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Trump Revokes John Brennan's Security Clearance; Hundreds of Newspapers Send Coordinated Message Today; U.S. Sanctions Hitting Ordinary Iranians. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 16, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:13] RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: In desperate need of a distraction, the president targets a critic. Now he is admitting he pulled John Brennan's security clearance because of his role in the Russia probe.

Editorial boards across the country sending a message to the White House. Stop calling us the enemy of the people.

And nearly 75 years to the day after going under, part of a World War II ship has been discovered off Alaska.

Good morning. And welcome to EARLY START. I'm Ryan Nobles. It is Thursday, August 16th. And it is 4:00 a.m. in the East. Well, Dave and Christine are off today.

President Trump all but admitting he revoked former CIA director John Brennan's security clearance as payback for the Russia investigation. The president's explanation comes in a "Wall Street Journal" interview hours after President Trump announced he was following through on his threat.

Brennan ran the CIA under President Obama, and he was among the officials who presented evidence to Mr. Trump before his inauguration that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.

Speaking to the "Journal," the president drew a direct connection between Brennan and the Russia probe. He said, quote, "I call it the rigged witch hunt. It is a sham and these people led it." He added, "So I think it's something that had to be done."

Hours earlier, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders claimed that Brennan lost his clearance because he, quote, "leveraged his status with wild outbursts on the Internet and television" to make a series of unfounded allegations. She did not specify that those were.


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.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How can Americans not interpret that as a -- getting back against his critics?

SANDERS: Well, the president has a constitutional responsibility to protect classified information and who has access to it.


NOBLES: Brennan himself says Americans should be gravely worried about efforts to silence critics and suppress freedom of speech, but he says he won't be muzzled.


JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: It's not going to affect my speaking out, my criticisms of Mr. Trump. I'm going to try to do it in a professional way. But I don't know what recourse there is and so I'll just take things one day at a time.


NOBLES: The White House says the clearances of nine other current and former security officials are all under review. All of them were appointed by or served under President Obama. Now one man's clearance is not being reviewed is the former national security adviser Michael Flynn who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

Another whose clearance is under review, former NSA and CIA chief Michael Hayden. He tells CNN yanking clearances in this way is dangerous.


MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NSA AND CIA: The White House just messaged the entire American intelligence community if you stand up and say things that upset the president or with which he disagrees, he will punish you. And that is a horrible message to be sending to folks who are there to tell you objective truth.


NOBLES: Now the president told the "Journal" he was prepared to take action against Brennan last week but things were too hectic. Remember, last week he was on a working vacation at his Jersey golf club. "The Wall Street Journal" editorial board scolding the president and saying he should instead declassify election-related documents subpoenaed by Congress. Quote, "We're all for challenging Mr. Brennan's partisan motives and for investigating his behavior. But absent the full story that would provide the missing context, the revocation of Mr. Brennan's security clearance looks petty without accomplishing anything useful."

Republican reaction to the yanking of Brennan's security clearance has been mixed. Senator Susan Collins said that Brennan has been, quote, "too political" in his statements, but doesn't see grounds for revoking his clearance unless there was a disclosure of classified information. Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, though, was all for stripping Brennan's clearance. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: I think most Americans look at our national intelligence experts as being above politicians. Mr. Brennan demonstrated that that's not the case. He's been totally political. I think I called him a butthead and I meant it.


NOBLES: Just last month House Speaker Paul Ryan dismissed the idea that President Trump would actually strip anyone's security clearance.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I think he is trolling people honestly. This is something that's in the purview of the executive branch. I think some of these people already lost their clearances. Some people keep their clearances. That's something that the executive branch deals with. It's not really in our purview.


NOBLES: According to the most recent report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, nearly 4.1 million people have security clearances.

[04:05:07] And hundreds of newspapers from coast to coast are sending a coordinated message to their readers today. The press is not the enemy of the people.

The "Boston Globe" organized this series of editorials. Its own editorial board saying, quote, "It is an essential end point to Trump's deluge of dishonesty that he now contests objective reality and urges his supporters to do the same. The greatness of America is dependent on the role of a free press. To label the press the enemy of the people is as un-American as it is dangerous to the civic compact that we shared for more than two centuries."

And it's not just big city newspapers sending the message. We get more from CNN's senior media correspondent Brian Stelter.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Now our viewers might spot these editorials in their morning papers because they're appearing in about 350 newspapers across the country. Some big papers, like the "Dallas Morning News," and a lot of smaller papers as well.

Every editorial is different but the overarching message is that hey, it's great to criticize the media and that makes the media better. But calling us names, like the enemy of the people, can be downright dangerous.

Now let me show you a few examples from these local papers. I think they have more impact, you know, coming from local communities where the journalists and the writers know the readers. Here's one from Belen, New Mexico. The "Valencia County News- Bulletin" saying "We are not the enemy. We are the people."

And here's one from Athens, Ohio, pointing out, "It's not just President Trump attacking the press, it's also local officials increasingly going on the attack." And one more here. This is from Benson, Minnesota, the "Swift County Monitor News," saying, "Attacks on journalists will lead to violence."

Now there has been some criticism of this effort. Here's an example from the "San Francisco Chronicle." This paper is saying, we are not participating because, quote, "It plays into Trump's narrative that the media are aligned against him."

I think this effort is proof that journalists and editorial writers across the country feel under threat right now. They feel a need to speak out and defend the very profession of journalism, the very existence of the news media.

Back to you.

NOBLES: All right, Brian, thank you.

The U.S. rules out removing tariffs on Turkey just as Qatar throws Turkey a lifeline. Qatar pledging to invest $15 billion in Turkey to bolster its economy and help its struggling currency amid a widening dispute with the U.S. Turkey just doubled tariffs on some U.S. imports including cars, alcohol and cosmetics.

This move is a response to the U.S. doubling its own tariffs on Turkish steel. Relations between with the two NATO allies have soured recently over Turkey's detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson. But even if Brunson is released, the tariffs that are here to stay.


SANDERS: The tariffs that are in place on steel 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.


NOBLES: The U.S. slapped tariffs on all foreign steel and aluminum earlier this year. Since then, the tariffs have been criticized by U.S. allies, investors and businesses. President Trump defended them to the "Wall Street Journal," telling the paper that he's rescuing an important industry that is important to national security and that steel. And that eventually companies will only face domestic competition.

Jury deliberations are set to begin this morning in the bank and tax fraud trial of Paul Manafort. During closing arguments on Wednesday, prosecutors described the former Trump campaign chairman as a liar. But Manafort's defense team hammering away at the credibility of key prosecution witnesses. A guilty verdict would likely send shockwaves in the president's orbit of aides, friends and outside advisers. If Manafort walks, it would certainly increase the chorus of calls for Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation to end.

And back to normal this morning at Reagan National Airport. This after a power outage last night pulled the plug on operations for more than an hour. The Washington Metro Airport Authority tells CNN one of the two main power feeds to the airport supplied by Dominion Energy went down temporarily. The FAA says air traffic control automatically switched to back-up power. Flights continue to arrive at the airport but departing planes were held at their gates.

A pregnant Colorado mom and her two young kids are missing. Now her husband is under arrest. What we know, next.


[04:13:48] NOBLES: Pope Francis is facing mounting pressure to address a widening sex abuse scandal. So far the Vatican has not commented on an explosive grand jury report detailing decades of abuse and cover-ups by hundreds of priests and bishops in Pennsylvania.

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro sent the Pope a letter last month. He asked the pontiff to instruct church leaders to stop, quote, "destructive efforts to silence survivors."

Robert Masters, the solicitor for Children and Youth Services of Beaver County, Pennsylvania, has been fired. The grand jury report says that Masters stopped priest investigations when he was Beaver County's district attorney in 1964. His reason then? To prevent unfavorable publicity. Here's his explanation now.


ROBERT MASTERS, FORMER DISTRICT ATTORNEY, BEAVER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA: Really I didn't do too good of a job of explaining it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You could explain now. What happened?

MASTERS: Well, the alleged violations did not take place in Beaver County.


NOBLES: Democratic lawmaker Mark Rosey of Pennsylvania is a priest sex abuse survivor. And he has introduced a bill to eliminate statutes of limitation for children of childhood sex assault claims.

[04:15:06] The Pennsylvania Catholic Church says the time to discuss legislation will come later.

One suspect in police custody after 71 people overdosed in New Haven, Connecticut, in just 24 hours. Authorities say as many as five people OD'd in the area off New Haven Green which is a large park and recreation center located in the city's downtown.

The overdoses are believed to be linked to some form of K-2, also known as synthetic marijuana. K-2 is often laced with other drugs. The troubling incident coming the same day as preliminary estimates from the Centers for Disease Control finds the drug overdoses killed a record 72,000 Americans last year.

The husband of a pregnant Colorado mom has been arrested after she and her two little girls went missing. Police say 34-year-old Shannon Watts, her 4-year-old Celeste and her 3-year-old Bella have not been seen at their home in Frederick since Monday. Charges against Chris Watts haven't been announced. Authorities went to the home after a call from a concerned friend.

A rural Oklahoma school system forced to shut down for two days this week after a group of adults threatened a 12-year-old transgender girl on Facebook. The threats started when the student used the girls bathroom at the local middle school. One post suggested it was open hunting season on transgender people. Others called for the 12-year- old to be stabbed or beaten up. The girl's mother says her daughter is in fear for her life.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's scary. And these are adults making threats to a child. I don't understand it. To see any kind of fear in her like that because other people, and especially adults, just -- I can't explain how bad that hurts me.


NOBLES: The Achille Public School System resumed classes yesterday. The transgender student's mother has filed a protective order against one of the parents who made those Facebook comments.

In California, all evacuations for the Carr Fire have been lifted. The wildfire burning in two counties in the northern part of the state has scorched more than 200,000 acres. The inferno left seven people dead. At last check it was 67 percent contained. Residents in the city of Redding are rallying around the couple whose trailer started the fire when a flat tire rim showered sparks. A Redding woman's Facebook appeal drew about 100 letters to the couple with residents saying they forgive them.

A search team has located the sunken stern of a World War II destroyer that hit a mine off the coast of Alaska. The USS Abner Read was hunting for Japanese subs near the Aleutian Islands early on the morning of August 18th, 1943 when a huge explosion blew the rear section right off the ship. The bodies of 70 men were never fond. Last month the team funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found the stern using modern search equipment. Most of the Abner Read remained afloat that night 74 years ago. It was repaired and sent back into battle until 1944 when a Japanese Kamikaze plane sank it in the Philippines.

And while you were sleeping, the late show took on the president's decision to revoke the security of one of his critics.


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, " THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": For the first time ever, a president has used the power of his office to punish members of the intelligence community who have criticized him. Specifically former CIA director and father of them all watching you try to use jumper cables.


COLBERT: John Brennan. The official reason Trump gave for revoking Brennan's clearance, Brennan, quote, "leveraged his status to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations including wild outbursts on the Internet."

Yes. Yes. Yes. I'd say that's the pot calling the kettle black. But there may be tapes of it calling the kettle something much worse.


NOBLES: Well, the sanctions are back. Now people are starting to feel the bite in Iran. CNN is live in Tehran next.


[04:23:57] NOBLES: The Trump administration's renewed sanctions on Iran have kicked in. And now ordinary Iranians are starting to feel the pinch.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live in Tehran with the view of things there.

Nick, how have things changed?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ryan, it's extraordinary because the gamble really of the Trump administration is you pile on the economic pressure against the Iranian people and they turn on their government. That's the reason why they've renewed sanctions. They're on their own doing that. European allies don't agree with tearing up the nuclear deal.

And we had a window, really, in the last few days of how that's impacted life on the ground here. One of the things that are being sanctions just last week, the actual policy kicking into effect a foreign auto parts. And if you have a Toyota here, which many people do, it means you can't repair your car. It's incredibly expensive because there's very few parts left and no more can come into the country.

Now, fine. We went to a repair shop where there are many cars simply languishing in the repair yard that can't be fixed. And in fact a small number of spares they have on emptying shelves are incredibly expensive.

And that's felt for one family, an incredibly stark change in life. (INAUDIBLE) we spoke to has two children, a wife.

[04:25:06] He drives a taxi but there are less tourists to drive around now and he's simply unable to afford the repairs to his taxi to get it back on the streets. So he's losing money. He's also finding the pressure against Iran with the food prices have gone up substantially. Eggs are twice the price. Milk 50 percent more. Fresh fruit and vegetable double the price as well. That makes it harder for him to pay for the English lessons for his young son (INAUDIBLE), he's age 7, the guitar lessons for his teenage daughter.

Remember, this is the middle class that Barack Obama felt the nuclear deal would lift sanctions against, causing them to benefit from the economic prosperity and moderate along with the government of Hassan Rouhani here.

Simply Donald Trump has torn that up and thinks the worse things get here the more they're going to hate their own government. But sadly I think, as we've have seen from the White House, certainly is that they focus the blame more towards the United States while steady life here slowly deteriorates, gets more expensive and still there were sanctions coming in November against the oil industry -- Ryan.

NOBLES: The gamble from the Trump White House continues. All right, Nick Paton Walsh, live for us in Tehran this morning. Thank you, Nick.

The president cited wild outbursts from John Brennan as he stripped the former CIA director of his security clearance. But overnight the president blamed Brennan's role in the Russia probe as the reason to punish him.