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Trump Mulls Yanking Security Clearances for Former Intelligence Officials Who Criticized Him; Judge Grants Immunity to 5 Witnesses in Manafort Case; Feds Have 12 Michael Cohen Audio Recordings. Aired 6-6:29a ET

Aired July 24, 2018 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think U.S. intelligence agencies are out to get you?

[05:59:26] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Certainly in the past. You look at Brennan, you look at Clapper.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump is talking about building an enemies list.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: They're not actively contributing to our national security.

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE (via phone): Is that now going to become a criterion, a pledge of fealty or loyalty to President Trump?

M.J. LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Investigators now have their hands on 12 new audio recordings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did they withdraw their claim of privilege?

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: It's clear that Michael Cohen did not trust Donald Trump. That's why he recorded him.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Tuesday, July 24, 6 a.m. here in New York.

If you are keeping score at home, launch an attack on America, you get invited to the White House. If you warn that the U.S. is not doing enough to defend against such an attack, you lose your security clearance.

That is our starting line, because this morning it is clear that President Trump has a problem with intelligence, at least the intelligence that suggests that Vladimir Putin ordered the cyberattack on the 2016 presidential election. He calls that a hoax. And as for the former intelligence chiefs who have questioned and

criticized him about that, albeit sometimes in stark and harsh terms, he is now considering revoking their security clearances.

It is both very small, if potentially very big at the same time. And a senior administration official tells CNN that the president is more than comfortable with how this is all playing out. In other words, all the attention it is getting, rather than his problematic and mysterious meeting with Vladimir Putin.

We still don't really know what was agreed to in that two-hour private meeting between the two leaders. The White House still providing only the scantest of details.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, a federal judge in West Virginia has delayed the start of Paul Manafort's trial for alleged financial crimes until next week. The judge granting immunity for five witnesses to testify at the high-stakes trial for the president's former campaign chairman.

And a sign of progress towards denuclearization in North Korea. New overnight, satellite images show Kim Jong-un's regime has begun dismantling a key test site. This comes as President Trump denies the reports that he's frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations.

So we have all of this covered for you.

Let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillip. She is live at the White House. What's the latest, Abby?


This morning, we are learning more about why the administration is just now starting to look into this issue of security clearances for former officials. A senior administration official tells CNN that President Trump is pleased with how this is playing out and is not in any hurry to make a decision.

Why? Because he sees it as another way to go after former Obama administration officials and the deep state.


PHILLIP (voice-over: The White House intensifying their war with the U.S. intelligence community, announcing that President Trump is considering stripping six former national security officials of their security clearances.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They've politicized and, in some cases, monetized their public service and security clearances.

PHILLIP: These Obama officials have been critical of President Trump's attacks on the intelligence community and the Russia investigation.

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I know we're not Nazi Germany, all right? But there is a commonality there.

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: When I use the term "This is nothing short of treasonous," I'd equate it to the betrayal of one's nation.

LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER (RET.), FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: How much longer does the country have to, to borrow a phrase, endure this nightmare?

PHILLIP: The idea for revoking clearances was raised by Senator Rand Paul, who met with the president yesterday.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I don't think that ex-CIA agents of any stripe who are now talking heads should continue to get classified information. I think it's wrong.

PHILLIP: Former national security officials routinely maintain their security clearances after they leave office, partly so they can counsel their successors on classified matters. Two on the list, former FBI director James Comey and former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, no longer have security clearances, because they were terminated after Trump took office.

CLAPPER (via phone): For political reasons this is kind of a petty way of retribution, I suppose, for speaking out against the president.

PHILLIP: Critics pointing to Michael Flynn, who was fired by the Obama administration, but kept his security clearance while acting as a surrogate for the Trump campaign.


PHILLIP: Flynn went on to become Trump's first national security adviser but was later fired for misleading the vice president about his contacts with Russia.

President Trump targeting some of these Obama officials in an interview last week.

JEFF GLOR, CBS NEWS: Do you think any intelligence agencies, U.S. intelligence agencies are out to get you?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, certainly in the past it's been terrible. You look at Brennan; you look at Clapper; you look at Hayden. Certainly, I can't have any confidence in the past, but I can have a lot of confidence in the present and the future.

PHILLIP: The White House reiterating that the president has faith in the intelligence community, despite walking back the walk-back, again calling the Russia investigation a hoax.

SANDERS: The president wants and has purposefully remained uninvolved in this process. However, he sees more and more every single day that this is proving further and further to be a total witch hunt. (END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: And President Trump this morning is heading to Kansas City, where he's going to be speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Affairs [SIC].

But this is happening at a time when he's facing a lot of questions not only about this issue, whether he's using his office for political retribution, but also a series of foreign policy issues -- Iran, North Korea, also Russia and that meeting with Vladimir Putin -- top of mind this morning -- Alisyn and John.

[06:05:08] BERMAN: All right. Abby Phillip for us at the White House.

Joining us now, CNN senior political analyst John Avlon; CNN political commentator, former Clinton White House press secretary, Joe Lockhart; and CNN legal and national security analyst and former FBI special agent, Asha Rangappa.

Joe Lockhart, you know, Alisyn suggested I'm too cynical sometimes, so I want you to help us out.

CAMEROTA: Just a little bit.

BERMAN: A little bit.

CAMEROTA: Just a little bit jaundiced.

BERMAN: Is it possible, is it possible that the president is trying to change the subject, put up this shiny object of revoking security clearances to distract from this mysterious, problematic meeting he had in Russia? Does that kind of thing ever happen, Joe?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have to tell you it never happens.

CAMEROTA: Thank you, Joe.

LOCKHART: Of course it happens. It happens in every administration. Every -- every politician that's in a bad news cycle tries to change the subject.

This is unique, though. I don't have a case that I can remember where the president used national security and used, you know, kind of the underlying problematic issue for him, whether he's putting Russia's interests ahead of our national security as a way to change the subject.

So I think it's a common practice. This is more dangerous and not that effective, in my mind.

CAMEROTA: But Asha, hold on. Hold on one second, John. Let's just talk about the practical reality of this.

President Trump doesn't trust the intel community. He's made that abundantly clear. We've known that. He showed in Helsinki he trusts the word of Vladimir Putin, who strongly denied any interference, over his own intel community.

So, revoking the clearance of the previous intel chiefs, who he feels that he's at war with, he wasn't going to them for advice anyway. I mean, other than, of course, this breaks with norms, of course this is punitive, of course it's political. There's not -- it's not like he was relying on these folks for any sort of intelligence.

LOCKHART: But that doesn't mean his people weren't --

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, he may not have personally but --

LOCKHART: That doesn't mean --

CAMEROTA: Hold on, Joe. Go ahead, Asha.

RANGAPPA: Yes. That's what I was going to say, is that, you know, his -- he has many agencies and national security staff who may be relying on these people, because remember their expertise is not just about this one Russia investigation.

James Clapper, James Comey, these people saw investigations on all fronts concerning national security, including things like terrorism. And especially for an administration that has so little prior government or national security experience, being able to use the institutional knowledge of previous -- of their predecessors to inform their own decision making is actually good institutional practice.

And this, cutting them off, really is not good for the country or for good policymaking.

BERMAN: I think it can be both very small, as someone suggested about three minutes ago, and very big at the same time. It can be small in the sense that this is just political retribution, the kind of thing we could expect from President Trump, but big because it's a window into how he feels about this entire Russia situation.

CAMEROTA: We already had that window, I think. I feel we already had that window. He doesn't trust the intel community. I think we already knew.

BERMAN: I think it's still a crucial window, given that we still don't know what happened in that meeting. Just because we've seen it before doesn't mean, I think, that we shouldn't note that it is a fairly remarkable moment.

CAMEROTA: I'm glad we're noting it, John.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's worth noting, because it is a dramatic departure. Yet, there's a long litany of unprecedented from this president.

But it is still worth noting, because no one has politicized security clearances in this way. I mean, it's been noted that you know, Flynn, Mike Flynn, General Flynn, was on the campaign trail for Donald Trump, attacking President Obama and Hillary Clinton, saying she should be locked up. President Obama didn't retract that security clearance. That's an indication of what a departure this is, how petty it is, as General Clapper -- as Jim Clapper said.

And we know that Trump's playbook is distract, deflect, divide. And that is what he is doing to this to some extent. "Daily News" had a phenomenal cartoon in today's --

BERMAN: "Daily News."

AVLON: -- as sort of a parting shot of Trump riding, Dr. Strangelove style, a missile to Iran, saying, "Betcha no one's talking about Russia now, are they?"

So this is hiding in plain sight. But it's still worth talking about, because it's another departure from our best traditions. And that's worth calling out, because that's an autocrat's playbook.

CAMEROTA: Joe, I think that Asha zeros in on the most alarming part of it. So yes, we're used to the president making political decisions and retribution against whoever he considers political rivals or enemies. But the idea that he wouldn't trust -- what happens, OK, when the intel community has some sort of information about an upcoming attack, be it a cyberattack or be it a terror attack?

BERMAN: You're describing now.


BERMAN: You're describing reality.

CAMEROTA: Well, I am describing now in terms of a cyberattack. But I mean, obviously, a terror attack is even more chilling.

[06:10:06] And so, while I don't think that the Russia investigation affects most -- most Americans think that that affects their lives. Obviously, a terror attack does, and the president is going to have to believe his intel community when they have that kind of information, Joe.

LOCKHART: Yes. And I think, you know, we're all accustomed to, in Washington, sort of the after-action reports where people have to sit in front of hearings and expose where the ball was dropped. And we may look back on this -- this decision, and it may mean nothing. It may just be petty politics.

But when you cut off access to that kind of expertise and you put your own personal politics ahead of national security, you're asking for something like this to happen. And I think that's really at the root of this.

This is just one symptom of the overall disease that this president will put his own fortunes, his own political and personal fortunes, ahead of the country. That's the only way to explain his relationship with Vladimir Putin. And, you know, there are consequences here. We may not see them yet. You know, hopefully, we never will in a catastrophic way, but that's why this is important, and that's why this is worth talking about.

AVLON: And I think it's also worth emphasizing one thing. The thing they're trying to distract from isn't just the disaster of the press conference at Helsinki and the questions it raised, it's the fact that we still don't know what President Trump and President Putin talked about and allegedly agreed to, if you listen to the Russians. That's what's being obscured. That's the serious stuff.

CAMEROTA: And the few things that we do know, Asha, I mean, in terms of, like, being able to hand over a former, you know, Russian ambassador for interrogation --

AVLON: You know, small things.

CAMEROTA: -- but the few things that have leaked out have been so alarming that the White House has had to sort of retract them.

RANGAPPA: Yes. These -- what we know about that meeting, what he said in front of all of the cameras is incredibly alarming. I mean, he -- he was entertaining the possibility of handing over an American citizen to a foreign adversary on a trumped-up charge? And now he's going after his own critics?

I think this also shows the limits, by the way -- I just want to throw this in -- of the -- is it legal? We always ask this question. And just because something is legal doesn't make it right. The president can hand over the presidential daily brief to Putin if he wants, because that's his authority, but what we're seeing is that he's pushing the limits of the vast executive power without really any checks on his behavior at all.

BERMAN: Right. The one person that we know in this discussion who has handed over classified information to the Russians was President Trump.


BERMAN: In that closed-door meeting when he provided information to Kislyak and Lavrov on Israeli intelligence --

CAMEROTA: At the White House.

BERMAN: -- at the White House. This was more than a year ago. He can do that. That is within his legal rights, as Asha points out.

Joe, just politically speaking, though, I can hear people in the White House say, "Yes, we're politicizing this." But Brennan said that the president committed treason. We heard the statements from Clapper and Hayden.

I think their statements, generally speaking, are on a much lower scale than Brennan's, but we haven't typically heard former intelligence chiefs talk the way that John Brennan has either, have we? LOCKHART: Sure, we haven't. But we haven't had President Trump

before and we've never had a president who we thought was putting a foreign interest, an adversary's interest, ahead of our own, even though we don't know the reason.

So yes, it is different, but we are in a different situation.

AVLON: Big time.

CAMEROTA: All right. Panel, please stick around. We have many more questions for you on many more topics.

BERMAN: Yes. Is this a coincidence? Paul Manafort's trial is set to begin. A judge just granted immunity to five witnesses in this case. What might they reveal?


[06:17:33] BERMAN: A federal judge has granted immunity for five witnesses in the trial of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. The judge delayed the start of the trial until next week on bank and tax fraud charges. Our Shimon Prokupecz live in Washington with the very latest here --


SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, John. So these five witnesses, yes, today the judge granting them immunity after prosecutors from the special counsel's office essentially asked the judge to do this and also to keep their names secret.

And clearly now, as you see on your screen there, we now know their names. They're all connected to Manafort through personal and financial dealings, business dealings that they had done for Paul Manafort. Two of them worked at an accounting firm that did his taxes. So they will be testifying.

And as you said, the trial was delayed for about a week until July 31, because Manafort's attorneys had asked for more time to review information and documents they received relating to Rick Gates, who as we know, is now cooperating. The former business partner of Paul Manafort is cooperating with the special counsel. He is set to testify and be a key witness in this trial.

Paul Manafort, who appeared in court yesterday, will be back today. He was wearing a green sort of jump suit, a prison uniform. He'll be back in court today, where prospective jurors are set to appear in court. They'll be there with the attorneys and answer questions, a questionnaire that the attorneys are going to agree on for the jurors, who will at some point get selected, perhaps next week.

CAMEROTA: OK, Shimon. Thank you very much.

We're back now with Joe Lockhart, Asha Rangappa and John Avlon.

Asha, this doesn't have anything to do with the Russia investigation. I mean, as President Trump has pointed out, this -- this is older stuff, he thinks, connected to Paul Manafort.

Here is President Trump saying, "Nothing to do with our campaign." So watch this.


TRUMP: I feel badly about a lot of it, because I think a lot of it's very unfair. I look at some of them where they go back 12 years.

Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign, but I feel so -- I tell you, I feel a little badly about it. They went 12 years to get things that he did 12 years ago. You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time. He worked for Ronald Reagan. He worked for Bob Dole. He worked for John McCain, or his firm did. He worked for many other Republicans. He worked for me, what, for 49 days. It was a very short period of time. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Asha, he was the chairman of the Trump campaign.

But I also didn't know there was a 12-year statute of limitations on crimes like this. So, what do you think is -- when you look at what's happening with Paul Manafort, what do you see?

[06:20:15] RANGAPPA: What I see is the intersection between a counterintelligence investigation and a criminal investigation.

When you're looking at it from a counterintelligence perspective, collusion is "Was this person working with -- with the knowledge of foreign intelligence? Were they helping them in any way?"

And we know that there were ties, that he was a part of the campaign. There were ties back to Russian intelligence for his work in Ukraine. He then worked on the campaign for free. And there were all kinds of different, potentially, financial leverages over him.

Now, not all of those things are a crime. None of that might be a crime. What they -- what has crossed over into the violations of criminal law are the things that he's charged with. Among others is acting as a foreign -- unregistered foreign agent, by the way.

So, you know, we're not going to see the full story, necessarily, in the criminal trials. What we want to look at, I think, are some of the indictments that Mueller is bringing against the Russians, which is going to lay out a lot more of some of the background of what was going on; and where we can connect those dots remains to be seen.

BERMAN: My understanding is some of these five witnesses actually have to do of testimony that did take place during the campaign where Manafort did allegedly offer some kind of campaign or administration role to this banking official in return for other things. It was a quid pro quo there. It's not Russia.

And in fact, Joe Lockhart, special prosecutor attorneys have said out loud, "We don't think the word 'Russia' will be heard by the jury at all in this case." LOCKHART: Yes. In some ways this -- you're right. This has nothing

to do with the collusion case. It's about tax fraud, money laundering, unregistered foreign agents.

In some ways it has everything to do, I think. I think you're seeing a process play out here where Manafort was sitting in the middle, especially given his background, of whatever collusion took place between the campaign and Russia. And that he's -- I think the fact that these witnesses are being laid out, this case is now so strong, it's a -- it is a very strong statement to Manafort that, if he wants any leniency at all, he needs to cooperate on the other case.

So there is a connection there, and we'll just have to see how it plays out. I think some of this is why, you know, the president is saying these sympathetic things, because that's a signal to Mr. Manafort that there may be a pardon in the offering.

And, you know, again, that's -- we get into that whole subject of is it appropriate to dangle pardons when you're under investigation yourself?

AVLON: Yes. I mean, I don't think we need to go too far down that rabbit hole to find out the answer.

But I mean, the reason it's relevant is, regardless of whether the word "Russia" is mentioned by the prosecution, if the campaign chairman is laundering money and is acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Ukrainian powers backed by Russia and, for example, changed the Republican platform to benefit said powers, these are relevant in the larger pattern that's being investigated, big time. This is nothing in the neighborhood of normal in presidential campaigns.

Asha, next topic, Michael Cohen, the president's long-term personal attorney, we know from court filings now turned over 12 audio recordings of phone calls that he had.

So, we understand that at least one of them is a phone call that he had with Donald Trump about the payment to a "Playboy" Playmate to silence her.

And then we understand that it sounds like that there are other recordings that he had with members of the media, which sends a little bit of a shiver down the spine of some reporters who may or may not have had phone calls with Michael Cohen.

AVLON: Pleasant, constructive phone calls.

CAMEROTA: Pleasant phone calls, because it's just never pleasant to see the sausage being made behind the scenes. Still, what are the chances are that we'll ever know what's on those recordings?

RANGAPPA: Well, if they contain evidence that prosecutors can use. If they ever -- you know, if they charge Michael Cohen, then you may very well hear them played in open court.

What's really puzzling is that, with regard to at least the tapes in which President Trump may have had any claims of privilege, it looks like his legal team waived that privilege, which, you know, typically you would want to argue and keep as much out, just like you said, because it's very uncomfortable to know something that you said on a recording could be played out.

CAMEROTA: So why did they do that?

RANGAPPA: And I think that -- yes, it could be that they saw the writing on the wall and saw that the special master, who's reviewing these privilege claims, might find that the immunity, the -- sorry, the privilege. There's an exception called the crime/fraud exception where, if it's showing evidence of a crime, the privilege doesn't apply. And it might be a P.R. move, that they didn't want, you know, that statement being made and are letting it go.

[06:25:08] But it is odd that they haven't asserted the privilege, given how -- what a big deal they made about the seizure of many of these documents and items.

BLITZER: Joe Lockhart, you know P.R. there. Is this an issue of getting it out early on your own terms?

LOCKHART: Yes. I mean, listen, I think if you listen to Rudy Giuliani, he said it was exculpatory. I'm not really sure that that's the case. I think it is puzzling. I don't know a real P.R.

You know, I think these two things together, though, are interesting, because they all go back to the same thing. With Manafort, you've got him holding out, I think waiting for a pardon, or at least thinking he's going to get one. Cohen seems to have made the decision, or at least his legal team has, that that may not be in the offing. And he looks like now he wants to save himself.

They all come back to the same thing, though, which is at the center of this is Donald Trump, his business practices and what did he do with the Russians in the campaign.

AVLON: Yes. I'm not sure playing off a Playmate to obscure an affair when your wife has just had their -- your third wife has just had your first child in that relationship, has anything to do with Russia. It's a different kind of problem.

BERMAN: It's exculpatory. It's exculpatory in this case.

AVLON: It is exculpatory, clearly. That's called lipstick on a pig. That's what that P.R. measure is called. There's no way that this is good. But, you know, the question is how bad?

The reason Trump has been more concerned about Cohen flipping is this is his closest adviser, the guy who was the most loyal person. You know, whether you want to cast him as the John Dean in this drama or something just odder and more personal --

BERMAN: Sammy the Bull.

AVLON: Sammy the Bull. You know, there is -- there is bad information that he's got, and you can't spin it as a net positive. And it does appear that that ship has sailed, that Cohen is on his own right now.

LOCKHART: And the Russia -- the Russia part, John, where it's connected is I think you're going to find, at the end, that one of the justifications for why he's acting this way with Putin is that there is a financial pressure being put on him by Russian, Russian banks, Putin, and Cohen will know about this. That's why it is connected.

BERMAN: We'll see. We'll see.

AVLON: Stay tuned.

BERMAN: We just don't know when it comes to the Mueller investigation. We just don't know until he tells us. Rod Rosenstein scheduled a news conference for 11:45 on a Friday.

CAMEROTA: All right. Well, we'll be waiting for that.

Joe, Asha, John, thank you very much.

So overnight, there's new evidence that North Korea is dismantling its main rocket launch site. What does this mean? Is it promising? Is it a distraction? We'll dive into that.