Return to Transcripts main page
Trump's National Security Adviser Michael Flynn Resigns; How Deep Are Trump Administration's Ties To Russia? Aired 7:30-8a ET
Aired February 14, 2017 - 07:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[07:30:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hey, Phil, very quickly, Leon Panetta, former director of the CIA, last night, was talking about just how precarious the world is at this moment. That there's a lot of crises happening in lots of pockets and that having -- without having the proper procedures and people in place in the, you know, National Security Council, it's a dangerous time. Do you think that there are voids in procedures right now that this illustrates or is this is a well-oiled machine that still goes on regardless of one person resigning?
PHIL MUDD, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, we saw that in the immigration ban. As someone -- I served at the National Security Council -- this isn't just about national security. Think about the complexity of the U.S. government. If you want to deal with, for example, North Korea, Department of State, the Treasury Department, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Department of Defense and elements of the Department of Defense -- it's coordinating those people in the Situation Room at the White House on stuff that's incredibly complex.
That's why I would anticipate that the White House would name somebody quickly because as we saw in the last couple of days with the North Korean missile launch, you've got to have somebody at the White House who's coordinating all those entities.
Just one quick comment. I know Bob Harward -- great guy. There's very few people in Washington I would go work for again who I respect and who'd be fun to work for. A great guy. I think he'd be terrific.
CAMEROTA: Well, that is high praise.
DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: But, here's the -- here's the void.
CAMEROTA: Yes. Go ahead, David.
FRUM: We need more than ever to know about the flows of Russian money into the Trump Organization and what debts, if any, the Trump Organization owes into Russian financial entities. That is indispensably urgent national security information and we don't have that.
CAMEROTA: And, David Frum, I know you have pointed out that now, more than ever, the power of the free press is on display. That's how we all know about this, this morning. Panel, thank you very much for all of the expertise -- Chris.
FRUM: Thank you.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Flynn and Manafort both resigned over their dealings with Russia. What does that mean? That's one of the things that we need to keep digging into here. What was happening inside the White House as the controversy surrounding Michael Flynn unraveled? How could President Trump say he did not know anything about a story being so widely reported? Much more of our coverage. New questions, ahead.
[07:36:25] CUOMO: All right, we have more on our breaking news. New information and new questions surrounding Gen. Michael Flynn's resignation as national security adviser. On Friday, President Trump seemed unfamiliar with reports that Flynn may have misled the administration about his conversations with sanctions and his Russian counterpart. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know about it. I haven't seen it. What report is that?
REPORTER: "The Washington Post" is reporting that he talked to the ambassador of Russia before you were inaugurated about sanctions, maybe trying to --
TRUMP: I haven't seen that. I'll look into that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: Two questions. How could the president, who consumes more media than any of his predecessors, not know about the Michael Flynn firestorm? And, if it's true and he didn't know, what does it mean that his own counsel didn't relay to him information about what Michael Flynn was doing with the Russians?
Let's bring in David Drucker, senior congressional correspondent for the "Washington Examiner" and host of the redoubtable podcast, "Examining Politics." As well as Phillip Rucker, White House bureau chief for "The Washington Post." He wrote about this story this morning.
Phillip, the power of the free press on display, breaking this story that the White House was obviously trying to keep quiet. They wouldn't take questions about it over the last couple of days, they wouldn't accept any questions about it this morning, but now, some of the truth is out. Do you believe that this story begins and ends with Mike Flynn?
PHILLIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, "THE WASHINGTON POST": You know, I don't know quite what to believe. What we've reported last night is that Sally Yates, when she was the acting attorney general at the Department of Justice, approached the White House counsel and explained to him that they had information about Michael Flynn's conversations with the Russian ambassador and that he was vulnerable -- he was susceptible to Russian blackmail because of those conversations.
We don't know what the White House counsel did with that information, whether he relayed to the Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, whether he had a conversation with President Trump about it, whether he talked to Vice President Pence about it or anybody else in the White House. These are all questions that I think the White House is going to need to answer today.
CAMEROTA: Well, Kellyanne Conway has just appeared on a couple of morning shows so, David Drucker, let me play for you what she's saying this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: The president is very loyal -- he's a very loyal person -- and by night's end, Mike Flynn had decided it was best to resign. He knew he'd become a lightning rod and he made that decision.
MATT LAUER, HOST, NBC "TODAY SHOW": So had he not resigned, the president would continue with him as national security adviser even though he misled the vice president and the administration about the contents of that call?
CONWAY: 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 speak on his behalf and to reiterate that Mike Flynn had resigned. He decided that he -- that the situation had become unsustainable for him.
LAUER: But what if --
CONWAY: But the fact is that Gen. Flynn continued in that position and was in the presidential daily briefings -- was part of the leader calls as recently as yesterday. Was there for the prime minister's visit from Canada yesterday. And as time wore on, obviously the situation had become unsustainable. But remember, in the end it was misleading the vice president that made the situation unsustainable.
LAUER: Which the White House knew about last month and yet, yesterday, you went on the air and said that Gen. Flynn had the complete and full confidence of the president.
[07:40:00] CONWAY: And Gen. Flynn decided that he should resign last night and the president accepted that resignation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: David Drucker, what do you hear there?
DAVID DRUCKER, SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER", PODCAST HOST, "EXAMINING POLITICS": Yes, well, normally people don't resign of their own volition when it comes to something this high- level. Look, I think one of the things that the Trump administration has to figure out and the president has to talk about personally, and we haven't seen him address this matter personally yet, is their management of national security product and intelligence.
I mean, one of the reasons why Michael Flynn was having such a difficult time in his position is because you're not just an intelligence adviser in that role, you are managing the national security apparatus closest to the President of the United States. And for someone who came in promising to up the national security level of the United States and decision-making in that regard, from the last administration, I think this is one of the questions Trump has to answer. It's who does he hire next, how does he get to a point to which he discussed during the campaign, and how does he explain the mistake of Michael Flynn in this position and what's been going on over the past several weeks?
CUOMO: Phillip Rucker, I think that the question centers on a very simple two-word question, which is who knew? Who knew what Flynn what was doing, and not just about this one phone call at the end of December about sanctions?
This was part of an appeasement policy that we've been seeing, whether it was Trump denying Russian involvement with the hacks, relying on Julian Assange as his point of purpose about why he was questioning the hacks, and on and on about not knowing whether Russia's involved with the separatists in Ukraine. I mean, no-brainer, simple understandings of anybody in the know. Who knew about this? Who's on the same page with Flynn in this campaign of appeasement of a Russian understandable foe?
RUCKER: I think you're exactly right, Chris, and that's the big issue here with this White House, is we don't know what the stance with Russia is going to be. President Trump has been unusually friendly with Vladimir Putin. There was the relationship with Paul Manafort over the course of the campaign and now there's this Flynn controversy here.
And the other point of who knew, it speaks to the credibility issue for Flynn. He clearly misled the vice president. He may have lied intentionally to the vice president. You know, I'm not in Flynn's head. I can't determine whether it's misleading or lying, but the vice president was very upset about this. He was angry. He felt like he could no longer trust the national security adviser. That is a huge breach of trust inside this White House and it's one of the reasons he's gone.
CUOMO: But why do we even know that that's -- why do we know that that is true because, again, if the White House counsel was told about this, the idea that they would just keep it to themselves is a little farfetched. So why are we so confident that the vice president knew nothing about this, was completely hoodwinked by Flynn when we know he had a reason to know?
RUCKER: Well, we don't -- the conversation that happened between Sally Yates, the acting attorney general, based on our reporting, was at the end of January, which came after the vice presidentwent on television to make the misstatement about Mike Flynn. I don't know necessarily if he knew in advance.
CUOMO: So the vice president -- so that's important.
CUOMO: So the DOJ, and maybe others, went to the White House counsel after --
CAMEROTA: He went on January 15th and I wonder if we have that sound because he unequivocally, on January 15th -- Vice President Pence -- went on and we -- do we have it? Oh --
CUOMO: He went on what Flynn told me.
CAMEROTA: He unequivocally said no, they did not discuss sanctions. I've been told that under no circumstances did they discuss sanctions. Then, Phillip Rucker is reporting that at the end of January, two weeks ago, that's when Sally Yates went and disclosed what she knew.
CUOMO: Good. That's a good fact because it gives the vice president cover on when he says Flynn, you know, obviously misled him. Flynn seems to own the same in his letter. And that is a good thing to know in this situation because, again, if this information was out there -- let's play some of the sound now so we can, again, give people context to what was said and when -- here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: Now, he said by him. He's talking about Michael Flynn. So, Phillip, that's what gives you the confidence that that part of the story is acceptable on its face at this point.
RUCKER: As far as we know.
CUOMO: That the vice president didn't have any reason to know anything else.
RUCKER: As far as we know, correct, because the conversation from Sally Yates, when she was acting attorney general, happened after President Trump's inauguration, which was on January 20th.
CAMEROTA: David Drucker, I want to read something that you retweeted this morning. It was from Michael Gerson. It's an excerpt of an op- ed that he wrote yesterday. He, of course, was the former top aide to President George W. Bush. Where he's talking about sort of the 'what we are to make of this' and what's going on in the White House if there's a larger shifting sands at play. He says, "With the real National Security Council badly weakened by the travails of the national security adviser, it seems that Bannon is developing a shadow NSC to serve his well-developed nationalist agenda."
[07:45:17] What -- is that what we think is going on behind the scenes?
DRUCKER: Well, I don't think there's much doubt that Steve Bannon has a lot of influence over the president. The president trusts him and that Steve Bannon's vision for U.S. domestic and foreign policy is more oriented towards nationalism rather than sort of the U.S. as an internationalist leader. And whenever you have one part of the White House weakened, particularly in a White House like this and even the last one, where so much power is centralized in the White House and away from the cabinet agencies, it can give particular advisers a lot of power.
And we saw this, by the way, during the Trump campaign where you would have competing power centers and on occasion you'd have one power center on the outs and another one moving in and taking, you know, control of the power vacuum. And what we still don't know is exactly where Trump wants to go when it comes to issues like foreign policy and national security.
On the one hand, he has said a lot of things that differ from past administrations, Republican and Democrat, when it relates to NATO, our position in Asia, and things of that matter. And yet, we just saw him host the Japanese prime minister. Thanked the Japanese prime minister for hosting the U.S. military, 180 degrees away from the things he said during the campaign. And so, I think it remains to be seen --
CUOMO: All right.
DRUCKER: -- exactly what the president wants.
CUOMO: Hey David, you know what you hear? Listen to this. Do you hear that? You know what that is?
CUOMO: Silence from the GOP leadership -- Ryan, McConnell. Not a word about this yet.
DRUCKER: They just want to get through the day and get tax reform and Obamacare repealed and replaced.
CUOMO: That's not how it works. They have a responsibility to the American people. These are important questions. It's not a time to --
DRUCKER: And I'm not necessarily arguing with you. This is the reason why you're going to hear as much silence from them as they can get away with because they have a domestic agenda --
DRUCKER: -- that, to them, is more important than Trump's unconventional governing style.
CUOMO: Get after it, men. They've got to say something.
CAMEROTA: David Drucker, Phillip Rucker, thank you for sharing all of your reporting us.
RUCKER: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: We really appreciate it.
CUOMO: So, we saw the chairman of the campaign, Paul Manafort, he resigned. You'll remember or just a Google away -- you'll see that Russia loomed large in that discussion. Now, Mike Flynn. Again, Russia looming large in this. The unknown about the connections between that country, the Kremlin, and whatever's going on in our White House right now. Those questions are more real than ever. We have information, next.
CUOMO: All right. Your headline is that national security adviser Michael Flynn stepped down after, according to his own words, misleading administration officials about conversations with a Russian ambassador with dealing with sanctions, but that's just the headline. The story is who knew what Flynn was doing and how deep does this appeasement of Russia go within our White House?
[07:50:04] Let's bring in some guests. CNN global economic analyst and author of "Makers and Takers," Rana Foroohar. And, CNN senior economics analyst and a former senior economic adviser to the Trump campaign, Stephen Moore. Mr. Moore, I start with you. Are you shocked by what has happened in the last 12 hours or so?
STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMICS ANALYST, FORMER SENIOR ECONOMIC ADVISER TO Trump CAMPAIGN: Was that a trick question? I think -- I think everybody is shocked and --
CUOMO: Well, here's why I ask you. We just had Congressman Chris Collins on who said ah, it's in the past, let's move on. I live in a 'guess what-now what' world where this isn't a big deal. And that is absurd on its face. How important do you think this is?
MOORE: You know, I'm not a national security expert but I'll say this from the perspective of the domestic agenda. It becomes a big distraction from what Trump wants to get going on -- the Obamacare repeal, the tax cut agenda, his energy plan. So, is it a big problem? At least, for now, it is because it's -- this is going to dominate the news cycle probably at least for the next 48 hours and it means, you know, Trump isn't talking about the things he wants to be talking about.
CAMEROTA: Rana, what do we know about the business ties between the White House or Donald Trump or Michael Flynn and Russia?
RANA FOROOHAR, CNN GLOBAL ECONOMIC ANALYST, AUTHOR, "MAKERS AND TAKERS": We know very little and, really, that's part of the problem here. I mean, even before this episode, the fact that we didn't have a grasp on what the Trump administration's business ties are into Russia has been a real issue of concern for a lot of people. Many Republicans, in particular.
CAMEROTA: And would his taxes, if he'd released them, have revealed any of that?
FOROOHAR: Taxes would reveal some things but let's face it, Russia is an incredibly opaque economy, you know. Anyone that's doing business there is going to be dealing with some fairly unsavory characters. There's just not a lot of transparency in that system. So, no, I don't -- I don't even think -- even though it would be better to have the taxes released, I don't even think that would necessarily put all the pieces in place.
CUOMO: In terms of, Steve, how we are to understand this coincidence that Paul Manafort, deep roots working with Russians and sometimes the wrong kinds of Russians, he steps down over those questions. Mike Flynn now, once again, this veiled enterprise of apparent appeasement of Russia. He has to step down. How much concern should there be about our White House and its compromised entanglements with the Kremlin?
MOORE: Well look, again, I'm not an expert on those issues but I will say this. You know, when it comes to his domestic agenda and some of these business ties I think some of the criticisms are unfair. I mean, look, if you want to get the top experts who know how to run the economy, know how to make -- meet a payroll, know how to hire people, yes, you want the best in the business. You want people who have actually done it.
I think some of these allegations of oh, there are too many people from Goldman Sachs or too many people from the business community in this -- in this White House and in the entourage that Trump has created, I think those are unfair. In large part, they're unfair. But I will say this. I think Trump has to be much more cognizant of the optics of some of the decisions that he's making. I mean, the fact that three of his top advisers on the economy are from Goldman Sachs, that doesn't always look so good.
CAMEROTA: Now, Ben Rhodes, who was the deputy national security adviser to President Obama, has just tweeted that he sees a connection, so let me read this for our viewers. He says, "When campaign chairman and NSA both resign over Russia ties there ismore. Manafort and Flynn had nothing in common except Russia and Trump."
Rana, I know you're not a national security expert, however, it does all dovetail in some ways --
CAMEROTA: -- together because if you believe that there's some sort of financial upside --
CAMEROTA: -- for people. We know that there was for Manafort. He made a lot of money dealing in that region -- then maybe there's a connection. FOROOHAR: Well, absolutely. I mean, you know, going to Stephen's point about optics. It doesn't look great. It also, you know, puts me in mind of the fact that a lot of what Trump ran on was about helping the average Joe in America -- helping Main Street. This is all about the sort of 35,000 feet, you know, money in Russia. Money, who knows where?
You know, this kind of sense of wealthy people, wealthy companies, wealthy interest flying over national concerns about, you know, people on the ground. Youngstown, Ohio, you know -- that sort of group. This divide between countries, companies, the wealthy, the 99 percent, is really no evidence to me here.
CUOMO: But Steve, you know, to the point of what your expertise is here, you know, you were brought in to help give good ideas for the domestic agenda and to the extent that there is a base of people out there who felt forgotten, who want to know if their jobs are coming back, that was huge motivation for Trump.
Nobody was voting for him to make things better with Russia. And yet, there has been such emphasis on that. They've gone to great lengths to talk about Russia, to defend propositions about Russia, to the exclusion of the agenda that you were set up to help develop. They haven't done tax breaks. He hasn't made jobs and returning jobs as obsessive a necessity as he has these foreign issues. What do you make of that?
[07:55:08] MOORE: Well, a couple of things. I mean, first of all, I'm old enough -- look, I'm an old Reagan Republican and Reagan was obviously tough on the -- on the old Soviet Union -- called it the evil empire. And there was a -- the world's a little bit upside down when you have, you know, liberals attacking Russia and a Republican president, in some cases, defending them and Putin.
So, I think, again, the optics of that are bad but I think your main point is what I was trying to make is look, the reason that Donald Trump was elected was because of economy and jobs. No question about it. That was -- that was issue number one and two in every poll for the last three or four years. This has been a big distraction. Some of these problems with -- you know, this is a big one with his national security adviser having to resign. It takes the whole focus off of the whole domestic policy economic agenda for now. Look, I don't think it's -- look, I think Trump is going to pivot very quickly back to this issue of jobs and the economy, you know -- just watch.
CAMEROTA: I mean, Rana, look, very quickly.
CAMEROTA: You know, he has been meeting with a lot of business leaders --
CAMEROTA: -- and CEOs. He has been --
CUOMO: More than we've ever seen.
MOORE: That's good, by the way.
CUOMO: Yes, it is.
MOORE: That's a good thing.
CAMEROTA: I mean -- I mean, it's certainly good for his -- the people who voted for him. This is what they wanted. But not --
FOROOHAR: You know, not all CEOs are on the same side. I mean, I think one of the most fascinating business stories out there right now is some of the tax proposals are pitting manufacturers against retailers. You know --
FOROOHAR: -- a lot of retailers are very anxious about being -- import taxes, you know. Business is not all on one side here.
CAMEROTA: Rana, Stephen --
MOORE: Yes, but let me -- here's a point. I mean --
CAMEROTA: Very quickly, Stephen. Go ahead.
MOORE: Let me -- let me make this point. You know, I think one of the reasons Barack Obama did not succeed in terms of his economic plans was precisely because he didn't meet with business leaders.I remember, you know, he set up a -- he set up a, you know, business panel and he met with them, I think, one time in his first couple of weeks in office. He said, you know, I don't want to hear these --
FOROOHAR: That's a fair point.
MOORE: -- business groups anymore. So yes, look, if you want to rebuild the economy, what's wrong with getting the top executives from Silicon Valley.
MOORE: The top executives --
MOORE: -- from manufacturing.
CAMEROTA: Yes, just as long as everything else doesn't eclipse it, to your point. All of the other news that's coming out. Thank you very much. Great to talk to both of you. Thank you.
FOROOHAR: Thanks. CUOMO: All right. And, again, you know, the thing that you should be listening for most closely this morning is silence. Republican leaders in Congress -- Ryan, McConnell, where are they on the Flynn resignation? Where are they about these all-important questions of who knew what was going on with this apparent campaign of appeasement? Up next, we ask two senators about this stunning shakeup.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to your new day. We begin with breaking news. President Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn resigning.