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Harvey Weinstein Found Guilty; Can America Trust Trump National Security Officials? Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 24, 2020 - 16:30   ET



JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The fact that Ginni Thomas, a Supreme Court justice's wife, is apparently involved in this makes it all the more bizarre.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Melanie, take a listen to Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland.


SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): To purge people who may have an alternative viewpoint on a particular issue is very dangerous.

When you start screening out facts in advance because you're afraid that president just doesn't want to hear them, that obviously presents risks to the country.


TAPPER: And that seems to be what, remember, Admiral William McRaven, the former SEAL team commander and head of special ops, was getting at when he wrote an op-ed for "The Washington Post" criticizing President Trump forcing out the director of national intelligence, Joe Maguire, for saying things that the president didn't like, such as he thought that the whistle-blower acted with integrity.


And it's more than just about installing loyalists around him. This is about sending a clear message after impeachment, and that is, don't cross me. Don't challenge me. And don't blow the whistle on me, because, remember, the whole Ukraine scandal came to light not just because of a whistle-blower complaint, because of these career officials who were willing to testify publicly.

And so this could have a real chilling effect. It's also very dangerous to have yes-men in these intel positions, where you need to have people that are willing to tell you things you don't always want to hear.

TAPPER: And, Patrick, don't you think President Trump is somebody, not unlike every other president, who needs people around him to push back or give him countervailing viewpoints on things?

PATRICK GRIFFIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think so, Jake, but he's never been that guy.

TAPPER: That's for sure.

GRIFFIN: I mean, this is a guy who keeps his own counsel.

He is -- I think his mantra, especially post-impeachment, is only the paranoid survive. And it's very, very clear here that you would expect loyalty, you would expect that of people in the administration.

But what's more clear here is that he's a little sensitive sense of this particular impeachment effort. He's angry and concerned. And this is going to continue.

This idea of, we're going to purge them and then we're going to find them, sort of root them and find them, is a little troubling. Bottom line. I think people need to think hard because it never ends very well with this president when you work for -- it just doesn't.


And, Aisha, a Trump adviser telling CNN that Ginni Thomas, as John noted, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is leading this effort to compile a list of officials viewed as never-Trumpers.

And this Trump adviser tells CNN -- quote -- "Many people have sent names to Ginni to make sure the right people are on her list."

Now, she's not part of the Trump administration. She's a conservative activist. So this is not even, you know, being done within the confines of the White House.

AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, I think that we all should be extremely alarmed about what's happening with our democracy right now.

The fact that the president is constantly talking about loyalty to him, loyalty to him, loyalty to him, as opposed to loyalty to the United States of America, and, like, under oath, doing your job on behalf of the American people, is what's problematic.

And this is how a democracy breaks down when we don't acknowledge the fact that this guy really seems to be moving and moving and moving closer to acting like a dictator, as opposed to the head of the free world and our country.

And it's actually we should be afraid and alarmed.

TAPPER: And , John, just one last point, and I'm coming to you on this, is one White House aide said, some jobs won't be filled until after the president wins reelection, as high-level hires will be likely reluctant to take posts that might not last longer than eight months.

But, moreover, there's been other reporting saying that McEntee, the new head of personnel, who was escorted out under John Kelly, and now is back, that he's really going to do his dramatic actions after the president is reelected.

So, in other words, the president is still fairly constrained right now.

AVLON: Well, the president is constrained by the Constitution. Second-term presidents are notoriously unconstrained.

The problem is you have got a government to run. And waiting it to fill it with loyalists who will not follow democratic rule, disregard democratic norms and be afraid to face facts with a president, that's dangerous for the republic in a different way.

That's the breakdown of democratic governance, in terms of just getting the ball down the field. If people are afraid to raise uncomfortable facts to the president, you're not going to have a good decision-making process. That's going to trickle down from the White House to the intelligence community.

We have got a pandemic coming potentially. We have got real challenges happening in our elections as well with foreign interference, whatever the degree of the targeting may be. You need people who are willing to communicate facts.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

This just in, believe it or not, a new update to the Nevada caucuses' results, 100 percent of the precincts now reporting.

The results show Senator Bernie Sanders with a solid first-place finish, 46.8 percent, Joe Biden in second place at 20.2 percent. He's followed by Buttigieg in third at 14.3 percent, Senator Elizabeth Warren finishing fourth at 9.7 percent.

Coming up, the president's national security adviser is now saying Russia is not interfering in the election to get President Trump reelected. What kind of analysis is he offering? Can we trust it?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with the politics lead.

A national security official in the Trump administration had sharp words for National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, who went on two Sunday shows and deviated from intelligence estimates, this official tells me, by suggesting that the Russians are definitively trying to get Bernie Sanders elected president.


ROBERT O'BRIEN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: What I have heard is that Russia would like Bernie Sanders to -- to win the Democrat nomination. They'd probably like him to be president, understandably, because he wants to -- to spend money on social programs and probably would have to take it out of the military.

So that would make sense.


TAPPER: But, according to the national security official, that's not what the intelligence says. The official told me the intelligence right now shows that the Russians are trying to boost Sanders as a way of sowing discord in the Democratic primaries, but the Russians have no actual preference.

The officials added that the Russians believe that they can work with Trump. They see him as transactional, but they don't prefer him either, neither Trump nor Sanders, the official said, but that's not what the national security adviser, Robert O'Brien said.



O'BRIEN: Well, there are these reports that they want Bernie Sanders to get elected president. That's no surprise. He honeymooned in Moscow.


TAPPER: Again, that is not what the intelligence says, according to the national security official that I spoke with.

So, what accounts for the national security adviser misrepresenting the intelligence and taking potshots at Bernie Sanders like that?

Quote: "Perhaps his first instincts are more political than that of a national security professional," the official told me, adding -- quote -- "By saying that, O'Brien injected himself into the campaign by commenting on a potential rival. If he's willing to say that as national security adviser, what does that mean for the next nine months, and what is he doing when the camera is not on him?"

Joining me now to discuss intelligence, the Russians and politicizing all of it is Steve Hall, a three-decade veteran of the CIA who served as the Russian station chief for the agency.

Steve, thanks for joining us.

So, as you heard, a senior national spirit official told me that perhaps O'Brien's first instincts are more political than that of a traditional national security professional.

What do you think?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Jake, that's certainly been my experience.

I have been in the room with and had -- been involved in meetings with a number of national security advisers. And I was trying to think back to a time when one of them sort of inserted him or her self into domestic politics in a strong fashion.

And it's just not the norm. I mean, the focus of the national security adviser is almost always foreign affairs, foreign events that could threaten the security of the United States.

So, I would have to agree with your source who said this is very unusual for national security adviser to inject themselves into a campaign like this.

TAPPER: The concern that the national security official I spoke with voiced also was, what impact does this have on the advice or the presentations of intelligence that Mr. O'Brien gives to President Trump?

HALL: Yes, that's a real grave concern that I have with these -- this sort of purging that we're seeing now in the administration and the staffing of really critical jobs with people that are really political partisans.

There are certain positions, obviously, in an administration where that's appropriate. But when you have, for example, the DNI, the national security adviser, those are people who need to bring the facts to the administration, to the president, to senior policy-makers in a very dry, mathematical, concise way, so that policy can then be derived as it should be.

But when you have got people who have concerns, political concerns, about the administration or what the administration might react to, if they hear, for example, a bad piece of intelligence or something they don't like, that's really damaging to the national security of this country, when you have that kind of politicization going on.

TAPPER: Bernie Sanders confirmed that he received this briefing that Russia was trying to boost his campaign as a way of disrupting the Democratic primaries.

Explain to people who might be confused why it would make sense that they wouldn't have a preference, but they would try to boost Sanders and that ultimately they might also boost other candidates, including the president?

HALL: Sure.

I think to answer that question so that folks understand what we're talking about is, you have to ask yourself, what is the key geopolitical goal, what is the most important strategic goal that Vladimir Putin has?

And the most important goal that he has is not that a Democrat or that a Republican or that a particular individual even wins the presidency in the United States. It is weakening U.S. democracy. It is playing on the social and political things that drive us apart.

So if you start from there, and then you say, OK, who is the best person, in the Russians' view, to help sort of bring the United States to its knees in that sense? It makes sense that it's Donald Trump. I mean, this is somebody who has not taken a particularly strong view against Russia, and who is by far the most polarizing and divisive person, certainly politician, public person, in this country.

But it also makes sense for them to try to sow chaos on the other side as well, perhaps put out the word that we're supporting Bernie Sanders or somebody like that. That just causes American citizens to stop and think, is this whole process screwed up or is it actually working?

It's an American problem. It's not a Democrat problem or a Republican problem. It is a problem for the entire country, because we're being attacked by Russia.

TAPPER: All right, Steve Hall, thank you so much for your expertise, as always.

Coming up: In our 2020 lead -- or, actually, we will do it right now.

In our 2020 lead, Anderson Cooper on "60 Minutes" asked Senator Bernie Sanders about comments he made in the 1980s about Cuban dictator Fidel Castro transforming Cuban society with education and health care.

Here's part of Sanders' response on "60 Minutes."


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba.

But you got -- it's unfair to simply say everything is bad. When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing, even though Fidel Castro did it?


TAPPER: Sanders' Democratic opponents took a with those comments, as did some Democratic lawmakers from South Florida, where there is a large Cuban American community, such as freshmen Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.


She called Sanders' comment -- quote -- "absolutely unacceptable."

And Congresswoman Donna Shalala, who suggested that Sanders talk to her constituents before -- quote -- "singing the praises of a murderous tyrant" -- unquote.

And, as CNN's Sara Murray reports for us now, this is not the only Bernie Sanders foreign policy controversy that is causing consternation right now among more moderate Democrats.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senator Bernie Sanders is snubbing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual meeting, accusing the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group providing a platform for bigotry.

"I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who expressed bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights. For that reason, I will not attend their conference," Sanders tweeted.

AIPAC shot back defending the event and saying: "Sanders has never attended anyway. Senator Sanders is insulting his very own colleagues and the millions Americans who stand with Israel. Truly shameful."

The heated exchange highlights the Vermont senator's willingness to criticize the government of Israel more starkly than any other leading presidential candidate ever has.

SANDERS: It is not anti-Semitism to say that the Netanyahu government has been racist.

MURRAY: Sanders, who would be the first ever Jewish presidential nominee from a major party, is advocating for what he calls a more even-handed approach to dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

SANDERS: What American foreign policy has got to be about is, in the Middle East, bringing the Israelis, bringing the Palestinians together. It cannot just simply be a one -- that we're just pro-Israel and we ignore the needs of the Palestinian people.

We have got to pay attention to both.

MURRAY: Polling shows Democrats' sympathy toward Israel has weakened in recent years, and that's particularly true among progressive Democrats.

But Sanders has faced criticism from supporters of Israel on both sides of the aisle for embracing campaign surrogates with more extreme anti-Israel views than the candidate they're backing.

Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian American women to serve in Congress, have both thrown their support behind Sanders. But they have also faced blowback from their own party about their views on Israel and their support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which calls for putting economic and political pressure on Israel for its actions toward Palestinians.

Some Israel supporters say singling out the Jewish day for such a boycott is anti-Semitic. Sanders has also faced backlash for surrogates such as Palestinian American activists Linda Sarsour and Amer Zahr, a Palestinian American law professor and comedian.

Mark Melvin, president of the Democratic Majority for Israel, an advocacy group that ran ads against Sanders, has urged Sanders to distance himself from those supporters.

MARK MELLMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Bernie Sanders says he wants to combat anti-Semitism, but he has appointed to official positions in his campaigns people who have made, repeatedly made anti-Semitic statements and refuse to disavow those statements. And that is deeply troubling. MURRAY: Sarsour was ousted, along with others from the board of the

women's march, amid accusations of anti-Semitism. And Zahr has come under fire for tweets like this one from 2016, which he later deleted, comparing Israel to ISIS.


MURRAY: Now, Linda Sarsour and Amer Zahr have both denied that they are anti-Semitic.

And I actually spoke by phone with Amer Zahr. He said part of the reason he supports Bernie Sanders is he believes that Sanders is changing the conversation this issue at the presidential level -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Breaking today, the jury delivering its verdict against the disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein. What's next for Weinstein?

That's coming up. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Disgraced greatest Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein is behind bars after a New York jury found him guilty on two of the five charges he was facing.

This comes after more than 26 hours of jury deliberations, four weeks on trial, and, as CNN's Brynn Gingras reports for us, emotional testimony from multiple women who accused the once powerful media mogul of sexual assault and rape.


BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Guilty, the verdict bringing redemption for the two women at the heart of this case, and likely for dozens of others who accused Harvey Weinstein of various unwanted sexual acts over decades.

The disgraced movie mogul handcuffed and led out of a New York City courtroom after a jury convicted him on two sex crime charges.

CYRUS VANCE, MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: This is the new landscape for survivors of sexual assault in America, I believe. And this is a new day.

GINGRAS: After a month long trial, the jury acquitted Weinstein on the more serious charges against him, predatory sexual assault and first-degree rape.

The panel of seven men and five women deliberated for 26.5 hours over five days trying to make sense of very complicated jury instructions, ultimately convicting Weinstein of a criminal sexual act against Miriam Haleyi, who said Weinstein forced oral sex on her in 2006, and also rape in the third degree of Jessica Mann, who says Weinstein raped her in 2013.

Actresses Ashley Judd and Rosanna Arquette, among the more than 80 women who have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct, both reacted to the verdict thanking the women who testified for their bravery.

GLORIA ALLRED, ATTORNEY: This is the age of empowerment of women. And you cannot intimidate them anymore.

GINGRAS: The verdict suggests jurors believed the testimony of those two women, but struggled with the testimony of Annabella Sciorra.

Sciorra, most known for her role in "The Sopranos," accused Weinstein of raping her in the mid-'90s. Her case didn't fit within the statute of limitations, but prosecutors hoped to use her testimony to prove that Weinstein had a pattern of behavior. Weinstein could face more than two decades in prison. Weinstein's attorneys say they plan to appeal.

DONNA ROTUNNO, ATTORNEY FOR HARVEY WEINSTEIN: He was as strong as he has been throughout all of them. Obviously, he's disappointed. And, obviously, he has maintained his innocence from the beginning. So it's a tough -- tough to sit there.


And kind of, I put my hand on his arm, and it's a tough thing, not the way we wanted today to end.


GINGRAS: Now, Harvey Weinstein is booked at Rikers here in New York City. He has an inmate number.

Where in the facility has is being housed is not clear, because the Department of Corrections here in New York City doesn't release that information. However, his defense attorneys, Jake, fought to have him in a special unit for an infirmary, citing his back pain and other chronic issues.

He will be back, though, in court for his sentencing next month -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Brynn Gingras outside the courthouse, thank you so much.

Michael Jordan leads the emotional tribute to Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and all the victims of that horrific chopper crash.

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