Will Russia hacking claims impact the electors' decision?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," December 12, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP: They have no idea if it's Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed someplace. Democrats are putting it out because they suffered one of the greatest defeats in the history of politics in this country.

Personally, it could be Russia.

WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY JOSH EARNEST: He called on Russia to hack Secretary Clinton. So he certainly had a pretty good sense of whose side this activity was coming down on.

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL: I think we ought to approach all of these issues on the assumption that the Russians do not wish us well.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Reaction to the intelligence reports suggesting that Russia not only interfered in the election, or tried to, but also wanted Donald Trump to win. Donald Trump tweeting out this weekend, "Can you imagine if the election results were the opposite and we tried to play the Russia/CIA card? It would be called conspiracy theory." Continuing, "Unless you catch hackers in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking, and why wasn't this brought up before the election?"

Speaking of the election, the Clinton team now saying they want the electors to learn about all the intelligence involved here. John Podesta saying "Electors have a solemn responsibility under the constitution, and we support their efforts to have their questions addressed. This is not a partisan issue and we're glad to see bipartisan support in Congress for an investigation into Russia's role. We believe that the administration owes it to the American people to explain what it knows regarding the extent and manner of Russia's interference, and this has to be -- or this be done as soon as possible." John Podesta with the Clinton folks.

With that, let's bring in our panel: Matthew Continetti, editor in chief of The Washington Free Beacon, Mercedes Schlapp, columnist for The Washington Times, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief at USA Today, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. OK, Susan, the importance of the Podesta comment is that the electors meet on December 19th and they choose how many go to Donald Trump and how many go to Hillary Clinton.

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: I think there is no actual prospect that this is going to affect what electors do. But it is a sign of how much Democrats and some Republicans think there ought to be some investigation into Russia's attempt at meddling in this election.

The fact is the intelligence agencies are in agreement there was a Russia effort to meddle in the election. The thing that we don't know that there's a consensus about is whether that was aimed at really electing Donald Trump. But the idea this is going to somehow affect this election I don't think anybody realistically thinks that is true.

BAIER: But do you think some in reporting this and some talking about it are short-handing it and saying it could?

PAGE: I don't think anybody credible is saying that. And it sounds to me like maybe John Podesta is trying to have a little fun, because clearly this gets under Donald Trump's skin. We see him reacting very much the idea that his election wasn't legitimate, which I think was farther than the actual criticism is going.

MERCEDES SCHLAPP, THE WASHINGTON TIMES: I don't think Podesta is trying to have a little fun. I think that there is this narrative that the Democrats are trying to push to try to delegitimize the election results. There was a former Hillary campaign adviser on television this morning saying just that. Russia is delegitimizing this election. Americans should be up in arms.

So I really think there is a movement towards the fact, this last-ditch effort to just put that question out there to the electors to say, wait a second here, can he -- Donald Trump really take this oath of office with the Russian hackers? And they're trying to just make that call out to the electors. I don't think it's going to change the outcome, but I do think they're trying to make this pitch, and they're basing it off the fact that lawmakers back in September, they were criticizing the Obama administration for not taking action on looking into the Russian hacking.

BAIER: You had Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff incoming, say this when asked about all of this back and forth this weekend.


REINCE PRIEBUS, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The Russians didn't tell Hillary Clinton to ignore Wisconsin and Michigan, OK? I mean I know this is an insane analysis. She lost the election because her ideas were bad. She didn't fit the electorate. She ignored states that she shouldn't have, and Donald Trump was the change agent, OK?


BAIER: Thoughts?

MATTHEW CONTINETTI, WASHINGTON FREE BEACON: He's right. There are two things we need to separate. One is Russian interference in the campaign, and we know that's the case. That was the consensus view of the intelligence agencies. What the CIA through that leaked "Washington Post" story was perhaps implying was that Russia may have actually intervened in the election result, the whole target meant to elect Donald Trump. And that, I think, Reince is right in the sense that there's so many other reasons Donald Trump was elected.

Think about how the Democrats have been in denial. First it was Jim Comey handed the election to Donald Trump. Then it was fake news gave the election to Donald Trump. Then it was the Electoral College gave the election to Donald Trump. And now it's, well, the Russian hackers gave the election to Donald Trump. It's not going to hold water.

BAIER: All right, Charles, in the background here, you have this decision on secretary of state, and we're being told that Rex Tillerson, the Exxon Mobil CEO, is the choice and could come as soon as tomorrow or the next day. And his ties to Russia are playing high up on Capitol Hill.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think the reason for that is because of Trump himself. If Trump had not been so friendly, shall we say, to Putin during the campaign, had he not said such good things about him, had he not valued the relationship and spoken offhandedly about working together, it probably wouldn't have been a big liability. But people are thinking, well, Trump is a novice. He's coming into an international arena where he's been a spectator. He would want a secretary of state who would guide him, who would have experience. You might say, for example, the way Kissinger guided Nixon, who was actually quite experienced. So instead what you're getting is a second novice, meaning somebody without direct foreign policy experience, and somebody who received an order of friendship from a guy who is not our friend. And that's a problem.

BAIER: I talked to a number of diplomats who say this is not the ordinary CEO. This is a guy who essentially Exxon Mobil is almost like a nation state it's so big, that they're dealing directly with world leaders.

PAGE: And we hear from the Trump folks that some really powerful, respected voices are saying Rex Tillerson would be a good nominee, people like Jim Baker and Condoleezza Rice. It is possible his nomination could become a proxy fight on the whole issue of Russia. And I was curious today we heard from three Republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee expressing concern about the Russian meddling, saying there ought to be an investigation. That is a sign that I think the Trump people need to at least pay attention. It would be hard to block Tillerson from being confirmed, but you could have a debate in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that is not helpful.

BAIER: I talked to a senior Democrat this weekend, Mercedes, who said the Democrats cannot get apoplectic about everybody pick. They can only get apoplectic about certain ones if they're going to be effective on Capitol Hill.


SCHLAPP: I think this one, Tillerson, will be the fight they want to wage in the Senate because --

BAIER: Rather than Jeff Sessions or --

SCHLAPP: Jeff Sessions will be a close second. Scott Pruitt will be a close third. But Tillerson, I think there is that concern from the progressives on his environmental record, on the fact that he's an oil and gas guru. They worry about that. That is, I think, one of their bigger issues. So I think there is that -- they feel uncomfortable about the fact of pushing forward a candidate or voting in favor of a candidate who -- or a nominee -- who would be, you know, who basically would be not in favor of the climate change arena.

KRAUTHAMMER: If the Democrats go after Tillerson on the Russia ties it will be a delightful festival of hypocrisy. The Russians -- for 20 years they have been as soft on the Russians as you can come. And then all of a sudden they have discovered that the Russians are not our friends. So this is quite a flip-flop. Well, look, the famous moment all of us remember, Obama mocking Romney for saying that the Russians are a big threat. Now all of a sudden they're becoming cold warriors. I don't think it's going to look very good.

BAIER: Not to mention Hillary Clinton's reset button that really wasn't "reset" in Russian. Matt, I want to ask you about this. Was this stringing Mitt Romney along? Was this all part of a giant scheme, do you think, or do you think he was really considering Mitt Romney?

CONTINETTI: Occam's razor, simplest explanation is best. I think Trump actually had a good rapport with Romney and was attracted to the idea of him as secretary of state. But he saw how it played. Trump is always looking at how things play with the base and with his audience, and the reaction from the grassroots about Romney I think made him look for other names. Mike Pence, Condi Rice led him to Rex Tillerson.

BAIER: Do you buy that, Susan?

PAGE: Yes. It's so Machiavellian to think that he brought Romney in -- maybe the first time, maybe there was a little bit of that. But when he brought him back a second time, I guess I take him at his word that he was seriously considering Romney. But one stunning thing, Romney and Tillerson, could two people have more different approaches toward U.S./Russian relations, and yet those were apparently the two finalists?

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