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Brennan Pens Blistering Op-Ed after Security Clearance Revoked; NY Governor: America Was 'Never That Great'. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 16, 2018 - 07:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

[07:00:13] SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Any benefits from consultations with Mr. Brennan are now outweighed by the risk posed by his erratic conduct.

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR (via phone): Revoking my security clearances is his way of trying to get back at me.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You can be the former CIA director and a critic of the president. You just can't lead the resistance movement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is to stop President Trump from suspending the access to classified information of Bob Mueller?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The church was more interested in protecting its own reputation than protecting children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Child sexual abuse cannot be tolerated and must be eradicated from our church.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you tell an institution that teaches morality, but has none?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Alisyn is off. Erica Hill joins me for what has been a busy morning.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: It has been a little busy, hasn't it.

BERMAN: A whole --

HILL: And we're not done yet.

BERMAN: A whole lot of people speaking their mind. President Trump telling us what he really thinks, and so is former CIA director John Brennan. Now, President Trump says he revoked former director Brennan's

security clearance because Brennan was among the public servants who launched the investigation into the Russian attack on the U.S. elections. The president told "The Wall Street Journal" -- and he said this out loud -- "Something had to be done." That sound familiar? Well, President Trump said something similar about firing James Comey because of the Russian investigation, and he said that to Lester Holt.

(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)

HILL: Well, Brennan is now having his say, as John referenced. A scathing new op-ed in "The New York Times" out just this morning. You see the title there. "President Trump's Claims of No Collusion Are Hogwash," adding that the decision to revoke his security clearance is, in Brennan's words, an attempt to scare into silence others who might dare to challenge him. A reference to the president there.

With that in mind, the White House has released a list of nine other former and current officials in the intelligence community and the Department of Justice whose security clearance, we're told, is now under review.

BERMAN: Once of those people is James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, current CNN national security analyst. And former director Clapper joins us right now. Thank you so much for being with us.

And we know more now about why the president revoked John Brennan's security clearance and why he is threatening to revoke yours. The president tells us, through "The Wall Street Journal," and he said these words out loud, it's because of your involvement at the beginning of the Russian investigation. This is what the president said, just to be crystal-clear about this.

He says, "I call it the rigged witch hunt. It is a sham, and these people led it." He added, "So I think it is something that had to be done."

Something that had to be done, because you were part of the team initially concerned about the Russian cyberattack on the U.S. election. Your response?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I find this admission, candid admission, very disturbing, because first of all, the four of us that were involved in putting together the intelligence community assessment which we published on the 6th of January 2017. That is, Jim Comey, John Brennan, and Admiral Mike Rogers, then the director of NSA, and myself.

And what we focused on was the Russian meddling in our political process, which continues yet today, as has been affirmed by the current crop of I.C. and law enforcement leaders.

And so I find it very disturbing that here, we were in compliance with a request of the then-president of the United States to put into one document our insight and knowledge of the profound threat that Russia posed to this country.

And now, apparently, we're being punished for this. John already has been, and apparently others of us that were involved in that. That is very disturbing.

There was, just to be clear, nothing in that intelligence community assessment that said anything about collusion. And we did not draw on the dossier as a source for that report. Now, it's true that was the -- led to a sequence of events, and it did serve as a catalyst for the Mueller investigation.

As to collusion, well, I've learned some things, as has John, about that, although from a legal standpoint, I think that's yet to be proven. Certainly, the president's exhortation to the Russians on the 27th of July f 2016 to go find the missing 30,000 e-mails, which as revealed in the latest indictment by Special Counsel Mueller against the 12 GRU officers, which reflects they did -- they complied with his request. After hours, that very day, they tried to find those -- those e-mails.

Now, I don't know the legal definition of collusion or not. Certainly, the Trump Tower meeting reflected an intent to collude. And of course, why all these many meetings with Russian officials?

That's why it's so important that the Mueller investigation be -- as John said in his op-ed, be allowed to continue and to finish without interference from anyone. We have to remove this cloud from this presidency and -- and this country. And there is a dark cloud over us because of all this.

BERMAN: I want to go into much further detail about several of the things you just said. But just to be clear I see by the nature of how you're talking this morning that if it was the president's attempt to intimidate you or silence you about your critique of some of his actions, that hasn't worked.

CLAPPER: Well, no. As Mike Hayden said last night, I don't think it's -- doing this is going to affect what we think, write or say.

BERMAN: All right. You brought up the president's statements during the campaign in 2016 where, again, out loud -- and so much of this has been out loud, from the campaign days to last night, when he told "The Wall Street Journal" that he wants to revoke these security clearances because of the launch of the Russia investigation. In 2016, he called on the Russians to go find Hillary Clinton's e-mails. Just listen to that again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, just moments ago, former CIA director John Brennan writes of that moment, "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 an election. 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." And he goes on to say the president's claims of no collusion are hogwash.

Your assessment of what the former director said?

CLAPPER: Well, I think John raises good points. And he is expressing an -- what I would call an informed opinion, which he is clearly entitled to do. I think in the end, though, there needs to be an official determination made about this, and that, I think, can only be done by the Mueller investigation.

BERMAN: Based on what you have seen, whether you're willing to tell us what you saw while you were were director of national intelligence or what you've seen from the public reporting since, do you agree with former director Brennan that the president's claims of no collusion are hogwash?

CLAPPER: Well, I don't know that I'd use that word, but again, sort of in plain sight, things we've learned since we left the government -- and we weren't aware -- we weren't aware of the Trump Tower meeting. And we -- I wasn't aware, at least, of the Russian compliance with the president -- candidate Trump's request on the 27th of July.

So, you know, whether that's -- meets the definition of collusion, which in itself is not a legal proposition. But I think in the end, and John's, his belief is there was collusion, and the president's denials are hogwash. And John is entitled to that. He's been a very harsh and open critic of the president.

From my perspective, I think from a legal standpoint, whether there was a conspiracy here or not, that's not for me to say. I think that is up to the Mueller investigation.

BERMAN: You call some of what former Director Brennan has said harsh. Do you believe, in terms of what you think and your opinion, has it been too harsh?

CLAPPER: No, I'm not -- I'm not going to render a value judgment there. I mean, John is entitled to his perspective. I think philosophically, we're probably in agreement. I might express things differently than John does or than Mike Hayden does, but I think, in the end, the -- our -- the broad outlines here is our genuine concern about the threats to the institutions of this country. And that's what I think motivates all of us. We feel a duty and an obligation to speak up about this. We may express ourselves differently, but I think in the end, we're pretty much on the same page.

[07:10:19] BERMAN: Much of what you say and are asked to comment on deals in the realm of national security and intelligence.

Former director Brennan has branched out beyond that, and he was very critical of the president over the last few days for some of the comments that the president made that many people deem as flat-out racist. Former director Brennan talked about the president calling Omarosa a dog. And the former director wrote, "It's astounding how often you fail to live up to minimum standards of decency, civility, and probity."

Again, is it one thing to comment on issues dealing with national security, and should a former director of the CIA stay out of that other side of the discussion?

CLAPPER: Well, I think once you become a -- my view is -- and this is controversial, a lot of people don't agree with it -- but I think once you are not in an official position, you're free to speak your mind. And that's one of the great, at least in the past, it's one of the great strengths of this country.

And I think there is such a thing as kind of loyal opposition here. I think we have great respect for the office of the presidency and great concerns about the current occupant.

BERMAN: Well, there is such a thing as freedom of speech. Correct? It is something that is specifically protected. One is supposed to be able to share their views openly and freely and publicly. Correct?

CLAPPER: Exactly, and that to me is the larger implication here with the -- this revocation of John's eligibility and the threat for the others, myself included. It's -- it has not to do not with our access to classified information. I haven't had any access to classified information since I left the government.

The larger implication here is the jeopardy to our First Amendment rights, and by extension, others. And by the way, there's a very chilling message here to people in the intelligence community. If you tee up intelligence that the president doesn't like, you may risk losing your clearance and, thereby, your job.

BERMAN: In fact, that's exactly what the president said to "The Wall Street Journal." Again, I'm going to read this again. He says, "I call it a rigged witch hunt. It is a sham, and these people led it." He's talking about you, John Brennan, James Comey and others, who were at the forefront of the Russia investigation, the Russia attack on the U.S. election. He says, "So I think it's something that had to be done." He's talking about revoking the security clearance of former director Brennan there. He doesn't leave any mystery about why he did it.

Now, you say that you haven't accessed any classified information since you left. But you have been reached out to by the current intelligence community for your advice on things. Isn't that correct? You've had conversations with people who are still there?

CLAPPER: I've had -- yes, I've consulted with people in the administration, senior people. And obviously, I'm not going to name them.

BERMAN: Right.

CLAPPER: To protect them. I don't -- and what they're drawing on is not access to current classified investigation. They're drawing on our history, on the corporate memory, as I did when I was in the government, and I consulted with prior DNIs, and I was an agency director twice for almost nine years. I drew on the expertise of those who had preceded me. Sometimes I asked why they made certain decisions that they made.

Now, that's useful. I don't know that it was ever crucial. And that's the case here.

BERMAN: Useful, sometimes, can mean a lot. John Brennan, famously, he was in the room. He was in the situation room during the raid on the bin Laden compound, where U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden. He was a key player in that. One could conceive, one could think of a situation, perhaps, dealing with al Qaeda now, associates with bin Laden, where the intelligence community might want to tap into Brennan's knowledge of that, update him on a current operation, and say, "Hey, based on what you knew then, is there a connection here? Could you help us out?" That's not inconceivable, is it?

CLAPPER: Well, that's quite possible, and I would just note that I was standing next to John in that same iconic picture taken by Pete Souza.

BERMAN: Yes.

CLAPPER: And, you know, people want to draw on that experience and that expertise, they can. It's not essential, and it's not crucial, but it can sometimes be very useful.

BERMAN: What statement does it make that the president is taking this official action without suggesting in any way -- and you didn't see it in Sarah Sanders's statement from the White House press room. You didn't see it in the document she produced, and you didn't even see it in the president's open admission about his justification to "The Wall Street Journal." There's not a single accusation in any way that Brennan, or the others on this list, any of you, have done anything wrong with the classified information.

[07:15:17] CLAPPER: Well, exactly. And I think Phil Mudd alluded to that in a previous segment, that that's typically why a clearance -- people's clearances are put in jeopardy, if they mishandle or divulge classified information. And I don't think there's been any -- you know, any evidence of that presented at all. We haven't had access to it. BERMAN: In fact, it was President Trump behind closed doors, as his

prerogative, to give classified information to the Russians when he met with some of them early on in the administration.

It is notable, if you look at this list, it doesn't include any loyalists to the president. Perhaps not surprising. What is surprising is that his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, who had pled guilty to lying to investigators, and who made very political statements, not unlike some of the ones that have been made, probably much harsher, in fact, than the ones that have been made by most of the people on this list, he still has his security clearance. If John Brennan doesn't have his security clearance, Michael Flynn?

CLAPPER: Well, I don't know -- I actually don't know, John, what Mike Flynn's security clearance status is, so I don't know if he has it -- has one or not. I don't think he does.

But all that, his omission from the list is simply proof positive, I think, of what this is really about. It's an enemies list to get at people that have been critical or who have taken actions that, you know, he didn't like. And that's -- that, to me, is a pretty chilling message.

BERMAN: Former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, a man on the unwanted list, as it is now called. Thanks so much for being with us.

CLAPPER: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Erica.

HILL: He's always wanted around here. We'll keep him on our most wanted list.

Just ahead, "New York Times" columnist Frank Bruni says President Trump is being devoured by lesser Trumps. He'll explain, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: President Trump giving a revealing interview to "The Wall Street Journal" and maybe revealing what he actually thinks and the actual reason for revoking the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan.

The White House released a different statement about the reasons for doing so, but inside this interview with "The Wall Street Journal," the president said it was because of the Russia investigation. He says, "I call it the rigged witch hunt. It is a sham, and these people led it, so I think it's something that had to be done."

I want to bring in Frank Bruni. He's an op-ed columnist for "The New York Times" and a CNN contributor.

Mr. Bruni, thank you so much for being with us. One of the things I love in politics is when leaders tell us exactly

what they think. They leave no mystery about what's going on here. It's a single entendre. "I revoked his security clearance because he was part of the team that launched the Russia investigation."

FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. He's making it utterly clear that this is a punitive action. And it's the Lester Holt moment redux exactly. Where beforehand, the White House and President Trump had put out one version of events, and then in an interview he tells you exactly what's really going on: that he's made about the investigation; this is punitive.

And yes, I mean, you can't do press, you can't -- you can't, like, kind of smooth over Donald Trump, because he will eventually tell you exactly what's going on.

BERMAN: The timing of it also interesting. We haven't noted this in a few minutes. The original date that was on the statement that the White House put out was July 26, indicating they were thinking about this a long time ago.

The president, again, out loud to "The Wall Street Journal," says that he wanted to get this out last week, but things got hectic at Bedminster, somewhere between, maybe, the ninth green and tee off on the tenth hole. They were too hectic to do. So now he releases it during a week when he's been accused by many of saying racist things.

BRUNI: That's right, and now we're talking about that instead of Omarosa. And I don't think that's an accident. I think he saw -- he saw where the news coverage was going this week, and I think he saw an opportunity to throw out another shiny object and have us chase that.

BERMAN: We're going to talk about Omarosa in just a moment. Hang onto the Omarosa thought for a moment.

But I do want to get your take on what John Brennan has done this morning. And it does actually dovetail a little bit into what we're going to say about Omarosa, because John Brennan has chosen to take on the president of the United States directly, in a fashion. He's been doing it on Twitter. He's been doing it in interviews, in public statements, and this morning he's doing it in an op-ed in your newspaper, which puts this headline there for all of us to see, unlike most headlines, which don't actually coincide with what's in the piece. This one actually pulls from it directly. It says, "President Trump's claims of no collusion are hogwash."

BRUNI: Right.

BERMAN: John Brennan sticking it to, I think, deliberately, the president.

BRUNI: John Brennan not pulling any punches. And I think what's so fascinating -- and it's a must-read editorial. It's so powerfully worded, and I think it's probably the strongest statement that he's made to date. But what's so interesting is what Donald Trump would really like to do is silence John Brennan. He would like to silence James Clapper. How's that working out? It's not working out so well. And I think -- I think it's not going to work out that way, because you can revoke security clearances. You can't revoke people's opinions and their right to speak out about them. You can't revoke their invitations to CNN and other networks. And I think what Donald Trump has done is actually emboldened his critics, Brennan foremost among them.

BERMAN: All right. You wrote an op-ed this week that I think got a lot of people's attention and spawned a discussion about some of the people who are doing battle directly, openly, admittedly with the president. You call them the army of the lesser Trumps. And I want to read from that right now.

"Trump's an entity whose components split off to form independent existences that now threaten to undo him. His hunger for attention became Rudy Giuliani; his thirst for pomp, Scott Pruitt; his taste for provocation, Avenatti; his talent for duplicity, Manigault Newman. They're an army of emulators, adding up to Trump. And they're on the march."

BRUNI: Well, when you look at Omarosa, and you look at her media tour this week, who do you see? You see Donald Trump. You see someone who has learned from the master. Mete out the revelations, you know, hurl bold accusations. Don't worry so much about contradicting yourself. Let the media work it out. She learned from him, and she's emulating him.

[07:25:06] And when you look at Michael Avenatti, a different character entirely, of course, who does he remind you of? He reminds you of Donald Trump. The brashness, the ability to hold the media's attention, the equation of media ubiquity, you know, with its own credential.

You look at the people who are bedeviling Donald Trump right now and almost all of them are pieces of Donald Trump, where they're taking their cues from Donald Trump. I think that's one of the reasons they rattle him.

BERMAN: It's interesting, though, because there's been this discussion for a long time, and it's a bit of a conundrum. Michelle Obama says, "They go low, we go high." She called on Democrats to take the high road there.

Marco Rubio, when he tried to make jokes about little hands, he went down in flames. So people who try to get to Trump's level have had lack of success before.

Do you have a sense of what's the better way of going about it?

BRUNI: I think it depends entirely on who the person is. Marco Rubio, it didn't work for him, because it went entirely against what his approach and his brand, so to speak, had been until then.

Michael Avenatti has been like this from the start. And he's basically saying, you know, "When they go low, I'm going to go subterranean. I'm going to spelunk, you know?" I'm going to just - forget it.

An I think for him, that does works, because it's utterly consistent with whom he's been to date. But with other people when they try to change on a dime and suddenly become Donald Trump, they've been the anti-Trump. When they've been who's been criticizing him for those very qualities, that ends up not working out for them.

AVLON: It also helps when you have tapes.

BRUNI: It also helps when you have tapes.

But like Trump, Avenatti offered promises. Whatever happened to that disk that we saw a picture of that he tweeted out right next to a safe? And it supposedly held evidence of an affair with Stormy Daniels, and he was going to reveal it at some point. That was March and that was that.

BERMAN: Maybe it turned out to be a greatest hits cd.

BRUNI: Well, we'll find out or we won't. But it's interesting. He, like Trump, realizes it's more important to capture attention in the moment, and people's memories are short. And if you never follow through, the narrative moves on.

BERMAN: It's interesting in terms of Manigault-Newman, what she will produce if she continues to come out with more recordings or if we've heard them all.

BRUNI: I'm guessing we've seen the worst of them, because it would be silly to lead with the worst -- to lead with your softest stuff and save the rest for later. I'm guessing we've seen the wort of it.

BERMAN: OK, in the things said out loud file, we have a new edition. And it's not from President Trump in this case. It's from New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who said something. He was trying to take on the president, and the president said make America great again, and then Andrew Cuomo had this to say out loud about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: We're not going to make America great again. It was never that great. We have not reached greatness. We will reach greatness when every American is fully engaged.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: You could hear the gasps in the room.

BRUNI: Yes. It's an extraordinary -- I mean, that is so, so clumsy. Now, it's not going to cost him his reelection campaign. You know, he's more than 30 points ahead of Cynthia Nixon in the primary, and this is a very blue state, New York. And he not going to lose the general election to a Republican. But I think he just hurt his political future. I think people watching that saw an altitude of clumsiness that you seldom see, and it's a shame. We all know what he was trying to say. He was trying to say this country is an imperfect project that needs to -- needs to be much greater than it currently is, and it's had many things to answer for in the past.

The way he said it just sounded so dismissive, so unpatriotic. I think it's going to haunt him for a long time to come.

BERMAN: The governor's office put out a statement saying the governor believes America is great and its full greatness will be fully realized when every man, woman and child has full equality. He says the U.S. has not reached its full potential. That' s the clean-up effort. That's maybe, you know, the third or fourth attempt at the clean-up effort.

Donald Trump is writing about this. You heard the gasps in the room. You could almost hear Republican operatives typing out the releases that they will use in advertisements around the country that says prominent Democratic governor says America not great.

BRUNI: Right. They're going to try to hang this around the entire Democratic Party's neck. And that's why Cuomo did no favors to the party. And I think the party will remember that. And I think if he did -- if he does or did have 2020 ambitions, he just hurt them.

BERMAN: Frank Bruni, great to have you here with us. Thanks for waking up. Appreciate it.

BRUNI: Thank you.

BERMAN: Erica.

HILL: Will predator priests revealed in that grand jury report from Pennsylvania be held accountable? Just ahead, you'll hear from one victim and what he wants state lawmakers to do. That's next.

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