I'm going to say something about that, too. People -- oh, we'll see the FBI, they want to investigate. But th

You've got a lot of good FBI folks out there. But listen, they're prosecutors. They're investigators. They want to go after people. Sometimes you can make a name for yourself.

The Department of Justice is supposed to make sure there's not overzealous prosecution for political purposes as well. So a lot of this stuff, guys, you know, you whip it up. You whip it up.

And when you look at it, there's -- it's a big-nothing burger. Cheryl did the right thing. I'm glad she did it.

BLITZER: All right.

JONES: I wish more did -- people did it.

BLITZER: Van Jones, thanks very much.

JONES: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, the hacking of DNC e-mails has raised serious concerns over cyber security here in the United States. A ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, the ranking member, Congressman Adam Schiff, he's standing by live. We'll discuss when we come back.


BLITZER: The hacking of Democratic National Committee e-mails created a firestorm of controversy and wreaked havoc on the opening of the Democratic Convention. Congressman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was forced to resign as the chair of the Democratic National Committee.

And it also cost three other top staffers their jobs. But it appears the damage does not necessarily stop there. The e-mail breach may be a lot bigger than originally thought. As a result, a cyber security advisory board, now being created, this statement just issued, I'll read it to you.

"The DNC will be providing appropriate notice to affected individuals next week. Those individuals receiving the data breach notice also will receive offers of assistance to help mitigate any threats to their financial security."

Let's discuss what the U.S. Intelligence Committee knows about this hack and where it's going. The Ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, from California is joining us.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: So this is a lot bigger than this DNC, the DCCC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, maybe individual Democrats out there, they were hacked as well?

SCHIFF: Well, I can't go into the specifics. But you can imagine, if the DNC was hacked, that it could expose all kinds of e-mails, financial information, whatever was in the possession of the DNC, or whatever information you could migrate to from DNC computers. So I wouldn't be surprised to see a fairly broad notice by the DNC people who may be affected.

BLITZER: Yesterday, Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House, said, Russia did this cyber attack. She said it flatly, publically. Can you confirm that?

SCHIFF: You know, I can always say, on the basis of very public information, it certainly seems that a lot of those indicators point straight at the kremlin. Russia has been known to engage in this kind of activity in the past. They have the means of doing it.

They have the motive to do it. Ultimately, it'll be up to the present administration to make attribution. Senator Feinstein and I have urged the administration to do that attribution publically when they have the requisite confidence and the intel because I think it's one of the important ways of deterring this kind of meddling in our affairs again.

BLITZER: Because you wrote this letter -- you and Senator Dianne Feinstein, California. I'll put it up on the screen. "If true, and if Russia made the material available to WikiLeaks for release, then the episode will represent an unprecedented attempt to meddle in American domestic politics, one that would demands a response."

So what would be, if you confirm a hundred percent it was Russia, they gave the information to WikiLeaks, what would be the appropriate U.S. response?

SCHIFF: Well, I think it all starts with attribution. You have to name and shame the responsible actors. After that, there are a whole range of actions the administration could consider, everything from potentially indicting responsible parties, using the Magnitsky laws to -- to bring about sanctions on individuals, more broad economic sanctions.

So I think it all will start though with a very public attribution of who is behind it. And -- and I think that's the most powerful and certainly the necessary first step to any other consequence.

BLITZER: And you think that (ph) a lot more of these very sensitive e-mails potentially could be released between now and the election in November?

SCHIFF: It's certainly plausible. And we, you know, have seen, if there's a state actor involved here, is the Russians are involved, we have seen them deliberately try to sew chaos in other countries, particular those they view as adversaries. So this would be very consistent with the Russian playbook.

It is unique, though, in such a potentially high profile attack on the United States and the interference with our presidential campaign. That would be unique, and I think an unprecedented effort to interfere in our political process.

BLITZER: Because we heard Robby Mook of the Clinton campaign say, the Russian's motivation is to hurt the Clinton campaign and help Donald Trump.

SCHIFF: Well, I think, they certainly have a very strong interest in seeing Donald Trump be the next president, given all the admiring statements he's made of Putin, the fact that he's willing potentially to walk away from sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, or recognize Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea. So you could see all the reasons why.

But there's another reason, too, that has nothing to do with Trump. And that is he just may want to damage Secretary Clinton because she is a formidable adversary. The Russians always believed that we're interfering in their elections.

So this would be potentially payback for the Russians. So there could be a lot of motivations here.

BLITZER: There is a Reuters report out there that the U.S. intelligence community knew about his hack of the DNC e-mails a year ago but deliberately didn't tell anyone at the DNC because that could have compromised what they call sources and methods, could have undermined U.S. intelligence gathering capabilities. What can you tell us about that?

SCHIFF: Well, first of all (ph), I can't really speak to that. I'm not allowed to comment on what we may have been briefed on. But I can say this, that when the intelligence community is made aware of foreign hacking of U.S. institutions, whether they're government agencies, private parties, nonprofits, they do make an effort to notify, to put these organizations potentially on notice to defend themselves.

Sometimes they're able to share cyber threat information. In fact, we've passed legislation to facilitate that kind of sharing. But they do have to protect sources and methods, although there's usually a way that can be done.

BLITZER: One unrelated issue. Donald Trump is causing some stir in an interview with the Miami Herald. He's now suggesting maybe U.S. citizens who are charged with terrorism should not go to a, you know, court here in the United States but should be sent to Guantanamo Bay to a military tribunal and military commission.

Listen to this exchange that he had.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you try to get the military commissions, the trial court, to try U.S. citizens?

TRUMP: Well, I know that they want to try them in our regular court systems. And I don't like that at all. I don't like that at all. I would say they could be tried there.

That'll be fine.


BLITZER: What do you think, that would be fine...


BLITZER: try American citizens at Guantanamo Bay before a military commission?

SCHIFF: Not at all fine. In fact, I think very much at odds with our Constitution that guarantees U.S. citizens' due process. So I don't think that applies constitutionally.

It reminds me of when Donald Trump said that, well, the Constitution also protects the free exercise of religion. But I don't really believe in that, or something along those lines.

So he seems very free to express views that are at odds with our Constitution. And you know, equally disturbing to me, well, was the recent comments laying responsibility for founding ISIS at the hands of the president and Secretary Clinton.

This feeds right in to a narrative that a lot of people in the region have that ISIS was of our creation because we wanted to turn Muslim against Muslim. It's also part of the Kremlin storyline.

And here is another example of Donald Trump doing damage to our national security interests to try to help his campaign.

BLITZER: He now says he was being sarcastic. He's twitted that this morning.

SCHIFF: That's what he always says at the end of the day.

BLITZER: Adam Schiff, thanks very much for joining us.

SCHIFF: Thank you (ph).

BLITZER: Coming up, Donald Trump is set to take the stage any minute now in Erie, Pennsylvania. A large crowd, of course, has gathered already. And will he clarify his comments on ISIS, on Guantanamo Bay? We're going to check it out live. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Donald Trump has been widely criticized for his repeated claims that President Obama and Hillary Clinton were co-founders of ISIS. Trump said today that he was simply being sarcastic. Let's bring in our National Security Analyst and author of "United States of Jihad," Peter Bergen.

Peter, thanks very much for joining us. You wrote a very important article on People should go read it, the headline, "No, Obama Was Not the Founder of ISIS." Did you ever think you'd have to write an article like that?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: No, but every day brings some, you know, new claim by Donald Trump in this -- in this area. I mean, he's going to give a speech as you know on Monday, laying out his plan to fight what he calls radical Islamic terrorism. And I'm obviously very curious to hear -- h ear what he says.

BLITZER: Supposedly, he's going to specifics and steps that need to be done.

BERGEN: Yes. Well, in particular, it would be useful to know, you know, first of all, he was banning Muslim immigration, that (ph) he was temporarily banning (ph) Muslim immigration. Then there was a ban on countries where terrorism happens.

Now, I'd like to hear, for instance, which countries is he talking about. France has a big terrorism problem. Is he suggesting, for instance, that French citizens should not be able to come to this country?

BLITZER: Or Belgium or other countries where there are...


BERGEN: Or Belgium or Saudis (ph), and you know (ph), pick your country.

BLITZER: The -- the notion, though, of President Obama being a founder ISIS, Hillary Clinton being a co-founder of ISIS, we've heard those accusations from others around the world in recent years.

BERGEN: Yes, and I mean by -- by putting this absurd claim out there, he's kind of disguising what is, after all, an important policy debate about, you know, did we leave Iraq at the end of December 2011, not leaving troops, I mean, could we have done more? Might -- might -- might that have made a difference?

That's a fairly legitimate discussion to have. What is not legitimate is to say that, you know, Hillary Clinton and President Obama were co- founders of ISIS. It makes no sense. BLITZER: Because you heard -- you've heard elements in Russia,

elements in Iran, for example, they've made similar accusations against the president of the United States.

BERGEN: Right, I mean, conspiracy theories are rife (ph) in that part of the world. But I mean, we operate in a fact-based, evidence-based culture. And you know, I mean, I think he's rightly being taken to task for an absurd claim.

BLITZER: But this morning, he tweeted that he was simply being sarcastic.

BERGEN: Well, it's not funny. I mean, accusing the president of the United States of founding ISIS is -- how could that possibly be a subject for amusement or sarcasm?

BLITZER: That if (ph) he's being -- he's being cute or whatever -- he wants to put the issue on the table and get people to -- we heard from one of his advisers say, you know what, this is a way that he can get a serious conversation going.

BERGEN: That's fine if you're an obscure Republican candidate with no chance of becoming president. When you are, though, you know, the -- when you have a possibility of becoming the president of the United States, you have to be much more careful about what you say.

BLITZER: What's the impact of his words out in the -- in the Middle East, for example?

BERGEN: You know -- you know, interesting, I asked this question to a pollster who does a lot of work in the Middle East. And he said, you know, there's (ph) some people in the Middle East like Trump because of his opposition now to the Iraq war, his non-interventionist, that -- that kind of thing.

But they're also sort of puzzled by him.

BLITZER: The Russians would presumably favor him as opposed to Hillary Clinton?

BERGEN: No doubt.

BLITZER: You have no doubt about that?


BLITZER: All right. A lot of people have no doubt about that. Thanks very much, Peter Bergen. Once again, we recommend the article on, "No, Obama Was Not the Founder of ISIS." I recommend people go ahead and read that article.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. Eastern in "The Situation Room." The news continues right after a short break.