Return to Transcripts main page


Brennan Pens Blistering Op-Ed; Abuse Survivors Demand Accountability; New Book Explores Trump and Russia Ties. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired August 16, 2018 - 06:30   ET



[06:32:22] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we do have breaking news.

Since we have been on the air, "The New York Times" has published an op-ed from former CIA Director John Brennan, who is responding to the fact that President Trump revoked his security clearance. Let me read you some of this blistering commentary from Brennan this morning.

Mr. Trump, he says, clearly has become more desperate to protect himself and those close to him, which is why he made the politically motivated decision to revoke my security clearance in an attempt to scare into silence others who might dare to challenge him. Now more than ever it is critically important that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his team of investigators be allowed to complete their work without interference from Mr. Trump or anyone else so that all Americans can get the answers they so rightly deserve.

Want to bring back former FBI senior intelligence adviser Phil Mudd. He's now with CNN counterterrorism analyst.

And, Phil, I think the more eye-opening thing that John Brennan wrote this morning is this. And, in fact, the title of the whole op-ed is, "President Trump's Claims of No Collusion Are Hogwash." That grabs your attention. And then Brennan writes, Mr. Trump's claims of collusion are, in a word, hogwash. The only questions that remain are whether the collusion that took place constituted criminal, libel conspiracy, whether obstruction of justice occurred to cover up any collusion or conspiracy, and how many members of Trump incorporated attempted to defraud the government by laundering and concealing the movement of money into their pockets.

Your thoughts?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Hold on here. Let's pump -- let's pump the brakes for a second. Let's make sure we divide this out into what we know and what we think. That distinction, what you know and what you think, is one of the first things that we miss in heated intelligence conversations.

Mr. Brennan is right to point out how solid the information is about Russia involvement in the election. He is right to talk about whether there's an appropriate investigation into cooperation because of things like Don Junior's meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian official -- or a Russian-backed official who was offering information on Hillary Clinton. We're missing one fact here. And I'd remind you, Mr. Brennan hasn't been in government for a year and a half. Did the Trump people ever take anything of value from the Russians? I haven't seen that. That is not a fact. Yes, we ought to be worried, the investigation is appropriate, but to say that arguments against collusion are hogwash -- or in favor of collusion are hogwash, how would we know? We don't know what's going on in the investigation. I don't know what the facts are.

BERMAN: Can I tell you that Brennan seems to address exactly the point you just made right there. And in this op-ed he refers to the fact that during the 2016 campaign, candidate Donald Trump called openly for Russia to go find Hillary Clinton's e-mails. And then I'm going to read to you -- I don't think we have this graphic -- let me read to you. Brennan writes, such a public clarion call certainly makes one wonder what Mr. Trump privately encouraged his advisors to do and what they actually did to win the election. And then Brennan writes, while I had deep insight into Russian activities during the 2016 election, I now am aware, thanks to the reporting of an open and free press, of many more of the highly suspicious dalliances of some American citizens with people affiliated with the Russian intelligence services.

[06:35:12] MUDD: Well, excuse me, we don't convict people on the basis of suspicion. We usually go into a court of law and say, unless you're beyond a reasonable doubt, you get off the hook. So to take a suspicion and say that this is evidence of collusion, the suspicion is not evidence. Evidence is closer to a fact, and I want to see some facts about what the Trump people got before I convict them.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think this is going to play right into the president's hands?

MUDD: I think it will, but I think it's going to confuse what is a really valuable conversation. The president's going to use this to say, look, especially to a base of people who think the -- the intelligence community is somehow involved in the Mueller investigation, they're not. He's going to say, look, what I did about -- about the former CIA Director Brennan was appropriate.

The simple question is, I don't care what John writes, unless he's writing classified information, John Brennan that is, it's not appropriate to try to muzzle him because you don't like what he says. So let's focus on what the president did and not whether -- whether or not we agree with John Brennan's article this morning in "The New York Times."

BERMAN: Do you think that Brennan here -- again, the president, no one changes John Brennan of leaking or openly discussing classified information. Do you believe this op-ed goes as far as he can? Is he giving people a road map without perhaps announcing what he knows publicly?

MUDD: I don't think so. I think he probably knows -- and I can say I'm virtually certain he knows more about Russian involvement in the election than we know. That's something he would have spoken with. And we know he did speak with the president before the president took office when he was President-elect Trump.

But, again, John's been out a year and a half. To think that he knows more about the investigation, that he's showing a little leg here to hint to us that he knows about the investigation, number one, I don't think he does. Number two, that would be appropriate. If you know something about the investigation and you kind of hint at it, that is a no go. You can't do that.

HILL: You know, one thing I want to pick up on, that we didn't have the chance to come back to earlier in the show, after we spoke with Michael Bender from "The Wall Street Journal" who's on the byline this morning talking about -- in that interview that they did that, you know, sort of started off about tariffs, but when the president said, talked about the relationship to the Russia investigation with John Brennan, there has been a question which has been asked consistently since this was announced yesterday about the evidence that actually leads to issues involving national security. Just touch on that again for us really quickly, if you would, Phil Mudd. Anything that stands out that makes you question what John Brennan has said in terms of national security.

MUDD: There's nothing I look at that seems to me inappropriate in terms of revelation of what John knows on national security issues. In other words, to be clear, I haven't seen anything that shows me, and I've read what John writes, I haven't seen anything that shows me he said -- he divulged secrets that would typically be why you -- you remove his clearance.

I think there is one bit of humor here in the John Brennan versus President Trump debate. The president is the CEO of the U.S. government. The people who open investigations and conduct investigations are the Department of Justice and the FBI. I served at both the CIA and the FBI. If the CIA director ever called the attorney general and said either open an investigation or here are my views on how you should conduct this investigation, he'd be lapped out of Washington, D.C. The president appears to think that CIA people run investigations. I mean CIA people run investigations like I give mani- pedis. It doesn't happen. He doesn't seem to understand how the government works.

BERMAN: All right. Well, you've just scared our eyes and ears for the rest of the broadcast.

Phil Mudd, thank you for your insight. We really do appreciate the conversation, helping to understand what we're seeing this morning.

MUDD: You're welcome.

BERMAN: Again, John Brennan with this blistering op-ed.

And I just want to read the headline again, because this is what people are going to be talking about all day, "President Trump's Claims of No Collusion Are Hogwash." HILL: There we go.

Still ahead, survivors abused by Catholic priests in Pennsylvania are demanding accountability from church leaders. Will they get it?


[06:42:59] HILL: Survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests are speaking out, demanding accountability after that grand jury report out of Pennsylvania revealed more than 1,000 children were abused over decades by hundreds of priests in Pennsylvania. The Vatican still has yet to respond to the damning report.

CNN's Rosa Flores has more.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The word "God" makes me think of him, and I just --

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The voices of victims still demanding justice. While a bombshell grand jury report revealed more than 1,000 children were victimized by more than 300 predator priests and the bishops who hid their crimes over 70 years, the statute of limitations for prosecution has run out for all but two priests.

BISHOP JOSEPH C. BAMBERA, SCRANTON DIOCESE: The grand jury has issued its report of findings.

FLORES: Pennsylvania bishops have released statements expressing their sadness for the victims, but that is not enough for Terry McKieman.

TERRY MCKIEMAN, FOUNDER, BISHOPACCOUNTABILITY.ORG: That's a lot of sadness in these file cabinets, right?

FLORES: The founder of a, an organization that has tracked thousands of accused priests. A database that's about to grow significantly.

Take the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The investigation revealed that it sheltered 99 predator priests, more than double the amount previously known to McKieman. From 1998 to 2006, that diocese was lead by then Bishop Donald Whirl (ph), now a high-profile cardinal in Washington, D.C.

MCKIEMAN: Whirl's legacy in Pittsburgh is a lot more complicated than we thought. He was, beforehand, thought of as one of the good guy.

FLORES: The grand jury report credits Whirl for standing up to the Vatican in some cases of abuse, but also suggests he guided at least one accused priest back into service. Cardinal Whirl defended himself by saying his diocese, quote, worked to meet or exceed the requirements of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the reporting requirements of Pennsylvania law. But those are laws that critics say the Catholic Church is working overtime to influence in its favor.

[06:45:08] Take Bishop Ronald Gainer (ph) from Harrisburg. He is one of the bishops who issued a statement expressing sorrow for the victims of his diocese. Gainer is the head of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, a group that aggressively lobbies against reforming the statute of limitations.

MCKIEMAN: The Catholic Conference has been tenacious in opposing this. And, of course, they have allies in the Pennsylvania legislature.

FLORES: The group released a statement saying it was devastates and outraged by the revelations and that the time to discussion legislation will come later.

Pennsylvania's attorney general also pointing the finger at the church in a letter to Pope Francis last month, saying he believed that two unnamed Catholic Church leaders tried to, quote, silence the victims and avoid accountability. He says Pope Francis, the one man with the power to hold everyone involved accountable, has not yet responded.

MCKIEMAN: Transparency and accountably are the only thing that's going to save this church.


FLORES: Now, while we wait for a response from the Vatican, we could look to recent events in Chile for what accountability could look like under Pope Francis. There in January, Pope Francis publically defended an accused bishop, then victims publically pressured the pope and the pontiff made a complete 180. He summoned all 30 Chile bishops to Rome and they all offered their resignations.

So, John, we're still waiting for what accountability will look like in the United States.

BERMAN: Indeed we are waiting.

Rosa Flores, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

In the meantime, a new book details President Trump's alleged ties to the Russian mafia and involvement in Russia. What's the proof? We'll speak with the author, next.


[06:50:48] HILL: President Trump has long maintained that he has nothing to do with Russia and no one's tougher on Russia than him. A new book out this week alleges the president's ties to Russia date back more than 30 years and involve Russian intelligence agents and shadowy figures in the Russian mafia.

Joining us now is Craig Unger. He's the author of "House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russia Mafia."

Good to have you with us this morning. CRAIG UNGER, AUTHOR, "THE HOUSE OF TRUMP, HOUSE OF PUTIN": Thank for

having me.

HILL: So you write in the book here it tells the story of one of the greatest intelligence operations in history, an undertaking decades in the making to which the Russian mafia and intelligence operatives successfully targeted, compromised and implanted either a willfully ignorant or inexplicably unaware Russian asset in the White House.

This is quite a claim. What's the evidence to back that up, that this was really a plot that began decades ago and now here he is in the White House?

UNGER: Absolutely.

Well, I went back to the beginning. And Donald Trump has said he had zero contacts with Russia. I think he was off by at least 59 people. And that's how many people I found who were intermediaries between him and Russia going back to the '80s.

And it started off -- this is really a great intelligence operation. And it started off as a money laundering operation in 1984 when a man with the Russian mafia met with Donald Trump in Trump Tower, so it was new -- his newly glitzy building, and he just came in with $6 million and said I'll buy five condos. That event to $15 million today.

That -- that event was typical of at least 1,300 such purchases of Trump properties in that they were all cash and they were bought by anonymous shell companies. And Trump has been doing this for many, many years. And if you look at it, he's completely indebted to Russia. They own him. He was $4 billion in debt at one point. $4 billion after his Atlantic City overexpansion and the Russian mafia came to his aide.

HILL: And so you're saying that this is where it's all -- where it all began.

In terms of -- there's been the question raised -- it was recently raised at the press conference that we saw in Helsinki, about whether or not Vladimir Putin, the Russians, have so-called kompromat on this president. So you point out in your book that we know about these allegations, that one of your sources talks about this but hadn't actually seen the material himself. So how do we know what's really there?

UNGER: Right. Well, one is, I think a lot of the kompromat is just hiding in plain sight. I mean they bought him. They own him. They -- he is -- he would not have had a successful business career. America is not going to elect someone who's $4 billion in debt.

In addition, I interviewed General Oleg Kalugin, who was head of counter intelligence for the KGB. And when I talked to him about the Russian mafia, he said, oh, that's just another branch of the KGB. It's part of Russian intelligence.

So consider this for a minute. You have all these Russian mobsters who are buying condos from him, some of them are located in Trump Tower. This goes on and off for over 30 years. I document it all in my book. And these are links to Russian intelligence in the home of the president of the United States. You know, he would never get a security clearance today.

HILL: Let me ask you, though, just on a couple of those points there. So, some of this is similar claims that we saw from Jonathan Chait in a "New York Magazine" article about a month ago talking about how things he believes really started in 1987 on that first visit to what was then the USSR for the president and that he was targeted at the time as a businessman, but also one who Russians saw as having a large ego, being very fragile, obviously, to the way he's portrayed in the press, and they knew he had money problems.

UNGER: Right.

HILL: It seems so simple though. Even given all of that, was he really targeted back in the '80s as someone who could eventually -- I mean what was it about that profile that tells you, this is a person who's going to end up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

UNGER: Right. Well, initially when they targeted him, I don't -- I don't think they saw him as a presidential candidate. I mean this was for money laundering. But they gradually groomed him.

And you see when he made his first trip to Russia, that was initiated by the Soviets. This is before the fall of the Soviet Union. And the ambassador of the U.N., Dubinin, just went up to Trump Tower with his daughter. They invited him to Russia and said, why don't you do -- build a Trump Tower in Moscow. They brought him over there. That trip was -- was booked by Intours, which was a Soviet tourist agency, tied to the KGB. General Kalugin told me he believed Trump had fun with lots of women in 1987 in Russia. And the Soviets had Kompromat dating back to then.

[06:55:24] And when Trump came back here, he immediately started to run for president. He took out full page ads in "The New York Times," "The Boston Globe," "The Washington Post," promoting a foreign policy that is very -- it sounds an awful lot like what the Russians want -- wanted then and want now.

HILL: Boy, a lot to dig into every single day, isn't there?

Craig, appreciate you coming in today. Thank you.

UNGER: Thanks for having me.

HILL: The book, again, is out now, Craig Unger's book.


BERMAN: All right, Erica, thanks very much.

I'm holding on to this op-ed written by former CIA director John Brennan, who just lost his secretary clearance. John Brennan writes, President Trump's claims of no collusion are hogwash. Much more on this ahead.


[07:00:10] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It appears obvious to me that this is a White House that feels under siege.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any benefits from