Return to Transcripts main page


Former U.S. Intel Chiefs Blast Trump for Revoking Brennan's Clearance; Bin Laden Raid Leader Asks Trump to Revoke his Security Clearance; Jury Begins 2nd Day of Deliberations in Manafort Fraud Trial. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired August 17, 2018 - 10:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- fundraiser in the Hamptons. The big question, will he address the growing criticism over his decision to strip former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance? This morning, 13 former intelligence officials both who worked in Republican and Democratic administrations are coming to Brennan's defense. In a new letter, they called the president's move a quote, "attempt to stifle free speech." All of this as CNN learns those nine former officials listed by Sarah Sanders earlier this week as contenders to potentially also lose their clearance or either somehow involved in the Russia investigation or have been critical of the president.

Let's begin at the White House this hour. Abby Phillip is there. What are you hearing from White House aides? I mean I know we don't know if and when these others will be stripped but as to the why.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House is really being a little bit forceful on this issue, because the president is, according to our sources, still very much interested in dealing with some of these other individuals that they identified earlier this week whose clearances are going to be reviewed. And source tells us, he is interested in actually stripping them of their clearance.

But first of all, one of the issues that they are dealing with at the White House is that they are getting a lot of pushback from some unexpected quarters. Admiral William McRaven, someone who doesn't often speak out about issues of the day, he was one of the architects of the bin Laden's raid, came and spoke in John Brennan's defense in an op-ed in the "Washington Post."

He said this. "I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency. If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken."

And we asked the White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway this morning about McRaven's comments in this op-ed. She declined to answer specifically about McRaven but she focused on John Brennan. Here is what she had to say. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Why is everybody so obsessed with the president of the United States that they can't even begin or finish a sentence without mentioning his name five times. It's kind of weird. And it's affecting people on the news now who fancy themselves security experts. So he had that clearance for a long time. And I think Chairman Burr said it best. The Senate Intelligence chairman said it best. If you said there was Russian collusion on the campaign, why didn't you tell us when you were oath?


PHILLIP: So as you heard there, Kellyanne Conway asking us why we're so focused on the president. And I think the answer is simple, because he's the president of the United States. But more to the point about these security clearances, right now they are focusing on John Brennan and what they are characterizing as his lack of credibility. But the question remains, how are they going to evaluate all the other folks on that list, some of whom are involved in the Russia investigation? What are they going to use to determine whether or not their clearances ought to be stripped? Poppy?

HARLOW: OK. Abby, thank you for the reporting from the White House. Have a good weekend, unless the president says something, and then you are coming right back here.

CNN national intelligence and national security analyst Bob Baer joins me now. So, Bob, we're waiting to hear from the president. Maybe he will speak to reporters as he walks across the south lawn in just a few minutes. But help me understand the significance, for example, of Admiral McRaven's op-ed, right? The man who is so respected, the man who led the bin Laden raid, calling the president out like this. Saying you know it would be an honor if you strip my security clearance, because I am speaking out against your presidency. What's the significance of that?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Oh, it's huge, Poppy. I mean McRaven is well respected, special forces community especially, an admiral, decorated. For somebody who is also very conservative to come out against the president like this, so strongly, it tells you that this pulling Brennan's clearance -- there's no justification, first of all, is a political act, free speech, First Amendment and the rest of it. And the national security establishment is starting to revolt in a big way.

HARLOW: Pulling his security clearance for being too political, you know, is a political act. I mean it's just antithetical here Giuliani -- Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, says, look, this list of these nine people who we know have been very outspoken against the president or are part of the Russia probe in one way or another is not an enemy list. Giuliani says this is case by case. And here is what he says. Quote, "The basis for having it," meaning clearance, "is the president is going to call on you for advice, if that doesn't exist, there's no reason for you to have a clearance." Is that really true? I mean it's not just the president, right? It is former - it is current CIA officials, current intelligence officials who might need your expertise on something. And now you can't give it to them.

BAER: And former presidents as well. They keep their security clearances. There's no justification for pulling it. The only reason you would is if this was unauthorized disclosures. John Brennan knows a lot more about the Russian investigation. He hasn't said a word about it.

[10:05:02] The National Security Agency, for instance, has intercepted hundreds of phone calls of Russians talking about it. John Brennan hasn't even alluded to that. But what the president is, he's scared that Brennan and these others will come out with more facts that will --

HARLOW: But he did, Bob. He did in that "New York Times" op-ed yesterday morning. I mean he went pretty far. He didn't lay out evidence, but he said it's hogwash to say there's no -- his word, hogwash, there's no collusion. I mean he -- some are pointing to that as going too far when Mueller's team has not yet come out with their conclusion. What do you think?

BAER: Calling it hogwash is a political statement. But he hasn't come out unauthorized disclosures, sources and methods, intelligence, that's not public. He just has not crossed that line. He's very careful.

HARLOW: Right. Right.

BAER: He knows what he is doing.

HARLOW: All right. Bob, nice to have you, thanks for being with me.

BAER: Thanks.

Let's talk more about this. Doug Heye is here, CNN political commentator, former RNC communications director. Jackie Kucinich also joins me, political analyst and Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast." Nice to have you both.

Jackie, the reporting we are learning more and more about, you know, why the president did this, why he did it now, right, when the letter was originally dated like two weeks ago and it is because, according to the reporting, that the White House wanted to change the narrative away from the Omarosa and raise conversation this week, but "The Washington Post" reports this morning that the president feels emboldened by this, that this fight with Brennan plays out really well for him politically. Does it?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think among certain people it does. There really are isn't any real consequences for the president with his base. It's making him look strong after Omarosa spent a week making him look weak. They can't control her. And this is something that the president can control, because it's very much in his purview to do this.

Now, the reason the intelligence establishment, as others have said, is revolting against this is because why it happened. It's not because he was actually concerned. This was meant as a distraction to make us all talk about this. It's worth talking about. I'm not saying it's not. But it -- how this was used as a political tactic to change the subject on this, disturbing for a lot of people, both inside the Intelligence Community and outside.

HARLOW: Is this a good fight for Republicans to be part of, Doug, 81 days away from the midterms? Meaning if you are running and you're asked, do you agree with President Trump on almost everything, do you agree that he should have stripped Brennan's security clearance? Do you agree that he should strip the clearance of these nine folks? Does that put some Republican candidates in a tough spot?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: For a few of them, yes. The overwhelming majority will back him. Kellyanne mentioned the statement from Senator Burr in full disclosure, my old boss in 2004, 2005 and 2006. And I think he raised some good questions about Brennan. And that's where a lot of these Republican members can go.

But if you look at what else has happened this week and what was not been able to talk about because of Omarosa, because of these news, we have had great economic news in youth unemployment, in retail sales, in productivity. And instead of things about looking tough and speaking to your base, this great economic news and the Trump administration, to be clear, has a lot of great economic news that it can talk about, that speaks to the public. And that's what Republican candidates want to be talking about. It's the message they want to drive home, especially when we come out of Labor Day in the final weeks of the campaign. They would much rather be talking about this than a he said she said with Omarosa or he said he said with Brennan and Donald Trump.

HARLOW: And there's another Omarosa tape. I'm not going to play it in the interest of time, Jackie.

HEYE: Thank you.

HARLOW: There are 200 according to "The New York Times," guys. So buckle up. You know, who knows. But Jackie, I mean there's another one. It's a conversation with Lara Trump about you know whether she would come on the campaign or not after she was fired from the White House. But you know, a warning like, hey, you wouldn't be able to say anything negative about the president and the White House obviously.

What would be best strategy for the White House right now, Jackie, if there are 200 tapes and they keep dripping, dripping out? Is it to - I just -- I don't know that this is a White House or president who can ignore, right?

KUCINICH: That's the thing. In theory, it would be to ignore her. But I think it might be too late for that. Because the president can't help himself, but engage. I mean remember, two days ago, three days ago, the president was advised just to ignore the book coming out, not to weigh into this. But he can't help himself. So I guess we just have to buckle up and see because maybe he will ignore some of them, if there are in fact 200. But this is causing chaos, because the -- people inside the White House don't know who is on tape. So that in and of itself is really -- is causing unrest --

HARLOW: But didn't he teach her this? I mean is this not the lesson of how to be a brilliant media strategist, Jackie?

KUCINICH: Oh, yes.

HARLOW: He taught her on the apprentice.

KUCINICH: Oh, no, she's a product of the Trump organization, of the art of the deal. And everything that goes into it. She's beating him at his own game right now. And she is a huge distraction for the White House which is why we are where we are right now.

[10:10:02] HARLOW: OK. Before you guys go, Doug, I just want your take on something that the RNC did overnight, because you used to run communications for the RNC. So whoever has your job now --

HEYE: Ryan Mahoney, he's a very good guy.

HARLOW: OK. Well, you should come on the show with me on Monday. Guys, let's put that request in because I want to know what you think of this strategy, and that is to compare Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, who ran and won the primary in New York 14th, a 28-year-old Latina, Puerto Rican roots who is a self-described Democratic socialist. I get all of that.

But they compared her to the dictator in Nicolas Maduro, the dictator in Venezuela and called her put out - you know an e-mail saying that she's a mini Maduro - I mean this is comparing her to someone who has all these human rights abuse allegations, money laundering allegations, false imprisonment and torture allegations. A bridge too far, would you have done it?

HEYE: I wouldn't have. You know the hard problem is when you are doing a lot of negative attacks, which is a big part of what the job at the RNC is. It was true when I was there. It's true for my predecessors and people who have come after. It's very easy to take that one step too far than you would. I would say AOC does not need any help from the RNC or any other organizations in bringing national publicity to herself. She does that very well or very badly depending on your perspective. Let her rise or fall on her own merits.

HARLOW: All right. Doug, thank you very much, Jackie, nice to have you both. Enjoy the weekend.

HEYE: Thank you.

KUCINICH: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: Right now, the jury in Paul Manafort's trial is deliberating. This is underway for a second straight day. Yesterday, jurors had some very interesting questions for the judge. We're going to walk you through those and take you live outside the courthouse.

Also, President Trump's military parade was supposed to happen this year. Now it's not. Why was it canceled? Who canceled it?

Also, not only was Aretha Franklin one of the world's greatest entertainers, she was played - of course played a crucial role in the civil rights movement. We're going to talk a lot more about all she did for this country ahead this hour.


[10:16:19] HARLOW: All right. We do have some breaking news now out of Turkey regarding an American citizen. A Turkish court has just rejected an appeal from the American Pastor Andrew Brunson who has been held there since 2016, an appeal to return from house arrest. Brunson has been held there again for two years accused of helping plot an overthrow of the Turkish president in that coup. Now Brunson's arrest is at the heart of the dispute between the U.S. and Turkey that has been escalating by the day. The Trump White House has levied tariffs on Turkey, threatening Turkey more and more with more sanctions if they don't let Brunson go. They say these allegations against him are totally unfounded but again the Turkish court again rejecting that appeal. We'll keep you posted.

The jury in Paul Manafort's bank and tax fraud case has started its second day of deliberations. The jury yesterday sent a note to the judge with four really interesting questions. Perhaps the most interesting, define for us reasonable doubt.

Let's go outside the courthouse now. Our justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is with me. So how did Judge Ellis define reasonable doubt for them?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That was the one question that Judge Ellis actually answered out of the four. And Judge Ellis put it this way. He said, reasonable doubt, it's not beyond all possible doubt. You could have a little bit of doubt. It's just beyond reasonable doubt. Now whether or not that explanation was sufficient for the jury, who knows, but they are back deliberating. They started at 9:40 a.m. this morning. And that question as to reasonable doubt, it really goes to the heart of this case and any case for prosecutors.

Prosecutors have to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense team, they spoke after the proceedings yesterday outside the courtroom. They said that they were very pleased with these questions from the jury. That could be because they started off their closing argument stressing to the jury what high burden reasonable doubt actually is. So they are probably pleased that the jury is asking this question, wondering how much doubt is too much doubt to convict. Maybe wondering how much doubt they can have and still convict. So this question kind of making us all wonder, what is the jury thinking, Poppy.

HARLOW: Everyone is wondering that this morning. Jessica, before you go, let me get you on this because there were a lot of moments during this trial when there were bench conferences. That just means that the lawyers from both sides went up to the bench to talk to the judge privately and they even turn on this sound machine so that the jurors can't hear what they are talking about. News organizations understandably are fighting to have those unsealed, right? To have full transparency here and something is going to happen on that this afternoon. What is it?

SCHNEIDER: That's right. Well the jury is still deliberating. There will be a hearing in court today at 2:00 p.m. A lot of these news organizations including CNN, they want to unseal those transcripts about all of those bench conferences that happened in secret. So we will hear what you know the judge might unseal. It's important to note on Friday, there were five hours of secret proceedings. And everyone wondered exactly what was going on between prosecutors, defense and the judge

If these were unsealed, we might finally know what happened in those five hours, particularly interesting, Poppy, Judge Ellis said today when he announced this 2:00 p.m. hearing, he put it this way. He said, "A thirsty press is essential in a free country." Of course, this is a judge that has been very outspoken throughout this trial and really quite a contrast from what we heard from the president who constantly calls fake news. This judge saying, the press needs to know and we will have this hearing at 2:00 p.m. today to see exactly what they will know in unsealing some of these transcripts. Poppy?

HARLOW: There you go. Jess, thanks for the reporting. Paul Callan is with me, our legal analyst.

[10:20:00] Let's just talk about that for a moment. So five hours plus, that was just one day, so many hours of this basically secret conversation between the two sides and the judge. It sounds like Ellis is going to release this to the public. But if it were not released to the public would Mueller's team be privy to that? Would they get it? Or is the only way that they get it if the public gets it?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I mean they get it in the sense that one of their attorneys was there for the hearing.

HARLOW: But they don't have the transcripts, right?

CALLAN: They don't have the transcripts but you can be sure the lawyers, you know, made detailed notes about it when they stepped out of the conference. This is -- that's a very lengthy conference to stay secret in the course of a trial. Occasionally, you approach the bench. You have a short argument about a motion and then you return.

HARLOW: Right.

CALLAN: This suggests something very serious and probably confidential information that Mueller's team doesn't want released.

HARLOW: So back to the jury deliberations. We know that the defense feels good right now. They came out and they told the CNN cameras yesterday, this is good news. The jury came back with these four questions. Do you see it that way? Is it good news for Manafort? CALLAN: You know when I was a prosecutor, the two words that frightened me the most were reasonable doubt, because defense attorneys always say, there's reasonable doubt all over the case. And when the jury comes back and says, could you define reasonable doubt again, judge, you know that they are focused on that. However, I would issue this warning. When you see jurors ask questions sometimes, it doesn't always mean that the whole jury is interested in this. A lot of times it means there are one or two holdout jurors and the majority of jurors are saying, all right, let's have the judge tell you what reasonable doubt is. You are wrong on it. So it's hard to read these tea leaves. But they are good questions for the defense overall, because it wasn't only reasonable doubt, they also asked for a definition of what a shelf company is.

HARLOW: Right. I would like a definition what a shelf company is, too. I mean this is about the - you know the banking in Cyprus, the Cypriot banking system and the companies and how this all works.

CALLAN: Well these charges are really complicated charges. And the shelf companies are companies that you form a company, but you don't do anything with it. You put it on the shelf for when you might need it. Then you activate the company as was done here and run money through it. Now the prosecutors are saying this is part of a scheme to avoid payment of income taxes through the use of shell companies -- shelf companies. That's a good question for the prosecutors. The other question that was asked that I thought was probably a one they will be really happy with. They wanted the exhibits sent in to the jury room. Now why is that important? Remember at the beginning of the trial, they were showing pictures of the ostrich coach a and -


HARLOW: But the jury didn't see them.

CALLAN: No. The jury never saw it. We saw it in all the newspapers. But the judge said, no. They're not going to see them now but if they ask for them, we will send them in. So now for the first time, they're going to see the ostrich coat, the python coat, the $21,000 watch and all of the other things that are kind of simple demonstrations of, where did he get all this money and did he report it all? And that makes a tax case very simple, because it turns it into a lifestyle case.

HARLOW: All right. It's not illegal to have an ostrich coat.

CALLAN: It's not illegal to have -

HARLOW: How did you buy it, with what money? It could be.

CALLAN: Right, exactly.

HARLOW: Thank you, Paul. I appreciate it.

CALLAN: Thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: Up next, former CIA Chief John Brennan was the first to get his security clearance pulled by the president. He may be far from the last. It appears the president may just be getting started.


[10:28:04] HARLOW: So this morning, we learned the president very well may strip more former national security leaders of their security clearance, could be as soon as today, this is despite growing criticism after he yanked clearance from former CIA Director John Brennan.

With me now on this and a lot more is Congressman Jim Himes, Democratic, Connecticut. He sits on the House Intel Committee. Good to have you. And let's begin with this. Your colleague in Congress in the Senate, Lindsey Graham on the Senate side, here's what he says. He argues, look, this was justified for the president to strip Brennan of his clearance because of this. Listen.


LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He's reached a conclusion on collusion that I haven't reached. And you know he is using the aura of his past job in a political way that I think is unsavory.


HARLOW: He is talking about "The New York Times" op-ed from Brennan yesterday where he said, you know, of course there was collusion on the part of the Trump team. How do you see it?

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, first, Senator Graham is just plain wrong. He has got his time line wrong, right? I mean the president stripped the security clearance and then John Brennan said I believe that there was collusion.

But look, this point to a much -- to at least two much larger issues. I respect Senator Graham. I have always admired the fact that he takes -- I don't agree with him on a lot of things, but he takes an independent view of things. He too now has become part of the cult of personality, which are these Republicans who are supporting a president that not just Democrats, not just most Americans, not just women, but as you know so famously yesterday Admiral William McRaven, commander of the SEAL unit says is basically unfit to be president. So now you have an eminent Republican senator who is lining up in this cult of personality to defend the indefensible, which is using the tools of our national security clearances to get back at people who say things that you don't like. This is right out of the Nixon playbook.

HARLOW: So, on another note, Senator Rand Paul -- I'm sure you saw -- took this trip to Moscow, right? And he's come back and he said that he wants President Trump to take some of -