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Trump Hosts Turkish President Erdogan at the White House Today; National Security Adviser to Speak at Press Briefing; North Korean- Linked Hackers Suspected in Cyberattack. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 16, 2017 - 10:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, in just a couple of hours, the president has a key Oval Office meeting with a very important world leader. Obviously, the last time he had an Oval Office meeting with world leaders, the Foreign minister, the ambassador from Russia, caused a firestorm after he disclosed classified information -- what reportedly is classified information to the Russians that intelligence officials are concerned may compromise some sources. The president did admit that he shared information.

Today's meeting is with the president of Turkey. That was expected to be tense already.

I'm joined by CNN's Arwa Damon and Nic Robertson.

Arwa, first to you. Again, a lot of sensitive subjects to discuss with the president of Turkey after his election there. Is there concern that this meeting today with Erdogan could be overshadowed by the events of the last 24 hours?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is, and that is one of the things that is being highlighted by the Turkish media, although they're not focusing too much on the president's alleged intelligence leak.

[10:35:06] They are focused mostly on the core issues that President Erdogan is going to want to see addressed, and that is an attempt to try to persuade President Trump not to arm the Syrian Kurds, especially not with heavy weapons, because Turkey views the YPG, the Syrian Kurdish faction, as being one and the same as the PKK that Turkey has been fighting within its own borders.

What people are also concerned about and taking a very close note of is how potentially the situation between the two countries could very easily escalate. There's a lot at stake here, but at the same time, you have two world leaders who have proven to be unconventional, unpredictable, and both have fairly volatile personalities and can be very easily offended.

So we could also potentially see a situation where what has been rhetoric up until now, especially when it comes to President Erdogan's statements that the U.S. basically needs to choose between whether or not it's going to support Turkey, a historic U.S. ally, a NATO ally, or whether it's going to support the Kurds. Whether or not that kind of rhetoric can escalate into something much more serious.

BERMAN: Guys, we do have one bit of breaking news that came in just as Arwa was speaking there. We just learned that the National Security adviser, H.R. McMaster, he will talk publicly at 11:30. He will brief the press publicly at 11:30 over this new round of reports over the president sharing information that some people think was classified with the Russians.

Two interesting things to point out. Number one, that briefing is two hours earlier than we thought it would be. That indicates that the White House did not think it could wait to get the National Security adviser out there. Number two, it is only H.R. McMaster who will be briefing on camera, indicating that they want General McMaster to be the public face of this story, not Sean Spicer, not Sarah Huckabee Sanders. It will be General McMaster. Sean Spicer will brief off camera later in the day.

So that's happening at 11:30. Please stay tuned for that. That will be fascinating.

Nic Robertson, to you. U.S. allies, not just in the Middle East but around the world, when they see that President Trump shared information that the reports are highly sensitive, perhaps classified, how do they react and how might they behave differently going forward with this administration?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: They're not saying anything publicly. Intelligence agencies rarely do. They're going to couch and grade their assessment on what else they hear, maybe in part on what they hear from General McMaster, who has said so far on the record that the report that was in the "Washington Post," that report, he said, was wrong. That that was a very carefully worded statement. So, clearly, we're likely to get more detail there.

But this is what they're going to listen to. They're going to listen to the arguments that are made for and against to try to understand precisely what happened. When President Trump goes to Saudi Arabia later this week, he will meet on this world tour -- Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, NATO, with leaders, the NATO nations there, the G-7 in Italy. He's going to meet or see at least about 40 different leaders.

And within that 40, in Saudi Arabia you'll have the Gulf allies and other regional allies, and allies at NATO. So, you know that one of those leaders most likely was the one that had provided this intelligence that was shared with the Russians that is now at the center of this controversy. So that might be an awkward moment.

But all these leaders are going to be trying to weigh up what they hear and see on television, read in the newspapers, online, with what they see and hear when they meet the president and see the president themselves to try to gauge where they really stand with the United States.

Can they afford to share information in the way that they used to? And are they going to be concerned that it could be shared with others who they don't want it shared with? So, you know, I think that's what we're going to see. There may be an awkward moment during this coming trip, but there's going to be an assessment and a calibration.

At the end of the line, though, for all these allies, the United States has a hugely, hugely powerful intelligence-gathering apparatus. No ally is going to want to really sever or alter a relationship that could cut them off from the sort of quid pro quo, the information flowing back towards them. That will be a worry, too.

BERMAN: Very important point there.

Nic Robertson for us in London, Arwa Damon in Istanbul. Thank you very, very much.

Just moments ago, the former National Security adviser, Susan Rice, she was speaking in Washington. She levied a blistering attack, blistering criticism on President Trump and the Trump administration for apparently sharing what some consider to be classified secrets with the Russians. We'll play this for you when we come back.



BERMAN: All right, just moments ago we heard from the former National Security adviser for President Obama, Susan Rice, no stranger to controversy herself. This morning, though, she's coming out swinging at the Trump administration. She's speaking at a progressive conference at Georgetown University. Listen.


SUSAN RICE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: It seems that the current administration looks at the world and sees only threats -- immigrants, refugees, Muslims, Mexicans, even trade. It's America first and the rest of the world last.


BERMAN: Again, Susan Rice, the former National Security adviser, with a lot to say about the current Trump administration.

Joining us now, CNN political director, David Chalian, who I believe is at that conference.

[10:45:04] David, I want to get to Susan Rice in just a moment, but first the breaking news into CNN. We are going to hear from the National Security adviser, H.R. McMaster. He will brief the press, we are now just learning, at 11:30. It's a lot sooner than we had previously thought. And he is doing it alone. We will only hear from H.R. McMaster in public. He will be the public face of the defense over stories that the president shared classified information with the Russians. What's the significance of this?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, first of all, the significance is, as you said, he will be alone. That was not what was originally advised on the White House schedule. It was that he was going to join Sean Spicer at the daily press briefing. We now won't see Sean Spicer on camera. So you are right, H.R. McMaster, as we saw last night in the White House driveway, John, is going to be the face of this. As you know, he was in the room, as he said last night, when this event happened. President Trump talking to the Russians. And his credibility is on the line right now.

This is somebody who the president nominated to replace -- or hired to replace Michael Flynn, I should say. Here is a guy who has tons of credibility in this town on both sides of the aisle, lots of military experience, but right now it's on the line because he is saying that what the "Washington Post" reported is not true, as his boss is tweeting this morning justifications for doing what he did and relaying this information to the Russians.

BERMAN: Yes. Obviously, the president making his job harder, giving a different explanation than H.R. McMaster did last night.

But, David, you hit on a key point, H.R. McMaster, General McMaster, is someone held in the highest regard on Capitol Hill, most importantly, both sides of the aisle. You know, most Americans probably don't know who H.R. McMaster is. To what extent is a key audience here, Republicans in Congress, who have not lined up in support defending the president outwardly yet today?

CHALIAN: John, you are right to keep your eye focused on that. The political fallout of this story coupled with the Comey firing and other controversies in recent weeks is watching the Republicans to see if their nervousness and handwringing turns into revolt. And you are right that McMaster getting out there to try to tamper down this latest wildfire is, indeed, aimed at keeping the president's party, first and foremost, on board because once the president's own party, if indeed there were to be real cracks that opened up into real abandonment, that becomes a massive political problem for the president.

BERMAN: And of course, we're talking about the Republicans. You are at a conference among progressives. We're hearing from Democrats today.

Do Democrats know, David, what to do with this? Do they have a coherent strategy?

CHALIAN: I'm not getting the sense of a fully coherent strategy yet. You get some sense of a strategy from Chuck Schumer and what he wants to do with the Senate Democrats on the Hill. You saw Nancy Pelosi in our town hall last night calling this very sloppy, what President Trump has been up to. And in fact, as you noted, this conference here, it's a sort of cattle call, the first looking at the next generation of potential 2020 presidential candidates for the Democratic Party. And one person we heard from this morning, Eric Garcetti, the mayor of

Los Angeles, was very deliberate to say that being the party that's just the opposition to Trump is not sufficient. And that is really interesting, because you know the grassroots is sort of living on energy of pure opposition to Trump right now. What these leaders say is not necessarily just a series of speeches of Trump bashing. They're also trying to deal with some of the flaws in their own party that were exposed last November and paint the path forward for the Democrats.

BERMAN: There's a good chance the next Democratic nominee will speak in that building sometime today, just because there are so many that are speaking.

David Chalian, great to hear from you. Thank you very, very much.

CNN has got a really interesting interview, an exclusive tonight, with the fired acting attorney general, Sally Yates. She says the Russians had, quote, "real leverage," over the former National Security adviser, Michael Flynn. Anderson Cooper sat down with her in her first television interview since she was ousted in January.


SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: I don't know how the White House reached the conclusion that there was no legal issue. It certainly wasn't from my discussion with them.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think Michael Flynn should have been fired?

YATES: I think that this was a serious compromised situation, that the Russians had real leverage. He also had lied to the vice president of the United States. You know, whether he's fired or not is a decision for the president of the United States to make, but doesn't seem like that's a person who should be sitting in the National Security adviser position.


BERMAN: All right, the entire interview with Anderson Cooper tonight, 8:00 Eastern, only on CNN. We'll be right back.


[10:53:36] BERMAN: All right, live pictures from the White House briefing room. Just 30 minutes from now we will hear from the National Security adviser, H.R. McMaster, who will try to explain why the president now admits he shared what some consider to be highly sensitive, classified information with the Russians. Stay with us for that.

Also new this morning, huge cyber attack that affected hundreds of thousands across the globe. Digital clues now point to North Korea.

For more, we're joined by CNN tech correspondent Samuel Burke. North Korea, Samuel.

SAMUEL BURKE, CNN TECH CORRESPONDENT: John, this is a very surprising development, because in the past few days, researchers looking at this code were thinking it's got to be a small group of people, not a country or a government, because usually those are targeted attack hacks. Think of Stuxnet and the Iran nuclear program, because they were thinking, what country would want to tick off nearly the entire world? Because you had nearly every country targeted here.

But now these researchers are looking at this code and they're seeing that it looks very similar to code that they've seen used before. So they're looking at the "Wannacry" code that you're seeing right now on your screen on the left and comparing it to a group of code from a group called Lazarus Group. That's the group that they say was behind the Sony attack, and of course, the United States government says North Korea was behind that.

You don't have to know code here to understand that these are very similar looking. So they say that this is just a possible link. The first few days of the investigation, they're not sure.

[10:55:03] Some have questioned could it be a false flag, that another hacking group that's put in there, and experts like Kaspersky, they say they just don't think so, but they want more time to try and look at it. But three of the most important cyber researchers in the world have all concluded that there is a possible link here, at least when they're looking at the code, John.

BERMAN: And remember, you know, North Korea's connection to the Sony hack a couple years ago. There is a record, there is a history here.

Samuel Burke in London, thanks so much for this.

All right, minutes from now we will hear from the National Security adviser, H.R. McMaster. You're looking at live pictures from the White House briefing room. He will talk to the press two hours earlier than expected. Why? It seems the White House wants to get out ahead of this story, at least try to fix things. He will also be alone. No Sean Spicer, no Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Why does the White House want McMaster to be the face of this explanation?

A big, big moment for this White House. Stick around. We'll be right back.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We are beginning with breaking news. Show us the transcripts. The Senate's top Democrat now demanding that the White House turn over exactly what the president said.