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CNN "CNN Newsroom" - Transcript: nterview with Representative Denny Heck (D-WA) about Russian Meddling and Bernie Sanders

Interview

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HARLOW: Again, making that assessment without putting out any evidence.

Let's talk about that and a whole lot more with Congressman Denny Heck, Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee.

It's good to have you. Just I guess your response to the president's assertion about the chairman of your committee.

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA): Four plays in his playbook, not five, not three, just four. One deny, two, attack, three, play the victim and four, change the subject by saying something outrageous. This is out of the fourth play in his playbook.

Look, his intelligence community -- his intelligence community -- has assessed that Russia is playing. Director of FBI Christopher Wray said this I think some months ago. So that seems to me to be obvious, self- evident and an established fact. The only question is what are we going to do about it? He's obviously not inclined to do anything about it.

SCIUTTO: Yes. No one disputes that Russia is meddling again in 2020. What caused the kerfuffle, if you'd call it that, last week was the read that Russia again has a preference for Trump in this election. That, of course, was the IC's assessment in 2016. There was a lot of evidence to that. For instance, you know, it was DNC e-mails that were stolen and released during the Democratic National Convention to hurt Democrats. Podesta's e-mails were stolen, released 22 minutes after the "Access Hollywood" tape.

I just want to ask you, given that you're on the committee, is there evidence that Russia's preference has changed since 2016?

HECK: Jim, I, obviously, can't either confirm nor deny anything that occurred during a classified briefing, but, obviously, as I have said for three years when asked, is Russia going to be back, I have always responded, what do you mean back? They've never left.

Look, it's really important that we all step back and understand why this is so important. Our great republic, any healthy democracy, sits atop a three-legged stool. First leg, the rule of law. Second leg, guarantee of individual freedoms. Third leg, a perception that we conduct free, fair, open elections with integrity. And if we lose the latter because somebody is trying to cheat, then basically what happens is the election outcome will not be considered legitimate.

And at the end of the day in any democracy, good government is predicated on the consent of the government. HARLOW: Congressman, I'd like to turn the attention to tonight.

There's a big debate tonight. And the frontrunner now in the Democratic Party, in your party, is Senator Bernie Sanders, a self- proclaimed Democratic socialist. You have said you want a, quote, "honest debate" for the future of our country. What do you think Democratic socialism would mean for the future of America?

HECK: So, Poppy, can I preface this by saying, I haven't endorsed anybody in this race.

HARLOW: That was the next question, Congressman.

HECK: Well, look, I -- unlike some of my colleagues, I'm not entirely sure that there are a lot of people waiting around to see who it is I'm going to vote for or whom I endorse. But I'm going to have to make my mind up pretty fast because my state votes on March 10th. So I'm giving this all due consideration.

I'll tell you what I hope for. I hope for a debate tonight that is completely unlike the last one which, frankly, I likened to a middle school food fight. I'm looking for the candidate who puts out a strong vision about where they want to take America and who appeals to our better angels, who ask us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. To move the country forward. I didn't see that the last debate. And I sure hope and pray that that's what we'll get tonight.

SCIUTTO: Question, if I can, because it relates to what you brought up just before that. Relates of course to 2020, which is, you know, without the impression of the confidence in free and fair election elections, that is enormously damaging to the country. Just ask you straight out because the president didn't address this, this morning.

What has the president done to prevent interference in the 2020 election, based on your knowledge, particularly on the committee? And what evidence is there that the president has prioritized preventing Russia and other countries from interfering again?

HECK: Well, Jim, self-evidently has he not only failed to do anything to prevent interference, he's effectively encouraged it. Excuse me. He encouraged it when he specifically and explicitly called out for Russia to interfere last cycle. He affirmed that perspective when in Helsinki he publicly said that he believed Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence community. And he's done it many times since, including by failing to sanction Russia.

I think Senator Schumer is right when he announced this week that we ought to levy sanctions on Russia because here's the deal. Until the pain is so great that Russia stands down, they will continue to do this.

[09:15:00]

This is a rigged game, Jim. The fact of the matter is that we're engaged in an unchecked and uncontrolled equivalent of an arms race in cyberspace. And we're at structural disadvantage. We're at structural disadvantage because when you engage in cyber warfare, there's inevitably collateral damage.

And our values are such that, we don't like collateral damage. They don't care. We're also at structural disadvantage because of the economics of this thing. People who can engage in the kinds of cyber expertise to enable us to compete in this place are highly competed for in the private sector. They're very cheap in the countries that are coming after us. So it enables them to punch way above their weight. So we have a structural disadvantage.

And that's why it is far past time for us to step up and lead --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

HECK: An effort globally for some kind of an international treaty to stand down on this never-ending cyber warfare.

SCIUTTO: Yes, well, sadly, here we are four years later and it's sort of friendly-fire, right, internally. Congressman Denny Heck, thanks so much. Always good to have you on.

HARLOW: Thank you, sir --

HECK: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Still to come at this hour, a critical debate for Democrats days before the South Carolina primary. And front-runner Bernie Sanders preparing to take some major heat.

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