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Trump Revokes John Brenna's Security Clearance Over the Russia Probe; Aretha Franklin Dies at 76. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired August 16, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:18] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour, good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. This morning, former CIA director John Brennan has no more access to classified intelligence. But he still can speak his mind and he certainly is. The word uppermost on John Brennan's mind this morning, hogwash.

He writes in a "New York Times" opinion piece, "Mr. Trump's claims of no collusion are in a word hogwash." Not even a day after President Trump stripped Brennan of his security clearance for reasons that now seem to be clearly at odds. The president says one thing, the White House, it seems, says another. Brennan writes this blistering piece for the "New York Times" in which he calls the president, quote, "desperate to protect himself" and says collusion in -- with the Russians on the part of the Trump team is no longer even a question.

For his part, the president initially cited what he claimed were risks posed by Brennan's, quote, "erratic conduct." But later he told "The Wall Street Journal" it all comes back to the Russia probe.

This is what the president told the "Journal" in this impromptu 20- minute interview last night, quote, "I call it the rigged witch hunt. It's a sham and these people led it. So I think something had to be done."

Let's go to Abby Philip. She joins me outside the White House. Walk us through what is so starkly different between the president's justification for stripping Brennan of his clearance and the White House justification.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, Poppy, weeks after this issue first came up, the White House has finally announced that the president has stripped Brennan of his clearance. And they did it by laying out all of these reasons that included that Brennan was unstable, essentially. That he was using his security clearance and his position of having potentially access to classified information for his own purposes.

Listen to how Sarah Sanders explained it yesterday. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Mr. Brennan's lying and recent conduct characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary is wholly inconsistent with access to the nation's most closely held secrets and facilities, the very aim of our adversaries which is to sow division and chaos. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: But as you just noted President Trump then quickly minutes after that happened really talked to "The Wall Street Journal" telling them that he was thinking about the rigged witch hunt. Now that is a dramatically different explanation for why this is happening. So not national security but rather the Russia probe.

And all of this has left John Brennan not backing down at all from his criticisms of President Trump. In a tweet that he sent out yesterday evening, he said this. "This action is part of a broader effort by Mr. Trump to suppress freedom of speech and punish critics. It should gravely worry all Americans, including intelligence professionals about the cost of speaking out. My principles are worth far more than clearances. I will not relent."

Now President Trump did himself no favors in his announcement yesterday by adding some new names to the list of people whose clearances he's planning on reviewing. The names that were added all seems to center on one thing. They have some kind of involvement with the Russia probe. He added people like Lisa Page, Peter Strzok and Bruce Ohr, Bruce Ohr being a current Justice Department official.

All of these people have been the subject of President Trump's attacks on Twitter in recent days. And it suggests that this whole enterprise is what -- is about what the president said it's about, the rigged witch hunt that is going on by the special counsel -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Abby, thank you for the reporting.

Let's talk about the intelligence side of this. With me now is CNN national security analyst and CIA veteran Steve Hall.

Steve, I mean, a lot to take through with you here. But do you agree with those in the intelligence community like Michael Hayden, former NSA and CIA director, who told our Jake Tapper just yesterday, you know, the way that the White House is rolling this out, revoking Brennan's and then giving this list of other people who are -- may have their security clearance revoked. It's nothing short of just a threat and the threat to silence us? Is it?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Sure, absolutely, Poppy. I mean, if you just go through the list of people that over the past couple of weeks, even days that the president has begun going after, I mean, most recently, and most noteworthy, John Brennan, Clapper. But if you go further back, back even further than Strzok, you know, you've got Andrew McCabe, and then you've got Jim Comey. He is going through piece by piece and trying to eliminate or intimidate those people who could point to the issue of what was the nature of the relationship of the Trump administration to the Russians.

So that's really what this is all about. And I've got to tell you, Poppy, I've personally known and worked with John Brennan. We didn't always agree on everything, but I certainly worked for him and respected him. The same with Jim Clapper. Those people have more integrity and more intelligence and more honesty in their little finger than this president could ever have. They've done the hard work here.

[10:05:03] They haven't just gone to rallies and worn silly hats and wave flags in an attempt to pretend that they're patriotic. They've actually been patriots, serving in difficult locations, oftentimes dangerous to them and their families. That's the real patriots here. And now this administration and this president is indeed trying to silence them because they are pointing back to that which the president is most concerned about, that all roads lead back to Russia and his ties to Vladimir Putin.

HARLOW: What does it tell you that the -- from our reporting, Jim Sciutto's reporting, that the president, the White House did not consult or talk to or give a heads up to DNI, Director of National Intelligence Coats or -- and that the CIA says that it was caught off guard? I mean, is that the normal process one would go through if you're going to do -- you know, revoke security clearances?

HALL: The normal process and the question as to whether or not it's illegal or whether -- you know, what the bureaucracy does, I mean, those --

HARLOW: No, he has the right -- he has the right to do this. Right?

HALL: Sure. Yes. The question, though, that I think we ought to be asking ourselves is why? Why would you simply take this unilateral type of action without consulting with your senior intelligence advisers before you go ahead and do it? Because there are of course downsides to revoking some of these clearances.

But when you ask the why question, again it gets back to what it always gets back to with this president, which is Russia. He said so himself in his tweets. He said these are the guys who are behind all of this. And so basically, I'm getting rid of them.

HARLOW: Steve, does it hurt the intelligence community to have someone like John Brennan's security clearance revoked? Because the reason that these are -- you know, you're allowed to keep these when you leave your post is so that you can advise current intelligence officials on matters that you have dealt with, that you have unique expertise on.

HALL: Yes. I mean, in the broader sense, you want it to be easy to reach out to former senior intelligence officials to talk to them about things. There are ways around that. And it will probably be argued that you can give, you know, short-term clearances and so forth. But again, that sort of strays from the bigger picture, which is the silencing of people's First Amendment, your rights to criticize. And these guys are in a position to understand and know better than everybody what the actual Russian threat was. And that's why they're being silenced.

HARLOW: Steve Hall, thank you for your expertise on all of this on the intelligence side. We appreciate it.

Let's talk about the politics behind all of this right now. With me CNN political commentators Charles Blow and Scott Jennings. Scott Jennings of course worked in the Bush White House.

It's nice to have you both here.

Scott, one of the main questions I had in the moments after this happened was, why is Michael Flynn's name not on that list? The White House is threatening to remove the security clearance revoked of all these different folks, who've been critical of the president, who are tied to the Russia probe. But Michael Flynn, a convicted felon, former National Security adviser, who was fired by the president by lying to the FBI, is nowhere to be seen on that list. Striking to you?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. Not surprising. I mean, the president hasn't made a habit of singling out people who have been supportive of him in the past. It doesn't mean they won't. And I'm not sure what the implications are of being -- having pled guilty to a crime or vis-a-vis having a security clearance with the federal government. In regards to Brennan, you know, I think there are probably legitimate reasons why people could maintain a security clearance after they leave government. Clearly some do.

But look, crapping on the commander-in-chief 24 hours a day, seven days a week is not one of them. It strikes me that Brennan has become a political operative or a political pundit more than anything. And I'm not sure you need a security clearance to continue to do that.

HARLOW: But it sounds like what you're saying -- and Charles, weigh in here. But it sounds like, Scott's argument here is that, you know, Michael Flynn hasn't been critical of the president. Is being loyal to the president or critical of the president the reason why one's security clearance should, you know, be maintained or revoked?

CHARLES BLOW, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely not. But I think there's just a bigger point that Brennan is making, that is absolutely true, which is that the president is growing increasingly desperate to tarnish this investigation, to silence people who are major voices in opposition to him and shining a light on what is happening in this investigation. And there's a -- you know, one thing that Brennan says that I think that we should all take to heart and make clear to the American people is that the evidence for an attempt to conspire, which would be collusion, on behalf of people in the Trump campaign is as clear as the nose on your face. \

Those e-mails between Don Junior and Russians offering information on Hillary Clinton is as clear as the nose on your face. Whether or not Mueller will deem that enough to indict someone or to include it in the report, that's up to him.

HARLOW: But is it dangerous --

BLOW: But the desire is there. And also --

HARLOW: Is it dangerous, Charles, though, for -- just to your point, for Brennan -- you know, former head of the CIA, to come out in this op-ed in "The New York Times" this morning and say it's hogwash to say there's no collusion without even waiting for Mueller's team to wrap up its work. Does that --


[10:10:13] BLOW: Why would he?

HARLOW: Partnership -- OK.

BLOW: I'm curious as to what is basis --


HARLOW: Gentlemen, please, I'm so --

BLOW: (INAUDIBLE) question.

HARLOW: You know what? I'm sorry to interrupt. I have very sad breaking news. Sorry, gentlemen.

I'm very sad to report this morning that the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, has died. We've been reporting over the past few days that she had been receiving hospice care in her home in Detroit. There you see her. An American legend.

The 76-year-old, whose career spanned six decades, a woman who got 44 Grammy nominations, won 18 Grammys, a woman who blessed us all with her music, bringing the country together, her countless chart toppers like "Respect," like "Chains of Fools," and of course "Natural Woman."

Aretha Franklin has died at her home in Detroit. Here is a look at the remarkable woman and her remarkable career.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She was the Queen of Soul who garnered respect on and off stage.

Born Aretha Louise Franklin in Memphis, Tennessee, the four octave range vocalist got her start at a young age in her father's church in Detroit. The incomparable songstress often credited him with nurturing her burgeoning talent.

ARETHA FRANKLIN, QUEEN OF SOUL: Very early on, he taught me a number of things having to do with timing and phrasing and different things like that and coaching me in different ways. He did say at one point that one day I would sing for kings and queens. He did say that. And I have.

ELAM: Franklin won her first of many Grammys in 1967 for Best Female Rhythm and Blues Solo Vocal Performance for "Respect."

FRANKLIN: It was a civil rights mantra that perfectly -- I thought it applied well. Everybody wants respect. Who doesn't want respect?

ELAM: As a young woman in the '60s, she watched her father unite with Martin Luther King Junior to fight for equality. In 1968, she would sing at King's memorial service. The recording artist would go on to win 18 Grammys throughout her

incredible career. She also took home awards for hits like "Chain of Fools" and "Freeway of Love."

Franklin was also ahead of her time with a string of firsts. In 1987 she was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And years later became the youngest recipient of a Kennedy Center honor.

FRANKLIN: Some of the things that have happened, unbelievable. Who would have thought it? But nevertheless, it did happen. God is good.

ELAM: In the '80s, Franklin adapted her music for a new generation. Cruising away with a Grammy for 1987's "I Knew You were Waiting," her chart topping duet with George Michael.

With her voice and her formidable achievements in music and films like the "Blues Brothers," Aretha is often considered to be one of the greatest singers of all time. In 2015, Franklin graced the Kennedy Center stage again. This time to honor Carole King. As she sang President Obama wiped a tear from his eye. Her performance went viral.

She also sang for Obama and Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton at inaugurations. However, the woman who sang for kings and queens reveled in being good at the most important job in the world.

FRANKLIN: I have been a wonderful and a very good mother and I am a very good mother. That's what I am most proud of first.

ELAM: A loving mother and a decorated diva. Franklin was most of all grateful for her music, her longevity and her audiences throughout her career.

FRANKLIN: I think for me it's the love of the music. Loyal fans.

ELAM: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, whose range transcends generations.


HARLOW: There she is, Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. Let me read you part of the statement that we just got from her publicist.

[10:15:01] Quote, "In one of the darkest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our hearts. We've lost the matriarch and rock of our family, the love she had for her children, her grandchildren, her nieces, her nephews and her cousins knew no bounds."

Let me bring in my colleague, my friend Don Lemon who had the extraordinary gift, Don, of knowing Aretha Franklin. You had her on your show. She was your friend. What are you thinking about her right now?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR (via phone): I'm sorry, Poppy. I just woke up and got the news. I'm so sorry. I didn't expect to have this reaction. But it's sad. And for the past couple of days, people have been -- you know, going to see her and reaching out to her. And you know, there was information that I knew that I couldn't really say because the family did not want that out. But you know, for the last couple of days, it has not been good.


LEMON: And, you know, truly, we lost a legend. And a good person. She said that she wanted to be known as a good mother. But she was a good mother to not only just her four sons but to her -- to so many people around the world, like me. She would just text me out of the blue and say I saw something you did on CNN. And I'm just so proud of you. And you're doing such a great job. And to think that that won't happen anymore is just really awful.

HARLOW: Don, what a blessing she was to you personally in your life. To so many people. Stay with me, my friend, if you can. And let's listen to her. Because, you know, the words that President Obama has used to describe her -- I remember when he said, for me she will remind me of my humanity. And he said that if he were stranded on a desert island and had 10 records to take, hers no doubt would be in the collection.

Let's listen to her remarkable voice, her remarkable talent when she sang in front of President Obama and so many others at the Kennedy Center.


HARLOW: Don, you listen to that. It was that performance that brought the president -- President Obama to tears. And you think about the young girl who started singing at her father's church in Detroit, Don.

LEMON: Yes. Yes, and for me that, you know, it goes back to the '60s. You know, I'm a child of the '60s. I was born in 1966. And I just remember, you know, this Aretha Franklin's music being the soundtrack to my childhood. At every family gathering, at every barbecue, every picnic, on the way to school in the car, on family vacations, when we listened to, you know, Aretha. And there is no voice and no one ever that will be like her. Some people have a gift that there's music in their voice. They just open their mouths and the song just drops out.

And that is -- that was Aretha Franklin. And you -- she could not -- she was unmatched. But I think that a lot of that also came from the church and her father. Because, you know, she grew up with her father in the church.


LEMON: Reverend Phil Franklin. That all came from the church. And you have to think about -- there was no auto tune for Aretha Franklin. She didn't need that. Aretha Franklin could play the piano and other instruments. And she would just sit there and she was music. And -- HARLOW: Yes.

LEMON: It's hard to even think that I'm referring to her in the past tense right now. I know what she would say. She would say, I want you to be strong, Don. And I want you to be the voice. And so I'm going to put on my best self. And I'm going to be there to represent Aretha Franklin.


[10:20:01] LEMON: And we should all celebrate her, her very wonderful, wonderful, wonderful life. She was an amazing person.

HARLOW: No question. And you know what, Don? Beyond the gift that you just beautifully laid out that was her music, it was the gift that she gave all of us in bringing this country together. Right?

I just want to read something that --


HARLOW: That Meredith Artley, a woman, an executive here runs CNN Digital, said and wrote earlier this week that stood out to me so much I saved it. OK. This is what Meredith said about Aretha Franklin. "A black woman who sings about respect, about being a woman, a moving voice and a central figure in civil rights. And she said that her life and her legacy may speak to a need for some soul and some grace right now in turbulent times."

Don, what do you think?

LEMON: Yes. I think that Meredith is exactly right. I know that I spoke to her regarding, you know, what was going on in the country. Some of it she spoke about when I interviewed her last on CNN. I think it was in 2016. And we talked about criminal justice. We talked about police brutality. We talked about, you know, African- Americans being killed by police. And she had very strong -- she felt very strongly about that because of her son that she said, you know, raising black kids now, black boys now was different.

It's all out there on CNN if you want to look at it. And she was very adamant about that. But the reason I'm saying that is because of her role in the civil rights movement, you know, with Dr. King. She would go to churches and sing with Dr. King and sing for the movement. And she was very much a part of that. And one of the interviews I said, Aretha, you know -- sorry.

I said, Aretha, you know, you were on the front line. She said, I wasn't on the front line. She said, I was in there but I wasn't on the front line. And she credits people like John Lewis, of course, and Dr. King for being on the front lines.


LEMON: But her music really played out during that. If you look at her when she really came to prominence, when she went secular, it was at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. And her music became the soundtrack to that as well.

HARLOW: Yes. Of course, she sang -- you know, she sang at the memorial service of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," another moment no one will forget.

Don, stay with me, if you can. I know how difficult and how personal this is for you as well. I'm just glad we have your voice in this conversation.

Let me also bring in Roger Friedman. He's a close friend of Aretha Franklin. He is also with Showbiz411.

Roger, can you hear me?


HARLOW: Good morning. Tell me how you knew Aretha.

FRIEDMAN: I met Aretha about 20 years ago through Clive Davis.


FRIEDMAN: And who was her great friend and her mentor. And she -- Aretha liked to come to New York. She loved Detroit. She loved living in Detroit. But she got bored there very easily. And because she didn't fly, she couldn't go to that many places. So she would load up her tour bus with a couple of family members and a bodyguard and come to New York for a week or two weeks to see Broadway shows, go to dinner. And she would call me and say, what should we do? What's the hot thing? And that's how we really solidified our friendship. And we had a lot of fun experiences going to see various shows, holding Broadway curtains because we were late.

And she loved the theater. We went to see a show a couple of years -- there was a show playing on Broadway called "Baby, It's You," which was a review of music from the early '60s. And there was a young woman in the show -- we were sitting in the third row. There was a young woman in the show who comes forward to sing "Say a Little Prayer for You." The Burt Bacharach. And she didn't know Aretha was in the audience. And the girl came forward to sing and leaned forward and Aretha started singing back to her from the -- from the third row.

And I thought the girl was going to faint right off the stage. And that's what she would do. She just -- she embraced life, Aretha. She just -- she loved to eat, obviously. She loved to go to theaters. She loved music of all kinds.

HARLOW: She loved to really live is what you are saying.

FRIEDMAN: She loved --

HARLOW: She lived this life fully.

FRIEDMAN: Oh, she lived the life fully. And, you know, she lived many lives. You know, long before I met her, you know, she had had her, you know, great success on Atlantic Records. HARLOW: Yes.

FRIEDMAN: I met her when she -- when Clive Davis brought her to Arista Records around the mid '80s.

[10:25:03] That's when I first met her. And she loved the second career that she had. And the only thing is that she wouldn't fly.

HARLOW: Right.

FRIEDMAN: So, you know, so I would say to her, people are calling all the time saying, can you bring Aretha to Europe? We will pay her a million dollars a show. And she'd say, I will do that. And I will say, really? How are we going to get there? And she said, well, there must be some kind of amphibious machine that we could get into.


HARLOW: Roger -- hey, Roger, stick with me. Let me bring Don Lemon back in.

And Don, I know you want to talk to Roger.

LEMON: Roger, you --


LEMON: Hi, how are you? Sorry.

FRIEDMAN: I'm sorry. Don was a great friend. And he and I attended many of Aretha's fabulous birthday parties.

LEMON: That's what I want to talk to you, because you talked about how much she loved New York City.


LEMON: And those birthday parties. And she loved the Ritz, by the way. You know, she loved the Ritz Carlton. We always had birthday parties at the Ritz Carlton for Aretha Franklin. And Roger, you never knew who was going to show up. It would be, you know, Aretha was the biggest legend. But it would be one legend after another. And she just ate it up. She loved it.

FRIEDMAN: She loved it. We had Quincy Jones and Barry Gordie and Valerie Simpson and lots of famous, you know, musicians. She would hire this great band to play in the lobby -- it was a low ceiling. It's not meant for this. But she loved the room.

LEMON: Right.

FRIEDMAN: So we would have the Dizzy Gillespie Band come in. And play and then she'd bring in -- and sometimes she would showcase young musicians or new musicians, or new singers, somebody she had heard somewhere that she really liked. And so many times, so many years, you would meet new people. And they'd say -- we would say, well, how did you meet Aretha? And she said, she saw me on TV or she saw me here and brought me to New York for this event. She was -- she really liked to cultivate new musicians.

LEMON: If she saw you anywhere in media, on television, if she heard about you on the radio, whatever, and she liked you, she would reach out to you. And that's how I got to know her. She called me -- she called someone and asked for my phone number years ago. And then started texting me.


LEMON: And we became friends. I just have to say one thing. You know the purse, she loved her Givenchy bag. Right?



FRIEDMAN: The story of the bag is --

LEMON: That's where the money was.

FRIEDMAN: That's where the money was. And --

LEMON: She wanted to be paid in cash.

FRIEDMAN: And James Brown once told me that he taught her this. And I think he did. Because these performers so often were ripped off, especially when they were in the south where they would do a show and then not get paid.

LEMON: Right.

FRIEDMAN: So what happened was, she would demand the cash up front. And she would not go on stage unless she had the cash. And it would go into the bag, whether it was a Vuitton bag or some kind of famous pocketbook. And her bodyguard --


FRIEDMAN: And put it under the piano where she could watch it during the show.


FRIEDMAN: And you knew that as long as the bag was under the piano, she was going to keep performing.

LEMON: Right.

FRIEDMAN: And -- you know she would come back for an encore if the bag was still under the piano.


FRIEDMAN: And one time -- this is about seven or eight year ago, there was something called the dream concert for Martin Luther King, the Eye of a Dream concert.

LEMON: I remember that.

FRIEDMAN: At Radio City. And they had -- the promoters had not brought the money. And she was locked in the dressing room. And there were a whole line of people knocking on the door trying to get in. And the guy who was running the show had the -- you know, the headset piece on. And he came up to me and he said, can you get her out of there? And I said, is the money in the bag? He said, oh no, the money hasn't come yet. I said, she's not coming out.

LEMON: She's not coming out.

FRIEDMAN: And I opened the door just a crack and I said, Aretha, I said, they're really -- the whole thing was supposed to be that Carlos Santana was on stage and when he finished playing she was supposed to be standing on a spot to sing "Respect." And the guy was freaking out. I said, she will not -- suddenly, this big flurry, they bring the money in the bag up to her. The door opens. She walks out elegantly and slowly and says, you know, OK, let's go. And she just made it within seconds.


LEMON: You know what that says about -- there's something about that generation. She's the same age as my mom.


LEMON: They were born in the same year. It's about that generation that came out of the Great Depression, one generation out of the Great Depression. And a lot of -- especially for African-Americans, a lot of those artists were ripped off. And she was just fighting for her respect there. And she did that throughout her life, especially when it came to issues that affected people of color.


HARLOW: Gentlemen, just --