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Interview with Michael Hayden; Manafort Trial Latest; Interview with Rep. Scott Taylor. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 17, 2018 - 07:00   ET


BERMAN: -- and the threats of similar action against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech, you don't have to agree with what John Brennan says and, again, not all of us do to agree with his right to say it subject to his obligation to protect classified information.

Why'd you sign onto this letter?

MICHAEL HAYDEN, FRM. DIRECTOR, NSA: Well first of all, John, as you point out, I wasn't alone. That's an unbroken chain of CIA Directors with one or two exceptions all the way back to 1986 and unbroken chain of Deputy CIA Directors during that same time. So we were unanimous in our view.

Using the security clearance process to punish a political opponent was simply inappropriate even though we all admit that the president does have absolutely authority in this area. It's just a bad thing to do for the health of the American republic and the health of American debate.

So it wasn't all that difficult to make a decision to sign. And as we were working this process, this other letter comes out from Bill McRaven, which was just breathtaking in its focus and in its strength in supporting the same principles.

BERMAN: It felt like an "I am Spartacus" moment.

HAYDEN: Exactly, exactly.

BERMAN: It's standing together in solidarity there. Talk for a minute about Bill McRaven, Admiral McRaven to explain where he fits in this country's national security and the tell of his legacy and how arresting it is to see him say, "it would be an honor if you took my security clearance away."

HAYDEN: So number one with his record of service, there are a few, if any, who have a more impressive record of service as an American warrior, someone on the front line, and he's best remembered as being the overall tactical commander for the raid on Bin Laden at Abottabad, but that's just one piece of a great mosaic of achievements he had as Commander of Joint Special Operations Command.

And then Bill departed public life and became the Chancellor of the University of Texas university system. A native of Texas, he seemed to have found a new niche. He had stayed out of political debate. He wasn't a common traitor for any of the events that were going on, and then yesterday, you could just see from the tone of the letter, he had had enough. I mean, there was an undertone of a powerful sense of embarrassment as to what was happening to the United States.

And then in 250 very focused and powerful words, he said what he said. I think that would be, in case of emergency, break glass. I think Bill McRaven broke the glass yesterday, and we might see an awful lot of other folks like him more willing to comment now, John.

BERMAN: So you think this could open the door to others commenting. So far as the 12 of you on that list plus Admiral McRaven, you folks are leaders - former national security leaders. Do you being that the tank and file, maybe even rank and file and active duty shares the sentiments that you've expressed?

HAYDEN: I do, and, you know, I'd be silly here to try to claim that it was unanimous. I mean, the intelligence community, armed forces reflect the broader American population. I think those - and let me speak of the intel community because I know it most recently - the danger there is what the president has messaged to these 100,000 Americans who do this on behalf of the republic is that if you say things with which he disagrees or things that make him angry, he is quite willing to punish you.

That's a horrible even implicit message to the intelligence community. Frankly, John, it's really a bad deal for the president because he needs these people to feel free to come in and tell him even unhappy news.

Now, with regard to the agency, I'll bet you if you took a survey out there, the would want the American people to understand they have nothing to do with what John Brennan decides to say and they have nothing to do with what the president then decides to do in terms of punishing John. They just want to do their job.

BERMAN: They just want to do their jobs. I want to pick up on one thing that you included in this letter that you released with your 11 colleagues, and it was about John Brennan. You said, "you don't have to agree with what John Brennan says, and again, not all of us do to agree with his right to say it."

Well, let me ask you bluntly. Do you agree with what John Brennan says?

HAYDEN: I agree with much of the substance - most of the substance of what John says. John uses words that I do not choose to use. That op-ed he wrote yesterday with regard to collusion, I mean, he uses as his data points things that we all know happened - the meeting at Trump Tower, the relationship with WikiLeaks, the synchronization of the campaign with what WikiLeaks was doing and so on, but John then jumps to the conclusion that it's very likely collusion and he even throws a few thoughts about money laundering in there.

The data I agree with. I'm prepared to wait for Bob Mueller to tell me the meaning of the data. BERMAN: Yes. Jumping to the conclusion is something that some Republicans have picked up on as going too far, including Senator Richard Burr, the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who, by many accounts, has run a bipartisan fair investigation on the Senate side here.


BERMAN: He did not like what John Brennan said at all yesterday, and he put out an unusually harsh statement for Senator Burr. I want to read you part of that. It says, "if he," John Brennan, "has some other personal knowledge or evidence of collusion, it should be disclosed to the Special Counsel, not the New York Times. If, however, Director Brennan's statement is purely political and based on conjecture, the president has full authority to revoke his security clearance as head of the Executive Branch."

HAYDEN: And John, that's one of the comments from the Hill yesterday that I actually give weight to and pay attention to because you're right. Senator Burr has run the most non-partisan investigation into this whole affair along with Senator Warner, his partner on the committee.

And so, when Senator Burr speaks, I pay attention. And so, if he raises a concern, if he thinks that concern is serious, then I take that really into consideration. And John, it might be the reason thoughts like that why I don't join John in the style of his language, although I do express concerns about what the president says and does.

John, do you want the distinction? I feel free even as a career military officer to answer your questions honestly with regard to the president's words and his actions. I am not competent, and you don't have me here to comment on the president's character.

BERMAN: I want to ask you about something we learned from the White House overnight. This is in the reporting from the Washington Post. Sarah Sanders apparently pushed releasing this information, coming forward with revoking the security clearance of John Brennan on Wednesday because of all the coverage this week on the Omarosa recordings, including the responses, which many have deemed as racist.

The president called her a dog. There a lot of people who say that's a racist comment. Sarah Sanders then said, "hey, you've been wanting to revoke the clearance of John Brennan for some time. Why not do it now to overwhelm the news?" How does it strike you? How does it make you feel as someone who worked your life in national defense that the White House is using a security clearance as a political communications device?

HAYDEN: John, I'll answer the question maybe on two levels. At the personal level if I were to lose my clearance, there would be some inconveniences. There'd probably a board or two that I'd be less useful for when (ph) have to withdraw from overtime. I get that, but there's nothing catastrophic here.

I think - and I think that applies to all of us on the list, frankly. I think our bigger concern is the broader constitutional principle with regard to trying to stifle free speech from folks who are actually fairly knowledgeable about what it is they are talking about.

And so, if this generate any kind of response on my or our part, I think it will be because of the higher constitutional principle. You just can't let this pass, not the modest effect it might have on our lives.

BERMAN: And effect on your lives. Again, but my curiosity is does it bug you that the timing of it seemed to be to squelch another story about racial issues with the president?

HAYDEN: Look, absolutely. I mean, I'm about ready to swear off of flying on airplanes because three weeks ago I learned about the first announcement, recall that, while flying an tracking my Twitter account heading out to Vancouver, and I learned about this one sitting in the lounge at the Denver Airport, and it's just - oh my god, why are they doing that? And then it became very obvious.

We're just kind of tactical tools in a broader public relations problem that the White House has.

BERMAN: We learned overnight that the Pentagon is going to delay the military parade that the president has called for. It was to be in November. There were drib drabs of news yesterday that the price tag on the parade could exceed $90 million. Defense Secretary Mattis says it wasn't going to be that much, but still they're pushing it off. Your reaction?

HAYDEN: Yes, I was very heartened, gladdened to see that was going on. John, that's just not our style. Very quickly, my last assignment overseas was in Korea. I was actually a United Nations Command officer at one of my jobs, and we would have periodic parades there.

And the U.N. command countries that were still there would march - the Americans, the Koreans, the Thais, the Filipinos - and I have one foreign friend come to me after one of the parades, and he says, "you know, those other contingents there are swinging their arms and their steps are exaggeratedly high and so on an you American's just walk by in normal marching.

Tells me you guys have self confidant - self confidence. You know how powerful you are. You don't have to pretend. That's my attitude on the parade.

BERMAN: General Michael Hayden always a pleasure to have you with us. Thanks so much for joining us this morning.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

BERMAN: I appreciate it sir. And I think air travel is safe for you, just to be clear.

HAYDEN: All right.

BERMAN: Erica.

HILL: A Virginia jury begins day two of deliberations soon in the bank and tax fraud trial against Paul Manafort. Jurors sending four questions to the judge yesterday just before wrapping up for the day, one of them asking him to redefine reasonable doubt. Queue all the other questions out there.

CNN's Joe Johns is live in Alexandria, Virginia for us this morning with more. Joe, good morning.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Erica. The significance of all of this is these questions coming to the judge at the end of the first day of deliberations may suggest that this is not necessarily the slam dunk for the Special Council Robert Mueller legal team that was first thought and could also indicate that the jury is just going very carefully about its deliberation.

So let's run though them very quickly. That first question about reasonable doubt. That's a very common jury question as a matter of fact. The judge simply responded that this is a standard that doesn't go beyond all possible doubt. Now the judge also was asking, was asked to clarify the requirements for U.S. citizens to report foreign bank accounts.

The judge repeated what he had told them in the jury instructions. They also asked him about how he would define shelf companies, which is an issue has come up in the trial as well as asking the judge whether the exhibits in this case could be linked up with the charges in the incitement?

The judge told them essentially to rely on there recollection, which is something judges commonly tell juries when they ask questions like this. Second day of deliberations begins today around 9:30 Eastern Time. Question of course is whether this will go into next week, back to you.

BERMAN: All right, Joe Johns for us in Alexandra, Virginia. We are watching the jury deliberations very closely. And of course though out the day CNN will bring you updates as soon as we hear anything.

In the meantime can members of congress stand up for John Brennan and the other inelegance chiefs whose security clearances are on the line? Will they do so? Republican congressman Iraq war veteran Scott Taylor joins us next.


BERMAN: A White House official tells CNN that President Trump is looking at stripping more security clearances in the coming days. It comes more than a dozen after, more than a dozen former intel chiefs are rebuking the presidents move to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan's clearance.

Joining me now is a Republican congressman Scott Taylor of Virginia. He served as a Navy Seal, during the Iraq war. Congressman thanks so much for being with us. REP. SCOTT TAYLOR, R-VA: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: You're here in the studio which is wonderful. We really get to see you in person. Listen Admiral McRaven ran the Special Forces for years. You did serve in the Special Forces as a Navy Seal.

He came out with this statement yesterday which was really arresting, because McRaven is known as a political guy.


BERMAN: So let me just read you what he said. Through your actions, he writes to the president, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children. Humiliated us on the world stage and worst of all divided us a nation. If you think for a moment that your McCarthy era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism you are sadly mistaken. The criticism will continue until you become the leader we prayed you would be.

What do you drove that admiral to write this?

TAYLOR: Well I can't speak for the admiral of course and what I will tell you that within the soft community there is a diversity of opinion. There's no question about it. And yes he's typically not out there like that politically.

But he obviously felt very strongly about doing it. And I respect his ability and his desire to do so. If I may when you look at this issue I think there's two things. You look at Brennan's personally just Brennan and then the overall issue. Look I think that more to what Senator Burr said with Brennan, if you knew something while you were in, you should have given it to special council.

If you knew something afterwards you should have given it to the special council as opposed to "The New York Times" or other areas, Twitter or whatever. So I think that he has skirt a line - skirted a line if you will. At the same time I think that while the president has the ability to obviously in the control and the authority to revoke clearances I think this was a bad precedence.

I really do. I think that it doesn't silence critics it amplifies their voices if you will. And so I do think that again while he has the ability to do so I'm concerned about, I'm concerned about doing it. Because while we might not like Brennan and we might not like what he's saying that doesn't mean that you should be able to take his clearance away.

I mean you can. He has the ability to do so. But I think it's a bad precedence.

BERMAN: A bad precedence. Just because you have the power to do something, and I don't think anyone disputes he has the power to do it. You don't think he should because of the message it sends. What do you think is the message being received?

Because a lot of the people we've spoken to including General Hayden and others, say that inside the intelligence community, and even the national security community it sends a message that you shouldn't speak your mind.

TAYLOR: There's no question about it. I think there's a signal there that it sends that you shouldn't speak your mind. If you mind is one that is very opposed to the administration. So I think that just like -- look I've been critical of the press in terms of going a little too anti Trump. Just like the media right now, the coordinated op-eds that were around the country.

I think that look if you want to be in the press you should just have journalistic integrity. You should report the truth and do your job very, very well. Not go overboard with your own political ideologies. At the same time I think that what's happening here with the president's move to revoke the clearance. I think - again I don't think it stifles - I don't think it creates silence I think it amplifies people's voices.

And -- but -- but I don't disagree with General Hayden and those folks where they believe that it's a signal for them to be quiet.

BERMAN: I want to come back and talk about the press in a moment here, but I want to stay if I can on this issue of what the president's doing with security clearances, because the Washington Post reported overnight -- Josh Dossey was part of this team -- that says White House aides confirm that the president made his decision weeks ago about John Brennan.

Senior advisors, including Sarah Sanders, recommended to the president that they announce the action Wednesday amid an onslaught of news coverage from former Trump aide Omarosa Manigault Newman's new book, which accuses Trump of having made racist remarks, the aide said.

In other words, Sarah Sanders wanted to release this because of the timing. She wanted to take away someone's security clearance to overwhelm a story about the president being accused of racism. Is that the right way to use security clearances?

TAYLOR: No, I can't really comment on that, because I just don't -- am not privy to -- you know, to their -- their internal workings.

BERMAN: Well, but you -- but you are privy to the fact that she did announce this on a Wednesday during a week when people were questioning whether the president was racist. If in -- if in fact...


TAYLOR: I under -- I understand that, but you -- but we both know that folks -- they time releases no matter what administration, what political party you're in, you time things to have the maximum effect on the -- you know, on the -- on the world, if you will, for communications. That's something that's done all the time.

BERMAN: But if you're doing it with security clearances...

TAYLOR: Well, you -- you've already heard my opinion... BERMAN: Yes.

TAYLOR: ...of the security clearances, where I think this sets a bad precedent.

BERMAN: Any message you want to send to the president about how to handle this going forward? Because we were -- reported overnight (ph), CNN did, that he could take away more security clearances as soon as today.

TAYLOR: Well, my -- my concern for our country is that -- how divided we are.


TAYLOR: That I think that we need to be unified more, and I think that, again, whether you're talking about a coordinated editorial across the nation that is thin-skinned, in my opinion, or you're talking about removing security clearances because folks are speaking out against you, it's the same. Right?

So I would hope that both the president -- I hope that he would look at this and say OK, this is -- this is not the direction that we should be going.

BERMAN: OK, I don't quite understand...

TAYLOR: And the same thing with the press (ph).

BERMAN: ...equating what the press did and the newspapers did with what the president did. I heard what you're suggesting there, and I will note you come on our show a lot. You...

TAYLOR: (inaudible) I'm saying overall for -- for our nation...

BERMAN: You -- you answer our questions, and I appreciate you answer that -- questions here, but how -- how is it a threat to national security if newspapers are telling the president...

TAYLOR: I didn't say it was a threat to national security. I don't think it is a -- a threat to national...

BERMAN: What is it a threat to?

TAYLOR: I think it's a threat to our -- our -- our public discourse in our nation right now. I mean, I think you have this -- you have this sort of battle between the administration and the press right now that's sort of going -- going down and down, right? I think that's not helpful for our nation. But -- but I'm happy to speak specifically about the clearance issue. Like, you heard my opinion on it.

BERMAN: You did. Oh yes.

TAYLOR: And -- but -- but I also think that the coordinated editorial around -- around the nation -- I don't think that that serves the public, either.

BERMAN: You don't think that a newspaper or a news organization should stand up to the president's attacks on journalism?

TAYLOR: No, I think that -- I think that -- just like you, you should -- you should come in here every day, report the truth, do your job in a good way, and not let your opinion or your political ideology overtake your journalistic integrity, which I have seen happen across the nation.

BERMAN: Take a licking and keep on ticking? I mean, we come in here and do our jobs every day...

TAYLOR: Just -- just -- so -- so the press expects that out of the president, which I agree. I agree. As -- as -- I mean, I take heavies, too, and I should be able to take those heavies and still do my job and answer questions in a thoughtful and truthful manner. We expect the same as -- as people from -- and American people expect the same out of our press. So the same thing goes for both sides.

BERMAN: I -- I will say, and again, I will note, you come on our show a lot. I hear you answering questions. I've never really heard you dodge a question. So I was surprised that in your congressional campaign in Virginia you backed out of a debate from a radio station because someone at that radio station you felt had been too hard on President Trump.

TAYLOR: No, actually that -- the reason why we went out of that -- out of that debate, we pulled out of that specific debate, which we have three other ones and we're waiting for our opponent to -- to confirm those dates, was there was a journalist who was -- who was very anti -- not just Trump, but Scott Taylor, tweeting repeal and replace Scott Taylor, there's a whole -- there's a whole blog out there that's -- that's completely against -- against me, and so now this person is supposed to have journalistic integrity when he writes about me now as well as coordinating a debate?

I'm not going to give that station our -- our attention and our ability to be there when you have that person who is clearly not impartial. I'm going to go to other stations who are partial (ph), who -- who are -- who are partial (ph)...


BERMAN: So you're going to go to stations partial to you (ph)?

TAYLOR: No, no, no, impartial -- excuse me, excuse me.


TAYLOR: But you know, who are -- who are fair, right? Who don't have their journalists out there attacking -- like, on their own time, attacking political candidates. I think that doesn't serve the public well. I just don't.

So I -- I love debating, actually. As you know, I'll come here and answer any questions and get in front of any audience and -- and -- and just be candid. That's -- that's who I am, and that's what I want to do. But that's why we made that decision.

BERMAN: The Pentagon postponed the military parade that the president called for. It was supposed to be in November. The Pentagon has now pushed it off. There were reports the cost of it could be $90 million. Mattis says it's not that much. Your reaction?

TAYLOR: Cancel it.


TAYLOR: Quite simply cancel it. I don't think it's a good idea, that's all. I don't agree that it's a good idea. I think, you know, we're still at war right now, and I serve a district that has more military and veterans than any district in the nation.


BERMAN: You think, what, they won't (ph)...

TAYLOR: And our families have been shouldering a burden for over 17 years. I just don't think this is a good -- a good call. You know, the -- it's not -- the war hasn't ended yet, if you will. We're still out there, our people are still out there around the world right now in harm's way. I think it's a bad idea, and I think it should be cancelled.

BERMAN: Congressman Scott Taylor, Virginia, as we said, great to have you here in the studio with us. Thanks so much for being here.

TAYLOR: Thank you.

BERMAN: Erica?

HILL: The world is morning Aretha Franklin and remembering her. That loss understandably hitting her home town hard. We'll take a look at how Detroit is remembering the Queen of Soul, next.