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Trump Revokes Ex-CIA Director John Brennan's Security Clearance. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired August 15, 2018 - 14:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[14:30:00] ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: After what happened yesterday to see Sarah Sanders be willing to come out today, we don't know if she's going to come out alone, if maybe she might bring someone else with her.

It is interesting. This briefing was also added about an hour ago at the very last possible minute. And it really is unusual for this White House on a number of different fronts, but, you know, this is a really important time for this White House perhaps to clean this whole mess up.

They have this issue with a former staffer Omarosa that they need to deal with, and that the President I'm sure is urging his staffers to deal with more aggressively. And they also have to deal with the President himself and his own history around this issue of race and making sure that the narrative around that is what they wanted to be.

We will see whether they take this opportunity to do that, but it's for us as reporters have a really critical time to ask more questions. We also haven't seen the President for two days. So, this is a key opportunity to present some of these questions to the White House.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I can already hear people listening to you and thinking how can they clean this one up? But we will watch and we will listen to Sarah Sanders momentarily. Ladies, thank you so much.

As we wait for the briefing to begin, the Vatican has yet to weigh in after horrifying details about countless acts of alleged sex abuse by more than 300 priests in Pennsylvania. We will hear from the survivors speaking out today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The work they put into uncovering the truth and allowing our truth to be told in this report is just breath taking. It's been so validating, so exciting and so healing. But I do have to mention that there's a hole in my soul that may never go away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon. I'd like to begin by reading a statement from the President. As the head of the executive branch and commander-in-chief, I have a unique constitutional responsibility to protect the nation's classified information, including by controlling access to it. Today in fulfilling that responsibility, I've decided to revoke the security clearance of John Brennan, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Historically, former heads of intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been allowed to retain access to classified information after their government service, so that they can consult with their successors regarding matters about which they may have special insights and as a professional courtesy.

[14:35:15] Neither of these justifications supports Mr. Brennan's continued access to classified information. First, at this point in my administration, any benefits that senior officials might glean from consultations with Mr. Brennan are now outweighed by the risks posed by his erratic conduct and behavior.

Second, that conduct and behavior has tested and far exceeded the limits of any professional courtesy that may have been due to him. Mr. Brennan has a history that calls into question, his objectivity and credibility.

In 2014, for example, he denied to Congress that CIA officials under his supervision had improperly accessed the computer files of congressional staffers. He told the Counsel of Foreign Relations that the CIA would never do such a thing.

The CIA's inspector general, however, contradicted Mr. Brennan directly, concluding unequivocally that agency officials had indeed improperly accessed congressional staffers' files. More recently, Mr. Brennan told Congress that the intelligence community did not make use of the so-called Steele dossier in an assessment regarding the 2016 election. An assertion contradicted by at least two other senior officials in the intelligence community and all of the facts.

Additionally, Mr. Brennan has recently leveraged his status as a former high ranking official with access to highly sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations, wild outbursts on the internet and television about this administration.

Mr. Brennan's lying in recent conduct characterized by increasingly frenzying of commentary is holy inconsistent with access to the nation's most closely held secrets and facilities, the very aim of our adversaries which is we saw division and chaos.

More broadly, the issue of Mr. Brennan's security clearance raises larger questions about the practice of former officials maintaining access to our nation's most sensitive secrets, long after their time in government has ended. Such access is particularly inappropriate when former officials have transitioned into highly partisan positions and seek to use real or perceived access to sensitive information to validate their political attacks.

Any access granted to our nation's secrets should be in furtherance of national, not personal interest. For this reason, I've also begun to review the more general question of the access to classified information by government officials.

As part of this review, I am evaluating action with respect to the following individuals. James Clapper, James Comey, Michael Haden, Sally Yates, Susan Rice, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page and Bruce Ohr.

Security clearances for those who still have them may be revoked and those who have already lost their security clearance may not be able to have it reinstated. It is for the foregoing reasons that I have exercised my constitutional authority to deny Mr. Brennan access to classified information, and I will direct appropriate staff of the National Security Council to make the necessary arrangements with the appropriate agencies to implement this determination.

With that, I'll take your questions. Jonathan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, I've got a question -- I wanted to ask -- but first, just to follow up on that. Is -- it seems like everybody that you mentioned has been a political critic of the President. Is he going after his political opponents with this?

SANDERS: No. If there were others that weren't, that we deemed necessary, we would certainly take a look and review those as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. I wanted to ask you about something the President's attorney said. Rudy Guiliani said of Special Counsel Robert Mueller needs to write the damn report so we could see it and rebut it. And he said if it's not written within the next two or three weeks, "we will just unload on him like a ton of bricks". Is the President OK with his attorney threatening the special counsel in this way?

SANDERS: Certainly we've made clear we'd like to see this wrap-up for questions specific about comments by Mr. Guiliani, I would refer you back to him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was that authorized by the President?

SANDERS: Once again, for questions specific about the investigation, particularly comments from Rudy Guiliani, I'd refer you back to him to address those. Jeff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Sarah. Following up on John's question, how is this announcement by the President -- how can Americans not interpret that as a getting back against his critics? And isn't it also an attempt to curtail their freedom of speech by penalizing them for being critical on television?

SANDERS: Not at all. The president has a constitutional responsibility to protect classified information, and who has access to it. And that's what he's doing, he's fulfilling that responsibility in this action. This is actually specific to Mr. Brennan, and the others are currently under review.

[14:40:03] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this the kind of a President who wants to set for future Presidents when his administration is out of office? And why are there no Republicans on that list?

SANDERS: Once again, if we deemed it necessary, we would certainly look into that and be happy to review those. Justin.

SANDERS: I wanted to ask about Turkey, but just to follow up (ph) on what Jeff said on that. I guess the reason people would say that this argument trends credibility is there's obvious examples and from this administration, your former national security adviser has admitted to lying to the FBI. Why is this only a list of Democrats who have been critical in the administration? And why should Americans have confidence that you are taking this seriously if there's not a single Republican on that list?

SANDERS: Again, certainly, we would look at those if we deemed it necessary. And we'll keep you posted if that list gets updated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So on Turkey, Turkey announced today that they're going to put tariffs on about $1 billion on American goods. I'm wondering what your response then if there's any discussion internally about retaliation for that continuing to escalate this?

SANDERS: The tariffs from Turkey are certainly regrettable, and a step in the wrong direction. The tariffs that the United States placed on Turkey were out of national security interest. Theirs are out of retaliation.

I'm not going to get ahead of anything on what we may or may not do in an effort to respond. But certainly we don't support Turkey's decision to retaliate against us protecting our national security interest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An appeals court in Turkey today denied Pastor Brunson's appeal to try to be released. Does the administration view that as a new setback or sort of the maintaining the status quo?

SANDERS: We feel that Turkey and specifically President Erdogan have treated Pastor Brunson who we know to be a very good person and a strong Christian, who's done nothing wrong very unfairly, very badly. And it's something that we won't forget in the administration. The other one, Jake, go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Sarah. So the administration has put off a robust defense for Pastor Brunson. At the same time there are tens of thousands of Christians in North Korea who have been imprisoned almost exclusively because of their religion. Open door USA considered North Korea to be the number one country when it comes to prostitution of the Christians. Is this something that the administration has also been looking into?

SANDERS: Certainly, we would like to see any individual persecuted for their Christian beliefs or imprisoned released. Again, we've been working with North Korea on a number of fronts. That's something we'd certainly like to see them change their behavior.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: I know it's been discussed and, again, certainly something we'd like to see their behavior changed on it. Sorry, Jake I had to -- go ahead. Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Although a territory (ph) have the ISIS have been reduced by over 90 percent, a risk U.N. of course to get as many as 30,000 ISIS members still exist in Iraq and Syria. So, first of all what's the administration's take on this specific U.N. report, and secondly, what would the administration consider an overall victory against ISIS?

SANDERS: We'd like to see every single member of ISIS defeated across the globe. I think that would be the ultimate victory. John, go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks a lot, Sarah. Closing arguments are taking place across the river in Alexandria on the tax fraud trials of Paul Manafort. And in mid June, the President said that he felt badly for Mr. Manafort, and that he believes he's being treated unfairly. Is the President still friends with Mr. Manafort? When was the last time he spoke with Mr. Manafort?

SANDERS: I'm not aware of any recent conversations that they've had. Blake?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you feel that he's being treated unfairly?

SANDERS: I think the President has made that clear in his previous comments. I don't have anything to add beyond that at this point. Blake, go ahead.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: Sarah, thank you. You just said a couple minutes ago that the increased tariff levels with Turkey were out of the national security interest. But when the President announced it on Twitter last week or earlier this month, he said, at the time he said, "Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time."

The suggestion there being that, this has to do with the pastor that is being held in Turkey. Simply put, if Pastor Brunson is allowed to leave Turkey, do those tariff levels go away? Is that kind of the deal that could be in placed that (INAUDIBLE) to be on the table?

SANDERS: No. The tariffs that are in place on seal would not be removed with the release of Pastor Brunson. The tariffs are specific to national security. The sanctions, however, that have been placed on Turkey are specific to Pastor Brunson and others that we feel are being held unfairly. And we would consider that at that point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What -- in the interest of national security, what's changed over the last month or so with Turkey that you're justifying national security? SANDER: Again, the President has been clear about the steel and aluminum industries. Steel, particularly, in this case that those were industries that must be protected. We must have the ability to reach certain levels of manufacturing those products here in the United States for the purposes of national security. John.

[14:45:09] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Sarah. I was going to ask you about Turkey, but based on your opening statement, I have to put out that the attorneys for Former Director Comey and Former Deputy Director McCabe say that their passes were automatically demagnetized the day that they were separated from their offices. Two others, Mr. Clapper and General Haden have said they do not use the pass at all.

And also, it's my understanding from an historical standpoint, this would be the first time the President himself removed the passes from anybody, that that has normally been done by agency heads or immediate superiors to people. Have you considered all these things in the process you say you're going through?

SANDERS: Again, the other individuals -- those are being reviewed. That determination will be made at a later date. Those that have already been revoked, it would be for the purpose of reviewing whether or not they should be reinstated or not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah?

SANDERS: Major.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, I just so I understand the standard that the President is applying. You outlined two areas of either contradictory or erroneous testimony from Brennan. Is that the only standard by which this administration is asserting he should have his security clearance revoked?

SANDERS: Again, I laid out the reasons in the opening statement, specific to Director Brennan. The others are currently under review. I don't have any specifics on this at this point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, my question is, is that the standard? If you give erroneous testimony, you say something you have to correct it at a certain date in the future. If you work for this administration, for example, is that you need to lose your security clearance?

SANDERS: My understanding is this is being looked at on a case-by- case basis, which is why each individual is being reviewed and determination made at that point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does this administration have any reason to believe or evidence to suggest Brennan has misused classified information or monetized his access to it, as was alleged earlier by this administration?

SANDERS: Again, I've laid out the reasons for the decisions that was made on this specific instance. I will continue to review the other actions. Andrew.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The reason why the absence of you not saying those things, you didn't find any evidence of that.

SANDERS: No, I wouldn't make any assumptions. I'm telling you what the decision was based off on, on this case. Andrew.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much. I want to follow up on a question yesterday about Afghanistan. Today there was another suicide attacking couple (ph) which killed 37 people in a school. A military base in the north has been overrun by the Taliban. They have also seized parts of the eastern and provincial capital. Why do you think President Trump's strategy in Afghanistan is working?

SANDERS: As always, we're going to continue to review and look at the best ways to move forward. I'll leave it to the Department of Defense to get into specifics about tactical situations on the ground.

What I can tell you is that we're committed to finding a political solution to end the conflict in Afghanistan. We're exploring all avenues for dialogue and close coordination with the Afghan government. We're going to continue to do that. If we have announcements or changes in the policy, we'll certainly let you know. Peter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, to follow up on the Turkey question, if I may. Are you guys -- have you guys assessed whether the liquidity situation in Turkey and Turkey's financial sector is a risk, in light of the fall of the lira? It's fallen like a quarter in the last three or four days.

SANDERS: Certainly we're monitoring the situation with respect to the Turkish economy and the decline of the lira. But Turkey's economic problems, those are a part of a long-term trend, something of its own making and not the result of any actions the United States has taken.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Sarah. One of the individuals that you listed on that list, that a clearance that is under review, is Bruce Ohr. He's a current employee of the Department of Justice. So, instead of putting him under the review, is the President believe he should be fired?

SANDERS: I don't have any personnel announcements on that front. I can only speak to this specific --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did you put a security clearance under review, which would render him unable to do his job and not just fire him?

SANDERS: Once again, I don't have any personnel announcements on that front. I can just tell you we're looking into that specific matter. Peter. Sorry, I called on you earlier.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Sarah. If people who criticized president publicly on TV and publicly the criticisms, are they greater risk of losing their security clearances and people who stay silent?

SANDERS: Once again, this is looked at on a case-by-case basis and we'll do an individual review and make that determination. Kevin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you Sarah. A question about the return of the lawmakers on Capitol Hill and then I'll follow up very quickly. Now that they're back, can you sort of lay out the White House strategy for moving forward with this agenda? We've talked about the wall funding. We've -- obviously a lot of people are very curious about the Kavanaugh nomination moving forward. DACA and other issues, is there a strategy in place to begin to work with lawmakers now that they're back?

SANDERS: Certainly. We have continued ongoing conversations on a number of fronts with lawmakers, even while they were not here in Washington.

[14:50:08] We are happy that the hearing dates have been set for Justice Kavanaugh, and we look forward to seeing him get confirmed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My very quick follow up was, first of all, you didn't mention anything about a possible shutdown. Is that still something that the President is continuing? And my follow was going to be on the farm bill. A great number of people in a great number of states that are curious about this work requirement, the USDA is trying to implement. In some places, they already have it. They say you have to work. In other areas, you don't have that requirement. Is that something the White House still supports?

SANDERS: Something we still support in terms of a shutdown. I don't have any announcements on that front. We certainly still want to see a lot of things happened. We'd love for Congress to actually do its job, particularly when it comes to immigration. We have a completely broken system and we'd like to see them work with us to fix it. Kathryn.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Sarah.

SANDERS: I don't have any updates really on that front right now. Kathryn?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Omarosa Manigault Newman was the highest ranking African-American staffer in the west wing. No --

SANDERS: She actually didn't work in the west wing. But go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No staffer has been appointed at that level since her absence. Can you tell us exactly how many African-Americans out that there are in this building? And is it a priority for the administration to reflect the diversity of the country?

SANDERS: Certainly. As I addressed yesterday, we value diversity, not just at the White House, but throughout the entire administration. And we're going to continue trying to diversify this staff. We have a large number of diverse staffers from various backgrounds, of race, religion, gender.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many black staffers are there in this building? SANDERS: Look, I'm not going through and do a count. The same way, I'm not going to do a sit down and count on the staffers that are in your news organizations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thirteen percent of the country is African- American.

SANDERS: And we would love to diversify our staff and continue to do so. We do think it's important. We're going to continue to work to make that happen. Raquel?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah, thank you very much. About the election last night, we are seeing that Democrats embracing a more diversity, choosing Muslims, also candidates -- transgender candidates, rejecting President's agenda. So, my question is, what do you think will be the impact of his agenda, and also this recent controversies about race and minorities on the election in November?

SANDERS: Again, I think people are looking at the policies that the individuals are implementing. And how those are going to affect the communities, and whether or not it's actually going to help individuals, people across this country. That's what we're looking at, that's what we're focused on, that's what we're going to continue to do. I'll take one last question, Eamon?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank Sarah. I'd like to ask you a couple of questions about the President's recent comments. One is on Harley- Davidson. The President comments earlier in the week, many Harley- Davidson owners plan to boycott the company if manufacturing moves overseas, great. Is the president of the United States endorsing a boycott of an iconic American company Sarah?

SANDERS: Look, the President has made his feelings on that very clear. The President's focus is on making sure that we get good trade deals, and that we keep business and industry here in the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does he want to see a boycott of Harley, though?

SANDERS: I think he'd rather see them put all their companies back here in the United States and build all of their great machines here in this country. Thanks so much, guys. Have a great day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN: All right. So, the headline. You just heard from Sarah Sanders that this White House, that this President has now revoked the security clearance of the former CIA Chief, John Brennan. And they have a mighty long list of others whose clearances they would like to revoke, with the likes of James Comey, Jim Clapper, Lisa Page, Peter Strzok on and on and on. We're going to come to that.

Jim Sciutto is up first with me with some additional reporting to layer into this news that we were all just hit with. Jim, what do you have? JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well Brooke, I'm told by an official with knowledge that the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, the nation's senior most intelligence official, and I should remind people, an official appointed by President Trump, that Dan Coats of DNI was not consulted by the White House or the president on this decision to revoke the former CIA director, John Brennan's clearance.

It's remarkable, considering this is presumably an intelligence decision. And let's just be clear that the decision to revoke clearances is normally reserved for situations in which someone abuses that clearance by, for instance, revealing classified material. This one, because when you go through that list of officials there, Brooke, that you mentioned, John Brennan, who's had it revoked already, but James Clapper, James Comey, Sally Yates.

The one thing they have in common, of course, is public criticism of this President. This appears to be a political decision, not an intelligence decision. And perhaps backing that up is our reporting that the nation's senior most intelligence official, DNI Coats, was not consulted on this decision by the President.

[14:55:09] The other thing I would note, Brooke, is when you look at the officials in that list, together they have decades. I'm talking about if you add it up more than 100 years experience in intelligence, Clapper himself, 50 years. It goes back to the Vietnam War. James Brennan -- John Brennan, rather, was in the CIA for 25 years. He was for a time the senior counterterrorism adviser to this president.

The reason those officials keep their security clearances after they leave office, is so that they can be consulted when there are issues of national security before an administration. For instance, a terror attack or trying to judge a nuclear agreement with North Korea, et cetera. And there's reasons why officials at that level keep those security clearances so that they can be consulted and be up to date on the latest intelligence.

So, this is truly a remarkable decision by this President. And, again, to do so without consulting his senior-most intelligence advisers.

BALDWIN: So --

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: The same DNI we should add, right, that wasn't consulted about the invitation of Putin --

BALDWIN: Right, if the Helsinki.

CHALIAN: -- to the White House. So I'm not sure. Dan Coats seems to be out of the loop for the lot of things in this White House. But I think Jim is totally right. Clearly, it points to the fact about what a political decision this is.

Listen, Brooke, Donald trump is a master at programming the cable television screens that he watches all day. Well --

BALDWIN: Our conversation just changed.

CHALIAN: That's what he's doing right now. This is to change the subject away from Paul Manafort and Omarosa. And this is purely Donald Trump manipulating the conversation, knowing that he has the ability to do that. And that is what this is geared towards.

SCIUTTO: And David, but just to that point. You know, we often talk about how the President manages the message and the media circus, et cetera. This is a decision with consequence, right? Because, again, there's a reason why the intelligence community draws on former intelligence officials and their experience, and in this case, remember, these are officials who served both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Several of them -- multiple Democratic and Republican administrations. And there's a reason that they keep those security clearances so that that experience can be drawn on when the country faces national security risks or danger.

So, this may change the conversation, but when the country faces a national security threat, which it does today, it will have lost the input from some of the most experienced intelligence officials in the country.

CHALIAN: Jim, I don't want to -- totally, I don't want to lessen why this tradition exists. Sorry, I mean I just want to say. But just want to say, but I would love to know how much this administration has consulted this list of people in its advisement throughout the entirety of this Trump administration.

SCIUTTO: Well, you don't know. If there was a 9/11 attack, they might feel the need to. Listen, you make a point that this is not the first time Trump has ignored his senior-most and most experienced officials. As with for instance the Putin meeting, I'm just making the point that it's more than a messaging thing. This is a decision that has consequences in the intelligence community.

BALDWIN: All right, gentlemen. Hang tight. Abby, I want to hear from you. Hit me.

PHILLIP: Yes, I think it's worth pointing out a couple of things that Sarah Sanders did and did not say in this briefing. She couldn't defend the criteria that she laid out for why the President revoked Brennan's clearance.

For example, she referenced erratic behavior on his part. She suggested that because he testified one thing before Congress and changed his testimony or corrected his testimony, that that was among the reasons.

She also used a very vague -- a very vague criteria, being that they -- he used his status in order to -- his status -- taken from his former government service, in order to make money. Now, these are such broad criteria that when she was asked individually about whether or not they were going to use that in other cases, she wouldn't say. That's really important, because they -- it is -- she went out there with a long list of things to say about Brennan. But they cannot defend this criteria for all of the other people that they have put on this list.

And, you know, we can talk about whether or not they used their clearances or not. Some of them have not consulted with current officials. But that being said, this is a practice that goes back Democratic administrations, Republican administrations. No one has had a problem with this until President Trump.

John Brennan was on television last night. He tweeted about the president's comments on Twitter last night. He criticized the President. We know that that is something that bothers him and this White House is not even trying to defend it.

BALDWIN: You know who's not on the list? Mike Flynn. Mike Flynn is not on the list. And he is not of that same ilk, shall we say, of these other names that we threw up on the screen.

I have with me now one of the men on that target list, James Clapper on the phone, former director of national intelligence. So, Director Clapper, thank you so much for calling in. And, you know, just first to you out of the gate, The News.

Last time you and I chatted on the phone, there was this threat from the White House to revoke the clearances such as yours and Brennan's and others. This has happened to John Brennan. Do you think this is a total stunt?