'This Week' Transcript 7-29-18: Sen. James Lankford, Rep. Ben Ray Luján and Rep. Steve Stivers
This is a rush transcript for "This Week" on July 29, 2018.
A rush transcript of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” airing on Sunday, July 29, 2018 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated. For previous show transcripts, visit the “This Week” transcript archive.
ANNOUNCER: This Week with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. president, sir, is Michael Cohen lying?
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS: Team Trump goes to war with Michael Cohen.
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: I don't see how he has any credibility.
RADDATZ: As sources say Cohen claims Trump knew about that infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
New this morning, the president's legal team has officially severed its joint defense agreement with Cohen, warning him that he's violating attorney/client privilege.
So who's telling the truth about that meeting with the Russians? And could this be a major turning point in the Mueller investigation? We talk to a key Republican senator on the intelligence committee, plus analysis from our legal experts.
And with just 100 days until the mid-terms...
TRUMP: America is winning again because we are finally putting America first.
RADDATZ: President Trump touting economic growth.
TRUMP: These are great numbers.
RADDATZ: But as new tariffs hit Trump country, could the president's own policies hurt his base, or will a strong economy be enough to stop a blue wave? We ask the campaign chairs from both sides of the aisle where their parties stand heading into November.
TRUMP: They're coming back to the United States.
RADDATZ: They lost their lives in the Korean War. Some of those brave service members finally coming home.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It takes my breath away to think about it.
RADDATZ: We visit the Honolulu lab where those remains will be identified.
From the White House to your house, the facts that matter this week.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's This Week. Here now, co-anchor Martha Raddatz.
RADDATZ: Good morning, and thanks for joining us this Sunday. This week, we saw just how Michael Cohen's knowledge of the president's past could determine Trump's future and how team Trump is planning to fight back.
ABC News learning of new efforts to pressure Cohen, including accusations that he has violated attorney/client privilege. Trump attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is also attempting to discredit a recording of Trump discussing payments to a former "Playboy" model, telling ABC News his team has hired multiple experts to review the tapes.
Just a few months ago, Giuliani publicly praised Cohen on this program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: He doesn't have any incriminating evidence about the president or himself. The man is an honest, honorable lawyer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: But now Giuliani is on the attack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: If his back is up against the wall, he'll lie like crazy, because he's lied all his life. What is his history been? His history has been lying under pressure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: The president's attorney seeming to distance himself from Cohen, now saying he did not know him very well.
It all comes after that bombshell report about a 2016 Trump Tower meeting between members of the Trump campaign and Russians who were expected to offer damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Trump has repeatedly denied knowing anything about it. Listen to what he said last year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you know at the time that they had the meeting?
TRUMP: No, I didn't know anything about the meeting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: But now sources tell ABC News that Cohen claims Trump knew about the meeting in advance.
If Cohen's claim proves true, if Donald Trump did, in fact, know about that meeting with the Russians, does that mean an American presidential candidate considered accepting aid from a foreign adversary in an election and then attempted to cover it up? If that's the case, it could potentially define the Mueller investigation by helping the special counsel build a case for collusion with Russia as well as obstruction of justice.
Here now to help explain what it all means and where things are headed, ABC News chief legal analyst Dan Abrams and former New Jersey Governor and federal prosecutor Chris Christie, and ABC News contributor.
And Dan I want to start with you. Trump has officially severed the relationship with Cohen. He was paying for Cohen's legal defense, sharing information, but no longer. His lawyer Rudy Giuliani telling ABC we wouldn't consider it in our best interest to share confidential information with them and they would feel the same way.
What does this all mean to you, Dan?
DAN ABRAMS, ABC NEWS LEGAL ANALYST: Well look, the fact that they are now no longer sharing information is not a surprise. This has been in the works for many weeks. It is clear now that Michael Cohen is on his own here.
It's also clear that he potentially has information to provide to Robert Mueller. But let's be clear, he's being investigated by the Southern District of New York, which is a separate entity investigating Michael Cohen. He doesn't have a deal right now with Robert Mueller. We don't know if he's going to have a deal with Robert Mueller. And as a result, we don't know exactly what he's going to offer to Robert Mueller.
But, if he can provide what we are hearing, which is this piece that Donald Trump knew about the meeting, that does potentially become significant.
It's not going to define it, I don't think. You've got a lot of other potential witnesses here. You've got a lot of other people that they've made deals with who are even potentially more important than Michael Cohen.
But if you're Donald Trump and you're Rudy Giuliani and you know that Michael Cohen is ready to make a deal, it has to make you very nervous.
RADDATZ: And, Governor Christie, Giuliani also fired what looks like a warning shot to Cohen, saying that Cohen has violated the attorney-client privilege both publicly and privately, and is in grave jeopardy of being disbarred. Is he trying to shut him up?
CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I'm sure that's part of the motivation for it. But, you know, Martha, let's remember, if you listen to your lead-in, there were four different ifs there. So part of what I think Dan is saying, and I agree with him, is that we don't even know -- none of this information, which came from one news report, has even been stated by Mr. Cohen or anybody on his legal team.
So we don't even know if the information that we're being given by that other outlet is even accurate. Now, if it is, and we've discussed this before, collusion is not a crime. And so the fact of the matter is that we're a long way away yet from having anything to talk about here.
Cohen still has to make a deal and that deal is probably not going to be with Bob Mueller. That deal is going to be with the Southern District of New York who are the people who are investigating him for potential crimes and the ones who initiated the raid of his office and hotel room and home.
So, Dan is right, we need to like -- everybody needs to take a step back here. And there's a certain level of hysteria that goes along with this story, the way it's reported, and quite frankly I don't think that what we know right now, what we know, merits that.
ABRAMS: But if you read, Martha, the indictments of the Russians so far, and I think that's really important in connection with this, you talk about what possible crimes could there be, you do have the possibility, in addition to any obstruction charge, of conspiracy to defraud the United States, which is a sort of big overreaching conspiracy charge that Mueller's team has already been using in connection with the Russians.
That's a real legal danger. On the question of the attorney-client privilege that Giuliani is talking about, I don't know exactly what he's talking about, meaning, when it comes to the tape that we've heard about, apparently Giuliani has waived attorney-client privilege.
On other conversations, for example, this notion that maybe Donald Trump knew about the meeting, well, apparently there were other people in the meeting. If there were other people there, there is no attorney-client privilege. It has to be a private conversation, not just with someone who broadly is your attorney, but a private conversation with someone who has been retained for this matter.
So if someone is your tax attorney, for example, and you talk to them about something criminal, it doesn't necessarily mean the attorney-client privilege applies. So I don't really know exactly what he's talking about.
RADDATZ: And, Governor Christie, I want to go back to these reports. If these reports are true, and CNN specifically reported that Cohen alleges that he was present along with several others, if you were Robert Mueller and you heard these reports, what would you do about it?
CHRISTIE: Well, two things. One, I'd try to do the best I could to get to the bottom of where the reports came from. But secondly, I can tell you, Martha, because as a U.S. attorney I had a deal with deciding whether to use cooperators all the time or not in a particular matter.
The fact that Cohen or someone on Cohen's behalf may be out there spewing out all this information into the public realm, whether it's the tape or now it's this alleged report of him being at a meeting, doesn't -- wouldn't make me very confident as a prosecutor that I'd want this guy and his legal team as a part of team America to be a witness on a case that I was bringing.
This is incredibly irresponsible stuff to be out there. It is not in Michael Cohen's best interests when he does not have a deal yet, as Dan noted, and I think it would give me as a prosecutor a lot of concern. And before I made any deal with either the U.S. attorney in the Southern District or Robert Mueller, there would be a long come-to-Jesus meeting with Michael Cohen and with his attorneys about from this moment forward if you have a deal, keep your mouth shut, because it doesn't help the prosecution to have all this information out there.
RADDATZ: And, Dan, just quickly if you can, let's look at the Trump legal strategy. Two months ago, we as we heard, Rudy Giuliani was calling Michael Cohen an honest, honorable lawyer, and now he's saying he has been lying for years, and President Trump is bringing up that Cohen said that Don Jr. was an honest broker just last year. What are they trying to do here?
ABRAMS: Look, they’re obviously trying to undermine Cohen’s credibility. And there is a real concern about Michael Cohen’s credibility. I mean, he is under serious investigation for a -- a wide variety of crimes. I mean, the FBI raided his office not to get information on Donald Trump but because there was evidence of a possible crime and crimes by Michael Cohen.
So he is not the ideal witness that you want. Which is why I say again, anything he says they’re going to want corroborated. They’re going to want to be able to back it up with other witnesses and other evidence.
RADDATZ: OK. Thanks very much. And now let’s bring in Republican Senator James Lankford. He sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Good morning, Senator. The president tweeted in response to the Cohen news that no, I did not know of the meeting with my son, Don Jr.
Do you unequivocally believe the president?
SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, I don’t have any evidence that would say that’s not accurate. Obviously that’s going to be something that’s more into the lane of the special counsel than it will be for the intelligence committee. We’re working through the policy issues and Russian interference. Obviously the special counsel’s going to be the one to be able to determine anything else dealing with that as a legal matter.
RADDATZ: Do you worry that this clear message to Michael Cohen will somehow effect the investigation?
LANKFORD: I think the whole thing has gotten confused, quite frankly, is that Americans turn on the TV every day and regardless of what channel or where they go to look for news online or in print, it’s constantly something else seems to be the story. I think we’ve lost track of the fact that the Russians were trying to interfere in our election and to sew chaos into our democracy and every single day, I see a growing chaos in our democracy just in the constant accusations back and forth.
So that is the grand challenge of this, is to try to figure out what is just noise and what is actually beneficial for us to be able to pursue as far as a real problem with not only our democracy but with integrity and such. So that -- it -- it is a big issue for us. It’s a big issue for the president and for the presidency. But we should make sure that we stay on focus, that the Russians are clearly our threat here.
RADDATZ: And indeed they are, but Michael Cohen testified behind closed doors with your committee in October. Given what we’ve just heard and this new reporting, would you like to have him back?
LANKFORD: It’s always interesting to be able to have him back but quite frankly, to me the most important person to be able to have in consistently is the special counsel. Again, we’re tracking down information on Russian interference that may or may not intersect with what he’s actually talking about with legal issues right now. So the special counsel has his own unique responsibility to deal with criminal issues, legal issues.
We’re working on the espionage issues.
RADDATZ: But you know, we also -- speaking of that, we also learned this week that Russian intelligence unsuccessfully attempted to infiltrate Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill’s computers in her office. She of course is running for reelection in a key race. What should be done about that and how do you see that?
LANKFORD: So here’s the grand challenge that we have looking at how the Russians are trying to interfere with us -- and it will be difficult for Americans to be able to track it because it’s confusing. They’re -- they’re trying to be able to get onto social media and into traditional media and to find ways to be able to push it. And you can see that from the special counsel’s indictment of what’s called the Internet Research Agency earlier this year.
And then quite frankly, the Trump administration’s then sanctions on that group. That’s a group trying to be able to sew misinformation into the country. They are actively still doing that right now, getting online, trying to be able to push out false stories, trying to be able to push out half-truths. They’re actively trying to be able to stir that (ph) --
RADDATZ: But -- but if they’re trying to hack into Senator McCaskill’s computers --
RADDATZ: -- that takes that to a whole different level.
LANKFORD: Right. That -- that is -- correct. Correct. That’s the second level of it. The misinformation’s one side of it, then hacking into computers as they did for the DNC, hacking into state election systems. That’s a separate group within the Russian government but both of them are actively still at work. So for Americans, they’ve got to be able to pay attention to what information’s coming in front of them.
But we also have to be very aware that the Russians are trying to be able to interfere in our elections every other way they can to be able to harvest information and then to be able to use that against our democracy. That demands sanctions, that demands immediate response from our government. This is -- regardless of who the candidate is or what the background is, we as Americans universally should push back against a foreign power trying to interfere in our system.
RADDATZ: Back to McCaskill, if we can, a Democrat, President Trump tweeted this week about election interference in the midterms, saying I’m very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming election based on the fact that no president has been tougher on Russia than me.
They will be pushing very hard for the Democrats, they definitely don’t want Trump. The president seems to think the Russians are only trying to help the Democrats. Do you have any evidence that that is true?
LANKFORD: No, the – the Russians are trying to interfere with everyone’s election, and that’s the part that we lose track of. To them, sewing chaos and sewing uncertainty within our democracy is their key goal.
At the end of it, they don’t seem to be as focused on a candidate as they are just trying to be able to bring down our entire system. Their system is a dictatorship, their system is dominated by Putin and by his perspectives on it, and they destroy everyone else.
This is what they did to Ukraine where they constantly gave false information out online, they constantly pushed on journalists, they constantly pushed on their system to try to bring their system down and weaken it as much as they can.
They’ve done this in other countries, now they’re doing it to us as well. We should respond with sanctions, we should try to push back and also understand they’re going to go after every candidate through the process.
RADDATZ: And I was looking this week at the New York Times. There’s certainly some election interference as you say, but the New York Times is reporting that intelligence officials say that despite attempts to infiltrate the online accounts of two senate Democrats up for re-election, intelligence officials said that they’ve – they have seen little activity by Russian military hackers aimed at either major American political figures or state voter registration systems by comparison.
According to intelligence officials and executives of the companies that oversee the world’s computer networks, there is surprisingly far more effort directed in implanting malware in the electrical grid.
Are you seeing evidence of that as well?
LANKFORD: So I’m not going to go into detail what we have and what we haven’t seen on the intelligence side. I would just tell you that we have seen a very active Russian operation trying to get into misinformation and that’s trying to be able to get at not our election systems, but to be able to get out in the public opinion online, trying to be able to push the traditional media.
The second side of it that we’ll see is what the Russians did in 2016 trying to be able to get to different voter databases. The hard part about that is it’s very difficult to see it to until after it’s already done for many of those cases.
So I would not be as forward leaning to say there’s nothing going on, I would say the speed of it compared to this same point in 2016 is much less than what it was in 2016, but the hard part is what you don’t know.
RADDATZ: And – and President Trump says Vladimir Putin is coming to Washington next year. He’s invited him to the White House. Do you think that’s a good idea given what’s going on?
LANKFORD: Well having – having dialogue with adversaries is – is always a positive thing, to be able to try to bring the noise down and be able to – to engage in these issues –
RADDATZ: Even with the Russians interfering in our election?
LANKFORD: Even with the Russians interfering in our elections, we need to be able to have dialogues with them, we need to have open lines of communication, the same as what President Obama did in the past when he had open meetings with Putin knowing that Putin was trying to interfere in our elections.
It’s appropriate for Trump to be able to do the same thing. The big issue though is we’ve got to be able to push back with force. Having a meeting and just saying we had a dialogue to have a dialogue doesn’t fix anything.
We have to be able to lay down sanctions, we have to be able to push back with real force, we have to be able to confront the issues as fast as possible. And as the Russians are interfering for the executive branch to be able to push out the information as quickly as possible and say this is what they’re doing and I want the entire world to be able to know what they’re doing.
RADDATZ: OK, thanks very much Senator Lankford.
LANKFORD: Thank you.
RADDATZ: Up next, President Trump says he’ll hit the campaign trail six or seven days a weak heading into the midterms. So will he drive supporters or opponents to the polls in November?
I’ll speak with the chairs of the Republican and Democratic House Campaign Committees about each party’s message to voters 100 days from the election. We’ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just don’t know any reason why we shouldn’t do well. The economy is the strongest ever and I think that’s going to have a very positive impact. And I am going to work very hard. I’ll go six or seven days a week when we’re 60 days out. And I will campaigning for all of these great people that do have a difficult race.
And we think we’re going to bring them over the line.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: A confident President Trump gearing up to campaign for fellow Republicans ahead of the November midterms. With exactly 100 days to election day, here to discuss what’s at stake, the chairs of the House Campaign Committees, Congressman Steve Stivers of Ohio who leads the Republican effort and Congressman Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico who leads the Democrats’ bid to win back the House.
And Representative Stivers, I want to start with you. We’re officially 100 days from election day and Democrats are consistently leading in the generic ballot and polls that ask if the election were held today. Given the history of the parties in power losing seats in midterms, how can you close that gap and keep Democrats from taking the House?
REP. STEVE STIVERS (R), OHIO: Well thanks, Martha. Thanks for having me on. I feel confident that we are going to hold our majority because our message is working and our policies are working. The economy is growing at a faster rate than it’s grown in years and years and we’re keeping people safe at home and abroad. Contrast that with the Democrat message.
They want to take away your safety by getting rid of Customs and Border Enforcement, they want to cut the military, they’re going to raise your taxes and slow down the economy. I think we have a pretty clear message and frankly, you know, it’s a vote between Nancy Pelosi as Speaker or a Republican that’ll keep the economy growing and keep us safe at home and abroad.
RADDATZ: But Congressman Stivers, if you have such a clear message and the -- the economy indeed -- President Trump was touting those GDP numbers, why aren’t the Republicans doing better?
STIVERS: Well, those GDP numbers came out on Friday, as you know. I believe -- and by the way, the generic ballot is moving our way. In the most recent Wall Street Journal NBC poll, it moved our way by another point. Things are moving our way. I feel very confident that we’re going to win in November.
RADDATZ: And Congressman Lujan, one of the biggest criticisms of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign is that the strongest message was just an anti-Trump message. Do you have a clearer message this time or are you running into the same problems?
REP. BEN RAY LUJAN (D), NEW MEXICO: Well Martha, good to be with you as well. And look, my friend Steve Stivers, I think he’s one of the only people in America that believes Republicans will hold onto the House. I’m confident that Democrats and will win back the House. We have extraordinary candidates with records of service, veterans, women, small business owners that do incredible work all across America.
And we are connecting with a very personal message. Putting people first. Democrats have always been for the people. And the more that we can drive an agenda that helps to lower the costs of healthcare and prescription drugs for the American people and increase wages, the stronger we will be and the stronger we will do.
And so we have to continue to earn the trust of the American people and that’s something we’re working on every day.
RADDATZ: And – and for the people, is that message really getting through? It doesn’t seem that much different from messages of the past.
LUJAN: Martha, this is personal, this is not a slogan, it’s not just a message. This is talking about the real impacts that people are facing every day. And while Republicans and my friend Mr. Stivers like to talk about national trends, what matters most to the American people is what’s happening to their pocket books.
Under Republican control of the House, of the Senate and of the White House, Republicans have forced premiums to increase – healthcare premiums to increase on the American people.
Out of pocket costs are skyrocketing while stripping away preexisting condition protections from the American people. And it’s not just that House Republicans voted to take away preexisting conditions away from the American people, now Republicans are suing to take that away.
So this is very personal as we talk about how we stand up for the people, put people first and have a strong agenda that is built around for the people.
RADDATZ: And Congress Stivers – go ahead.
STIVERS: Martha – Martha, if I could just quickly respond. This idea, their slogan about putting people first, what they’re going to do is put people in line. They’re going to put people back in the unemployment line with their terrible economic policies, they’re going to put people in line for healthcare with their government takeover of healthcare, and we all saw with the V.A. scandal under President Obama that some of those veterans died waiting in line.
That is not the answer for healthcare, a government takeover of healthcare, a single payer system is not the answer, it will put people in line, it won’t put people first. It’ll put somebody’s first, but a lot of people are just in line behind them.
RADDATZ: And – and congressman Stivers, are you concerned about President Trump’s trade policies and that there could be a trade war?
STIVERS: Well I think Martha we saw just last week the agreement with the European Union on soybeans, I think that’s the – the way things are going to be going moving forward.
RADDATZ: But what about China?
STIVERS: You’re going to see deals with NAFTA and I think you’re going to see deals with China, and I – I don’t believe we’re headed for a trade war. I believe we’re headed for a negotiated settlement.
RADDATZ: Well let me ask you about this, President Trump just tweeted saying I would be willing to shut down the government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for border security, which includes the wall, must get rid of lottery, catch and release, et cetera and finally go to system of immigration based on merit.
We need great people coming into our country, but let’s go back to that. I would be willing to shut down the government, what would that do for Republicans in the mid terms?
STIVERS: Well I don’t think we’re going to shut down the government. You know, I think we’re going to make sure we keep the government open, but we’re going to get better policies on immigration.
The president, I think, wants us to have policies that work for America and work for Americans and I think that’s what we are going to move forward with. We need border security, we can’t have open borders that the – the opposing party is for.
We can’t eliminate ICE that two thirds of the Democrats are on a resolution to eliminate our immigration enforcement system that keeps us safe from human trafficking, that keeps us safe from drugs and terrorists that want across our border.
That is not the answer –
RADDATZ: Congresman Lujan, I want to ask you about that. What about that –
-- what about that moves left (ph)?
LUJAN: -- Republicans don’t – well look, Steve Stivers knows that Republicans don’t have a record nor an agenda to run on. His rhetoric around healthcare and what Republicans are doing is dizzying.
Under Republican rule, healthcare costs have skyrocketed under Republican rule of the House and the Senate. Look, Democrats wants to work together in a bipartisan way when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform.
RADDATZ: Congressman Lujan, I want to go back to ICE. Is – is that a good message for the Democrats, abolishing ICE?
LUJAN: Democrats want to work on a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform package to address all of our issues across the country. I think Mr. Stivers would agree that we have to do that.
It’s under Speaker Paul Ryan that Republicans refuse to bring the DREAM Act to the floor, refuse to bring the USA Act, which is a bipartisan bill to overturn President Trump’s demeaning actions on DREAMers that also includes border security protections, in addition to what we can do with the DREAM act itself.
So look, Democrats are standing strong when it comes to a comprehensive immigration reform conversation with the American people that is fair, that is tough and that will be good for America.
And Mr. Stivers knows that there is just holes in his argument today.
RADDATZ: OK, I’m going to have to stop you both there, I think you had a fair chance to make your arguments –
STIVERS: He didn’t talk about ICE, did he?
RADDATZ: No he did not answer that question, but thanks very much for joining us.
We’re going to have to stop there. You got your chance. Thanks very much.
We want to turn now to take a closer look at the cyber threat the U.S. could face with cyber security expert Niloofar Razi Howe, and Matt Olsen former director of the National Counterterrorism Center and an ABC News contributor.
And I make this turn to you rather abruptly, but it's what we've been talking about all morning -- election interference and whether that is a possibility. The attempt that was made on Senator McCaskill's computer system in her office, how concerned should we be about that?
NILOOFAR RAZI HOWE, CYBERSECURITY EXPERT: Well, it's a pretty brazen attempt. What's interesting is attribution is typically more of an art than a science. But in this case, we have so much information about the Russians and their playbook, such insights into how they conduct their cyber operations, that Microsoft was able to use a standing court order to take down this malicious website.
So, there's no question that the Russians are continuing to interfere in our democracy, interfere in our elections. The probing that they're doing of our infrastructure is a piece of that.
RADDATZ: And Matt, wouldn't it be much harder to hack into the mid-terms? I know you heard Senator Lankford talk about social media, and that's clearly a problem -- I'm getting into social media and whatever news they put on there and whatever opinions they try to change.
MATT OLSEN, FORMER DIRECTOR NATIONAL COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER: Yes, there are thousands of election systems across the country, so that makes it harder to do an across the board attack. But what we've seen from the Russians in 2016 is a more targeted approach. They broke into election systems in at least 21 states. And it's not just the election machines themselves that are vulnerable, but the system is vulnerable, because you think about voter roles, for example, registration roles, those are kept on an ongoing basis, and those can be hacked as well as of course campaigns themselves.
So, that's why I think intelligence officials are sounding the alarm about a pervasive and ongoing effort by the Russians.
RADDATZ: And what aren't we prepared for that we realized in 2016?
HOWE: Well, here's what's interesting, we've actually changed our concept of operations with respect to elections given what we learned through 2016. So the way the government is working to protect the election systems is very different today than it was back then.
In 2016, Secretary Johnson, under the Obama administration, reached out to the states and offered help from the federal agencies. The states said, you know, unilaterally said no, this is a state process, we don't want your help.
Today, all 50 states are working with the federal government and using the resources of the federal government to protect themselves.
So, our election systems today are much better protected than they were in 2016.
The thing we're unprepared for is the influence campaign that Russia has undertaken, the attempt to undermine our democracy, to undermine our power, to turn Americans against themselves and against their institutions. That's the long play that they're going for. So, I think we can be somewhat confident that the election itself is protected. We ought to be very concerned about the long-term strategic goals that the Russians have.
RADDATZ: And Matt, you saw me bring up that New York Times story about the electric grid and reports that they're trying to hack into it. I think Rick Perry said there are a million attempts a day to outside companies.
OLSEN: Yes. So, we know that the Russians have sought to and have been successful in fact at infiltrating some of the company's control rooms, of the companies that run the election grid in this country. And this is not just an idle threat. We know, for example, the Russians were successful in Ukraine in 2015 and 2016, taking down the electric grid, turning off the lights. This is malware that actually destroys systems. So this is a -- there's real reason to be concerned about the soundness of -- or the Russian effort to attack our electric grid.
RADDATZ: It's almost like we can't get the public's attention about this, about cyber security. I think I keep wanting to talk about it each Sunday or whenever we possibly can, because it's hard to understand. It's confusing. So, bottom line, Niloo, and we just have a couple of seconds here, how concerned should we be and what can we do?
HOWE: We should be very concerned, again, about the long-term goal here which is to undermine our democracy and the fact that the Russians are bringing every aspect of cyber capabilities to the table from offensive cyber operations to the influence campaign that they've taken on.
The probe into our electric grid is absolutely preparing the battlefield for the possibility of conflict with the United States, so we ought to think about it. We ought to elevate the conversation and actually rise above the fray and focus on what we need to do as a country.
RADDATZ: OK. I hope we can do that. Thanks to both of you.
Up next, the Powerhouse Roundtable debates another busy week in politics. We'll be right back.
RADDATZ: All week long you can get the latest political news by downloading the ABC NEWS app. And as we count down to the midterms, it’s also where we’ll have complete 18 for coverage, highlighting the 18 key races to watch heading into November. The powerhouse roundtable breakdown breaks down the state of play 100 days to election day when we come back.
RADDATZ: And we are back now with our powerhouse roundtable. ABC News Political Director Rick Klein. He’s also the co-host of the Powerhouse Politics Podcast. Washington Post National Correspondent Mary Jordan. Washington Post Chief Correspondent Dan Balz. And New York Times Editorial Board Member Mara Gay. Welcome to all of you. Welcome Mara.
Rick, I’m going start with you. 100 days until the midterm elections. Plenty of things can change. I look at 100 days and I think where will be in 90 and 80. But -- but where are we today and what do you see?
RICK KLEIN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, RICK KLEIN: We’re seeing an election play out across two different Americas. The battle for the House is taking place in the suburbs and the exurbs. 23 districts that Hillary Clinton won where a (ph) Republican House member sits right now. And these are places where President Trump just isn’t that popular.
There was a meeting on Capitol Hill a few days ago where the White House said the president will go to any Republican district that he’s -- that he’s wanted in. But there won’t be a lot that -- it’ll be a lot off the map for him because he’s just so unpopular. Meanwhile, the Senate is a totally different map. You’ve got 10 Democrats up for reelection in states that were carried by Donald Trump.
And that’s where Trump country is so powerful. So you could have the Democrats take control of the House, the Republicans keep the Senate and both for the same reasons. President Trump.
RADDATZ: And Dan, the president says he’s going to go out there and campaign six or seven days a week starting in a couple of months before the election. He wants the election to be about him, the Democrats want it to be about him. Should the Republicans want it to be about him?
DAN BALZ, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON POST: There are a lot of Republicans who will not welcome him in their district because these are districts that, as -- you know, as Rick said, went for Hillary Clinton. But the reality is at this point, Democrats appear more energized. I mean, everything we’ve seen over the last year plus in terms of special elections, Democrats have generally overperformed in terms of turnout and energy and that -- that sort of thing.
The one thing we know about Donald Trump is that he can rev up his base. And so he might even go into areas where he’s not overall popular in order to try to encourage Republicans who may be a little bit lukewarm to get out there and vote. And he will try to make it in part about him. He will make it an us versus them, which he did in 2016, for instance (ph) --
RADDATZ: And -- and he certainly gets that -- that energy going. Mary, you’re always out on the road, talking -- talking to voters. And -- and -- and I want to particularly focus on female voters and -- and how you think they play in this.
MARY JORDAN, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON POST: The aldfire (ph) is on the Democratic side. People that didn’t go to PTA meetings are now organizing voters. They say that they’ve just -- one good thing that Trump has done is -- is made them really fired up. The outrage at what’s going on on the border with kids, the feeling that the president has a loose relationship with the truth, the environment is just making people register to vote, give money to vote, getting other people out.
And that’s in big contrast to the women who say they’re going to vote for Trump, they like Trump. But as they say, you know, he -- he may not be a good man but he’s a good president. And by that, then they -- when you talk to them, they say they don’t like his style, they don’t like Stormy Daniels, they don’t like how he tweets. And they -- they don’t even like -- what’s this thing with Putin they were saying.
You know? And so there’s this discomfort but they will vote for him. They’re saying it as of today, because of conservative judges, tax cuts, lower regulation. And that to them is what he’s doing is why they’re still on his side.
RADDATZ: And then how do they -- how do you counter that? And I’ve seen that on the road. Mary and I have talked about this, too. I’ve seen that on the road as well. I don’t care about Russia, I don’t about -- you know, the tweets. He’s -- he’s a means to an end.
MARA GAY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER, NEW YORK TIMES: Well the big unknown, I think, is whether the Democratic and liberal energy in the country right now will actually translate into electoral victories. And we are seeing people more engaged in their communities, at PTA meetings, even, I would say, in primary contests. I mean, our primary contest in New York with Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, that really suggests a level of participation in, you know, races where many voters didn't participate before. And so if that carries over, if you have voters who don't generally vote in primary elections, but do show up for presidential elections, will we see them vote in the mid-terms?
RADDATZ: But her race -- and you saw me try to get to that with Congressman Lujan, about is she and others like her taking the party too far to the left?
GAY: You know, I think that it's definitely true that you have to know your district. So every district is different across the country. I mean, what plays in New York may not play in Alabama, but I actually think that Democrats have an opportunity to define themselves, and frankly the Republican Party has gone so far to the right that some of the things that candidates like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez are calling for -- you know, better paid leave policies, these are not necessarily radical things. They may work just as wel lin Alabama. And when we saw with Doug Jones, who won that victory, it was black women. I think Democrats really should consider doubling down on their base.
KLEIN: And it's not just Ocasio-Cortez, I mean, the broader context for what she's part of is not just a progressive wave. There's a pink wave. There's record number of female candidates, and some of them are medical professionals, former fighter pilots, intelligence officers, incredible life stories that they're bringing, and a lot of that I think gets to this engagement of women in this election where President Trump is just such a polarizing and energizing force.
RADDATZ: And let's go back to those economic numbers, and the GDP growth and all that President Trump was touting this week. But as you move closer to the mid-terms, is there a fear there, it seems like there really is, with the Republicans that that trade war could come back and hurt them.
KLEIN: Republicans are terrified of this. The one thing that they're worried about is that the economy takes a turn. And they're worried that the president could make it take that turn, either through a trade war or the government shutdown that he's tweeting again this morning. They feel like they have got a good argument to bring to the American people, Republican House and Senate candidates, they can tell them, look, things are going well. Trumpanomics is working.
If it doesn't, and I think there's real concern over that, then they lose most of their argument going into November.
RADDATZ: And Dan, with 100 days out, what's your prediction here? And we all can all go back and say I was wrong. We'll do it with you if you're wrong, OK, Dan. So, go with that.
What's your prediction here on what happens?
BALZ: Well, I mean, we have learned that there's no upside to making predictions in the Trump era. But Rick and I were talking about this earlier. I think that if the Democrats cannot pick up the House in this environment in a time when there's this much division and where the energy seems to be with them, I think that the questions that the Democrats will be having to answer on the day after the election will be very, very profound.
RADDATZ: And what effect do we think any -- you said you don't see the voters caring about Russia, but do you, Dan, think that has any effect at all?
BALZ: I think it's a minimal effect. I mean, in all the conversations I've had, and Mary has had similar ones as we've been around the country talking to voters, a, people can't follow the ins and outs of this. I mean, we obsess about every small development and projectile what it might mean even though we're not sure what it ultimately will mean. Most americans are not following it that closely.
A lot of people have made up their minds one way or the other that either there was collusion and therefore the president should be impeached, or in some way censured, and a lot of people saying, no, no, it is a purely political, it is a witch hunt in the way that the president has tried to characterize it.
So I think those divisions exist, and I think it's difficult absent some report by Bob Mueller to change that...
RADDATZ: People are just waiting -- waiting that out.
I want to lastly talk about the president and the press. And it's something I don't often like to bring up because I don't want to talk about us, but this week was different. President Trump used his address to the VFW, Veterans of Foreign Wars, to attack the press. Some of those veterans booed the press. The White House deputy chief of staff, Bill Shine, barred a credentialed reporter from CNN from attending a briefing, which is a pool report for those of you who don't know what a pool report is, we have one representative go in to represent all the press.
And this morning the president is tweeting, "had a very good and intereting meeting at the White House with AG Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times. Spent much time talking about the vast amounts of Fake News being put out by the media and how that Fake News has morphed phrase "Enemy of the People." Sad!"
Want to start, Dan?
BALZ: Well I mean we have never seen a situation that we’re in now, in which the president of the United States has systematically tried to delegitimize legitimate fact based reporting.
And it is a – it is a political tactic that he has used from the beginning in part to create a kind of an us and them environment. It has had an effect, but I think everything we saw this week adds up to that same – same thing, whether it was what he did at the VFW as you say, or whether it was the way that Kaitlan Collins from CNN was barred from an open event because they thought that she was acting improperly which she was not.
It – it is a worrying situation, I think, and I think that we all need to remind ourselves why there is a first amendment.
JORDAN: But there was one important positive moment this week, and it may turn out to be kind of a little bit of a – the first time we’re seeing a big push bank. The veterans in Kansas who were told by the president of the United States to turn around and boo journalists issued a statement saying they were disappointed.
RADDATZ: The – the leadership, yes, the leadership –
JORDAN: I mean the leadership of that (ph) did – that is a big moment, and your great piece which pointed out – that got a lot of people talking, but journalists are in the fox holes, in war zones, journalists have exposed lies which sent our country to war at times.
In Vietnam, people don’t (ph) remember –
RADDATZ: -- that particularly hit me, no – no (inaudible) about that.
JORDAN: You know, and the veterans kind of say hey, there is – it is the fourth of state (ph) it is a check and balance.
RADDATZ: And – and Mara just quickly your thoughts on that.
GAY: Sure, sure. I just think somewhere along the way we’ve, as in American people, forgotten or lost the sense of reality which is that you don’t have to like a certain network, you don’t have to like or read a certain newspaper, but journalists are – are symbolic in a very real way of the people’s right to know and the people’s right to get answers and transparency about how its government works.
We are the representatives of the people, and I just find the Trump administration’s actions on this front to be on a front to the American people first.
RADDATZ: OK, beautifully said. Thank you very much all of you and speaking of veterans, up next, renewed hope for families of missing Korean War service members as remains from North Korea are returned to U.S. custody.
We’ll go inside the facility working to identify the heroes, we’re back in just 60 seconds.
RADDATZ: It’s been 65 years since combat ended in the Korean War, but this week brought new hope to more than 7,000 families still seeking closure with their lost loved ones.
55 cases containing remains of U.S. service members lost during the war were transferred back to U.S. custody Friday after President Trump negotiated their return during his summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
Forensic scientists in Hawaii will now begin the process of identifying those lost heroes. I just returned from the facility where that kind of painstaking work has been going on for years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: Were these the standard eyeglasses at the time –
JOHN BYRD, FORENSIC ANTHROPOLOGIST, DEFENSE POW/MIA ACCOUNTING AGENCY: These (ph) I think were issued eyeglasses.
RADDATZ: Eyeglasses, a battered wallet, a St. Christopher medal for protection, a haunting reminder of those Americans lost nearly 70 years ago on the Korean Peninsula. Americans who Dr. John Byrd has spent decades trying to identify.
BYRD: And I was working at Unsan, one of the – the locations where we had a large battle. I was in the base camp on the hillside overlooking the field where the battle took place.
And I was in my tent with a warm sleeping bag. I was thinking about those men who spent several days down in that field just down below me, same time of year, and they didn’t have a warm sleeping bag.
And it’s very – very sobering when you think about what they went through.
RADDATZ: Byrd, a forensic anthropologist who works here at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in Honolulu retrieved those remains more than a decade ago.
Amazing to remember that these were all worn by our service members. Despite the sterility in this lab, it is powerfully moving. But what we can’t show you on camera is even more profound. Within reach of my fingertips, the skeletal remains, teeth, skulls, bits of hair of those courageous Americans who fought in Korea matched through DNA or even old x-rays.
BYRD: We have to take it as a giant three dimensional puzzle. We’re getting close to have identified 500 now. We’re doing very well but we’ve got a long ways to go.
RADDATZ: It is sobering but rewarding work.
BYRD: When you have family members and they talk to us about what it meant to them when we were able to succeed in making an ID, it’s an extremely rewarding feeling in -- in a way that you don’t get in science very often.
RADDATZ: When Dr. Byrd and the others are able to identify a service member, the family will come to this room, just yards from the lab. Admiral Jon Kreitz, the deputy director here, says it was designed as a sacred space where families can connect with their long-lost loved ones. Sometimes for the first time.
ADMIRAL JOHN KREITZ, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, DEFENSE POW/MIA ACCOUNTING AGENCY: We had a family in here, a -- a widow of a Vietnam war soldier and a daughter. They were spending some time in the viewing room. And the daughter said we’re doing great but we need some more time because this is the first time I’ve ever met my father.
He went off to war six months before she was born and it was the first time she’d ever seen her dad. And you know what, giving her that closure was so special.
RADDATZ: A feeling for which Diana Brown Sanfilippo is still waiting. She was just four when her father, a pilot, was sent to Korea.
DIANA BROWN SANFILIPPO: My dear little Diana. Hi, pug-nose. Say, what’s this I hear about you finding a snake.
RADDATZ: Months later on a reconnaissance mission, his plane was shot down. Today, the thought that one of those cases just brought out of North Korea could contain her father’s remains chokes her up.
BROWN SANFILIPPO: Takes my breath away to think about it.
RADDATZ: Diana has tried to stay connected to her father all these years, becoming a pilot herself, even getting the chance to fly the same kind of plane, a P-51 Mustang, in which her father was lost.
BROWN SANFILIPPO: Flying that aircraft that he -- the same aircraft that he flew gave me the ultimate connection to him. It makes me emotional just thinking about it.
RADDATZ: Diana guards her heart until the remains are identified but there is always hope for her and for thousands of families still waiting.
RADDATZ: And we hope they all get resolution. That’s all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check our World News Tonight and have a great day.
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