A rush transcript of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” airing on Sunday morning, February 16, 2020 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated. All excerpts must be attributed to ABC News “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”
Julia Redpath is the Executive Producer. George Stephanopoulos serves as Chief Anchor and Martha Raddatz is Co-anchor. The program airs Sundays on the ABC Television Network (check local listings). Visit the “This Week” website to read more about the show at: www.abcnews.go.com/thisweek
ANNOUNCER: "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" starts right now.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS “THIS WEEK” CHIEF ANCHOR: Bernie's big win.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have just put together a coalition which is going to not only win in Nevada; it's going to sweep this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Joe Biden, Mayor Pete battle for second.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I plan on coming back to win this state outright.
PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are moving on from the Battle Born State with a battle on our hands.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Sharpen their attacks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: I ain't a socialist. I ain't a plutocrat. I'm a Democrat.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BUTTIGIEG: Before we rush to nominate Senator Sanders, take a sober look at what is at stake.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Sanders now the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Can Biden come back with a win in South Carolina? What does Bernie's momentum mean for Super Tuesday, the convention and the Democrats' chances in November?
This morning, we look ahead to South Carolina with the state's most prominent Democrat, Congressman Jim Clyburn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: They are trying to cause chaos. They are trying to cause hatred in America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... and President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They said today that Putin wants to be sure that Trump gets elected. Here we go again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: The president retaliates after intelligence officials report that analysis to Congress, raising questions this morning for National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien.
We will break down the politics, smoke out the spin, the facts that matter this week.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's "This Week."
Here now, chief anchor George Stephanopoulos.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, and welcome to "This Week."
As we come on the air this morning, Bernie Sanders is riding high, the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination. They're still counting the votes in Nevada, but no question he's the winner there, crushing the competition, making good on his promise in that state to build out a bigger coalition of Democratic voters.
With half the precincts reporting from the caucuses, Sanders has 47 percent of the county convention delegates. That translates into 12 of the 36 national delegates up for grabs in that state so far.
Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg battling for second, and, right now, Biden does have the edge in 19 percent, Mayor Pete at 15, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer further back, rounding out the field.
South Carolina, the next key vote, Saturday, before the race goes national on Super Tuesday on March 3.
So, five big questions now. Is that state, South Carolina, make or break for Joe Biden and other moderates? Will Mike Bloomberg recover at this week's debate to boost his chances on Super Tuesday? Can any Democrat stop Sanders, or does splintered opposition clear his path to the nomination? What will that mean for the Democrats' chances come November?
So much to analyze and debate, so let's get right to our roundtable.
Joined by Republican Chris Christie, former mayor of New Jersey, ally of President Trump, Rahm Emanuel, former mayor of Chicago, also chief of staff to President Obama, author of the new book you see right there, "The Nation City: Why Mayors Are Now Running the World," Yvette Simpson, CEO of Democracy for America, and Republican strategist Sara Fagen, who served as White House political affairs director under George W. Bush.
Rahm, let me take it to you from the beginning.
Is Bernie Sanders unstoppable?
RAHM EMANUEL, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: He's the front-runner. He's not -- he is stoppable.
I want -- I don't know -- but I would say this. The moderates have to coalesce around one person. If you have a divided field -- we have seen this play out in the Republican primary in 2016. If it does -- if there is not kind of a singular mano a mano, then he's going to get the delegate...
STEPHANOPOULOS: No indication that anybody's going to drop out...
EMANUEL: No, I mean, this is what's -- what's clear right now is that everybody has still a thread of a logic of why they should stay in either resource or delegate.
And as long as that happens, he will continue to have 45 percent and make -- that makes a majority.
I do think people should take note his entire strategy upends every strategy -- every electoral map that either President Clinton, President Obama, or the midterms of '06 and 2018 put together. It's a different theory of the case, never been tested before nationally, and never been proven successful for any Democratic either presidential or congressional majorities.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Yvette, Bernie Sanders, he did not increase the turnout in Iowa. But he did seem to build out that coalition in Nevada...
YVETTE SIMPSON, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... winning big with Hispanics, with young people, with liberals.
The only groups he lost were seniors and African-Americans.
SIMPSON: He continues to struggle with older Americans.
I think Joe Biden is still holding a lot of those folks. Pete Buttigieg, surprisingly, is getting a lot of folks in the older demographic.
African-Americans, I think we will see what South Carolina does, particularly because you have got older people who also happen to be black, but I know he's closing in his lead, according to polls, on Joe Biden even in South Carolina.
So I think he just needs more time, I think, with those groups. He does have the momentum. He is the front-runner. I believe he will go into the convention with the most delegates.
I think the biggest challenge is the establishment continuing to, like, fight at him, instead of saying, look, he's our front-runner; why don't we coalesce around him?
STEPHANOPOULOS: It does appear, Sara Fagen, that he's replicating in part what happened in the Republican primaries last time around.
Getting 30 to 40 percent of the vote...
SARA FAGEN, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Mm-hmm.
FAGEN: He did give Trump -- Trump did have the opening in 2016 because of divisive Republican primary.
I think the difference, though, here is Donald Trump was ultimately espoused tenets of the Republican Party. He was a Republican. Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat. 15 times he's been on the ballot in Vermont, and not one time did he say put his name forward on the Democratic nomination. He only runs as a Democrat because it's the path of least resistance to getting the nomination.
I don't understand why Democrats feel compelled to hand wring around their convention rules around a person who is not a member of their party.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You're shaking your head.
SIMPSON: Well, first of all, Bloomberg is a Republican, so -- Elizabeth Warren at one point was a Republican, has shifted.
He has a record of voting with the Democrats for a long time, and is most of his -- I think he was in Democrats 95 percent of the time during his time in the Senate. He's a democratic socialist, I think we have to continue to say that, so he is not one who believes...
EMANUEL: No, we don't have to continue to say that.
SIMPSON: You should say that, because it's the truth, right. He's not -- democratic socialism is different. Martin Luther King was a democratic socialist. Nelson Mandela was a democratic socialist. He believes in democracy, but believes that the economy should be looked at from a different perspective.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Chris Christie, what we're starting to see now is Pete Buttigieg, you saw Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg a little, picking up the case that Donald Trump has been making for months. He's not going to say democratic socialist, he's going to say socialist, edge into communist.
CHRISTIE: Listen, he is going to say socialist. He's been saying it. He's going to continue to say it. And by the way it's true. And so, you know, that actually has an extra added benefit for Trump, because when you listen to Bernie Sanders, listen to what he wants to do, it is a socialist agenda. And he's running on it. And as Rahm said, you know, this is a whole different way of approaching going after the presidency the way Sanders is doing it.
I fear that for the Democrats that Biden and Buttigieg waking up last night to say, hey, maybe we should stop attacking each other and start attacking Sanders maybe a little bit too little too late.
And the last piece is -- and I loved to watch this last week, and we'll talk about the debate, I'm sure, later, but you know, this is tough. This is tough work to do to do this. And Mike Bloomberg showed no matter how much money you have, if you have no damn idea what you're doing in this business, you have no damn idea what you're doing. He was awful. And that's leading to even more hope for Sanders.
EMANUEL: Here's the one point, and here's the classic why -- somebody better figure this out -- you're in Nevada, the site of one of the worst mass shootings in American history just two years ago, it's not that far in the rearview mirror. Bernie Sanders records on guns is horrendous from assault weapons to litigation against gun manufacturers. Not one person on that stage had the gumption or the wherewithal to say...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, Biden mentioned it in kind of a throwaway line.
EMANUEL: A throwaway line with that many people dead when you're talking about Democrats in a primary and his record on guns? It's more representative of Vermont than it is where the country is and where the Democratic -- and that tells you these candidates have been not taking him seriously and they woke up this morning -- they have to take seriously. His record on guns...
SIMPSON: He has the support of many leaders from March for our Lives, and that's because they understand his record was more about representing rural communities in Vermont than about gun violence that happens in places like Chicago or happens in L.A. It's very different.
EMANUEL: Here's the thing I will tell you, as the person assigned by President Clinton to both pass the Brady Bill and assault weapon ban, Bernie Sanders was always on the side of the gun manufacturers. And my bigger point is political, not policy, which is you're on a stage in Vegas where one of the worst mass shootings -- and nobody brought it up dealing with him seriously.
FAGEN: I think the broader point, though, is that Sanders hasn't really been vetted yet. Now, he is the front-runner, and it is coming to him. And we're starting to see the drip, drip of comments about communist leaders around the world and socialist leaders around the world and as Rahm pointed out, you know, he's been on the wrong side of the Democratic Party on guns for a long time. He's come around more recently.
He's about to have a spotlight shown on him. And we'll see how he stands up under it.
CHRISTIE: But who is the messenger? See, I agree with Sara about him being vetted, but who is going to do it?
You know, the gun question wasn't asked. Now imagine this -- forget about the other candidates -- on the panel.
EMANUEL: We've done seven hours on Medicare for All in the last nine debates and not one...
CHRISTIE: On the panel no one asked the question on guns. If that were a Republican debate with that same panel of journalists, you could guarantee that guns would be an early on question. So that's one problem. Who is going to do the vetting? The press doesn't seem to want to do the vetting on this.
Secondly, which of those candidates is going to show the aptitude, George, to really vet Bernie Sanders. You've got to give him credit. Sanders has stood up there in the middle of that stage -- when Donald Trump was in the middle of that stage, people were hitting him.
SIMPSON: Not that much.
CHRISTIE: No, listen, the press certainly was, the media was, right.
But that's what I'm saying, there's two elements of a debate, right, that can hurt you. Either the questions that are being asked and how aggressive the panelists are at you, or your opponents.
In this instance, Sanders has skated with both. They don't go after him.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, and, Rahm, you’re making the point about guns and I take that point, but that's not likely to be -- have the same resonance in South Carolina.
To pick up on Chris' point, the question is who’s going to take these questions surrounding socialism to Bernie Sanders at the debate?
EMANUEL: Well, I think right now, everybody -- here's -- there’s a two-part problem. One, everybody's about to do that, and the problem is you need one person, and we don’t -- as this happened, we saw it in 2016.
I want to get back to this one point. The coalition that President Clinton and President Obama put together, a coalition for congressional majorities in both '06 and 2018, is totally different from anything Bernie Sanders is talking about. He doesn't care about that metropolitan majority welcoming independent swing voters from the suburbs into the Democratic Party.
This has been tried. We just saw it in Great Britain. Jeremy Corbyn went down dramatically, and this is upending.
Now, it may prove something that has not been proven in politics and economics and cultural and social issues have upended that, and scrambled the egg so to say, but I think this is a strategy. And here's a test -- not one of the congressional Democrats who flipped red to blue district in 2018 have come out and endorsed him.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is going to have to be, Yvette, one of the questions that Bernie Sanders is going to have to answer if he continues to get momentum. What does it mean for Democratic Senate candidates? What does it mean for Democratic House candidates?
You already hear some critics warning that if Bernie Sanders is at the top of the ticket that the Democrats could lose the House.
SIMPSON: You know, I don't think that's true. We saw amazing historic election in 2018, brought on in part by hatred for Trump, but also by the fact that now, the new American majority is representing us, and they want to run for office -- for offices like the House and the Senate.
And I think Bernie Sanders building a multiracial coalition, multigenerational coalition, is what we need for the future of our party. People are thinking about previous races. Trump showed us that people are voting a little bit differently.
Even Barack Obama's race, people were coming out who don't traditionally come out. We’ve engaged those people. And I’ve told -- I think I’ve told Rahm this, we told the entire Democratic establishment, whoever the nominee is, if it's Bernie Sanders, people need to get their folks to show up.
EMANUEL: We're not there yet. First of all --
SIMPSON: Yes, it is.
EMANUEL: Here’s one thing -- but here I’ll say is, take Illinois.
EMANUEL: Which is now solidly blue, but just ten years ago wasn't. You have now three congressmen -- or three congressional members of Congress --
EMANUEL: -- in the suburbs, Schaumburg, Naperville, out in McHenry County. Ask them if -- if that's the choice, they want to have a Democratic socialist at the top of the ticket.
And you said Congress and Senate, governor, statehouses where redistricting is done, that's all up this year. That is at risk.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to -- to Sara Fagen.
Another big difference from the Democratic race and Republican race last time around is one of the things that helped Donald Trump, even though he wasn't getting 50 percent, is that winner-take-all of primaries on the Republican side.
That is not the case --
SARA FAGEN: That’s right.
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- on the Democratic side which increases the chances that Bernie Sanders will have a plurality of votes going to the convention, but not the majority of delegates he needs.
FAGEN: Unless a few of these -- unless Elizabeth Warren gets out and several moderates get out, I think that's guaranteed. He's going to have a plurality -- plurality. Excuse me.
SIMPSON: A tough word to say.
EMANUEL: Scrabble today.
FAGEN: But I think importantly, you know, there's no reason for people to get out as you pointed out earlier. The reason is they want juice in this convention. And so, why would you get out? The more delegates you have, the bigger say you have in the nomination contest, and the more delegates you have, the more likely you are to be somebody in a cabinet.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, they could fall back to you.
FAGEN: And so, I think this is just a -- a challenge that Chris and I are going to enjoy watching for the next many weeks.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, and the other reason that people don't have to get out now, is that it’s very different from what you're seeing on the Republican side, so much of the funding now for people like Elizabeth Warren just comes online.
STEPHANOPOULOS: They’re not going to run out of cash.
CHRISTIE: Well, you saw both Warren off of her debate performance in Nevada, and Klobuchar in New Hampshire, raise significant amounts of money online. And as long as they have that money, they're not going to get out.
I think the other thing is the only dream for Republicans that is more than Bernie Sanders marching to this nomination is him not, and then them going to that convention and going to the second ballot and superdelegates -- if they ever throw this to Biden or someone else on the second ballot, this will be a destroyed Democratic Party, and the only thing better than running against a Sanders-dominated party for Republicans is to have somebody else there with a completely divided Democratic Party.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's a pretty fair analysis.
EMANUEL: Here’s -- right now, if I was Chairman Perez, I’d get a big parliamentarian that understands all the rules for the convention because you’re going to need it, that’s number two.
Number two rule in politics, pick your opponent. And Putin and Trump are picking their opponent. This is not who we want on the ticket to lead it, and it's clear by what the congressional candidates -- everybody who's low to the ground that has flipped a red district to a blue district, this is --
FAGEN: It's more complicated than that because the first vote of the convention --
EMANUEL: Well, I’ll take it easy.
FAGEN: -- is the vote on the rules. So, are they going to change the rules? Are there be going to be enough Bernie delegates to change the rules? I mean this could -- this could get out -- not even get out of the gate.
STEPHANOPOULOS: If it -- if it --
CHRISTIE: We may need more than an hour.
SIMPSON: This is --
STEPHANOPOULOS: If at one -- one -- one thing --
SIMPSON: I know, right?
STEPHANOPOULOS: One thing that could scramble this, and we don't know what's going to happen at the debate on Tuesday, the votes next Saturday in South Carolina. But if Joe Biden does win Saturday in South Carolina, that gives him a boost into Super Tuesday, and that dramatically increases the chances that Bernie Sanders cannot get a majority going into the convention and that you'll see a split of the delegates on Super Tuesday.
SIMPSON: I think South Carolina is special for Joe Biden, particularly because he didn't end up coming out of Nevada number one.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Right, and he had that --
SIMPSON: And he came a distant -- and he's at a distant second or maybe third.
STEPHANOPOULOS: At best.
SIMPSON: At best in Nevada. SO he needs South Carolina.
But I still think, if he wins South Carolina, I don't know what happens on Super Tuesday.
EMANUEL: So here -- here --
SIMPSON: I still don't think he wins there. I think Bernie has a lot of these states. We will see what the Bloomberg effect is going to do, particularly if he has a better debate performance. We'll talk about that later. It's not good. And so I think --
EMANUEL: That is (INAUDIBLE) performance.
CHRISTIE: Yes, I get --
SIMPSON: No, it --
SIMPSON: We could do a whole round table on that.
CHRISTIE: (INAUDIBLE) for sure.
SIMPSON: But I want to -- what I want to say, George, is, listen to what you're hearing. This is someone who is getting votes from the base of the Democrat Party. Bernie Sanders is who I'm talking about. And the establishment is trying to figure out how to not give him the nomination. This is not what parties are supposed to do. If he gets the votes from your delegates, he should be the nominee.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, but, wait --
CHRISTIE: No, no --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Isn't that exactly what he did four years ago against Hillary Clinton?
CHRISTIE: Yes. Sure did.
SIMPSON: Well, let's be clear --
CHRISTIE: Sure did. That's exactly what he did.
SIMPSON: Let's --
EMANUEL: Yes, you -- you -- U.S. history for 200. That's what happened, OK?
CHRISTIE: Hillary Clinton had the most votes. Yes. Hillary Clinton had the most votes and Bernie went in there, into the convention --
SIMPSON: That's --
CHRISTIE: And caused mayhem.
CHRISTIE: Had his people booing people at the convention. And he was a sore loser last time. Now he's saying to everybody, well, I'm ahead, so everybody come together behind me.
CHRISTIE: Guess what, if he had done that four years ago, there would be a lot more people willing to do it. No one's going to be willing to do that now.
SIMPSON: But that's -- it was a different change. We're talking about not letting --
EMANUEL: That was then. This is now?
SIMPSON: No, we're talking about not letting super delegates --
CHRISTIE: This is your chance.
SIMPSON: We're talking about not letting super delegates over the will -- ride the will of the people.
CHRISTIE: People's will was not expressed.
SIMPSON: Bernie Sanders --
CHRISTIE: He didn't have the majority.
SIMPSON: Bernie Sanders has the will of the people because he's getting those votes.
EMANUEL: We're -- we're talking --
CHRISTIE: No. No.
EMANUEL: You are -- you are -- you are right, OK, you are right. You're --
SIMPSON: We're becoming more Democratic and not less Democratic.
EMANUEL: You are right about one thing, and that is that he is amassing the delegates and getting more delegates than anybody else. What we're saying, just as this is fraught with political risk that has never been tried since 1992. And that we have to be smart about it, open-minded.
This -- you are right, he is amassing the delegates, but the rules that are written today, the last time this happened, I remember Richard J. Daly took speaker Albert off the podium, put young Congressman Dan Rosakosi up there because he couldn't get the place together.
And the fact is, you're going to need a parliamentarian, and a person that understands the rules backwards and forwards and the strength to see it through because we're going to go, at this point --
SIMPSON: It's going to be a mess.
EMANUEL: And I do think this, to all the other candidates that are coming in third and fourth consistently, and do have a thread of money that in past years they'd be done by now.
EMANUEL: They have enough internet money. They have to make a decision, look in the mirror and say, do I stay in this or do I understand that this has to get to mano-de-mano?
STEPHANOPOULOS: We've got to take a break.
Up next, a look ahead to South Carolina with that state's democratic king maker, Congressman Jim Clyburn is next. And the roundtable's going to be back later in the show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want you to know, first of all, our itinerary. We are headed, of course, to South Carolina.
TOM STEYER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we're going to have a good night tonight. I think we're going to have a good night next Saturday in South Carolina.
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now we're going on to South Carolina and win, and then we're going to take this back.
PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: On to South Carolina, on to the nomination, and on to the White House with your help. Thank you.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS “THIS WEEK” CHIEF ANCHOR: Democrats looking ahead to the next big contest.
We're joined now by the most powerful Democrat in the state of South Carolina, Congressman Jim Clyburn.
Congressman, thank you for joining us this morning.
So, what's your take on the Nevada results and what they mean for South Carolina?
REP. JIM CLYBURN (D-SC): Well, first of all, thank you very much for having me, George.
I do believe that Nevada will have somewhat of an impact on South Carolina. All the prior contests do have impact.
I do believe, however, though, that South Carolinians know why they're in this pre-primary window. We got in the window because of the demographics of the state and the demographics of the Democratic electorate. And we think we reflect that, and we really believe that now that the West and the Midwest and the Northeast have had their say, we are going to let people know how we feel about these candidates. And it may not line up with Nevada or New Hampshire or Iowa.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You’ve historically been a kingmaker in the state of South Carolina. You said you're not going to make an endorsement before Tuesday night's debate.
Does that still hold? And will you definitely make an endorsement after the debate?
CLYBURN: Yes, it still holds. I’m going to honor this debate. I don't want to distract from it at all.
I want to maintain our first in the South primary status, but on Wednesday morning, I will let my choice be known. I’ve been asked about it by too many people, and I think I would be dishonorable if I did not tell people exactly what I feel about the candidacy of our --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is South --
CLYBURN: -- all of our candidates.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is South Carolina make or break for Joe Biden?
CLYBURN: Well, it's not make or break. It all depends upon how it comes out. It could be. It doesn't have to be.
I think make or break is probably the following Tuesday, Super Tuesday.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, as far as Bernie Sanders goes, he's -- he built out that coalition in the state of Nevada, broader coalition than he had in New Hampshire and in Iowa.
But you're already starting to see these -- these attacks for his background as a Democratic socialist -- socialist.
How deep will that cut in South Carolina? And, if he's the nominee, do you think it could put the House majority in danger?
CLYBURN: A lot of people think so.
I do believe it will be an extra burden for us to have to carry. This is South Carolina, and South Carolinians are pretty leery about that title socialist.
And so I think that that would be a real burden for us in these states or congressional districts that we have to do well in.
If you look at how well we did the last time, and look at the congressional districts, these were not liberal or what you might call progressive districts. These were basically moderate and conservative districts that we did well in.
And in those districts, it's going to be tough to hold onto these jobs if you have to make the case for accepting a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Clyburn, thanks for your time this morning.
CLYBURN: Thank you for having me.
STEPHANOPOULOS: When we come back: dramatic new revelations this week. Intelligence officials tell Congress that Russia is attacking our elections again, weighing in to favor both Bernie Sanders and President Trump.
The president strikes back at U.S. intelligence.
And his national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, is up next.
[ARCHIVED CLIP: JULY 16, 2018]
JEFF MASON FROM REUTERS: President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that? PUTIN: Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the US/Russia relationship back to normal.
STEPHANOPOULOS: There you see President Trump with Vladimir Putin back in 2018 discussing Russian interference in the 2016 election. As we've seen, dramatic new revelations this week about how Russia is attacking our elections again. Reports that senior intelligence officials have told lawmakers that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election with the aim of reelecting President Trump, and that Russia is interfering in the Democratic primaries to help Bernie Sanders. Sanders responded yesterday in Nevada:
SANDERS: We were told that Russia, maybe other countries are going to get involved in this campaign. And look, here is the message to Russia: stay out of American elections. (clip ends)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's address all this now with the president's National Security Advisor, Robert O'Brien. Ambassador O'Brien, thank you for joining us this morning. How is Russia interfering in the 2020 election?
O'BRIEN: Well, there are these reports that they want Bernie Sanders to get elected president. That's no surprise. He honeymooned in Moscow. President Trump has rebuilt the American military to an extent we haven't seen since Ronald Reagan. So, I don't think it's any surprise that Russia or China or Iran would want somebody other than President Trump. If President Trump is elected, we're going to continue a "peace through strength" foreign policy and defense policy. And that's not good for our adversaries. It's good for us and our allies.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the reports are actually that they're trying to help Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. And, of course, you've seen the reports that the lawmakers have been briefed by an intelligence professional, that it's Russia's aim to favor President Trump in the 2020 election. Have you seen analysis from the intelligence community showing that one of Russia's aims in its election interference is to help President Trump?
O'BRIEN: Yeah, I have not seen that, and I get pretty good access. As you know from your time in the White House, the national security advisor gets pretty good access to our intelligence. I haven't seen any intelligence that Russia is doing anything to attempt to get President Trump reelected. I think this is the same old story that we've heard before. I've seen the reports from that briefing at the Intel Committee. I wasn't there, but I've seen no intelligence that suggests that. I've also heard that from the briefers that that's not what they intended the story to be. So, look, who knows what happened over at the House and the Intelligence Committee, but I haven't seen any evidence that Russia is doing anything to attempt to get President Trump reelected. And our message to the Russians is stay out of the U.S. elections. We've been very tough on Russia and we've been great on election security. So I think it's a non-story.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, non-story -- obviously, a lot of people don't think it's a non-story. Obviously, the lawmakers who were briefed don't think it's a non-story. And the reports are that the election security official who briefed Congress, Shelby Pierson, said several times during the briefing that Russia had developed a preference for President Trump. Was she not telling the truth?
O'BRIEN: Well, what I heard from the Republican lawmakers there, and again I wasn't at the hearing, so I can't comment what, what happened to the hearing, and I'm not going to play that Washington game, but what I heard from Republican lawmakers is that there was zero intelligence that was proffered to them to support that sort of comment. I haven't seen any of that intelligence. So if it's out there, it's something I haven't seen. But I highly doubt it because, look, it's a commonsense question. Why would Russia want the president who has rebuilt the American military, who has given the Ukrainians lethal arms, javelin missiles and has sanctioned the Russians far more than any president in recent history, why would they want him reelected? I mean, that just doesn't make common sense.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, you have seen the intelligence that Russia was trying to hack Burisma right? Which is, of course, the firm, the natural gas firm in Ukraine that Hunter Biden once worked for and of course, President Trump had talked about that several times. You have seen those reports, haven't you?
O'BRIEN: Well, look, I'm not going to get into specific intelligence issues, but -- with respect to Ukraine. But what I will tell you is that I do think the Russians and the Chinese and others like to sow disruption in the American electorate. And I think they've done -- and that doesn't mean because they prefer a particular candidate. It's because these are autocratic regimes that don't believe in democracy and they'd like to see Americans at each other's throat. And I think there are a lot of folks who've played right into that. I think the Russians have gotten a great return on investment for a very small amount of, of election interference. I mean, they helped Steele. They helped with the dossier. So, and they've gotten Americans polarized over this thing. But I can tell you that there's -- we're, we're gonna do everything we can to keep the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians, the North Koreans or anybody else who would like to do us harm, out of our election.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I have to press you on this. Are you really saying you've seen absolutely no intel analysis from the intelligence community showing that one of Russia's aims, just one of Russia's aims, is to favor President Trump? No analysis at all?
O'BRIEN: No, what I'm talking about, I've seen no intelligence, the -- and I haven't seen that analysis. The only analysis I heard was reported second-hand from leaks from the House Intelligence Committee that purport to claim that the woman who briefed them said that. But I've seen zero intelligence that Russia is doing anything to help, to help, to help President Trump get reelected. And I don't think it makes any sense -- it doesn't make common sense. And look, let me tell you what we are doing. We're making sure we're working very hard with all the agencies. We're working very hard with the states. We're going to paper ballots in many cases to harden our election infrastructure, to make sure that not only is there not election influence through trolls and Twitter and that sort of thing, but to make sure that countries can't hack into our secretaries of state in our 50 states and change election results or cause mischief on election day. We're going to do everything we can to harden our systems, to make sure that our elections are free and fair and the will of the American people is implemented.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're drawing a distinction here between intelligence and analysis, and that is fair. Let me ask: you've seen no analysis -- Have you seen any analysis that one of Russia's aims is to, is to help President Trump -- is to favor president Trump?
O'BRIEN: No, I haven't seen any intelligence on that, George. And I haven't seen any analysis on that. The only thing I've seen were the press reports on this House intel briefing, which are second-hand. I don't know if they were leaked out or how the papers got those. So, so that's the only thing I've seen. But I have not seen that in the presidential daily briefs, in my conversations with Director Haspel, Acting Director Maguire --
STEPHANOPOULOS: – Shelby Pierson?
O'BRIEN I haven't talked to her because I usually wouldn't work with someone at her level. But I'm I was briefed by Joe Maguire, by, by Director Haspel, by the new acting director Grenell, and I have not heard that analysis or seen any intel along those lines. So if it's out there, it hasn't been shared with me. And as far as I know, the two acting directors at NDI that I've dealt with and the CIA director hasn’t seen it either. So, all I've heard about is this House Intel Committee. I also heard, I mean, that Republicans have said this, that they asked for the backup for the analysis and there was no intelligence backup for it. So --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Just to be clear --
O'BRIEN: I don't know.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So just to be clear, you're accepting the analysis that the Russians want to help Bernie Sanders, but you're not, you're saying you've seen no analysis that they want to help President Trump, despite the fact that it's been reported and been briefed to the Congress. It's also been reported that President Trump was angry when he was told about this briefing, that he confronted the former director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, and replace Maguire with current ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell. That's all true, isn't it?
O'BRIEN: No, again that that's not true. I was in that meeting and the president was not angry with Joe Maguire. He thinks very highly of, of Admiral, Admiral Maguire and would've liked him to stay in government in a different role. But as you know, Admiral Maguire’s time as the acting DNI was up in a week or two. We were looking for someone who was Senate-confirmed under the Vacancy Act. We needed a Senate-confirmed official to come in and replace him. And so we went with a highly qualified person, Ambassador Grenell, ambassador to Germany. Keep in mind, the first director of national intelligence, Ambassador Negroponte, had previously served in Ambassador Grenell's position. So Ambassador Grenell is there for a temporary period of time. We expect to nominate a terrific candidate for director, full time director of the DNI, submit them for Senate confirmation. And I think the president's going to urge and I'm going to urge the Senate to move quickly to confirm a new full time confirmed director of the National Intelligence Office of the Director of National Intelligence, so we can get someone in there through the election and take this out of politics.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as you know, your critics - the president's critics have said, including Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, in fact, said, in fact, that you're injecting your politics in there because Ambassador Grenell had experience, of course, as a consumer of intelligence, but no, no significant experience in the intelligence community. I do want to press, though, on what happened with Admiral Maguire as well, because, as you know, it's been several - inside and outside the community believed, in fact, he was forced out because of his use, including Admiral William McRaven, the former admiral who, of course, served Joe Maguire as a Navy SEAL. He has an op-ed in The Washington Post this morning. I want to show that right now. And Ambassador McRaven said, "if good men like Joe Maguire can't speak the truth, we should be deeply afraid." Goes on to say, quote, “Joe was dismissed for doing his job: overseeing the dissemination of intelligence to elected officials who needed that information to do their jobs...When good men and women can’t speak the truth, when facts are inconvenient, when integrity and character no longer matter, when presidential ego and self-preservation are more important than national security — then there is nothing left to stop the triumph of evil.” How do you respond to Admiral McRaven?
O'BRIEN: I don't know how to respond to Bill McRaven. I mean, he was a great Navy SEAL, but I didn't see him in the Oval Office when we were talking to Joe Maguire. I didn't see him in the meetings that we had with the president. So, I mean, he must have supernatural powers or some sort of incredible intelligence collection to be able to get to what the president and senior aides were thinking. The fact of the matter is Admiral Maguire had to leave his acting position on March 11th. And so that's why he left. Admiral Maguire is held in the highest regard. I've never heard anyone criticize Admiral Maguire, including the president, for briefing him. I've sat through dozens of presidential daily briefs with Admiral Maguire, and Joe's a great guy, he's a friend. I think the president thinks very highly of him. And we would like to see Joe stay in government. And so -- but he served for a long time as a combat veteran and in the intelligence community, I think he wants a little time off with his wife. But I think he's a great guy. The president thinks he's fantastic. No one ever criticized him for saying anything. So I don't even know where that comes, from Bill McRaven. But look, I respect Admiral McRaven, he did a good job as a Navy SEAL. I think, you know, maybe his -- he's trying out his new job as a pundit in The Washington Post. And I don't know how he'd have that information since he wasn't in the meetings and I was.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One final time Ambassador O'Brien. You're flatly denying that the intelligence community has analysis that Russia is trying to favor President Trump in the 2020 election.
O'BRIEN: What I'm saying is I have not seen that analysis, George. No one's briefed me on it, including the leadership of the IC.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, after these reports came out, you didn't ask to see this analysis?
O'BRIEN: Look, I've been with the leaders of the Intelligence Committee. They don't have it. So if there's some lower level people at DNI that came in and gave this analysis to the House - look, I'd like to see it, but I haven't seen it. And I don't think Richard Grenell has seen it. I don't think Gina Haspel seen it. So, look, I don't know what happened in this House hearing. All I know is that the Republicans on the side of the House hearing were unhappy with the hearing and said that there was no intelligence to back up what was being said. But here's the deal, I don't even know if what's been reported as being said is true. You know, those are leaks coming out of that hearing.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But don't you have a responsibility as national security advisor is necessary to find out, to go find out? And why is the president calling it disinformation?
O'BRIEN: I don't know, these are leaks. You're basing your assumptions, George, on leaks that came out of a House Intelligence Committee hearing. And I'm telling you, I haven't seen the intel and I haven't seen that analysis and the senior leadership of the IC hasn't seen it. So -
STEPHANOPOULOS: Have you asked for it?
O'BRIEN: Look, I want to get whatever analysis they've got and I want to make sure that the analysis is solid. From what I've heard, again, this is only what I've seen in the press, it doesn't make any sense. I mean, why would the Russians want the president who's increased NATO spending 400 billion dollars from non-American NATO member states over through 2024, who has spent 2.2 trillion dollars in upgrading our military, which had been in a terrible state of readiness because of sequestration of the prior administration, and who's moving out of endless wars and moving American troops into Europe and Asia to confront the great powers. Why would they want him reelected? That doesn't make any sense to me. But look, if there's someone from the Intel community that has something different, I'd be happy to take a look at it. I just haven't seen it. That's the question you’re asking me. I haven't seen it. Doesn't make any sense, but I'm happy to look at it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Ambassador, thanks for your time today.
O'BRIEN: Thanks. Good being with you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: More roundtable up next. We will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I read where Russia is helping Bernie Sanders. Nobody said it to me at all. Nobody briefed me about that at all.
The -- what they try and do is, certain people like certain people to have information, no different than it's been. But I have not been briefed on that at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: President Trump on the South Lawn just moments ago, on his way to India, echoing what we heard from his national security adviser, Robert O'Brien.
Let's bring the roundtable back in for more on this again.
So -- so, Chris Christie, let me start with you.
We have got these reports that intelligence officials say Russia is at it again, going after Bernie Sanders -- trying to help Bernie Sanders, trying to help the president.
But you saw some selective analysis of the intelligence right there from Robert O'Brien. He believes what they're saying about Bernie Sanders, says he hadn't seen what they're saying about President Trump.
CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I don't think any of us should be surprised that the Russians are trying to play in this election again. I don't think they have ever stopped really since 2016, and I think that's what most of the leaders in the intelligence community have said -- that they're continuing to try to hone it.
I don't think they were incredibly effective in 2016, so they're trying to get better at it. And I don't have any doubt that they're going to try to interfere in the election in 2020, and I don't think anybody, serious people in the intelligence community think differently.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet, the president continues to call it disinformation.
CHRISTIE: Well, listen, you understand where the president is coming from on this. His view has always been that this is an attempt, in part, to continue to talk about this, to discredit his election in 2016. And he is, as we've seen, incredibly sensitive about that. And I think that's why he pushed back so hard.
I think, though, there's another way to divide that pie which is, you know, no one can deny seriously that the Russians have been interfering in our electoral process, and will continue to attempt to. And by the way, they've done it before too. It's not like this was invented in 2016. So, that's what's going on.
EMANUEL: So, here's what I would just take a step back. You have a resurgent ISIS in Syria and in Iraq. You have chaos in the intelligence community because it's being politicized. You have nobody at home in Homeland Security, literally top positions not filled, that's also true in the Defense Department. And we have a president who will not accede, because he doesn't have the politics of it, which you've just acknowledged. He doesn't like the politics of the notion that Russia has interfered and to his benefit.
They have put their thumb on the scale. The only difference between 2016 and the 2020, the Chinese, the Iranians, the North Koreans are going to do the same the Russians did. That's the only difference. And they like the chaos that President Trump has brought to American politics, because it makes us ineffective around the world. And that is true. We can't lead Europe and our allies in Asia.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But the message he is sending is not only that he doesn't like it, Sara Fagen, it's that if you bring the president that information, you're going to be gone. The head of the intelligence community is gone, his deputy is gone. We're seeing now John McEntee come back into the White House basically on a search for people who aren't loyal to President Trump.
FAGEN: Look, this is such a political -- this has become such a politicized issue, and every opportunity Democrats get to put out the notion that Russians are trying to help Trump, they do it. And that's not helpful either.
You know, it's been reported that the woman doing the briefing in the House did not put any information out about Trump, and then when pressed repeatedly by Democrats gave her opinion that, in fact, the Russians did want...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, her analysis.
FAGEN: Her analysis of reports. But it was her opinion. And so, you know, I think that's what you heard the national security adviser responding to.
I do think, though, that Trump would be well served to remind people of some of the things that he has done to support fighting these foreign governments trying to interfere in our elections. You know, he signed -- he did an executive order to put sanctions in place on anybody caught interfering. Now is the time to look at that again.
There was $425 million in this last spending bill, allocated to states to improve their security. There's been a lot that has happened. That's what I think Republicans should be talking about.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We should just say, this official is not just any official, she's in charge of election security for the intelligence community and was being asked by the members of the House Intelligence Committee what her analysis is of the situation.
She was speaking for the intelligence community when she gave that analysis.
FAGEN: Fair, but it has been reported on cable news, not exactly Trump-friendly territory, speaking about how she was pushed repeatedly by Democrats, and then she put her thumb on the scale. That's how it's been reported.
STEPHANOPOULOS: In the meantime, Yvette, we're also seeing the reports about Bernie Sanders, and he's taking some heat for not revealing earlier that he had gotten this briefing.
SIMPSON: But he couldn't, right? It was classified. He was in a briefing with a lot of other people who were also senators and probably also could reveal that and could not. So, I want to make sure that we clear the air and say he could not reveal it, but once it was revealed he was very clear on the record saying, he does not want help. We have not had a clear statement from Trump.
FAGEN: He gave a good response. He did have the right response.
SIMPSON: And Trump has not been that clear, let's talk about that.
We also have to talk about the Mitch McConnell factor. There are bipartisan bills on his desk by the House to deal with this very issue, and he refuses to put it on the floor. And so the Senate needs to do something about this right now to give direction to the president if he actually wants to do this so that his officials will get it done.
And the fact that there's been no action on those bills, the fact that Trump refuses to say that he doesn't want this help, is the reason we're here right now.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Chris Christie, isn't Russia in some ways getting exactly what they want? If they end up putting their thumbs on the scale for both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, they take the most polarizing figures out there, and they get chaos which is their ultimate goal.
CHRISTIE: Well, of course, that's their ultimate goal. And, you know, the fact, though, is that they're going to continue to try to do that, George, almost no matter what we do, right? So this is a battle. And I think Sara's right, there's been significant money. I know significant money has come to New Jersey and other places to be able to try to, you know, make our election process more secure. The president, you know, secured that money along with Congress. And so we're going to have this.
You know, the fact is that foreign entities, and -- and Rahm is right -- other ones besides Russia, after seeing what happened in 2016, are going to step up their efforts. But let's not be naive. These efforts have been going on for decades. And there's a light that's been shined on this because of the Mueller investigation and other issues that came up that have -- is, I think, positive because now we're really talking about it.
But the idea that the Russians weren't trying to do that --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it has been going on, but it's more intense and more focused than it ever has been in the past.
CHRISTIE: Well, it feels that way, but I don't know that we know that, George.
RAHM EMANUEL, FORMER CHICAGO MAYOR AND ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: There's two things that I think are relevant and very important. One is you have a situation where a president is very clear, he does not want certain intelligence he doesn't agree with.
YVETTE SIMPSON, DEMOCRACY FOR AMERICA CEO AND ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Right.
EMANUEL: And we've all -- I've sat in both the situation room, the morning briefings on the intelligence, the idea that you're going to now curtail, change, alter, not tell the president what they need to know, it could lead to very serious damage given that the basic operations of national security for the United States is at the lowest level because people are not in positions that need to be in those positions.
And, number two, the fact is, every time there's -- there is sowing of distrust here at home, it plays into what Russia needs because our voice, our leadership, our capacity overseas is hindered and that is why they want a polarizing issue. President Trump refuses to get the intelligence and then you have an America that is weaker abroad because its moral voice is its greatest strength.
STEPHANOPOULOS: This all happened, Sara Fagen, as we saw the sentencing this week of Roger Stone. The president continuing to speak out on that sentencing, continuing to go after the judge, even as the attorney general, William Barr, said, “you've got to stop this, you're making my job impossible.”
It appears that that -- that even though it made his job impossible, William Barr is going to stay.
FAGEN: Yes, it appears so. But I -- I know -- I know William Barr and he's --
SIMPSON: He is going to talk about wanting to leave.
FAGEN: William Barr is a smart attorney general. He's been in the job before. He's not pressured by Trump. He works around the Washington he has to operate in. And Trump is Trump. And he does things differently than any other political leader. You know, as far as Roger Stone goes, he seems like a bit of a gadfly to me. The president obviously likes him and wants to speak out on his behalf. You know, he has the right to commute sentences and to pardon people. That is his right as president. I would suggest maybe saying nothing about it and just doing it after someone serves a period of time. But the president has the right to do it the way he wants.
SIMPSON: It's a real problem. I mean I think, you know, when you've got how many attorney -- former DOJ attorneys asking Bill Barr to step down? He has said he feels compromised, I think I might step down, and he doesn't-- it's a real problem. And it is creating this environment of distrust, I think I agree with Rahm on that, where you -- where you've got this president who believes he not only commands the executive office, he now commands the Senate. And he called himself the chief law enforcement official of the United States, which is actually Bill Barr's title.
CHRISTIE: Sure. Sure. I --
STEPHANOPOULOS: You have 5 seconds.
CHRISTIE: All right, this -- the seven to nine year recommendation was excessive. They came in at between two and four years, which is where Barr wanted to and where they always would have come into. And so, you know, those AUSAs were wrong, as they were wrong.
EMANUEL: As a former ballet dancer, this is all choreographed.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And that is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT." And I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA."