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Trump Administration Considering Revoking Security Clearances of Former Government Officials Critical of President Trump; President Trump Posts Threatening Tweet to President of Iran. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired July 24, 2018 - 8:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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[08:00:00] SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And not only is the president looking to take away Brennan's security clearance, he's also looking into the clearances of Comey, Clapper, Hayden, Rice, and McCabe. The president is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance because they've politicized and in some cases monetized their public service and security clearances.
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ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. So many political watchers believe the president is ramping up the art of the distraction not only from the Russia investigation and what happened in Helsinki, but also the new revelations of secret recordings involving his longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen. A senior White House official tells CNN the president is more than comfortable with how this debate is playing out and is in no rush to actually decide on whether to actually revoke those are security clearances.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Joining me now, CNN's senior national security analyst Lisa Monaco, former homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to President Obama, who knows a thing or two about security, let's just say that. Lisa, thanks so much for being with us. What makes this comment --
LISA MONACO, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Good morning, John.
BERMAN: What makes this comment from Sarah Sanders about the president considering revoking these security clearances, what makes it important?
MONACO: Well, look, John, I think -- and I heard Alisyn's lead-in, I think it's really a pretty sad commentary when the best thing you can say about this is that it's an effort to distract from the president's political problems. Really, this is a dangerous, dangerous set of threats that we're hearing coming out of the White House because really what it is is a politicization of the security clearance process and an effort to silence critics.
When you look at the people that were mentioned coming out of the White House, both from the president and from Sarah Sanders, from the podium, virtually every one of the people mentioned is a career national security and intelligence official who have served Republican and Democratic administrations alike. And it seems that the only offense here is that they have exercised their First Amendment right to criticize their government and speak out and express their views on national security topics.
And when you have the types of threats we're seeing and the politicization of the security clearance process, I think it's very, very dangerous undermining of the intelligence community and almost the creation of an enemies list, which is not the kind of thing that we see in this country or that we -- frankly, it's what we shouldn't see in this country. To criticize and speak out and express your views is the very essence of our democracy. So I think it's very concerning.
And I think we should step back, John, because there are real good reasons why former officials retain their security clearance. It is usually and expressly to help advise their successors, to help government in the future. I remember when I was in the White House, when I served at the homeland security adviser, I regularly called on my predecessors, who served in prior administrations, administrations from other parties, and I would call upon them in national security crises, in terrorism crises, or to help develop policy. And some of them did criticize the sitting administration. But you know what, John, I may have disagreed with them, but I always respected their right to do so.
BERMAN: In this case, though, the practical impact, it's not like this administration was going to pick up the phone and call John Brennan or Susan Rice, correct?
MONACO: Well, it seems that that is the case, and that they have not done that. I don't know what contacts either John or Susan has had. Actually, my understanding is that, at least at the beginning of the administration, as there should be, there was a substantial relaying of knowledge and experience. And it ought to be the case in our system of government, both parties, particularly in the national security space, officials from both parties who have served both parties ought to be able to draw on each other's experience.
BERMAN: I am interested that this bothers you as much as it does, because the discussion since this was announced yesterday, that the president is considering this, is it just a distraction? You say that's the best thing that can be said about it. And I talked to Chris Coons, who wanted to move on from it immediately, Democrat from Delaware, and said, I want to focus on Russia, I want to focus on Iran and other things. But you think it would be a mistake to just move on. You think that it is worthy of noting this moment?
MONACO: Well, look, you asked me what I thought. And I do think while it likely is a distraction, although, look, that's a political commentary. That's an analysis that I'm not really that equipped to make. From a national security perspective, I think it's very dangerous to try and stifle critics and particularly try to really bring in the politicization of this security clearance process. And it's frankly unprecedented. I've never seen it happen before, and I've served for about 20 years in government across Republican and Democratic administrations.
[08:05:06] BERMAN: Well, what the administration will say, which is also unprecedented is having a former CIA director like John Brennan say that the president committed treason, which he said last week.
MONACO: Look, I think you're right that people are going out and they're expressing their views. But, again, the ability to criticize our government and to express views about what is going on, whether it's national security issues or other policy issues, that is a fundamental tenant of our democracy. And I don't think that to create this type of threat and in essence, an enemies list, really serves our democracy.
BERMAN: I want to tap into a bit of expertise you have in a different area. Prior to entering the White House, you were assistant attorney general for national security leading the division before the FISA court. So you've seen a lot of FISA applications, I think, in your day. And I just want to ask you, in your experience, is this FISA application, that has now been released, we have now seen, which is unprecedented for this to be made public, but I've had a chance to look at it now and the American public has had a chance to look at it now. Is there anything that jumps out as unusual to you?
MONACO: No, to the contrary, John. What I think, and you're quite right, I've signed literally hundreds of FISAs in my career, and what this unprecedented disclosure of these FISA shows is a lengthy description and laying out by the FBI of the reasons why they sought authority from a federal judge to investigate a suspected agent of a foreign power.
Remember, the standard here is probable cause that the individual who's the suspect of the FISA warrant is an agent of a foreign power. And what that FISA warrant showed, even though it was redacted in many places, what it showed is a very lengthy description of the facts and circumstances, and I would also say a very clear candor by the FBI with the court, of some of the biases in the information that was being provided or some of the sources that were being provided, which is the FBI's job. They have to be candid with the court, and the court weighs that.
And what you saw was a very lengthy description, laying out of those facts, and very importantly, John, you saw four renewals of that application, all of which were made -- the renewals were done by appointees of the Trump administration. So far from a hoax or a witch hunt or a politically motivated document, this is FBI agents and lawyers in the FBI in the national security division of the Justice Department and federal judges all doing their job.
BERMAN: I think on this case, neither side is going to be convinced of any one thing, or that the argument being made by the other side are certainly true.
I do want to move on to other hot spots around the world here. North Korea, these photographs, satellite photographs, commercially available satellite photographs overnight indicate that perhaps the North Koreans are dismantling this satellite launch site, this rocket launch site, which would be progress towards perhaps denuclearization -- taking down the nuclear apparatus that they've established in this country, correct?
MONACO: So I haven't seen those photographs or that reporting, John, but, you know, we should take in very carefully and our intelligence community ought to be analyzing and pouring over those photographs that you mentioned and assessing a whole host of information to try and gauge the credibility and sincerity of Kim Jong-un's efforts in this regard.
BERMAN: Lisa Monaco, thank you so much for joining us this morning. I do appreciate walking around the globe with you while you're out in Aspen, so to speak. Alisyn?
CAMEROTA: So President Trump threatens to punish political rivals, as we've been discussing. Is this a distraction? Is it something more?
[08:12:29] BERMAN: President Trump has threatened to revoke the security clearances of former intelligence officials who have been critical of him. This comes after the president threatened Iran in explosive tweets. So what is going on here? Joining us now, CNN political analysts Josh Green and Jonathan Martin. Gentlemen, thank you for being with us this morning.
Josh, you're here with us, so you get the honor of the first question. The president talking about the security clearances, or at least the White House is, talking about Iran. Perhaps this is an effort to distract from what happened in Russia, an effort to distract from Michael Cohen, which is something that Maggie Haberman told us before. Overall, perhaps an effort to regain control of the narrative and regain control of his destiny. Is it working?
JOSHUA GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it is, to an extent, because here we are talking about, tearing people away -- the national security credentials away, and Trump's latest series of tweets. But I think the tell here is that Trump basically flipflopped on his post- Helsinki position. He was essentially bullied by his advisers in saying, OK, I support U.S. intelligence officials, there was Russian meddling. But then he went back a day or two later and said it's a hoax, which guaranteed that this would dominate headlines during this week.
And so what does he do? He sends a late-night, all-caps tweets. He starts issuing threats, and sure enough he's created a new set of stories to replace the old set of stories. That's a trick that he learned on the campaign trail. Every time there was some kind of Trump scandal, he would create a new one and we would all move on and forget the last one.
CAMEROTA: But Jonathan, it's all part and parcel of the same thing. It's hard to distract from what the president said in Helsinki because it's all part of this piece, which is that he believed Vladimir Putin's strong, powerful denial -- I believe those were his words -- over his intel chief's. So we saw that with our own eyes. That happened in Helsinki. He also blamed the United States for being the victim of a cyberattack, said the United States had been foolish with Russia. And so we all saw that. So yes, I can imagine he's trying to distract from that. But once again, he's making it abundantly clear that he doesn't trust intelligence officials.
JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and he can't turn the page from Helsinki, because he has not accounted for what was actually said in the meeting with President Putin. And he's basically hoping that the clock will run out and we'll all just move on to the next topic, which has been, frankly, the trend of the last 18 months here, and helping that along by throwing out some more chum into the water.
JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And he's basically hoping that the clock will run out and we'll all just move on to the next topic, which has been, frankly, the trend of the last 18 months here, and helping that along by throwing out some more chum into the water.
[08:15:12] The challenge is that, on the issue of Russia, Capitol Hill is not totally pliant, as they are on so many other issues with this president. There are going to be hearings at the Foreign Relations Committee. Secretary Pompeo is going to be asked what the president talked to Putin about, what he promised.
And don't forget, guys, the president has ensured that the issue is not going away by inviting Putin to Washington this fall. So, in the moment, a couple of tweets, an off-the-cuff threat to yank the security clearance of folks that already don't have security clearances may do the trick. But I think this is one of those issues. While in the sort of short-term it may fade, in the medium range, it's not going away.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: OK. This is an interesting segue to a really interesting discussion, because at the end of last week, I was texting with Republican operatives, asking, did they think Russia was going to hurt members of Congress running in the midterm elections. They're like, we're not so sure.
What is going to hurt us, they said, is the tariffs, is the trade war for the president. I was actually surprised that they were much more concerned, even last week about trade and tariffs than Russia.
And then as if to tee that off this morning, the president writes, tariffs are the greatest, either a country which has treated the United States unfairly on trade negotiates a fair deal or gets hits with tariffs, it's as simple as that and everyone is talking. Remember, we are the piggy bank that is being robbed. All will be great.
Well, Joshua Green, you've got this article that's really interesting. Can the GOP survive the trade war? I'm not sure members of Congress, Republicans think that it's so great.
JOSHUA GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, they don't, because what's interesting about these retaliatory tariffs, not just from China, but from the E.U., from Mexico, from Canada, is that these things are tailor-made to hurt voters in states and industries that by and large are very pro-Trump.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Then why is that -- why is he doing that?
GREEN: Because I think he wants to project strength. I mean, the commonality among all of these various Trump scandal is that Trump wants to look strong. He wants to look like a leader. He likes to threaten and bully people. That's his political style.
The hope in the Trump administration, on the trade war, was that this would essentially force countries to capitulate and give Trump some kind of economic goodies. Instead, what's happened is that U.S. states across the country have been slapped with retaliatory tariffs, not just on, you know, agriculture, but on, you know, automakers and, you know, lobster men in Maine, salmon fisherman in Alaska. Everywhere you look on the U.S. map, there is an industry or a state being hit by retaliatory tariffs.
The reason the GOP elected officials are privately very concerned about this is because this is going to have economic fallout in their own communities. And that, of course, is going to cause political problems for them, heading into a very important midterm election.
CAMEROTA: Do you see that?
MARTIN: Yes, I was going to say, John was contrasting the Russia scandal versus the tariffs. To me, the Russia issue is basically just one more motivator for Democratic activists. It gives them, you know, more of a reason to show up. It's sort of raises questions among moderates. It's not quite the sort of pocketbook issue that trade and tariffs can be, though.
I mean, to me, the question is, does this issue hit home before the election? Do farmers who are exporting soybeans feel it in their pocketbooks by Election Day? Do consumers who are paying higher prices feel it at the checkout register by Election Day? That, to me, is the sort of big question on those trade and tariffs issue.
I will say this, though. It does give a political wedge to Democrats in farm country. If you're Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, you don't have a lot of wedges, right? You're basically running in a red state.
Here's a way where you can sort of divide your opponent and President Trump in a way that, you know, isn't always easy in that part of the world, because she can say, and she is saying, you know, is my opponent siding with the voters in the state who are very much hurt by trade and tariffs? Or is he siding with the president he supports? So, it does hand an opportunity to Democratic candidates.
BERMAN: It was really interesting. You know, at the end of last week, we shared everything, but I think I neglected to share this with you. No, I was just very surprised that these Republican operatives were as concerned about the tariffs and to about whether or not it will start hitting home.
I don't know if it's hitting voters yet in the pocketbooks, but it's hit the consultants hard. They are terrified about this. And you can see with Republican members of Congress and even, you know, statewide candidates, Josh, that they don't know -- they're having a hard time struggling with how hard to come out against the president, which is an age old question here, because you speak out against him, you could face the consequences.
GREEN: Well, that's exactly right. So reporting on the ground in some of these districts, what you see is this tortured dance between Republican elected official who don't want to criticize the president, but also realize, there are real-world effects in my district.
[08:20:09] And so, the way you hear this play out is to say, you know, Steve King in Iowa, for instance, whose district is hard hit. Well, we have to give time for the president's strategy to work. The problem is, this tweet this morning shows that there really isn't a strategy to end this trade war. Trump is ratcheting it up by saying tariffs are great.
So, that could be a real problem in November.
CAMEROTA: But have you seen it hit home yet? I mean, in places like Steve King's, has it come home to roost?
GREEN: Absolutely. Yes, look, soybean farmers are worried. King's district is more independent on soybeans than any in the country. And what happened was, you saw a great rush to export these things ahead of the tariffs hitting. They've now hit.
And soybean farmers now don't know what to do. They planted more soybeans this year because China was going to be such a big customer. All of a sudden, China slaps down a tariff, they're not going to be, and it's not clear what the solution is going forward.
BERMAN: Jonathan Martin, let's go back to Russia for a moment if we can.
MARTIN: I'd love to.
BERMAN: You love -- you want to go back to Russia. I'm sure someone would like to send you there permanently based on your reporting in "The New York Times".
MARTIN: A certain part of Russia exactly.
BERMAN: A certain part of Russia.
Now, look, the president is clearly trying to regain control of the narrative. Yet he tweets out on Sunday night, it's all a big hoax again. Sarah Sanders has the sort of pat response from the podium at the White House, well, he's talking about the collusion. He's not talk about the investigation at all.
Is that believable at this point?
MARTIN: No! I -- he does not separate the two. He doesn't separate the cyber attack from the question of whether he colluded with the Russians in his campaign, because he thinks that if you concede the fact that they hacked into the election or that they launched a cyber attack on the election, that you are then somehow conceding some complicity towards working with the Russians. And so, in his mind, you just don't want to give an inch at all.
And so, that leads him to these remarkable moments where he is at odds with the entire Congress, pretty much, and his entire national security apparatus, all which has concluded that the Russians did, in fact, launch a cyber attack into the 2016 election. So, it does isolate him, some. And, look, every time he is forced to say, yes, in fact, it was the Russians, he always finds some hedge.
Put aside the tweet for a moment. Even in that West wing statement that he gave, where it was a script in front of him, he still added a postscript, saying it could have been a lot of people. So, you know, even when he's forced to sort of walk back a statement, he still adds an escape hatch, John. He just does not want to concede that they attacked the election, because it questions in his mind the legitimacy of his election.
CAMEROTA: Hey, Josh, from talking to people on the ground outside of the beltway, do you think that the president blaming America on the international stage, does that stick in the craw of voters?
GREEN: I think it does. And you can see this in some of the reaction to Trump. But, by and large, I have to be honest when I'm out in the country, different congressional districts, speaking to voters, Russia isn't a topic that comes up a lot.
CAMEROTA: No, I agree, but I see this as different. I mean, I see the Russia topic -- of course it doesn't affect people's regular lives, but standing on the international stage blaming America is something that always bothered them when they perceived Obama doing it.
GREEN: I think the blame America first tendency is problematic for any president, but certainly a president like Donald Trump, who has tried to wrap himself in the flag and present himself as a kind of strong man. To stand there next to a real strong man like Vladimir Putin, insult his own intelligence services and criticize his own country, that isn't going to help anybody.
BERMAN: Joshua Green, Jonathan Martin, go read Josh's article on the trade war. It is fascinating. Thank you, guys.
CAMEROTA: OK, now to this story we have to tell you about. You know Florida has this stand your ground law. But it may not be what you believe it to be.
So, there was a man killed over a parking spot. This isn't going into someone's home. This is a dispute about the parking spot. And we'll tell you who the state thinks is culpable.
[08:28:14] CAMEROTA: A man who fatally shot another man after an argument over a parking spot may be protected under Florida's stand your ground law. Sheriff's detectives say that one man, Michael Drejka approached a woman, 24-year-old Britany Jacobs. He was angry that she had parked in a handicapped spot.
Police say her boyfriend Markeis McGlockton then came out of the store and confronted Drejka. And you can see here this surveillance video. It shows McGlockton pushed Drejka to the gun and then Drejka pulled a handgun and shot McGlockton in the chest and killed him.
Police say Drejka has a valid Florida concealed weapons license and the sheriff declined to file charges.
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BOB GUALTIERI, PINELLAS COUNTY SHERIFF: He had to shoot to defend himself. You know, and those are the facts and that's the law.
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CAMEROTA: Britany Jacobs spoke to ABC about her boyfriend's death.
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BRITTANY JACOBS, GIRLFRIEND OF VITCIM: I just want justice. I need something to be done, because this is not right.
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CAMEROTA: Joining us now is civil rights attorney, Benjamin Crump. He is representing that woman, Brittany Jacobs. McGlockton was also the father of three small children.
Mr. Crump, thank you very much being here.
I think for people who live outside of Florida, this is confusing, because there is this, I guess, misconception that the stand your ground law is about your home. If somebody enters your home unlawfully somehow, you have the right to shoot them. But this was over a parking spot, in a public parking lot. So, explain how the law applies.
BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR BRITTANY JACOBS: It makes no sense, Alisyn. The Trayvon Martin case was when most Americans became familiar with this stand your ground law that allows people who can be the initial aggressor, like this gentlemen was, this self-appointed cop wannabe at this convenient store because this wasn't the first time he had did this to people of color.