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Trump Defends Disclosing Classified Info To Russians; Competency Question; New Cyberattack Clues; Trump Defends Disclosing Classified Info To Russians. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired May 16, 2017 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] REP. JIM HIMES, (D) CONNECTICUT, PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTEL: Or the firing of Jim Comey for which we still have four different explanations, or what happened -- you know, the story that broke yesterday. This president is sitting in the Oval Office and making snap decisions that are not based on the advice of his people that we see the White House try to work out in the days that follow.

Now, you know, that may not be a huge problem if you've got to go through a legislative process. If the president decides he wants to repeal Dodd-Frank, say, or whatever. But, my God, the man has, you know, untrammeled authority with respect to national security in places like North Korea, Iran. You know, this is not the way you want to run national security policy.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: So, we know the president watches a lot of television and pays a lot of attention to the media. We know he watches this show often. If he's watching it this morning you know what he's not saying? Republicans telling him he did the wrong thing and saying that they're going to speak out and they're going to exercise their checks and balances on him. And I'm not talking about anything exaggerated, like impeachment. I'm talking about just censure and, you know, healthy, robust debate in our democracy about what to do.

Paul Ryan put out a statement this morning that was a throwaway two- line statement. The first line of it wasn't even accurate where he said we have no way of knowing what happened in that meeting. We know from the reporting they're talking about transcripts. We know from the reporting that the White House wanted to take certain information out of those reckonings of the meeting -- those transcripts -- because it's sensitive information. They don't want it out there twice. But that's what they're getting from the Speaker of the House. That Trump is getting -- Trump is betting basically muted silence. The GOP isn't coming forward. You need to have both parties for there to be any meaningful reproach here. It seems like it's not going to happen.

HIMES: Yes, it's wild. I mean, as a Democrat, I'm thinking back just over a year ago when the president, President Obama, is pounding the table for trade promotion authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the vast bulk of his own party in Congress basically told him to go pound sand, you know. And, you know, in fact, not just didn't say no but raised all kinds of hell against the president. Here, you have an issue which isn't so much about policy, like the trade deal. This is -- this is -- this is historical, right? I mean, my Republican friends need to think back to moments like Joseph McCarthy and who stood with him and who stood up and showed courage and said this is not us, or back to the Nixon administration when that administration was coming apart. A few Republicans who are remembered to this day for their courage and for their standing for the Republic instead of for their narrow interest are celebrated today.

And there's an awful lot of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who I hope this morning are asking themselves do I want to go down as the guy who just sort of went along with, you know, really something ominous in American history or do I want to be known as somebody who stood up and said I'm putting my country ahead of my party?

CUOMO: And, once again, something so unorthodox and so self-serving where Russia is involved, once again, casting light on the need for answers in that investigation. Always good to have you on the show.

HIMES: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: Appreciate it. Poppy, back to you.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST: All right. Another self-inflicted firestorm is engulfing the Trump White House this morning and it's raising a very serious and important question. Is Donald Trump competent to be president? We'll debate that next.


[07:37:05] HARLOW: President Trump says he had an absolute right to disclose classified information to Russia. A stunning "New York Times" op-ed by David Brooks this morning is titled, "When the World is Led by a Child" and it reads, in part, "From all we know so far, Trump didn't do it because he's a Russian agent or for any malevolent intent. He did it because he's sloppy, because he lacks all impulse control, and above all because he is a 7-year-old boy desperate for the approval of those he admires."

This raises an important question this morning. Is Donald Trump competent to be president? Let's discuss with Jennifer Psaki, CNN political commentator and former White House communications director under President Obama. And, Rick Santorum, CNN senior political commentator and former Republican senator from Pennsylvania.

So, Senator, let me begin with you because as Chris and I have been saying all morning, the silence from leading Republicans in the House side and the Senate side this morning is deafening. We've heard nothing from Mitch McConnell. Paul Ryan's office puts out two- sentence statement that does not back up this president. Knowing all that we know from CNN's reporting, "The Washington Post" reporting, how concerned are you about this? Is this president competent to do the job?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, (R) FORMER U.S. SENATOR FROM PENNSYLVANIA, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, first off, about the silence. I mean, several Republicans have spoken up. You have quoted several of them on air. I mean, John McCain, Bob Corker, and others have commented on this story, so that's for starters.

Secondly, I mean, this story is less than a day old and Iunderstand this is a 24-hour news cycle and there's a demand that everybody immediately respond to whatever the news media wants them to respond to, but there is a responsibility for the members -- and I was a member -- to get it right and to get a better understanding of what's going on. And I think that's what's probably happening right now is that members are trying to get information, trying to get a better understand before they do comment on something. So I think people have commented but I think people have been hesitant to comment until they get the information, so I don't think that's really much of a story.

HARLOW: All right. So, since we have you here commenting you've been a defender of the president on a lot of things -- some other things like his wiretapping claims you have spoken out against.


HARLOW: Can you defend the president on this one? His tweet says look, I was in my absolute right to do this. I had the right to discuss terrorism and humanitarian issues with the Russians. The issue is, Senator, when you look at the readout from the White House on this meeting with the Russians it didn't mention that at all. It just said that they talked about Syria and Ukraine.

SANTORUM: Yes. Well, here's what I -- here's what we know. We know, obviously, from the president that he did discuss that information. We know from Gen. McMaster that he says no sources and methods were compromised, and so that's the information that I have. Now, I obviously have, you know, leaks from the meeting saying that there was information that could lead to people being detected by, you know, just sort of going through the process of figuring out the information released and how you could then determine who released it.

[07:40:05] But, again, that's the information that if I was a member I would be trying to see OK, what was -- what specifically was talked about and try to get an understanding. If the president did what "The Washington Post" suggested I would make the argument that he, you know, overstepped his bounds and probably shouldn't have -- shouldn't have done that. Is this a cataclysmic event? No, I don't believe it is. I think this is something that depending on who the source is, and I think we have a fairly good idea, at least, of a limited number of who they might be. You have conversation with them, you talk about the context of what everything is said. You try to remediate whatever problems there are and then you move on.

HARLOW: So you don't think that it is -- that it is problematic to U.S. allies as "The New York Times" is reporting this is a Middle Eastern ally that warned the United States don't share this widely or you won't get critical information and intelligence from us again. Jen Psaki, to you. You've got an op-ed about this on You write, "At best, Trump was channeling his inner high school outcast, trying to gain approval and score cool points from the more charming bully, Sergey Lavrov and by extension his boss, Vladimir Putin." So what's the Democrats' play in all of this? What should Democrats do?

JENNIFER PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, this is much larger than politics, Poppy. I have to say it is not acceptable to share information provided by a partner -- an overseas partner with an adversary, and that is exactly what reportedly happened here. And what should be concerning to not just Democrats but also Republicans is the fact that this is information that could put lives at risk, including American lives. And it could actually put at risk our intelligence sharing relationships.

So Ihope that Democrats talk about this not in an overly politicized way but in the way -- that in the way that it should be, which is that this is a national security concern. That we should get to the bottom of this. That this is something that could really put our own relationships overseas that we have spent years building at risk.

HARLOW: Senator, is this -- is this reckless when you add this on top of the unfounded wiretapping claims, when you add it to the tapes tweet from the president with no evidence of tapes of the Comey conversations, and now this? Are we at a point of this president acting reckless?

SANTORUM: You know, look, the American public voted for someone who was an outsider -- someone who was very mistrustful of institutions here in Washington, D.C., and in some respects had contempt for some of these institutions. I think that's being bored out. You have a president who is not a conformist by any stretch of the imagination and certainly when it comes to national security. I was listening to Gen. Hayden earlier. I think there's some truth behind that and there's some, obviously, problems that can come up as a result of that type of attitude.

And it's not that I disagree with what Jen says. I mean, am I concerned about our allies and the implication of this -- of this information going out there? Of course, I'm concerned about it but I think it is manageable.

HARLOW: We have to leave it there but, Jen, I'm sure you're reminded of all of the times that the president talked about Hillary Clinton and how she handled classified information. We will have you both back. We're out of time. Thank you both very much.

PSAKI: Thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: Coming up in ournext hour, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse weighs in all of the latest from this firestorm. And then tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Bernie Sanders square off in a live CNN debate moderated by our own Jake Tapper and Dana Bash.

CUOMO: All right. We have new digital clues about who may be behind that massive cyberattack we've been telling you about. One hundred and fifty countries affected. See that picture on your screen that just flashed by? Big clue. What investigators have discovered, next.


[07:47:30] CUOMO: We're learning more about that massive cyberattack crippling computer systems all over the world. "The New York Times" is reporting that digital clues bear striking similarities to previous attacks by North Korean hackers. CNN's Will Ripley live in Tokyo with the latest. What do we know?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, these are early days, Chris, so this could be a link to North Korea, it could not. But what we know about this attack, it was massive. About 300,000 devices in 150 countries affected here and what they're doing now, they're investigating the code that was used to put this ransomware on computers, forcing people to pay a ransom to get their systems up and running again. Hospital, critical infrastructures were shut down as a result of this. Only about $60,000 in ransom collected so far because governments have been encouraging people not to pay.

But when they look at these codes there are similarities to codes that North Korean hackers used back in 2014 for the Sony Pictures hack and also in 2016, just last year, a major attack on a global banking system. Now, sometimes hackers try to make codes look like other people's codes so, again, this is early days. It could be weeks or months before they know for sure.

But what we do know is that North Korean, both the missile threat and the cyber threat topping the agenda when South Korea's new president, Moon Jae-in, travels to Washington in late June. That meeting just announced this morning. He'll be meeting in Washington with President Trump. They'll be talking about the cyber threat. And, Chris and Poppy, this is the real deal when you talk about the fact that North Korea could potentially hack into government systems, steal the United States' own cyber weapons, then use those weapons against the U.S.

HARLOW: Exactly, it's critical. Will Ripley, thank you very much for the reporting. Keep us posted as you get more.

Ahead for us, will President Trump's decision to share that classified information with the Russians damage the U.S.' relationship, reputation with other intelligence allies. Former defense secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta will join us next.


[07:52:55] CUOMO: President Trump on Twitter this morning saying I did nothing wrong, offering reasons for why he disclosed highly classified information to Russian diplomats in a controversial Oval Office meeting last week.

Why controversial? Well, because presidents usually meet with heads of state, forget that it's Russia. But that for him to meet with a foreign minister and an ambassador -- an ambassador, by the way, who wasn't mentioned in the White House readout on what happened at this meeting and the only reason we knew was because this picture was offered up by Soviet media. U.S. media wasn't invited to the meeting. Anyway, these tweets about what just happened, do they shed light or do they create more of a problem?

Joining us now is a man who understands these issues deeply, Leon Panetta. Served as CIA director, Secretary of Defense under President Obama, chief of staff under President Clinton. Couldn't have a better day to have you on the show, sir. Thank you for being here.


CUOMO: The president -- I know you're a big Twitter person but just in case you didn't see his thread this morning he says, "Stop huffing on puffing. There is no house to blow down. I can legally declassify whatever I want, whenever I want. This was an open meeting. I had humanitarian interest. I had interest in getting Russia to fight ISIS more. That's why I did this. Move on." Acceptable?

PANETTA: You know, I watch this president rationalize these kinds of things and the problem that really bothers me is that it undermines the credibility of the office of the presidency. He is President of the United States, he is not a reality T.V. star. He's not just another personality, he is President of the United States. There are serious responsibilities that relate to a President of the United States in terms of intelligence and security of this country and he cannot just, you know, go ahead and reveal classified information without creating some huge problems within the Intelligence Community in terms of gathering that kind of information.

[07:55:10] So, what bothers me here is that the President of the United States, an office that I respect throughout my life -- I just think this president has to understand that he cannot just say whatever the hell he wants and expect that it doesn't carry consequences.

CUOMO: Do you think that this is an issue of competency? Do you think that this is about whether or not this president is up to the job or whether he needs to change how he does the job or is this just a question of choice and this is how he wants to conduct himself?

PANETTA: I really think that President Trump has to deep-down understand that he is President of the United States. That this is isn't about the last election, this isn't about Democrats, Republicans. This is about being President of the United States and carrying huge responsibilities in terms of our country and our security. That's what he has to understand. And there have to be people around him, very frankly, that make very clear that that's the way he's got to behave. He cannot just go ahead and tweet, he cannot just say whatever the hell he wants. He's got to have some responsibility to the office, and to the American people, and to our national security. That's what at -- that's what the bottom line is here.

Now, can he grow in this office, can he understand these issues, can he get better at it? God, we all pray that that's the case. But if he continues to operate this way there are really serious questions about the credibility of the office and trust the American people can have in this presidency.

CUOMO: So, when you look at why does it hurt the credibility, why does it hurt the intel sources, you have two different stories of what happened and, thankfully, the president, once again as he did last week with James Comey, seemed to move everybody with his tweets closer to the reporting as opposed to what came out of the White House. General McMaster, as you know, as respected member of the military, he comes out and says -- retired now -- and says didn't happen. The story is false. The president did not betray any sources, methods, or ongoing operations of a military nature that were not made public.

Now, that is not what the allegations were in "The Washington Post" report. They went to the types of intelligence that was classified that he revealed with an agreement with the source of it that that wouldn't be done. Now the president says no, no, forget about what I didn't. I did say these types of things but here's why I said them. Why is that damaging to the Intel Community? He has almost unfettered discretion to declassify whatever he wants.

PANETTA: Chris, I think the American people need to understand that you don't -- you don't just get intelligence out of thin air. You get intelligence because we deploy spies, because we deploy people who are willing to put their lives on the lines, and because we work with other intelligence agencies around the world that help provide that kind of information. But it's done on the basis of confidence and trust. I mean, the information that was provided here was provided by a Middle Eastern country that was very sensitive about the information involved here and that made very clear that they did not want this intelligence shared. So, you know, the president then decides he's going to go ahead and reveal classified information.

The problem is I'm sure -- obviously, presidents can do whatever they want but what is the damage from that? The damage is that this country may cut off any kind of intelligence provided to the United States on very sensitive issues that relate to the national security of this country. That's the damage that can be done here and the president needs to understand that. This is not just a joke, this is very serious business that relates to the security of this country.

CUOMO: So, how do you see positive change happening here? He's not getting pressure from his own party, that we know about. Speaker Ryan, Senate Majority Leader McConnell, they tend to say listen, we can't control what he does, let's stick with our own agenda. But you're saying national security is all of our agenda. It should be of paramount importance to them. So what needs to happen?

PANETTA: This president needs to have some grown-ups around him that make very clear what the lines are here.

CUOMO: McMaster is supposed to be that.

PANETTA: No, no, no.

CUOMO: He's the national security adviser, a respected guy. He just came out and gave him a cover story.

PANETTA: The national -- the national security team, I think is a very good team and he obviously listens to that team, but they have got to make very clear to the president what he can and cannot do. This president is a loose cannon. I mean, you know, we've seen that happen. He's got to have some lines here. He's got to have some guardrails. The President of the United States cannot just do or say or speak whatever the hell he wants. That's just irresponsible. And so, you need to have some people that sit down with the president before he goes into a meeting and say these are the lines you cannot cross because it relates to the security of our country. If this president is going to be successful he has got to be disciplined, and the main problem right now is that he is not disciplined.