Return to Transcripts main page
Is Trump Competent Enough to be President?; Judges Press Lawyers On Legality of Travel Ban; Sources: Trump Shared Classified Info with Russians. Aired 6:30-7a ET
Aired May 16, 2017 - 06:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[6:33:54] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. This latest self- imposed and perhaps most egregious error by the president is sparking all kinds of questions about competence. Was his inability to protect highly classified information with Russian diplomats a sign that he's not up to the job. There's a "New York Times" op-ed you should read for your self from David Brooks.
The headline is this, when the world is led by a child. It says, quote: From all we know so far Trump didn't do it, talking about the classified information, because he's a Russian agent or from any malevolent intent, he did it because he is sloppy, because he lacks impulse control. And above all, because he is a 7-year-old boy desperate for the approval of those he admires.
Let's discuss. Jeffrey Lord, CNN political commentator and former Reagan White House official, and David Frum, senior editor at "The Atlantic".
Jeffrey Lord --
JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, sir.
CUOMO: -- I'm sure that you have a robust defense for why this is a nonstory and this criticism of the president is unwarranted.
[06:35:04] So, give it to us.
LORD: OK. The only thing I would say here, Chris is perspective. Perspective is all.
I'm holding here two headlines from "Washington Post," one of May 25th, 2014. White House mistakenly identifies CIA chief in Afghanistan. The Obama administration put the name of the CIA station chief on the press release, exposed him and endangered his life.
The second one, June 30th, 2016, U.S. offers to share Syrian intelligence on terrorist with Russia, which is to say the Obama administration wanted to give their intelligence to the Russians.
All I'm saying here is there's perspective. We need to find out the facts and let's have perspective.
With all due respect to David Brooks, he's a never Trumper. And that's fine. But, you know, from that perspective, Donald Trump isn't going to do anything David Brooks like. As I remember famously with David Brooks, he was certain senator Obama would be a great president because of the crease in his slacks.
I mean, with all due respect --
CUOMO: That was a rhetorical flourish from Brooks, but let's put that to the side, you've made your point.
David Frum, are any of your concerns mollified by what Jeffrey was said.
DAVID FRUM, THE ATLANTIC: It only gets worse.
The president is not a child. Children are loveable. And the president was not just making a mistake. This particular mistake could not have been made I think with the ambassador from any country other than Russia. Donald Trump was unusually ingratiating and servile with Russians as he so often is, for reasons that we can only begin to surmise but that cannot be good.
In a parliamentary system, we would today be discussing the resignation expected today of that prime minister who betrayed a national secret through inadvertence. That mistakes are not more forgivable in this context. The president won't resign. But the fact is he smashed his legitimacy and authority and consequences will be severe.
CUOMO: David, quick follow-up on that. You have tweeted that the president should resign. Why such an extreme conclusion?
FRUM: As I said, in any other fellow democracy right now, the head of government would be on his or her way to a resignation, through -- by making such a mistake. This is happening with cabinet secretaries, parliamentary systems when they inadvertently betray high secrets they do resign. That is the penalty. They have forfeited their right to have access to national secrets.
The president should resign because -- through incompetence, through sloppiness, through servility to the Russians, he betrayed an American national secret. That means in his own mind, he should understand that he has proved himself unworthy of the position he's in.
CUOMO: Jeffrey, take on the competency suggestion.
Just in the last week, we've seen now that either the president didn't know or didn't care how he was handling very sensitive, classified information, and that he didn't know or didn't care about what it meant that he exposed that he was pushing the then-director of the FBI for information about an investigation and that it was OK that there was this canard about why Comey was fired and undone about the president right after.
These are things that point to the ability to do the job. But you don't see it that way because?
LORD: No, I don't see it that way. I really do believe -- with all due respect to David he, too, is another never Trumper.
I mean, these are folks, God bless them, they just -- they hate the idea that Donald Trump is president. And they don't like it. And they want to do everything to in essence get him out.
And the thing that -- one of the other concerns me here is whatever transpired in the Oval Office on this particular meeting we're discussing, somehow that was leaked. And, Chris, you and I and millions of Americans have bosses. If we think that the boss has made a mistake and we have access to the boss, we tell it directly to the boss. Or if there's somebody between us in the line of authority, we go to the next person up and tell them.
What happened here is, if somebody thought the president made a mistake, they went to "The Washington Post." That, Chris, is sabotage. That is the American government sabotaged --
FRUM: No, as Jeffrey said, they went to the boss. The boss was the problem. So they went to the boss's boss, us. The people who told that story told it to the American people.
Look, if "The Washington Post" had not told that story, right now, Donald Trump would be open to Russian black mail. The Russians would have over him --
FRUM: It's true. The Russians would know the president had betrayed a deadly national secret, whether he did it on purpose or by accident, whether he's an Alger Hiss or just a fool. The Russians would know this thing. And the people in the room would be covering it up and that would a secret they could use it against them.
One more thing: Jeffrey has twice dismissed concerns from David Brooks and from me by saying we were never Trumpers. The fact that we were right about Donald Trump from the beginning doesn't prove us wrong in this case. It proven us -- it shows the euphemism --
[06:40:01] LORD: You weren't right, David.
FRUM: We warned the country, this man by character and intellect cannot do this job. And he -- and there's over hanging a persistent suspicion of disloyalty to this country and undue attachment to a hostile foreign power that must be taken seriously.
CUOMO: All right. Gentlemen, thank you very much. Appreciate it, Jeffrey and David.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Important discussion, guys. Thank you very much.
Sort of lost in all of this chaos of the last 12 hours, the fate of the president's halted travel ban. Will the president's own words come back to haunt him once again? That's next.
CUOMO: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is once again considering the fate of the presidents now halted revised travel ban and factoring in the president's words once again, which remember is legally controversial. So, you have a three-judge panel pressing both sides in legal arguments on legality of blocking the ban.
CNN's justice reporter Laura Jarrett live in Washington with more.
You know, and as is often the case, you know, the latest drama winds up somewhat, you know, fogging up what we have been focusing on.
[06:45:05] This matters and there was some interesting moments yesterday.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Absolutely, Chris. Three Clinton appointees on the court spent more than an hour grilling attorneys on both sides. The only thing everyone can agree on, well, the fact that there's never been a case quite like this.
JARRETT (voice-over): A federal hearing over the future of President Trump's revised travel ban, once again focusing on Trump's own inflammatory rhetoric about Muslims.
JUDGE RONALD GOULD, 9TH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS: How is a court to know if, in fact, it's a Muslim ban in the guise of national security justification?
JARRETT: Three judges from the Ninth Circuit zeroing in on the president's past statements both as a candidate --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.
JARRETT: And as president.
TRUMP: The protection of the nation from foreign terrorist into the United States. We all know what that means.
JUDGE MICHAEL HAWKINS, 9TH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS: Has the president ever disavowed his campaign statements? Has he ever stood up and said, I said before I wanted to ban all members of the Islamic faith from entering the United States of America. I was wrong.
JARRETT: The Justice Department urging the judges to look at how the president's words have evolved, arguing the ban has nothing to do with religion. JEFFREY WALL, ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL: Over time, the president
clarified that what he was talking about were Islamic terrorist groups and the countries that shelter or sponsor them. We shouldn't start down the road of psychoanalyzing what people meant in the campaign trail.
JARRETT: Press Secretary Sean Spicer facing similar grilling from reporters.
REPORTER: He's never said it? Never has?
JARRETT: The point is that the ban -- that the measures that he took in that executive order are fully lawful, fully compliant, make it clear they seek to keep this country safe.
JARRETT: Poppy, the Fourth Circuit also heard arguments in a different travel ban appeal last week. No word yet on when either court will rule but the travel ban will not do into effect as long as one court's nationwide injunction remains in effect. To reinstate the travel ban, the Justice Department would have to win in both the Fourth and Ninth Circuits or bring the legal battle to the Supreme Court.
HARLOW: Which they have said they are willing to do. We'll be following it.
Laura Jarrett, thank you very much for the reporting.
Up next for us, back to our top story, the president's disclosure of highly classified information to the Russians. How damaging could this be? The former director of the CIA and NSA, General Michael Hayden, gives us his take live here next.
[06:50:32] CUOMO: Sources tell CNN, President Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian diplomats during a controversial Oval Office meeting last week. This is a bombshell politically. It has far reaching implications that are more than just political.
Joining us now, General Michael Hayden, CNN national security analyst and former director of the CIA and NSA.
General, this notion that is a window into competence or lack thereof, whether or not the president is studied and measured in a way that the job demands. Your take?
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Chris, I think you've hit the issue squarely here. It's not about the power of the presidency. He's got the power to do these kinds of things. We give him a lot of space when he's meeting with foreign leaders to do what he thinks are in the strategic interests of the United States.
This is more about the person and the performance of the president. Here is a president who does not seem to prepare in detail, is a bit disdainful, even contemptuous of the normal processes of government, the institutions of government in order to get him ready, who kind of flies by the seat of his pants, is spontaneous in these conversations.
And that's just an approach that's triggered to create the kind of events that we saw last week. It doesn't require anyone to be malevolent. It's just a by-product of the approach that the president seems to have to these kinds of meetings.
HARLOW: To your point, General Hayden, "The Washington Post" reporting talks about how National Security Council continues to prepare these multi-page briefs for the president before these meetings like he had with Kislyak and Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office, but the president is sort of dismissing those and insisting on single pages, bullet points and often not even looking at those.
Is this the price of inexperience? And if it is, what is the cost to the nation?
HAYDEN: So, Poppy, I can live with the inexperience. We're all inexperienced in one way or another when we go to a new job. What I'm focused on is the seeming lack of humility in the face of obvious inexperience.
And here is a president who seems to go into these encounters with frankly an unjustified self-confidence in the ability of his person to make these things come out right. And he throws away, pushes to the side, doesn't pay attention to what the institutions of the government have set up for him to be successful.
HARLOW: So, what's the danger of that hubris, then, to the country?
HAYDEN: I mean, the danger is we do the kinds of things we did last week. We saw the kinds of things that shouldn't be said. Actually another great danger, since the president seems to live only in the moment, the eternal now with no history in front of it and no concern for consequences after it, we are in a period to our friends and adversaries as inconsistent.
CUOMO: General, you're working for a president. He or one of his staffers comes and says, look, you know what the allegation is out there. Go out there and say what General McMaster said last night. Would you do it?
HAYDEN: Look, H.R. McMaster and Dina Powell are friends of mine. I have the highest regard for them.
I think they were put in a very difficult situation and did the best that they could. And without any specific comment on what they did, because I know they told the truth as they saw it. One of the great concerns I have, Chris, is with the president acting the way he does, those in concentric circles as you go out from the president himself are forced to do things to protect the president, to cover for the president, that I don't think they would want to do in normal circumstances. I don't know that happened here.
CUOMO: Look, I hear you.
HAYDEN: Highest regard for these people.
CUOMO: I hear you. They have very good pedigrees, and I'm not asking you to pinch a pal.
But, you know, General, look at the situation we're dealing with. They are never forced, right? Spicer isn't forced. Nobody is forced. You know, you choose to serve the president but as what? A proxy for the American people.
So, let's take the spotlight off them for a second to elected officials. Paul Ryan, who puts out a statement benign at best. He says, we don't really have any way to know what was said in there. We know that's not true.
[06:55:00] We also know that Paul Ryan during the campaign was a man who eagerly tweeted: It's simple, individuals who are extremely careless with classified info should be denied further access to it.
He was talking about Clinton, that suited his politics at the time, now, he is consistently mum about Trump, an elected official. Is it a time right now where Ryan has to at least get it right if not speak up about what's going on in the White House?
HAYDEN: Chris, it's my personal belief, and not because of what happened with Sergey Lavrov, but the whole thing with the FBI and alleged wiretapping of Trump Tower and a whole bunch of things that the political leadership in this country has simply got to -- let me put it this way, go out of its way to say that isn't so.
And right now, what the president is getting from his own party is silence. I fear that's leading us to a bad spot.
HARLOW: Yes, that silence can be deafening.
HARLOW: Thank you very much, General. We appreciate you being here.
HAYDEN: Thank you.
CUOMO: Always. You were in these spots. He understands the policy. That's why we bring him on for you.
All right. So, there's much more to come on this top story. The White House is clearly doing damage control, clearly another self- inflicted wound at the hands of President Trump. Is there going to be a change of narrative from them today to try to shift emphasis? Maybe. What it could be, what it means to you, next.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CUOMO: All right. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. Alisyn is off. Poppy Harlow is with me this morning.
And once again, we've got big breaking news.
Is this the most serious charge ever leveled against a sitting president? Sources tell CNN President Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian diplomats during an already controversial Oval Office meeting.
HARLOW: The White House is calling this story false, denying that the president discussed or reveal any sources or methods with the Russians. But our reporting certainly says otherwise. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are expressing shock.