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Obama Personally Warned Trump Against Hiring Flynn; Former Acting A.G. Sally Yates to Testify on Flynn. Aired 11:30-12p ET
Aired May 8, 2017 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:30:00:] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We now know that in that meeting, President Obama said listen, you shouldn't hire General Flynn, there's some smoke around there, in effect. So, he got multiple warnings, the Trump administration did, yet, went forward with it, and it took them a number of weeks before they did fire him. And remember, Kate, they fired -- I'm not going to say this was the only reason -- but the day after a "Washington Post" story came out detailing those conversations he had with the Russian ambassador.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And when it comes to where we're at least going to hear one contradiction with Sally Yates today when she testifies. We know, we've heard that sound bite over and over again when Sean Spicer, the way he described it was that Sally Yates gave a heads-up to the White House about Michael Flynn. But with this information, you can't really call it a heads-up anymore, can you? I mean, if this warning came directly from President Obama, the warning came directly from President Obama to President Trump.
SCIUTTO: Clearly, a warning delivered from the most senior level of the outgoing administration. And Sally Yates, I mean, keep in mind, she was the acting attorney general in the Trump administration, of course, while Trump waited to make his own appointment.
SCIUTTO: But keep in mind as well, she was a civil servant for a number of years, serving both administrations. So, she's often characterized by the Republicans as, in effect, a shill for the Democratic Party, but she had been in the Justice Department for a number of years.
But bottom line is, multiple warnings came through. It was not, as Sean Spicer said, just a friendly heads-up. They were sounding the alarm, in effect, about Michael Flynn. President Trump went ahead with this appointment and then some 20 days later or so -- that's as long as he lasted in this job -- they were forced to fire him.
BOLDUAN: And the fallout clearly continuing as this is one of the subjects of this huge hearing that's now taking up even more importance today.
BOLDUAN: Thank you, Jim. SCIUTTO: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: Jeffrey Toobin and Errol Louis are still here with me.
Does it surprise you, Jeffrey, that President Obama, any president would warn another president about a specific kind of personnel decision?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANAYST: It doesn't surprise me, but it's certainly got to be very unusual, because President Obama obviously knew that Donald Trump was going to appoint people whose policy views were very different from President Obama's and his administration.
BOLDUAN: Of course.
TOOBIN: So, it's not like he's saying don't appoint people who are going to --
BOLDUAN: If you don't like my climate change policy or whatever.
TOOBIN: Exactly. Obviously, something was about Flynn personally involving his background, involving his actions, that prompted President Obama to take this extraordinary step of warning him away. Obviously, we know that Donald Trump did not take President Obama's advice, did make him national security adviser, but he was gone 24 days after the administration started.
BOLDUAN: That's exactly right.
And, Errol, I want your perspective on this, just a bit, for a final question. My producer just handed me a fascinating quote to remember. When President Trump, in February, did an interview with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network, and was asked about Michael Flynn, and this was after the warnings came from the White House, this is how President Trump described him, "General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he's been treated very, very unfairly by the media."
ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Interesting.
BOLDUAN: I just find that very interesting because there was this period of time where they were not even comfortable saying that Michael Flynn was fired. They say he resigned, he decided to resign.
LOUIS: Right, right. Well, I think you have to keep in mind, when President Trump uses the term "treated very unfairly," what it normally means -- and this goes back to the campaign trail and before that to his commercial life -- it means he's on the losing side of some kind of activity. So, if he thinks Michael Flynn was being treated unfairly, what it meant was negative information was being surfaced by CNN, the "Washington Post," "The New York Times," and other news outlets. I think he's in for another round of his so- called unfair treatment now. I think especially as questions are going to now be put to the president personally, to his spokesperson, John Spicer, and to everybody else, about what were you told on November 10th, what did you do about that information. We've already --
BOLDUAN: The timeline has already been kind of a moving target of a flow chart that we've had to, you know, make a decision tree on.
LOUIS: We've already heard the president say -- well, I remember on Air Force One saying, well, he doesn't know anything about this "Washington Post" report.
BOLDUAN: That's right.
LOUIS: When, of course, he did know about the "Washington Post" report, and more importantly about the facts that were disclosed in the "Washington Post" report. There have been sort of warning after warning from everybody, now including, apparently, the outgoing president of the United States, that Michael Flynn was a problem. Why the president wanted to cling to him for so long under those circumstances and only acted when it was really untenable, because he apparently had directly misled the vice president, why that level of allegiance, I do not know.
TOOBIN: But remember, it's always the same subject. It's always Russia. Why is the Trump campaign, the Trump administration, why are they always so defensive about their ties to Russia? Why have so many members of the administration made misstatements, made false statements about Russia? Michael Flynn, obviously, very tied to Russia. This is what --
TOOBIN: And that is what these investigations, perhaps, will uncover.
[11:35:06] BOLDUAN: Yeah. Yeah. There are, I think, four investigations on some various level in Congress. Of course, an FBI investigation looking into these questions as well.
Michael Flynn is out. He was fired. The fallout not over. Today, the stakes now being raised even more with this breaking news that President Obama warned President Trump in the Oval Office, according to Jim Acosta's sources, against hiring Michael Flynn back when they met privately in the Oval Office on November 10th. President Trump, what does he have to say about this? Keep an eye on his Twitter feed.
We'll be right back.
[11:40:00] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BOLDUAN: President Obama warned President Trump against hiring Michael Flynn as his national security adviser. That is according to former Obama officials to CNN's Jim Acosta. We are learning that that warning happened in this meeting on November 10th, this private meeting that everyone was waiting for just after the election between the outgoing president and the incoming president.
That warning now taking on a whole new meaning as we wait to hear from the acting attorney general later today testifying about her warnings to the White House about Michael Flynn.
Let me discuss this right now with Andre Bauer, CNN political commentator and former lieutenant governor of South Carolina; and Hilary Rosen, a CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist.
So, guys, Andre, this is the outgoing president warning the incoming president against hiring Michael Flynn. And that was still not enough for President Trump. He still hired him. He was there for a short period of time. Does that concern you?
ANDRE BAUER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, so much of this anymore, I think myself, like so many Americans, wonder how much is political, how much is really of concern. And so, you know, first, I would ask, why didn't the Obama administration take his top-secret clearance or top-level clearance before letting it get to this point anyway? Why wasn't -- when they had concerns, why didn't they take that? And another question is, is who actually -- what are the best interests? Why won't Susan Rice testify? You know, so much of this it seems from the outside --
BOLDUAN: Let's just talk about Michael Flynn, though. Let's talk about this scenario.
BOLDUAN: Susan Rice is a completely different can of worms at this point. But this news that President Obama warned President Trump in their private meeting against hiring Michael Flynn, because for what, obviously, we don't know for exactly what reason, and that Sally Yates also had warned the White House about Michael Flynn, that he was misleading the White House in terms of his communications with Russian officials. That was still not enough until much later for them to fire Michael Flynn. Should he have been hired in the first place?
BAUER: You know, that's definitely a question worth asking. But again, if there was this much concern, why didn't the Obama administration immediately take that clearance? Why does Sally Yates go on MSNBC and start talking about they were gathering information --
BOLDUAN: He wasn't part of the Obama administration when this conversation was happening. He had been fired.
BAUER: Sure, and you can give --
(CROSSTALK) HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He was fired from the Obama administration, Andre. I mean, that --
BAUER: That's what I was getting ready to say.
BOLDUAN: Go ahead and finish, Andre.
ROSEN: He was -- go ahead, finish.
BAUER: No, Hilary, go ahead. Same point I was going to make.
ROSEN: Well, he was fired from the Obama administration. He was not active in briefings. He wasn't getting security information, but he was sharing information from Russian intelligence. That's what Sally Yates went and warned the Trump White House about.
So you know, I think the real issue is why is it that President Trump did not seem to care at all about Michael Flynn's subversive connections with Russia until it became public that he lied to the vice president and embarrassed the vice president so much that he had to essentially fire him?
So, you know, look, this whole Russia thing, Jeff Toobin made the point before, it all seems to keep coming back to what is Donald Trump's relationship with Russia, why does everybody look the other way in the Trump White House when it comes to Russia? It is both boring and infuriating at this point because, look, I want the Intelligence Committees to investigate this. I don't want to keep talking about it. I want the Trump administration to cooperate with the investigations. If the president has nothing to hide, just give them the information that they're looking for and let's move on with the country's business. This is not Democrats continuing to push this as a conspiracy theory. These are actual facts that are troubling about how an administration operates.
BOLDUAN: Here's also an important point. As you were wondering, Andre, why didn't the Obama administration pull his clearance. Take that one step further. Why didn't the Trump administration vet him further?
And here's why I ask this, because of President Trump's tweet this morning. General Flynn, he blames Obama for Flynn essentially. "General Flynn was given the highest security clearance by the Obama administration, but the fake news media seldom likes talking about that."
Well, I want you to listen here to General John Kelly, now the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Here's what he said to FOX News about the vetting that he underwent before he took his post.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I would tell you this, the process I just went through, they completely ignored my last 25 years, started from scratch. I had to submit, again, financial statements, my tax records, anything and everything -- any foreign contact I had, anything and everything. And then they checked at the FBI. So, I think the process -- I can't imagine how much tighter it could possibly be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[11:45:08] BOLDUAN: So, Andre, Secretary Kelly says the Trump administration, it was on them to vet, and they did vet him. That's directly in contradiction to what the president's saying in his tweet.
BAUER: Well, I think there's -- you know, you can argue both sides. Clearly, if the Obama administration thought he was a threat, they should have revoked his clearance. Quite possibly, maybe he should have been vetted more before he took on his new post. I hope that, in fact, all of it does come out.
I think when we continue to talk about Russia, we always, it seems like, so many commentators forget the close ties that the Clintons had as well. And so, when this investigation goes on, it shouldn't just be one-sided, it should be totally who had ties to Russia, what were those ties, and did they involve meddling in any shape, form or fashion --
ROSEN: Donald Trump is the president.
BAUER: -- not just one side.
ROSEN: Donald Trump is the president. This isn't --
BAUER: Well, Podesta took tens of millions, so --
ROSEN: This is not about politics now. This is about running our government. And it is worth noting two things. The first thing is that when Donald Trump and Barack Obama had their first meeting post- election, both of them came out and said that their goal was to make the country work better --
ROSEN: -- and to succeed. And Donald Trump praised President Obama for his candor and good advice and honest advice in that meeting. For him -- now that we know that President Obama actually said, don't hire Flynn, he's not what you think and there's trouble there, for President Trump to now tweet this morning that it's Obama's fault that he hired Ray Flynn is just beyond chutzpah. That's what's beyond troubling is that the president perpetuates the lies about Ray Flynn and the lies about the connection --
BOLDUAN: Mike Flynn.
ROSEN: Sorry. I keep saying Ray Flynn, former Congressman. Mike Flynn. And yet, President Obama actually warned him about him. That says all you need to know about how Donald Trump is acting about --
BAUER: Well, it doesn't, Hilary, it doesn't. If he was that -- I'm sorry. If he was that concerned about him, he should have never let him keep his clearance. I mean, we all -- if you've got an employee --
BOLDUAN: OK, I don't think --
ROSEN: I don't know why you keep saying he kept his clearance.
BOLDUAN: He was not working in the Obama administration.
ROSEN: That's right.
BOLDUAN: Just point of fact, he was not working in the Obama administration when this all went down. He was fired from being the top intelligence officer in the Department of Defense. So he was fired for whatever reason. This was not Obama pushing Mike Flynn at all towards President Trump. He was warning President Trump to not hire one of the men that he brought on as his top adviser. These two things do not go together.
I've got to ask Jeffrey Toobin one thing as we look forward to today and Sally Yates and her testimony, talking about the tweets we heard. We had a tweet from the president about Michael Flynn and a tweet from the president about Sally Yates, saying that you should ask her under oath, as we see right here, if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers after she explained it to the White House. I don't ask this flippantly. Is this witness tampering?
TOOBIN: Well, I don't think it is criminal witness tampering. However, it's just a demonstration of how President Trump has changed the norms of what we expect for how presidents behave. He's the head of the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice investigates people for perjury. He is essentially saying in that tweet, she will lie about her contacts with the news media. I mean, it is a pretty incredible --
BOLDUAN: Or suggesting she was the one who leaked it, right?
TOOBIN: That's right. They should ask her about it, and she was involved in illegal leaking and may lie about it today. It is just indicative of how differently Donald Trump behaves than any other president. The idea that a president would insinuate that a member briefly of his administration, a senior Justice Department official, a career prosecutor, was involved in illegal leaking based on no evidence, just as she was about to testify. It's not witness tampering, but it's clearly an attempt to intimidate her. And presidents just haven't done that kind of thing, historically.
[11:49:11] BOLDUAN: A lot more on this, guys. Great to see you.
Thank you, Jeffrey, so very much.
Andre, Hilary, thank you guys. I really, really appreciate it as well. We'll have much more on this to come.
Plus, this. What Jared Kushner's sister told Chinese investors that forced the family business to apologize this morning. It has a lot of folks talking again about more possible conflicts of interest. We'll discuss.
BOLDUAN: Continuing to follow breaking news. More coming out with regard to President Obama. According to sources, warned President Trump in a private meeting in the Oval Office on November 10th against hiring national security -- what became his national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Also, getting some new information from Jake Tapper that President Obama's concerns that he relayed to President Trump in that meeting were not related to the Obama administration firing Flynn from DIA but rather because of the investigation, because how the investigation had gone so far into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
A quote from an Obama administration source to Jake Tapper, "Flynn's name kept popping up," according to a senior Obama administration source.
With me here still is Jeffrey Toobin.
Fascinating. That's a little bit of what we were wondering aloud before we went to break exactly what the warning was relating to.
TOOBIN: Right. I think it's clear that President Obama understood that President Trump was going to appoint people with different policy views than the Obama administration. He was not going to warn him away from people who simply had different policy views. This is an -- his concern, as Jake Tapper has learned more specifically now, related to Mike Flynn's relationship with Russia, which ultimately led to his departure a little more than three weeks into the administration. But the fact that Donald Trump would ignore that advice is yet another example of how the Trump administration and Donald Trump himself have looked the other way where Russia is concerned. [11:55:05] BOLDUAN: It also makes me wonder, what does that say also
about the vetting that was under way? We played a sound bite earlier of John Kelly. He said, when I became secretary of Homeland Security, my last 25 years were thrown out the door and they vetted me meticulously once again.
If this warning came on November 10th, what does that say about the vetting?
TOOBIN: I don't know what the vetting was, obviously. But it is also a fact in my experience and reporting is that when the president wants you for something, when the president says I want him to be national security adviser, he's going to be the national security adviser, and they can ignore unpleasant facts in the vetting process. I don't know what the vetting said, but it was quite clear that Donald Trump wanted Mike Flynn as his national security adviser, and he got him, albeit briefly.
BOLDUAN: The vetting continues to be a question because the president is blaming the Obama administration for not vetting Flynn well enough. That's what he kind of said in a tweet this morning.
Let me bring in Larry Noble. He's a CNN ethics expert, former general counsel for the Federal Elections Commission.
Larry, your reaction to an outgoing president warning the incoming president against hiring someone like Michael Flynn because, according to Jake Tapper's reporting, because it had to do with the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the election.
LARRY NOBLE, CNN ETHICS EXPERT & FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL, FEDERAL ELECTIONS COMMISSION: It seems to be pretty basic that when the former president tells you to be concerned about somebody, that they fired the person, that there are potentially problems here, that you would be very reluctant to hire them. Looking at it at a basic level, you have the previous employer of the person saying I'm not sure I would hire them and there are concerns, and why that would not put up a red flag is not understandable. It is one of the highest security positions in the country. Whether or not Trump just really wanted him, at some point, you have to put aside what you really want and look at what's best for the nation and say is this person -- is this the right person for the job when the president is telling me that there's a real problem here?
BOLDUAN: And who knew what, when, is the key question in the hearing that will be happening today, led by Lindsey Graham and Sheldon Whitehouse, in the Senate, and I wonder what Sally Yates will be able to offer.
TOOBIN: It gets very complicated and difficult because a lot of the information Sally Yates had about Mike Flynn and the Russian government, apparently, comes from intercepts, which are very highly classified. The government never wants to discuss them publicly. So the basis for her concerns, she will be able to talk about them at some level of generality --
TOOBIN: -- but it will be interesting to see how close they get to the line of disclosing material --
TOOBIN: -- that has historically been classified.
BOLDUAN: And don't worry, you don't have to wait much longer. She will be testifying in just a few hours in a hearing that has taken on more importance with all the breaking news we've seen this hour.
Our special coverage -- thank you so much for joining me.
Our special coverage will continue in just a moment with John King. Stand by.
[11:59:52] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.
Some big breaking news this hour. President Obama, it turns out, warned then-President-elect Trump not to bring retired General Michael Flynn into the new administration. We'll go to the White House live on that news in a moment.
But then, it comes as we wait to hear form a star witness in the Russia election-meddling investigations.