NSA director warns not enough done to Russian meddling

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," February 27, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, D-MASS.: What message does it send to Vladimir Putin that the United States has not fully implemented sanctions to counter known Russian cyberattacks?

ADM. MICHAEL ROGERS, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY DIRECTOR: I believe that President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion there is little price to pay here.

WARREN: Bingo.

ROGERS: And that therefore I can continue this activity. I think in fairness, you can't say nothing has been done, but my point would be it hasn't been enough.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can tell you that we are looking at a number of different things that we can do to prevent this from happening. And we're going to continue to be tough on Russia moving forward just as we have been in this first year.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Admiral Rogers up on Capitol Hill today talking about the Russia interference in the election, interference that is continuing to this day, he said. And a lot of back-and-forth about what authority he's been given by the president to address that.

With that, let's bring in our panel: from our Washington bureau, Charles Hurt, opinion editor for The Washington Times and Eli Lake, columnist for Bloomberg View; joining me here at the White House, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent for National Public Radio.

A couple eyebrow-raising moments in that hearing today.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I thought there were a lot of eyebrow-raising moments. I think it is incredible that the head of cyber-command is saying not enough is being done and he hasn't been giving the authority to do what he needs to do to counter Russian attempts to meddle in the upcoming election. We are not talking about the last election anymore. We're talking about the 2018 election. So directly contradicting the White House message which is we are doing plenty. We don't have to give him the authority.

BAIER: He did say he wanted to go into closed session and tell you what he was doing.

LIASSON: They are not doing nothing. He said they are not doing enough.


ELI LAKE, BLOOMBERG VIEW: I think it's important that specifically Admiral Rogers was talking about attacking some of these things at the point of origin. That's a pretty significant cyber issue that is dividing this administration and divided the last administration. Originally this was something that was proposed in 2015 under Obama and it didn't even get to the president's desk because it was considered so controversial in other parts of the national security state. So at this point there are good-faith arguments for why you don't necessarily want to escalate in cyberspace with the Russians until you know exactly how to respond to those series of escalations.

BAIER: Here's another exchange, Charlie, with Senator Blumenthal.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, D-CONN.: I understand from you that your feeling is you have not been given authority to take additional action, that's correct?


BLUMENTHAL: Have you asked for that authority?

ROGERS: No, I have not. I have tried to act within the authority that has been granted to me to be aggressive.

BLUMENTHAL: Why have you not asked for additional authority?

ROGERS: I am not sure that the capabilities that I have would be optimal or the only response to this.

BLUMENTHAL: Wouldn't you agree that it is a necessary response?

ROGERS: It could be part of a response. I would certainly acknowledge that. I just think we need to step back and look at this very broadly.


BAIER: The bottom line from this hearing, Charlie, was that it is continuing, Russia is continuing to try to interfere. It has done it for decades but it's doing it in an aggressive manner in cyberspace now.

CHARLES HURT, WASHINGTON TIMES: Yes, and it's obviously a very important issue that I think we have heard a lot of Republicans and we've heard even Donald Trump talk about the need to do nothing about it and the need to combat it and how unfortunate it was that the previous administration failed to combat it.

But I get a little bit worn out listening to people like Blumenthal talk about this in partisan terms, or Elizabeth Warren talking about in partisan terms. Part of the problem with this entire thing is the fact that it's been so utterly politicized. And it's not about Russia per se or Vladimir Putin per se. It's all about Donald Trump. And they are using the investigation in order to punish a political opponent.

And I think that is probably not the healthiest way to go forward, especially when you step back and look at what has been presented so far from the Mueller investigation, and that is no real evidence that there was any collusion on the part of Donald Trump presidential campaign, to collude with the Russians to tilt the election.

LIASSON: That is not what we are talking about now. We are talking about protecting the electoral system with future Russian efforts to either meddle in voter registration files, to use sophisticated propaganda. There's all sorts of things that this administration can do. It has nothing to do with Robert Mueller or collusion.

HURT: And that's great and I think those are obviously things we should do, and those are things I think Republicans have said that they want to see done. But my only simple point was when you start by politicizing it and using it as a cudgel to beat up Donald Trump all day long it loses the bipartisan effect that we would like.

BAIER: In the meantime, there is this security clearance question here at the White House, and a decision was made last week actually to take Jared Kushner from top-secret to secret clearance even as he is dealing with big things like the Middle East peace. Take a listen to the president Friday and Kellyanne Conway tonight.


GABBY MORRONGIELLO, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Your chief of staff General Kelly has recommended ending the practice of granting interim security clearances to members of the Trump administration. If that proceeds, would you be willing to grant a waiver to Jared Kushner, one of your senior advisors?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So that will be up to General Kelly. General Kelly respects Jared a lot and General Kelly will make that call. I won't make that call.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: President Trump himself on Friday in front of the whole world to see in this bilateral press conference with the Australian prime minister, Bret, that he has great faith in Jared Kushner as his senior advisor to continue to work on matters affecting Middle East peace, for example.


BAIER: The White House not really saying what exactly is going to happen, Eli, down the road here. There is this Washington Post story suggesting that there are some countries that tried to use some financial disclosure issues with Jared Kushner and other questions to try to influence him. Your thoughts on the story, where it is heading and what happens with it?

LAKE: I think this gets back to one of the greatest vulnerabilities of the Trump White House which is the failure of the president to separate himself as the president fully from the Trump Organization and all of the potentially conflicts and appearance of conflicts that flow from those decisions. And I think that is something that is affecting Jared Kushner right now.

We don't know exactly what the FBI has that has held up his clearance but I'm willing to bet at this point that it's because of Jared Kushner's other career in real estate and other things that have made him entangled with other countries that he's going to be having to deal with. So that is something that I think is going to really be in the end probably more damaging to this White House, this issue of separating the private business not that they're in the White House from the collusion stuff, which at this point we'll see what comes of it but hasn't been proven.

BAIER: And we should point out that it is possible that this clearance does come through, whether it takes a week or two weeks. We don't know what the holdup is or whether it's not going to come through. Mara, last word on this about clearances.

LIASSON: Look, it's been almost a year. Jared Kushner has had to amend his security clearance form many times. In previous White Houses just having to amend it would be a reason to deny you the clearance. But right now he's been downgraded to secret. That means he can't read the daily breeze. He can't have access to highly classified information. He has a very broad portfolio, Middle East peace, China, Mexico. It's unclear --

BAIER: There's a lot of classified stuff.

LIASSON: A lot of classified stuff in there. The White House says he can still do his job, but how can he do it as well without this information?

BAIER: We will see.

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