Return to Transcripts main page
Woodward & Bernstein Compare Trump to Nixon Before Saturday Night Massacre; Trump Refuses to Release Democratic Memo; Israel: Jet Downed After Striking Iranian Targets in Syria. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired February 10, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Holes of the memo, President Trump blocks the release of a classified document from Democrats. Eerily similar, a new op-ed by the two reporters who broke the Watergate story reveals parallels between Nixon and Trump. Carl Bernstein is here.
And taking a sea, Vice President Pence refusing to stand as the athletes from North and South Korea parade by during the opening ceremony. How that gesture is playing on the world stage.
Top of the hour. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Great to have you with us. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
And President Trump this weekend warning that people close to him who used to work in his White House are being ruined by domestic violence accusations that have cost them their jobs. Here's what the president tweeted earlier today.
Quote, "People's lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There's no recovery for someone falsely accused. Life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as due process?"
Here are the people he's talking about. On the left, Rob Porter, staff secretary who quit his White House job this week after both of his ex-wives came forward with accusations that he abused them physically and emotionally.
There on the right is David Sorensen. He wrote speeches for the president until his ex-wife said he was violent and abusive to her. Sorensen denies that. He claims he was the victim in that relationship.
CNN correspondent, Ryan Nobles, is at the White House for us. So, Ryan, sources are telling CNN this weekend that people in the White House, including the chief of staff, knew about some of these accusations before they said they did. What's the response?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's no doubt about that, Ana. There are some questions about the timeline of events here, specifically what Chief of Staff John Kelly knew and when he decided to act on those accusations against Rob Porter, the staff secretary.
Kelly telling staffers that as soon as he learned about the allegations against Kelly, that he acted within 40 minutes to get him to resign from his position and leave the White House.
But it was on that same evening that the chief of staff put out a statement in support of Rob Kelly, saying that the Rob Kelly that he knew was a good and honorable man and was doing well at his job.
Then the picture of Rob Porter's ex-wife emerged with the black eye, and that's when things changed quickly. Porter was out of the White House very quickly after the fact. In terms of Sorensen, the timeline is a little different.
Sorensen apparently approached White House officials telling them about these accusations from his past and then volunteered to resign so that he would, quote, "not be a distraction."
As you mentioned, Ana, Sorensen put out a lengthy statement where he forcefully denied the accusations against him and said that he himself was a victim of domestic abuse. Meanwhile, the president himself has shown support for both of these men, saying in particular that Porter during an oval office event, he said that Porter forcefully denies those accusations and we should offer him the benefit of the doubt.
And then the tweet this morning where he said due process is an important part of this conversation. So far, neither the president or anyone from the administration saying anything about the victims in this particular situation -- Ana.
CABRERA: Ryan, a different topic, a different tweet now. The president this weekend saying no to letting the public see this Congressional memo that Democrats put together, saying it answers the Republican memo from about a week ago that accuses the FBI of bias against the president.
Here's the president's explanation for his decision. The last line of this tweet is, he told Democrats, quote, "to redo and send back in proper form." So, Ryan, what is the Democrats' next move, do we know?
NOBLES: Well, Ana, the question here is exactly what form does this memo eventually appear, and what the public is going to be able to read? There's no doubt that these are two different documents, the Republican and Democratic memo, and that the Democratic memo is much longer.
And both sides can see that there are parts of this Democratic memo that the general public should not see. But what Democrats are concerned about is that the portions that will be redacted will be redacted for political purposes and not because it's designed to protect sources and methods.
And that's why Democrats are going to be very concerned about what eventually comes out of this. The Department of Justice and FBI now guiding both sides as they take a look at this memo before it will eventually be released. We should point out, Ana, that even though the White House has said at this point they cannot approve the release of this memo, they are inclined to do so. We just don't know what form or fashion or what time that will actually happen.
CABRERA: All right. Ryan Nobles, we know you'll keep us posted. Thank you. A lot to talk about. Let's bring in our panel now.
[17:05:02] Joining us, CNN legal analyst, Carrie Cordero, a former counsel to the assistant attorney general for national security. Also, with us from Washington, politics reporter for "The Daily Beast," Asawin Suebsaeng, and here in New York, CNN senior political analyst and senior editor for "The Atlantic," Ron Brownstein.
Asawin, this is not the first time the president has defended a man accused of abuse. When Corey Lewandowski was accused of bruising a female reporter, President Trump asked how he knew the bruises on her arm weren't already there.
When Roy Moore was accused of child molestation, the president noted that Roy denied it, went on to endorse him. When Roger Ailes was accused of sexual harassment, the president claimed he helped the women he victimized.
When Bill O'Reilly was fired from Fox News, Trump said, quote, "I don't think Bill did anything wrong." So, Asawin, you have new reporting about how the president is reacting to these accusations against Porter privately. Does it match what he's saying publicly?
ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, POLITICS REPORTER, "THE DAILY BEAST": Yes, and it matches his track record, as you just pointed out. What he has been saying privately over the last couple of few days to aides and confidantes, according to our reporting at "The Daily Beast" is he's been questioning the credibility of the two female accusers against Rob Porter.
And has repeatedly asked if there are any reasons that people know of as to why these women could possibly be making this all up. Now, as you pointed out, this is, if anything, in character for President Donald Trump, not out of character. And the list runs even longer than what you had there.
Years ago, decades before he became president of the United States, he came out in defense of Mike Tyson, someone who was convicted of rape. And even went as far as to suggest that, oh, perhaps Mike Tyson could even buy his way out of prison by donating a large sum of money to an anti-sexual assault organization. So, this is par for the course for this particular president.
CABRERA: Ron, the president tweeting in his defense of these men, what about due process?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I think the president personally and the White House institutionally is backed into a corner because once they give any credence to any of these allegations from women raising them against any of the figures you mentioned and others, the question immediately becomes, what about the women making allegations of equal magnitude against him?
And I think they feel completely paralyzed by -- is forcing them into this unrealistic position of saying everyone is lying over and over again. You know, I have not been one historically to view the gender gap as something that really drives voter behavior as much as other factors like education levels, marital status, geography, but what's coalescing now seems very significant.
I mean, Gallup came out with its average polling for the entire year of 2017. Donald Trump was down to 32 percent among college educated white women. We have seen in Virginia and Alabama that African- American women who have been the absolute center of the Democratic resurgence in those states.
And even among the blue-collar white women who were so important to his victory in 2016, he's now down under 50 percent in most polls, and down around 40 percent in the rust belt states that were critical.
CABRERA: What you're saying he's doing is self-defeating?
BROWNSTEIN: I don't think they feel like they have a choice because the other road opens them up to this question about what about him. What about all the women making accusations against him?
But this stonewall they have been building, you know, brick by brick, with each one of these allegations that come, I think ultimately is weighing on him. It's almost like he's putting bricks on his own chest, and affecting his ability to communicate, I think, with women voters in a way that could be a significant factor in both 2018 and 2020.
CABRERA: Interesting. Carrie, this whole Porter scandal or controversy is also brought to light another issue. And that's just how many officials in the White House lack a full security clearance, because apparently, that was the issue with Porter, that he didn't have his full clearance because of these abuse allegations. Now, two sources are telling CNN there are 30 to 40 west wing staffers who don't have full clearances. What do you make of that?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It sounds like a lot. I mean, especially a whole year into the administration. Normally, in terms of a new administration, individuals who are working in the White House, individuals who are in senior positions, those individuals would be at the front of the line to have their security clearance processed by the FBI and the agencies that are responsible.
And so normally, by now, we would expect that individuals who are working in the White House, individuals who are in senior positions, handling national security information, would have their full clearance. If not, they probably shouldn't be in those positions.
And they shouldn't be handling national security information, because if an entire year has gone by and they are not yet fully cleared, then there is probably some reason.
[17:10:04] And it really reflects a lack of understanding of the importance of having people who are in a position of trust that this White House seems to have.
CABRERA: So, Carrie, according to "Politico," the FBI -- if the FBI plans to deny these security clearances to some of these officials, that apparently, the president possibly overrides that. When you think about at least one of these people who does not have a full security clearance, it's a family member.
It is Jared Kushner, his son-in-law. So, is it your understanding that the president could override it if the FBI were to say we're going to deny this security clearance?
CORDERO: Well, if we want to get into issues of executive authority and whether the president has the constitutional authority to be able to override that, then the answer probably is yes, that he can. He can issue a waiver. He's the chief executive.
But it really just demonstrates, I mean, if it gets to that point, and that's what's happening, it just demonstrates the lack of seriousness with which this White House takes national security positions.
The way in which positions are being filled, not with people who are qualified, who have the appropriate background and the appropriate professional background to have these positions, but are family members, are people who have sort of been in his inner circle and not are people who should necessarily be entrusted with national security information.
CABRERA: Ron, where is the outrage from Republicans who were so angered over Hillary Clinton's handling of intelligence information?
BROWNSTEIN: Look, that's the real point I think of this issue, which is where is the oversight from the Republican Congress? And that goes to kind of a broader pattern that they have had of really trying to look away as much as possible from all the -- really, all the different ways in which the president is breaking the norms of both institutional and personal behavior for the president.
Again, self-defeating in that the biggest risk to the Republican majority are those voters who are either openly hostile or ambivalent about the president. And they're feeling that the biggest risk to the Republican majority is those voters will feel they're not going to get any kind of meaningful constraint or oversight of him unless they have a Democratic majority.
But they have wrapped themselves around him more closely, and their willingness to do oversight has enormously diminished. As we saw with the Nunes memo, they moved in the opposite direction towards supporting his efforts to delegitimize any institution that can threaten him.
CABRERA: I'm glad you brought up the Nunes memo, because Aswin, I wanted to ask you about the president's decision to block the release of the Democratic memo, which rebutted the allegations of surveillance abuse that were in the Nunes memo. He says that he is not going to release it because it reveals sources and methods. But the FBI, remember, had these same concerns about the Republican memo, and the president still released that one. He said he was going to release it even before he looked at it. Is he being hypocritical?
SUEBSAENG: Well, there certainly is at least a grain of hypocrisy in this, but for the president, the reason he was so emphatic about getting the Nunes memo out, even before he had seen or read it, and not this one, is clear.
This memo is not one that is designed to back him up politically essentially or be exonerating in certain respects. From the people I have been speaking to for weeks before the memo was actually released, the Nunes memo, who had been speaking to the president frequently, they would constantly comment on how he would talk about this and bring it up.
And was border line obsessed with it, not by any intel briefing or any information he had from within his own intelligence community or administration, but from the conservative media, and particularly Fox News and how they have been obsessing over this issue for weeks and had really hammered on about it.
CABRERA: You didn't have any indication, though, that he and Nunes were in contact about it, were they?
SUEBSAENG: No. No. We have nothing to suggest that at the moment, but what we do know is that people such as Sean Hannity, which is a Fox News host, as we reported at "The Daily Beast," was in direct contact over the phone with the president of the United States urging him to among other things green light the release of the Nunes memo.
CABRERA: Last word, Rob.
BROWNSTEIN: There's an important precedent here, maybe Carrie can comment on this, but I see legal scholars argue that under the statutory authority that Bob Mueller is operating under, he does not have a guarantee that whatever report he finally produces he can release to the public.
The Justice Department ultimately would have to decide whether to do that. You can see the possibility here with this kind of action of them establishing a precedent of saying we can't release what Bob Mueller ultimately does.
CABRERA: Quickly, Carrie, is that right?
CORDERO: Well, that is correct in that there currently is not a law that requires that these final reports from Mueller's investigation be made public. And it's an issue that Congress should be focusing on, because right now, he has to deliver a memo to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.
[17:15:10] And then it is his decision, which might tell you why there is so much White House attention on the deputy attorney general. It's his decision whether or not to make that public. But what we're really seeing on the Nunes memo issue and whether or not to declassify this Democratic companion memo, that's resulted because there's been a complete breakdown in the process that should have been followed when the chairman, Chairman Nunes, wanted to release his memo.
Instead, the White House did away with that normal process of interagency coordination, and now they're finding themselves in another position because now they didn't follow the process the first time, and now they're saying, well, now we need to follow the process.
CABRERA: Right. Carrie Cordero, Asawin Suebsaeng, Ron Brownstein, thank you all.
Still ahead this hour, historic invitation on the sidelines of the Olympic games. The president of South Korea receiving an invitation from the leader of North Korea to visit Pyongyang.
Plus, new revelations about the Las Vegas shooter after his autopsy is finally released. Why his brain remains in a research lab.
And later, an Israeli fighter jet shot down in the skies over Syria. Details on why this plane was there in the first place. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
CABRERA: It is the first full day of competition at the Winter Olympic games. Now officially underway in South Korea, 15 medals already awarded in skiing and skating and jumping. But on the sidelines of these games that are already historic, some diplomatic work is being done on impacting the world long after the games are over.
Our senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson, is joining us from South Korea. Ivan, let's talk about the president of South Korea receiving an invitation from the leader of North Korea to visit Pyongyang and meet in person. Tell us about how significant is this?
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a big deal because North and South Korea are still technically at war. And up until about six weeks ago, you didn't have any real direct communication between the North and South Korean governments for a matter of years.
And suddenly, we've had this flurry of diplomacy followed by a hand- delivered invitation coming from the sister of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, the sister who had lunch with the South Korean president on Saturday at his offices, and delivered this letter inviting him to come visit the North Korean capital.
This, of course, after the North Korean delegation accompanied the South Korean president to the opening ceremony of the Olympics here on Friday night. And then after this luncheon, the North Korean delegation was once again with the South Korean president at this combined ice hockey game.
Women's ice hockey team of athletes from both North and South Korea, who by the way, really got their doors blown in by the team from Switzerland. They lost 8-0. That said, there has been this remarkable push towards communication between these two governments coming after a year of kind of almost weekly missile launches by North Korea and nuclear weapons tests, which at that point, there were real concerns hostilities could break out here on the Korean Peninsula -- Ana.
CABRERA: So, quickly, Ivan, there's been attention paid to the image of the U.S. Vice President Mike Pence keeping his seat while the unified Korean team entered the stadium during the opening ceremony. North Korea and South Korean officials were standing, they were cheering. How did people you have talked to react to that image?
WATSON: Well, this was awkward to say the least. I mean, Vice President Pence came here calling for maximum pressure, calling for isolation of North Korea, and instead, the North Korean delegation was in the VIP box with him during the opening ceremony. And were hosted at a luncheon at the offices of America's very close ally, the South Korean president.
Pence left saying that he got assurances from the South Korean president that the sanctions would continue, that the isolation of North Korea would continue. We'll have to see how that will play out. Certainly, I don't think he succeeded in changing the narrative on the ground here.
Instead of highlighting North Korea's human rights abuses, instead, the whole world watched North and South Koreans marching together under the same unification flag -- Ana.
CABRERA: Ivan Watson, thank you very much. Joining us, again, from Pyeongchang, following the Olympics.
Straight ahead, a new CNN op-ed drawing new parallels between President Trump and the Nixon White House. And asking, Nixon fired his investigator, will Trump? Carl Bernstein will join us live next. Don't go anywhere.
CABRERA: We are here again. That is the opening line of a new CNN politics piece written by the two journalists who broke the Watergate story in the '70s. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein continue their analysis with this.
"A powerful and determined president is squaring off against an independent investigator operating inside the Justice Department. It compares Donald Trump now and President Richard Nixon 45 years ago.
Carl Bernstein joins us now. He and Woodward won the Pulitzer Prize for their Watergate coverage. He also co-wrote the book "All The President's Men." And Carl, you point blank say Trump's Russia response is eerily similar to Nixon's leading up to the Saturday night massacre.
The night in 1973 when President Richard Nixon fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox and Attorney General Elliot Richardson as well as the deputy attorney general resigned. I'm so glad to have you here this weekend.
I want to go slowly through some of the parallels you draw. You write everything from how Nixon wanted to insure his attorney general was an ally in the Watergate investigation, talking about threats to fire the special counsel even before it happened.
Also, the question that his chief of staff asked that makes you wonder what must be on those tapes. We have heard so many people ask, what is he hiding when it comes to Donald Trump.
And on another thing you wrote, you write Nixon knew that firing Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox would invite a move to impeach. Let's start there. Do you think president Trump appreciates what the consequences could be if he fires Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller?
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think he does. And I think he nonetheless is determined from every available scrap of evidence we have seen to make the Mueller investigation go away, to bury it, to undermine it, to demean it, to obstruct it. Presumably, that's because he does not want whatever Mueller is finding to see the light of day. And it perhaps is more important to Trump to bury the information and the investigation than to have that information seen by the public and prosecuted, if, indeed, there is cause for prosecution of himself or members of his family or his businesses.
Let me take a second to say what this article is that is on both the CNN and "Washington Post" Web sites, that Bob Woodward and I have done. It is largely an excerpt from our book "The Final Days," written in 1976, and the excerpt about what occurred in the firing of the special prosecutor by Nixon and the so-called Saturday Night Massacre. And then we have written a few paragraphs interspersed at the top of this piece about the situation today. But what you see when you read this piece are these resonances from what we wrote in 1976 that are so relevant today and so many parallels to the situation with the special prosecutor, including Trump's tweets of the last couple days.
CABRERA: What stands out from those tweets in the last couple days that you're seeing parallels from?
BERNSTEIN: That Trump is trying to convey the impression that he is a victim here rather than a perpetrator. And that his conduct should not be what is under investigation but rather that the conduct of the special prosecutor and of the FBI should be under investigation. It's a total red herring. Look, the Russians, our intelligence community from top to bottom, knows the Russians interfered in our election. And there are allegations about possible collusion with the president, with members of his family, with his business organization. We don't know if those assertions are true or not. What we do know is he has tried at every turn to cover up whatever it is that he wants to hide and keep the special prosecutor and the American people from knowing. And what you read and hear in these resonances with 1976, the piece written in '76, the Saturday Night Massacre of '73, is the presidents, both Nixon and Trump's determination to make these investigations go away.
CABRERA: You do write a lot about how determined Nixon was to make sure that the tapes were not given over as they were to the special prosecutor. He wanted to create a transcript instead. There were all these other ideas of how they could sort of give them what they wanted without really giving him what he wanted. Meantime, we have President Trump preparing for a potential interview with Robert Mueller. Bottom line is he has said, time and again, he would be happy to sit down with Mueller.
BERNSTEIN: I think we'll -- many of us will believe it when we see him sit down with Mueller. Look, we have no reason to believe almost anything that Donald Trump says. What is so extraordinary about him and his presidency is the incessant compulsive, continual lying, and this is not me sitting here as a commentator saying this. This is demonstrable truth. The number of lies, the consistency of lying by the president of the United States, which ought to be concern particularly to Republicans who are looking supposedly to see what the facts are here, and instead seem to be forming a bodyguard around the president to protect him instead of protecting Mueller's investigation, it's extraordinary. We have never had a president who lies like this, certainly in the modern era. Even Nixon.
CABRERA: When you write in your piece that just three days after the Saturday Night Massacre, 44 separate Watergate related bills had been introduced in Congress, 22 called for impeachment investigation. Again, 44 bills. How do you think this Congress, both Houses, Republican controlled, would react to a situation in which the president fired Robert Mueller?
[17:34:50] BERNSTEIN: I think there would be, inevitably, move to impeach the president. But I think also Trump would expect that and Trump is banking that he could stop impeachment, defeat impeachment, certainly defeat conviction in the Senate for anything.
Look, I think what we're seeing here now, look, we know that Trump told his counsel, his White House counsel, that he wanted the counsel to have Mueller fired, and the counsel said he would quit rather than fire him. Trump is determined to make this go away.
But one of the things that's going on right now is the leaving of the Justice Department of the number-three person there, Rachel Brand, and it's hugely significant. Because if Rob Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general in charge of this investigation, were to be fired by the president, the next in command, if Rachel Brand, who is going to leave, is the solicitor general of the United States, Noel Francisco. There's every expectation, I'm told by people in the White House, that Francisco is and would be very sympathetic to President Trump's view that he, Trump, is the victim in the investigation.
CABRERA: But let me stop you, Carl, because we also know he would have conflicts of interest based on what his law firm's work is doing connected to the Trump White House, the administration. So it doesn't sound like it's as clear cut, right?
BERNSTEIN: It's not that clear cut. He would have conflicts of interesting. But the most important potential conflict of interest -- and let me say something that's a little new here -- is that one of the reasons or factors that may figure in Rachel Brand leaving the Justice Department, is that her husband is a partner in the Sidley Austin Law Firm. And that law firm is going to take over the defense of Rick Gates, who has been indicted with Paul Manafort. That means, and the White House has been aware for a while, that Rachel Brand was going to have to recuse herself from any oversight of the investigation should Rosenstein be fired. And the White House knows this, has been operating under the knowledge that she would not be in charge of the investigation, and so their strategies have included that fact for a while now. That she would have had to recuse herself because of the conflict with her husband's law firm.
CABRERA: So, Carl, are you saying you don't buy --
CABRERA: Sorry, Carl, I didn't mean to interrupt.
CABRERA: But when we're hearing she's leaving because of this dream job with Walmart, are you not buying that that's the reason she's leaving?
BERNSTEIN: I buy that's the reason, but it's also been in her knowledge and that of the lawyers who are representing other clients in these investigations, and it's known by the White House that she would have had an inevitable conflict of interest unless her husband chose to leave the Sibley Austin Law Firm, that probably she would have had to recuse herself. And that would then mean that the next in line would be Francisco. He, indeed, also has some potential conflicts. They might not be quite as direct as she has. But we've got a situation in front of us that none of us knows where this is going to go.
What we do know more than anything is the president is doing everything he can to play to his base, to picture himself as the victim, set himself up in such a way that if he were to fire Mueller or close down this investigation, that he would be able to survive an impeachment move. And look, so far, he has been hugely successful, the president of the United States, in getting 35 percent, 40 percent, 45 percent of people in the country, if we're to believe the polls, to support him in both his presidency and in his view of this investigation, which is to make the conduct of the press, to make the conduct of the FBI, to make the conduct of the intelligence community, the issue instead of the conduct of Donald Trump, his family, his businesses, et cetera. It's extraordinary. And it's been based on a kind of bodyguard of lies so far. [17:39:21] CABRERA: Carl Bernstein, always good to have you on.
Thank you so Much.
BERNSTEIN: Thank you.
CABRERA: And a great piece written by Carl and Bob Woodward. You can read it all on CNN.com.
Straight ahead in the NEWSROOM, hold the memo. The president blocks the release of a classified document from Democrats. How President Trump is defending that decision today?
You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
CABRERA: President Trump refusing to allow the public to see a congressional memo that Democrats say answered a Republican memo from a week ago. That memo accused the FBI of bias against the president. His reasons for "no" on the Democrat memo, he tweeted this: "The Democratic memo is very political and long. Must be heavily redacted." He told the Dems, to, quote, "Redo the memo and send it back."
Let's talk it over with Timothy Snyder, the author of "On Tyranny, Twenty Lessons from the 20th Century."
So, Timothy, what do you make of this back and forth memo from the House Intel Committee, the same group looking at Russia's election interference, going tit for tat over whether the American Justice Department is tainted.
TIMOTHY SNYDER, AUTHOR: Yes, it seems like a very strange change of subject. After all, the stakes in this conversation, this investigation, are whether the United States of America is a sovereign country, which is capable of carrying out democratic elections without interference from an outside power. That should be a very solemn and careful and sober investigation. The idea that we would instead cast doubt upon our own ability to carry out an investigation and change the subject to this minutia is itself very troubling.
CABRERA: How did we get here?
[17:45:06] SNYDER: I think we got here from 2016. While the Russian cyberattack, while the Russian information offensive was ongoing, we Americans in general, maybe certain Republican lawmakers in particular, maybe the same Republican lawmakers who are doing this now in particular, had difficulty seeing that an attack on American sovereignty is not a partisan issue. Once you get caught up in denying the seriousness while it happens, it's hard for you then later to take a step back. I worry that's what's happening. People aren't seeing the stakes of this.
CABRERA: You have been observing this presidency for the past year, and about that, you wrote, quote, "This is not an individual who feels comfortable in a rule-of-law state." Now, consider this is a president who campaigned on being the law-and-
order candidate and who really made that the premise of his immigration policy, explain what you mean.
SYDNEY: It's really not clear to me, I mean, looking at it more broadly, that the Republicans are the law-and-order party anymore. After all, if there's an issue of law which is fundamental, it's the sovereignty of the United States of America. That's the fundamental law, do we exist as a country that can defend itself. So this investigation should be carried out by an independent investigator who is left alone to do his job. Messing with that, causing distractions around the edges of that, is the last thing we ought to be doing.
As for Mr. Trump himself, he fired Preet Bharara, Sally Yates, James Comey. He tried to fire Mr. Mueller once already. This is someone who tends to see issues as being about him personally rather than about the law of the land. And that is the fundamental question, is the president above the law or is the law above the president.
CABRERA: Do you see Congress doing -- upholding its role of being the checks and balances on the president's power effectively?
SNYDER: Let me put it this way. I think when historians look back at this 50 years from now, like we're looking back at Watergate now, historians are going to wonder about checks and balances precisely. They're going to wonder why for so many people this is a partisan issue rather than an issue of the rule of Congress and looking after the basic interests of the U.S.
CABRERA: Let me ask you about another thing the president wanted to do this week. He talked about a military parade, and this is what Lindsey Graham said about this idea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't mind having a parade honoring the service and sacrifice of our military members. I'm not looking for a Soviet-style hardware display. That's not who we are. That's kind of cheesy. And I think it shows weakness, quite frankly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: So, Timothy, we heard Lindsey Graham bring up Russia in that. Why do you think he went there, making that comparison?
SNYDER: Well, for one thing, there are good reasons why Russia is on the mind of Senator Graham and other lawmakers. But I think he's making a very good point, and he's saying the same thing President Eisenhower said, we don't do that sort of thing. The way the United States has handled parades in the past is after we win a war, then we have a parade which thanks the soldiers and welcomes them back into civilian life. That's what happened after the Civil War, after the First World War, and after the Second World War. It hasn't been in the American style to try to show-off weaponry year by year. That is, indeed, a Soviet habit, which is now a Russian habit. CABRERA: You see a parallel potentially with an authoritarian regime?
SNYDER: Well, America has an authoritarianism, it's going to be our own style. Mr. Trump has his own style. What worries me the most about this is what he presents as a gesture of respect to servicemen and women comes entirely from him. It would be one thing if the servicemen and women said what we really need is a parade, but I think the Army and the Navy and the Air Force and the Marines need other things more than they need a parade. They need health care, they need other things funded. It would be one thing if it was one thing happening in the U.S. that justified this. But as far as we know, it's the president's desire for a particular form of entertainment. That's not the thing that can unite the nation. What unites the nation is when something has happened and there's a reason for a march or for a parade to be the national conclusion to the event.
CABRERA: Timothy Snyder, thank you very much. We appreciate your insight and your perspective on this.
SNYDER: Always my great pleasure. Thank you.
[17:49:25] CABRERA: Coming up, an Israeli fighter jet is shot down over Syria. This is as Israel launched a large-scale attack on Iranian targets inside Syria. So why is Israel attacking Iran inside Syria? Details next.
CABRERA: Welcome back. The State Department says it is deeply concerned about an escalation of hostilities over Israel's border today. And Israeli jet crashing amid what the army calls, quote, "massive anti-aircraft fire" during airstrikes on Iranian targets inside Syria. Israel says it all started with an Iranian drone crossing into its air space from Syria.
CNN's Ian Lee is on Golan Heights, right on the Israel/Syria border.
Ian, how did this unfold?
[17:54:36] IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it started in the early morning hours when, like you said, that Iranian drone crossed over into Israeli air space and attack helicopters shot it down. That's when Israel retaliate. They went to the command and control center in Palmira, an Iranian control center. They struck that area. When these planes were coming back from that mission, there was a lot of anti-aircraft fire. One of the planes went down. The pilot and copilot were able to eject and were recovered safely. But in retaliation for downing of that plane, they launched another series of attacks inside Syria, going after 12 different targets. You had eight different Syrian targets as well as four Iranian targets. Those planes were able to make it back safely.
This is very significant because this is the first time Israel has acknowledged that it is going after Iranian targets inside Syria. The government here is usually tight-lipped about any sort of military action inside Syria. The other incident also is their ability to take down Israeli war plane. When we asked Israeli officials the last time something like that happened, they said it's been over three decades, since 1982, when the last time a plane was taken down in combat. And so Israel has enjoyed a fair level of air supremacy in this area. Today, this is a blow to it.
Iranians are saying it's ridiculous their drone crossed into their air space, that they're in Syria by the request of the government. But tonight, it's fairly quietly right now. But it is still quite tense. Israeli officials say the ball's in the court of Syria and Iran. It's up to them to see what happens next. The Israel government says they want to deescalate the situation -- Ana?
CABRERA: Ian Lee, in the Golan Heights, thank you.
That's going to do it for me. I'm Ana Cabrera, in New York. I'll be back at 8:00 eastern, live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
Don't forget, at 7:00, a brand-new "VAN JONES SHOW." After his first show created so much buzz, the show is back, this time with Meghan McCain and Super Bowl champion, Malcolm Jenkins.
First, "SMERCONISH" starts now.