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Trump Links Revoking Brennan's Security Clearance to Russia Probe; Jury to Begin Deliberations in Paul Manafort Fraud Trial. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired August 16, 2018 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR (via phone): This is not going to deter me at all. I'm going to continue to speak out.
[05:59:04] SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Mr. Brennan has leveraged his status to make a series of wild outbursts on the Internet and television.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The White House just messaged the intelligence community, if you say things that upset the president, he will punish you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This guy devastated me with his actions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were simply no words that I can offer to take away the pain.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It won't go away. It's going to come in country after country after country.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Thursday, August 16, 6 a.m. here in New York. Alisyn is off. Erica Hill joins me.
I understand you still have your security clearance this morning?
ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: For the moment. But listen, it's early.
BERMAN: It's early. A long way to go.
This morning, the president of the United States is using his office for retribution against the people who launched the investigation into the Russia attack on the U.S. election. He revoked the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan and threatened to do the same for a list of others. Again, this is official government action against public servants because they led the probe into Vladimir Putin's influence campaign.
So how did we learn this astounding fact? Was it intrepid investigative journalism? Some high-placed leak from a secret source? No. We know this because the president told us. He said it out loud.
Quote, "I call it the rigged witch hunt. It is a sham," the president said in an interview with "The Wall Street Journal," "and these people led it!" he added. "So I think it is something that had to be done." Something had to be done to strike back against those folks who were concerned that Russia was waging cyberwarfare against the United States of America. And this is according to the president of the United States of America. He said it out loud.
The same kind of out loud as when he told Lester Holt he fired James Comey because of Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, "You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Another contribution from the out loud file. Now, John Brennan has been a frequent critic of the president, including the last few days when he called out the president for attacks on African -- African-Americans, attacks that many deem as racist. More on that in just a second.
As for how the White House is explaining all this until the president told us how he actually felt, this is how Sarah Sanders was trying to justify it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has a constitutional responsibility to protect classified information and who has access to it. And that's what he's doing, is fulfilling that responsibility in this action. This is actually specific to Mr. Brennan, and the others are currently under review.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: Well, President Trump's statement announcing his decision apparently had been prepped for some time. Check this out. You see the date there? This is the version that was first distributed to reporters. July 26, 2018. Just so we're clear, yesterday was August 15.
This date, though, three days after the White House had first announced that it was exploring the possibility of revoking security clearances. Now, a version without that July date was then redistributed. The White House chalking all of this up to a cut and paste error.
Brennan meantime, and other former intelligence chiefs Michael Hayden and James Clapper, who are on the list, say they will not be deterred from speaking out.
So is the timing of this meant to perhaps distract from the looming verdict in the Paul Manafort trial or the daily damning drip drip of revelations being made by the president's former aide, Omarosa -- Omarosa Manigault-Newman?
BERMAN: All right. Joining us now is Michael Bender, White House reporter for "The Wall Street Journal." He is on the byline for their lead story today, which includes President Trump's new comments. Mike is also a CNN political analyst.
And Mike, while you are part of this team, I want to note you did not interview the president yourself, that was your colleague who did, but you have listened to the tapes, and you have read the full transcript here of what president said, again, out loud. And unless I'm reading this article incorrectly, he did say, again, out loud, that he revoked John Brennan's security clearance and threatened many others because these are the people, he said, that launched the Russia investigation.
All right. Michael Bender frozen there by the power of the very question. We'll get Michael back in just a moment now.
I want to bring in our panel while we're waiting for Michael to get back up online. Joining us, Phil Mudd, former CIA and FBI official; and momentarily, when they run in here to save us from this technical glitch, will be Alex Burns, and John Avlon.
Phil, while we have you here, as we're trying to get Michael back up to explain exactly what happened, one of the things that people have suggested is that the president is somehow trying to intimidate his critics. This long list of former intelligence officials who have been very critical of his actions in the White House. John Brennan, Michael Hayden, James Clapper, others.
You, too, sir, are a former intelligence official who has at times been critical of the president. Are you intimidated by this, Phil?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Intimidate, what the heck is he going to do? Are the Stormtroopers showing up on my house? Why would you be intimidated by the president removing security clearances?
Look, most of the people in positions like me make no money off security clearances. I still have my clearance. It gives me the wonderful opportunity to provide free advice to the U.S. government a couple times a year. That is no money, John. So I'm neither intimidated, nor am I deeply disturbed by not having to go to a secret facility to offer my services for free a couple times a year.
I'm sorry. I woke up at the same time today and had a cup of coffee. It's OK.
HILL: Phil Mudd's going to be OK.
Alex, I mean, look at this. It does -- it does again -- Alex Burns with us now, along with John Avlon. It does again raise the issue of how this office is being used and whether it is being used and whether it is being used to settle a personal score the president may have, to send a message perhaps. Yes, he does have the power to revoke the security clearance. We aren't getting a lot of detail in this, though.
ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, that's absolutely right, and the detail that we're getting in that "Wall Street Journal" article that you just alluded to does suggest that this is being used in a pretty capricious and vindictive way. It is the latest of several episodes this week that have sort of underscored the degree with the president does not see a distinction between his own personal interests and the interests of the U.S. government. That we heard the White House defending the use of non-disclosure agreements. That is really not typical practice in the White House.
We heard the president again attacking the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for not doing more to step up and shield him from this Russia probe. So this is the way he approaches the job in general. This particular exercise of power is a new one for him.
BERMAN: Go ahead, John.
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. I want to highlight something. There is a process for getting security clearances. They do not typically go through the president, and that is why we believe this is an unprecedented action by the president. It is transparently petty, and personal and vindictive.
And the argument that Sarah Sanders gave from the podium yesterday, which is about national security, in fact, it's the exact opposite. As Phil Mudd just pointed out, the reason these security clearances tend to last beyond administrations is so there can be a degree of continuity. So people can be consulted, when they have areas of expertise, to fill in the blanks
But the president's made it very clear this is personal; it is petty. And I've got to say, his argument that it's about Brennan's outlandish and non-fact-based attacks on the Internet have more than a hint of irony.
HILL: Well, yes, which was, of course, tackled last night on late- night TV, as well. Which we'll get to in just a minute.
BERMAN: Yes. Sometimes what Stephen Colbert says in comedy captures reality more than anything else.
Phil Mudd, John Brennan has been highly critical of the president of the United States. He has. Including, as we said, in the last few days on the comments the president has made that many deem racist. Let me just read you what John Brennan said about it. He goes, "It's astounding how often you fail to live up to minimum standards of decency, civility and probity."
Is it appropriate for people like John Brennan, is it appropriate for people like you to be critical of the president of the United States like this? MUDD: No -- I will not be coming on at 4:58 a.m. in Memphis any more. You're exactly right, John.
Look, let me separate out two fundamental questions here. The first is whether there's a fair debate about people like me who were in government to come in, and not only comment on what we saw in government, to -- but to be critical of the current government. Some of my peers who left the service don't like what we do.
There is a different question, and I think we have to be clear about separating out this question. If somebody in government doesn't like what I say, is it appropriate for that person in government to use their power to retaliate against me?
Remember, we have a president. This is not about intelligence. It's about the articulation to the president of what we do is fake news unless he says it. Is it OK to try to muzzle people who are critics? I think we need to focus on that and not on whether intel people talk. That's debatable. I don't think that's relevant here.
BERMAN: Answer your question. Is it appropriate to muzzle people, then, Phil?
MUDD: Well, you can't muzzle people. I mean, that's not what we do in America. But for people like me to speak, I'm a citizen. I'm a private citizen, and I left government eight years ago. I'll say whatever the heck I want to say, and I don't see why it's inappropriate for me, as someone who votes, to comment on what happens in American politics. What's wrong with that?
HILL: Listen, it's impossible to ignore what we learned from that "Wall Street Journal" interview and what that sets up. But we should also point out what was is that statement, which was apparently ready to go on July 26. But one of the things that was pointed out in the statement from the president is that this decision was because there was a belief that John Brennan was facilitating adversaries by sowing division and chaos. That is something that especially people who support the government will say, "Look, you know what? It's true." We see that tweet that he put out. He's going after the president in this way. This is making it worse in this country. How does that play out? Can that narrative continue to last, Alex?
BURNS: I'd be very, very skeptical that it can. You know? That there is sort of -- look, I think if a White House, generically speaking, wanted to make the case that retired members of the intelligence community, retired military officials should try to sort of stop at the water's edge when it comes to politics, I think that would be, in concept, a fair argument to try to make.
It's a tough one for this White House to make, right? That this is not an administration, not a president that has observed any of those kind of traditional lines of decorum around talking about national security, talking of politics, talking about American internal conflicts while on foreign soil.
And I will say, Erica, this is a politically dangerous moment for the president. His -- some of his lowest low points, politically speaking, have been when he has been seen to be at odds with the American intelligence and law enforcement communities, whether it was that press conference in Helsinki or last year, dismissing James Comey. Both parties will tell you that his polling numbers just plunged immediately. I don't know this event is at level just yet, but it reflects an attitude that has been generally very, very dangerous for the president.
[06:10:11] BERMAN: All right. Alex, John, Phil, stand by. We now have Michael Bender with us through the amazing technology of the telephone. Michael is a reporter for "The Wall Street Journal," on the byline this morning, which has this astounding admission from the president, Michael, that he revoked John Brennan's security clearance, because he says that something had to be done about the fact that he was part of the team that launched the Russia investigation. Am I reading that correctly?
MICHAEL BENDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST/"WALL STREET JOURNAL" REPORTER (via phone): You're reading that exactly correctly. The president's critics yesterday said that this order came as a diversion. They called it a diversion tactic, in order to make us look away from Omarosa.
And after our interview yesterday, he may have succeeded in doing that, because when he was asked directly about this decision, his answer was not about concerns about security risks to the country or any evidence that Brennan had given away national secrets. It was Brennan's role -- he believes, Brennan's role in the Russia investigation and the Russia probe that has frustrated him for so much of the first year and a half of this presidency.
BERMAN: It really is interesting when he says things out loud like that. Your reporter was in the Oval Office, and the president said this out loud.
BERMAN: It's just like when the president told Lester Holt that he fired James Comey because of Russia. There's not nuance here. The president is telling us exactly how he feels and exactly why he's doing something. And again, you've listened to this recording.
BERMAN: He doesn't seem to think there's any risk in that, does he?
BENDER: No, that's right and, really, when you look at his statement yesterday. Sarah Sanders was -- tried to put a little more nuance on it from the podium in the briefing room, but his statement also brought up some of these -- these old accusations about Brennan, and the role the president believes Brennan had in the Russian -- in the Steele dossier from a couple of years ago during the campaign.
And the statement itself, the written statement made no reference to some of the usual issues. That would cause someone to lose their security clearance like putting national security secrets at risk. But you're right: it is stunning to hear him say that out loud when
asked the question. It's pretty clear it was his -- it was his, you know, on how he makes a lot of decisions, it's just his gut. Him saying he doesn't trust Brennan, you know, and doesn't like what he has said about the Russia probe.
BERMAN: Right. There was no evidence that he or Sarah Sanders provided that he abused his top-secret security clearance. That's just not there either on paper, Sarah Sanders' words or the president's words.
And Michael, about the timing --
BENDER: That's right.
BERMAN: Go ahead.
BENDER: And I just wanted to jump in there one more time here and say, the date that you mentioned earlier on the program.
BERMAN: That's my next question. Go ahead.
BENDER: The date on the original version of the statement was several weeks ago, July 26. And when Peter asked him about that, the president's response was things have been hectic, and that they had not had a chance to put this out there.
Well, again, if you're so concerned about national security, you know, and the state of our national secrets, you know, every day is like three days when you're in the Trump White House. That's just the way things are. It's been hectic for a year and a half.
So I think that's going to raise more questions today about, you know, what took them so long to make a decision that they viewed as, you know, one of national importance? National security important?
BERMAN: Also, saying last week was hectic, if I'm not mistaken, he was at his Bedminster golf club last week, and to our knowledge, golfing nearly every day. So if by hectic, he means there was a lot of people, or a lot of people standing in his way between the third and fourth hole, you know maybe -- maybe that was the problem. But it's hard to understand what was so clogging his schedule that, if he thought that John Brennan was a threat to national security, he didn't revoke his clearance then.
What has changed since then, though, and as we've all seen play out is people claiming, or noting, or asserting that some of the President's Comments about Omarosa and others the last week have been racist.
And John Brennan, I think not coincidentally, is one of those people who has been very critical. And I'll just note: John Brennan sent a tweet around which quoted the president's attack on Omarosa calling her a dog, and John Brennan said, "It's astounding how often you fail to live up to minimum standards of decency, civility and probity."
Again, the president tells us he's responding to Russia. The timing of this seems to suggest, to an extent, the president is trying to focus -- refocus attention away from charges of racism to something else.
[06:15:07] BENDER: Yes, Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, made that very point yesterday within minutes of this announcement coming out. And it's hard to ignore the timing on this.
Now, Brennan has been a very outspoken critic of the president, and has been very -- he has been pretty inflammatory and has not held any of his punches when it comes to Trump, to the point where a handful of national security experts and some of his former colleagues have wondered whether he -- how much this is really helping.
But the criticism I've heard of Mr. Brennan's comments has been -- has been political, not that this has put at risk any national security secrets.
And again, I just point back to the actual statement the president put out, which referred to media outbursts, outbursts on social media and -- as a reason for pulling the national security secrets -- excuse me, for pulling his national security clearance --
BENDER: -- which, you know, the last one was less than 24 hours earlier, referring to -- Mr. Brennan referring to Trump's response to Omarosa.
BERMAN: And again, he was asked -- the president was asked why are there no supporters of yours on this list of people right now? Michael Flynn, former general Michael Flynn, still has his security clearance, and he of course, has plead guilty to lying to investigators. He also has made many political statements out load critical of members of people who -- you know, Hillary Clinton, among other people. He still has his clearance. How did the president justify that?
BENDER: Well, you know, we -- we didn't talk to him specifically about -- about Michael Flynn, but, you know, what we've seen from the president, you know, in his own explanation of the Omarosa situation, for example, just within the last few days, one of the reasons -- the reason he wanted to keep Omarosa on, despite the recommendation from his chief of staff a month ago, was that she had said great things about him. And, you know, that sort of loyalty to the president is of supreme importance.
And you know -- and we have not seen Michael Flynn say anything critical of -- of the president, which is, as you point out, just one of the -- one of the differences between him and the rest of the list the president is considering pulling credentials for.
BERMAN: Michael Bender, thank you for hanging on with us, working through our technical difficulties. It's great to get this first-hand insight, again, as to what the president actually said out loud when he acknowledged that he revoked John Brennan's security clearance because of his role in the Russia probe.
Michael Bender, really appreciate it.
Coming up in our next hour, former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, will join us to talk to us. He is on that list of people the president is still threatening to take security clearance away from.
HILL: And he has some -- some good thoughts on how that would affect him. So we're looking forward to that.
Also, just ahead, in a number of hours, jury deliberations will begin in the Paul Manafort bank and tax fraud trial. So what should we be looking for here? What can we glean from what we heard in closing arguments? That's next.
[06:21:57] BERMAN: The jury in Paul Manafort's bank fraud and tax evasion trial set to begin deliberations in just hours. During closing arguments, prosecutors laid out their evidence, telling the jury, quote, "The star witness in this case is the documents."
Manafort's defense countered by suggesting the trial is politically motivated.
We are joined this morning by new CNN legal analysts Shan Wu, former lawyer for Rick Gates, a former federal prosecutor; and Laura Coates, a former federal prosecutor, as well.
Let's assess these closing arguments. Shan, I've heard the prosecution's closing statements referred to as dry but highly based on the documents and factual. And the defense, once again trying to discredit Rick Gates and went the political direction. Which do you think landed more solidly with the jury?
SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think the defense had a little bit better of the closing arguments. I think they were quite focused and made some specific points. Which can be rare for defense counsel. Sometimes you just get a lot of hot air with the defense counsel trying to muddy up the waters.
But they were quite focused. They made the points, really attacking the bank fraud loans. They didn't work too much the character assassination angle, but rather pointing out that, you know, he has the motive to fabricate and what you can trust, what you can't trust. So I thought they did the better of it.
Not unexpected that the prosecution would be a little bit dry. They have a lot of material to cover. The one thing that I felt was significant was that it seemed like the prosecution did use a lot of generalities, really trying to make the words overwhelming and wise, do a lot of work. So I think the defense did a good job of countering that with some specifics.
HILL: Laura, there was, you know, a lot of talk. It wasn't entirely surprising, about the fact that there was -- the defense really didn't mount any defense, as we know. That we did not -- we heard from Paul Manafort but didn't hear from him in terms of testimony.
A jury is never supposed to look at someone not taking the stand as impacting what they see, and yet, are there ever instances where it -- where it does come into play in that thought process, in your experience?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, of course there are. You see the issue here is, while you are instructed not to take that into account or to hold it against the person, it does leave the natural human being, which the jury is comprised of, to ask themselves, "Well, why are you not taking the stand to defend yourself. You're telling me the person I should not believe is Rick Gates, or any of the people who testified, your accountants, et cetera. And you are telling me that you are this political operative who simply was duped by delegating authority to people that you thought you could trust who ultimately betrayed you. Well, then I want to hear from you as to whether I think you're a credible person or that you could have been duped by a minion."
And so the jury will look at these different issues and try to grapple with that particular point. But to Shan's point about the upper hand versus defense and the prosecution, remember, this case is very document heavy. As John talked about, there main case here was to say and deflate the impression that Rick Gates was at all the star witness or the lynchpin here. It was the documents. It was the accountants. The people who don't have the skeletons in the closet and have not had the more salacious type of testimony.
And for the prosecution that were going to try to get that out of the jury to see, it's very dry, but it's also cut and dry. Whether you paid Uncle Sam or you did not.
[06:25:12] BERMAN: Shan, what signs will you be looking for in the next couple of days, maybe couple of days, couple of hours, I should say, to see which way the jury is leaning?
WU: I think it will be significant what kind of questions they may put forth. If they want any kinds of clarifications about, for example, DOJ policies, because there was a theme of jury nullification that the defense did try to use, suggesting this wasn't a normal kind of procedure that would be used, kind of a selective prosecution issue. That would be a troubling sign for the prosecution.
On the other hand, if they want more instructions or would like to see certain exhibits again, that's probably a good sign. It means they are focusing on the documents.
I would note that the nullification did try kind of a rebuke from the judge. He says he plans to tell the jury not to focus on the motives of the prosecution.
HILL: I do want to get your take, both of you on this before we let you go. So in an interview with Bloomberg, Rudy Giuliani saying, quote -- this is, of course, talking about the Mueller investigation, as we shift gears here -- "If he doesn't get it done in the next two or three weeks, we will just unload on him like a ton of bricks. Write the damn report so we can see it and rebut it."
Laura, we'll throw that one to you. As we know, Rudy Giuliani has been trying to really make this point about this 60-day window. Of course, the president is not on the ballot. It doesn't mean things can't happen behind the scenes.
When he puts out there "Write the damn report. We're going to unload on you like a ton of bricks," that provokes some interesting responses.
COATES: And here's one. The idea that you're going to rebut it means that you think it's a foregone conclusion of your own client's guilt. It is not even a coded reference or an attempt to suggest that he is open-minded to an objective report that may or may not implicate his client.
And so to say that "Write it. We already have a defense prepared," it seems to me that you're suggesting that we should have, as the American people, some insight into what Mueller is thinking. Although there has been painstaking contortions by Rod Rosenstein, with every single indictment -- against the 12 GRU agents, against people who are Russian nationals -- to say that this is not referencing Donald Trump specifically. You still see Rudy Giuliani saying, "I'm going to -- I already have a report written that I'm going to rebut whatever it is you find," following on this theme of a witch hunt.
BERMAN: Laura Coates, Shan Wu --
HILL: There you go.
BERMAN: -- great to have you with us again. Jury goes to the deliberation chamber in a couple hours here. We know you're on standby to help us understand the verdict when it comes in. Appreciate it.
COATES: Thank you.
WU: You're welcome.
HILL: John Brennan responding this morning in a scathing op-ed to President Trump revoking security clearance. We have that for you next.
BERMAN: Can I read one line of it?
HILL: Me, too.
BERMAN: It says, "Mr. Trump's claims that collusion are, in a word, 'no collusion' are, in a word, hogwash." So I think that's going to leave a mark.