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Trump On Mueller Investigation: "I Could Run It If I Want"; Trump: I Never Discussed Denying Obama Intel Briefings; CNN "Reality Check": Pop Musicians Called "Unhinged" For Playing A Democratic Rally; Asia Argento Paid Sexual Assault Accuser. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 21, 2018 - 07:30   ET



Look, we saw this in the Trump campaign. The Trump campaign was a bunch of people who were political novices -- folks who have never dealt in this role before.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Fair. I'm interested in what the Kremlin was up to, not what the Trump campaign -- what the Kremlin was up to. They made inroads into the Trump campaign.

SANTORUM: Collusion takes two, Alisyn. Collusion takes two.

I mean, we under -- I mean, I accept --

CAMEROTA: Maybe unwittingly.

SANTORUM: I accept the fact that the Russians tried to influence this election. I don't think they tried to get Donald Trump to win. I think what they --

CAMEROTA: Why? Vladimir Putin said that was his choice.

SANTORUM: Yes. I think it's pretty clear no one -- no one, including the Russians, thought Donald Trump had any chance of winning this election.

CAMEROTA: But that was their preference.

SANTORUM: No. I think what the preference was was to harm Hillary Clinton. I think everyone thought Hillary Clinton was going to win and by helping Trump or --


SANTORUM: -- more importantly, hurting Clinton, that she would come into the office crippled.


SANTORUM: That was -- that was, I think, their objective. Not really election --

CAMEROTA: But back to the -- but back to the -- back to the fact that you're sort of flippantly talking about the Trump Tower meeting.

It doesn't concern you -- just to be on the record -- that a Kremlin- connected lawyer was trying to make friends with, infiltrate, have some influence on the Trump campaign?

SANTORUM: Of course, it concerns me but that doesn't, in itself, mean collusion. Collusion means the other side had to be colluded.

And I think it's pretty clear the meeting lasted just a few minutes, no follow-up.

CAMEROTA: But, Don, Jr. was interested. I mean, Don, Jr. --


CAMEROTA: -- was interested --

SANTORUM: -- again --

CAMEROTA: He said I'd love it if they could provide Kremlin-linked dirt.

SANTORUM: Yes. I just think that's -- it goes back to -- I mean, Don, Jr. is not someone who was that politically tuned in. And that certainly, from a national security point of view --

I just think it was naivety more than anything else. And certainly, nothing suggests that there any collusion beyond taking a meeting that he probably shouldn't have taken.

CAMEROTA: I mean, just to be clear, the Mueller investigation is not over.

SANTORUM: I understand that. But again, I certainly don't see any smoking gun or anything that looks like a gun other than maybe a toy pistol.

CAMEROTA: OK. I mean, there's also been a dozen indictments, but we'll leave it there.

SANTORUM: Again, that's not collusion. None of that is collusion.

CAMEROTA: It's an attempt. The indictments --

SANTORUM: Again, nobody questions whether the Russians tried to influence the election, but that's a separate issue than whether the Trump -- Donald Trump and his campaign actually cooperated or colluded. There's no evidence.

CAMEROTA: I hear you. But I mean, obviously, the United States is currently trying to prevent any sort of --

SANTORUM: All of that.

CAMEROTA: -- influence in the midterms --


CAMEROTA: -- and it helps if everybody's on the same page.

SANTORUM: I'm for the Mueller investigation in the sense of -- look, I don't like special counsels but I think there has to be an investigation looking at Russia and I think that Congress needs to do more.

You mentioned earlier in the show about cybersecurity -- vitally important. We're not doing enough on the cyber front.

All of these things are important but that's a separate issue and this is what the president, I think, is trying to get at than some complicity on the part of the Trump campaign.

CAMEROTA: We have to -- look, we have to go but the fact that we're not doing enough on cybersecurity, do you -- do you blame the president at all for that?

SANTORUM: I blame everybody. This has not been just this president but past presidents.

This has been a -- this is the biggest threat that faces this country and we're not spending the resources and time -- not just in the government but we're not doing enough in the public -- in the private sector to arm our folks to be -- to be better at this.

CAMEROTA: That's what Microsoft says. They agree with you. They need more help --


CAMEROTA: -- they say, from the government.

SANTORUM: Yes, they do.

CAMEROTA: Rick Santorum, thank you for your perspective --

SANTORUM: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: -- on all this -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, a new report says that President Trump's advisers discussed revoking the security clearance of former President Obama. The current president has new things to say about that just now. We'll discuss, ahead.


[07:37:42] BERMAN: All right, breaking news that just happened moments ago.

President Trump issued a statement attacking a report that says his advisers considered denying intelligence briefings to President Obama. Again, President Trump wrote just moments ago that it was never discussed or thought of. Joining us now is the journalists who reported that for "The New Yorker," Adam Entous, and Garrett Graff. He's the director of the Aspen Institute Cybersecurity Program and a CNN contributor.

Adam, I want to read you the graph from your story. It's a remarkable piece in "The New Yorker" which goes into great detail about John Brennan, which we'll get to in a minute.

But the graph about President Obama and his daily briefings, it says, "As Trump stepped up his public and private attacks on Obama, some of the new president's advisers thought that he should take the extraordinary step of denying Obama himself access to intelligence briefings that were made available to all of his living predecessors."

To what extent was this discussed and what ultimately happened?

ADAM ENTOUS, WRITER, "THE NEW YORKER": Yes. What you had, you have to understand the environment at that moment.

There was just the discussion about whether or not security clearances for other national security officials who served under Obama -- whether those clearances should be revoked.

And, H.R. McMaster, who was the national security adviser at the time, signed a memo which granted all of them their security clearances and decided not to take them away.

And, Trump at the time, was really going after Obama. He was accusing him of tapping, if we recall, the Trump Tower, of course, which was a false claim. And he said one tweet in which he called Obama "sick."

And so advisers around Trump were concerned -- some of them were concerned that he would do it. Some of them advocated that they should retaliate in some way.

Former presidents are given access to briefings so when they travel overseas and meet with foreign leaders they kind of -- they have a better sense of the environment and have a better sense of how to respond to those foreign leaders.

And so there was a discussion with Trump in which he was explained the value of continuing to provide these intelligence briefings and effectively adding Obama to the list of former presidents that get them.

And, Trump agreed with McMaster. He did not pull the trigger on this as some of his -- some of his aides had hoped he would.

[07:40:00] BERMAN: Now, this is in this article in the context of you trying to explain how John Brennan, the former CIA director, came to be such a fierce and public critic of President Trump.

What pushed him over the edge, and what and why has he decided to be so public and personal about it, Adam.

ENTOUS: Yes. So, I think actually the tweet I just mentioned where Trump described Obama as sick was one that really had an impact on Brennan.

I think you have to understand the context here. People who had served as CIA directors or deputy CIA directors, they leave these jobs with -- there's no written rule that says they're not supposed to engage in public statements that could be construed as taking sides in a political fight, but there certainly is the pressure on them not to do so.

So for Brennan to make this decision, it's extraordinary in many ways because he is -- he is breaking with tradition among many of his colleagues and not all of his former colleagues agree with his tone and his approach.

It's the personal nature of his attacks against the president. It's controversial within his community of retired intelligence professionals.

He decided to do it because he felt that there was no -- people had to speak out and he needed -- he thought that his experience and his credibility would help kind of inform the public about what he saw as dangerous behavior on the part of Trump.

But it certainly is not a -- it is not a practice that's broadly --

BERMAN: Right.

ENTOUS: -- accepted --

BERMAN: Well, to that point --

ENTOUS: -- or endorsed by his former colleagues.

BERMAN: To that point, Garrett, you have written extensively over the last several years about James Clapper and many people involved in the Intelligence Community.

And just yesterday, you noted -- and I think this is so important. You wanted to point out to people that the public statements of support -- albeit qualified support for John Brennan and his right to say what he's saying -- from the likes of Clapper, Hayden, and others in the Intelligence Community -- this is very unusual and should be noted, correct Garrett?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, DIRECTOR, CYBERSECURITY PROGRAM, ASPEN INSTITUTE, AUTHOR, "THE THREAT MATRIX": Exactly. I mean, Adam mentioned this norm that these intelligence professionals don't speak out on partisan issues like this.

And we spend so much time talking about the president breaking his norms that it's really worth spending some time emphasizing why these intelligence professionals feel like they need to come out and break this norm.

You know, there are people who have dedicated their lives to being in the shadows. They are not people who scare easily. They don't cry wolf. And so the fact that you have Jim Clapper, Mike Hayden, John Brennan, Adm. McRaven out there really screaming from the rooftops, metaphorically, that this president is a threat to democratic institutions, that he's a threat to the rule of law -- that should be a very dangerous and concerning warning to us as Americans because these are people who would much prefer not to be on T.V. and to fall into the president's trap of sort of seeing this as just yet another partisan attack.

You know, more deep-state swampy swampness.

It really overlooks just how extraordinary and unprecedented these statements from so broad of an intelligence and military leadership is in American history.

BERMAN: I will note Adam's found this in his writings. It has come up in discussions that I've had and I'm wondering if you notice the same thing.

Even though people support John Brennan's right to say the things he's saying, the style in which he's chosen, Garrett -- what are you hearing in terms of what people think of that?

GRAFF: Well, as Adam said -- I mean, his personal style has been controversial. He's gone further than some of these other figures.

But in some ways, again, I think that that's just because we see how far John -- how deeply worried John Brennan actually is. That for someone like John Brennan, for someone like Jim Clapper, someone like Adm. McRaven to be saying the things that they're doing.

McRaven out there, last week, with the op-ed saying please revoke my security clearance, too. Just so it's super clear, I'm against your presidency because I think you're dangerous and you're harming American relationships around the world.

That's extraordinary and that's not just the same as some Republican strategist or Democratic strategist coming on here and launching some of whatever today's talking points are.

BERMAN: Garrett Graff, Adam Entous, great to have you with us this morning. Thanks so much for your input here.

ENTOUS: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right, John, let's talk music.

BERMAN: Let's talk music.

CAMEROTA: The RNC is slamming two popular musicians as members of the unhinged left.

John Avlon has a "Reality Check" for us -- a very interesting one, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [07:48:33] CAMEROTA: Some things, like a love of good music, are supposed to be above politics, right?

John Avlon, our resident rocker, joins us with his "Reality Check." Hi, John.


We get -- one thing I do dig about this show is that we are all music nerds beneath our news suits, and there's a lot about the music we love that transcends political tribes.

For example, John Berman's beloved Grateful Dead is also loved by conservative commentators like Tucker Carlson and Ann Coulter. Surprising, but true.

But there are some lines that just can't be crossed. For example, you can't credibly the Dead a top 40 pop act. It just doesn't work.

Likewise, you can't take one of Alisyn's favorites, the L.A. punk band "X" --


AVLON: -- and file it under easy listening. No disrespect to Lionel.

And that's where some staffers on the National Republican Senatorial Committee faceplanted yesterday when they put out a press release slamming alt-country musician Jason Isbell and the piano-playing Ben Folds as members of the quote "unhinged left."

These two are not exactly rage against the machine but they came under Republican fire for performing at a benefit concert last night for Tennessee Democrat Phil Bredesen. Now, he's a popular former governor in a tight Senate race against conservative Rep. Marsha Blackburn.

And look, I get it. Playing for a Democrat in a red state isn't going to get them any Christmas cards from the RNC. But we've got to dial back the Pavlovian impulse to call anyone we disagree with an unhinged extremist.

[07:50:01] It's a silly form of fearmongering and in this case, it doesn't even remotely fit the bill, especially because these two artists -- who I'd argue are among the best songwriters of their generation -- aren't especially political in their music. It just doesn't come up a lot.

Jason Isbell writes about recovery, regrets, resilience. For a sample, check out his tunes "Relatively Easy" and "24 Frames."

Ben Folds is also kind of a literary songwriter with a sense of irony and sentiment who's beloved by piano rock aficionados also apparently like John Berman.

As evidence that they are not unhinged leftists, even the Bernie Sanders-supporting Ben Folds played the Republican National Convention in the past as part of an effort to promote arts education across the aisle. As Ben Folds said at the time, quote, "Politics divides people and music is the opposite."

Now, of course culture wars are designed to divide. But a country musician and a piano-playing songwriter shouldn't be slammed as quasi- communist for simply supporting a Democrat in Tennessee.

The Senate race there is a rare but healthy example of a red state with a competitive general election. Heartwarming in the same way that deep blue Massachusetts has a popular Republican governor, Charlie Baker, running for reelection.

Guys, we've got a few weeks left of summer and hopefully a few more open-air concerts to go to -- places where we can all transcend our tribalism and just have a good time together.

And that's a "Reality Check."


CAMEROTA: I love it.

BERMAN: Except for Lionel Ritchie -- except for Lionel Ritchie who --

CAMEROTA: Who got dissed in this.

BERMAN: -- and got totally --

CAMEROTA: Music is the answer. You're so right.

That's what I'm going to run for president on. That's my platform -- more music.

AVLON: Just work on the playlist and let's go.

CAMEROTA: OK, I got it. I've already got that.

BERMAN: All your music is like 1980s British stuff though, which I think is outlawed here.

CAMEROTA: Well, it's definitely all 1980s. I mean, the Ramones aren't British but it's all 1980s. And anybody who's in, vote for me.

BERMAN: Right.

Up next, shocking allegations. What one of the faces of the #MeToo movement is now accused of doing. That's next.


[07:56:09] BERMAN: Authorities in Los Angeles are investigating actress and filmmaker Asia Argento. This bombshell report in "The New York Times" says Argento, a driving force in the #MeToo movement, paid off a teenage actor who accused her of sexual assault in 2013.

Jean Casarez joins us now with more -- Jean.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, John, the issue is that this young, male, alleged sexual assault victim was a minor and under California law a minor cannot consent.

Well, this all came to light because of "The New York Times". They received an encrypted e-mail with documentation about this alleged sexual assault. They then went to three sources aware of this case that said the documentation was authentic.

And the facts are, according to "The New York Times" and this documentation, that in 2013, Argento -- who you see on the screen -- sexually assault a young 17-year-old man -- a young actor -- he had just turned 17 -- in a Marina del Rey hotel room.

And now, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department says that they are looking into this.

They are aware of the incident and say, quote, "To date, the LASD has not located any police report alleging criminal activity within our jurisdiction in relation to this incident.

After becoming aware of the allegations, the LASD's Special Victims Bureau is attempting to reach out to the reported victim and/or his representatives in an effort to appropriately document any potential criminal allegations."

And what happened, according the "Times" documentation, when Argento became front and center in the #MeToo movement, saying that Harvey Weinstein had raped her in 1997 -- something he strongly says did not happen -- that this young man -- Jimmy Bennett is his name -- was re- victimized.

That it was too much for him to see her at the forefront of the #MeToo movement when he knew what had happened to him.

So his attorney sent a letter to her with a notice of intent to sue and that's when the negotiations began. It is April, according to the "Times," that everything came in order and she was to pay him $380,000 in payments.

And, John and Alisyn, we did reach out and hear from the attorney for the young accuser who is now 22. And they say that he wants to come out with a statement but this is sort of overwhelming for him. It hit the media so hard and fast. It will just take about 24 hours.

But, "The New York Times" reached out to Argento since Thursday. Did not come out with this story -- waiting for her response -- never got it.

CNN has reached out to her attorneys also. No response yet from them.

CAMEROTA: Obviously, this is not the end. There are still more developments to come.

Jean, thank you. BERMAN: Dark stuff. Thanks, Jean.

We are following a lot of news this morning so let's get to it.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, August 21st, 8:00 in the east.

And we do have breaking news. The Kremlin, just moments ago, denying any knowledge of attempts to interfere in the midterm elections.

This comes after Microsoft says it uncovered and thwarted Russian attempts to hack these conservative think tanks -- conservative think tanks that had been very critical of Vladimir Putin and Moscow.

Now, Microsoft says it found the Russian operation in just the last few weeks. Again, it thwarted it and seized these Web sites.

The Russians apparently -- the Russian Intelligence Services creating fake Web sites to try to influence the upcoming midterms elections.

CAMEROTA: So, in a new interview with Reuters, President Trump once again equivocates on Russian interference despite the fact that his own national security leaders, as you know, continue to sound the alarm and say the lights are blinking red on the Russian threat.

So, we are just 77 days away from the November elections. How will the Trump administration respond to these new Russian attacks?

Joining us now are Josh Green, national correspondent for Bloomberg, and Jonathan Martin --