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Classified Information Shared. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired May 15, 2017 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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[22:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Thanks to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Thank you for being with us.
Thanks to all of you, and thank you at home for watching the CNN town hall. We want you to join us tomorrow night at 9 eastern, for CNN debate night, two former presidential contenders, potential 2020 candidates, are going to face off in their first televised debate.
You got Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders versus Ohio Governor John Kasich. That's tomorrow night at 9 p.m. Eastern.
I'm Chris Cuomo. CNN Tonight starts right now. I'll see you in the morning. Thank you very much.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Chris, thank you very much. Much more now on our breaking news. Stunning reports that the President of the United States shared classified information with the Russians in the Oval Office.
This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.
The White House tonight circling the wagons, saying the story is false, but two former officials knowledgeable about the situation tell CNN that the main points of the story first reported by the Washington Post are true; the president shared classified information with the Russian foreign minister.
And make no mistake about this, this story is a bombshell. It goes way beyond partisan politics in general. Lives are at stake around the world and that raises two frightening and very serious questions. Is a president who would do this even unwittingly, competent to be the commander-in-chief? Is President Trump up to the job?
We'll discuss all of that tonight. I want to get right now to CNN's David Chalian, Jim Sciutto, David Gergen, and Sara Murray. Also CNN political and national security analyst, David Sanger.
Good evening to all of you. Jim Sciutto, I'm going to start with you. What are you hearing from you intelligence sources about the president revealing this highly classified intelligence to Russians inside the Oval Office?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN'S CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Let me tell you what two officials knowledgeable of the situation tell CNN, that the main points of the post-story are accurate, that the president shared classified information with the Russian foreign minister.
The information did not directly reveal the source of the intelligence but intelligence officials are concerned, they tell CNN, that Russia will be able to figure out the highly sensitive source based on the nature of the intelligence.
There is some disagreement, we should note, according to one of the sources, as to how far the president went. This intelligence relates to what is known as Special Access Programs or SAP which covers some of the most classified information and it's protected with unique access and security protocols.
The Post still needs to be given credit for this, I should mention, because they were the first to report this. It's important to note, Don, that with any intelligence, there's often more than one view of the significance of it, or what conclusions to draw from it.
So what we are told is that the president shared classified information, he did not say where this information came from. This highly sensitive source from a partner nation, but the concern is that Russia, with all of its intelligence capabilities, may be able to conclude with that information came from based on the nature of the intelligence.
LEMON: Their denial tonight the White House did not mention that, their denial is sort of a non-denial, denial, denial. But let's get to this reporting and dig into it a little bit. Because this is from the Washington Post first reported the story, they said "Trump went on to discuss aspects of the threat that the United States only learned through the espionage capabilities of a key partner."
"He did not reveal the specific intelligence-gathering, but describe how the Islamic state was pursuing elements of a specific plot. Most alarmingly, officials said Trump revealed the city and the Islamic state's territory where the intelligence partner detected the threat."
So explain how damaging this is to reveal information like that, how could this help the Russians?
SCIUTTO: This is what intelligence officials tell me, my phone has been lighting up in the last several hours as the story first came out, there are several elements that concern them.
One, it's classified information, under any circumstances you share that, that's a potential problem. Two, the person on the other end of receiving this was Russia. And Russia is not just any country. It is in the view of many in the intelligence community the prime, a prime national security threat to the U.S. A prime adversary.
Finally, it's the country that helped the U.S. gain this intelligence. The U.S. has any number of intelligence-sharing partnerships in the world. Some of them are obvious with allies such as the U.K. You have the so-called Five Eyes program which includes the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Basically everything we know they know, everything they know, we know.
And then you have close allies like the French, the Germans, and the Japanese. You would expect to share intelligence with them. Then you have other parties where either because of the sensitivity, the nature of the region, where this country is operating domestic and political concerns, et cetera, where the U.S. foes not advertise that it's sharing intelligence in either direction and this is a country in that category.
It did not want folks to know around the world that it's sharing this kind of information with the U.S. because it faces particular threats. Those three things give intelligence officials tremendous concern.
LEMON: I want to get to the White House now, Sara, because I'm sure everyone would like to know what is going on inside the White House at the White House tonight?
Wouldn't everyone just like to know, Don, what exactly has been going on in those meetings in the White House behind me?
[22:04:56] What we saw this evening was administration officials really scrambling to respond to the Washington Post story. They initially put out three different statements from administration officials. Only one of those statements said that the Washington Post story was false.
The other ones did not go that far. And then they put out H.R. McMaster, whose of course, Trump's national security adviser, to say that the story as it was reported was false. And a number of people pointed out that was sort of a very tailored, very carefully crafted way to try to knock down this reporting.
And it is worth noting, Don, usually at this point, we have known for hours that we will not see the president again this evening. The White House just called what is known as a lid, in this case, a travel photo lid, suggesting that the president isn't coming out.
But that does tell you for the last few hours there have been some kind of deliberations, some kind of uncertainties about just what is going to happen in the White House tonight.
Hours ago, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said we wouldn't be hearing any more from the communications shop. We know they've been huddled in meeting for hours since then. So just now, just minutes ago, the word came down that we would not be hearing from the president tonight, at least certainly not in person.
LEMON: I want everybody to stand by because I want to bring in now, as I understand, we have Greg Miller who broke the story. He's going to join us now from the Washington Post.
President Trump's national security adviser addressed the reporters tonight and he's pursuing -- is pushing back on your reporting. Let's listen and then we'll discuss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
H.R. MCMASTER, UNITED STATES NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The story that came out tonight as reported is false. The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries including threats to civil aviation.
At no time, at no time, were intelligence sources or methods discussed, and the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known. Two other senior officials who are present including the secretary of state remember the meeting the same way and have said so.
They're on the record, the country should outweigh those of anonymous sources. I was in the room, it didn't happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, Greg, interesting that he didn't take questions. What's your response to that?
GREG MILLER, CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I actually think the White House is engaging in a pretty significant head fake here. They're basically refuting assertions that were not in our story. Our story is very specific and says that Trump did not disclose the source of this intelligence, but discussed in detail the intelligence that came from this source.
And I think that, you know, for all these statements from the White House, none of them explains why if this was so insignificant, why did the national security council staff feel the need immediately to contact the CIA director and the director of the NSA to alert them to the fact that Trump had just shared too much information with Russian officials?
LEMON: So, Greg, you write that at the urging of officials he withheld plot details including the name of the city as not to jeopardize intelligence capabilities. So if you know the name of the city and other plot details, how does that line up with what the White House is saying tonight?
MILLER: Well, exactly. I mean, these are details -- there's two things, Don. So our sources were not wanting to compound the mistake here by revealing information that they believe Trump should not have revealed to Russian officials.
And then there are other decisions we made as a news organization, had conversations with multiple officials and the reporting on this, to withhold some of that including the city that Trump references specifically in the conversation including some of the details he shares with the Russian officials about the nature of the plot, about how the Islamic state is trying to pull it together.
The fact that those details are out there just underscores, I think, the accuracy of our report.
LEMON: All right. Standby. I want to bring in David Sanger. I want to get back to the panel so stand by, please.
President can declassify, David, right, anything he wants but this was a president going off script. So what does this say to our allies around the world who are sharing this information with us?
DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think, Don, you hit the right point and very good reporting as always from our competitor, Greg Miller.
The president has an original classification authority meaning he can declassify anything he wants just at whim so there's no legal break here. The scene here, if it took place as described is that he revealed information that he wasn't at liberty to reveal because it came from an allied service or cooperative partner service and in this case a service that made it clear they could not share further data if this kind of information leaked through.
It went to a sensitive source of theirs. So to some degree it's less what the United States or the Russians think about it and more what the service that actually shared this data with the U.S. thinks about it and whether or not they could cut off future cooperation. That's the critical issue.
SCIUTTO: Don, could I just...
LEMON: Go ahead, yes.
[22:09:59] SCIUTTO: I just want to push, not to disagree with David Sanger who knows this issue well, but I will that I've gotten a lot of intelligence officials reaching out to me tonight just to push back on the idea that the president can declassify anything willy-nilly.
Yes, he can, there's nothing illegal about it. But in terms of the way it is done, it's not just the president can fly off and reveal classified information and it's all OK. They say that there's a process, it must be strategic and the example that they give, and David would know this better than me, was 1983, Russians shoot down KAO007.
President Reagan after a process made a decision to reveal the signals intelligence that gave the U.S. confidence that it was Russia that shot down the plane. But that was something he conferred with his advisers and made a strategic choice. To just announce something without that kind of process to a country such as Russia, is they, Intel officials describe to me more disclosure than a declassification.
LEMON: It's dangerous. Go on, David Gergen. DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We need to be very clear
if anyone else in the government disclosed information like this to the Russians as described, it would be a crime and that person would go to jail.
The only exempt the President of the United States from those laws. And we do that because the president can disclose is he decides -- And Jim is absolutely right, if he decides it's in the strategic interest of the United States, then it's understood he can disclose and he can do it unilaterally without asking any questions.
However, if he does it boastfully or goes off script or impulsively, that's a very different matter and that becomes egregious, reckless behavior in the Oval Office and it goes to the fitness of the person who's in the Oval Office.
LEMON: To David Gergen's point, Eliot Cohen who a former counselor at the State Department of George W. Bush tweeted, "This is appalling, if accidental, it would be firing offence, as you said, David for anyone else. If deliberate, it would be treason.
GERGEN: For anybody else.
GERGEN: For anybody else. So this is, you know, there are people now beating the impeachment drum. I think it's early for that. But there is a question here of whether he's faithfully executing the powers of the presidency as he takes his oath.
But he may not have violated the laws but has he violated the oath of office? That's a hard question. I think these more general questions -- I think, Don, particularly because it comes, it seems -- it seems just in a boastful way the way it was first described in the Washington Post piece particularly because it's the Russians and we've been going through all this stuff. You know, why is he giving information to the Russians of all people?
LEMON: Why are they even in the Oval Office?
GERGEN: Well, that's a serious question, too. I actually give the president a break on that because when Secretary of State Tillerson went to Moscow, Putin saw him.
GERGEN: So when the...
LEMON: Considering what's happening.
GERGEN: But the day after he fires Comey?
LEMON: Yes. I want to bring in David Chalian. David, the chairman of the foreign relations committee, GOP Senator Bob Corker, which is, you know, surprising a lot of people, says the White House is in a quote, "downward spiral right now."
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes.
LEMON: Take us behind the scenes. Give us the bottom line. What's the fallout here?
CHALIAN: Well, listen, republicans are no doubt -- and you see it in Corker's statement there, others as well, wringing their hands a bit, getting a little nervous here that this is careening a bit and nobody's got their hand on the wheel, and Corker also said the White House has to get control of this, it has to happen.
Susan Collins, the republican from Maine, saying can we please just have a day without a crisis? That's all I'm asking for. So you can sense, and it is important as we go through this, to watch these republicans on the Hill.
They -- in terms of the political fallout, they hold the key. When -- when will these items stack up enough that the republican leadership, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, who we really have not heard break ranks in any way, when will they make their feelings known to the White House that they want some order restored here?
You saw Paul Ryan's statement earlier today, Don, it was not one where he was like linking arms with the president. It was one that said, this is serious stuff and we need to get the facts of what went on here.
LEMON: David Sanger, I want to ask you about the Washington Post sources saying that this is code word information, code word information that Trump revealed, more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies. Code word information. Explain that for us.
SANGER: It means that it's a compartmented program, the compartment's got a code name to it. Sometimes that material leaks out. The Stuxnet virus against Iran was called Olympic Games. That was a code name for that.
So that's not all unusual, but it does tell you that it is the most secret and carefully guarded data and that would be all the more reason that the president would want to go through the kind of process that Jim Sciutto just described to you.
[22:14:55] And if this was done as David Gergen pointed out more on impulse than on strategic -- a strategic impulse, then that's a big issue. And I think the big question here is whether the president, himself, understands the difference enough to know when it is that he needs to stop and get the process going and make a strategic decision about whether and how he could disclose this.
LEMON: All right, everyone. Thank you very much.
When we come back, more on our breaking news. I'm going to speak with two former directors of the CIA.
LEMON: A stunning report gripping Washington tonight. President Trump sharing highly classified information with Russian officials during a White House meeting last week. That's first reported by the Washington Post.
And two former officials knowledgeable about the situation confirming to CNN that the main points of the Post story are accurate.
Joining me now by phone is CNN national security analyst, General Michael Hayden. Former director of both the CIA and NSA. Good evening, general. Thank you so much for joining us. I want to get right off the bat, your initial reaction to this breaking news.
MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, I think quite surprising, Don, and frankly there was a very informed discussion that you just had. This isn't really about the power of the president. He has the power to do this. It's more about the person of the president and the performance.
[22:19:59] We're seeing the results of his being a bit undisciplined, impulsive, instinctive, intuitive. Little patience for preparation and little patience for process. And when he goes off script like this, he does things that are ultimately destructive of his own purposes.
LEMON: Let's go through this, all right? So I want to get back to this meeting, OK? The meeting. It's in the Oval Office.
LEMON: And according to President Trump, Vladimir Putin asked him to have that meeting. This is while the Russia investigation is going on and only one day after the president fired the FBI director, James Comey, which the president would later admit to Lester Holt on NBC news that he did because of the Russia story and now stories of boasting about classified information, is this everything -- I've got to be honest, everything the Russians ever dreamed of?
HAYDEN: Look, let me join consensus with former DNI Jim Clapper who said that the Russians' effort here has had a massive return on investment and succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. This is the most successful covert influence campaign in the history of covert influence campaigns.
The Russians by what they have done, hidden in fractures within American society and the American political dialogue, have opened these seams and have us now shooting at one another rather than focusing on them.
LEMON: So, here's -- I know that, you know that, the person -- probably a person who is, you know, maybe not that politically informed, the question would be, why were the Russians even in the Oval Office at all under those circumstances? HAYDEN: You know, it's probably a closer call than the administration
gave it credit for, but I take David Gergen's point that Putin agreed to see Secretary Tillerson while he was in Moscow. He made the request that our president see Sergey Lavrov.
So I can see the process by which -- close call, a bad optic, they agreed to see Lavrov in the Oval Office. Bad news, that they were so dysfunctional as to allowing the photography to take place and that to go out, and even worse news, that the president, if the story is true, out of boasting or an attempt to impress the Russians, went beyond his brief and that's the key point here, Don.
These things are usually carefully scripted. The president spends a lot of time making sure he knows what he wants to achieve, what it is he should be saying, and apparently that just didn't happen.
LEMON: I have to ask you.
LEMON: We said at the top of the show, does this -- other people are asking as well, does this -- and the people are asking as well. Does this -- do you question the president's competence to serve at this point? Making such silly mistakes or decisions that don't seem to make sense?
HAYDEN: We -- he's very inexperienced. This is an absolutely new world to him. If I fault him for anything, Don, it's not that he's inexperienced, but he doesn't have humility in the face of his inexperience and relies more on the team that surrounds him and tries to prepare him and, again, I keep repeating, Don, a team that exists only to help him succeed.
Don, can I add one point, too, Greg Miller pointed out, did the president reveal sources and methods or just the data? I have to tell you, when I was in government, Don, I had an awful lot of arguments with folks in your profession who would say they were just talking about the fact of something, and it wasn't revealing sources and methods.
And I very often had to point out that very often when you reveal the fact of, you also suggest strongly the fact how. How we learn this information. And that may actually be the point where the president revealed stuff that he did not intend to reveal.
LEMON: General Michael Hayden, thank you, sir. I appreciate your time.
HAYDEN: Thank you.
LEMON: I want to turn now to Ambassador James Woolsey who also is a former director of the CIA. Ambassador, I appreciate you joining us as well.
JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Good to be with you.
So, your reaction to our breaking news tonight. How serious is this, ambassador?
WOOLSEY: Well, we don't know yet, but it could be quite serious. This -- first of all, it's very important where the leak to the United States came from, from what country. Some countries, this could be extremely damaging to our ability to work with them in the future. Others not. It depends on the substance of what was leaked.
In the press stories, there's indications about terrorist plots involving aircraft and carrying computers onto aircraft. It's not clear what was leaked or what the problem is.
[22:25:05] But if it is serious, then this is something that just has to get fixed. We can't have president or anybody else in the government just sort of randomly coming out with highly classified material like this.
LEMON: The Washington Post is reporting that one of the president's aides called the CIA and the NSA after this meeting to let them know what happened. What would those agencies then do with that information?
WOOLSEY: Well, I would imagine each would pull together, you know, maybe a couple people, maximum two or three, from his agency, tell them this is highly classified and we don't want to talk to anybody else about it but how serious is this?
So I would think a CIA director or NSA director would want to get a feel for how much problem this has created, and if we were lucky, maybe it didn't create too much and it shows just really a procedural mess-up or on the dark side, it could be a lot worse than that.
It could fundamentally undermine our ability to trade information with one of our close allies who obtains a lot of very substantial intelligence for us and with us.
LEMON: I ask you that because the asking of this is if they did not, if he did not reveal this information, then why reach out to those agencies or why give them a heads-up or inform them of this?
WOOLSEY: Well, it seems to be pretty clear he revealed something. The question is its seriousness and what impact it had on other information. So I would imagine if something that's outside the briefing papers gets leaked and it's leaked to the Russians, no matter what the substance is, you're likely to have two or three people at the NSA and two or three people at the CIA getting together with the boss and saying, what's going on here? We got to understand this, et cetera.
LEMON: OK. So ambassador, what the president, what President Trump did today was not illegal. The president is allowed to declassify whatever information he wants if he does it strategically and according to my other guest, David Gergen and Jim Sciutto, said he has to do it strategically, not in a boastful moment in the White House.
This goes to whether, again, paraphrasing here, competency if he understands what he is revealing. But what did today raise to you? Did it raise serious questions about the judgment, and perhaps even the competence of the president?
WOOLSEY: We have to distinguish between what's legally permitted and what is wise. It is legally permitted for the president to declassify something even if he does it quickly and without giving it much thought. There's not a legal requirement on that.
But it's not wise to do that. Your illustration about the shoot-down of the airliner and Ronald Reagan's decision to declassify some material, that's the way it ought to be done.
LEMON: Yes. Thank you, Ambassador Woolsey. I appreciate it.
WOOLSEY: Thank you.
LEMON: When we come back, more on this breaking news story. The president just days away from taking his first trip overseas. How will he be received after this bombshell? Fareed Zakaria joins me to discuss.
[22:30:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: President Trump reportedly sharing classified information with two top Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting last week. Two former officials knowledgeable about the situation confirming those reports to CNN.
Let's discuss now, Fareed Zakaria, the host of Fareed Zakaria GPS. As I ask you every single night, what is your reaction to this breaking news? It's not funny but it's laughable. Every single time I have you on, there is some breaking news. The president has done something outrageous. And here we are reacting to it.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Well, in this case, it seems to me it's, you know, you almost have to hope for incompetence because the alternative is so dark. And so let's go with the incompetence theory.
LEMON: Do you think he's incompetence -- incompetent?
ZAKARIA: I certainly think that he has -- he does not seem to either understand or care about the structures and processes of high government office. You know, this is one of those cases where, again, the fact that you ran a pretty successful real estate franchising operation in New York City does not really translate into running the United States because this is a matter of kind of very, very sensitive intelligence.
How you share it, who you share it with and you need to understand your government spends -- we spent $70 billion on intelligence. Other countries spend billions and billions of dollars. These are the crown jewels of these, and to put them all, you know, to expose all of that without really having thought it through seems incredibly careless. It suggests a kind of lack of respect for your allies.
So, that's the benign interpretation. The less benign interpretation is that this was some kind of, you know, that this was provided to the Russians in a way that was -- you know, that he was helping the Russians out but I doubt that that's the case so I'm sticking with the incompetence rather than venality theory.
LEMON: So many questions, why would he have the Russians in the Oval Office to begin with? I heard a couple folks go on and said, well, you know, Tillerson was over there and he met with, you know, but that doesn't mean because Vladimir Putin asks him to do it that he has to do it. Especially considering this environment. And we know Kislyak has been -- caused General Flynn to be fired.
ZAKARIA: So the central puzzle of Trump's world view and foreign policy from the start of the campaign to now has been very simple, why is he so nice to the Russians, right? This is a guy as I've said to you, when he started his foreign policy, his whole point was everybody in the world screws the Americans.
We get -- we always lose, they always win, I'm going to get tough on the rest of the world. He felt that way about the Japanese since the 1980's, he's felt that way about NATO allies since the 1980s. He's felt that way about Britain, about France, about Germany.
ZAKARIA: Except the Russians. So that was his feeling during the campaign and so even today what we discover is he spills the beans not to the Brits, not to the Germans, not to the French...
LEMON: But to the Russians.
ZAKARIA: ... but to the Russians.
[22:34:59] LEMON: So Kislyak, let me get back to -- because again, he's at the center of a lot of this and apparently according to the reporting he's in there sort of boasting about this information and he thinks that, you know, I get the best intelligence, what have you.
Does he understand that Kislyak and the Russians may be playing him in the Oval Office? Does he not -- does he not understand this? Is his ego that big or he's not that self-aware that he may not realize he's getting played himself?
ZAKARIA: When I look at how other countries are now handling Trump, what I'm struck by is here you have Vladimir Putin who has essentially been running Russia for 15 years. He's been operating the highest levels of international politicians. He's running circles around this.
If you look at Xi Jinping, he has been playing, you know, he's been a seasoned political operator for 30 years. What does he do with Trump? Trump tries to do the Taiwan play. He shuts it down completely. Then he rewards the Trump organization, bizarrely, with 35 trademarks they've been trying to get for years and years. He rewards Ivanka Trump with trademarks. So these guys are playing at a very high level of sophistication. LEMON: They learned that carrot and sticks...
ZAKARIA: Carrots and sticks.
LEMON: Mr. Trump, you're the best, you're the smartest, whatever, that he will...
ZAKARIA: Right. I just wonder, are we -- you know, one of the things Trump kept saying is you're going do get tired of winning once I'm president.
LEMON: When does the winning start?
ZAKARIA: I'm wondering when -- where are we winning yet? I'm waiting for that scoreboard.
LEMON: Well, the interesting part is that he seems this evening, you know, we've been discussing what's happening at the White House, it all seems to be of his making because he wants to blame the team around him. You know, I am surprised, actually, that Secretary Tillerson and H.R. McMaster both came out and denied something that was not even in the reporting.
Why would two gentlemen with such respect, who are so respected, come out and deny something that's not even in the reporting? Why would they do that to themselves and their reputations?
ZAKARIA: One of the sad things about the Trump administration so far has been to see so many good people have to place themselves in these circumstances where they are complicit and, you know, somehow making excuses for these kinds of things.
I mean, Sean Spicer does it every day. You watched when Trump was on, you know, his interview with the economist and he claimed to have invented the term, priming the pump. Remember Steve Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, sitting there next to him and presumably endorsing this other bizarre fantasy that Trump had invented a term that was actually invented in 1916.
Here you have Tillerson and McMaster as you say kind of really obfuscating because nobody claimed that he had revealed sources and methods. The issue was he had revealed the substance of the intelligence which allows you to very easily trace the sources and methods.
So, this is, you know, this is a case where by associating yourself, by -- you're doing -- and I think that people like McMaster and Tillerson are probably patriots who want to do the right thing, but I think what they have to realize is in that case, they really have to play a role in structuring the White House so that you don't have stuff like this happen. Tim Naftali, the former director of the presidential library, the
Nixon Presidential Library, pointed out that a lot of Nixon's White House staff actively tried to make sure that a lot of the things Nixon said never happened.
You know, H.R. Halderman would actually listen to what Nixon said and say, don't do that. Right? We need, I mean, in some ways the American president is too powerful, particularly the modern post-1945 American president.
The staff needs to recognize that Jim Baker that this would Reagan You can't do everything the president says. You have to figure out whether it's legal, whether it's constitutional, whether it's appropriate.
Maybe bring it back to him and say, just want to be sure, so yesterday you said we should do this, do you really want to do this? There doesn't seem to be any of that. We're dealing with a court and the king is always right.
LEMON: I'm a glass half full guy, but, I mean, for you to say that the most benign or the best explanation is incompetency is -- we're at a very sad place right now.
Thank you, Fareed. I appreciate it. Don't miss CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.
When we come back, a member of the Senate judiciary committee weighs in on our breaking news, the president revealed highly classified information to Russian officials.
[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: A stunning breaking news tonight. Reports President Trump shared highly classified information with Russian officials in a White House meeting last week. Two former officials knowledgeable about this situation confirm those reports to CNN.
Let's discuss it now. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Good evening. Thank you so much for coming on, Senator.
AMY KLOBUCHAR, UNITED STATES SENATOR: Thank you, Don.
LEMON: You're a lawyer. And as you know, the president can declassify information. It's not criminal, but what about the country's national security tonight?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I think we know the history here is that if a president is going to declassify information like this, it is very well thought out like when President Reagan revealed the information about the Russians shooting down an airplane. Those were things that were thought through with the intelligence community.
In this case, it was a complete surprise, and you have people like Bob Corker, republican head of the foreign relations committee, talking about how this is chaos and a downward spiral. And I think our biggest concern, of course, all of us, who care about
our country and citizens who live here, we worry about our intelligence community, that their information is respected. We don't want to put people in danger and that's what happens if information is put out even a little that can lead someone to a source, and then, of course, our allies.
In this case, it appears that if this is all true, one of our allies, to be helpful, gave our intelligence people this information and now it is potentially in the hands of the Russians. Someone who clearly we cannot trust, who spent the last year trying to do us harm in our own American election.
LEMON: So let me ask you, you said if you care about this as an American, and as we said at the beginning of this broadcast, this goes beyond partisan politics.
[22:45:03] There are some republicans they're not, you know, exactly going lockstep with the president but they are pretty quiet tonight. The only two, a couple people we're hearing from, republican Senator Bob Corker said, quote, "they're in a downward spiral."
Speaker Paul Ryan didn't defend the president, instead the statement from his folks said, quote, "We have no way to know what was said but protecting our nation's secrets is paramount."
I mean, it's a bit of a different tone, but why aren't we hearing from more republicans who are coming out to say, if this is, indeed, true, this is a very serious and grave situation?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, this is their moment and I'm hopeful tomorrow that they will. This just all broke. People were literally shocked by this and, of course, we also have to get all the facts and establish the truth. I'm a former prosecutor. I believe that's important.
But in this case, there were members of the U.S. Senate who are not on the intelligence committee like myself who were there bright and early for a briefing on this laptop issue over a month ago, and we didn't hear some of that information.
And we didn't complain because we understand as a member of the judiciary committee, I hear certain things about judicial nominations that other people don't hear, and people in the intelligence committee, they have the special intelligence briefings that they're allowed to get.
And in this case, some of these things that appeared to have been shared with the Russians were not even shared with United States senators at that briefing.
LEMON: Senator, I want to ask you about this -- this is an excerpt from the Washington Post article referring to President Trump's homeland security officer, Tom Bossert who the Washington Post reports called the NSA and the CIA after this meeting to let them know what had happened. And here is what he says. "One of Bossert's subordinates also called
for the problematic portion of Trump's discussion to be stricken from internal memos and the full transcript to be limited to a small circle of recipients. Efforts to prevent sensitive details from being disseminated further or leaked."
So, do you expect the Senate to subpoena this transcript?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all what must remain classified to protect sources and keep people out of harm will most likely remain classified. Because that's the last thing that people want to do and that's why sources and methods weren't identified in the Post article.
But beyond that, I think what the Senate needs to do, our oversight role, is first of all, the intelligence committee has to figure out what happened and what damage is done here. Foreign relations people will be involved as well.
You already saw Senator McCain once had to work things out with the Australian government and then you'll have the work that must be done to get to the bottom of this.
I just keep echoing in my mind, Don, when we last talked, is when former Director Clapper had said the Russians were just empowered by what happened in the last year. And by giving them top-secret intelligence, that is going to continue and that's why I want to see an independent commission and a special prosecutor appointed so we can first of all get to the bottom of any criminal case and what is happening here and let the FBI do their work and then secondly, have an independent commission so we can make sure this never happens again to us.
And we just don't have those apparatus in place right now so that we can get the American people the facts they need and stop empowering the Russian government.
LEMON: Senator, I appreciate your time. Thank you.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.
LEMON: When we come back, President Trump hinted he might have tapes of his conversations with James Comey. Could there be tapes of his Oval Office meeting with Russian officials?
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Here's our breaking news tonight. Two former officials confirmed to CNN that President Trump shared highly classified information with Russian officials in a White House meeting last week.
Let's discuss now with executive editor of Bloomberg View, Tim O'Brien, the author of "Trump Nation." And Alexandra Berzon, the investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal. It's so good to have both of you here. You have seen the Washington Post reporting of the president that he was sort boasting, talking about highly classified information. And? TIMOTHY O'BRIEN, BLOOMBERG VIEW EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Well, I mean, I
think that I think because he's insecure, he boasts and I think what he's finding out now is that when you boast around representatives of a foreign government and what you're boasting about is classified information, you run into trouble.
And you know, Alexandra and I were just talking earlier about how this is kind of vintage to Trump. He spent his whole career boasting and pushing the edges of sort of acceptable financial or business behavior and it's now entered into the political realm. So, I don't find any of it surprising actually of this.
LEMON: But it may work in business? I mean, people may believe when you're, you know, sort of exaggerating.
O'BRIEN: No, I don't think it works. I don't think it works in business. I mean, I think -- I think it caused him more problems than successes. I think the difference between then and now is he's being scrutinized on a daily basis in a way he never ever did during his business career.
LEMON: So let's talk about this. This is all happening, you know, with a lot going on. He tweeted last week about James Comey. "Better hope there are no tapes of their conversations." And then here's Sean Spicer at the press briefing just today. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, UNITED STATES WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think I made it clear last week that the president has nothing further on that. I made it clear what the president's position is on that issue.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why wouldn't you just explain whether or not there are recordings?
SPICER: I think the president made it clear what is his position is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, Alexandra, why won't he just say whether there are tapes or no tapes?
ALEXANDRA BERZON, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I mean, I think this really kind of goes back to in business we had talked to a number of employees who said that he did tape in his business negotiations. He did -- whether or not he's doing it in the White House is unclear and -- but it would -- you know, if he were, it would be somewhat of a pattern in terms of some of the people that we spoke with.
LEMON: Yes. Because this is what let's see, you spoke with three former employees and the president have told you this. As a businessman Mr. Trump sometimes taped phone conversation with associates and others from Trump Tower office in New York and that Mr. Trump had one or more recording devices that he used to tape phone calls from his office.
So, again, you don't know if he's doing it from the Oval Office but it is a practice that he has used.
BERZON: It is something, yes. It is something. And what we found is that in business, in real estate business it's something sometimes people do. It's not necessarily super common but it's a practice that, you know, people use and he definitely suggested that was something he might be doing in the White House.
LEMON: If he did that at Trump Tower, Tim, is it OK to do in the Oval Office as the president at the White House?
O'BRIEN: I mean, there are presidents who taped conversations in the Oval Office going backing to Jack Kennedy. I think he was one of the first ones to put a system in. You know, my own experience with Trump he routinely told me that he was recording me. I didn't believe he was when I was reporting from the New York Times, and then when I was working on my book about him.
And then we ended up in litigation and we'd opposed him. And during the deposition my lawyer asked him did you record your conversations with Mr. O'Brien and he said during the deposition "I don't have any recording equipment, I don't know how to tape record. I didn't record him."
And then why did say this, Tim? And I said, well, because he always got everything I said so wrong but I thought I needed to tape him to make sure he got it right but I was just trying to make him nervous.
LEMON: Yes. I have a number of guess. Go on.
BERZON: I would think that we did find a lawsuit back in the '80s where it seemed that he had recorded -- something came up where somebody who was suing him said something and then he came.
And according to this person actually came and presented in the lawsuit a transcript to counter what that person had said Trump said.
[22:55:07] So it's not -- we don't know how common it was. His lawyer did say -- Michael Cohen said that he didn't see Trump record. So these were times, different times in his career.
O'BRIEN: I mean, I think one of the key things is whether he does or he doesn't. I think he puts it out there as a way to intimidate people.
LEMON: I want you guys to respond to this. Because this is sort of Nixonian. This is John Dean who was the -- John Dean was the White House counsel for Richard Nixon. Let's watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I looked into that a
little bit and I realized that the White House back as early as 2011 transferred their system into the VoIP where they can now have digital packets and there may well be a button right on his phone that he can press and make a recording. So that's not impossible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: You're saying it can be very easy to record there.
O'BRIEN: Sure. Sure, of course.
BERZON: And legal, by the way. If the person, you know, is party to the conversation.
O'BRIEN: And if he has, he just turn them over to the Senate and they can look at those tapes for his conversations with the Russians or his conversation with Comey.
LEMON: I wonder if this, you know, everyone talks about this administration being in a credibility crisis, right, that they have a crisis when it comes to credibility. I'm wondering if he has a loyalty crisis because it seems that, you know, he demands something from everyone else, right, but he doesn't necessarily show to them. Right?
LEMON: Because it comes down to it...
O'BRIEN: It's a one-way street.
LEMON: It's a one-way street.
O'BRIEN: I think he's very loyal to his family members. I think he's loyal to a core group of people with them with him a long time that he considers to be family but once you get outside of that small group, everyone else is fundable. He demands absolute loyalty but doesn't typically return it.
LEMON: Are people concerned about confidence now do you think and rightfully so? Should they be?
BERZON: I mean, I think that's what do you think? I'm not going to -- I'm not going to...
LEMON: I'm not going to answer that.
O'BRIEN: I'll answer that.
O'BRIEN: I've never thought that he was competent to hold a -- to be in the Oval Office. I think he was a, he wasn't a particularly confident business executive and I think all the things that haunted his business career have followed him right to the White House.
LEMON: Thank you both. Tomorrow night don't Ms. Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general fired by President Trump. She sits down with Anderson Cooper in a CNN exclusive tomorrow night at 8 Eastern. That's followed by Governor John Kasich and Senator Bernie Sanders head-to-head in a live CNN debate tomorrow night at 9 Eastern.
And when we come back, much more on our breaking news tonight. The president reveals highly classified information to Russian officials.
[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.
LEMON: Breaking news. Stunning reports of President Trump shared highly classified information with the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador to the U.S.
This is CNN Tonight.