Return to Transcripts main page


Former Top FBI Lawyer Defends Origins of Russia Probe; CNN Reality Check: Extreme Abortion Laws Don't Reflect How Americans Feel; Anti-Semitic Attacks Trigger Even More Hate Online. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired May 16, 2019 - 07:30   ET



[07:32:19] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Sources tell CNN that Attorney General William Barr is working closely with the directors of the CIA, the FBI, and the director of National Intelligence as he reviews the origins of the Russia investigation.

Joining me now is someone who was there, James Baker. He was the FBI general counsel at the start of the Russia investigation. Mr. Baker, thanks so much for being with us.

We'll get to William Barr in a little.

But I was listening to an interview you did where you quoted part of the Constitution I barely even knew existed and never gets discussed -- Article 4, Section 4, which says, "The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion."

And the implication you were making there is that Russia conducted an invasion of sorts on the United States -- explain.

JAMES BAKER, FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL, FBI: Well, yes. Good morning, John.

Yes, I'm worried that they effectively conducted a modern-day cyber invasion of the United States through their efforts to hack into systems in the United States and then obtain information and disclose that in order to impact one of the most important things that we do in this country, which is to have an election.

An election is the foundation, really, of every other power in the Constitution because it determines who gets to exercise those powers.

BERMAN: Is this --

BAKER: So -- yes.

BERMAN: Is this invasion still taking place and are we doing enough to stop it?

BAKER: Yes, I would expect -- I'm not -- I don't have access to the current intelligence, given my status as a private citizen right now but yes, I'm substantially worried about that. I would have no expectation that they would cease their activities.

And, in addition, I'm worried that other countries, having seen what the Russians were able to pull off in 2016, are trying to do the same thing. So I'm quite worried about it.

And it is a solemn, solemn obligation that the federal government has -- not just the president, the entire federal government has to try to deal with this situation.

BERMAN: I was struck by the news over the last week that Russia (sic) -- two counties in Russia (sic) were hacked by the Russians or invaded, as you would put it, by the Russians in 2016. That would certainly raise alarm bells.

BAKER: Right, two counties in Florida, I think it was -- yes.


BAKER: So, yes, that's the information -- yes.

I mean, you don't know exactly what they're going to do. They're extremely sophisticated, they're well-resourced, they're highly motivated, and they're going to do -- and they're persistent. And so they're going to try to do something, I would expect, in 2020, so we need to be worried about that.

And we need to be thinking about the future and not just the past, right? We have to be anticipating what they're going to come up with next.

BERMAN: The reason I think it's important to bring up this discussion about an invasion, if you frame this as a Russian invasion on the United States it refocuses the discussion a little bit on the origins of the investigation into possible Trump campaign ties with Russia. And that has very much been a focus lately.

[07:35:06] And to put it bluntly, you've been dismayed by where this discussion has been going. Why?

BAKER: I've been dismayed because I just want the American people to have trust and confidence in its governmental institutions and that this investigation was not done for political purposes. It was not an attempted coup or anything of this nature.

That we in the FBI and also in the government who were trying to deal with an extremely novel and difficult and horrible situation that we had no desire to stick our noses into, but when we were presented with the information that we had about Russia -- about what Russia was trying to do and to the extent that they might be trying to do it through the Trump campaign, we felt a solemn obligation to try to do something about it.

And as I've said, I think it would have been a dereliction of our duty to the American people to have just like stuck our heads in the sand and pretend like nothing's going on. That would have been horrible. BERMAN: Let me ask you about the word "partly" because that's what "The New York Times" is now saying in regards to George Papadopoulos. That the information you had at the time -- the FBI had at the time -- that there was an outreach from this character.

That George Papadopoulos, in the summer of 2016, suggesting that the Russians had e-mails from Hillary Clinton and possible other dirt, and perhaps wanted to aid the Trump campaign -- that that was partly the cause for the beginning of the investigation of Trump campaign ties with Russia.

What does partly mean? How much of it was Papadopoulos and what else was there?

BAKER: So, at least the way I thought about it, it's not just like Papadopoulos drops in out of nowhere and all of the sudden you have to deal with him.

We were focused on Russia. The FBI's been focused on Russia for decades and will be in the future, so you have that going on.

The second thing is you have all this stuff going on in the summer -- before we get to Papadopoulos information, you've got all this information coming out about what the Russians are doing with the hacking and the dumping of e-mails, clearly intended to have an impact on our political system. And then, in the midst of that, that's when we get the Papadopoulos information.

So you can think of it like -- I don't know, an actor on a stage. George Papadopoulos walks across the stage but we see the set in front of him and we see the background and the backdrop. And so we see what he's saying to us or what we heard indirectly in context --

BERMAN: How big of an --

BAKER: Go ahead, I'm sorry.

BERMAN: How big of an actor on that stage was the Steele dossier?

BAKER: The Steele dossier, to my recollection, comes later. And so -- after we've already started this investigation. So, yes, it comes in later and we have to look at it.

We, again, felt an obligation to look at it. It's coming in from what we thought was a reliable source or a source that had been reliable in the past. And again, you have -- we had a duty to try to deal with it.

We didn't swallow that thing hook, line, and sinker. We tried to investigate it and vet it. But we had an obligation to do that.

BERMAN: Let me ask you about the attorney general then and some of the aspersions -- and I think that's a fair assessment -- that he has been casting on different aspects of the investigation.

One of the things the attorney general drew attention to was he suggests it was somehow odd that the Trump campaign, particularly Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, weren't briefed in the summer of 2016 that the FBI was conducting an investigation of Trump campaign -- possible Trump campaign ties to Russia.

Why didn't you brief the campaign about that aspect of the investigation?

BAKER: Yes, I have great respect for the attorney general and I've heard that comment from others as well.

So my answer is this and it's going to be unsatisfying and it was unsatisfying to the American people about why we didn't just make a public disclosure about the investigation itself.

We didn't know what we were dealing with at that time. We didn't know who was responsible for what -- who was talking to the Russians about what, if anything. And it was just simply too soon in the investigation to make a determination in a professional way about who should be briefed about what. That was the basic idea.

BERMAN: Finally, the attorney general is launching a new investigation from U.S. attorney John Durham into all of this -- the origins.

Do you think that's necessary or how do you look at that investigation, given that there's an inspector general investigation from the DOJ already going on?

BAKER: Right. Well, again, it's -- the critical thing here is the American people need to be comfortable that they're law enforcement authorities and intelligence authorities are held accountable and their reviews of what it is that they did. And I welcome that. I'm very -- I'm happy about that and it's appropriate.

I don't know exactly the scope of what Mr. Durham will be doing with respect to what the inspector general is doing. In theory, he could be reviewing things that were done by other agencies.

Remember, the DOJ I.G. can only investigate activities by current and former DOJ officials. So to the extent the attorney general is worried about what other agencies may have done, then that would make sense from my perspective to have Mr. -- somebody like Mr. Durham look at that.

[07:40:00] So, I -- but I exactly don't know at this point.

BERMAN: Very last question. Did the FBI spy on the Trump campaign, as the attorney general has suggested?

BAKER: So, to me, I take the word "spy" as having a negative connotation. And so, I can say that there was no intention by any -- by myself or anybody else that I'm aware of to intrude or do activities with respect to the campaign in order to gather political intelligence to find out what their political strategy was.

No, the focus was on Russia. This was all about Russia. That's what we were worried about.

BERMAN: And as you call it, an invasion that was taking place and might still be taking place.

Jim Baker, thank you so much for being with us and helping us understand. I hope you get a chance to come back and talk in the future because as you say, this threat continues.

BAKER: Thank you.

BERMAN: Alisyn --


Seven states and multiple restrictive bills, misleading rhetoric. A woman's right to choose is at risk in this country, but why? Why are so many states passing bills like this and laws?

We have a reality check, next.


[07:45:13] CAMEROTA: Why are so many states sharply restricting abortion rights? Could it be because of who is in the White House?

John Avlon explains in our reality check. Hi, John.


So look, Donald Trump is an unlikely culture warrior when it comes to abortion. Twenty years ago, he described himself as very pro-choice. Around the same time, the soon-to-be twice-divorced dad told Howard Stern that dodging STDs was, quote, "my personal Vietnam."

And when asked in 2016 by Maureen Dowd if he'd ever been involved with anyone who had an abortion, the Donald refused to answer. "Such an interesting question," he said. "So what's your next question?"

Well, the next question for the country seems to be whether President Trump will lead to the repeal of Roe v. Wade. This year alone, seven states have passed bills restricting abortion.

Alabama just passed and signed the most extreme, basically banning abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. The law will now wind its way through the courts, but that's by design.

Take a look at this statement from Alabama's lieutenant governor.

Quote, "It is important that we pass the statewide abortion ban legislation and begin a long overdue effort to directly challenge Roe v. Wade," he wrote -- specifically citing the fact that, quote, "Trump has supercharged the effort to remake the federal court system by appointing conservative jurists."

But wait, you might say -- I heard Justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch say in their confirmation hearings that they considered Roe v. Wade the law of the land.


BRETT KAVANAUGH, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES (during confirmation hearing): Roe v. Wade is an important precedent.


AVLON: And the anti-abortion crowd seems to have heard a very different message.

Donald Trump has helped set the tone. He's tweeted that Democrats, quote, "don't mind executing babies after birth" and made a similar riff a core part of his stump speeches.

But this is flat-out fearmongering. The reality is that while the extremes often dominate our debates about abortion, it doesn't fit the facts.

Fact -- abortions are decreasing in America to around half of what it was in 1990. Fact -- abortions after 21 weeks are very rare, just over one percent. And, fact -- the American people are not nearly as polarized on this issue as our politicians.

More than 60 percent of Americans say they want Roe v. Wade to stay in place. And take a look at Gallup's tracking poll. Fifty percent of Americans say abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances, which tracks with Bill Clinton's formulation that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.

Only 29 percent say it should be legal in all circumstances. And just 18 percent say it should be illegal in all circumstances, which is essentially the Alabama law's position.

This is consistent with a Pew study that also found that 36 percent of Republicans say abortions should be legal in most or all cases, as well as 60 percent of Independents.

Americans are evenly divided in whether they call themselves pro- choice or pro-life, and that could be evidence of the idea that these ideas are not necessarily equivalent positions. You could be personally opposed to abortion and yet believe it's not the government's job to make that decision.

This is a difficult and deeply-held issue. Good people can disagree and few Americans are absolutist about it.

But one way to express this was captured by none other than Donald Trump talking to the late, great Tim Russert two decades ago.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm very pro-choice. I hate the concept of abortion. I hate it. I hate everything it stands for.

I cringe when I listen to people debating the subject. But you still -- I just believe in choice.


AVLON: And that's your reality check.

CAMEROTA: John, I'm so glad you're pointing out the numbers to us because it's very strange when politicians' positions and policies are so different than where the public is on that.

AVLON: The divide is so stark on that and so many issues, and it makes you understand why people are frustrated because we've been polarized. The parties are much more polarized than the vast majority of the American people.

BERMAN: And when Pat Robertson says oh, like, the Alabama law but it might go too far.

CAMEROTA: It goes too far.

AVLON: That may be a tell.

BERMAN: All right, John. Thank you very much.

So, the Alabama abortion ban, believe it or not, the subject of late- night laughs -- listen.


SETH MEYERS, HOST, NBC "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": Alabama's State Legislature, yesterday, passed the country's tightest restrictions on reproductive rights, which supporters say is intentionally designed to be challenged in the courts in the hopes of appealing to the Supreme Court and overturning Roe v. Wade.

Well, I'm sure if that does happen then we can trust the Supreme Court to make a calm, reasonable --

KAVANAUGH: I like beer.


JIMMY FALLON, HOST, NBC, "THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON": All 25 states. Senators who voted for it are white men. Take a look at these guys. Yes, that's like if Men's Wearhouse had a yearbook.

Can we see that photo again? It looks like the world's hardest game of Guess Who, doesn't it?

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, CBS "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": If you find out you're pregnant, the law gives you all the time before you knew that to decide what you want to have done. That is a great out for any woman whose OB/GYN is Doc Brown.


[07:50:00] BERMAN: Stephen Colbert is actually reading the law exactly correctly.

CAMEROTA: I didn't know that.

BERMAN: It's literally true.

CAMEROTA: You can get an abortion up until the time you know you're pregnant.

BERMAN: Exactly. There you -- there you --

CAMEROTA: I mean -- yes.

Meanwhile, a new Democratic candidate joining the 2020 race. We'll have that coming up.


BERMAN: Exclusive new research by CNN shows that the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history appears to have triggered a spike in anti- Semitic searches online. This online extremism, especially on fringe social media sites, has inspired homegrown copycats.

CNN's Sara Sidner explains.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Total of eight down, one rescued at this time. We need armor.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The deadliest anti- Semitic attack in American history last year shocked the world. It also triggered something shocking online. More people in the U.S. conducted anti-Semitic Google searches the days following the attack than any other time in the preceding 12 months.

[07:55:00] That is one of the alarming trends we found when CNN investigated what happens online after an attack based on hate.

There was also a spike in anti-Semitic searches following the latest synagogue shooting in Poway, near San Diego.

While the world mourned the loss of 11 Jews shot to death while praying at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh by a suspect with white nationalist ideals, users took to Google and searched for "Jews must die" and "kill Jews" and "I hate Jews" at a much higher rate than on average, CNN found.

Chatter on sites like 4chan and 8chan, which are havens for anti- Semitism and bigotry, revealed another trend -- no sympathy for victims. Hyperfocus on the shooter, who was either depicted as a saint -- "give him a medal," one post reads -- or a failure because he didn't kill enough Jews.

JOANNA MENDLESON, SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE RESEARCHER, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE CENTER ON EXTREMISM: There seems to be a formula right after a massacre. We see white supremacists embracing the attack as someone who has engaged in violence against the system.

SIDNER (voice-over): Joanna Mendleson is a senior investigative researcher for the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism.

MENDLESON: What we have now are attacks that are not only designed to kill, but they're designed to be replicated online. They're designed with that in mind to be spread like wildfire. To spread their poison across the Internet and to inspire others.

SIDNER (voice-over): It is working. The 19-year-old Poway synagogue shooting suspect and the 46-year-old suspect in the Pittsburgh killings both repeated poisonous rhetoric being spewed on an 8chan forum or Gab, which has become a bastion of bigotry.

The suspected gunman in Poway posted praise for 8chan just before the shooting, saying, "I've only been lurking for a year and a half, yet what I've learned here is priceless. It's been an honor."

8chan was also used by the suspect in the worst mass shooting of Muslins in New Zealand. The gunman linked to his manifesto and to Facebook where he livestreamed the massacre.

The Poway suspect tried to copy his tactics but his livestream failed. On his Twitter account, 8chan claims they deleted the post nine minutes after it was published. There are only screencaps available and no archives exist since the post was deleted so quickly. But other calls to violence remain.

In the latest congressional hearing on domestic terrorism, Republican House member Mike Rogers asked the Department of Homeland Security about how to deal with Gab and 8chan.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-AL): Do you have any recommendation for what could be done to address the viral hate speech and incitement of violence found on sites like 8chan and Gab? And that's for any of you.


ROGERS: You all don't have any suggestions for us? That's scary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, I would add that --

ROGERS: We can't make policy without good advisement.

SIDNER (voice-over): George Selim says therein lies one of the problems. The other is funding to fight homegrown radicalization.

Selim led the Countering Violent Extremism Task Force at the Department of Homeland Security. He worked under Presidents Bush, Obama, and for a few months, President Trump.

GEORGE SELIM, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF PROGRAMS, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE CENTER FOR EXTREMISM: In the first seven months of this administration, there continued to be a decimation of the people, resources, and prioritization placed on the federal government programs, specifically at Department of Homeland Security that were aimed at addressing and intervening in the process of radicalization.

SIDNER (voice-over): DHS says there are tens of millions of dollars in funding to fight domestic terrorism. For Selim's former office at DHS, though, funding numbers show the budget dropped from more than $21 million in 2017 to $2.3 million in 2019.

Ultimately, experts who investigate hate say the trend towards violence is being fueled online and more must be done to stop it.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Washington.


CAMEROTA: Our thanks to Sara Sidner for bringing us that series.

So, the debate over Iran intelligence and new reporting on the president's mindset on all of this. NEW DAY continues right now.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": President Trump pursuing a backdoor channel to negotiate with Iran's leader.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If they do anything, they will suffer greatly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would like to see this intelligence the administration keeps talking about and they just need to share it with members of Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The nation's most restrictive abortion bill now the nation's most restrictive abortion law.

RICK SANTORUM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You're killing a human being. It's the fact. It's wrong.

KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is an all-out assault. State after state, they want to get something to the Supreme Court.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

BERMAN: All right, good morning, and welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Thursday, May 16th. It's 8:00 in the East.

And we begin with new details on the intelligence that is leading the Trump administration to warn of an imminent threat from Iran.

CNN first reported last week of intelligence assessments that Iranian missiles were being moved onto boats in the Persian Gulf. Now, "The New York Times" reports that U.S. intelligence officials have declassified one image to help prove their case.

In just hours, top congressional leaders will get their first. END