Too little, too late? US retaliates against Russia

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," December 1, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


ERIC SCHULTZ, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Our bottom line is that what Russia has been engaged in over the last few months and years is unacceptable. It's outside the norms of diplomatic behavior. And the president is sending a message today to tell them to cut it out.


SHANNON BREAM, GUEST ANCHOR: All right, that is Eric Schultz from the White House press team. Let's bring in our panel to talk about those sanctions that came out today: Steve Hayes, editor in chief of The Weekly Standard; Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent for The Washington Post; Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Welcome to you all.

Steve, what do you make of this? Because my inbox was immediately filled up with reaction from Capitol Hill. Both sides of the aisle, mostly from Republicans saying, we're glad to see it. but why are we eight years in the presidency and just now getting these?

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: It's a very good question. First I think we should make a point of clarification. This was not a hack of our electoral system.

BREAM: Correct. No votes were hacked.

HAYES: Senior administration officials on the White House call today said that, acknowledged that, made that clear. Russia did not hack the voting system.

Having said that, what the White House tried to say was a series of bad behavior really over years from Russia both with respect to diplomatic activities and the this hacking of democratic entities led them to do this.

It's not a very convincing turn for President Obama to present himself as a new hawk on Russia. This is the president who accommodated Russia, I would argue, for seven-and-a-half years, starting with the reset, going on to what he allowed the Russians to get away with in Syria, looking at Ukraine where we were going to isolate Russia for its incursions into the Crimean peninsula. We offered them off repeated diplomatic off-ramps, remember that term, that they did not take.

And now you have the president acting tough. It's nice the president is finally acting tough to Vladimir Putin who has been I think threatening our interests and aggressively expanding his reach for years. But it's too little too late.

KAREN TUMULTY, THE WASHINGTON POST: On this particular question, which is the hacking, he is more of a hawk than the incoming president. And I think that the sanctions are in part an effort to continue to isolate Donald Trump who has expressed doubt that in fact Russia did this and also to sort of box him in, because it is difficult to imagine but not impossible to imagine that he would want to roll back any of these sanctions. The president-elect issued a statement a few moments ago saying we need to move on, repeating yesterday's, but also saying that he will meet with intelligence officials to talk about exactly what they know. That is moving him.

HAYES: But can I say just to jump in real quick, think about what you just said. The president of the United States is moving to isolate Donald Trump.

BREAM: The new president.

HAYES: Not Vladimir Putin for seven-and-a-half years, but isolating his successor. That is incredible. I agree with the criticism of Donald Trump that he should be more concerned about Vladimir Putin to be sure, but that's an incredible thing if the president of the United States is moving to isolate his successor.

BREAM: Let me read you -- let me read you the full statement from Donald Trump, president-elect. He said "It's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation."

And Mollie, they laid out a lot of facts today, the DHS and FBI together, tracking what they show -- they say shows the exact links to Russian intelligence getting involved, whether they were leaking or hacking, there are different definitions there, but doing things that were intended to influence voters in the country going into the presidential election.

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: They did release a report, and it more asserts Russia was involved as opposed to lays out exactly how Russia is involved. So I think people are still waiting for good information to know exactly how Russia was involved, exactly what the nature of the meddling was. Clearly people want to give the impression that this was an election hack, or a hacking of the voting, as opposed to ongoing Russian meddling.

BREAM: And leaking information that may have been unsavory for Democrats or for John Podesta, chairman of the Hillary Clinton campaign.

HEMINGWAY: And during this administration, we had the hacking of OPM by Chinese people where --

BREAM: Millions --

HEMINGWAY: More than 21, 22 million Americans was released, very sensitive personal information, opening people up to blackmail. That was not treated as a five-alarm fire like this is. And so it's important we get a little bit of perspective. We should be dealing with all of our cyber security threats, not just ones that set people off because of how it relates to Trump and Putin.

BREAM: How does this set up the Putin-Trump relationship now, Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think it's a mistake for Trump to try to keep downplaying this. It doesn't help him. It makes him look defensive. It's not going to have any effect on the outcome. Once there's a change in presidencies, this is not going to be a major issue. The sanctions are so ridiculously small and tit for tat, you can be sure the Russians will expel an equal number of Americans. I've been told that one of the safe houses are going to be shutting down in Virginia, was shut down by Reagan 30 years ago, and it reopened. These are revolving door stuff. This is "Mad" magazine "Spy Versus Spy" and not much more.

And the timing is ridiculous. If you are going to this, do it when it happens. You don't say to Vladimir Putin during an election, cut it out. This is adolescent. You say there will be consequences and you make them stick. So I think it's a fairly trivial affair.

Look, the Russians, they stole our mail. They read our mail. They published our mail. That's called espionage. You are not supposed to do that. You do it, we punish you. That should have been done 18 months ago. You send a signal to the Chinese, the Iranians and others, we will punish you. This is a slap on the wrist. It will pass. And there's no reason for Trump to downplay it. I think he thinks it impugns his legitimacy. Some Democrats would like people to think that. But I think he's really overplaying the significance. Let it go.

BREAM: How does this factor into the conversation that Rex Tillerson, the nominee to be secretary of state, is likely to face now in the Senate when he goes up there to defend himself and talk about why he is the right guy, Steve, he has been known for lobbying against sanctions, saying they are often not effective, they have affected work he has done as the head of Exxon with regard to drilling and projects in Russia, how will this factor in now to that conversation?

HAYES: I think he should face tough questions about both his own personal experience with Vladimir Putin having received this friend of Putin or friend of the Russian people award in 2013, and also Mike Pompeo will receive no doubt difficult questions, challenging questions on these subjects.

It's important I think to point out the administration is not just that they have been accommodating the Russians on this stuff. Republicans in Congress have been pushing the Obama administration consistently for seven- and-a-half years to take further steps. Tom Cotton and others tried to insert language into the Intel Authorization Act that would have just sought to enforce existing rules about how diplomats from Russia traveled around the country. They are not allowed to travel more than 25 miles from diplomatic outposts without seeking permission or notifying the State Department.

The Obama administration refused to enforce existing rules and pushed back hard on Republicans in Congress trying to push them to do so, suggesting that the Russians would find this action provocative if we merely enforced our rules. So I think it's important that we understand the context for this new toughness from President Obama.

BREAM: Karen, with respect to what Senator Cotton had proposed, apparently there's a letter that came in response. I don't think it has been public but it essentially said we don't need what you are suggesting. And it was about pushing back against Russian interference, saying, we have methods and things in place and this is unnecessary. So there was a push from the Hill to do more.

TUMULTY: And this, by the way, is also an opportunity for Donald Trump to sort of pivot as he says to move on past this, to frame it in a broader context. That might be an opportunity since there's Republican support for that on the hill.

BREAM: Mollie?

HEMINGWAY: It's funny four years ago we had people making fun of Mitt Romney for saying that Russia was a huge geopolitical threat. And I think it was Obama or the DNC that said the '80s called, they want their foreign policy back. It feels like we are back in the '80s right now.

BREAM: With Syria and other things in play, that relationship with Russia is going to be front and center when inauguration day comes. Charles, you are up first next time, so stick around. Don't go anywhere.

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