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Trump's National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, Resigns; Who Will Replace Flynn? Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 14, 2017 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, February 14, 6 a.m. here in New York.

[05:58:47] President Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigns for, he says, misleading the White House about his communications with Russia before the president took office. But the big question is who else knew what Flynn was up to in appeasing Russia?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We are learning that the Justice Department warned the Trump White House last month that Flynn may have been compromised and could be vulnerable to blackmail. What did the president know?

There's a major shakeup on this, day 26 of the Trump administration. We have it all covered for you. Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House.

What's the reaction, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Less than a month into this new administration, and back-door communications with Russia have already claimed their first casualty. And of course, there are a number of questions yet to be answered, even though the general has already resigned.


JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump's embattled national security adviser, General Michael Flynn, stepping down Monday night in a firestorm of criticism after misleading Vice President Mike Pence and others about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

An official telling CNN the Justice Department warned the White House last month that Flynn discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador in December, before Trump was sworn in, despite repeated denials, a move that could have broken the law.

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed the Trump administration prior to being fired that General Flynn was vulnerable to potential blackmail. In his resignation letter, Flynn conceding that he inadvertently

briefed the vice-president elect and others with incomplete information but falling short of meeting, despite reporting by "The Washington Post" that the sanctions were a main topic of conversation between Flynn and the ambassador.

ADAM ENTOUS, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST" (via phone): According to two officials that we spoke to who have been briefed on this, it was, as they described it, a main topic of the discussion. It wasn't something that Kislyak maybe threw out at the end or anything like that.

JOHNS: With pressure mounting on the White House on Monday afternoon, counselor Kellyanne Conway said the president supported Flynn.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: Flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the president.

JOHNS: An hour later a different message from the White House press secretary: the president was "evaluating the situation." President Trump refusing to answer questions...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have confidence in Michael Flynn, Mr. President?

JOHNS: ... about his controversial adviser.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What exactly will you be evaluating with Michael Flynn?

JOHNS: We still don't know what the president knew and when he knew it. In a statement, Democrat Adam Schiff accusing the administration of not being forthcoming "about who was aware of Flynn's conversations with the ambassador and whether he was acting on the instructions of the president or any other officials, or with their knowledge."

Democrats now calling for an immediate classified briefing into the situation, writing, "We in Congress need to know who authorized his actions, permitted them and continued to let him have access to our most sensitive national security information despite knowing these risks."


JOHNS: The president meets today with New Jersey governor and former federal prosecutor Chris Christie, as well as his new attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

Back to you.

CUOMO: All right, Joe, thank you very much.

So, Michael Flynn's departure raises as many questions as it answers. And it comes at a critical moment. You have the first foreign test for the administration after North Korea's launch of a ballistic missile. And you have the administration's escalating fight over the travel ban, which the president says is needed to protect national security. So now what?

CNN national security reporter Ryan Brown live in Washington with more. I guess they have to start with the permanent replacement.

RYAN BROWN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Chris. And what senior administration officials are telling us already, that there's a review going -- underway to see who might take the job.

Now, right now in an acting role, we see that retired lieutenant general Keith Kellogg, who's stepped up in that position. Now, he was the chief of staff to the NSC. So he was already there. He was already briefed into a lot of issues.

Kellogg is a long-time retired military officer. He had 36 years in the military. He was a decorated Vietnam veteran. He -- as we said, he's the acting national security adviser currently. He was one of the earliest senior military officials to back Trump and was an advisor in the early stages of Trump's campaign, so there's a loyalty factor, as well.

But some other names we're hearing, a little bit higher profile, for the job. General David Petraeus is highest amongst them, of course. He's the former CIA director, led military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the famous surge in 2007. But he -- one administration official said that he comes with some baggage. He resigned after an extramarital affair where he was accused and pled guilty to disclosing classified information. He's actually currently on probation.

Now, we're hearing reports that Petraeus could come to the White House as early as this week to discuss the potential positions in the administration.

And finally, we're also hearing a name of Vice Admiral -- retired Vice Admiral Harward, who is a former Navy SEAL. He actually served on the National Security Council during the Bush administration and actually served underneath Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis while he was head of Central Command. So he has a very close relationship with at least one senior member of the administration.

Back to you guys.

CAMEROTA: All right. Thanks so much for all of that.

We have a lot to discuss. Let's bring in our panel right now. We have CNN political analyst David Gregory; CNN political analyst and reporter for "The Washington Post," Abby Phillip; CNN terrorism analyst Phil Mudd; and criminal defense attorney and constitutional attorney Page Pate. Thank you all for being here.

David Gregory, a lot has happened. If people are just waking up, a lot has happened while they have been sleeping. Help us synthesize, why did this reach a head last night?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, a couple of reasons. This was at least stunningly bad judgment by the national security adviser, General Flynn, who's been a controversial figure for months. He was involved in, you know, this campaign rhetoric of "lock up Hillary Clinton."

His son spread false and defamatory articles about Hillary Clinton on the Internet and had to be removed from any position in the White House as a result.

So General Flynn has been controversial. He's also been presiding over a kind of fledgling foreign policy in the Trump administration. It's been a disaster. Look at the rollout of this executive order. Look at the fact that the Trump administration has provided comfort to nationalist politicians in Europe. And now you have ongoing questions about this relationship with Russia. But he also lied to the vice president. and the president was in a position here where he could not have had more turmoil. He's already got plenty, and plenty of leaks. He's got all of this going on within the White House. He simply couldn't stand it.

But you add to all of that that fact that, if he was a target for blackmail, if he could have been compromised by Russia, amid the questions of cozying up to Vladimir Putin, this becomes a big national security threat. And that's where there's more to this story, I think.

CUOMO: Well, the last part of that, David, is certainly where we have to going here, Abby, the idea that Michael Flynn is the end of the understanding of this, that he lied to Mike Pence, nobody knew what he was doing, is very hard to swallow.

The word out of the White House was, after they said he had full confidence yesterday, new information came up. Why wasn't the old information enough, Abby? Could it really be true that Michael Flynn did this all by himself?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, one of the interesting things is the degree to which Mike Pence is genuinely very angry with how this was handled. He feels very much blindsided by Michael Flynn and his handling of the situation.

So on some level there is a -- there is a concern on Pence's side that he was misled and maybe that he gave Flynn the benefit of the doubt and he didn't deserve it. You have to remember that, in this context, Mike Flynn is one of the closest advisers of the president. He briefs him every single day, is involved in almost every national security issue. And so the president has given him quite a bit of rope. I think Mike Pence has done exactly the same thing. And that came back to bite him.

This issue came to a head for Trump partly because of the amount of controversy in the headlines. This is a president who looks at the newspaper every morning and does not like to see his staff at the top of "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" every day. And he wanted to find a way to resolve this issue in a way that didn't make him seem like he was capitulating too much. In the end, I don't think Mike Flynn was able to survive these latest allegations today. CAMEROTA: Page Pate, this is a tangled web that we are trying to make

our way through, and your old friend, Sally Yates, comes back into play as a main player. She was the acting attorney general. She was dismissed by Donald Trump because she said that she could not carry out his travel ban. It turns out, we now know from reporting, that she warned the White House a month ago that Michael Flynn had done this and could be exposed to blackmail.

So, talk about Sally Yates' role.

PAGE PATE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY AND CONSTITUTIONAL ATTORNEY: Well, Alisyn, this is another example of Sally Yates trying to do the right thing but the White House ignoring her. I think Sally Yates not just had a problem with the potential for blackmail, but she also identified the possibility that Flynn had violated federal law.

There's a law on the books called Logan Act, which does prevent a private citizen having discussions like this with a foreign government. Now it's an old law. It hasn't really been used to prosecute anyone. But it is still on the books, and it's a felony. And as soon as she recognized there was a problem like this inside the White House, she did everything she could to let them know about it. It just appears they didn't care.

CUOMO: Phil Mudd, you have so much experience being in the room and figuring out how the machinations of politics meshes with intel. The idea that Michael Flynn was just freelancing and that this was a conspiracy of one in terms of who was controlling this dynamic is a little hard to swallow, how could that be possible where despite warnings by the DOJ, Clapper, Brennan, that the White House went to Flynn and he said, "No, it's all OK" and the analysis ended there?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, you got to scratch your head on this one, Chris. And by the way, happy Valentine's Day. Big kiss for you today.

You've got to scratch your head on this one, and let me explain why. This conversation happened, obviously, some time ago. Presuming that the Russian ambassador's phone is tapped, somebody -- in this case, that would be the National Security Agency -- is intercepting that phone call, and there's a transcript. That transcript can be viewed by people like the attorney general and the FBI director. And they can ask for the name of the American individual in that conversation. Other intel people can't see that name.

That name is going to be General Flynn. So over the period of whatever that's been, the last month or so, people should have known that there was a conversation, and that conversation included, presumably, talk about sanctions.

So the timing here to me is interesting because over the last month, it was -- it should not have been a secret in the White House that that conversation happened.

[06:10:08] And lastly, Chris, I can't understand how, if you're General Flynn with the history of national security, you can go to the vice president and say, "I don't remember having that conversation." It's written down in the transcript. What happened here?

CAMEROTA: David, help us understand that. So to Chris's point, unless Mike Flynn went rogue and decided to do this on his own, that means that the vice president didn't know what he was doing and the president didn't know what he was doing? Or is the reporting leading to the point of that he was acting with the permission of somebody else?

GREGORY: Well, it's a serious question. I mean, let's remember the broader context.

First of all, Pence is so mad about this, because he goes out and vouches for Flynn in national interviews, in which he says, "No, no, no, they didn't talk about sanctions," based on a conversation he had with Flynn. So, he was lied to. And you don't do that to your vice president.

And give the president credit. He's not going to let his vice president be sold out like that.

But the national security advisor is coordinating all foreign policy, is -- from all the agencies -- from state, to defense, to intelligence -- and bringing that information into the White House to coordinate how the president makes decisions.

We know that President Trump has been cozying up to Vladimir Putin from the campaign, was dismissive of intelligence information that he tried to interfere in the election. So the fact that his national security advisor essentially says to the Russian ambassador, "Well, let's not worry about those sanctions. We'll take another look at those," I think is going to be suspect. And I think there's going to be a lot more questions about this.

And let me just add parenthetically, I don't think the Trump administration can blame this on the dishonest, wretched media, can they? This is actually a senior official lying to the public and lying to the vice president. And they leak over there like a sieve, for all their disdain for the media. Unbelievable.

CUOMO: Well, let's stick with the facts on this. Because even the conclusion, Abby, that the vice president was lied to, how do we know that? In the context of this wasn't, like, parallel agendas that were going on where Flynn was cozying up to Russia, but the administration was otherwise towing the normal U.S. line. Denial about the hacks. You know, constant sheltering of Russia from any kind of responsibility of being nefarious. Even going as far as the president of the United States saying he wasn't sure about Russia's involvement with separatists in Ukraine, something that's not in doubt to anyone who has been there or studies the situation.

So how comfortable are we reporting as fact, yes, Flynn lied to everyone, they didn't know what was happening?

PHILLIPS: Well, I think this is where we need to sort of make a distinction between, you know, what was potentially illegal and what was maybe not the smartest thing to do. I think that there is, to your point, a broader ethos in this

administration of wanting to get closer to Russia. I think it is without question that Michael Flynn as the national security adviser, one of the closest to the president, was prosecuting that objective leading up to the inauguration.

The question is, did he go across the line? And did he do something to sort of interfere with national security in specific conversations?

It's pretty clear that the topic of the sanctions was -- was front and center. The question is, how far did he go? And was he up front with other officials in the White House about how far he went? I think it's conceivable that he would -- the White House officials knew that he was communicating with the Russian ambassador.

I think it is also conceivable that Vice President Pence did not know the degree to which that conversation had veered into a very concrete discussion about how Russia should respond to U.S. sanctions at the time. And that's where the dishonesty or the misleading of the vice president becomes the main issue.

And I think that Pence was genuinely surprised and has been as far as everything that I've heard from aides this week. He's very angry about this. And this is not a man who gets angry very easily.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much for all of that insight. Obviously, we'll have much more on where the White House goes from here coming right up.

CUOMO: And where they came from. Yesterday, in the afternoon, full confidence they said Michael Flynn had.

CAMEROTA: Kellyanne said that. Then Sean Spicer said something different.

CUOMO: Said that he was reviewing options.

CAMEROTA: Different messaging there coming out of that.

CUOMO: All right. So two more members of President Trump's cabinet have been confirmed. The president swearing in Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in the Oval Office last night, saying everything Mnuchin touches turns to gold.

The Senate also confirming Obama administration holdover David Shulkin as secretary of veteran affairs.

CAMEROTA: The United Nations Security Council unanimously condemning North Korea's weekend ballistic missile launch. The U.S., South Korea and Japan actions calling Pyongyang's actions a, quote, "grave violation of the country's international obligations." U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley issuing a scathing statement, saying in part it's time to hold the regime accountable, quote, "not only with words but with our actions," end quote. We have a live report from Pyongyang coming up on NEW DAY.

CUOMO: All right, the club terrace at president's Mar-a-Lago is known for weddings and fundraisers. Very cool place.

[06:15:19] But it turned into an open air situation room. This is raising ton of eyebrows. Was this the place to sit next to the leader of Japan and review options in light of North Korea's missile launch? That's what's happening in the picture on your screen. We'll discuss what this means to security, policy and common sense. Next.


CUOMO: All right, President Donald Trump facing criticism after turning a dinner table into an open-air situation room at his Mar-a- Lago estate. Pictures posted on Facebook show the president and Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, reviewing documents after news that North Korea fired a ballistic missile came to them.

Let's discuss whether this was the right way to do this. We've got David Gregory and Abby Phillip; and joining us is CNN political commentator and senior columnist for "The Daily Beast," Matt Lewis.

[06:20:12] Brother Gregory, you've covered White Houses in the past. You've seen how they deal with the situation rooms, the protocols, the intentionality, and then this. How do you make sense of it?

GREGORY: I just think it's amateurish. You know, I think they should just be discreet. You're at a public place. He owns the country club, for crying out loud. I mean, there's any number of places they could go to -- you know, to have some serious conversations to review documents, to have phone calls as necessary. You know, Phil Mudd was saying when this first came to light in talking about it yesterday, you don't want to create a crisis atmosphere, and that's not necessary.

But you're the president of the United States. You're the former -- you're the prime minister of Japan. Use some discretion here. I think anybody else would be the subject of Donald Trump's criticism for being a disaster, as he might say, for doing all of this, you know, out in the open.

CAMEROTA: Matt, these pictures are incredible. I mean, they're just incredible to look at. Because if you've never seen what goes on inside a situation room, this image -- sort of the flurry of activity that is captured here. People using their cell phone lights to illuminate whatever e-mail or message he's getting. Diners sitting around, wondering what's happening, obviously they're concerned at this -- they see all this beehive of activity.

What is happening? Why didn't they just excuse themselves and go elsewhere?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Look, I think Donald Trump likes being around people. He likes being -- he likes the adoration, the buzz, the energy of being around people.

I think there are a couple of layers. I mean, one, there's obviously a potential national security liability here.

CAMEROTA: Meaning if somebody overheard them?

LEWIS: Or took a picture of something.

CUOMO: Somebody took pictures of the person, allegedly, with the nuclear codes. You know, there was a lot of exposure going on.

LEWIS: So that's a problem. I think there's also -- that's the big problem, right? But there's also a matter of decorum.

And then I think also, there's the matter of is Mar-a-Lago being used as a way to parade around governmental officials and world leaders to perform for guests? So that's the -- those are the optics. It looks like if you paid $200,000 a year to belong to Mar-a-Lago, you could then have a seat where the action is. And maybe get to see some history taking place.

CUOMO: Well, and you know, we do know that the president went to a wedding reception, reportedly, after this moment. So he stayed on campus there and moved around.

Abby, let's flip it 180 degrees. Who cares? Who cares where he does the business of the state if this was secure enough to the Secret Service people around him and Abe's handlers. It's good enough for us. This is much ado about nothing?

PHILLIP: Well, and just to be clear, the Secret Service is concerned with the physical safety about the president and his guests, they're not -- they're not dealing with information security here. This is the prerogative of the aides and the advisers around the president, none of whom said to him, "Hey, Mr. President, I think we should move into another room and do this in private." Which tells you something about where they are and their ability to sort of deliver that kind of straight news to their boss.

And you know, we -- the general public may or may not care. I think that a lot of people look at these images; and they're surprised. They think that national security decisions should be dealt with in private. I think that's actually a very commonsense feeling about this.

Of course, Donald Trump's supporters are going to say, what's the big deal? But I think, by and large, people are looking at these pictures and they're thinking, "Wow, I cannot believe that that's happening." They wouldn't have private conversations in a dining room filled with other people. That alone, that expectation being extended to the president of the United States, the prime minister of Japan.

GREGORY: Chris...

CAMEROTA: Go ahead.

GREGORY: I just want to interject here, look, the reason I think this matters more broadly is that it says something about how they're running things in the White House. And I think there's a couple of things going on. I think there's turmoil. I think there's incompetence. I think there is open disdain for, you know, the media. And so they're playing games with who they call on at press conferences and all the rest.

And this stuff matters if something really bad happens. If there's a real crisis, then people should be alarmed. It doesn't matter what Trump spotters think. This is about how our government operates. I have seen this up close. This is not the test.

The test is when something bad happens do they know what to do? This is not indicative of a team that really knows what to do or that has a level of decorum about how they think about these big decisions.

CAMEROTA: And of course, Matt, we all remember that then-candidate Trump, you know, made a lot of hay about President Obama was sleeping during the Benghazi attack, or where was he? Which is all -- was all false. But he -- he talked about how he wasn't on top of it, and he was missing and that Hillary Clinton wasn't around. And now, this? I mean, that's part of what makes it so head scratching, is that he goes to a wedding reception afterwards and takes sort of, you know, lighthearted pictures?

[06:25:17] LEWIS: Yes, but I think that sort of thing is in the eye of the beholder. You know? Do you want the president -- remember the criticism that George W. Bush got when he was at a...

CUOMO: Children's book reading.

LEWIS: Yes, and he sort of, you know, whispered in his ear what had happened, and he continues.

CAMEROTA: About 9/11, and then he continued reading instead of, like, jumping up...

LEWIS: Yes. And do you want a president to look freaked out and to run out of the room or do you want him to sort of calmly -- you know, it sends signals.

And so, I don't -- I wouldn't bash Trump too much on that part of it. But I do think that, as David Gregory was saying, this is -- part of the problem is that there's no -- there are no adults that will come to the president and say, "You need to come to this undisclosed location now," or to this secure location now. That's what happened with George W. Bush. I mean, he was essentially overruled. He wanted to come back to Washington after 9/11. They said no, we're not going there.

CUOMO: But remember, that was 9/11. The Pentagon had been hit.

LEWIS: Very different. Very different. But still, it's the adults in the room.

CUOMO: And speaking of the adults in a room, Abby, the president needs them now more than ever. He's got to deal with the Flynn situation. And the executive ban, the way that goes is going to matter for millions of people around this world, but it's going to matters very specifically for the political face early on for the president and his administration. This Virginia judge just put another nail in the coffin of the executive order, saying, "You're not going to enforce any of it on our citizens for now."

What do we know about what they're thinking about how to approach this problem?

PHILLIP: Well, look, let's put it this way. It has been several days since the president has not been able to enforce his executive order. The White House has maintained that this is an issue of urgent national security, and yet they have not resolved it.

That just goes to show you how difficult this decision is and partly because how they proceed, whether they decide to go with a new executive order or even layering on executive orders around the ones that currently exist and that is on hold could potentially undermine their case in court.

If they go that route, it might be the fastest way to get policy on the table, to get a plan moving. But it might basically forestall their chances in court. And this is a White House that is very concerned about winning. The president wants to win in court. But winning might not be the best option, if what they want to do is have an administration policy that has to do with refugees, that has to do with immigration from countries that they think are vulnerable to terrorism. So it's very unclear, and I think they're having a really hard time with it.

CAMEROTA: Abby, David, Matt, thank you very much for all of the information.

We have other news to tell you about, because coming up CNN is inside North Korea, and we have a live report for you. Will Ripley, our correspondent, just arrived in Pyongyang. What they are saying about now the U.N. condemning their missile launch and what they plan to do next. We'll take you there live.