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Why is Trump Undermining U.S. Intelligence?; Tillerson & Russian Counterpart Meet Amid Growing Tensions; GOP & Dem Lawmakers Dispute Nunes Surveillance Claims; Source: Intel Doesn't Support Trump Claim That Rice Committed Crime. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 12, 2017 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CUOMO: Doesn't that create a tension that erodes confidence?

[07:00:08] MUDD: I think over time there is a potential for that. What I would watch in the coming weeks and months, Chris, is whether there's an air gap between what the White House says about intelligence and what the CIA people are saying.

But a couple of things have happened in the past month or so. No. 1, you have a bread-and-butter piece of intelligence analysis. A bomb went into a Syrian military facility. The intel guys since the beginning of time have the responsibility to do the assessment of the damage from that bomb and what the Russians knew. The guys that I worked with have been there since the Reagan era. This is what they've done for 30 years.

But let me take you inside for one thing. Mike Pompeo was there, and they respect him, so I think that's changed the dynamic, as well. The new CIA director.

CUOMO: Phil, Steve, thank you for the insight. Appreciate it, as always.

And thank you, our international viewers. For you, CNN NEWSROOM is next. For our U.S. viewers, we have new reporting on the Russian interference investigation. Let's get after it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Russia must fully honor the commitments it made. And Secretary Tillerson is going to make that clear.

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Our meetings today come at an important moment in the relationship.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: The international community has watched Russia cover up for Assad for years.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is very bad for Russia. It's very bad for this world.

SPICER: Someone as despicable for Hitler. He was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing. LEON PANETTA, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: You don't compare Hitler

to anybody, particularly if you're the White House press secretary.

SPICER: It was insensitive and inappropriate. For that, I apologize.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Fallout from that ugly scene on board that United Airlines flight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think apologies are enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: United Airlines video that almost cost the company $1 billion.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CUOMO: Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. We begin with breaking news. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meeting with his Russian counterpart for about two-plus hours about the crisis in Syria. Russia says the U.S. strikes were a violation of law and discounts what actually happened.

The White House is accusing Russia of helping the Assad regime cover up that chemical attack, as a result. And Vladimir Putin could meet with Tillerson today.

CAMEROTA: Also this morning, we have exclusive reporting and developments on President Trump's claims that Susan Rice broke the law unmasking individuals. These are big developments that you want to hear about.

And an explosive report about a Trump campaign aide being investigated as a possible Russian agent.

The stakes are high on this day 83 of the Trump presidency. And we have it all covered for you. Let's begin Michelle Kosinski live in Moscow.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Alisyn, you have this two-hour meeting beginning between U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. This is a time for pleasantries, for welcoming. But it was not pleasant.

Lavrov going right into it, slamming U.S. strikes on Syria as a violation of international law, something he said should not be repeated. And he took the opportunity to criticize the State Department, saying how difficult it's been to even talk to them, because there are still so many high-level positions that have not been filled.

Tillerson, for his part, stuck to cordiality, talked about the relationship and this being an opportunity to try to move forward.

But also this morning, you have the Russian government slamming U.S. rhetoric as primitive and loutish. You have Russian President Vladimir Putin saying that things have gotten worse in the relationship under President Trump. And we are also hearing from President Trump himself as well as the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Frankly, Putin is backing a person that's truly an evil person, and I think it's very bad for Russia. I think it's very bad for mankind. It's very bad for this world.

HALEY: Anything the Russians say at this point, no one is believing it. No one is. You can -- the international community sees this for what it is. The international community has watched Russia cover up for Assad for years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSINSKI: Tillerson wants to confront Russia over his continued backing of President Assad in Syria. Try to get them to rethink, is the word the U.S. has been using, that stance.

And also to tell Russia that the U.S. will hold Russia accountable for its actions.

So they have this two-hour-long crucial meeting. They are now in a working lunch. But there are these big gaps in Secretary Tillerson's schedule today. They're not telling us what those are for. There's still a possibility, according to the Kremlin, that Vladimir Putin will meet with Tillerson. Quite a change from a couple of years ago when Putin himself honored Tillerson as a friend of Russia. Look at the message that it's sending now, that he hasn't even scheduled that meeting yet -- Chris.

CUOMO: Michelle Kosinski, thank you very much.

We have a CNN exclusive report. Claims of wrongful surveillance and unmasking by House Intel Committee Chair Devin Nunes are blown up by GOP lawmakers who looked at the same documents. Remember this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[07:05:12] REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I was concerned about Americans' identities being either not masked properly or, in fact, being unmasked in intelligence reports.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: The question now is what was he really concerned about? Because multiple sources in both parties tell CNN there is no evidence the Obama administration did anything wrong or illegal. Contrary to claims by Nunes and, frankly, President Trump.

CNN's Jim Sciutto live in Washington with the exclusive details. Big story. JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, it is. Undermining

contradicting Nunes. And it appears the president -- we've spoken to Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides, and they're casting doubt on claims by Devin Nunes that Obama administration officials improperly requested the names of U.S. individuals that had been redacted in intelligence documents.

CNN sources say these lawmakers have now seen the same intelligence documents Nunes reviewed last month. And they tell us, myself and my colleague, Manu Raju, they see no evidence that the Obama administration officials did anything out of the ordinary -- and this is crucial -- or illegal. One congressional source described the request to me as, quote, "normal and appropriate."

CAMEROTA: OK. But Jim, I mean, what are they telling you and Manu Raju about what are in those documents?

SCIUTTO: So they're telling us a couple of things: one, no smoking gun. Absolutely no smoking gun in these reports. In fact, one person we spoke with is even urging the White House to declassify them, make them public to make it clear that there was nothing alarming in them.

A lot of questions have been specified around Susan Rice; in particular, whether she acted legally in requesting the names specifically of Trump officials who were incidentally -- incidentally collected in intelligence reports. President Trump, you'll remember, has said he believes she may have broken the law. But again, multiple sources say they've looked at the underlying documents behind these requests.

Nunes saw the same ones. And they say they flatly don't back up the president's claims that she's broken the law and that these are routine requests. And now the president has not revealed what intelligence he's relying on to make his assertion, whether it's different from Nunes. But based on what they've seen, they don't see anything to back that up.

CUOMO: All right. So what do we know about what the rules are for actually taking and dealing with unmasking and getting them granted?

SCIUTTO: Well, this is the thing, because this is an open question. It's a legitimate question. These rules are set by the intelligence community. Certain national security officials can make such requests, and then the intelligence agencies, principally the NSA in this case, they then decide whether to grant those requests. And you can see why the senior national security officials would want to know as they're reading these classified intelligence reports. Well, who were these Russian officials talking about specifically? Those are reasonable questions.

But there's also a reasonable question. I've spoken to a number of lawmakers who say, OK, what are the standards for this? What are the justifications given to unmask these documents? And while the -- while these lawmakers tell me they don't see any evidence here of wrongdoing. They do want to at least look at these practices to make sure that, when those requests come, when U.S. citizens are unmasked and identity is revealed, that there is a reason for it. Some folks in Congress are asking that question, that kind of question. They want answers.

CUOMO: All right. I appreciate it, Jim. Do me a favor. Stick around. Let's discuss your reporting and this other big story this morning. "The Washington Post" says the FBI obtained a warrant to monitor the communications of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page because a judge found probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of the Russian government.

All right. Let's discuss all this. Let's keep Jim Sciutto. As I said, let's bring in General Wesley Clark. He's the former NATO supreme allied commander and a senior fellow at UCLA -- UCLA's Burkle Center for International Relations. And we have Chris Cillizza, reporter and editor at large at CNN Politics.

General, there is a lot of intrigue with Russia. We have a Russian interference investigation here. We have what's going on abroad. You spent a lot of time in that world and dealing with the Russians. The idea that we have our secretary of state there right now saying, "How do we mend our differences?" And the Russian take is you cannot do what you did again. It was wrong. And we dispute that anything wrong was done by Assad. How do you move from there?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, it's a good question. First of all, I think it's a good thing that Rex Tillerson is there, because I think you do have to have that open dialogue. The problem is that when you layout your position so clearly before you go in, like you say, we're going to hold Russia accountable and so forth.

And then, when you come out, people say did you hold them accountable and what did you get done? So it's always a little tricky with diplomacy like this, because you're not going to have a clear-cut outcome on this. Russia is not going to back off. Russia is deeply embedded with Iran. And this is from the time of the czars. There was always a desire to get through Iran into the Persian Gulf, and especially with oil.

[07:10:14] For 100 years, Russia tried to get into Iran and get oil and get a warm-water port down there. And Putin has done it better than any previous Russian leader or Soviet leader has done it. He's not about to leave. Iran won't let him pull out of Syria, and Iran won't pull out of Syria.

So where are we going with the policy? That's the question. But we're not going to find out we're not going to move the policy until the administration plays, you know, touch and bump with the Russians face to face on this and gets a feel for exactly how they're going to respond.

So I think we're going to be in a period of suspended animation right now. I was glad to see with Jim Mattis yesterday in his press conference didn't commit us to further strikes in Syria, because that's a black hole when you go down there if you don't have an end- state in mind. Now, we can create an end-state, but you can't create a viable end-state unless you bring the American people on board.

And my reading of it is people don't want their sons and daughters in another big war in the Middle East. So the administration is a lot more maneuverable room on this issue than it thinks it does.

CAMEROTA: So Chris, the meeting, we now are told, with Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister, and Rex Tillerson has wrapped up. It lasted about two hours and 15 minutes.

And in the meantime, Vladimir Putin has spoken out about it. It sounds like what's happened to the U.S./Russia relations. I mean, in just a week's time that they have gone from suspended animation to deterioration.

Here is what Vladimir Putin just said: "The working level of confidence in Russian-American relations, especially at the military level, under the administration of Donald Trump has not improved, but rather worsened." Stronger words than we have heard yet from President Trump about Putin.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Look, General Clark is right. Vladimir Putin is not going to back down here. Russia feels as though it's in a strong negotiating position.

I would say, Alisyn, I'm fascinated to see how Donald Trump responds to both the statement you just read from Putin and Lavrov's treatment of Rex Tillerson. Remember, Donald Trump's campaign was premised on the idea that we're not tough enough in the world. People are not afraid of us anymore. We've become a weaker nation than we once were.

I'm interested to see how sort of being talked to like that face to face and the statement is reactive by Donald Trump. This is not someone who usually takes threats and tough talk lying down. He usually, candidly, takes to Twitter to respond to these things. But he almost always responds. He usually does not let these things go unanswered. So diplomacy, as the general points out, is a delicate thing. I'm sure there are plenty of people within the White House saying, "Let's just -- they're doing -- they're posturing. Let's wait and see. Let's not jump to any conclusions." But Donald Trump is not a wait-and-see guy. So I don't know if he will wait and see.

CUOMO: Though it is interesting, the point about the president's tweeting how little he has tweeted about Syria. He's thinking about the plan there. What's going on?

Now, Jim, let's bounce to the Russian investigation for a second. Not only do we have your new reporting, but so the premise that, well, there was all this wrongful activity going on that was directed at Trump. No proof of that. There is, according to "The Washington Post," proof that there was rightful surveillance activity going on of a Trump adviser, Carter Page. What do you make of that FISA warrant?

SCIUTTO: Listen, FISA warrants are not handed out like candy. Very high standards for these FISA -- for one, for the FBI to seek them, two for the FISA court to grant them. They needed probable cause here. And they apparently believed they had probable cause. Carter Page, who was identified by President Trump himself as one of his close national security advisers might have been working as a -- as an agent of a foreign government. He just didn't listen to that phrase there. Foreign agent as someone advising the presidential candidate at the time, Donald Trump.

Since then, of course, Donald Trump and his advisors have distanced themselves from him, said that he was low-level, et cetera. Regardless, this is an important step in the FBI investigation of possible ties between Trump and possible collusion between Trump advisers, questions that they interfered in the election. It doesn't mean they're going to find it, but they at least had enough evidence to pursue a warrant to investigate further and that's -- that is a significant step.

CAMEROTA: And Jim, one more time, your new exclusive reporting this morning. You have sources, both Democratic and Republican, on the House and Senate Intel Committees that have now seen the very same documents that Devin -- raised so much alarm with Devin Nunes, and he had to run to the White House to alert them. And they say that there is no evidence of Susan White -- I'm sorry, Susan Rice having done anything illegal.

[07:15:12] President Trump just spoke about this on FOX Business Network. And he talks one more time about his wiretapping claims. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: When you look at the extent of the surveillance. Me and so many other people. It's -- it's terrible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She said she didn't do it for political reasons. Susan Rice...

TRUMP: Does anybody really believe that? Nobody believes that. Even the people that try to protect her in the news media. It's such a big story and I'm sure it will continue forward. But what they did is horrible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Jim, what they did is horrible. Is that what your sources say?

SCIUTTO: It's a glib defense we've heard often from the president, that this is people in the news media trying to protect Susan Rice. Let's look at the facts. Me and my colleague, Manu Raju and I, we spoke to Democratic and Republican lawmakers. Senators and Congressmen and women on the Senate and House Intelligence Committees who have reviewed the documents that were the basis of Devin Nunes's claims. And it seems the president's own claims, they've reviewed the documents at the NSA. And they said nothing illegal, nothing improper. Those are the facts.

And we spoke to people from both parties to get greater confidence. There's just nothing we've seen yet and nothing they've seen, people with security clearance just to see it, to back up the president's claims.

CILLIZZA: Can I just -- can I just add...

CUOMO: It has to be said, Jim, though, you've got to make the points that you're making. Because yes, he's the president of the United States. But he is held to the same standard of truth as everybody else. And he has had nothing to snow for these allegations. Chris Cillizza, go ahead. I wanted to ask you about FISAs. Make a point first.

CILLIZZA: Very quickly to JUST bolster Jim's point. This is not a "he said-he said" conversation. And I think it's important to remember that.

This is a federal court saying, yes, there is enough information here that we are willing to grant a wiretap on Carter Page. And these are the senators and lawmakers saying, "We didn't see what Devin Nunes said."

Add that to the fact that you have James Comey, Jim Clapper. Devin Nunes himself saying Trump Tower wasn't wiretapped. So on the one hand, you have Trump saying, "Well, Susan Rice broke the law. Of course, I was wiretapped. Well, it's -- everyone was surveilled."

On the other hand, you have lots of people, incredible, serious people who are not partisans, necessarily. Some are Democrats. Some are not. Saying this is not accurate. And that doesn't -- that scale doesn't balance out at the moment. Sorry.

CUOMO: All right. So let's look at a very different example of when somebody says something wrong and then owns it. Sean Spicer said something that was wrong and hurtful, comparing Assad to Hitler and the Holocaust and what happened with chemical weapons there. Here's what he said. Here's how he apologized.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: You had a, you know, somebody as despicable as Hitler, who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons.

Frankly, I mistakenly used an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the Holocaust, for which, frankly, there is no -- you know, no comparison. And for that, I apologize. It was a mistake to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Look, the only apology -- you've got to give him credit for that. This is very hurtful, let alone during Passover that this came up.

But Chris, let me ask you this. Is this just about a screw up or blunder as he called it during his interview with Wolf? Or is this a pattern of just not getting it? Remember the Holocaust remembrance statement that the White House put out? Remember Trump Kr. Saying, "Hey, if they did this to, you know, the other side, boy, the gas chambers would be fired up." That insensitivity. You know, Spicer called them Holocaust centers in a statement yesterday instead of gas chamber. This is about just not getting it.

CILLIZZA: Yes. I mean, look, I'm going to give Sean the benefit of the doubt. He got himself into a verbal trap and couldn't get himself out of it, not that this is reflective of any broader theory of anything.

That said, Press Secretaryism 101, Public Speaking 101 says if you start a sentence, "This is a lot like Hitler," you should stop the sentence. Right? I mean, you -- it will never work out well for you.

I think the problem for Sean is that this is that was the second day in a row where he had an unforced error that caused some bad press for this White House. The day before, obviously, saying that, well, if barrel bombs are dropped, then we're going to respond. Questions of whether that was drawing a new line or setting a new policy as related to Syria. Yes, I mean, I think he is not in a good place right now, and we know that he is not someone that Donald Trump has been in love with from the start.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Panel, we wish we could talk to you more. But we have so much news this morning. We have to wrap it up. Thanks to all of you for being here.

[07:20:07] Meanwhile, President Trump said the U.S. is not going into Syria. So what is his next move? Why Tom Friedman, "New York Times" columnist, says defeating ISIS in Syria should not be the U.S.'s next move. He's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: In a new interview, President Trump is talking about Syria for the first time since those U.S. strikes on Syria. He is blaming the Obama administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We're not going into Syria. But when I see people using horrible, horrible chemical weapons, which they agreed not to use under the Obama administration, but they violated it.

What I did should have been done by the Obama administration a long time before I did it. And you would have had a much better -- I think Syria would be a lot better off right now than it has been.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Remember, this is the same man who told President Obama not to go into Syria, that it was a mistake, after a chemical attack that was equal to and worse as the one we just had.

[07:25:07] CAMEROTA: OK, so let's discuss all of that with "New York Times" columnist and best-selling author Thomas Friedman. He's the author of "Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Acceleration." Tom, great to have you here this morning.

TOM FRIEDMAN, "NEW YORK TIMES" COLUMNIST: Good to be here.

CAMEROTA: In the aftermath of the U.S. missile strikes on Syria, what do you see as the Trump doctrine or policy?

FRIEDMAN: Alisyn, I don't think there's one doctrine or policy. In all fairness, I really can't blame them for not having figured out Syria. It's incredibly complicated.

But in terms of what the president ordered this air -- Tomahawk missile attack in response to the use of poison gas there, you know, I look at it, really, on sort of three levels.

On the one hand, I happen to agree with that. That it reduces the chance that someone else around the world or in Syria will again use poison gas. Doesn't eliminate it, but it reduces it. And that's an -- that's an American strategist interest. We don't want to see poison gas reintroduced in the battlefields.

Second, it does increase the uncertainty around the world. Other bad actors, whether it's Russia, Iran or, more importantly, North Korea, about what this administration will do. And keeping them off balance is a good thing.

What that attack doesn't do is increase our leverage in Syria on the ground to really forge the kind of political settlement, the kind of power sharing agreement between Assad and the predominantly Sunni Muslim rebels there. And that's always been the problem. You know, you said in the segment before someone made the point that the American people simply do not want to be involved on the ground in Syria now. They do not want to be involved in a fight there.

And so the dilemma for the previous administration and this one is how do you get any leverage. Because negotiating without leverage in the Middle East is, like, really stupid. When you're actually not ready to introduce any forces of your own on the ground.

CUOMO: Tom, let me ask you something. This assumption that it's right to draw the line on chemical weapons. We don't want those. You know, Tillerson had a good line the other day. He said, you know, it doesn't matter to the dead.

Why not punish all of these types of efforts against innocents, against non-combatants the same way? I mean, that's the problem in not just Syria, but in many of these oppressive instigations we see around the world. Why not just the chemical weapons? So if he drops a barrel bomb and just goes in there and shoots up hundreds of people, that's OK?

FRIEDMAN: Sure. Chris, it's obviously contradictory, and there's no simple answer for it. You have to draw a red line -- a red line somewhere. The problem with saying we're going to intradict any effort to harm civilians in Syria anywhere is that that will very quickly take you into direct combat on the ground in that country. So if you're not ready to go there, you've got to draw a line, and that's the line they drew. CAMEROTA: You know, Tom, you have a new column out this morning that

I want to just read to people about what you're hoping for from President Trump in light of all this. You say, "It's time for Trump to be Trump: utterly cynical and unpredictable. Trump should want to defeat ISIS in Iraq. But in Syria? Not for free, not now. In Syria, Trump should let ISIS be Assad's, Iran's, Hezbollah's and Russia's headache."

That is quite different from what the administration says their goal is in Syria, which is defeat ISIS.

FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, Alisyn, really, for reasons -- that question Chris raised about these complexities, they've sort of retreated to what they think is a safe harbor. Well, what we're going to focus on in Syria is the consensus about defeating ISIS.

And what I was trying to say in that column is, well, two things. One is why would you defeat ISIS in Syria when you know that you would be turning that territory over to the Assad regime? Or you don't have Sunnis able to -- good Sunnis, decent Sunnis able to hold that territory if we defeated ISIS. Why take the pressure off Assad and the Russians now? As I said in that column, when was the last time Donald Trump did anything for free?

It would be like him cleaning up a toxic waste dump for free next to a golf course he wants to buy before he's even negotiated for the golf course.

So I think we've got to retreat into this position of we can all agree on defeating ISIS, but I think we should use ISIS there as a source of leverage. Again, I keep coming back to that word -- on Assad, the Russians and Hezbollah.

CUOMO: Tom, let me get your take on this. It's not a heavy headline this morning, but it seems to be instruct. You've got Tillerson over in Moscow trying to draw a straighter line about what we'll tolerate and what we won't as the U.S. interests.

But then he's at the G-7 just before that in Italy, and he says in somewhat of an offhanded comment, "Why would U.S. taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?" when obviously the G-7 were very interested in trying to police what Russia has done there. What do you make of that?

FRIEDMAN: You know, Chris, when you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there. And you don't have a sense with Tillerson or this administration...