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Sources: Trump Shared Classified Info with Russians; Sally Yates Grants CNN First TV Interview Post-Firing. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired May 16, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
[05:58:53] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, May 16, 6 a.m. here in New York. Alisyn is off once again. Poppy Harlow by my side once again. Good to have you.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good to be here.
CUOMO: Another big day with you here. We begin with breaking news, what could be the worst charge ever leveled against a sitting president.
Sources telling CNN President Trump revealed highly-classified information to Russian diplomats during an already controversial Oval Office visit last week.
HARLOW: The White House is calling this story false, denying discussing intelligence services with the Russians.
Lawmakers, though, on both sides of the aisle this morning expressing shock and anger and concern over the president's disclosure. The latest firestorm will overshadow the president's first trip overseas, which takes place this week. He has some key meetings with foreign leaders today at the White House.
Let's begin our coverage there at the White House with Joe Johns.
Joe, what can you tell us?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. The damage to U.S. intelligence interests is being viewed as incalculable this morning on an issue of utmost importance and something brought about by a president who harped on the sanctity of classified information on the campaign trail, only to be accused of coughing it up in his meeting with two senior Russian diplomats here at the White House last week.
JOHNS (voice-over): The White House reeling from another Russia crisis, an unforced error at the hands of President Trump.
H.R. MCMASTER, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The story that came out tonight as reported is false. 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.
JOHNS: national security adviser H.R. McMaster, in a carefully-worded statement, refuting claims that were not in the story first reported by "The Washington Post," while falling shot of denying the president revealed classified information to Russian diplomats.
GREG MILLER, "WASHINGTON POST": That the White House is playing word games here to that effect to try to -- to try to blunt the impact of this story.
JOHNS: Intelligence officials tell CNN that the president did reveal sensitive information that could expose intelligence sources, potentially jeopardizing critical U.S. access to intelligence on ISIS as the terror groups hopes to use laptop computers as bombs on planes.
The White House insists the president only discussed common threats with the Russian leaders.
The shocking revelation opening up the president and the Republican Party to accusations of a double standard after repeated criticism of Hillary Clinton's handling of classified e-mails.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can't hand over our government to someone whose deepest, darkest secrets may be in the 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.
JOHNS: The report setting off a firestorm on Capitol Hill.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: If it's true, obviously, it's disturbing. But I think we've got to find out more before I could comment.
JOHNS: Republican Senator Bob Corker, a Trump supporter, telling journalists, the White House is "in a downward spiral. The chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline creates a worrisome environment."
Democrats calling for a bipartisan investigation into the latest Russia firestorm.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I hope that we'll be able to proceed in a very nonpartisan way.
This is as serious as it gets.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: This kind of serious and grave threat really requires a national response putting country above politics.
JOHNS: This report comes as the White House fends off tough questions about the firing of FBI Director James Comey, which occurred just one day before Trump's meeting with the Russians. White House press secretary Sean Spicer repeatedly dodging questions about whether tapes exist of their conversations.
SPICER: I think I made it clear last week that the president has nothing further on that. I was very clear.
I made it clear what the president's position is.
I think the president's position has been very clear.
The president has made it clear what his position is. He said that he has nothing further to add.
I've answered the question over and over again the same way.
JOHNS: Today the president holds a meeting here at the White House that could be critical to multiple U.S. interests in the Mideast. President Erdogan of Turkey pays a visit around midday -- Poppy.
HARLOW: Indeed. Joe Johns at the White House, thank you very much.
This highly-classified information that President Trump revealed to the Russians inside the Oval Office inside of the Oval Office, it appears, involves an ISIS plot first reported by CNN last month. U.S. intelligence agencies believe the terror group has developed new ways to plant explosives inside laptops and other electronic devices that can evade airport security.
Our justice correspondent who broke this news, Evan Perez, is in Washington with more. This ties all the strings together here.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It really does, Poppy. The intelligence we're talking about is considered so highly classified that back in March when we reported that story U.S. government officials told CNN that the disclosure of it would cause serious harm to national security. They asked CNN to withhold some of the key details from that March 31 story on the sensitive intelligence behind the restrictions on carrying laptops and other large electronics from the flights from ten airports in the Middle East.
Now, this is some of the same information that President Trump reportedly shared with the Russian foreign minister and the ambassador there during his meeting at the White House last week.
The concern, U.S. officials told CNN back in march publishing certain information, including a city where some of the intelligence was detected, could tip off adversaries about the sources and methods used to gather that intelligence.
Now, just mentioning that it was a concern about an ISIS bomb technology that was behind the laptop ban is also considered classified. So the president mentioned that fact. He was doing something that we were told back in March would be highly damaging to intelligence sources and methods. Now, in a narrowly worded denial, national security adviser H.R.
McMaster told reporters the story was false. Now that denial does not cover damage that U.S. intelligence -- intelligence agencies told us can come from revealing that information -- Chris and Poppy.
[06:05:05] CUOMO: Evan Perez, appreciate it. And look, it's good to draw on your own experience and what you were told to reveal and not reveal and why, especially now. All right. We'll check back with you in a little bit.
Let's bring in our panel. CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein; and national security correspondent for "The New York Times," David Sanger.
All right. Let's deal with this two different ways. David Sanger, so we have what H.R. McMaster said relatively quickly coming out as a denial. And then we have this overarching source of concern about what this would mean if it were true, the reporting from "The Washington Post" and now from CNN, as well.
So let's take the first part. Did you feel satisfied by what H.R. McMaster said in defending what happened in the Oval Office?
DAVID SANGER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": General McMaster worded this pretty carefully. He said, "as reported by 'The Washington Post'." And then he went on to describe what the president didn't do: discuss sources and methods. The original story in "The Post," "The Times" is reporting, your reporting don't indicate that he did that. Instead, they indicate that, by naming the city that was involved and by describing in greater depth what the technology was, that the Russians would quickly be able to figure out who the source was.
In this case, the source appears to have been an allied intelligence service in the region that was very -- was being very careful to try to keep its sources quiet.
So what was the -- what was the offense here? It's not that the president can't reveal intelligence information. He's an original classification authority, which means he can declassify and discuss anything he wants to.
The question here is, in doing so, did he so burn an allied intelligence service that they would be unlikely to share future information at a moment when that is particularly critical?
And that's why your own reporters -- we all frequently go through this -- get into a discussion with an administration when you're getting ready to break a story to say, "Look, is the revolution of the news here damaging? Is there -- are there ways to word this to avoid pointing to a source or a method?" And that's a conversation we frequently have. Presumably, the president should be having the same conversation when he's meeting foreign leaders.
HARLOW: Let's also bring in Phil Mudd here for the intelligence side of all of this. Phil Mudd, you know, what this reporting is, according to a U.S. official familiar with it, according to "The Washington Post," was that this was code-worded information. Talk about why that matters.
And also there's two options here. Either the president did know he was doing something that jeopardizes the safety of the United States and U.S. allies, et cetera, and seemed to boast about it, brag about it -- got great intel, he said -- or he didn't know that it was problematic what he was sharing. And aren't those both really big problems?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: You've got two issues. Let's cover the intelligence issue. There's typically three tiers of intelligence: confidential, secret, top-secret. Code word is a level is above top-secret. It's sort of a super-secret, typically intercepted communications that tell you that whoever is reading that, whoever is cleared for that information, is reading something that, if it's compromised, could be highly damaging to U.S. intelligence.
On the issue of what the president revealed, there's two different elements to that. One is should the Russians know that there are different threats to civilian aviation out there? Remember, they lost an aircraft in October of 2015 over the Sinai in Egypt. That was, I think, the biggest loss of life in Russian civil aviation history. I think the Russians should know information like this.
The question is not whether the president told them. The question is whether we bother to tell the sister service, the friendly intelligence serve that gave it to us that we're going to tell the Russians. In my world, that is a huge oversight. You cannot give information away that's given to the United States as a courtesy by another government and not bother to tell them first. That is simply reckless.
CUOMO: All right. So Ron Brownstein, it does not seem as though there's a constructive legal case to make her here. As David was pointing out, it's not illegal if the president does this. Poppy does it, anybody else does it, secretary of state does it, it would be illegal. But it isn't.
So then you get into the, well, what kind of wrong is it? And we have the context of Alan Dershowitz, obviously, a noted attorney and legal scholar, saying that this is the worst charge ever leveled against a sitting president. Do you agree and, if so, why?
BROWNSTEIN: I don't know if it's the worst charge leveled against a sitting president. I think some of the things that were -- President Nixon was accused of are of comparable gravity.
But look, we're talking about significant gravity here. I'm not going to quibble with Phil, whose obviously, knowledge of the way intelligence is handled is far superior to mine. But I think there's an additional debate here beyond the question of alerting the original source. It is also the level of granularity that the president discussed this with that, as David Sanger said, essentially would allow you to reverse engineer and figure out the sources and methods, even if he didn't disclose them himself. Look, this is extremely serious, because it goes to, I think, a core
question, you know, that has been there throughout the campaign. The principle doubt, I think, that President Trump has faced from the beginning, during the campaign, and certainly since his election, among the public and certainly among the leadership in Congress is not so much ideology as competence. It is -- it is whether by temperament, by experience, by judgment he is fit to do this job.
And I think what you are seeing is almost as if he is baiting congressional Republicans to see how far they will go in defending actions that they unequivocally, unequivocally would be condemning if it was a Democrat. I mean, just imagine the thought experiment of the last week, with Hillary Clinton as president, firing Comey, releasing information of this sort in a private meeting with the Russians. These were all things that candidate Trump, congressional Republicans like Paul Ryan, condemned her for during the campaign. Now the question is whether they will be more forceful in kind of putting any kinds of limits on him, as we saw the beginning of which from Bob Corker in his comments that you quoted.
HARLOW: Ron, you teed it up perfectly for us. I mean, Paul Ryan's tweet from 2016 about Clinton and classified information is certainly making the rounds this morning. Let's pull it up.
He tweeted in July of last year, individuals who are, quote, "extremely careless with classified information should be denied further access to such information." This was during the campaign.
Here is all that Paul Ryan's office has said, guys, in the wake of all this. Here's the statement: "We have no way to know what was said, but protecting our nation's secrets is paramount. The speaker hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration."
David Sanger, that's not exactly standing behind this president right now.
CUOMO: Not exactly true either, by the way.
HARLOW: We don't know what was said. Yes, good point.
SANGER: First of all, on the we don't know all of what was said. This is knowable when they have these meetings, there are note takers. There's sometimes a transcript. It's not clear whether this was taped or not, but that goes back to the broader question of last week raised by the president's tweet about whether he's taping encounters in the Oval Office, which you saw Sean Spicer is determined -- a question Sean Spicer is determined not to answer.
So I think it is knowable what he said. And there are indications that the White House scrambled later on to make sure that the transcript or the notes taken from the conversations were highly restricted. Whatever the president revealed wasn't widely disseminated in the U.S. government as other officials looked at the conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov.
I think the key word here that we've heard this morning, and it actually came from Senator Corker, is one of discipline. The question is when the president encounters foreign leaders, is he so determined to describe how cool the intelligence is that he gets each day, something he apparently boasted about, that he goes too far in allowing them to intuit where it's coming from? And discipline has not been so far the hallmark of this administration.
HARLOW: You know, it's an interesting point. The headline of David Brooks' column this morning, "When the World is Led by a Child."
CUOMO: Look, you have a whole separate debate here about what happens when you insult the president, what it does in terms of galvanizing his base versus being a legitimate critical light, but that's really pure politics. You have now this exigency of what are you going to do about it?
CUOMO: So Phil Mudd, you have this one question that Ron framed for us hanging over the president's head, of baseline competence. Is he up to the job? And that dovetails with the "and what are you going to do about what just happened?" We saw from Ryan, whether it was Comey, this or just about anything, Ryan is going to stay on the sidelines. He's not going to go against the president of the United States. Hypocrisy -- you know, hypocrisy or not, it seems pretty clear. So what do you make of the competence issue as a baseline? And what can be done about something like this from other leaders?
MUDD: Boy, there's not much you can do here. The CIA, the National Security Agency, the FBI, they are trained to say, "If the president wants to know something, we're going to tell him."
This is going to put the pressure on White House advisers, particularly national security adviser McMaster, to figure how to filter stuff that goes into the Oval Office.
You've got a couple of problems with that filter, Chris. We saw one this week and one last week. The one last week taught us, with Jim Comey, if you have something negative to say to the president, if you he something he won't like, he doesn't like, if you speak truth to him, he's going to take your head off. So I think that's a a bigger issue that this one. That is, are people going to hide something from him, because he doesn't want to hear it?
In this issue, I fear what's going to happen is people like the agency guys I know, from the CIA, are going to want to tell the president everything. People like McMaster are going to have to say, "What's in the president's briefing package? How do I filter stuff out?"
[06:15:13] CUOMO: All right. Gentlemen, appreciate it. We know we have a lot more to talk about it. We have a very big show to get to, though. We want to fold in all the different elements.
We're going to talk to two former CIA directors. You've got General Michael Hayden and Leon Panetta. We also have Congressman Jim Himes and Senator Ben Sasse. So we're going to get a lot of expertise about what this means and what needs to change. HARLOW: Also up next, something you will only see right here, a CNN
exclusive. Former acting attorney general Sally Yates sat down one- on-one with Anderson Cooper. This is her first television interview since being fired by President Trump and since that testimony last week. You will hear it right here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Don McGahn actually asked you at that first meeting whether or not you thought the national security adviser should be fired. What did you say?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: So former acting attorney general Sally Yates has given her first TV interview to CNN, Anderson Cooper. This is obviously since being fired by President Trump and, more importantly, since giving that very important testimony. So the full interview is going to air tonight on "AC 360."
Yates answers tough questions from Coop about former national security adviser Michael Flynn, about the chain of events, about her tone and intentions and how the White House took her message. So all of this is relevant, especially right now. Here's a preview.
[06:20:16] COOPER: The underlying conduct itself was potentially a fireable offense?
SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: You know, I can't speak to a fireable offense. It was up to the president to make that decision about what he was doing to do, but we certainly felt like they needed to act.
COOPER: Don McGahn actually asked you at that first meeting whether or not you thought the national security adviser should be fired. What did you say?
YATES: I told him it wasn't our call.
COOPER: Was the underlying conduct illegal? Was illegality involved?
YATES: There's certainly a criminal statute that -- that was implicated by his conduct.
COOPER: You wanted the White House to act?
YATES: Absolutely, yes.
COOPER: To do something?
YATES: We expected the White House to act.
COOPER: Did you expect them to act quickly?
COOPER: There was urgency to -- to the information?
COOPER: I'm just wondering,, just on a personal level, and I don't know if you can answer this or not, but, you know, you're in government one week. You've -- you get fired, and now you're out. And you're watching day after day after day go by, and nothing seems to have happened to the national security adviser that you have informed the White House about. Just as a private citizen at that point, did it concern you?
YATES: Well, sure I was concerned about it. But I didn't know if perhaps something else had been done that maybe I just wasn't aware of.
COOPER: You mean maybe they were keeping him away from certain classified information while they were investigating, something like that?
YATES: Maybe. I just didn't have any way of knowing what was going on at that point.
COOPER: Were you aware that he sat in on a -- even from media reports, that he sat in on a phone call with Russia's president?
YATES: Just from media reports.
COOPER: Between the president and Russia's president. Did you find that surprising?
YATES: Well, sure. Absolutely that was surprising.
COOPER: Sean Spicer said on the day after Michael Flynn resigned that it was a trust issue that led to his resignation, not a legal issue. Do you agree there was no legal issue with Flynn's underlying behavior?
YATES: 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.
COOPER: Do you think Michael Flynn should have been fired?
YATES: I think that this was a serious compromise 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 it doesn't seem like that's a person who should be sitting in the national security adviser position.
COOPER: Michael Flynn was let go after "The Washington Post" report add story. Some Republicans have accused you of leaking it. Did you leak to "The Washington Post"?
YATES: Absolutely not.
COOPER: Did you authorize somebody to leak to "The Washington Post"?
YATES: Absolutely not. I did not and I would not leak classified information.
COOPER: Have you ever leaked information to them?
COOPER: The president seems to suggest that you were behind this "Washington Post" article. The morning before you testified, he tweeted, "Ask Sally Yates under oath if she knows how classified information got into newspapers soon after she explained it to White House counsel."
It does sound like he doesn't -- he seems to believe that you're the leaker. Does that -- when you heard that, what did you think?
YATES: There have been a number of tweets that have given me pause.
COOPER: Do you want to elaborate on that?
CUOMO: All right. Let's bring our panel back: Ron Brownstein, David Sanger and Philip Mudd.
Ron Brownstein, reaction.
BROWNSTEIN: Yes, the last -- the last one especially. That's very powerful testimony.
And the -- you know, the question the White House has never sufficiently answered is why it took so long to act after the warning that the acting attorney general provided. And of course, the action only came after the underlying question was revealed in "The Washington Post."
It really goes back, I think, Chris, to this -- this core issue. And we've talked about this before. On election day, between a fifth and a quarter of the people who voted for Donald Trump said they were uncertain he had the temperament or the qualifications to serve as president. They wanted change; they were willing to take a chance. But certainly, what has happened over these, you know, three and a half, four months has tended more to reconfirm than to dissolve those doubts.
And I think it just sharpens the question on the place where there is the most leverage, which is the congressional Republicans who have, by and large, chosen to lock arms around him, to emphasize the areas of their agenda when they agree and not really to exercise a lot of oversight or outside pressure to kind of clean up this act.
I think that question will loom larger as they go forward. Is that ultimately in their political interest, to remain kind of lock step behind him? Or do they ultimately need to prove to a country that is, at best, ambivalent about this president, that they are providing some check, some boundary and some limits on the aspects of his behavior that concern many Americans.
COOPER: Poppy, if you're going to take your signal from the top. McConnell, Ryan...
CUOMO: ... quiet. And when they come out, they seem to be nothing but accommodative, which is their choice, but it is sending a message.
HARLOW: But it is different this time. 4
HARLOW: I mean, you look at our reporter Chris Cillizza's column this morning, the headline is, you know, "Is This the Straw That Broke the Camel's Back?" Is this going to be different? We're going to have him on in a bit to talk about it?
Phil Mudd, I just want to circle back to, you know, the breaking story this morning, obviously, out of the "Washington Post" and CNN is reporting on all of this. The fact that H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, came out and used the words at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed. "Washington Post" reporter Greg Miller, who wrote this story, said, "I think the White House is playing word games." You see it in much more stark terms. I mean, you see McMaster as playing us.
MUDD: He is. He knows what he's doing here. And I think he's lost credibility in the last 24 hours.
This is very simple. Any intel person who's taken Intel 101 can figure out what General McMaster is doing. Two elements of intel: what you collect and how you collect it. How you collect it is the most sensitive potential part of this. That is how you intercept somebody's communications, whether you have an informant within ISIS or al Qaeda.
What General McMaster said is the president didn't reveal anything about sources and methods, how anything was collected. Excuse me, of course. The question isn't whether he revealed anything about sources and methods. He probably doesn't know. The question is whether he talked about top-secret, compartmented intelligence. And General McMaster artfully avoided that.
I assume what happened here is the president talked about intel and didn't tell the Russians how we captured it. Why didn't McMaster tell us that? I didn't care for what he said, and I think he lost credibility. Because he played us for fools. He pretended we didn't know. CUOMO: And obviously, the more details come out about what was said,
if it's true that these intel different agencies were communicating in the aftermath about this because there was concern. If there are transcripts, it will all thicken out our understanding.
David Sanger, while I have you, I'd like to double dip, if you might allow. This cyber-attack that we're all talking about with the ransomware and requests for Bitcoin payments, 150 different countries, you have some good reporting on this that may advance understanding. What do we know now about the potential source of this massive cyber- attack?
SANGER: Chris, if it wasn't for the president talking about these issues with the Russians, I suspect we'd all be even more fixated on this. You saw the attack, of course, that spread around the world, starting on Friday.
And what we learned yesterday was that security researchers and government investigators, who are looking into the sourcing here, are beginning to see clues that suggest a pattern with past attacks that have been launched by North Korea.
Now, this would make sense if you're the North Koreans and you're surrounded by, you know, a small armada, as the president referred to it, of American ships and so forth; you're looking for a way to strike out at the U.S. without triggering some kind of conflict. Using your cyber corps again would make sense.
And remember, the code here looks a lot like the code that was used against Sony in 2014, against the Bangladeshi Central Bank, which lost $81 million. This is not definitive yet. What we're seeing is a series of patterns that we have seen only in North Korean attacks; but it's going to take more work to definitively pin this on North Korean hackers.
CUOMO: David, appreciate the new information. Gentlemen, thank you for advancing our understanding of these important headlines.
So remember, you saw a little taste of Sally Yates' testimony, the interview with Coop. There's a lot more. And you can watch Anderson Cooper's exclusive interview with Sally Yates tonight on "AC 360," 8 p.m. Eastern, of course, om on CNN. What was Anderson's take? What does he think is still there? He's going to join us here this morning in the 8 a.m. hour.
HARLOW: At 9 p.m. tonight, right after that exclusive with Sally Yates, you're going to want to stick around for this. A debate, a live debate between Senator Bernie Sanders and Governor John Kasich moderated by our Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. They will undoubtedly, I'm sure, have a lot to say about the recent developments.
CUOMO: We know into the future, who knows? Who knows? This could be the first face-off.
All right. So one self-inflicted crisis after another. And the key word, self-inflicted. Nobody is doing this to the president. What does this mean for the White House? The downward spiral that a GOP senator just talked about. Is the president competent to do the job? Harsh question but must be asked. We debate next.