Return to Transcripts main page


Manafort Judge Holds Hearing; More Security Clearances Revoked; Ex-Intel Leaders United Against Trump; New Poll on Russia; Paul Asks for Lift of Sanctions on Some Russians; Trump Cancels Military Parade. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired August 17, 2018 - 13:00   ET



[13:00:11] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Jim Sciutto, in again for Wolf Blitzer. It is 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. Wherever you are watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

Show of force. A dozen of America's former senior intelligence officials uniting and rising up against the president's security clearance moves. This as we learn there are even more to come.

Plus, the president cancelling his own plan for a military parade. Hear who and what he blames for the sudden reversal.

And, disturbing word from the Pentagon that China is likely training pilots to target the U.S. with missions involving long-range bombers.

Right now, we are watching for a verdict in the Paul Manafort trial. Jurors are working through their second day of deliberations in a Virginia courthouse. This before leaving for the day yesterday when they asked the judge four questions, including a request to define the meaning of "reasonable doubt." They're deciding Manafort's fate on some 18 counts of tax evasion, bank fraud, and hiding foreign bank accounts.

The verdict also carries implications for Special Counsel Robert Mueller's broader Russia investigation. President Trump, of course, has been calling that investigation a witch hunt, and he's been applying pressure to wrap it up.

A short time ago, Trump was asked point-blank about Manafort's fate.


QUESTION: Will you pardon Paul Manafort?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't talk about that now. I don't talk about that. I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad. When you look at what's going on there, I think it's a very sad day for our country. He worked for me for a very short period of time, but, you know what, he happens to be a very good person, and I think it's very sad what they've done to Paul Manafort.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: CNN's Jessica Schneider is outside the courthouse.

In about an hour, the judge is expected to hold a hearing on the release of some information that could include the mysterious private conferences that were held during the trial that we couldn't hear.

What are you learning about those conferences and when they might be released?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, so this hearing will be at 2:00 p.m. as the jury continues to deliberate here. The judge will hear this motion to unseal the transcripts of some of these secret proceedings.

Now, this was a motion that was filed by news outlets, including CNN. And if it's granted, we might finally get to see what was happening inside the courtroom and up at the judge's bench when all of these secret proceedings were happening. We've seen them several times. At certain times the court was completely closed off to the public. At other times, the lawyers on both sides went up to the bench to talk with the judge. And that's when a noise or static machine was turned on so everyone in the courtroom couldn't hear it.

So the judge will decide or will hear the motions, hear the oral arguments at 2:00 p.m. as to whether or not to unseal these transcripts. So if they're unsealed, we might get a glimpse as to what exactly was happening, particularly in what was five hours of secret proceedings on Friday. We still have no idea what was happening. It sort of delayed this trial, delayed the closing arguments a bit.

One thing, however, we will not see if these transcripts are unsealed, we won't hear any of the mention -- and we know there was at least one -- of the special counsel's ongoing Russia probe. That will remain sealed because obviously it is an ongoing investigation.

So, Jim, that all happens at 2:00 p.m. But all the while, the jury will continue deliberating while the judge is hearing this motion in his courtroom. The jury now going on three hours of deliberations after we saw seven hours yesterday. Who knows if they are any closer to coming up with a verdict.


SCIUTTO: All right, well, they've got 18 counts to consider.

Jessica Schneider there at the courthouse.

To politics now and President Trump's security clearance hit list. A White House official confirms to CNN that the president may soon strip more former or even current officials of their security clearances. This despite a growing and bipartisan backlash.

Former CIA Director John Brennan was the first to have his clearance revoked. Thirteen former senior intelligence officials, who have served both Republican and Democratic presidents, have now signed a letter criticizing that move. And just a short time ago, the president was asked whether he's trying

to silence critics like Brennan over the Russia investigation.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's no silence. If anything, I'm giving him a bigger voice. Many people don't even know who he is. And now he has a bigger voice. And that's OK with me because I like taking on voices like that.

I've never respected him. I've never had a lot of respect. And Senator Burr said it best, if you knew anything, why didn't you report it when you were before all of these committees, including their committee? So he had a chance to report. He never did.

This was just -- came up lately, and it's a -- it's a disgusting thing, frankly.


[13:05:00] SCIUTTO: White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins joins us now live from the White House.

Kaitlan, the White House named nine other officials whose security clearance they say when Sarah Sanders announced this are under review. Do we know who is at the top of the president's hit list now?

KAITLIN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president named him specifically today, Jim. That would be Bruce Ohr, who is a current Justice Department official. So he's -- that makes him a little bit different than everyone else on that list. He still works at the Department of Justice. And taking away his security clearance, which the president said today he's prepared to do rather quickly, calling him a disgrace, would effectively render him unable to do his job.

But when the White House was asked why they wouldn't just fire him instead of taking away his security clearance, Sarah Sanders only said that they didn't have any personnel announcements at this time.

Now, Jim, what the president did do there as he was boarding Marine One is draw a direct line between taking away these security clearances and the Russia investigation. Listen to the president put it in his own words.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I say it, I say it again, that whole situation is a rigged witch hunt. It's a totally rigged deal. They should be looking at the other side. They are should be looking at all the people that got fired by them. They should be looking at all these FBI guys who got fired and demoted. It's a really -- it's not us. It is a rigged witch hunt. I've said it for a long time.

COLLINS: So the president there lashing out at this investigation. He seems to be using his presidential powers to do so. And, Jim, he seems ready to go after anyone who he believes is

involved in this investigation.

SCIUTTO: Seems to be the case.

Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks very much.

Critics say that President Trump is striking back at his detractors by threatening to revoke those security clearances. The president himself drew a direct connection between the Russia investigation and his decision to strip John Brennan of his clearance.

We want to take a closer look at who else is on the president's list.

CNN political correspondent Sara Murray is here to break it down.

And, Sara, one of the commonalities in this seems to be many senior officials who were involved in this investigation going back years.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, that's true, Jim. You know, some have called it an enemy's list. And if you look at sort of the full scope of everyone who's under review, you know, we obviously know what's happened with Brennan already. His clearance has been revoked.

But let's just move on to this bucket of people who appear to have some kind of tie to the Russia investigation.

If you start with the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, he's, of course, one of the people who concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 election at Vladimir Putin's direction. He's also been falsely accused by House Republicans of making public this salacious, now infamous, dossier that included so many unfounded allegations against President Trump.

Now, if we move on to James Comey, he is the former FBI director, of course. He was the first one to inform then President-elect Trump of the dossier, of the many claims that were going on around him. And, of course, Trump fired Comey and eventually that firing led to the naming of a special counsel to take over the Russia investigation.

Now, Comey's former deputy, the deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, he wrote a memo after Comey's firing. He was documenting an apparent meeting he had with his boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. And in that meeting, Rod Rosenstein apparently recounted a conversation where President Trump wanted him to cite the Russia investigation when he was giving his reasoning, his rational for why to fire James Comey. Ultimately, Rod Rosenstein did not do that, but Andrew McCabe took these memos and he turned them over to special counsel of investigators.

Two names that we have heard a lot, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. These are both investigators who worked on Mueller's investigation for a while until these anti-Trump text messages they exchanged became public. Obviously we've heard the president air many of his complaints, as well as many other Republicans, about Lia Page and especially Peter Strzok.

Now, Bruce Ohr, this is a name that we've been hearing a lot more and even today. Here's a current DOJ official. He's someone who had contact with Christopher Steele. That's the man who assembled the dossier. And also had contact with Fusion GPS, the company that hired Steele to assemble this. His wife also played a role with Fusion GPS and apparently did some work with them.

This is what the president had to say just today about Bruce Ohr.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Bruce Ohr is a disgrace. I suspect I'll be taking it away very quickly. I think that Bruce Ohr is a disgrace with his wife Nellie. For him to be in the Justice Department and to be doing what he did, that is a disgrace. That is disqualifying for Mueller. And Mr. Mueller has a lot of conflicts also directly yourself (ph). So you know that.


MURRAY: Now, if we move on to the next bucket of individuals, these are both people who have ties to the whole Michael Flynn saga. If you look at Susan Rice, the former national security adviser, she's someone who unmasked a number of Trump aides in various intelligence intercepts. And one of those was Michael Flynn.

And if we move on to Sally Yates, she was the one who actually went to the White House and told officials at the White House that she believed that Mike Flynn was compromised because he lied to the vice president, as well as others.

[13:10:06] The one person who is kind of an outlier in this, Michael Hayden. He's the only person who did not serve in government during the Trump campaign or afterwards, but he has been a very vocal Trump critic and apparently that meanings his security clearance could also be at risk.


SCIUTTO: Sara Murray, thanks very much.

Ill-considered and unprecedented. That's how 13 former senior national security officials describe the president's decision to revoke John Brennan's security clearance. In a letter they defend the former CIA director's character and called the president's allegations of wrongdoing, quote, baseless.

For more on this sharp rebuke, let's bring in former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. He is the co-author of the book "Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives."

Bill, thanks very much for taking the time.


SCIUTTO: First of all, I understand you have some news that some more names are going to be added to this letter.

HARLOW: That's true. The letter that went out yesterday was done in a very short period of time. And it was sent out to the CIA directors, deputy directors and DNIs. And not all of them got back in a timely fashion. But just this morning we heard back from two more, Admiral Denny Blair (ph), one of the -- one of our DNIs, and Vice Admiral Burt Callen (ph), who was a deputy CIA director a number of years ago, have asked to add their names to the list. So there are now 15 former senior officials signing on to the letter that was released late last night.

SCIUTTO: We should note that these officials on this list, they served both and were appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents. You served under both Democratic and Republican presidents during long service in the CIA.

The president likes to dismiss these folks, well certainly John Brennan, as partisans. You've worked under and with these men and women for some time.

HARLOW: I have.

SCIUTTO: Is that a correct -- is that an accurate appraisal?

HARLOW: Not at all. When I worked at the CIA for seven years, the senior level of the CIA, I couldn't have told you what any of the people there, what their personal politics was all about.

Now, this is not about a person. This is about policy. You can disagree with what John Brennan has to say, or you can disagree with the way he says it, but he has a right to say what he wants to say now that he's out -- not in government.

The U.S. government has a thick manual that gives examples of how you can lift somebody's security clearances. There are reasons why you can take away somebody's security clearance. None of these reasons are saying something that the president doesn't like.

That -- some people have said, well, that this letter implies that we think that the president was trying to stifle John Brennan. And I don't think that personally. I think the stifling is on other people in government, other people in -- former government officials who see what's happening to John Brennan and might dial back what they're saying in order to not risk offending the president.

Now, nobody wants to offend the president, but when you're no longer in government, you have a right to give your opinion. If it's an opinion which doesn't stand up, then let the White House respond to that from the lectern at the Briefing Room, but not by taking away their clearances.

SCIUTTO: Are you concerned that beyond an attempt to stifle free speech that this is also about undermining the credibility of the Russia investigation because -- well, you heard the president just there again make that charge. But several of the folks on this list, John Brennan, he was head of the CIA at the time that the assessment was done that Russia interfered in the election. And remember part of that assessment was that it was to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump, an issue the president has never been particularly fond of. James Clapper was the director of national intelligence. He's on that list. James Comey, of course, was the director of the FBI at the time. He's been fired. He's on that list.

Are you concerned that this is part of the president's intention here?

HARLOW: I suspect it probably is. I think there's not a single reason why they did what they did. That's certainly a part of the reason. It helps them undermine the credibility in their mind of investigation. It was also to change the subject. It came right after the difficult press briefing about Omarosa and the "n" word tapes.


HARLOW: It's on the eve of potential results of court proceedings in Alexandria. So throw up this dust and see if you can confuse the situation a little bit. I think there are a lot of reasons for doing this, none of them good.

SCIUTTO: There -- one reason that former officials keep their security clearances is to be consulted if there are issues of national security where their experience might be relevant and valuable. You speak of a guy like McRaven, who stood -- Admiral McRaven, a man who was commanding special operations forces during the bin Laden raid. He raised his hand. He said, listen, take mine away.

He's been involved in hundreds of raids against terrorists very successfully over time. We did some calculation of the other folks on that list. Have at least 268 years collectively in national security.

Is that experience relevant to a president when the country is facing threats?

HARLOW: Absolutely. You want the people who are currently in those top jobs, in the top jobs at the CIA, at the DNI, the Pentagon, to be able to go back to some of their predecessors and ask them questions.

[13:15:07] There's a misimpression when people think that senior officials have security clearances, that they're going back to their old office and rifling through the files and looking for information.


HARLOW: That's not the way it works. Their successors invite them in and say, here's the problem I'm facing. Let me brief you on what we're seeing.


HARLOW: What do you think? They don't have to do that, but it -- by taking away the clearances, they can't do that.

SCIUTTO: It gives him an option. You're great to clear up that, because that's been a confusion. People think you just have access to walk into the CIA every day. No, but it gives the option if the president says, listen, hey, Admiral McRaven, we've got a terrorist operation that we're considering, we'd love your counsel on this, come on, we'll brief you.

HARLOW: Have you faced this problem before? How did you deal with it? What do you think about what's facing us? Give us your thoughts.


HARLOW: They don't have to follow those thought, but if they don't have the clearances, they don't have the option of doing that.

SCIUTTO: Right. Well, folks at home might want to know are those -- is that the kind of experience that they think will make their country safer.

Bill, thanks very much for taking the time.

HARLOW: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Just in, a new CNN poll shows that more than 40 percent of Americans see Russia now as an enemy. That is up significantly. And a majority think that the president is too friendly with the Kremlin. We'll discuss.

Plus, President Trump cancels his own plans for a military parade. Hear who and what he's blaming and how the mayor of D.C. is now responding.

And, a new revelation that could open up the president's longtime fixer and lawyer to charges over the payment of Stormy Daniels.

Please stand by.


[13:20:50] SCIUTTO: This just in to CNN.

Four in ten Americans see Russia now as an enemy of the United States, according to a new CNN poll. That is the highest share since 1999.

Let's look at the numbers. Five percent view Russia as an ally, 18 percent perceive Russia as friendly, 33 percent unfriendly, 41 percent say Russia is an enemy. As to the president's relationship with Russia, 57 percent think he's too friendly, 4 percent think he is too tough, 35 percent say just about right.

Let's talk about this with Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona. He serves on the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks for taking time.

REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D), ARIZONA: Thank you for having me.

SCIUTTO: First, let's get your reaction to those numbers. The -- you know, the two key ones there, a big increase in the number of Americans who see Russia either as an enemy or as unfriendly. A large majority when you combine those two. And 57 percent, nearly six in ten, who believe that the president is too friendly with Russia. Is that going to affect the president's behavior, relationship with Putin?

GALLEGO: I would hope so, but, unfortunately, what we've seen, that hasn't been the case.

Look, you can't blame Americans for not trusting Russia. They just finished poisoning our allies in Great Britain. They downed a civilian airliner, a Dutch civilian airliner, over the Ukraine. They're consistently trying to interfere with our elections. So Americans are naturally recognizing that Russia is not our friend. It's our enemy. At, you know, at the end of the day, we wish that President Trump would actually feel the same way instead of trying to suck up to Putin as often as we see he does.

SCIUTTO: Senator Rand Paul is one of a handful of Republican senators who's been making overtures to Russia. Paul just invited members of the Russian legislature here to Washington. There's a problem with some of the folks on that list. Have a listen.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: The downside is, the chairman of each of the committees is banned from coming to the United States because of sanctions. So one of the things I'm going to ask the president -- I'm going to talk to the president this weekend -- is that I'm going to say, why don't we take people off the least who are in the legislature.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At least temporarily.


SCIUTTO: Why take someone off a list to visit the United States who's been sanctioned by the United States government for Russia's malign behavior?

GALLEGO: Well, because Rand Paul is just doing the bidding of President Trump, and he wants to couch it in somehow -- some kind of legislative overture. They're on there for a reason. Again, this is a country that has invaded sovereign nations, that has taken sovereign land and tried to claim it as their own, has funded, you know, third- party movements against other democratic nations, again, has downed airliners, has attacked our elections, and a sitting U.S. senator wants to treat them as if they're some normal other state. It's ridiculous. And the only reason someone like Senator Rand Paul would do this is because he just wants to carry water for the president.

SCIUTTO: And we should also note that Russian lawmakers not exactly free in democratic elections there. So to call them equivalents of American lawmakers is not quite equivalent.

I do want to ask you about the president's --


SCIUTTO: The president's planned military parade, which we learned just in the last 24 hours has been delayed. The mayor of Washington, D.C., is hitting back at President Trump, who blamed basically D.C. for this. She says that the president blamed local D.C. politicians for the cancellation of it slated for November, claiming, the president, that D.C. in effect had inflated the cost.


SCIUTTO: That was followed up by this tweet by Muriel Bowser. Yep, I'm Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington, D.C., the local politician who finally got through to the reality star in the White House with the realities that is $21.6 million of parades, events, demonstrations in Trump America. Sad.

First of all, do you think the president is correct or can back up that this Democrats, particularly local Democratic politicians, who are responsible for cancelling this parade?

GALLEGO: No. In typical form, the reason it's being canceled is because the price is -- the price did go up. And we actually talked about this on the Armed Services Committee. I actually introduced legislation to try to ban this, knowing that this would actually end up costing millions of dollars more of money and, in general, it's just a total affront to democracy.

[13:25:13] But the fact that he's blaming a woman for his, you know, shortfalls, again, is not surprising at all. You know, he ended up pulling out because he realized that $90 million and after the American Legion said please don't spend this money, that he was going to lose, you know, lose a lot of respect and he decided to pull out.

If he wants to have a military parade, tell him to go to a base. He's a commander in chief. He has a right to do this on a base. But don't be rolling tanks down Capitol Hill as if we're some third world nation. That's ridiculous.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Ruben Gallego, thanks very much for taking the time.

GALLEGO: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Right now, a jury is deciding the fate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Do their questions to the judge give us a hint at which way they're leaning?

Plus, a stunning Pentagon report suggests that China may be training its pilots to target the U.S. for bombing. The details of that report ahead.