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President Donald Trump Shared Highly Classified Information with Russian Officials. Aired 11p-12:00mn ET
Aired May 15, 2017 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[23:00:06] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Breaking news, stunning reports that President Trump shared highly classified information with the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador to the U.S.
This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.
The administration denying that report in the "Washington Post." But two former officials now knowledgeable about the situations tell CNN that the main point of the post story are accurate.
We are not quite four months into the Trump presidency and one top Republican senator Bob Corker puts it bluntly tonight saying the White House is in a downward spiral.
Let's get right to CNN's chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto, global affairs analyst, David Rohde, military and diplomatic analyst, rear admiral John Kirby.
Good evening, gentlemen, to all of you.
Jim, I want to start with you. What are you hearing from your sources about this bombshell report in the Washington?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: From myself and to Jake Tapper, two former officials knowledgeable of the situation tell CNN that the main points of the full story are accurate. That the President did share classified information with the Russian foreign minister, the Russian ambassador. The information did not directly reveal the source of the intelligence. But Intelligence officials tell CNN there is concern that Russia will be able to figure out that highly sensitive source.
There is some disagreement, I 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 cover some of the most highly classified information and is protected with unique access and security protocols.
As you know, Don, this intelligence often there are different views, different analysis and what we are told is that some are more concerned about the degree to which the President went with this information than others. But the concern remains did he go far enough that Russia could, based on this information, where was coming from the details he revealed, could Russia then conclude where it came from? In particular what partner of the U.S. that source this information, which would be very uncomfortable for that --. He didn't want to share relationship reveal.
LEMON: What is the reaction from the White House?
SCIUTTO: Well, the White House right now is somewhat unified, although their messaging is a little confused as to what exactly they are denying. In general they are saying that this story is false. Let's listen on the White House national security advisor, H.R. McMaster.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: There is nothing that the President takes more seriously than the security of the American people. 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 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. Through all the record accounts should outweigh those of anonymous sources. I was in the room. It didn't happen. Thanks, everybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Now, let's just be clear what McMaster denied. He said that the President did not reveal the source and he did not talk about any current military operations. But that's not what the "Washington Post" reported. It is not what we are reporting. We are told by more than one source with knowledge of this meeting that the President revealed sensitive intelligence that, based on that intelligence, the concern is that Russia could then conclude where that intelligence came from. So he didn't explicitly say the source but the concerns is based on what he revealed, that that would lead the way for the Russians to that source.
LEMON: And to be specific about what's in the report in the "Washington Post" report. The "Washington Post" reporting that he was boasting about inside knowledge of a looming threat from the Islamic state. Why was he bragging about the Russians about something like that?
DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, it is the long tenancy of the President to sort of talk big. And the difference between, you know, making a sale, frankly, and being President. And this presents a real problem for I think for Republicans. This is again where his tendency to brag, his tendency to overstate things, it is, you know, tendency to sometimes frankly not tell the truth. It's putting more and more pressure I think on Republicans on the hill, particularly Republicans who care about national security. That statement from Senator Bob Corker is an opposition, McCain, Senator Graham, you know. This is an incredibly serious issue for Republicans. This is Islamic State. This is terrorism. This is national security and it's a Republican President who is doing this. LEMON: So admiral Kirby, when the secretary of state Rex Tillerson
put out a statement tonight disputing this report but a senior state department officials tell CNN, one official tells CNN that he didn't know about it. They learned about the statement from CNN and were left scrambling as the former state department spokesman, what do you make of that?
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: It's very unusual. I can't remember a single time working for secretary Kerry or even two secretaries and defense prior to that where my principle put out a major statement addressing a significant news story of the day where we didn't have a hand in it. It wasn't staffed. It wasn't well coordinated, both within the building and across the river at the White House. So it is pretty amazing.
I have talked to some colleagues at state. It looks like this was on a real fast track. The White House specifically wanted to put out all three statements at the same time to look like a very cohesive communications approach here and in the speed to do that. They didn't do all the staffing you would normally do with the rest of the building and at least with the communications staff.
But like I said earlier, I think this just continues to speak to the dysfunction at the state department as well.
[23:05:33] LEMON: So why would they reach out to the CIA and the NSA if the President didn't do what the report says?
KIRBY: Well, it is hard to say. I mean, you know, I'm kind of where Jim is on this. I think, you know, their denials are not full denials. They're simply - they are denying things that story has never said. And you know, why they didn't do a better job stuffing this, again --.
LEMON: Is this an attempt maybe to confuse the public that people may get sort of confused by the details and think that it's a full throttle denial of a report that it's not?
KIRBY: I do think it's an attempt to try to get the temperature down on this. I mean, look. You know, it's ironic. When you put your national security advisor out in the west wing like that, in front of cameras, you are already just by that, you are elevating it. And even though the statement seemed to try to deflate it. So they have already elevated. I think it was trying to take the air out of the story as quickly and efficiently as they could. That's another reason I suspect he didn't take any questions.
LEMON: Jim Sciutto, before these reports, this meeting between the president and the foreign -- Russian foreign minister and the ambassador, was already raising red flags last week because it was day after the President fired the FBI director Jim Comey, which he later admitted was because of Russia. He admitted in the interview with Lester Holt. And then a photographer with the Russian media was included but not U.S. media. Are these the kind of optics you think Vladimir Putin wanted when the Russians influenced in the election? SCIUTTO: I mean, look at the series of events. I mean, this only
happened last week. It is easy to get caught up on what happened today and you forget something that happened 72 hours ago. That there was so much going on. But in the span of less than a week, President fires James Comey for he admits later the Russian investigation, in effect. He wants to draw it to a close.
The next day, he invites to the oval office the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, who remember it's conversations with that ambassador standing there that got his previous national security officer fired Mike Flynn. Unrevealed conversation.
And then several days later, he reveals classified information to Russia. This happens after and election where the U.S. intelligence committee identified Russia for interference. Interfering in election process, to undermine it. All that stuff has to be taking together of this has to -- let's just raise - I mean, these questions are already - let's just raise those questions higher. To raise questions about why the President doesn't look at this country as his entire intelligence community does as a threat.
LEMON: No. And don't forget the attorney general recuse himself from the Russia investigation. We have Devin Nunes who had to step down from the investigative part of this Russia - I mean, this on every day, there seems to be something. We are talking about classified information. The election wasn't that long ago though it seems like ages ago. This candidate slammed Hillary Clinton for throughout the campaign for her alleged handling of classified information for which she was, you know, was never indicted for. He slammed her. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can't hand over our government to someone whose deepest, darkest secrets may be in hands of our enemies.
I don't think it's safe to have Hillary Clinton be briefed on national security because the word will get out.
We can't have someone in the oval office who doesn't understand the meaning of the word confidential or classified.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: And then in July, he tweeted this. Crooked Hillary Clinton and her team were extremely careless in their handling of a very sensitive highly classified information not fit. How does this compare to what Hillary Clinton is accused of doing what she did?
ROHDE: I think the key words there are "not fit." I mean, I don't think there could be this huge dark conspiracy and somehow, you know, Donald Trump is secretly allowing Russia. I don't -- there's no proof of that and I don't personally believe it, but it's his temperament. It is - he can't, you know, the reports he can't stand the criticism, that Comey is talking about Russia so he fires him. You know, he is somehow bragging to the, you know, Russia ambassador, and the fights with the Australian prime minister on the phone. This vision of Russia as a great ally which no one shares, it's the President himself. I mean more than anyone else and his fitness.
LEMON: Jim, and always putting up sound bites from something that Donald Trump, the candidate or Donald Trump the President said, which directly contradicts something he has done in the moment. Every time, every single time.
SCIUTTO: Listen, it makes it harder for him to be credible when he pushes back against these things. Remember, the issue with Hillary Clinton's emails were could by using this private server that classified information here that compromised by a foreign -- could have been. You know, was it made vulnerable? In this case you have an active sharing of classified information with a hostile power of Russia face to face in the oval office. Not good. It could happen. It's not like the Russian have to hack into his email, he didn't give them the information, you know, voluntarily.
[23:10:29] LEMON: Admiral Kirby, should this development be part of the investigation into President Trump or then candidate Trump's campaign?
KIRBY: Well, I don't know if - and he is be a part of the, you know, we have three now investigations going on. But I do think it needs to be carefully looked into and scrutinized. And I think their damage control needs to be done as if it hasn't already. Whether they (INAUDIBLE), I'm not so sure.
But I do think it's important for people to keep this in context. We have three investigations into Russia's involvement into our election process. We have a country where are in odds with Syria and certainly in odds within over Ukraine. And we have, you know, a President who doesn't appear to have a careful nuance to understanding the information and the intelligence that he is getting, if he is even getting it every day.
LEMON: Gentlemen, thank you.
When we come back, much more on our breaking news tonight. The President shares highly classified information with the Russians. How could Moscow use what they have learned?
[23:15:00] LEMON: Our breaking news tonight reports President Trump shared highly classified information with Russian officials in the oval office last week. Two former officials knowledgeable about the situation confirm those reports to CNN.
I want to bring in now Michael Weiss, a CNN investigative reporter for international affairs and national security analyst Juliette Kayyem, a former department of homeland security official.
Good evening to both of you. How damaging is this, Michael? MICHAEL WEISS, SENIOR EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, if this is true,
it's colossally damaging. I mean, we still don't know who the partner was that share this intelligence with United States, right. I spoke to an ex-CIA officer this evening and I said what do you make of this? And he said whoever gave us this intelligence isn't going to give us anymore intelligence if this is true. Again, the denial that McMaster has given and that the Trump administration and his surrogates are hanging on is that well, the president did not disclose sources or methods, that's not the ground on the "Washington Post" exclusive. The information ---.
LEMON: Hand on. Hold on. Explain that. Because they are saying they didn't reveal sources and methods. He didn't do this. That's not what the report says.
LEMON: Explain to the viewers what the report says.
WEISS: When it comes to intelligence, I mean, you know, you can give a certain scenario. You can say we have credible intelligence coming out of such and such city in Syria that ISIS is looking to hit a western city or a commercial airline or something like that. And the Russians, because they have their own intelligence gathering method which includes partnering with the Iranians and the Syrians can try and piece together how the Americans know this, right.
Sources and methods are distinct from raw information or just credible information. Just to give you an analogy. When the DNI came out with this report saying 17 U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded with high confidence that Russians hacked the DNC. What they did not disclose was sources and methods, right. We don't know how U.S. intelligence knows this because then they would give that away, they would essentially allow the Russians into their intelligence gathering methods. The Russians would know how we do cyber warfare. What our human intelligence capability in Moscow was, et cetera, et cetera.
So whatever Donald Trump said -- and by the way for U.S. officials to leak this to the press -- and this is the other thing my ex-CIA source said, indicates a level of complete aggravation and almost, you know, they are driven to destruction about how frustrating this is.
This is a case in which the commander in-chief might have possibly blown an active intelligence operation. If not, then hung out his own intelligence community to dry in the event that the Russians are able to now blow this intelligence.
LEMON: Go ahead, Juliette. And in your response, so is this White House, this administration in their response tonight being too cute by hat (ph) because they know that they are denying something that is not even in the report.
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. They may be and they may also be trying to protect the intelligence relationship they have with this country that Trump may have sort blown the relationship with. So they want to minimize the impact. And I get that from them but just picking up on Michael says, you
know, the notion that an intelligence agents would notify the "Washington Post" that not only this happened but remember the second piece and amazing piece of the story is that then there's a scrambling after that meeting to notify the intelligence agencies that this had happened so they can begin to notify our NATO allies or whoever it was, other allies and to protect what assets we have and what intelligence gathering resources we have going on because the most important thing here is we all know over the last week there has been these growing rumors, you have done stories on it about this sort of -- I don't want to say specific -- but just highly credible concern about the laptops. And that was the United States going to extend the laptop ban.
So we know that there are serious investigations, serious intelligence gathering going on. And then out of the blue something shared with the Russians and, you know, I can't explain that. And that is the casualness about his own job and about his responsibilities as President that is just -- it's hard to just be able to explain it anymore. If I just give him the best - the President the best of intensions, it is just, you know, this is a serious job that he wanted.
LEMON: Code word information, Juliette. That's what the "Washington Post" says on Islamic State. What is this? And how secretive is it?
KAYYEM: It's one of the highest, if not the highest, you know, sort of intelligence designations for information that would be kept exclusive even within your own intelligence agency. So in other words, you may have such a discrete group of people working on one small operation, one small cell, that they are actually not going to share that information with maybe a larger ISIS group or with the defense intelligence agencies or with the defense department or homeland security.
That information then would go to, of course, the national security advisor, especially if it was an imminent investigation and then for some reason that information, probably part of the daily brief gets to Trump. And that may include - look, we know that country x has an asset in ISIS. And that asset is highly vulnerable but is willing to share information with us. And something that's casual as that said to the Russians then we will unleash a series of responses by other countries who do not have our best interest in mind.
[23:20:34] LEMON: So Juliette, Michael said at least at the very least our intelligence officials in the White House tried to minimize the damage to what the President did in the oval office. So is leaking this to the "Washington Post," does that further damage U.S. security?
WEISS: No. I mean, again as I said, the intelligence community I think is trying to protect itself because if this whole thing, you know, is exploded or the operation goes awry, they want to make it known that this isn't because of their incompetence. This is because the President of the United States gave up the goods to the Russians. One of the other things in the "Washington Post" article I found
rather compelling is this is information so sensitive we did not share it with our allies. Now, there are some allies the U.S. has which it does not trust completely. Why? Because there are allies, intelligence services have been penetrated by countries such as Russia, namely France, Germany. These are not part of the so-called five Is where we have sort of we don't spy on you, you don't spy on us arrangement.
LEMON: So could our allies stop sharing intelligence with us because of this?
WEISS: Yes. And also, the reason we didn't share this intelligence with those allies was for the precise reason that we didn't want the Russians to get ahold of it. But now, that's all gone because the President just shared it in the oval office with the foreign minister and -- remember Kislyak identified by CNN as a top intelligence gather spy master on en Washington D.C. This is no light matter. I mean, it is - you are giving the keys of the kingdom to Moscow center here.
KAYYEM: And also - I mean, one thing just on the intelligence side, we are a country that actually is good at intelligence gathering. We share with other countries that aren't as sophisticated. So they are only as strong as we are. So the weaker we become in terms of our capacity to get intelligence from any of our allies, those other countries become weaker. That includes a country like Canada, which is highly dependent on us for intelligence.
So it's not just us that's going to be impacted, other countries that are sort of our intelligence consumers will also be impacted by this. There is just a casualness about the sharing of this information. It's just jaw dropping. These are the Russians. Again, I just don't know how more we can say it.
LEMON: I have a big sigh. This is unreal. I mean, it truly is unbelievable. But I just want to know did they - is Kislyak, did he play the President? Does he play the by buttering him up and getting into the oval office?
WEISS: I don't think he had to. Look. President Trump's twitter feed is a gold mine for any kind of hostile for an intelligence service. This is a president who, you know, you don't have to get exclusive access to the White House to understand what is going on inside his head. I mean, everything what is on his - on his tongue kind of things, I think he is telling you in real time what he is thinking. Any kind of personality of this sort that he wants to exhibit, he has exhibit it. He is sort of cream cheese for a foreign spy service.
So for Lavrov and Kislyak, to come there, remember, this came a day after the President fired James Comey, the director of the FBI overseeing a counterintelligence investigation into possible criminal conspiracy by Donald Trump's campaign that might have included collusion with the Russian government and then who does he invite? Foreign minister Lavrov, one of the most seasoned soviet style Russian diplomats, Kislyak, again, somebody that Jeff Sessions was meeting with him, lied about (INAUDIBLE). Cause Flynn to get fired. And you know, the first thing that happened is Lavrov jokes with the press core, was James Comey fired? I had no idea. Get out of here. I mean, like they are taking the fists as (INAUDIBLE) said. They are trolling the United States and the President is allowing them to.
LEMON: Quickly Juliette, I got to run.
KAYYEM: Just very quickly and as Michael certainly knows, being in counterterrorism. So the consequence of this is ISIS knows it's been exposed. And so two things will happen. It will either delay what it's planning on doing, which would be good or it would speed up and that's the truly sort of scary aspect of it. I don't mean to sound alarms. It's just we know how terrorist organizations respond to, you know, being potentially infiltrated. So either we see which will be good or they will speed it up as we have seen before. And so we will just have to monitor it.
LEMON: Is he competent to be in the oval office? That's a good question that everyone should be asking themselves tonight.
Thank you, both.
KAYYEM: That's your next panel.
[23:25:01] LEMON: When we come back, how members of the President's own party are responding to tonight's breaking news. One top Republican describing the White House as "in a downward spiral."
[23:29:09] LEMON: Republicans on Capitol Hill reacting to reports that President Trump shared classified information with Russian officials. A spokesman for Paul Ryan saying the speaker hopes for a full explanation from the administration.
Here to discuss now CNN political commentator Margaret Hoover, Republican consultant and John Brabender, the Republican strategist, also with me Evan McMullin, a former CIA operative.
So good to have you, guys, on this evening.
Margaret, I'm going to start with you with this. Both sides are already criticizing President Trump. A key ally during the campaign was Senator Bob Corker, as you know. And he says tonight they are in a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that's happening. The chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline is creating an environment that I think it creates a worrisome environment.
A worrisome environment? Are you worried?
MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean, anybody who is looking at this reasonably, Don, is concerned. I mean, it is concerning -- everything that has happened is concerning. Everything that has happened over the last week is concerning. But I guess I would urge us and encourage us not to, you know, through Trump derangement syndrome, you know, go to 100 here. I mean, this is sort of be measured about. This is deeply troubling but you're not going to see Republicans and don't expect to see Republicans in mass pile on the President.
[23:30:20] LEMON: What's the number, though?
HOOVER: But what's still happening is the Senate's trying to get a health care bill passed without the President. In fact, they don't what the President anywhere near it. But what you're starting to see the Republicans pulling away from the President and hope to -- despite him get some policies accomplished and passed because the President doesn't care about the details. So they are doing sort of their work, hunkering down and trying to get their work done despite the executives.
LEMON: So they are using him to - to get their stuff done. They are ignoring everything he is doing. You said zero to 100. But can they ignore this? I mean, what would you go to?
HOOVER: This could jeopardize all the progress that they have any hope of making. Ignore it. You can't ignore the chaos is happening in the White House. But what they can't -- the reason you are not seeing Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and every Republican ranks sort of call out the President is because they still want to get things done.
LEMON: This is their chance to do it.
OK. So this is in the "New York Times" tonight. I'm going to ask you, Evan. They're talking about the intelligence that was disclosed by the President and it says in fact an ally has repeatedly won, this is the ally apparently where they got the information from. In fact, the ally has repeatedly won American officials that it would cut off access (INAUDIBLE) information if it were shared too widely, the former official said. In this case the fear is that Russia will be able to determine exactly how the information was collected and could disrupt the ally's espionage efforts. How do you respond to this, former CIA?
EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Well, it's a common concern between allies that share information back and forth. I mean, there's constant bickering and concern raising in this realm about this very issue. But generally, you don't have the President of the United States compromising sensitive information to a foreign adversary this brazenly. And it really is cause for concern.
So the Russians will take this information. Donald Trump didn't have to talk about sources or methods. But if the information was very detailed, the Russians can use their knowledge and their other resources to reverse engineer the information. It's not certain though that they will be able to do this but it is very possible.
And let me tell you how this works because I have watched the Russians do it before. The Russians may identify, for example, if it's a human source, who that source is. Approach that human source and say, look, we know you're working for "x" country and you're spying on ISIS. Well, we are going to compromise you to ISIS and you will be dead or you can work for us. And so then that source, if it is a human source, begins to work for Russia as well as try to meet its other masters while trying to stay safe. It gets very complicated. But the big picture is ultimately, we lose control through our allies of an important stream of Intel and that puts Americans at risk.
LEMON: But shouldn't Republicans care about that, Evan?
MCMULLIN: Well, of course they should, Don. Like many things.
So John, earlier you said that there is no bias remorse among Republicans. And I think Margaret was sort of saying --.
HOOVER: Yes. I was not saying there was no bias remorse.
LEMON: No. You are saying that they are working around with --.
HOOVER: But I'm going to let John go.
LEMON: All right. So John, you said no bias remorse among Republicans. But given these new developments tonight, do you still stand by that statement?
JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, let's review the new developments. To me the biggest development is there were three people in the room who have all come forward and said that this story is not accurate. So I think if there was a car accident and the police interviewed three eye witnesses versus two people who think they know something, they are going with the eye witnesses.
LEMON: Hang on. Let's do it one point at a time. What they are denying is not actually in the report.
HOOVER: Yes, that's right.
BRABENDER: What they are saying is the report is false. They have made that very clear that as written in the report, is false.
LEMON: But the report that they shared sources and methods, the report never said that. They are saying the sources and methods were never shared. That's not what the report says. So they are denying something that is not in the report. So there's actually not a denial. So if I said, you know, I never said you had gray hair and then you and I deny it then --
BRABENDER: They also deny that Donald Trump was on the grassy knoll. I mean, the point it all of the sudden --.
LEMON: But come on, John. I think you are being disingenuous. Hold on. Hold on to the first point. If they are denying something that's not in the report, how is that denial of the report?
BRABENDER: They are saying that as written the report that people are sourcing is wrong. They were very clear about that. Three people who were in the room.
Second of all, let's be clear of one other thing. We keep acting like he gave them the launch codes to the nuclear weapon. The truth of the matter is as much as we are an adversary with Russian on many things, we are actually an ally with Russia in the fight against ISIS. The only topic that he shared with them evidently, information on is relative to the fight against ISIS.
Third of all, let's also not forget that it wasn't him, but it was President Obama who was caught on tape secretly telling the Russians that after the election he was basically going to give them the store when it came to missile defense. If Donald Trump --.
[23:35:25] LEMON: What does that have to do with sharing classified information? That's apples and oranges.
BRABENDER: If Donald Trump could have done that - if Donald Trump would have done, there could have been a spontaneous explosions of head by progressives and the news media.
LEMON: OK, go on, Evan.
MCMULLIN: Well, I'm just saying that doesn't make sense.
BRABENDER: They don't treat Donald Trump on Russia different than they do anybody else.
LEMON: If President Obama was caught giving away national security secrets, I think everybody would be outraged. You are comparing apples and oranges. For someone saying give me a chance once I get into office and it was - hang on, it was roundly criticized. And so you are comparing things that are not necessarily comparable here.
BRABENDER: We have a President of the United States basically telling an enemy of us that --
LEMON: OK. Let's get back on track. To your knowledge did President Obama ever give classified information away to our enemies?
BRABENDER: No. He gave away negotiating techniques to our enemies. And I don't remember seeing the (INAUDIBLE) team breaking news --.
MCMULLIN: Let me jump in here.
LEMON: We don't know that. We have to go back and check. But I don't think it's necessary. It doesn't really matter. But go on, Evan.
MCMULLIN: Yes. Look, I am so tired of hearing people justify some stupid action that President Trump takes by some counter claim or argument about what happened in the past with Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Get over it. It's not the world we are living in right now for heaven sakes.
Donald Trump is the President of the United States. He is woefully unprepared for this role. He is stepping on himself left, right and center. He doesn't care to learn the job. He is too slow on the uptake. He is sloppy and he is making mistakes left, right and center. Get over this what absolutism about Obama and Hillary Clinton. Forget it. We have real interests here.
LEMON: Go ahead, Margaret.
HOOVER: And to cover this up to say like actually, we are allies with Russia in the fight against ISIS. So he was sharing information strategically. I mean, that is just like that is the most obtuse excuse. We are allies in name alone in that war. We are barely, you know, cooperating.
BRABENDER: That's not true at all. That absolutely is true.
LEMON: John, quickly. I'm out of time. John, go ahead.
HOOVER: That absolutely is true.
BRABENDER: Look. I would be naive with that do not understand that there are times we are going to have to deal with Russia. There are times we are going to have to deal with China.
HOOVER: That is not what this is about. This is about a President who opened his mouth when he shouldn't have. It wasn't breaking the law. But the President, he can declassify anything he wants anytime. But this is a president who was trying to basically brag about the intelligence he has with our arch enemy across the table. Let's call a spade a spade here.
LEMON: And Margaret, if you recall again. I got to go.
When we come back, more on our breaking news.
Plus, why attorney general Jeff Sessions is in hot water over his involvement in the firing of James Comey.
[23:42:07] LEMON: Our bombshell breaking news tonight, sources confirm to CNN that President Trump shared highly classified information with Russian officials.
Let's discuss it now with CNN legal analyst Laura Coates is her. Richard Painter, a former White House ethics lawyer and CNN legal analyst Page Pate.
Good evening to all of you. Thank you for coming on.
Page, you don't think the President broke the law but you say that he used bad judgment. How specifically and how bad?
PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think there is any question he used bad judgment. The question is how damaging is bad judgment is going to be to the country.
You know, if anybody else had done with what he did in connection with meeting with representatives of a foreign government by leaking classified information, they would be prosecuted and they would be put in jail but. But unfortunately, I suppose fortunately for the President, these two laws that govern the release of classified information basically let the President do whatever the president wants to do with classified information. But it's a horrible mistake of judgment because the information that he is putting out there cannot just endanger American citizens but also people around the world. And it can really put our relationships with people and government that give us information at great risk.
LEMON: So Richard, how can anyone there had, you know, you saw in the last segment that there are people defending this? Is this defensible or is it indefensible?
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER: Well, all I could say is when I was chief for the Bush administration, we made it very clear how critically important it was not to reveal a classified information to anyone without a security clearance. And it would have been a joke if I would said and don't release classified information to the Russians.
I mean, this is just ludicrous. And of course, the law will allow the President to do this legally just like he doesn't have the financial conflict of interest statute that applies to him that applies to the rest of the entire executive branch. And he can run around saying he is above the law and he doesn't have to do this, that and the other thing and he can give out classified information to the Russians. But at certain point, people are going to get tired of it.
And this is putting our country's national security at risk. The President should only be sharing classified information with foreign powers after he has been advised by his national security team. That it's in our national interest to share certain classified information and with Russians of all people. I mean, trusting the Russians for classified information is like trusting Bernie Madoff with your money. It makes no sense what's going on here.
LEMON: OK. So listen, Laura, all of this happens against the backdraft of the have to fired - having fired the FBI director James Comey in part of the recommendation of the attorney general who - in part on the recommendation by attorney general repeatedly recused himself because he said that wouldn't and didn't want to deal with it because he has disclosed contacts that he had with the Russian ambassador - had not disclosed. Did attorney general Jeff Sessions you think violate his recusal promise by doing this?
[23:45:15] LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there is two issues how they have violated. And there is the ethical violations for trying to parse words as the head of the department of justice about whether or not what you really meant was I'm going to only look at things if there are personnel related issues, even if they overwhelmingly, not just tangentially, actually touch on campaign related issues.
Remember the justification for the recusal was that he wasn't going to talk about anything to do with the campaigns or the Russian investigation. And instead, he has stated that it was more of a personnel issue. That he has every right as the head of the department to insure that his chief investigator is someone who is credible among his ranks, credible among the people that he works at the FBI. So that's his excuse there.
But remember Donald Trump has consistently given many but different explanations about why he chose to terminate James Comey. One of them being the Russia investigation and trying to in some way stop what he considered a conspiracy. Well, if Jeff Sessions was aware that was even one of the motivations behind Trump's firing of Comey, then he has not only violated ethically his duty to recuse himself but also perhaps in the obstruction world to say he knows of a reason somebody's trying to undermine investigation and he played a part.
But Don, really important here is to remind us the back drop here. The same day we have a traveling ban argument in the ninth circuit where the President's own men are saying listen, the national security issue gives me supreme deference. Defer to my judgment on national security grounds. It's the same day we learn he had steadily had disregarded national security of the nation perhaps or is acting in a way to undermine it. It's a very, very (INAUDIBLE) vision here.
LEMON: Page, I want you to remind for our viewers what attorney general Jeff Sessions said when it came out he had not disclosed all of his meetings with the Russians. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have now decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Could he be in serious legal or ethical trouble?
PATE: Well, I don't about legal trouble because I don't know who is going to hold him accountable? I don't think the President is going to hold him m accountable. Obviously, Congress can't do much about it. They can't remove him from office. But I do think what he said was a promise to the American people that he is not going to have anything to do with the Russian investigation. And I have no idea how you could possibly be a part of evaluating a new FBI director and you are not discussing the Russian investigation to make sure that your new director can move forward with that investigation, is going to have the proper resources for that investigation.
So I find it impossible for the attorney general to be involved in that process, even from the personnel side without getting involved with questions relating to that investigation and without violating his prior promise.
LEMON: Thank you all.
When we come back, is President Trump's staff secretly getting him fake news? My next guest has the scoop.
[23:52:16] LEMON: The White House in turmoil tonight in the weak of bombshell reports that President Trump shared highly classified information with Russian officials.
Let's discuss now. Chris Whipple is that author of "the Gatekeepers, how the White House chiefs of staff define every presidency" and Shane Goldmacher. He is the White House correspondent for "Politico."
I'm glad to have all of you on. I want to get both of you are experts on the inner workings of the White House.
Chris, so let me start with you. The White House scrambling tonight to sort of contain these reports to get their, you know, they come up with a message about this crisis that the President's -- the President's own making.
CHRIS WHIPPLE, AUTHOR, THE GATEKEEPERS: Yes.
LEMON: Can a White House function like this continually?
WHIPPLE: No. You know, this White House is the most dysfunctional in modern history and that was before tonight's disclosures. It's really a White House coming apart at the seams. And one of the reasons for that is that this President has not learned what all of his predecessors learned the hard way sometimes which is that you cannot govern effectively without empowering a White House chief of staff as first among equals to execute your agenda and most importantly to tell what you don't want to hear.
You know every President needs a grownup in the room who can say no, you can't talk to the Russians about that stuff. And no, you know you can't go out and tell flagrant lies. And yes we have got all to be on the same page with the truth. And if you want to use your twitter account that's great. But you are going to have to run it by me first.
SHANE GOLDMACHER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Yes, I think there is no question that President Trump has resisted structures of any kind and restrictions on his behavior. He doesn't want to be told he can't tweet. He doesn't want to be told he can't go do things. And Chris is absolutely right. Reince Priebus, his chief of staff, even in his announcement of the position he was given sort of a coequal ties with the chief strategist Steve Bannon. I think he is even less than second in the press release.
So from the get go where there is division of power I the White House, and this is an incredibly facts in the White House. Everyone is looking against each other. And in times is not clear everyone is pulling in the same direction as the President. They are pulling for their own agendas versus his. LEMON: It's interesting, Shane, because in an article in "Politico"
you explain how President Trump gets fake news and it sometimes comes - it sometimes comes from staff?
GOLDMACHER: Yes. So Priebus, his goal is to be the gatekeeper for Trump. Now Trump doesn't want to be gatekeeper. He doesn't want to gauge at all. He wants an open oval office. Priebus has tried to put in place a system by which the President gets his paperwork gets news clippings. And the problem is lots of staff are going through the side door.
A pretty fascinating example. K.T. McFarland who is the deputy national security adviser recently gave Trump a copy of two time magazine covers one supposedly from the 1970s on a global ice age and one more recently accurate talking about global warming. Well, the one from the 70s is a fake. It is part of internet hoax but she print to do out hand to do the President, he got worked up about it before staff had intervened. In fact, Mr. President this isn't true because there is no systems in place because Priebus doesn't actually control the agenda and the paper fell to the President. He is at risk of getting things sometimes aren't true. And again as you see, he is direct line to communicating through twitter.
[23:55:32] LEMON: He often reacts to those things and maybe this one was caught but there are others not caught that he reacts to, Chris. And many of his supporters believe them as fact when it is in fact fake news.
WHIPPLE: Yes, I mean one of the critical things that the chief of staff has to do is be the honest broker of information. Teeing up information honestly on every side of a difficult issue making sure only the toughest decisions get in to the President. You know, the most important asset any administration has is the President's time. And you know this is clearly a President who is completely undisciplined. Presidents come into office with a kind of had you brings and they think that they have all the answers. And as somebody said, it's kind of like alcoholism. You know, every President hits rock bottom at some point.
You know, Bill Clinton went a year and a half before he learned that he had to empower a White House chief in the form of Leon Panetta who came in and really turned the Clinton White House around. Jimmy Carter took two and a half years to realize that he needed to appoint a chief of staff. It not clear that Donald Trump would recognize rock bottom if he saw it.
LEMON: Yes. Shane, does the staff matter or is it all good with the man at the top in the White House.
GOLDMACHER: I mean, to some extent it goes to the man at the top here, right. You talk last week he had some frustrations about the communications plan around his firing of the FBI director. But it's hard to blame the communications staff when the ultimate story is the President decided to fire the FBI director who was investigating some of his associates from the campaign. They can't spin that way in way makes it positive story for the President. LEMON: He says you can't always listen to them because they don't
always have the information he does.
GOLDMACHER: And then, yes, he went and undermined them, right. They went out and said it was the deputy attorney general who is recommendation moves the President to make this action. Two days later he said no, I already decided when I got the recommendation. And not only that it was my decision and no one else's.
LEMON: And it had to do with Russia as well.
GOLDMACHER: And had to do with Russia.
LEMON: Thank you all. I appreciate.
That's it for us tonight. Thanks for watching. I will see you right back here tomorrow.