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White House Looking to Revoke Security Clearance of Trump Critics?; 12 Audio Recordings Seized From Michael Cohen. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired July 23, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: We have James Clapper on the line.
James Clapper is a CNN national security analyst and former director of national intelligence.
Mr. Clapper, you are apparently now on a list, according to the White House as of two minutes ago. They would like to revoke your security clearance. How do you feel about that?
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it's kind of interesting news.
I'm reading it and learning about it just as you are. I think it's -- off the top of my head, it's kind of a sad commentary, where, for political reasons, this is kind of a petty way of retribution, I suppose, for speaking out against the president, which I think are -- on the part of all of us are born out of genuine concerns about President Trump.
BALDWIN: Sarah Sanders, one of the words she used -- I will just fill you in as you're getting this information -- she referred to you guys all as politicizing and that you have monetized, essentially monetized your security clearance by you, along with a number of these other folks on the screen, come on TV, paid contributor, with the security clearance to say how you feel about the president.
And they don't like it, apparently.
CLAPPER: Well, the security clearance has nothing to do with how I or any of us feel about the president. And I don't get the briefings. I'm not -- I don't have access to classified information. It's frankly more of a courtesy that former senior officials in the intelligence community are extended the courtesy of keeping the security clearance.
I haven't had occasion to use it. And it has no bearing whatsoever on my regard or lack thereof for President Trump or what he's doing.
BALDWIN: Do you think this is entirely political, that this is retaliation from the White House? How would you characterize this move? CLAPPER: Well, I don't know how you characterize it any other way,
since, to my knowledge, I have not been presented with any other allegation of violation of any rules involving protection of classified information.
And so this is the first heard for all of us, just as it is for you.
BALDWIN: James Clapper, what would you say to the president of the United States?
CLAPPER: Well, I don't know what to say.
BALDWIN: Think about it. He watches a lot of TV.
CLAPPER: I think this is just a very, very petty thing to do. And that's about all I will say about it.
BALDWIN: Petty. What about -- let's play this forward. You're the intel expert. What is the threshold? What is the process even in revoking one's security clearance? Can you just walk me through that?
CLAPPER: Well, typically, there would be a formal notification, not by this means, that clearance is being suspended, for example, you're under investigation because of allegations of something that would merit revocation or at least suspension.
There is a formal process for doing this, but I guess, legally, the president has that prerogative. He can suspend or revoke clearances as he sees fit. And if he chooses to do it for political reasons, well, that's -- I think that's a terrible precedent and it's a very sad commentary. And it's an abuse of the system.
BALDWIN: Wow. Wow.
James Clapper, thank you for calling in. I appreciate you weighing in now that you are learning the use as we all are that you're apparently on this new list from the White House of folks whose security clearance the White House would like to yank, would like to revoke.
I was talking to Dana Bash, Gloria Borger, Aaron David Miller, Mark Mazzetti.
Mark, let me come over to you.
Just listening to James Clapper saying how could it be anything other than political, which is precisely what Dana and Gloria were saying, but, ultimately, if the president wants to do it, he's the boss, Mark.
MARK MAZZETTI, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, he can make the decisions that he wants.
If you take these two things separately, monetization and politicization, if the threshold was you can't make money off your clearance, then a lot of people would have lost their clearance very a long time ago in Washington. That's pretty common practice. People leave with a clearance. They become consultants. They get jobs. They get lucrative defense contracts. That's par for the course, good or bad, in Washington. Making money on your clearance is not new. That gets you to the political issue.
And, as Director Clapper said, he seemed to clearly target the people who had been critics of his publicly, his political critics. There are no doubt others with top-secret clearances, high clearances who retired from the CIA, Pentagon, et cetera, who have been supporters of the president who are not on the list and maybe never will be.
BALDWIN: But to Dana's point off the top about Michael Flynn, I mean, that's a perfect example of someone who served under the Obama administration, was also working through all those rallies, the lock her up chants, and he never had his security clearance revoked.
So how would this...
BALDWIN: How this be fair?
BALDWIN: Right. Right.
MAZZETTI: Right. I mean, he became the national security adviser. And now obviously he has problems of his own where he's awaiting sentencing by the Mueller investigation.
So, clearly, there is -- there seems to be a double standard here, if, in fact, it was politicization, acting in a political way, going after political opponents with a clearance. That certainly wouldn't hold true in the Flynn case and other cases.
I want to move on to Trump and Iran and North Korea and Putin.
But, Aaron David Miller, do you want to add anything on clearances?
AARON DAVID MILLER, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR SCHOLARS: You know, I would only say, Brooke, repeating something you said earlier. This is just another example of the president's inability to find an American national interest and separate out individuals who have served this republic loyally, worked for R's and D's, as I have.
It's not going to stop them from criticizing the president's lack of judgment and impudence. And I think in the end it will come back to haunt the president, because you're going to end up merely adding to the luster of these distinguished civil servants. And access to classified information is, frankly, is highly and grossly overrated.
It's not going to silence them. I think it's going to be revealed for what it is, which is a petty vendetta.
BALDWIN: OK. Stand by, everyone.
I want to get to this. Here was Sarah Sanders moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Sort of following up on up that question, the question has very forcefully spoken out against Iran, he's very forcefully spoken out against North Korea. He has said that he will of course be speaking out against any threat to the United States.
Russian election interference is a threat to our democracy. Why will he not forcefully denounce that?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has been incredibly tough on Russia. He's brought it up directly to him in person every single time that they have met.
He has put unprecedented sanctions and been extremely tough on Russia across a number of fronts, which we have addressed here many times before. Frankly, I'm not sure why that is so hard for the media to write about.
We have repeated it time and time again. The policy that the president has been since day one in office has been extremely tough on Russia, probably more so than with any other country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: For that, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, who is standing by.
OK. So, we've heard time and time again say, we've told you guys this before. The president has been so tough on Russia. Begs the question, so why is he inviting him to the White House?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, great question.
There, I mean, many people here, Brooke, believe it's a do-over in a sense to try and repeat some of the things that he didn't do in Helsinki and stand up to him.
But, Brooke, I think the one reason for there being confusion and Sarah Sanders sort of saying, incredulously, why can't you write about this, the president has sown this confusion himself repeatedly, last week accepting the word of the intelligence agencies after he didn't in Helsinki.
We stood in Helsinki watching the president saying he believed Vladimir Putin more. Then he corrected it here at the White House, over the weekend again saying it's a hoax. So I think the reason for the confusion is the president's failure to sort of be strategic and have a straight line on this. But, Brooke, I think one of the interesting things as well during the
briefing was at the very end, then, when she was asked if the president has briefed his top security officials about that one-on-one meeting, and she didn't specifically answer if he remembers everything from the meeting or if notes were taken in the meeting there.
She kind of sidestepped the question from our Kaitlan Collins there. That remains the biggest question of all, the summit only a week ago, extraordinarily, only a week ago in Helsinki, is, we still don't know exactly what happened in the one-on-one discussion between the presidents. And Sarah Sanders there didn't exactly clean that up, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Which is insane, you know, that his own State, Pentagon, seems like there was some sort of military policy worked on. On the Russian side, notes were taken, but on the U.S. side, nada.
Jeff, thank you so much.
I want to bring my panel back in.
And, Dana, to you, just again, it's almost like you think of the arc of the week that was, right? You go back to last week from it was, oh, just one week ago, when we were all watching the two of them stand there in Helsinki and then the arc of the week, the would, wouldn't, the no, the, yes, I do stand by my intel chiefs to now it's a hoax to Sarah Sanders saying, well, no, no, no, the hoax or the witch-hunt is only pertaining to the campaign collusion piece.
I mean, what? Did you follow?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: yes. and it's not an accident.
We -- anybody who falls into the trap of thinking that what the president and the White House are doing is disorganization and chaos is missing the point. And I think we all have lived with it and recognize it, that they are saying sort of different things at different times, and they're doing it to say it to different constituencies.
When the president sends out the tweet witch-hunt, he might not be talking about the investigation of whether Russia interfered in American elections. He just might be talking about collusion. But he also might not be. If you're an ardent Trump supporter and you see that tweet, you know, you are bound to say, OK, well, that means the Mueller investigation is wrong, and any discussion about Russia interfering or aggressively trying to change the outcome of elections in 2016 and maybe even this year, don't know what they're talking about.
It's intentional. And what the president is doing with that, sending out confusion for a purpose and, of course, what we heard in this briefing, you know, trying to lay the blame at the feet of his adversaries, this is all very, very intentional.
And we shouldn't lose sight of that. And I know you haven't, but I think it's important to say that if everybody is dizzy and trying to follow the bouncing ball, that's their point.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I agree with Dana, but, look, the president wants to silence his critics, period.
And maybe he thinks this is a way to do it. Maybe he can say, well, they don't know what they're talking about if they don't have clearance anymore.
But it's just petty, small, authoritarian, and I would argue counterproductive to the gathering of intelligence in this country. Mark knows more about this than I do.
But I think people who have been in and out of the intelligence community have always been pretty good about talking to each other about how to read tea leaves. And you're disarming them, because you say they don't like you.
I just think the precedent is sort of stunning and petty, small, and doesn't speak well for a president of the United States, who is supposed to be able to handle his critics, because when you become president you inevitably have them.
BALDWIN: Not that I'm trying to follow the bouncing ball, to use the analogy.
BASH: We have to try.
BALDWIN: But I am trying. Each and every day, I am trying. And I know we're all going cross-eyed a bit. But it's like, if you think of, it's one of the questions that was asked more eloquently than I'm about to explain.
Aaron David Miller, to you. You watch how the president speaks about and to North Korea. It's tough depending on the time of year-ish. Obviously, tough in all caps on Iran, and yet, again, you look at how he treats Putin, it makes no sense.
MILLER: It doesn't, unless you're prepared again to accept the possibility that there's something much darker going on here, and, as Gloria has pointed out, there's no empirical evidence to suggest that's the case.
BALDWIN: You mean that he would be compromised by Russia?
MILLER: Right, but, inductively, you have to continue to probe and ask yourself the question, why is the president behaving this way?
One of the administration's favorite talking point is, this is the toughest administration on Russia, and, to a large degree, they have done some very tough things, supplying military equipment to Ukraine, imposing sanctions.
But on the one issue, Brooke, the key Russian transgression, the assault against our democratic process, our elections, and at least involvement in 20 other elections, including in Europe, that the Russians interfered in, where's the toughness there? Where's the White House task force designed to convey real urgency and exigency to what is happening?
Where is the interagency cooperation? Where is the daily presidential leadership against the assault on this nation's values and its election system? On that transgression, you get nada. And that leads to great suspicion on what is driving the president's consistent willingness to forgive and not challenge Vladimir Putin.
BALDWIN: On the notion -- go, quickly, quickly.
MAZZETTI: If I could jump in and say it ties into the attacks on the Mueller investigation, right?
That the investigation that began with the FBI in the July of 2016 was poisoned from the beginning because it was political. And so that's been the attacks on Mueller and the FBI. It's also why he has shown himself willing to give a pass to Putin on the election attacks.
These are kind of all two sides of the same issue.
BALDWIN: And on the Mueller investigation, we have some news with regard to the Paul Manafort case. Thank you so much.
Let's go straight to Shimon Prokupecz, who has been outside that courthouse.
We know that the Manafort team wanted this delay. They got some new documentation they wanted to review. What did the judge decide, Shimon?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's exactly right, Brooke.
The judge has delayed the start of this trial to July 31, so just about a week or so. The defense attorneys, Manafort's attorneys, came into court this morning and argued that they needed more time to review documents, specifically documents related to the former partner of Paul Manafort, Rick Gates.
And, as we know, Rick Gates is now cooperating with the special counsel's team. And it appears that the Manafort team got these new documents just recently and they had asked the judge for more time. We're told that perhaps that these documents were sitting in another attorney's office, and that's how Manafort's team came into contact with it.
And now that they have it, they need more time to review it. Also, the judge said that there were good reasons on both sides, meaning the prosecution side and the defense side, to delay the start of this trial. The judge was hoping to get jury selection under way on Wednesday.
When you think about this, Brooke, from the time that this arrest happened to now, just the speed at which the judge wanted to get this trial going was pretty remarkable. This judge is known as someone who wants to move things along. They call it the rocket docket. But now we have a delay.
This will give the attorneys for Paul Manafort certainly more time to review the evidence that they have now in their hands as it relates to Rick Gates.
And, also, Brooke, we're waiting for the names of some 30 witnesses, some witnesses that the prosecution says they're going to call to the stand here. Five of those witnesses are mystery witnesses who were just granted immunity by the judge today.
Their names, along with the other witnesses, are expected to be released some time today. And hopefully we will have that for you later.
Speaking of evidence -- Shimon, thank you very much -- we have some news just into us here that prosecutors investigating Michael Cohen, the president's former personal attorney, are now revealing the FBI found 12 audio recordings during their raid on his apartment, office, and hotel room, 12.
Those new details next.
BALDWIN: We are back with some breaking news here.
We now know there were 12 audiotapes seized in that raid on Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney. This is according to the special master overseeing this entire case.
M.J. Lee is the one with the scoop here.
M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
So, what we're learning right now is that there is a new filing in the Michael Cohen criminal investigation. Prosecutors that are investigating Michael Cohen have received 12 audio files that were previously marked as privileged. What we know is that the parties involved agreed that they didn't need
them to be privileged anymore. And that's why the special master who is overseeing all of this allowed those 12 audio files to be released to the government.
It's very important to note that we don't know actually who the parties are that are involved. So, to make the assumption right now that they're necessarily related to Trump would be a mistake.
LEE: We don't actually know what is on the recordings.
Again, all we know is that these 12 audio recordings used to be marked privileged and then they no longer were. And so that's why the government could have access to them.
Now, obviously, all of this is so fascinating right now, because what we reported on Friday is that the audio recording, the conversation between Michael Cohen and Donald Trump, that was a recording that was previously marked as privilege. And then, as Rudy Giuliani confirmed to the press, they decided that that no longer has to be marked privileged. And that was why information about that recording and the conversation that Michael Cohen had with Donald Trump, that was reported on.
So, again, we don't know what's on these 12 audio files at this moment in time, but very, very interesting development in this case.
BALDWIN: Talk to me while I have you about your other reporting.
We know that there had been a run-in between Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti. What transpired?
LEE: So, this is what happens apparently when two Michaels walk into a restaurant.
What we know is that last week Michael Cohen was dining at a restaurant on the Upper East Side with his son and somebody else. In walks Michael Avenatti. This is Stormy Daniels' lawyer.
BALDWIN: You know, small town, New York City, and all.
LEE: Exactly. And Michael Cohen was having dessert, just for your information.
And Avenatti actually walked up to Michael Cohen and his table, and I'm told by a source who was briefed on this exchange that he essentially said to Michael Cohen, we should resolve our differences and work together. And the implication there being, we should work together against Donald Trump.
BALDWIN: This is Avenatti pitching this?
LEE: That's right. And Michael Cohen, I'm told, was kind of stunned and taken aback and
he essentially said to Michael Avenatti, you need to talk to my lawyers.
And Avenatti, of course, has previously commented on this exchange. He described this as an honest and frank discussion, that it was quite lengthy, and that he found it to be extremely productive, and that he thinks this is going to be an important sort of meeting.
And if you look at sort of the development of this case, he says this could have been an important meeting. You know, I think this would be a shocking partnership if it did happen. I think it is unlikely, but still, very noteworthy that Michael Avenatti is interested in working with Michael Cohen.
BALDWIN: But Cohen says, talk to my lawyers?
BALDWIN: M.J., thank you so much for all of that.
The White House this hour, they are saying that that they are thinking about revoking the security clearances for six former intelligence chiefs -- how the intel community is responding to this news.
And that Russian woman accused of being a spy apparently had meetings with more government officials than previously known. We have details on her next.
BALDWIN: We are back.