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Biden Speaks to Troops Ahead of Memorial Day Weekend; Russia Escalates Cyberwar with U.S. Ahead of Biden-Putin Summit; Senate Republicans Vote for Trump Instead of Bipartisan 1/6 Commission; Paul Ryan, Matt Gaetz Send Out Opposite Messages over Direction of GOP; Tapper's New Book, "The Devil May Dance," Out Now. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired May 28, 2021 - 14:30   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: We've been listening there to President Joe Biden speak at Joint Base Langley-Eustis with what sounded like great personal pride and gratitude to these servicemembers and their families on this eve of Memorial Day weekend.

And he talked about the great pride that he had in his own son, Beau Biden, who served in the National Guard and went to Iraq, and how much that meant to him.

And how much the sacrifice of all of these families and every servicemember who has given the ultimate sacrifice means to him and to the United States.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Yes. The president lost his son six years ago this weekend. May 30th of 2015 that he died of glioblastoma.

The president saying to these men and women, thank you not just for your service but thank you for who you are.

Alisyn, a lot of those remarks off prompter. Speaking personally. Stories that he shared. We've heard some of them before.

But speaking about his relationship with his son, pride in his son.

And his pride in the people he was speaking with today. And telling them we need to know -- and I think he was speaking as a country -- we need to know how to support military families better.

CAMEROTA: And, you know, I think it's a great reminder for all of us, so many of us think of Memorial Day as the great American barbecue.

But of course, it's really important to be reminded for all military families, and all of us, of course, of the ultimate sacrifice so many gave for the rest of us.

BLACKWELL: Absolutely. So we've got a lot going on this afternoon. Another cyberattack on the

U.S., as well, just weeks before this Biden Putin summit. What's the message to Moscow as this cyber conflict escalates?



BLACKWELL: Not even two months after the U.S. sanctioned Russia for one of the worst global hacks ever, the same group of Kremlin-backed hackers committed another massive cyberattack of U.S. systems.

Microsoft just flagged the infiltration. They found that 150 government agencies, think tanks, other organizations were hit as well.

CAMEROTA: Microsoft determined it started with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

And by gaining access to USAID, the hackers were able to send out very convincing-looking phishing e-mails, like this one on the screen. Users unknowingly click on it and unleash malware that opens a back door for cyberattacks.

David Sanger is CNN's national security analyst and national security correspondent for "The New York Times." And David broke the story.

Great to see you, David.

David, is this your garden variety e-mail hack or is this a sophisticated cyberattack?

DAVID SANGER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's not especially sophisticated. I think there are many in the U.S. government who would argue this was the kind of thing they see every day.

But I think what's really important here, Alisyn, is the context of it. So President Biden is going to be meeting Vladimir Putin in two and a half weeks in Geneva.

Part of the agenda here is the increasing pace of Russian attacks, not just Russian attacks, but certainly Russian attacks on the United States of this kind.

A much more SolarWinds attack, which got into both government agencies and many of the biggest companies.

And what's interesting is that, despite the fact that President Biden issued new sanctions, threw out diplomats and all that, the Russian daily assault on U.S. institutions just proceeds ahead.

So clearly, they haven't gotten their arms around this.

BLACKWELL: So then what works? Because the sanctions obviously haven't worked. Let's add attempts to isolate Russia from the international community. That has not worked. What are they considering? What possibly could they do?

SANGER: It's a great question, Victor. And they're stuck here in a little bit of what in the cyber world they call the escalation trap.

People use cyber and nations use cyber because they know that most countries are not going to take military action. They're not going to risk an escalation of a serious confrontation for a hack, even a very damaging one.

And so it's sort of a free-fire zone. And what the Russians are trying to do is, over time, get into enough American systems that basically the government no longer has confidence in the security of its own computer networks.

And that's a really effective way of undercutting a country without risking a military response.

And so President Biden is a little bit stuck, as his predecessors were. He said the other day he wanted a proportionate response, didn't want to provoke something bigger.

But now he has discovered that the daily attacks, the normal attacks just keep coming.

CAMEROTA: David, in other words, they're not looking for any specific information. They're just trying to kind of infiltrate the system and spread chaos.

And don't we have any fire walls against things like this on State Department e-mail?

SANGER: We do. But what's been interesting in recent times, Alisyn, is that rather than try to go into the State Department, which does have fire walls, not terribly effective, the Russians have been through them before.

They're going into the software of American contractors who are providing services to the U.S. government.

So SolarWinds provided network management software, a lot of companies use it. The government uses it.

In this particular case, it's a company called Constant Contact that manages big e-mail blasts.


So they got into the State Department account -- I'm sorry -- the U.S. Agency for International Development account with Constant Contact.

And once they're into that and once they can pretend they're the authorized user, they send out e-mails that look like they are coming from the U.S. government.

You can imagine the costs that imposes on people's confidence in all this.

And they are doing espionage. A lot of this was aimed at humanitarian groups, human rights groups that have been very critical of Vladimir Putin.

CAMEROTA: David Sanger, we appreciate all your reporting on this. Thank you for sharing it with us.


BLACKWELL: Thank you, David.

SANGER: Thank you. Great to be with you.

BLACKWELL: Still ahead, Trump or change? It's not even split. But we are seeing the GOP divide.

Plus, the lies, the hate speech and conspiracy theories, the radicalization of the Republican Party, and impact on our democracy. We will talk about it with Jake Tapper. He's joining us next.



BLACKWELL: Senate Republicans today chose Trump over truth. Six voted in favor of the bipartisan commission to investigate the deadly insurrection.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called out the other 44 GOP Senators in a statement reading, in part, "Republicans clearly put election concerns above the security of the Congress and the country."

CAMEROTA: Here to talk about in and so much more, we have CNN chief Washington correspondent and anchor of "THE LEAD" and author of the new best-selling book, "The Devil May Dance," Jake Tapper.

Great to have you, Jake.


CAMEROTA: So, Jake, this news that broke before we came on the air about the 44 Republican Senators who don't want to find out what was behind the capital insurrection and the truth. As well as some who couldn't be bothered to vote.

The capitol police wanted this bipartisan commission. And so for these Senators who voted against finding the truth or didn't bother to vote, how can they ever with a straight face against say they support the police?

TAPPER: Well, I don't know but I -- I'm ready to make the prediction we will hear them say that.

But by the same token, let's dive into some of the explanations they gave into why they voted against the bill. The creation of the commission.

First, we heard that they were afraid it was going to be too partisan, way back in February.

Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi saying he didn't want more Democrats on the commission than Republicans. They wanted there to be equal subpoena power. He had a host of requests.

And ultimately, Democrats gave in to every single one of them.

OK. So then that bill, that House bill negotiated by a Democrat and Republican, Bennie Thompson and John Katko, passed 35 House Republicans voted for it.

It gets to the Senate. Still, there are concerns we hear from the likes of Mitch McConnell and others that the bill is not -- the commission is not bipartisan enough.

So Susan Collins offered amendment to improve it make it better.

That was good enough for Rob Portman, who said, OK, as long as we get a vote on the Collins amendment, I will vote to proceed with this.

So that problem is really off the table. If you have a problem with how the commission is going to be made up, Democrats basically acceded to every single Republican demand.

So you can't with a straight face say, well, we thought the commission was going to be unfair. It doesn't make any sense.

BLACKWELL: Well, we heard from John Thune that the concern was that this was going to spill over into 2022, electoral consequences for them.

Do you think they're right, that this is -- there will be far fewer consequences for not endorsing the commission than there would be from getting the answers from this commission?

TAPPER: Well, first of all, I mean there's a way to have the commission make its conclusions known either before the end of this year or to hold the recommendations until after the November 2022 elections if that's important.

That's not really a principle. You can't say, well, we're afraid of the truth and what the bipartisan commission is going to find and whether or not those facts have voters expressing disapproval with us.

That's not -- that's not a principle naked political fear.

But even if that were the case, your question, I guess, Victor, is, is that calculation the right one.


TAPPER: That squashing it and killing it, as Mitt Romney suggested, making it look as though you're trying to cover up the truth, will be better than actually letting the commission go forward.

And I don't know. Because I think one of the calculations going on here is that Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, a Democrat will create a select commission.

That select commission will be seen as more partisan and thus the conclusions will be more dismissible as just Democrats making hay.

So, I don't know. We have to see what the Pelosi suggestion, their recommendation is.

If she says, no, I want to keep this to be bipartisan and here's the Republican, I want to be in charge of it, and here's the Democrat, I want to be in charge of it. And it goes forward and it's still fairly credible, even better for the Democrats and people hoping for truth.


But even if not, this is going to be something that we cover, whether or not it's under the guise of a bipartisan commission, like the 9/11 Commission or a select committee.

The voters don't really care about that.

I don't really know that -- I mean, there were at least seven congressional investigations of the Benghazi attacks.

And I doubt people could tell me which ones were headed by Democrats, which ones were headed by Republicans, which one was a select House committee.

They're just congressional committees and people just listen to what the conclusions are.

CAMEROTA: And also we do need answers. We don't know what happened during those hours.

What was President Trump doing when he appeared to be AWOL? Why wasn't more help coming?

And 160 capitol police officers were injured, some of them grievously.

But I want to move on, Jake, because yesterday we saw the two faces of the Republican Party in this interesting split screen, between Paul Ryan and Matt Gaetz.

Here's a moment of that.


PAUL RYAN, (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: If the conservative cause depends on the populist appeal of one personality or of second-rate imitations, then we're not going anywhere.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): This is Donald Trump's party and I'm a Donald Trump Republican! (CHEERING)

GAETZ: We're not going back to it the days of the Bushes and the McCains and the Romneys. Our way, America First, is the way forward for America.


CAMEROTA: Well, the choice couldn't be any more stark. Which one is winning at the moment?

TAPPER: Right. Also the choice couldn't be more stark which one is under federal investigation? But I guess that's a separate matter.

Look, the party is in a really weird place right now, a bad place. I am of the opinion that the United States of America needs a strong, thriving conservative party.

Hopefully, the Republican Party. A party that represents the views and opinions of millions of Americans who believe in what the Republican Party believes traditionally.

But what we have now is too many Republican leaders enthrall to Donald Trump and in fear of the voters that Donald Trump has great -- has a great deal of sway with and not enough Republican leaders standing up for conservative principles.

And it is a very ugly fight.

You know, after McCarthy, Joe McCarthy was censured in 1954, there was an eagerness of the Republican Party to move on.

After Richard Nixon resigned in 1974, there was an eagerness of the Republican Party to move on.

We don't have that now. We don't have a Republican Party eager to move on. We have a Republican Party eager to repeat the mistakes that have been made in the last six months.

BLACKWELL: Yes. And we heard from Judge Amy Berman Jackson that steady drumbeat could bring an insurrection again.

Let me move on to your book. You've got a new one out, I know, because you sent me one, you signed it, and I appreciate that, Jake.


BLACKWELL: "The Devil May Dance." Set a couple of decades back. But the lessons, the story applicable to today.

Tell us about it.

TAPPER: The book is based on the real story of when, after working their heart out to get President Kennedy elected, the Rat Pack expected that when President Kennedy came and visited California, that he would stay with Sinatra. And he had his compound built up, a helipad and more.

But Attorney General Robert Kennedy had a tough decision to make because he was going after organized crime. And Sinatra was buddies with a bunch of mobsters.

So that's the true in which Charlie and Margaret, the heroes from my last book, go and investigate to see if Sinatra is really mobbed up.

But the lesson that you talked about, the resonance is the subtext of the book is what happens to you when you dance with the devil, what happens to you when you come into an alliance or make a friendship with somebody who has lower ethical and moral standards with you.

Whether it's the Kennedy campaign with the Rat Pack or Sinatra with the mob or Charlie, my main character, hanging out with the Rat Pack, what happens to you.

And we're seeing that play out in real time with House Republicans, with some notable exceptions, I should note, like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and others.

But when you make a deal with the metaphorical devil of Donald Trump because he's able to get you the judges and policies he wants, even if that means embracing a lie that led to great violence on January 6th, what does that do to you?

Because it does change you. It does. That's the lesson of the book and the lesson that we're sadly seeing play out in nonfiction right now.

CAMEROTA: Not only have you written this political misery or thriller, but you also, I guess, are a lyricist in that you have created some of the lyrics in this for Frank Sinatra. Am I right?


TAPPER: Yes. It's funny because, for the last book, I learned if you quote more than one line of the song, the lawyers will say, you can't do that because we'll get sued.

So I wrote -- I have several Sinatra songs in the book but they're not real songs. They're fake.

The lawyers, from Little Brown, my publisher, called me up and said, Tapper, we've been through this. You have an entire Sinatra song in here that is an intricate part of the climax of the book. You can't do any of that. It's all copyrighted.

I said, no, no, no, it's not a real song. It's a fake song. I made it up. It's not a real Sinatra song. So good enough to fool the lawyers.

CAMEROTA: Well, if this whole political reporter thing doesn't work out, I think be you have a future in that.

TAPPER: I want you to sing it, that's the thing.

CAMEROTA: Ah. CAMEROTA: Nobody wants me to sing.


BLACKWELL: Come on, Alisyn. Come on.

CAMEROTA: I'm a great lip-syncer, so.

If you want to sing it --


TAPPER: Are you talking to Victor? I'm happy to have Victor sing it, too.

BLACKWELL: I'll pass on singing, too.


TAPPER: He has a great baritone.

BLACKWELL: Not for singing.

CAMEROTA: The book again is "The Devil May Dance." It's the perfect time to pick up as we head into this holiday weekend.

Jake Tapper, great to talk to you, as always.

TAPPER: Great to see you.

And I love your new show, guys. Thank you so much for being a great lead into mine.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, Jake. And we'll do it on time.


BLACKWELL: Jake Tapper --


BLACKWELL: -- thanks for being with us.

CAMEROTA: Or else.


Still ahead, a former U.S. Marine behind bars in Russia. Now faces a new fight, COVID-19. What his parents want President Biden and President Putin to know as they prepare to meet face-to-face.