Return to Transcripts main page


Mueller Charges 13 Russians With Interfering in 2016 Election; How A Tabloid Buried A Salacious Trump Story; Kelly Announces Overhaul to White House Security Policies. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired February 17, 2018 - 12:00   ET




FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

All right. We're following major developments in the Russia investigation. Today, White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMasters says evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election is now indisputable.

This after the special counsel unloaded 13 new indictments against Russians charged with attempting to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. The 37-page indictment describes an unprecedented campaign by Russia to support Trump, disparage Hillary Clinton and communicate with, quote, "unwitting people tied to the Trump campaign."


ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The defendants allegedly conducted what they called information warfare against the United States with the stated goal of spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.


WHITFIELD: And Russia making their first comments since the indictment came down, firing back, saying they have, quote, "No response to the indictments," end quote, "Everything else is just blather," end quote.

We have full coverage now. Let's get to CNN's Boris Sanchez live in West Palm Beach, Florida -- Boris.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Fred, yes, in response to these indictments being announced by the deputy attorney general, the White House and the president himself really giving their first full admission that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.

Previously, we'd heard from the president saying that the Russia investigation is a hoax, saying it's a witch-hunt. At most at one point he said it's possible that the Russians interfered in the election, but then he gave this caveat, saying it also could have been China it could have been a 400-pound person sitting on their bed.

This is the first time that the president has fully acknowledged that Russia interfered in the election. And now we're hearing several key figures high in the administration reiterating what many of them have said previously before.

Almost as long as the president has been in office, that it is conclusive that Russia meddled in the election, that there should be no doubt about that. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster was in a security conference in Munich and he was asked about this. Listen to what he said this morning.


H.R. MCMASTER, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: As you can see, with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain. Whereas in the past it was difficult to attribute for a couple of reasons.

First, technically, it was difficult, but then also you didn't want to divulge your intelligence capabilities. But now that this is in the arena of a law enforcement investigation, it's going to be very apparent to everyone.


SANCHEZ: Now I did want to bring up the president's tweet, Fred. There are two things to point out here. First, the president writes that the Trump campaign did nothing wrong, there was no collusion. That's still not conclusive.

If you listen closely to what the deputy attorney general said yesterday, he said that in this indictment, there were no Americans named who wittingly worked with Russians to interfere in the election. But it doesn't say that there are no more indictments coming in the future.

In fact, Rod Rosenstein said yesterday the special counsel's investigation is still ongoing. Further, you'll notice that in the president's tweet, there's no condemnation of Russia.

There's no indication the administration is going to aggressively try to prevent them from meddling in future elections including the upcoming midterms in November. We should note, Fred, the president here in Mar-a-Lago staying in palm beach for the long weekend. He is not golfing today as he usually does over the weekend.

In part, out of respect for the victims and families of those affected by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Just some 40 miles from here in Palm Beach -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Boris Sanchez, thank you so much.

All right, let's take a closer look now at the stunning Russia indictments. Joining me right now to break it all down is CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz. So, Shimon, you know, how significant is this indictment and what are some of the details that people really need to know and embrace?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, there certainly are a lot of details in this indictment. I think that sound you played from H.R. McMaster is the key here. It is the first time we learned exactly what our intelligence folks here in the U.S. were saying, and really what the FBI has been holding back in its investigation of Russia meddling.

It's also significant in its symbolism for the investigators, the FBI and the Department of Justice, which has been trying to hold Russia responsible for what it did in the election, you know.

[12:05:05] And keep in mind, this comes at a time when we're not hearing any kind of condemnation against Russia from the White House. So, now we have a complete legal case played out in the public of 13 people and three companies that were all indicted by the U.S., by the Department of Justice.

And they're charged with conspiring to defraud the U.S., you know, they're in this indictment, they talk about people posing as Americans, creating social media accounts using stolen identities, U.S. identities to open PayPal accounts, bank accounts, all to fund advertisements.

This operation was all being headed by a Russian tycoon, a Vladimir Putin crony who spent over $1 million a month to run this operation. They even had folks communicating with unwitting people tied to the Trump campaign, using these false U.S. personas online.

They operated social media pages designed to attract U.S. audiences. This was all part of their effort to sow discord in our political system, sow discord in the election and really just gives you a really good inside picture of what the FBI, what James Comey was saying when he was the FBI director, what others in the intelligence community were saying was happening, that they could not reveal until really yesterday.

WHITFIELD: So, Shimon, stay put. I want to bring into the conversation CNN national security analyst, Samantha Vinograd, who served as a senior adviser on President Obama's National Security Council. Good to see you.

So, the president's own national security adviser, Samantha, now says these indictments proves Russia did interfere with the election. Will this be enough for the president to take action to punish Russia or even take steps to prevent it from happening again?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Fred, I just have to say that I worked for two national security advisers. H.R. McMaster's comments are ridiculous and frankly, they are beneath the office of the national security adviser.

WHITFIELD: What do you mean?

VINOGRAD: McMaster, as the national security adviser, chairs interagency meetings, National Security Council meetings that involve the DNI, the FBI, DHS, and all these national security agencies.

And only today did he say that there's incontrovertible evidence that Russia interfered in our election and only now is their kind of publicly available knowledge that Americans can listen to about Russian election interference.

That's just factually untrue. We had evidence in January from the DNI that Russia interfered. We had evidence from the DIA in July about this information warfare campaign. In September, from the Department of Homeland Security. Again, all open source information and --

WHITFIELD: But does he speak to -- is he saying this publicly because now he is willing publicly to make a statement that the president was unwilling to do? And that perhaps he may have felt and believed the intel community, his own community, before, but was reticent in making that public so as to be in step, you know, with his boss?

VINOGRAD: I think that it's hard to be in step with the president when the president used his tweet after this information came out to kind of sow conspiracy theories again and say there wasn't actual kind of any collusion between the president and the campaign and the Russians.

So, I do think H.R. McMaster is trying to take a policy line here and say, OK, Russia interfered, we're serious about it, we're going to do something about it. But, again, there is that daylight between the president's tweet, the official White House statements and H.R. McMaster's comments at the Munich Security Conference.

So, look, let's hope that they get closer together because we're inching closer to 2018. While we do the post-game on what happened in 2016 and hold people accountable, we need to be laser focused on the fact that every day, we're still under attack by Russia and need to take action to defend against them.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and really as a public servant, you know, I mentioned the president is his boss, but really, it's the American people who are your boss when you are a public servant.


WHITFIELD: So, Shimon, you know, these indictments have shown that Special Counsel Mueller is very good at preventing leaks about the investigation. Last night, former National Intelligence Director James Clapper actually told our Anderson Cooper that he believes more indictments are to come. Let's listen.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I think there are other shoes to drop here, notably finances. Bob Mueller and his team know a lot more about all this than is out there that we know. I think there's much more to come. I didn't see any indication about closing the investigation down after this indictment.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WHITFIELD: And Shimon, it was clear when Rod Rosenstein, you know, made the announcement, he kept making references to this indictment. So, clearly there are more to come.

PROKUPECZ: Certainly, those of us who have been covering this, myself and the others here at CNN, we believe there's more coming. We know that more people have been to the Special Counsel's Office. Steve Bannon was in there just this past week being interviewed by the special counsel.

[12:10:08] We know that there continues to be activity at the courthouse, at the grand jury almost every week. So, certainly we all believe and also keep in mind, Fred, there are two key cooperators here who are providing information to the special counsel, that's the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and also the former campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos.

Those two cooperators don't really have anything to do with this indictment that was revealed yesterday. Exactly where they're cooperating and what they're providing and what perhaps criminal -- information on criminal conduct, they're providing as it relates to the campaign or anyone else. We just don't know.

But there's a reason those two people are cooperating and there's a reason why the special counsel asked for their cooperation. So, clearly based just on that we all believe that there's more to come.

WHITFIELD: And then Sam, while you weren't completely pleased, you know, with remarks coming from H.R. McMaster, that he did say something publicly is one thing. But if the president continues to dismiss the veracity of these indictments, what would be the incentive for Putin to take it seriously as well?

VINOGRAD: I think that Putin's incentive to take anything the president does is probably pretty low right now. I do have confidence that various agencies and departments are trying to fulfill their functions to keep our country safe.

We had DHS and the director of national intelligence briefing state election officials on Friday. They're doing so again tomorrow. I'm hearing from various tech companies there is outreach from the intelligence and law enforcement community to work with them in Silicon Valley to try to have better kind of real-time detection of Russian trolls and Russian bots.

But I don't think that Putin feels dis-incentivized right now. Again, I think the president's tweet on Friday undercut the investigation, again, undercut the Department of Justice, did not talk about Russia. If you're Vladimir Putin, there are not any real costs to continuing this behavior.

WHITFIELD: Right, especially since these people are not likely to be prosecuted. They wouldn't be sent to the U.S. to face prosecution. All right, Shimon Prokupecz, Samantha Vinograd, thank you so much.

All right. The attorney for the Florida school shooter says his client is willing to plead guilty. This as we learn new details about just how obsessed the shooter was with race, violence and guns. A live report from Florida next.

Plus, new changes at the White House, with over 100 people still working with an interim security clearance, a plan by the Chief of Staff John Kelly could keep the president's son-in-law away from top secret information.



WHITFIELD: Happening right now, Vice President Mike Pence is delivering keynote remarks at an America first policies event in Dallas, Texas. Just moments ago, he addressed the victims of the school shooting massacre in Florida this week that left 17 dead.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, the bible says the Lord is close to the broken hearted, so let's pray for our neighbors in Parkland, Florida. Let's pray for God's grace and comfort for all the families impacted by this terrible attack especially in the difficult days that lie ahead for them.

And let's pray for wisdom. For all in positions of authority that we might find a way to come together as a nation to confront and end this evil in our time once and for all.


WHITFIELD: Meanwhile, in just a few hours, friends and family will gather to remember the life of Joaquin Oliver, he was just 17 years old. Joaquin was also known by his friends as Joaq and moved to the United States from Venezuela when he was 3.

He just became a U.S. citizen one year ago. His final social media post was a message to his girlfriend saying I love you with all my heart. Right now, five people are still in the hospital. One of them in critical condition.

CNN's Rosa Flores joins me right now. So, Rosa, we're learning disturbing new details of the shooter's social media history. What more can you tell us?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, there are disturbing accounts in this Instagram chat that one of our colleagues was able to enter. Our colleague, Paul Murphy, was invited into this chat by one of the individuals inside. There are six people commenting, including the suspect.

The comments are racist, xenophobic. A few examples to share with you. He says that he hates black people simply because they're black. He hates Jews because -- he says they're going to destroy the world. One of the things that he says is, quote, "My real mom was a Jew. I am glad I never met her." About gays, he says, quote, "shoot them in the back of the head." Now, in this chat, he also shares photographs of himself in menacing positions. Also, him wearing body armor. Now, the story behind the body armor, they actually talk about the body armor in the chat, in the conversation.

He says, "Oh, I got paid $330, I'm going to go buy body armor online. I got a $30 discount and free shipping on this body armor." One of the individuals in this chat goes further and talks about his AR-15, the suspect's AR-15, and this individual suggests that the suspect could purchase an accessory for that AR-15 to make the AR-15 automatic.

Now, from law enforcement officials, we do know the weapon used in this case, Fred, was not an automatic weapon. But, again, this just opens a window into the deranged conversations that the suspect was having online.

WHITFIELD: All right. Yes, very disturbing. Rosa Flores, thank you so much.

[12:20:06] Let's talk more about these signs, what to do with them, what should have been done with them. I'm joined by criminologist and behavioral analyst, Casey Jordan, and the author of the book "Rampage, The Social Roots of School Shootings," Katherine Newman. Good to see you both, ladies.

Casey, you first, the FBI admits it missed some potential clues. Based on what we have learned what may have been missing in your view to not take his potential threat seriously?

CASEY JORDAN, CRIMINOLOGIST AND BEHAVIORAL ANALYST: I think there are two things. First of all, I think the audience might be really shocked to know how much of this there is out there. I would really like to know how many of these tips come into the FBI before we blame them too deeply for not acting appropriately.

WHITFIELD: But not just the tips but this digital footprint.

JORDAN: Correct. And in fact, they need a lot more resources, manpower, if they are going to be able to look into these things. But number two, you have to upgrade your definition of dangerousness for the modern times.

The signs were all there, but I think we're using an archaic definition of a person being dangerous to himself or others. Why do they have to actually act before we go, OK, I guess, he was dangerous?

Because then it leaves society in general and school students in particular as the guinea pigs for an experiment of what actually is dangerous. They shouldn't have to act before we interpret that as dangerous and consider civil commission.

WHITFIELD: Catherine, sadly people are reflective now. They're thinking about signs, how they could have done more, you know, how they would have conveyed it to people. The Palm Beach "Post" is reporting today that the shooter was kicked out of a home that he was staying at because the owner refused to let him live there with a gun. And that was another warning sign as people now try to reflect. What kind of holes do you see here that -- or even cracks that you see this shooter fell through?

KATHERINE NEWMAN, AUTHOR, "RAMPAGE, THE SOCIAL ROOTS OF SCHOOL SHOOTINGS": I think we have to recognize that almost all school shooters leave a trail behind them. Most of the students in the environment are not surprised to learn who's done these things. In the cases I've studied, many children don't come to school that day because they're afraid enough to know something's going to happen.

But what's critical is they generally don't come forward in a way that allows the adults in the environment to actually track them and do something about it. So, in addition to paying attention to what -- how we define dangerousness, I think we need to be more sensitive and provide more opportunities that are confidential and trustworthy for students to come forward.

Look at the number of people who recognize that this person was unstable, had scary tendencies, but never were able to get the message through to anyone who could actually do something about it. It's not -- he was sort of hiding in plain sight.

It's easier to see this of course in retrospect than it is at the moment. But in all the cases I've studied, these kinds of warning signs are everywhere, the body armor. The Virginia tech shooter had, you know, pictures of himself in exactly the same kinds of positions with the same kind of body armor.

We just need to know what we do when we see those signs and make sure the people who see them can come forward to people who can do something about it in law enforcement, in school administration and among the adults they trust in their own families.

WHITFIELD: It's really in step with what you're saying redefining kind of the warning signs, you know, what reaches that level of true concern, you know, one of the shooter's friends says that the shooter actually laughed about prior school shootings. Listen.


ALLAN VARELA, 20-YEAR-OLD FRIEND OF SHOOTER: He would joke because we would be looking at photos and joke about -- he would joke about the photos and stuff. I really want to be there for him. I really did. I wish I felt like I could have stopped it. I know it wasn't my fault, but I felt like I could have stopped it. I could have been there for him. Seventeen people wouldn't have lost their lives.


WHITFIELD: Casey, sadly, there are a lot of people who are almost expressing like a guilt. They didn't know what to do with that information. The FBI, the director even saying that they did receive a tip in January and it just didn't follow protocol. Whether it's an issue of it wasn't taken seriously or if this is an administrative problem, et cetera, but, you know, how do you explain that when there is information in which to act upon, it's just not acted upon?

JORDAN: What do you want them to do to act upon it? That's my next question. Nobody ever wants to discuss that. Yes, you have an intervention. We did this with Jared Loughner. We did it with James Holmes, the psychiatrist, the school administration, everybody could see it.

All the signs were there, and the professor's hands were tied. The administration's hands were tied.

[12:25:04] Because this whole idea is that you can't civilly commit somebody and having a sit-down with them and going what's bothering you, do you want to talk about it, is not nearly as effective as somebody in a uniform with a badge going what are you thinking, because we are on you.

And sometimes that whole kind of finger-pointing and going whatever you're thinking, we're going to stop it, is the only language they understand. I really think we need to empower authorities to work with mental health professionals do an intervention that is effective.

WHITFIELD: Catherine, do you agree with that? Because it is interesting, even if you had a lot of complaints, people said he joked about this, if he legally obtained these weapons if there was a knock on the door to come look at, they can't just confiscate and take this stuff and say this seems alarming. I mean, what could they do, really?

NEWMAN: Well, I think that's up to the rest of us as citizens to ask what do we want law enforcement to do if they discover that somebody who is unstable and making threatens comments has an arsenal of weapons at home? Don't we have a public interest in making sure they can't continue to do that?

But I want to bring up another point. Students like Allen are very commonly in this situation. I don't know how many I've interviewed who said, I heard them say things that really worried me. I heard them say things that were threatening. But why don't people like that come forward?

The answer is it's difficult for adolescents to do that. They're not sure exactly what it means, what they've heard. It's a very noisy signal. But if there are people in their environment, if there are school resource officers, if there are trusted adults who will keep their confidence while they investigate these issues carefully, students like Allen do feel like they can come forward.

And they do carry this guilt for the rest of their lives that they feel they should have done something but, in fact, unless there's someone to come forward to, they really can't, and they don't.

WHITFIELD: So tragic on so many levels. All right, Casey Jordan, Katherine Newman, thank you so much.

All right, 13 Russians indicted accused of interfering in American elections. So, how will this new twist play out on Capitol Hill and the ongoing FBI probe. I'll talk to Congressman Claudia Tenny of New York about that next.


[12:31:41] WHITFIELD: All right, hello, thanks so much for joining me this Saturday, I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

All right, 13 Russians now indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged with attempting to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. The indictment describes an unprecedented campaign by Russia to support Donald Trump, disparage Hillary Clinton and communicate with, quote, unwitting people tied to the Trump campaign.

According to the indictment, a Russian group set up social media pages to look like they were being run by Americans. Focusing on highly divisive issues like this one showing Satan backing Hillary Clinton. And others like this one dealing with border security, and the Black Lives Matter Movement.

I want to bring in Congresswoman Claudia Tenney, she is a Republican from New York. Good to see you, Congresswoman.

The indictments say there were Americans who were unwitting participants. The president continues to say there was no collusion. How do you interpret these indictments?

REP. CLAUDIA TENNEY (R), NEW YORK: Well, I think the indictments are instructive because what they show is that the Russians really are trying to create some kind of chaos in our country. I think it's unfortunate that the Democrats are overreacting to this as far as, you know, really focusing on just Trump/Russia collusion. I think this doesn't say --

WHITFIELD: Well, it's the president who brought up the word collusion actually.

TENNEY: But actually, this has been going on for over a year that the Democrats have been trying to take down the administration claiming there was Russian collusion. I mean, I sat at the state of the union address and listened to Russian collusion being yelled out behind me from many of the Democrats.

It looks like, you know, the Russians are indeed trying to interfere with out elections. And yes, there was some evidence that they were looking like they were supporting Trump, supporting Bernie Sanders. In some cases, (INAUDIBLE) that were really social media.

The indictment show that stolen identities are happening. And I don't think there's any doubt that the Russians are trying to interfere in our elections and elections across --

WHITFIELD: But how alarming now hearing details by way of the indictment, hearing details now by way of the indictment and seeing about, you know, fraud, about posing as Americans, about staging rallies. All of these details though, has to be alarming, does it not to you in terms of how Russia was successfully able to meddle into the elections, and how perhaps it should promote some concerns about upcoming midterm elections?

TENNEY: I think it's really clear from the indictment of what the statements from the Department of Justice and others in the FBI. What they're saying is, it was clear that they didn't affect the elections but they attempted to.

And many of these social media memes that you see created by this group using stolen identities, stolen security -- social security numbers from real Americans, show that they really weren't that effective in what they were trying to do but what they did do is create chaos. And we've used millions of dollars and thousands of hours of time and wasted resources on investigating something that looks like it wasn't really there in the first place.

WHITFIELD: So this is not concerning. I feel like I'm hearing from you that this really is not very a harming to hear the tactics and --

TENNEY: No, not at all.

WHITFIELD: -- that a adversarial country was trying to meddle.

TENNEY: What I'm trying to show is that, yes, the Russians are interfering, why aren't we working together? Why aren't Democrats working together with Republicans to stop this instead of trying to create it looks like an unending smear campaign --

[12:35:03] WHITFIELD: Well, Congress overwhelmingly vote for new sanctions against Russia, including yourself, but wasn't it the president, President Trump who has actually not implemented those sanctions? So talk to me about that effort.

I mean, if there was an effort to try to punish Russia ahead of these indictments, why is the president undermined that effort that was collectively by Congress to try to punish Russia for trying to interfere in democracy of the United States?

TENNEY: (INAUDIBLE) the sanctions and the objection from the Trump administration are coming from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson dealing with certain aspects (INAUDIBLE) not with the cyber issues going on with Russia right now. So those aren't really -- those are two separate issues as far as I'm concerned.

Sanctions in terms of preventing the Russian Government from interfering, what we're seeing right here, these are independent groups. We don't know if they're affiliated with the Russian's government itself for sure, but maybe they are. I do think that we are on to something that the Russians are interfering with the elections and I think that both parties should be concerned because there's evidence that they're interfering on both sides of the aisle so we should prevent and eliminate that. And I think that's what it's pointing out. It isn't showing that somehow Donald Trump's organization or his campaign reached out to the Russian Government and somehow was trying to interfere with Russians to make Trump the president of the United States. In fact, the opposite appears to be true from what the Mueller indictments reveal.

It's a 37-page indictment. I haven't read it all. I'm skimming through it right now. But here's an interesting fact.

We are going to look and find out that the Russians might have been actually interfering on the other side with the Fusion GPS and causing an interference on that side of it with using a dossier that was created by, you know, an op research firm, funneled by sources and then going to a FISA court, and not disclosing the fact this was a politically (INAUDIBLE).

WHITFIELD: So, let me ask you this, do you feel like this indictment, do you feel like this indictment is an avenue in which to interrupt any planned Russia meddling in the upcoming 2018 election?

TENNEY: This document is showing that the Russian operatives were meddling in the 2016 election and certainly will bring that (INAUDIBLE) to 2018 elections.

The question is -- you're asking me, like, do I think, of course, this is what it clearly shows. What it clearly shows is that this whole Trump/Russia collusion to try to win the election and beat Hillary Clinton isn't necessarily had anything to do with it. What is showing is that --

WHITFIELD: But it's not over, right? I mean, are you feeling like this is a conclusion? I mean -- or is it your feeling that this is just one set of indictments? There may be others to come and we really don't know where the Mueller investigation, where the team is going or what could be next.

TENNEY: I think that this is showing that there is clearly not collusion by the Trump campaign with Russian operatives to try to steal the election from Hillary Clinton. What I think it's showing is that there -- the Russians clearly are interfering on our elections on both sides and we need to get together as Democrats and Republicans to protect the integrity of our election system.

WHITFIELD: OK. We'll leave it right there. Congresswoman Claudia Tenney, thank you so much.

All right, coming up, a former Playboy Playmate going public, claiming she had an affair with President Trump and detailing how he allegedly covered up his infidelity trail. That's next.


[12:43:00] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. Catch and kill, that's the tactic the tabloid industry uses to kind of bury certain stories. A new reporting in the New Yorker says that's how the National Enquirer was able to silence a salacious story from a woman who claimed that she had an affair with Donald Trump several years ago.

CNN's Brian Stelter is joining me right now to talk about this. And so first, Brian, kind of explain this, you know, catch and kill theory. How kind of this tabloid really had no intention perhaps of doing a story that it promised the subject this playboy that they would do.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This phrase "catch and kill" is so vivid, isn't it? Essentially means you buy a story in order to bury a story. So, you're an editor of a tabloid, someone comes in with the story and you buy what's called life rights. This gives your publication exclusive rights to tell this person's story, in this case, this Playboy model's story.

So Karen McDougal sells her life rights, she signed a contract, she agreed to it. She now says she seems to regret it, seems to say that she didn't know what she was signing away.

But when a magazine like the National Enquirer buys the rights to something like this, it essentially then buried the story. That's why it's called "catch and kill". First you catch the story, then you kill the story.

And, in this case, we know she was paid $150,000. Ronan Farrow's reporting has joined some earlier reporting by the Wall Street Journal that documents what went on here.

The question I have, Fred, is, how many other times has the Enquirer done this? How many other stories had they caught and then killed in order to protect President Trump? And the answer is we just don't know. The company won't say.

WHITFIELD: And this protection of President Trump really goes back to the friendship that Trump has with the publisher of this tabloid.

[12:45:01] STELTER: Yes. David Pecker is the chairman of American Media, it's the parent company of the National Enquirer. It also owns magazines like Us Weekly and Men's Journal and a bunch of others.

Pecker and Trump have been friends for a long time. And Pecker is known to do this for other friends of his as well. Actually, Harvey Weinstein is someone who the Enquirer would sometimes keep stories hidden about in order to take care of Harvey Weinstein.

Now, in the case of President Trump, we've heard Trump praising the Enquirer in the past, promoting the tabloid. There was an allegation from Joe Scarborough last year that the Enquirer was used in order to try to blackmail him.

So there's been some ugly stories about the Enquirer and Trump in the past. This new development is so interesting because it adds new allegations about this extramarital affair that may have happened in 2006. An embarrassing story for the Trump family and frankly a story that makes a lot of Americans just feel sympathetic toward Melania Trump. Of course they are together this weekend in Mar-a-Lago.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and a lot of tentacles to this because then of course it opens the questions of, like, so where did the money come from? Is it the publisher in the goodness of his own heart, or is this money somehow Trump may have given to the publisher, you know, payments of some sort? We don't know but --

STELTER: Those are the questions I have, that's right.

WHITFIELD: OK, Brian Stelter, thank you so much.

STELTER: Thanks.

WHITFIELD: All right, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly who just a week ago was under major heat for his handling of Rob Porter is now overhauling the security clearance system at the White House. Remember, Rob Porter, the secretary -- former secretary not having full security clearance and also having these domestic abuse allegations.

Well, now potentially in question, White House adviser Jared Kushner standing in the West Wing without full security clearance.


[12:51:10] WHITFIELD: All right, President Trump in Florida this weekend after capping off a chaotic week in Washington. Last night, he and the first lady Melania Trump meeting with victims and their families from the Parkland School shooting. They were at the hospital.

The tragedy overshadowing several other key moments in the West Wing. Chief of Staff John Kelly announcing changes to the administration's handling of security clearances. This comes amid calls for Kelly to resign over his treatment of the Rob Porter abuse scandal.

You recall the former secretary was facing domestic abuse allegations and for nearly a year on the job has been operating there and was even being considered for a promotion, potentially deputy chief of staff. At the same time, he had those domestic abuse allegations and he did not have full security clearance.

All right, joining me right now, CNN political commentators, Scott Jennings and Sally Kohn. Good to see you both.

All right, so Scott, you first. It was just, you know, Wednesday that there were loud calls for Kelly to step down, lose his job, and now Kelly is saying he's implementing these new changes which means if you don't have full security clearance, then you do not have access to top secret information.

Is this enough to help him save his job and perhaps better secure the White House?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's certainly the right thing to do. I think in the wake of any kind of a mistake which the handling of this Porter situation was certainly a mistake by any measurement. All you can really do is learn from it and try to move forward and try to reassure the American people that we're going to improve the thing we just messed up. And so that's what John Kelly is doing here.

I think the other thing working in Kelly's favor right now, is that there are a number of Republicans in Washington, especially in the United States Senate, that are encouraging President Trump to keep John Kelly on the job.

I think the one thing they should have done and may could still do in the near future is let John Kelly meet the press, right? Let him have a press conference, let him explain in his own words what happened, what went right, what went wrong, and how they're moving forward. Let him take a few questions.

I think some transparency here joined up with the action he took on Friday would help restore confidence and credibility.

WHITFIELD: And Sally, under that umbrella, people who are working in the White House who have interim security clearance, senior adviser Jared Kushner. And if, you know, he still does not have full security clearance, and under these new changes this would mean that he would not have access to top secret information.

How would he be able to continue on with his role?

SALLY KOHN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, I think that's an excellent question. It's also interesting why -- it's not just Kushner, dozens of senior White House officials --

WHITFIELD: Including Ivanka Trump.

KOHN: -- have not received their clearances. It's unclear, if you applied before a certain point, that they may allow Kushner in through some loophole.

The bigger question here is, look, it appears, and we don't know, and that's why a lot of Republicans even are calling for investigations into this, it appears leak a lot of things with this White House, they already were doing this. They already knew they had this problem. People were not only -- were failing their clearance and still being given access to confidential information like Porter.

And the only reason they did something about it is because we, the public found out. That's reckless and it's not just irresponsible management, they're playing fast and loose with our national security with secrets. And now of course in the context of knowing that we have foreign nations trying to influence our elections and our government, can we really trust this White House to keep us safe? They can't even keep their own House in order.

WHITFIELD: And then, on the issue of the Russia investigation and those indictments of 13 Russians, the president has tweeted out he sees this as an issue of collusion. No collusion.

[12:55:05] So, you know, Scott, does the president have a clear understanding of about what these indictments mean?

JENNINGS: Well, these specific indictments, yes, he does have a clear understanding. And as Rod Rosenstein said in press conference, the specific indictment show no collusion. That doesn't mean there won't be future indictments.

And the only person that really knows what's going on here clearly is Bob Mueller. I mean, this stuff came after with no leaks, he was obviously in the middle of an expansive investigation that really no journalist had found out about at all. So --

WHITFIELD: Should the White House be worried about what potentially is next?

JENNINGS: Yes, if I were on either side of this, the left or the right, I wouldn't be jumping to too many conclusions. I wouldn't be crawling, I won't be licking my wounds because we don't know what else Bob Mueller might be figuring out.

But I'll tell you this, what the president of the United States ought to do right now, he ought to convene a presidentially appointed task force and swear in people from his own government, from outside the government, tech expert, campaign operatives. There ought to be a presidential level task force designed right now to stop the Russians from meddling in this midterm and in the next presidential election.

This is where you have to learn from what happened and stop it from happening in the future. There are hostile foreign power, we got to treat them as such.


KOHN: I love that suggestion. It would require Trump to first acknowledge that Russia meddled in the election.

And let's be clear, his own national security team that he selected and appointed conclude that beyond a shadow of a doubt, these Mueller indictments and all of the facts. The facts in here are horrifying.

It would be nice if we could step aside, set aside partisanship for a second. Russia was spending upwards of $1.2 million per month trying to influence the election. They were organizing rallies. They were putting out false information. They were sowing divisiveness.

WHITFIELD: And so after these indictments, if the president doesn't acknowledge that --

KOHN: And he still has not.

WHITFIELD: I mean, Russia can't take it seriously either and we'll proceed with upcoming 2018 potential interference, right?

JENNINGS: Yes, I think he has. I think his statement was a step towards acknowledgment. H.R. McMaster has said there's no doubt the Russians meddled in the election. It strikes me that the Trump national security apparatus gets it here but what do you do with that information? If the president could take a proactive step to put a group of people together, whose only job for the next two years was to stop this from happening in the future, that would be a great step that I would think would unify the country on this Russia issue.

Collusion, no collusion. We don't know what that road going to lead to. But I know this, the Russians are meddling and we've got to stop them because they are hostile to the United States and what's in our best interest.

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll --

KOHN: Literally everyone agrees with that, except for Trump. He has not acknowledged that.

And -- I mean, it's monumental. You're right. His entire apparatus has. But the fact that Russia decided the best way to hurt this country was to help elect Donald Trump, the only person who doesn't say that is Trump.

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll leave it right there. Scott Jennings, Sally Kohn. Sally, you make me laugh. Thank you so much.

We've got so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM after this.