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Trump's National Security Advisor Michael Flynn Resigns; Who Will Replace Flynn? Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired February 14, 2017 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: NEW DAY continues right now.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
[07:00:07] CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. We do begin with breaking news for you. President Trump's national security advisor Michael Flynn resigning. This comes amid the firestorm over how he possibly misled the White House about his communications with Russia about sanctions before President Trump took office.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Why does Alisyn say possibly? Because the facts don't tell us at this point that this is all about Michael Flynn. We know the Justice Department and intelligence officials warned the Trump White House weeks ago that Flynn had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador before they took office, that he might be vulnerable to blackmail. So who else knew and who decided to do nothing about it? Those questions go all the way up to the top to our president.
A major shake-up on just day 26 of the Trump presidency. We have it all covered. Let's begin with what we know, with CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris.
Just a month into this new administration, and back-door communications with Russia have already claimed a casualty. General Michael Flynn was on the job just 24 days. He says he gave the administration incomplete information. Now the question is, who on the transition team, perhaps now in the government, knew about it?
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 admitting he lied, despite reporting by "The Washington Post" that the sanctions on Russia 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: General 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: More tough questions for the White House today. They did hold a call this morning where they refused to answer questions and gave absolutely no new information -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Thanks, Joe.
Michael Flynn's departure comes at a pivotal time for President Trump as he deals with two big national security issues: North Korea's launch of a ballistic missile, and the administration's escalating legal battle over the travel ban. So who will replace Flynn?
CNN national security reporter Ryan Brown is live in Washington with more. What have you learned, Ryan?
RYAN BROWN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn we're learning that three names have emerged in contention for the post from a senior administration official. Now, one of those names, retired Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg, is currently serving as the acting national security advisor in the wake of Flynn's resignation. Now, Kellogg is already well-briefed. He was the chief of staff to the National Security Council, so he's already been exposed to a lot of these issues in the early days of this administration. He's a long- term member of the military, 36 years. He's a decorated Vietnam veteran. He hasn't been a formal government role since 2003, but he was an advisor during the Trump campaign.
So he's been with Trump since the earliest days of his run for the presidency.
Now, some of the more higher-profile names in contention, retired General David Petraeus. He's due to meet in the White House as early as this week to discuss possible positions. He was, of course, the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he resigned as director of the CIA after it was -- after his firm found out that he had disclosed sensitive and classified information. So he's currently under probation, actually. That probation is due to expire in a few months.
[07:05:20] And finally, another name we're hearing is retired Vice Admiral Ryan Harward. He's a former Navy SEAL. He has a close relationship with one member of the Trump administration. He served as current Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis' deputy when Mattis was a general commanding in U.S. Central Command. There was already a pre- established relationship there.
So hopefully, they are trying to fill this position as quickly as possible. As you mentioned, given all the national security challenges faced by the administration. So we'll be looking to see if one of these names emerges for the permanent role in the coming days.
Back to you, Chris.
CUOMO: All right. Appreciate the reporting. And yet, the priority is obviously dealing with the questions left by the man who just vacated the office, General Michael Flynn.
Republican Congressman Chris Collins from New York, on the Trump transition team executive committee, joins us now. Congressman, appreciate you being here.
REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: Good to be with you.
CUOMO: You are the first member of the GOP that we have had a chance to talk to about this. No word from Ryan, no word from McConnell, when you have a man of Flynn's stature resign and, in his own letter, saying that he misled, maybe even lied to other members of the White House, why is everybody so quiet?
COLLINS: Well, it's Valentine's Day, and I guess they're having breakfasts with their wives.
Really, all I can say is I'm sorry to see General Flynn go. I don't know the details of what transpired. I know General Flynn. I know that he's very loyal to President Trump. I do know he's a great American. He has stepped down, obviously, something he felt was in the best interests of this country. I certainly respect that. But I know I live in the world. We move on from here. I'm not going to be one, nor would I hope others would dwell on the situation or pile on, to use another term. I think it's just time to move on, find a replacement. I certainly know General Kellogg. He would be a great person to replace him. The others, as well.
COLLINS: So, let's move on. We've got a lot of issues to deal with. As was mentioned, North Korea, the travel ban, continuing discussions with Russia. It's a busy, busy White House. General Flynn did what he thought was in the best interests of the country. I certainly respect that, and I think it's just time to move on.
Congressman, there is zero chance that we're going to move on until the answers to the questions that present itself at least get noticed from the White House. They wouldn't even take questions this morning. The White House hasn't taken questions from an open organization in days, as you know. That was no mistake.
Do you believe that General Flynn misled or lied to the White House? Kellyanne Conway on another show this morning is saying exactly that.
COLLINS: Well, I don't know the details of what was said. I was not part of the private conversation between he and Vice President Pence, obviously.
Again, General Flynn did what he thought that was in the best interests of the country. If his description of the events were, you know, he was less than forthright, then so be it. He's decided to move on. I'm certainly not one to prejudge or judge what he said.
CUOMO: But do you think this was all about Mike Flynn? You think it begins and ends with him?
COLLINS: I absolutely believes it begins and end with General Flynn.
CUOMO: And yet, we know for a fact that the DOJ and intel chiefs let the White House counsel know that Mike Flynn discussed sanctions with his Russian counterpart weeks ago. The White House knew. It cannot begin and end with Mike Flynn, because we know the White House counsel was told. That means the White House knew and did nothing for weeks. How do you explain that?
COLLINS: Well, I cannot explain what exactly happened, but there's nothing wrong with the incoming national security adviser having conversations prior to actually taking office. It's certainly not allowed to negotiate or pretend that you're negotiating on behalf of the country until you're in office. And again, that's a nuance that I don't know the details of. But actually, having the -- having a discussion with the Russian ambassador is nothing illegal about that.
CUOMO: But they're -- there's nothing nuanced about this. There's everything that is potentially illegal because of the Logan Act. It never gets prosecuted. But the law is pretty clear, and this type of material negotiation of national security interests to the United States, if anything was going to trigger the law, this would.
[07:10:00] So it certainly wasn't harmless, but more importantly the question is, Mike Flynn couldn't have been doing this all by himself, because we know that the White House was informed of what he was doing.
Now, he says he misled the White House. It has been suggested that he lied to the vice president. but do you really believe, Congressman, that no one really knew anything about what Mike Flynn was doing, even in the face of the fact that they were told weeks ago? That should be a rhetorical question. It shouldn't even be possible as to whether or not nobody knew what Flynn was doing. Don't you agree?
COLLINS: Well, I don't believe anyone knew what General Flynn was doing, or directed him to do something relative to the discussion with the Russian ambassador. I believe that was General Flynn's decision to have the conversation he had.
As to who knew what, if somebody was, you know, intercepting that phone call and listening in, that's something that's certainly been suggested. But the details of it I certainly -- I have no knowledge of.
CUOMO: What more do we need to know then? December 29, they intercepted a conversation. They then tell -- who's "they"? The Department of Justice, Sally Yates, the woman who got removed for supposedly being a grandstander. She says she was doing her job then, and she was doing her job now when she relayed this information. Intel chiefs did it, as well.
They knew that he discussed sanctions with his Russian counterpart at the same time that the Russian president mysteriously decided not to act the way it does every time in exchange with the United States. The United States kicked out some spies, closed down a couple of these safe houses that Russia had. Usually, they respond. But not this time.
You have no questions about who knew? You have no curiosity about this, even though it deals with the heart of national security?
COLLINS: Well, to be honest, I just live in a world where I always move forward. In a busy world, you don't dwell on the past. At this point in time...
COLLINS: ... General Flynn has decided... CUOMO: Come on, Congressman. It's Valentine's Day, and for the love the truth, you cannot say that you just want to move on. If this were the Obama White House, if we were talking about President Hillary Clinton and you found out that her counsel knew weeks ago that -- which means that's her mouthpiece. That's her right hand. Knew weeks ago that this man was playing with the Russians about sanctions, and you just want to move on? How is anybody supposed to hear that? Say, yes, Collins is being a fair broker on this.
COLLINS: Well, because that is actually the world I live in. I call it a "guess what, now what?" world. Guess what? He resigned. Now what? We've got a lot of issues to deal with. That's the way I live my life. I don't dwell on the past. General Flynn has resigned.
CUOMO: You don't want to know whether our president knew that Mike Flynn had been talking to the Russians about sanctions? You don't want to know?
COLLINS: Well, I think we all know that General Flynn had a discussion with the Russian ambassador. That's clear. I don't think anyone's ever tried to say otherwise.
CUOMO: Wait a minute, Flynn tried to say otherwise. The White House tried to cover it in a different way. What do you mean, nobody said otherwise? Everybody said otherwise.
COLLINS: I said he had a discussion with the Russian ambassador. That's never been...
CUOMO: You said about sanctions. That's the key part.
COLLINS: Well, the detail here is, sanctions. If they talked about it, that's one thing. If they negotiated about it, as you pointed out, that would be breaching the Logan law. But again, those are details and nuances. I just -- I have zero information on, Chris. I do not know the details of that. I'm not going to second-guess who said what or when.
All I know, today is a sad day. General Flynn has resigned. It's in his determination that it's best for the country. I respect that. He's a gentleman. He's a great American, and I'm not going to pile on.
CUOMO: Yes, but it's not about piling on, Congressman. Don't mistake my intention. And to be honest, I don't think you are. These are real questions, Congressman. This doesn't go away, because Flynn resigned. We have to know who is in the business of appeasing Russia within our White House. Don't you understand the vital importance of that question?
COLLINS: Well, it's a new day. As of 22 days ago, General -- President Trump is now in charge. President Trump can have any discussions he wants to have relative to sanctions or anything else negotiating with Russia or any other country. So what was said prior to January 20 is moot. At this point, it is in President Trump's hands what discussions he has on sanctions or any other matter. So who said what prior to January 20 is no longer really of any concern of mine, since President Trump can have any discussions he wants to have...
COLLINS: ... related to this issues.
[17:15:00] CUOMO: But what about the truth? What about our trust in that what the White House says is true is true? We saw that that they didn't want to take any critical questions about Mike Flynn. We saw that the president of the United States feigned ignorance about the controversy surrounding Mike Flynn when asked. He said -- maybe the most media-savvy man I've ever met in my life -- said, "I have no idea about these reports about Mike Flynn. I'll have to ask someone." It's the first thing I've ever heard President Trump that he didn't know about that was happening in the media.
And now, we know the White House counsel knew; and for weeks the White House did nothing. And now we know that the vice president came out and took the back of Mike Flynn. Now he says he was lied to.
We don't know anything about who was working with Flynn, how this was coordinated, why there seems to be this desire to shelter Russia from responsibility for its nefarious actions. We have the president saying he's not sure about whether or not Russians have separatists in Ukraine. These are very daunting situations that deserve answers, no?
COLLINS: Well, but this doesn't have anything to do with General Flynn at this point in time, who has resigned. And what he said or didn't say prior to January 20, at this point in time, don't mean anything when, in fact, it's President Trump and the team that he's got around him on any and all of these issues moving forward.
That's why, again, I said, guess what, now what. This is not something that we need to dwell on prior to January 20, because it doesn't matter any longer. What President Trump does related to Russia, related to sanctions, related to North Korea, et cetera, is under his purview as president of the United States. And the past is the past.
CUOMO: It is also our present and our future, because the questions lead us to an understanding of where we go from here. The "guess what?" was Kellyanne said he had full confidence. The "now what?" is that Sean Spicer said we're reviewing the situation. And before we knew it, Flynn was gone, and no member of the leadership of your party has said a damn word about it. At least we had you here this morning to field the questions.
Chris Collins, not an easy conversation. Thank you for having it on NEW DAY, as always.
COLLINS: Always good to be with you, Chris. Have a great day.
CUOMO: All right. Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: All right, Chris. Congress confirming two more members of President Trump's cabinet. President Trump praising his new treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, while swearing him in last night, saying, quote, "Everything Mnuchin touches turns to gold.: The president also congratulating David Shulkin. He's a holdover from the Obama administration who will now lead veterans affairs.
CUOMO: The United National Security Council unanimously condemned North Korea's weekend ballistic missile launch. That's not a big surprise. You had all the big players there -- the U.S., South Korea, and you had Japan -- call on Pyongyang's actions as a grave violation of the country's international obligations. U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley went even further, scathing statement, saying in part, It's time to hold the regime accountable, quote, "not only with words but with our actions." What could that mean? What could it inspire on the part of North Korea? We have a live report from Pyongyang coming up on NEW DAY.
CAMEROTA: OK, so we now know the White House knew that General Flynn had contact with Russia last month and discussed sanctions. Why did President Trump wait weeks to take action? That's ahead.
[07:22:27] CAMEROTA: More now on breaking news, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway speaking out moments ago on the resignation of Michael Flynn. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP (via phone): That fact is what became unsustainable, actually. I think misleading the vice president really was the key here, and I spoke with the president this morning. He asked me to just speak on his behalf and to reiterate that Mike Flynn had resigned. He decided that this situation had become unsustainable for him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: All right. There are a lot of questions this morning. Like, why did President Trump wait weeks after being told by the Justice Department that Flynn had communicated with a Russian ambassador about sanctions and was potentially vulnerable to blackmail?
Joining us now, we have CNN terrorism expert Phil Mudd. We also have the senior editor of "The Atlantic," David Frum; and CNN Pentagon correspondent, with the reaction there, Barbara Starr.
David, I want to start with you. So do you believe that it is possible that Michael Flynn went rogue and had conversations about sanctions without the permission or knowledge of the vice president and president?
DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE ATLANTIC": Well, it's certainly possible that the vice president wasn't informed. Anything -- anything is, of course, possible. But I want to say, I just watched Chris Cuomo's superb interview with
Representative Collins. I do think people are in the wrong frame of mind when they're seeing this as a Logan Act problem. The problem isn't unauthorized conversations with foreign powers. If the national security advisor had been talking to his counterpart in Britain or Germany or Canada, that would presumably be a violation of the Logan Act. Nobody would care.
What is going on here is that Russia helped elect Donald Trump to the presidency. President Obama imposed sanctions on Russia to punish them for the interference in the election. The beneficiaries of that interference seem to have, one or another of them -- maybe just Flynn, maybe others -- negotiated a reward for Russia, a promise of the lifting of the sanctions. That's why this is so upsetting, not because we're watching an unauthorized foreign policy. It's the content of the foreign policy that is the issue here, and no one should lose sight of that.
CAMEROTA: Barbara, what's been the reaction at the Pentagon?
STARR: Well, look, Mike Flynn is a retired general. Very well known for years around here, very well-known to operate independently at times. And I think we're just beginning to see, perhaps, the surface layer of this story, because we don't know the fundamental answer to what you're asking: Did Mike Flynn go rogue? Did he do this all on his own? Or did President Trump, at least to some extent, know that Flynn was having these conversations. what the content of them were or at least give tacit approval to these communications with the Russians?
[07:25:06]The FBI, of course, has been looking into these communications. There's a lot that we simply don't know here.
Officials are just -- I think very askance right now at what has happened. And once they get a better determination of it, it may be something that's much more longstanding within the Trump administration that they will have to deal with in terms of their relationship with the Russians and in terms of whether there were any violations of federal laws here, Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Phil Mudd, we are -- that's what we're in the process of doing, trying to put all of these puzzle pieces together and see where they lead.
On Friday night, President Trump was on Air Force One, and he was asked by reporters what he made of the reports that, in fact, Mike Flynn had had had these conversations about sanctions with the Russians. And President Trump at that time said, "I don't know those reports. I'm not familiar with those reports."
Is there any way, Phil Mudd, that now we know that Sally Yates, who was the acting attorney general, had briefed the White House, at least -- well, last month, at the end of the last month, about having discovered that there had been these communications, is there any way that the White House counsel or the director of national intelligence wouldn't have told the president? PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I can imagine them not
telling the president. I cannot imagine them not telling the White House.
Let me tell you how this game works. You're sitting in a room, and a briefer comes in and says, "We've intercepted some communications. In those communications, there's a U.S. person who's involved." Someone at a senior level, the acting attorney general, the FBI director, says, "I have the right to know who that U.S. person is." And the intelligence community comes back and says, "In this case, it's Michael Flynn."
At that point, if you're at the Department of Justice, you have a responsibility to tell the White House, "There was a conversation between the Russian ambassador and one of your advisers that might have involved activity that's illegal and at least completely inappropriate." They have to have had that conversation.
Now, then you have to take the leap that somebody either spoke to the president directly or that one of his advisers walked in. I believe they would have, but I don't think we know that for a fact.
CAMEROTA: Hey, David, this is not the first top adviser to President Trump who has been dismissed over connections to Russia. We all remember Paul Manafort, of course, during the campaign. What can you deduce from what we've just gone through for the past 12 hours, of what's happening in the White House?
FRUM: Well, the Trump campaign, now the Trump administration has brought American foreign policy into line with Russia's in a way that not only overturns his immediate predecessors, but in some cases, overturns 70 years of American policy. Questioning, for example, whether the United States would honor NATO treaties to countries targeted by Russia, like Estonia. Welcoming the crack-up of the European Union, a policy that rejects every American policy going back to the Eisenhower, Harry Truman. Bringing American policy into line with Russia on the annexation of Crimea. And the shooting war in Ukraine, which 10,000 people or more are dead, in which a civilian airliner was knocked down by Russian missiles.
So, it's not just about two individuals. And Michael Flynn made his paid trip to Russia in December of 2015, 18 months into the Russian war in Ukraine.
CAMEROTA: Barbara, CNN has some new reporting, just in this hour, that Bob Harward is the top contender for Michael Flynn's just-vacated job. What do we know?
STARR: Well, Admiral Harward is someone that I know fairly well. I will tell you he was the deputy at the U.S. Central Command and, of course, Defense Secretary James Mattis headed up Central Command when he was a general.
So we're looking at is a possibility of yet another retired general, by all accounts someone with a very reputable record: former Special Operations, did serve on the National Security Council at one point when he was in uniform. By all accounts, a very competent retired admiral.
But the question that may emerge is, is another retired military officer actually what the NSC needs at this point? There's a lot of turmoil. There's a lot of upheaval. And the NSC is an organization which fundamentally may need, I think many experts will tell you, geopolitical management expertise, everything from North Korea, to the Middle East, to global security, financial markets, all of the security portfolio that affects world stability. Is a retired admiral is the person to do it?
We know that General David Petraeus, another retired general, in the running; retired General Keith Kellogg, the acting head of the NSC right now.
So I think the question that may emerge very rapidly in the next couple of the days, is whether President Trump believes he still needs another retired military officer or does he need somebody with a broad portfolio of national security management expertise that may bring some stability to the White House on this.
CAMEROTA: Phil, very quickly, Leon Panetta, former director of the CIA, last night was talking about just how precarious the world is at this moment.