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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

CNN: Russia Steps Up Spying Efforts After Election

Aired July 6, 2017 - 19:00   ET

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


[19:00:03] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OutFront next, the breaking news, intelligence sources telling CNN Russia is ramping up espionage activity in the United States nearly 150 suspected Russian spies now believed to be in America. The news coming hours before President Trump's first face-to-face meeting with Vladimir Putin.

Plus Russia wants the U.S. to give back two mansions suspected of housing spies. Will Trump agree?

And a North Korean nuclear missile could hit the west coast in 20 minutes. But is the U.S. ready? Let's go out front.

Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. Out front tonight the breaking news. CNN learning that Russian spies are stepping up their intelligence gathering in the U.S. This is spying that has increased since the election. This is according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials. It comes just hours away from that highly anticipated high stakes first face to face between President Trump and President Putin.

Trump speaking in Poland today used some of his strongest language get to urge Russia to stop "destabilizing activity and support for hostile regimes". But the big question though is this, will Trump confront Putin over the fact that Russia meddled in the 2016 American election?

Well, earlier today, Trump talked about it. He broke with America's intelligence agencies, casting doubt on whether Russia actually meddled.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries and I see nothing wrong with that statement. Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Nobody really knows for sure. Well, the U.S. intelligence community says it knows for sure. In fact, just moments ago right here on CNN the former director of national intelligence, the top spy of the United States, Jim Clapper responded directly to Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, that's news to me. We saw no evidence whatsoever that was anyone involved in this other than the Russians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Couldn't be more clear. The question is whether the president of the United States will turn a blind eye to the newest charges of Russian espionage in the United States. Evan Perez along with Pamela Brown and Shimon Prokupecz broke this story of more Russian spies and an embolden Russia after the election and, Evan, what are you learning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, we're learning that Russian spies are ramping up their intelligence gathering efforts in the United States according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials who say they have noticed an increase since the election. The Russians have not been slowed by retaliatory efforts after it meddled in the U.S. election according to U.S. intelligence community.

Since the election U.S. authorities have detected an uptick in suspected Russian intelligence officers entering the United States under the guides of other business. Official say that they have been replenishing their ranks apparently since the U.S. expelled those 35 Russian diplomats suspected of spying last December.

In some cases, Russian spies have tried to gain employment at places with sensitive information as part of their intelligence gathering efforts. The FBI which is responsible for counter-intelligence efforts in the United States would not comment for the story and the Russian embassy in Washington didn't respond, Erin, to our request for comment.

BURNETT: So if U.S. intelligence knows this, right, Evan, they know this is happening, they believe these are suspected spies. They are saying out of 150 of them, they seem to know a whole lot, why aren't they stopping it?

PEREZ: Well, that's a great question. Look, even after the meddling in the U.S. elections in November, both the Obama and Trump administrations have been kind of slow to take measures to respond to the intelligence threat, according to current and former U.S. officials that we have talked to.

Partisan political agreements over the Russian activity and President Donald Trump's reluctance, as you heard to today, to accept intelligence conclusions about Russia's meddling in the election have slowed the efforts to counter the threat.

Now, we are told that counter-intelligence officials are seeking to keep an eye on this activity. In some cases the FBI uses surveillance to track the suspected Russian intelligence officers as part of their counter intelligence efforts but that's how the U.S. is able to identify and expel those 35 Russian diplomats last December in response to the Russian meddling. We're told that some of the Russian diplomat have actually violated protocol by leaving the Washington, D.C. area without notifying first the state department.

Now, Russia has similar rules in place for U.S. diplomats over there. Another issue, Erin, is this ongoing frustration with the state department over granting of visas to people that the U.S. intelligence committee suspects are intelligence officers. A state department official we spoke to would not comment specifically on those visas. Erin?

BURNETT: All right, thank you very much. They are continuing to issue those visas even to people they suspect are Russian intelligence officers. We will have more on that that in a moment.

I want to go to Jeff Zeleny though right away now. He is out front in Hamburg, Germany, that of course is where Trump is preparing for that meeting tomorrow with the Russian President Putin. And, Jeff, any response from the administration yet on Evan, Pam and Shimon's new reporting?

[19:05:06] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SEIONR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Erin, there is no direct response from the White House on this reporting, but it certainly puts it in a starker context. When we were listening to the president earlier today in Warsaw, Poland declining again the chance to say that Russia did indeed interfere in the 2016 election. Now this is all but a stipulated fact across the government. Republicans on Capitol Hill, Democrats of course, the intelligence community.

The president not only said he believes that it could have been Russia. But he said nobody really knows for sure. No one is sure about this. He sort of leaves it hanging like that. Then he went on to deliver a sharper message against his predecessor and the U.S. intelligence community than Vladimir Putin. But this all could come to a head on Friday here in Hamburg, Germany.

Friday afternoon here, 9:45 Eastern Time he'll be meeting one-on-one for the first time the two presidents here. And we do not expect this interference in the 2016 election to be a centerpiece of this conversation. It is more -- it's being described as a get to know you session. They're going to talk about Syria, other matters. But impossible to believe that this is, A, a sub text of course and this is hanging over this meeting.

We are learning new details of this meeting this evening. It is going to be a very, very small meeting. Sometimes these bilateral meetings have a lot of advisors on either side. That is not the case on this Friday meeting with these two leaders. Secretary of state, Rex Tillerson will be at the president's side, of course, he has a long- standing relationship with the Vladimir Putin. He is a counterpart on the Russian side Sergey Lavrov will also be in the room and translators only.

Now, the meeting is only scheduled to be some 35 to 45 minutes long. And if you factor in translation time --

BURNETT: Yes.

ZELENY: -- on either of that, that cuts that about in half, Erin. So, this is not going to be a full meeting to discuss everything that must be discussed. But the optics of this meeting so important. The president has been planning for it. His advisors, some of them, are a bit worried about this, frankly. Vladimir Putin is now with a lot of leaders, three U.S. president the last one. This is President Trump's first time on this. Not always the best off the cuff here. But again no acknowledgment that Russia playing a central role in this election.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much Jeff Zeleny. I want to go straight now to Ed Markey, the Democratic senator who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee. Good to have you with me, senator. I appreciate your time. The breaking news at this hour, Russia stepping up its spying efforts inside the United States. They have done this since the election. There's now about 150 spies according to CNN's reporting this evening. What do you know about this?

ED MARKEY (D), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, I only know what CNN is reporting, but it's very consistent with who Vladimir Putin is. He ordered a hacking, an interference with an American presidential election last year and, again, Donald Trump is the only citizen of the United States who refuses to make that concession that it did happen. And now there is a dramatic increase in the number of spies in our country.

Well, in Russia, the number one spy is Vladimir Putin. He started as a KGB agent, and he worked his way all the way up to the top of that organization. It's what he does. And, so, the test for President Trump is going to be, is he going to be commander in chief of the United States? Is he going to stand up to the top spy in Russia in his meeting?

And that will ultimately determine whether or not he is there to represent and protect the interests of our country or he's just shying away from this central question which Putin is going to continue to present to our country until we start to do something about it, meaning Donald Trump.

BURNETT: All right. So -- so, look, you have a point on him not coming out and directly admitting the Russian hacking. You just heard former Director Clapper talk about how he feels about that. He made very clear. Not only was it Russia, but there wasn't anybody else.

But our report says Russia feels embolden by the lack of significant retaliatory response. OK? That makes sense. But we are reporting it was a failure, a lack of retaliation against the Russians by both the Trump and Obama administrations. Frankly, it sounds like this is not just a failure by President Trump, doesn't it?

MARKEY: Well, again, going back to the beginning of this in the summer of 2016, all the way through to today, Putin has been waiting, waiting for the United States to stand up and begin to make it clear that there are consequences for interfering with our most sacred institution, our presidential elections. And it hasn't happened yet. And now we have Trump there --

BURNETT: Under either president.

MARKEY: Well, under either but at least President Obama did impose sanctions on the Russian spies that were in our country back in December. At he's he did that.

[19:10:06] So far, there is no evidence at all to convict Donald Trump of doing anything about this intrusion into our elections or spies today.

BURNETT: Senator, there is also this that I want to ask you about. I don't know if you heard Evan mention it. But, you know, basically the report we have is that Russian spies are trying to gain employment, right, to get classified information, places with sensitive information. That's what they're trying to do. OK? But that has not stopped. I read from the CNN Wire, that hasn't stopped the state department from issuing the temporary duty visas to the suspected Russian intelligence officers.

How in the world can that be happening, that we in the United States are issuing visas to Russians that are suspected of being intelligence officers?

MARKEY: I think every American is asking themselves the same question right now. Why aren't we cracking down on this Russian intrusion into our country? Why are we continuing to operate as though it's business as usual as Putin continues to try to compromise our nation?

So, there is no excuses. This is the moment. This is the defining moment for the president. With this additional story, which CNN is breaking, we now have an additional pressure on Trump to do the right thing in this meeting. It's going to be a brief meeting. So --

BURNETT: Right.

MARKEY: -- all of Syria and North Korea and Ukraine, the INF nuclear weapons deployment by the Russians, it all can't get dealt with in a short period of time. But one issue can be, and that is the compromise of our elections and the introduction of spies and if the president does not deal with that issue, then he has not dealt with the singularly most important issue which the American people expect him to deal with.

BURNETT: Before we go, I want to play the reason he gave today when he said, you know, wouldn't commit to absolutely that Russia was the one who meddled and maybe there was somebody else and all of that, right. Nobody knows for sure, right, that he said that twice. Here's the reason he said he wouldn't commit to blaming Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I remember when I was sitting back listening about Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, how everybody was 100 percent sure that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Guess what? That led to one big mess.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Look, that was faulty intelligence. You are among many who voted to authorize that war based on faulty intelligence. Is he right to say this could be equivalent that this is apples to apples and that's why he's being cautious?

MARKEY: Actually at the time Dick Cheney and George Bush were lying. They knew there was no nuclear weapons program in Iraq. But they wanted to have the war anyway. So they lied about it. But the intelligence was there to say there was no evidence it existed before that war started. So that war was begun on a lie.

Now in this instance, there is absolutely incontrovertible evidence of the hacking of our elections. The spies that are being sent to our country. There is no debate about this.

So, yes, the intelligence back in 2002 was compromised, but by the White House in order to try to impose Jeffersonian democracy on Iraq. It was a fool's errand.

Now we have a different situation, and the president knows it. He is the only person in our country who will not accept the intelligence agencies across the board who have come to the same conclusion, and it's only because he, himself, believes that an acceptance of that conclusion actually goes to the legitimacy of his own presidency. So he's shying away from an issue that goes right to the essence of the integrity of our election process in order to protect himself but not the American people.

BURNETT: Senator, thank you for your time.

MARKEY: Glad to be here. Thank you.

BURNETT: Next more of our breaking news. Russia stepping up spying efforts in t United States and the former director of national intelligence says this could be just the beginning, talking about a battlefield.

And as North Korea gets closer to a missile that could hit the mainland of United States, is America's defense system ready? We have new details raising serious concerns tonight.

And one of the most famous missing persons in history in the headlines again. Is that her? Amelia Earhart mania.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:18:30] BURNETT: Breaking news, the nation's former top spy, the former National Intelligence Director James Clapper accusing President Trump of throwing the intelligence community under the bus today. Here's what he said moments ago to our own Jim Sciutto. After Trump criticized the intelligence community earlier today, for its conclusion that Russia interfered in the U.S. election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: In a foreign country next to a foreign leader the day before he meets Russia, the president of Russia, did he just throw the U.S. intelligence community under the bus?

CLAPPER: Well, it's hard not to reach that conclusion, that exactly so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Exactly so. Well OutFront now, reporter and editor-at-large for CNN, Chris Cillizza, former assistant secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, Juliette Kayyem, and former CIA Chief of Russian Operations, Steve Hall, Steve with all of this breaking news at this hour, let's start with what James Clapper just said. Accusing the president of the United States of throwing the intelligence committee under the bus. Exactly so, he says. What do you think?

STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS: You know, I heard Jim Clapper's comments and I think his follow up comments were important, too, because I think one of the follow on questions was how does that impact morale and his answer was correct, which is, look, the intelligence community is a resilient group of people and that's certainly my experience, having worked there for 30 years. They're used to dealing with different administration and different political parties. And so they will do their jobs, and clapper indicated that.

[19:20:02] I am out of it so I can express my own personal outrage which I would like to do right now.

BURNETT: Yes.

HALL: I mean it is unconscionable especially in a foreign stage for the president to basically cast dispersions yet again on the intelligence community and on those men and women who are, you know, the sacrifices are amazing to produce the type of intelligence specifically for the president to prepare him for where he is right now, at the G20.

BURNETT: Juliette, the significance that James Clapper was willing to say that I think is important for everyone to recognize, right? Yes, he is former but he was willing to say that he thought that this was essentially throwing the intelligence community under the bus, as Jim and Steve just pointed out, on foreign soil standing next to a foreign leader at a very important meeting.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Yes. This is not a natural role for Jim Clapper. Anyone who has met him for five minutes, this is not a role that he I think wanted on the other hand because he spent his lifetime protecting and defending the United States, he felt compelled to basically state the obvious, which is the Russians continue to sort of press the battlefield for 2018 and 2020, and even though there's an investigation going on about potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and that will be decided by lawyers, I think it's safe to say now that President Trump is an enabler of Russia's interference. So his failure to do anything about it, he's questioning of the intelligence community. You don't have to call it collusion, but he is clearly enabling Russia's transgressions into our democratic process at this stage.

BURNETT: So, Chris, you know, this comes as -- there's a new poll out tonight and here's the numbers, right. The question was did President Trump do something illegal or unethical in his dealings with Russia or Vladimir Putin? It's a PBS, NPR, Marist Poll, 25 percent say he did something illegal, 29 percent believe it was unethical but not illegal. That adds up to 54 percent. 36 percent say nothing wrong. 10 percent unsure. That 54 percent of unethical or illegal, is that a lot or a little?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPOTER & EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Oh, it's a lot. A majority for anything in this country is hard to find at this point, Erin. The truth to matter is usually have about a third to 40 percent for one thing, a third to 40 percent for the exact opposite --

BURNETT: Yes.

CILLIZZA: -- and 15 percent who don't know what they think. This is Donald Trump's great problem, I think, as it relates to Russia. He has been unwilling. Though I think Steve makes the right point which is, it is different in kind to do so while standing next to the president of Poland on an international stage. But he has been unwilling almost since these allegations began to say, yes, Russia did this. I agree with the FBI, the CIA, the director of national intelligence that this is a unanimous finding. They did it and they did it to help me win or at least to help Hillary Clinton lose.

The reason, of course, is because he views it, he conflates it with an attempt to undermine --

BURNETT: The legitimacy of his victory.

CILLIZZA: And the truth what he could say is, look, I want to get to the bottom of this. It is incredibly dangerous to have a --

BURNETT: Yes.

CILLIZZA: -- foreign entity dabbling, meddling in our elections. It doesn't take away the fact that I won, but I'm confident enough in that victory to say let's do this for the good of democracy. He's never been able to do that. Today was a continuation of that.

BURNETT: So, Steve, can I ask you about the, you know, as we talk about this in the context of the breaking news this hour, right, Russia ramping up its spy activity here in the United States. You just heard Evan Perez, nearly 150 now suspected intelligence officers, Russians, trying to get jobs at places with sensitive information, being granted visas to do so, even they're being suspected Russian intelligence officers. How big of a threat is this? And the words that we are using here is that Russia feels embolden.

HALL: It is a significant threat. It's important to recognize, though, that this is not -- this is not a new thing. I mean the Russians have always been trying as hard as they possibly can, the Russian intelligence services, to recruit spies with access in the United States, both to collect information and also to conduct, you know, their version of covert action to try to get things done they want here.

In times of stress between two countries when you have a lot of insecurity and unsurety, the requirement to get plans and intentions and also to prepare yourself and prepare the battle space for the worst case scenario increases. And so it doesn't surprise me that the reporting that's been done that indicates that the Russians are trying to get more people in because this is sort of an unprecedented moment right now. We don't know where Russian-American relations are going to go. We need to go know that.

BURNETT: Juliette, quickly before go, why is the United States still granting these people visas?

KAYYEM: I have no idea why. And I think just picking up on what Chris said. You know, I understand Trump's psychology about not wanting to undermine his own election. But at some stage we have to say outloud what are his motivations for 2018 and 2020? At this stage there is no more evidence to know that Russia will continue to do what it's doing.

CILLIZZA: By the way, we focus, Erin --

KAYYEM: Prepping the battlefield.

BURNETT: Quickly Chris.

[19:25:08] CILLIZZA: I was going to say, we focus on the past, Erin, in 2016. To Juliette's point, everyone says this will embolden them in 2018 and 20 by not acknowledging, yes, this happened, yes, this was bad, yes, it was Russia, it makes it more difficult to execute against a plan to keep it from happening in 2018, 2020, 2022, 2024.

BURNETT: Yes, you have to admit you have a problem before you can do anything about it --

CILLIZZA: That's right.

BURNETT: -- as we know from any situation. Thank you all. And next, this is the view of Russia's suspected spy compound outside New York City on Long Island. This is one heck of a mansion and Russia wants it back. Will Trump give in?

And can U.S. defend itself against a North Korean missile attack? Why a multibillion dollar taxpayer fund the defense system may not be able to stop it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:29:21] BURNETT: Breaking news. CNN reporting tonight Russian spies are ramping up their intelligence gathering efforts in the United States as Russia now wants the United States to return two massive mansions that were seized last year in retaliation for suspected spying. Tonight, the Trump Administration considering giving the mansion back to Russia and we have new details on the compound. Alexander Marquardt is out front.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Russia says they were idyllic weekend retreats for its diplomats to relax and decompress. This compound on New York's Long Island and another 45 acre riverside spread in Maryland where families gather to play tennis, swim and go crabbing. But the luxurious facades according to multiple U.S. administrations were part of Russia's clandestine spy network going back decades.

[19:30:06] STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS: More is better, especially if you're Russians in the United States, which is not an easy place for them to practice the trade of spying. If it's a technical operation, evening dropping or something like that, you want as many different options as you can. The Russians are famous for actually getting really good locations.

MARQUARDT: So, in December, amid accusations of Russian meddling in the presidential election, President Obama ordered the two estates shut down within 24 hours, and 35 Russians, along with their families, out of the country.

According to U.S. officials, the compounds were facilitated with sophisticated surveillance equipment, targeting U.S. military and civilian infrastructure. The officials say Russians were seen removing suspected equipment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What these individuals were doing was collecting intelligence. They were intelligence officers operating here and using these compounds, one in New York, one in Maryland, for intelligence collection purposes.

MARQUARDT: Russia immediately accused the U.S. of illegally seizing diplomatic property.

Now, with a new president in office, Russia wants the compounds back and says its patience is running out.

It is best to immediately return our property, the foreign ministry spokeswoman said. Otherwise, Russia has the right to come up with a tit-for-tat response in relation to American property in Russia. I want to confirm that the retaliatory measures are in the works.

As President Trump meets with Putin in Germany, the administration is weighing the possibility of softening sanctions and returning the mansions. Though, there's been no final decision.

HALL: My counsel to the president would be, again, it's difficult to imagine a circumstance where that would be useful to U.S. interests. If you analyze them and say, OK, well, they were definitely being used for espionage for intelligence collection purposes, then it doesn't make any sense to give them back.

MARQUARDT: But also at issue is the routine harassment of American diplomats in Russia, which is U.S. says has been going on for years.

REP. CHRIS STEWART (R), UTAH: They're going into their apartments, killing their pets in some cases. I mean, if that's the case, it is hard for me to say we're going to give these facilities back to you, these homes back to you. I think they should pay a price for some of those things.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: Erin, what the congressman is referring to there are reports that intelligence agents in Russia broke into the home of the U.S. defense attache in Moscow and killed his dog. Now, we are standing here outside the Long Island compound. You can see its locked uptight. There is a chain here on the gate. We've seen security.

If Russia is indeed ramping up its intelligence operations here in the U.S., as we have been reporting, it is very hard to see them getting back these two compounds any time soon -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Alex.

And OUTFRONT now, Bob Baer, former CIA operative, retired U.S. Army Major General Spider Marks also with me.

Bob, look, U.S. officials -- you just heard Alex's reporting -- believe these diplomatic compounds were outfitted with sophisticated surveillance equipment. What was happening inside these compounds?

BOB BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Well, Erin, they were using them for low power intercepts, you know, various microwave communication intercepts. That's the equipment they were moving. They have been doing this for years.

But more than that, they also use for places to meet American agents. These are agents working for the KGB. The trade craft is very forward. You know, you drive from the embassy in Washington, pick up your agent, put them in the backseat, throw a blanket under him, drive him into one of those compounds. You interrogate him or question him for a hot lot of hours. It gives you a lot of leisure time to do this and it's very essential for espionage. The FBI knows it.

But having these compounds dispersed like this, you know, doubles the effort of the FBI to keep track of Russian spies. So, yes, these things were also used for families, but more than that for spying.

BURNETT: And, General Marks, you were saying they were a sort of a safe house?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Yes, absolutely. And as Bob indicated, I mean, the short answer is they used those things to conduct their espionage activities.

And as Bob again described, the safe house kind of a notion is this is a location to go. It's acknowledged. The United States allows them to maintain this.

But inside that compound, they do what they want, and clearly what the Russians do is they will push wherever they can if there's no pushback, if there is no barrier, they have achieved penetration in a particular area. So, you've got human intelligence taking place, you've got potentially signals intelligence, you've got analysis that's taking place, and certainly planning for future operations.

BURNETT: OK. So then explain what I think is the question that people watching have to have right now. OK? Obama's administration decides to seize these compounds as retribution, right, to push Russia from meddling in the U.S. presidential election.

But, Bob, U.S. officials knew what they were being used for, right? They knew they were being used to spy. They knew they were safe houses. Why did they let it go on in the first place?

[19:35:01] Why did they let it go on for so long in plain sight?

BAER: Well, Erin, we do the same thing in Moscow, frankly. And it's sort of a game, you know. And it's a matter of confidence that we built over the years with the Russians. We allow this. We know what goes on. The FBI, you know, tries to keep track of it.

You know, here is the real question, though, Erin, is if we give these compounds back at this time, will that be a signal to the Russians, go ahead and hack our elections in 2018, 2020? Obama imposed these sanctions, seized these compounds, forced the Russians out as retaliation for covert action against the United States and I don't see how President Trump at this point --

BURNETT: Can give them back.

BAER: -- can give them back. This is crazy. You can't until there has been some real accountability for the covert action they ran against our election and against our democracy. That's just the end of the story.

BURNETT: And I'm serious, General Marks. You know, we're reporting obviously Russian spies are ramping up their spy efforts and they have done so since the election. They feel emboldened.

And one of the reasons is the lack of so-called significant retaliatory response from both the Trump and Obama administrations. So, in the context here, the Trump administration is considering returning these two massive mansions back to Russia if they get a good deal, whatever that means. Do you think it's possible? Could Trump really do it?

MARKS: Two words: it's a bad idea. And clearly this is clearly an example of you've got to be able to resist and be very emphatic. You have to link arms and say, look, this is unacceptable behavior. You are not going to get these compounds back.

Albeit, if you noticed in the clip, they had their Christmas lights strung across the front door. I thought that was pretty impressive.

They should not be able to get this back at all. These should be completely off the table. There hasn't been any -- there is a quid pro quo type of discussion. If we're going to give, we have to get. And so, what is the discussion that allows us to with confidence say we're going to give these compounds back. Oh, by the way, here is the list of things that you are going to do that would allow us to give you the keys.

We haven't seen that. We don't know that. We can't assume that this is business. I mean, this is not business as usual, clearly at this point.

BURNETT: Right, and for that discussion to happen, the president of the United States would have to bring up Russian hacking in the election to Vladimir Putin tomorrow and, of course, all eyes will be on whether he has the courage to do that. Thank you both.

And next, Trump puts North Korea on notice as Kim Jong-un works on building a missile that could strike the United States in 20 minutes from launch. Could the United States even stop, right, it if we saw it once it is in the air.

And Trump's controversial voter fraud probe, is it a risk to national security? George W. Bush's former homeland security secretary says yes, and he is our guest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:41:28] BURNETT: New tonight, severe consequences. President Trump warning North Korea is behaving in a dangerous manner and that if it comes to it, the administration has some, quote, pretty severe things that they could do. The threat coming after North Korea's successful launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile test, a weapon that experts warn is capable of hitting U.S. soil.

But is America ready to even stop such an attack?

Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Less than 20 minutes if North Korea develops intercontinental ballistic missiles with enough range, that's how long it could take one to reach the West Coast of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one, ignition.

FOREMAN: And this is what the U.S. military hopes will stop it, the multi-billion dollar ground based mid-course defense system or GMD, declared operational and in steady development more than a dozen years. Other systems might try to hit a missile at launch or just before impact. But this is the only one the U.S. has for stopping an ICBM mid-flight.

VICE ADMIRAL JAMES SYRING, DIRECTOR, MISSILE DEFENSE AGENCY: It is incumbent upon us to assume that North Korea today can range the United States with an ICBM carrying a nuclear warhead.

FOREMAN: How would the GMD work? A missile is launched from North Korea. American satellite sea-based and ground-based sensors begin tracking it, calculating where it will be every moment of its journey. (on camera): That information about this incoming missile is relayed

to launch sites in Alaska and in California. And in all likelihood, several counter missiles are then launched, converging on that target. And when they get close enough, each one releases a kill vehicle, about five feet long, 120 to 150 pounds. This is a spacecraft designed to steer itself directly at the incoming missile and hit it at more than 15,000 miles an hour.

(voice-over): The results were shown in a successful test this past May. The kill vehicle and the incoming missile were obliterated. So, what could go wrong? Plenty, according to Philip Coyle, a former defense official responsible for operational testing.

PHILIP COYLE, CENTER FOR ARMS CONTROL & NON-PROLIFERATION: It failed three of the previous four times. So, with the latest success, it's batting about 40 percent. And when you and I were in school, 40 percent was not a passing grade.

FOREMAN: And the GMD is still small. The U.S. defense official familiar with the program says it was designed to defend against a rogue missile, not a full scale attack.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: At the end of this year, there will still be fewer than 50 of these defensive missiles in place. So, that means if a barrage of ICBMs were launched towards the United States, even if everything worked perfectly, the system could be simply overwhelmed. So, this is a genuine race, with the North Koreans rushing to expand and improve their arsenal and the United States trying to stay ahead of that threat? Erin?

BURNETT: Unbelievable. It is a fantastic report.

As Tom points out, even the success so far 25 percent success ratio.

Thank you, Tom.

And next, the fight against Trump's voter fraud investigation growing tonight. The former top official saying it is a threat to national security. Michael Chertoff is OUTFRONT.

And Bigfoot, flying saucers and Amelia Earhart. Jeanne Moos on the nation's obsession over the Earhart mystery.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:48:49] BURNETT: Breaking news: Russians spying ramping up in the United States. CNN reporting nearly 150 suspected Russian spies on U.S. soil. According to current and former U.S. intelligence officials, they say they believe Russia is emboldened by the lack of retaliation from the United States after its interference in the presidential election.

OUTFRONT now, former homeland secretary under President George W. Bush, Michael Chertoff. And, Secretary, I appreciate your being with me tonight.

You know, this is obviously a pretty significant story here that they feel emboldened and the State Department is still granting visas to suspected Russian intelligence officials. How big of a deal is this, do you think?

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, first of all, it is not surprising they're accelerating their intelligence collection. Obviously, the whole issue of Russia has become front and center in the public discussion, and they want to be in a position first to figure out what various parts of the government or the private sector are saying. And they also want to influence us and they have been doing that in Europe for years now.

And I think we're beginning to see influence operations in the U.S. designed to use the media, social media and other tools to try to at least drive or create uncertainty in public opinion about Russia.

[19:50:03] BURNETT: Now, look, this breaking news is coming up just hours before the crucial meeting, right? The first face-to-face between President Trump and President Putin. Does the president of the United States, Donald Trump, have an obligation to the country, to America, to confront Putin about this, about the spies, about the meddling in the election, even though, of course, even today he declined to say that Russia actually meddled? Does he have an obligation to bring it out tomorrow do you think?

CHERTOFF: So, first, I can understand that you may not want to publicly humiliate or create an issue with someone you're about to meet. But I think every new president gets tested by the Russians and by other adversaries. This is the first face-to-face meeting.

And you have to strike a balance between being willing to talk, and have a meaningful discussion, but recognizing and making clear that there are red lines, that meddling with our election process, or subverting it is not acceptable. And that it's a real led line and not evaporating red line.

BURNETT: All right. We'll see if people will do that. I mean, I want to ask you something else I know which is very important to security, and this is President Trump's voter fraud commission. His Justice Department is now heading to court, to defend their request for things like the last four digits of voters' Social Security numbers, right? They want all this information to determine whether there was wide scale voter fraud which, of course, is something which factually does not stand up to scrutiny.

You just wrote an op-ed said the president's commission just requesting this data, things like Social Security numbers, could be a threat to national security. How come?

CHERTOFF: Well, what I pointed out is the president himself quite rightly has said cybersecurity is a top priority for the federal government.

BURNETT: Yes.

CHERTOFF: What we haven't heard, though, is how this new collection of information, if it ever comes to pass, will be protected. Where is it going to be housed? Is it going to be encrypted? Because when you collect this kind of personal data about every American and you put it in one place, you're creating a very tempting target for criminals and for nation state adversaries.

So, I think the Congress and secretaries of state have the right to ask, if this information is collected, what are the specific steps being taken to make sure we don't have another massive leak like the Office of Personnel Management theft of a couple of years ago.

BURNETT: Right. Yes, it doesn't seem like a commission is going to be able to provide that at all. I mean, look, I'm speaking as a citizen here, but to me, I would -- that doesn't stand up. That doesn't bear scrutiny either.

But, you know, to your president, secretary, the vice chairman of the commission, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, he has been asked questions about the security issue. He actually says, no, this is actually going to help the security of the voter rolls. Here he is on NPR.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

KRIS KOBACH (R), KANSAS SECRETARY OF STATE: One of the things the commission will study is how well-protected are the states' voter rolls against someone who's trying to hack and modify those records. That's something the public desperately needs to know.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BURNETT: Do you buy that, Secretary?

CHERTOFF: Well, I think it would be appropriate if they looked at the question of whether we have adequate security in registration systems and the voting process and make recommendations. But to do that, you don't need to collect information on hundreds of millions of Americans going back over 10 years. So, my point here is if you're going to collect the information, you should explain exactly what the value is, but also, you owe it to the public, and to the members of Congress, and to the states to explain exactly how you're going to make sure someone doesn't steal it, like the 500 million Yahoo accounts that were stolen a year ago in part by the Russians.

BURNETT: All right. Secretary Chertoff, thank you very much.

CHERTOFF: Good to be on.

BURNETT: And next, mystery solved? Jeanne Moos on the frenzy over a newly revealed photo said to be of Amelia Earhart.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:57:38] BURNETT: Tonight, an 80-year-old mystery. The disappearance of Amelia Earhart finally solved. Or is it?

Here's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Whether you low-key it --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a new clue.

MOOS: -- or hype it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will blow the lid off the whole Amelia Earhart story.

MOOS: This 80-year-old mystery never gets old. Amelia-mania is back as the History Channel presents new evidence for an old theory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She may have been held prisoner by the Japanese.

MOOS: Backed up by a photo that purports to show Amelia Earhart alive sitting on a Pacific island jetty in 1937. And this may or may not be her navigator, Fred Noonan, according to a facial recognition expert.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The hairline is the most distinctive characteristic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you kidding me? That's Fred Noonan.

MOOS: And is that ill-defined blob really the plane being towed by a Japanese ship?

The theory is Earhart crash-landed, was picked up by Japanese and imprisoned until her death.

Even Cher was even intrigued. OK, no more politics. How about finding Amelia Earhart?

And singer Josh Groban confessed, this is giving me chills.

But the naysayers say nay, could be anyone, no face to see, black and white and grainy. I want to, but I don't see it.

(on camera): As if the latest photo weren't questionable enough, Internet posters couldn't resist embellishing it.

(voice-over): Photoshopping in a flying saucer, JFK's assassin and Bigfoot, even Chris Christie in a beach chair has landed on a jetty.

Did she crash into the ocean or was she a castaway? Short wave radio operators say they picked up distress calls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I recognize that voice.

MOOS: One place we know you can find Earhart's plane is on iTunes. You can download this romantic comedy starring Clark Gable and Joan Crawford, and guest starring Amelia's actual plane. The 1936 movie came out the year before this Lockheed Electra disappeared.

Love on the run it's called. Seems we never run out of love for the mystery of where Earhart's plane ended up.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MOOS: It's just one of those things we all want to know. You know what? We probably never will.

Thanks for joining us.

"AC360" is next.