Return to Transcripts main page
ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Wash Post: Trump Revealed Highly Classified Info to Russians; Standing By For National Security Adviser Statement. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired May 15, 2017 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER HOST: -- continues with Erin Burnett OutFront right now.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT HOST: Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OutFront tonight, breaking news. The Washington Post reporting this evening that the president of the United States has revealed top secret classified information to Russia. According to the post, Trump shared the classified information with the Russian Ambassador and the Russian Foreign Minister at the White House last week. This information involved ISIS.
The report states it jeopardized the critical source of intelligence and we are awaiting a briefing from the national security adviser at those cameras momentarily. The White House now in full denial mode, the deputy national security adviser for strategy, Dina Powell saying tonight the story is false. The president only discussed the common threats that both country face. Of course, the Russian Ambassador is believed by U.S. intelligence to be a top Russian spy and a spy recruiter. Sara Murray begins our coverage OutFront at the White House as we await H.R. McMaster approaching those cameras and speaking to the press. The minute that happens we'll bring you there live. Sara, I know you're just feet away. What are you learning?
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, we are looking for a fuller explanation from the president's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster on exactly what happened in this meeting between President Trump and Russian's foreign minister as well as Russia's ambassador. That's what the Washington Post is reporting that the president apparently shared classified information. Now, the White House has been scrambling for the last - I would say, hour or so to figure out how they're going to respond to this.
They responded by putting a trio of statements out from some of their officials and they don't all say the same thing, Erin. As you pointed out, there's a statement from Dina Powell, deputy national security adviser that flat out says this story is false. But it's worth noting that the White House also put out statements from Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson as well as national security adviser H.R. McMaster already. Those statements don't go that far. They do not say the story is flat out false. Let me read you what H.R. McMaster said in his statement. The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation. At no time or any intelligence sources or methods discussed and no military operations were disclosed that we're not already known publicly. So not a flat out denial that this story is false. And Erin, just one more point of fact checking here.
The Washington Post report, they broke this story about what the president said to these Russian officials does not say that he discussed sources and methods but it does say that he disclosed classified information, clearly the kind of classified information that was very alarming when U.S. officials found out about it. And obviously we're waiting to get more details on this sort of discrepancy we're seeing in these statements from H.R. McMaster when he began speaking.
BURNETT: All right. Sara, thank you very much. And the Washington Post reporter who broke the story going to be with me in just a moment because there are some crucial details here in the story. I want to go to the Pentagon now though for the response. Barbara Starr is there. And Barbara, do we at this time know what it is that the president revealed?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well according to the Washington Post and I'll leave it the reporter you have to explain it further, some of this did have to do in fact with intelligence that perhaps led to the ban on laptops onboard, passenger cabins in airplanes. So it's quite interesting that that statement referenced aviation. You could talk about that with the Russians certainly. Nobody wants to see Russian passenger liners crash due to some intelligence threat they may not be aware of.
But the Post article clearly suggesting that the president shared some of the most sensitive intelligence information about this and that that information came from another country. And that is a key problem. When you get intelligence from another country, you can't share it with somebody else. It's very sensitive. It's very confidential. There's no expectation that you're going to share it with another country. Countries want to know that they can tell the U.S. things that they can tell the president, the CIA, and that that information will be kept confidential.
Because if it is shared, it puts their own people, this other country that we don't know who it is, it potentially puts their people, their intelligence gathering systems, all of that at risk on the ground in very dangerous places around the world. It jeopardizes their safety, their ability to operate and what happens is they don't want to share with the United States anymore. So there's going to be a real question here about whether some confidence has been shaken in intelligence services around the world. Erin?
BURNETT: All right. Barbara, thank you very much. And I want to get to the reporter who broke the story, Greg Miller, national security correspondent for the Washington Post. My whole panel is with me. I want to introduce all of you then we're going to start with Greg. Bob Baer is here, former CIA, Juliette Kayyem, former Homeland Security, Mark Preston, political analyst, Alan Dershowitz, Harvard law professor, Emeritus, and Jim Sciutto, our chief national security correspondent.
So Greg, let me start with you so you could explain. And I know, I want to make sure people understand. You're going to share as much as you can but not enough to put lives at risk if you - if that is what you're trying to do, right? You're not going to say the city from where this intelligence operative was able to penetrate a top levels of ISIS for example, to try to protect lives. But tell me, how specific, how top secret, what was this information?
GREG MILLER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: As your other reporter summarized, this was really sensitive information about an ongoing and unfolding Islamic state terror plot that has caused a great deal of concern among counterterrorism officials. And in a conversation with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, Trump is going into details of what the United States knows about this unfolding plot, how the Islamic state is pursuing it, trying to put it together, trying to pull it off.
And at the same time talking about some of the measures the United States is taking to try to deal with it. And this is problematic mainly because this is information that the United States has mainly if not exclusively because of a foreign partner providing it that has some access to the Islamic state. And so this wasn't Intel that the United States was authorized to share, and especially not authorized to share with Russia.
BURNETT: And I want to read to you, Greg, because this goes to the heart of what you're reporting, two statements from the White House tonight, one of which came from the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson via the White House say this, during President Trump's meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, a broad range of subjects were discussed. Among which were common efforts and threats regarding counterterrorism. During that exchange, the nature of specific threats were discussed, OK? So they admit it.
I'm sorry. But they did not discuss sources, methods or military operations, all right? So let me just ask you specifically, Greg, because in your report you are saying that while the sources and the methods may not have been specifically discussed but the information that the president shared they would be easily ascertainable, right?
MILLER: In fact our story says clearly that the president did not discuss -- did not name this partner, the source of this intelligence.
BURNETT: The country.
MILLER: Did not talk about the particular collection capability that was responsible for this intelligence but was providing details that came because of this intelligence stream. And the worry among a lot of security officials that we talked to was that Russia, which has a very capable intelligence services of its own, could try to reverse engineer this. Could try to figure out what is this source that the United States has, who is the ally that the United States is depending on, where does this stuff come from. Trump's reference to a specific city may have made that even easier. So that's what the concern is about.
BURNETT: And Greg, you continue there's one sentence in your story, you write, Moscow would be keenly interested in identifying that source and possibly disrupting it.
MILLER: Yes. That's right. And then, so the relationship with Russia and Syria is so problematic, right? I mean on the one hand the United States and Russia both regard the Islamic state as a threat and want to deal with that threat and probably collaborate or cooperate to some degree in sharing information that might protect Russians or might protect Americans from attack.
BURNETT: All right. Greg, I interrupt just to listen to the national security adviser H.R. McMaster. Everyone, here he is.
H.R. MCMASTER, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: There's nothing that the president takes more seriously than the security of the American people. The story that came out tonight as reported is false. The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries including threats to civil aviation. At no time, at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not discuss any military operations that were not already publicly known.
Two other senior officials who were present, including the secretary of state, remember the meeting the same way and have said so. They're on the record accounts should out way those anonymous sources. And I was in the room. It didn't happen. Thanks everybody. Thank you.
BURNETT: So Greg, let me just go to you first, OK? Because I want to give you a chance. I want to make it clear here. He's saying your story is false. And no sources and methods were disclosed. But I want to be loud and clear here. Your story does not say sources and methods were disclosed. It says a specific plot was discussed from which one would be able to figure out sources and methods. Am I correct?
MILLER: I think that's right and I think that the White House is playing word games here to that effect to try to - to try to blunt the impact of this story, nor do any of the White House officials who are denouncing this story, nor have any of them offer explanation why that this was also above board and not problematic in any way, why did the national security council coming out of this meeting feel it was necessary to contact the CIA Director and the director of the National Security Agency to give them a head's up on what Trump had just told the Russians.
BURNETT: Right. So the bottom line is, you stand by the story and every word of it. He says it's false, You say no.
BURNETT: All right. Please stay with me. All of you stay with me. I just want to go to our justice correspondent Evan Perez. Evan, Greg couldn't be clear.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, Erin. And I got to tell you, the words that the -- that H.R. McMaster just spoke really does not really contradict Greg's story in the Washington Post report. And look, we know from experience because we reported back on March 31st about the intelligence that was behind the laptop ban and we spent a couple of days doing conference calls with the U.S. Intelligence Agencies and they were specifically concerned about the aspects that Greg was pointing out in the story.
The things that the president allegedly told the Russian - the Russian officials in the Oval Office there during the meeting are exactly the things that we were asked to keep out of the story because we were told that if we reported those things it would - it would tell the enemy about the sources and methods, the way in which the U.S. had gathered this information. And its allies had gathered this information. So really, what we're talking about is you don't necessarily need to say, you know --
BURNETT: This is how we got it. Yes.
PEREZ: This is how we got it. But just the use of certain words and certain aspects, details of the story, we were told that we should hold back and we did because we felt that we -- there was no interest for us to help the enemy and help terrorist organizations, you know, get through the security system here in the United States or around the world. So we held back a lot of those details and now apparently, according to Greg's reporting, it appears that the president just kind of let that out in his meeting with the Russian officials.
BURNETT: So, Greg, let me just ask you in terms of the detail. Obviously, you said it was a looming threat that he was giving details about. And could you give me a little more information? He was walking through all sorts of scenarios related to this laptop bomb. I mean, what was it that he was sharing?
MILLER: Yes. I want to be clear here. The sources that we talked to were really worried about -- they didn't want to compound the problem here, so they were withholding details from us and then we are withholding even further details from our stories at the request of officials that we talked to all day today.
BURNETT: Just such - I'm sorry to interrupt, just as you're withholding the name of the city so that ISIS wouldn't theoretically be able to know someone had infiltrated their top levels in a specific --
BURNETT: degree. That's just one thing. Anyway, go ahead.
MILLER: Correct. And so, I mean - so we're withholding some of that information. But when Trump - but we know more about what Trump talked about in the session and the way it was described to us was he - he was laying out sort of details about the capability here. How the Islamic state is pursuing this plot, how it's going about developing it, how it's attempting - putting it -- what it's putting in place to try to pull it off, talking about situations in which you might have a greater impact or lesser impact under which circumstances.
In other words, if it - if it happen in this kind of case, we could expect a big, big problem, many casualties possibly or in other cases it might be more muted and not as effective. I mean, he's revealing stuff that is coming largely from this really important intelligence stream.
BURNETT: Now Greg, from your reporting, did the president have any idea what he was doing? I mean, he is in a meeting with the foreign minister of Russia and of course, Sergei Kislyak, the ambassador who's controversial and we have reported is believed to be not only a Russian spy but a top Russian recruiter of spies in this country. Any knowledge as to the president knowing that he was sharing this information that was so (INAUDIBLE)
MILLER: Well, I think that, you know, there's a couple of things there. So, a couple of my colleagues described this meeting with Kislyak and Lavrov as inopportune at best, right? I mean, so it's one day after he's fired the FBI Director. Trump is admitting that that was partly because of his frustration with the FBI's inquiry into Russia in the Trump campaign. And then he's greeting the Russian ambassador and foreign minister at the White House and having this lengthy conversation with them.
And so, I mean, that's just problematic on so many levels. Other officials that we talked to, and we include this in the story as well, express frustration with a lack of discipline for the president. So they prepare pages of talking points, trying to prepare him going into meeting like this, this is what we should discuss, this is what we need to talk about, this is what you can expect them to try to raise. Trump has insisted that those be boiled down to a single page of bullet points that he can digest and often even strays from those.
BURNETT: And you also reported a sense that some of this was bragging.
MILLER: Yes, I mean, the White House hasn't disputed any of that language in order to anybody that we talk to today that he goes and launches into this subject by saying, I get the best Intel, I get a great Intel, I get great briefings every day. You got to believe this. And wraps it up this whole part of the conversation by saying, can you believe the world we live in?
BURNETT: So, I mean, the bottom line here seems to be that they're saying that your story is false. But they're saying that you're saying something you're not saying at all. I mean, that's sort of the conclusion that I'm reaching here, Greg, right?
MILLER: And that's a sort - that's a sort of classic ploy to -
BURNETT: OK. So let me - Jim - I got Jim Sciutto here as well. Jim, I mean, here's the reality. Greg's reporting would indicate that what H.R. McMaster just said, this story is false, what Dina Powell is saying, the deputy national security adviser for strategy came out and said the story is false. Those two statements are untrue.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: His statement is fundamentally insufficient because --
BURNETT: H.R. McMaster?
SCIUTTO: H.R. McMaster. And frankly all the statements because The Washington Post story says that the president revealed classified information resulting from a secret source not that he revealed who the secret source was. Now, in the world of intelligence, oftentimes you can make conclusions about who the source is based on where it's coming from, that's the thing as Greg was saying to reverse engineer it. That's the point I would make. Second point I would make is if the White House have demonstrated credibility on any - certainly intelligence issue but any of the other many controversy that have come out.
BURNETT: You mean, in terms of trusting the statements that come out --
SCIUTTO: That come from the White House podium or senior officials, you might be inclined to give this statement more. I'm just stating an obvious fact. You might be inclined to give this statement more credibility than it has. Two other points having me. One, there are really three things that -- I've been speaking to intelligence officials and form -- current and former all day as the ripples of this go out. They make three points to me about why if this is confirmed, it would be significant. One, the obvious point is classified information. Two, revealed to a prime adversary of the U.S., Russia.
SCIUTTO: And three, that it gets to a sensitive relationship. Difficult abilities relationships, the U.S. has many intelligence sharing relationships in the country. They are natural.
BURNETT: Right. Meaning, this country - this country that is - that is have -- has agents' lives at risk at this moment in the middle of ISIS.
SCIUTTO: And we have relationships that our intelligence sharing that are public, Britain, France, Germany, et cetera, the five Is which includes Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, then we have others relationships that are more sensitive, built overtime, more comfortable - more uncomfortable rather for those involved. The final point I would make is this. If this relates to the laptop ban and there's a lot -- we're talking about aviation risks, even McMaster referenced aviation risk.
BURNETT: Yes. SCIUTTO: Let me just tell you. This is an extremely hot threat right
now in the view of U.S. Intelligence and counter terror. There is a debate going on right now about banning laptops, not just from these eight Muslim majority countries but from Europe and even talk on U.S. Airlines. This is a - you know, this is a clear and present danger. You were talking about the most urgent terror threat to the U.S.
BURNETT: So Greg, let me ask you, from the people you spoke to, when you were first told -- Greg is not there? OK. Sorry, as we get him back, let me just go to you Juliet Kayyem and ask this question because we understand from Greg's reporting, right? That the president walked through various scenarios. He was saying some with mass casualties when he was talking about this laptop bomb with the information that he had.
Does this information that he shared because he shared it with the Russians put lives at risk? Lives of the agents whose lives are on the line infiltrating ISIS and lives of regular civilians who could be on an airplane that because this source somehow ends up being put of commission are now at greater risk?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMDLAND SECURITY: Yes. The short answer is yes. You know, we have a tendency to say that was dangerous what the president did or it could risk lives. This literally was disclosed in the middle of one of the most serious intelligence debates going on in government right now. We've heard pieces of it regarding the laptop ban. But it regards the extent to which ISIS and to be honest until this story I didn't it was ISIS we were talking about.
There were actually questions whether there were other terrorist groups trying to do this. To the extent to which ISIS had the capability to essentially get a laptop bomb near the skin of an airplane in the air and kill hundreds of people. So we have a limited laptop ban going on now. There were rumors last year that we reported on CNN that that would be extended to Europe. It was sort of put on hold. No one knew why. And so this is -- this is not some, you know, historic issue. This is - this is the headlines and the Washington Post story seems remarkably legitimate and timely at this stage.
BURNETT: Bob baer, how serious is this?
BOB BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: It's extremely serious, as Juliette said. These bombs are chemical explosions, they can reach full detonation with a suicide bomber on an airplane. You can take down any airplane. There's no way to detect them with x-rays which can detect nitrates, normal explosives. This is an innovation that the Islamic state has taken beyond our wildest imagination. And the only way we can actually stop these plots is to keep running sources inside the Islamic state.
And the president by revealing this to the Russians has lost control of this information. It's going to the Syrians.
It's going to go to the Iranians. Russia now lies in the ability to protect that source, whoever he is, wherever he is. Has been seriously undermined. And I can tell you this. If a CIA officer had revealed this information to the Russians, he'd be fired instantly.
BURNETT: Fired instantly. That will not happen to the president of the United States because he can declassify whatever he wants but that doesn't change the seriousness or perhaps lack of judgment that was just shown.
BAER: Well, this is worse than criminal. It's not criminal because the president can declassify. It doesn't violate the espionage law because it says material that basically shouldn't have gotten to another side. So he's safe from criminal investigation. He's probably safe from impeachment. But the worst case scenario here is this is Jordanian Intelligence or Israeli Intelligence, they've got a guy who for years who is on the inside, this guy is now going to get killed.
The information gets to Hezbollah, it gets to Iran, it gets to all of America's enemies. Now, we learned one new thing tonight from the Washington Post reporter. We learned that the leak didn't come from Russia. We learned that the leak came from an American source. Why? Here's what he says. He says, the source didn't want to compound the problem. He's telling us he may not have wanted to, but he's telling us something that's important. That the leak came from an American source.
So there's an American intelligence source who is loyal to the United States who feels that the president did something so bad that he is prepared to go to the Washington Post and perhaps even in some ways compound the problem because he thinks on balance he has an obligation to do that.
BURNETT: Which is crucial to some people, Jim, watching may say this is compounding the problem. OK. The Washington Post is refraining from publishing the city for example where this intelligence operative may have penetrated ISIS. ISIS can figure it out. Russia can figure it out. That's the whole point of the story. What is the balance that the person leaking would have thought it was important to share.
SCIUTTO: So share, there are lives at risk here, right? Because for a moment --
BURNETT: Right. Because from this person's point of view whether we know or not in the press, or you watching though, the Russians are going to tell the Iranians, ISIS is going to know and all of these lives could be at risk any way.
SCIUTTO: Relationship damaged and the value of that relationship, right? Because this is intelligence that seems related to the most current terror threat to the U.S. Great concern about aviation threats. And this this another point I would make. At some point, we have to separate from does this damage the president? What is the risk to the president? It seems to be a clear and present risk to lives here. Senator Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee made that very point.
SCIUTTO: That's what -- to a key intelligent relationship and two and to the response to and prevention of the most immediate terror threat.
BURNETT: So senator Blumenthal is going to be with us in just a couple of moments. Let me ask you though, Mark Preston, about the questions this raises. Does this raise questions about the president's competence? I just go to the Washington Post report where Greg wrote and quoted, a former official saying, does he understand what's classified and what's not? That's what worries me.
PRESTON: Yeah. And let me put it in two different veins. The geopolitical vein right now, you are looking at about 12:23 a.m. in London. You're looking at about 2:23 in Tel Aviv. To think the head of those intelligence agencies, for those countries who are big allies, strong allies of the United States have not been roused from their beds to be told what is going on right now as we speak here in Washington, D.C. We'd be foolish. And that comes to the question of competency and trust.
And can they trust as Jim Sciutto was saying right there talking about relationships, can they trust giving President Trump information. I also think it's telling when you look at the electoral political fallout is that you have Paul Ryan, the speaker of the house saying that he wants to get a full account of the facts from the administration. At the same time you're not seeing any senators, any republicans who are rushing to the defense of Donald Trump. They're being a little more careful and taking a step back. I think that is very telling.
BURNETT: Very telling because, Mark, part of the issue is they're coming out and saying that the story is false. But what they're saying is false isn't what the Washington Post reported. And unfortunately, as we've seen even in their rendition of what happened with Jim Comey, what they all came out and said ended up being completely untrue. So, people whether it would be republicans in congress or people watching tonight don't know whether to trust them or whether they're lying.
PRESTON: There's been so many opportunity in the past where republicans have walked out on a limb where they have defended Trump on quite frankly silly aspects whether crowd size through his inauguration or what have you. This is no longer silly. This is very, very serious.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR, EMIRITUS: This is indefensible. Nobody can defend - nobody will defend the president on this. They may say it's untrue but if it's true, he will get no defense on this.
KAYYEM: Erin? Can I - yes.
KAYYEM: So, in the world of counterterrorism, when a terrorist organization thinks that there's someone near them who may know something, so first of all, that person if it's actually a human asset that has gotten close to ISIS and they're planning, that person is likely dead. I'm just being blunt here. So let me just talk - so what happens when a terrorist organization thinks it's been compromised? Two things. One is, they postpone what they were planning or -- which would be great, or they speed it up.
And so, all of our concern about what's goings on here is there is a tendency when an organization is compromised that they actually move faster to avoid detection. And so we are probably entering a more heightened sort of concerned time because of the fact that we now know but the Russians knew a couple of days ago that someone or something, some intelligence was exploited.
BURNETT: Bob Baer, what do you make of the point that Juliette is saying? They either - they either sow it down, OK. Or they speed it up. And by the way, just to remind everybody, that's what we saw for example in the Brussels attacks at the airport, right? They thought they were on to them and they went ahead and did that before they were ready. But that is what we've seen happened before. The speedup.
BAER: Well, Juliette is right. But more than that as a former case officer at the Central Intelligence Agency, getting a source inside the Islamic state is almost impossible. We rely on our allies whether it's Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel to get inside these groups. They're closer. They're - this is part of their world. To lose these sources, to lose these liaison services is a catastrophe. And I think we have to understand that breaches like this will get Americans killed eventually. It - there's no other -- here's no better way to put it.
DERSHOWITZ: And they may have to ban all laptops starting tomorrow. We may have to take immediate emergency action. This is an emergency.
BURNETT: And to be clear, that would only slightly minimize the risk, right? I mean, it certainly doesn't - it doesn't take it away of what we're talking about here with a plane.
SCIUTTO: Well, because you have address cargo issues as well. But we know that there's a debate under way about this very risk, about whether they extend it to other flights and possibly to the U.S. and I think the professor is correct that if it's out there, you can't think about it, right? You might have to respond.
BURNETT: So I just want to -- we go to Evan here, you know, this is just to give everyone a sense of the context here. Donald Trump or his campaign, right? Is under investigation for possible collusion with the Russians during the campaign. This meeting without question happened with one of the Russians involved in the conversation, the ambassador from Russian believed by U.S. intelligence to be a top spy and spy recruiter for the rest. Here is what Trump said during the election about classified information.
A tweet of course. Crooked Hillary Clinton and her team were extremely careless in their handling a very sensitive, highly classified information. Not fit. In February of this year, the president, the real scandal here is that the classified information is illegally given out by "intelligence like candy." Very Un-American. And yet, Evan, it is the president of the United States who has, it seems from this Washington report, done just that.
PEREZ: Well, That's right, Erin. And I got to tell you, the words that Juliette Kayyem just spoke, exactly the words that we heard from the intelligence agencies before we did our story back on March 31st. We heard exactly the same thing that if we said certain bits of information, certain details of what we knew from the intelligence, that the terrorists could either, A, kill people who were inside who they detected or suspected were spies or -- and, you know, they would simply speed up plots that they already had in mind or they would change their tactics which would make it much more difficult for us and the -- for the U.S. and the allies to be able to figure out what they're up to.
So, this was the danger that was described to us. I mean, it was -- it was pretty stark over a couple of days that we were on the phone with intelligence agencies. They were trying to get us to make sure that we did not reveal these specific details that according to the post the president has reveal.
DERSHOWITZ: I think it's a serious mistake to conflate this with the issue of whether there were, you know, combinations before -- the whole Russian thing, it's a serious mistake to conflate that because the republicans will make that an arguing point. I think you to forget about that and focus only on the national security threat. This didn't happen because there were meetings between the campaign and between the Russians.
DERSHOWITZ: So put that aside. Get that off of the agenda, focus only on the national security.
BURNETT: What your - what -- Jim, the point you're making is unwitting.
SCIUTTO: It's collusion of a type if it turns out to be true because you're sharing with an adversary extremely sensitive information that should not be shared whether it's intentional or not is another question. It does not appear to be intentional.
BURNETT: So what we have so far -- stay with me. I want to make the point here. We have a statement from Rex Tillerson which came from the White House, we have H.R. McMaster going to cameras and saying the story is false, no sources and methods were shared. And we have Dina Powell, the deputy national security adviser saying the same thing. To be clear that does not mean the story is false. The story says he shared top secret classified information. It does not say he shared the sources.
It simply says, it would be easy to ascertain them from the information. But that's it, H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser coming to those cameras saying essentially the exact same thing with secretary of state just put out in a statement, not taking a single question on such a crucial issue. And I want to go to Michelle Kosinski who's live at the state department. And Michelle, you've seen that statement from the secretary of state and you have some unbelievable information. That statement from the secretary of state and you have some unbelievable information, that statement from the secretary of state is a surprise to the state department?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Well, a number of senior state department officials I talked to night, first of all, they weren't all aware of the news when it broke. So that tells us one thing that there was no kind of preliminary damage control going out wide to all senior officials here at the state department. That's not to say some didn't know about it. But those I spoke to, a few didn't even know that the news had broken when it did. Then the statement that came from the White House - I mean, the officials I spoke to weren't sure what to say at that moment. Later when I spoke to other senior officials, they didn't know that their own secretary of state had already put out a statement and that it came from the White House.
Two of those officials we notified about that statement. This is shyly unusual. What one of them said to me was that this was surprising. Another called this odd. One senior official told us that they were scrambling to try to first figure out what countries were involved. Not only in this information, the partners that could have been involved in talking about the threat itself but also the allies where there now has to be damage control.
They were not aware that this statement had even gone out as they were trying to ascertain what of the countries that they handled could have been affected by this down the road. So, that's the state of things right now.
KOSINSKI: As for what happens next -- oh, go ahead, Erin.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: No, I just -- I just wanted to jump in for a second. Stay with us, Michelle.
But I want to go to John Kirby, who, of course, you know and our viewers know. He was the State Department spokesman. He also spokesman for the Pentagon.
So, John, let me give you a chance to respond here to Michelle's reporting.
JOHN KIRBY, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Sure.
BURNETT: She was the one who told two senior State Department officials that a statement had come out from the secretary of state. So, the State Department didn't know about it. It came from the White House.
How shocked are you?
KIRBY: I'm stunned. I mean, it's -- I think it just speak to a level of dysfunction at the State Department in terms of at least the communications effort that I think is truly remarkable. I can't remember a single time -- and I worked for two secretaries of defense as well as a secretary of state where the principal, the cabinet official put out a statement, a public statement about something this big and this newsworthy where the communications staff and the staff in general wasn't aware, wasn't tracking it, wasn't helping edit it, wasn't pushing it out.
So, this is, I'm sure Michelle's reporting is good. It's stunning.
BURNETT: John, does it open the door to the fact of whether the secretary of state even know?
KIRBY: I think it probably -- yes, I think that's an inescapable potential conclusion, yes.
BURNETT: So, on that note, Jim, let me just ask you. We don't know whether he knew or didn't know. We know that no one at the State Department seemed to know. We know that what he says matches what H.R. McMaster said and what Dina Powell said. So, clearly, the White House is trying to circle the wagons here.
Senator Corker has just came out and spoken, obviously, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and he's said, they are in a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that's happening. It's a pretty strong statement and a stunning statement from someone who had been rather an ally of this White House.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, one, you might expect to hear from a Democrat but not a very senior Republican who has been very sparing in his criticism of the Trump administration through the campaign and now.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR, EMERITUS: This is the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president. Let's not minimize it. Comey is in the wastebasket of history. Everything else is off the table.
This is the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president of the United States. Let's not underestimate it.
BURNETT: So, Alan, what does that mean, though? Because you're saying this is the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president and yet it's not criminal.
DERSHOWITZ: It's not criminal.
BURNETT: It's not impeachable.
DERSHOWITZ: That's right.
BURNETT: But it is more serious than things that were?
DERSHOWITZ: Absolutely right. Absolutely right.
SCIUTTO: Well, what's impeachable is up to the Congress.
(CROSSTALK) DERSHOWITZ: Well, but it says high crimes and misdemeanors. And this doesn't fit into that category, but something has to be done. And everything else should be put on hold and everything should focus on this.
BURNETT: And I want you all to stay with me, please, to give you a chance to react, because I want to go to someone who may have a strong point of view on this, the Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who sits on the Judiciary Committee.
And, Senator, I don't know if you just heard what Alan Dershowitz was saying here, but he was saying he believes this is the most serious charge against a sitting president in American history. Your response?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: What we know is that it is a very, very serious threat to our national security and safety, and that's why my hope is that Republicans and Democrats will come together in favor of an independent investigation through a special prosecutor and through an independent commission, so that we can follow the facts wherever they lead and the appropriate remedy adopted.
Make no mistake: this kind of serious grave threat really requires a national response, putting country above politics. That's what I hope we'll be seeing and --
BURNETT: What needs to happen right now, though, Senator? I mean, obviously the nature of what we are discussing right now is a president, an imminent threat to civilians, American and other, right, in aviation.
BLUMENTAL: What needs to happen right now --
BURNETT: That's what we're talking about.
[19:35:01] So investigation, I hear you on that. But what needs to happen right now?
BLUMENTHAL: What needs to happen is for a full explanation from President Trump. He owes the American people an explanation, not just a flat denial, which is really a non-denial denial that fails to address the details of this story.
Remember, one of the most telling details here is that the White House itself deleted from the official record some of the details of the disclosure so that there would not be peril to lives and sources and betrayal of allies. And that's really what's at stake here.
And so, what needs to happen is the truth needs to be uncovered and anyone responsible for this violation of the norms, if not the law of intelligence, has to be held accountable.
BURNETT: Your colleague Senator Corker, I just quoted him a moment ago just said, talking about the White House, quote: They are in a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that's happening.
How significant is that statement from Senator Corker?
BLUMENTHAL: That is profoundly significant because it reflects the conflicting and confusing statements, which is why the White House now has to provide a full explanation to the American people. People are going to be alarmed, astonished, appalled by the recklessness and carelessness at best of this kind of talk with the Russians.
Remember, there's a common thread here. The Russian interference with our elections, the foundation of our democracy, an existential threat to our nation, and then, potential collusion between Trump associates if not the president himself and those Russians. His firing of Director Comey when he was engaged in an investigation of that potential collusion, and then, literally, a day later this kind of disclosure.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW PROFESSORR, EMERITUS: I think Senator Blumenthal is making a serious mistake in politicizing this issue. We should not be talking about these other issues. We should focus only on this threat.
That's what the Republicans and Democrats can agree. Democrats should not be trying to take political advantage of this. This should be a national security issue, pure and simple, in isolation of everything else that went on before.
BURNETT: Alan Dershowitz, just so, Senator, you know who that was, just jumped in from our panel.
But let me put this question to you, Senator. Do you worry that mixing this with the broader Russian investigation is a mistake, that this is something more clear and present and specific to national security?
BLUMENTHAL: The immediate focus should be on this threat to our national security and safety, no question about it.
BURNETT: And, Senator, before you go, let me ask you because I know last week, you had -- you were talking about the Comey situation. You were saying that this could lead down the road to impeachment but we weren't anywhere near that yet. I'm paraphrasing you, but I believe that captures the sentiment of what you were saying accurately.
Does this breaking news tonight change your view on that?
BLUMENTHAL: The focus now should be on these facts, on an explanation from the president, which he owes the American people, on an inquiry and investigation into this potential betrayal of confidential information and risking American lives and possibly sources that may have provided this kind of information. That threat to our national security and safety has to be the focus right now.
And I agree. It is an immediate threat that has to be addressed.
BURNETT: All right. I thank you. Our panel is with me. We're going to take a quick break. We'll
continue to cover our breaking news. President Trump allegedly sharing highly classified intelligence with Russians that could American and other lives at risk.
We'll be right back.
[19:42:20] BURNETT: Welcome back.
As we follow the breaking news, you see the White House, President Trump there in the Oval Office revealing highly classified information to top Russian officials, according to "The Washington Post." That report says that Trump shared the classified information with the Russian ambassador and the Russian foreign minister at the White House last week.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster moments ago attempted to shoot down the story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: There's nothing that the president takes more seriously than the security of the American people. The story that came out tonight as reported is false. I was in the room. It didn't happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: To be clear, what he says is false is that they didn't reveal sources and methods which "The Washington Post" story does not report happen. It reported that Trump shared a lot of classified information about the aviation threat with laptop bombs to the United States civilian aircraft which the report says would make it very easy for the Russian to figure out who the sources were.
Jeff Zeleny is out front at the White House.
And, Jeff, we saw that statement by H.R. McMaster then he did not take a single question. Sort of looks like he was reading off of his phone with that very brief statement. Didn't take a single question and we're not going to hear more tonight?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Erin, we're not. I'm told by a top official here that that is it for the night. There's not going to be any more explanation, any more answering of any of these, you know, rising questions about this report. I was standing just a few feet away from the national security adviser when he made that statement. He was reading it word for word. This was carefully scripted, of course, did not answer anything at all.
But, Erin, this reminds me of a week ago when we were standing here talking about the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Of course, the White House said, we're not going to talk about it, then, of course, the president started watching television and his aides started explaining.
But I do think by sending the national security adviser out at this hastily news conference, which rarely happens, they're trying to get ahead of this.
But, Erin, the issue here is vis-a-vis a week ago, the credibility of this White House is eroded week by week, particularly with the changing stories of the firing of James Comey. So, the H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, he, of course, is a man of stature, no question. But can he be believed?
You're seeing the reaction on Capitol Hill. I've never seen the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Corker. He's a very -- you know, he watches his words very carefully. This is a different moment here.
So, right now, the senior adviser officials are trying to reach out to Capitol Hill, trying to urge some of those Republicans to dial back their outrage -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you.
The panel is back with me.
Mark Preston, your response to what Jeff is reporting, that they want to, quote/unquote, get ahead of it? I mean, that's an absurd thing to say considering the situation we're in. I mean, get ahead of it, come out with two statements that say absolutely nothing.
[19:45:02] One of which is from the secretary of state -- Department of State doesn't know the statement is put out and then say nothing the rest of the night? That's getting ahead of it?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's very hard to get ahead of something when you're so far behind at this point.
But we have often seen this in this White House where you have top aides who are scrambling to try to make sense of what President Trump has decided to do.
Erin, this was supposed to be a very big week for the Trump administration. This is their first foreign trip. He's going over to Saudi Arabia. He's going over to Israel. He's going to stop at the Vatican. He's going to the G-7 summit. He's going to NATO.
This was a week where they're supposed to be preparing for this trip for him to go over, meet with these world leaders, explain what America's role is going to be moving forward when we talk about world politics in general, and right now, they are going into damage control in a way that is very, very puzzling if not frustrating.
Again, we have to go back, what our world leaders around right now, what are world leaders around the country saying to themselves when it comes to talking to Donald Trump about sensitive information?
BURNETT: Well, and, John Kirby, you know, from your perspective here when you look at the statements -- the non-statements frankly that we've gotten with H.R. McMaster coming to these cameras, we're left with the reality here that there are intelligence officials who felt this was of significant national security concern to leak it. OK?
BURNETT: And my interpretation is that means it's going to keep leaking or it's going to leak to more people, right? It's not going to stop and go away tonight because they're not talking about it.
KIRBY: No. I think that's right, Erin. I think that your read is perfect. It seems to be where the source of this came from.
And let's not forget, this is the same commander-in-chief who's alienated the intelligence community, almost all 17 agencies of the intelligence community. He's made no effort to bridge the gap, bridge that divide with them. So, I think in the Trump White House, they have to think that not only is this story certainly by no means over anytime soon, but there could be more coming.
BURNETT: And, Bob Baer, in terms of the story again for those looking for details, "The Washington Post" reporting Trump went off script in this meeting, I'm quoting them, began describing details about the Islamic State terrorist threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft, going through various scenarios with casualty counts among other things.
What would be the motive, Bob, for someone in the intelligence committee to share this as they did?
BOB BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: With the Washington Post?
BAER: Because they don't trust the president anymore, Erin. That's -- it's clear. If you're sitting out at Langley and you have a sensitive source, code word, top secret, compartmented, the whole thing, and can you trust the president with those details? Normally, you tell the president everything and he's got the sense not to pass it on to a foreign government, a hostile government.
So, if you're sitting out at Langley or at the FBI, you're saying, should we give that to the president? And that breakdown of confidence is very damaging to the United States when you can't trust your own president. And, you know, is he fit to, you know, to be given secrets? And clearly the intelligence community is saying no.
BURNETT: And, Evan, let's just be clear here. "The Washington Post", you know, we're being told, obviously, the White House saying this isn't true. But "The Washington Post" is reporting that right after the meeting, some who are in the room felt sufficiently concerned about what the president had done that they themselves, people on the president's team called the CIA and the National Security Agency to alert them to the fact that the president had done this.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And you could see from the statement that H.R. McMaster read there from the -- outside the White House, it was a narrowly worded statement. It basically said the story as reported is false.
So, that tells you a lot. It tells you that they know that they have a real problem here. And the bigger problem, Erin, is something that goes back to the Russia issue.
It goes back to the fact that the president does not see Russia as an adversary. He sees Russia the way he saw it back during the campaign, as a country that the United States should be friends with, should be cooperating with against ISIS. And nobody disagrees with that.
But the Russians have other agendas. They want to prop up the regime in Damascus, the Assad regime, which the United States doesn't agree with. So, that's the danger here, is that by revealing some bits of information to tell the Russians that we have certain sources, it could help the Russians figure that out.
BURNETT: And it's important here, Juliette, too, is that, OK, it's the Russians. It shouldn't matter who was in the room.
But I think it does bear mentioning that one of the people in the room was the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, right, who's sort of the center of a lot of these Russian discussions, right? He's meeting with Sessions, which was not disclosed, which is why Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from anything involving Russia, right? His meeting undisclosed with General Michael Flynn, Michael Flynn lying about that meeting is why Michael Flynn lost his job, right? Sergey Kislyak believed to be a top Russian recruiter and spy.
This is one of the two Russians with whom the president of the United States shared this information.
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Absolutely. Every piece of the story shows such carelessness for the hard work of the people who are trying to protect the American public.
[19:50:00] It's sort of jaw-dropping at this stage. Bob and John will agree with this.
So, when you get your security clearance, when you go through the process, when you're in government, the biggest concern of those who are telling you, you know, to keep secrets as pillow talk, they say you cannot tell your spouse. Whatever you're doing, you cannot tell your spouse because, you know, loose lips and you don't want to tell your spouse because there's a certain level of comfort, you don't view your spouse hopefully as the enemy.
It's not a perfect analogy, but there is a sense that Trump does not view the Russians as the enemy, but as a partner. That's the best of naivete.
KAYYEM: And were something much more nefarious. And so, it does go back to why -- you know, we don't tell our spouses what we're doing. You don't tell the Russians what you're doing.
BURNETT: And the Russians, by the way, I should say tonight, the spokesman for the embassy, saying the ambassador will not comment. They are not denying it. They simply are not commenting.
But this big question some are saying, Jim, is the president can reveal classified information. He has the ability to declassify anything he wants, hence this is more criminal. You say it is more complicated.
SCIUTTO: It's not that simple. There's a process for declassifying this information. It's done strategically. There's -- you talk to your intelligence agencies before you do it.
An example I'll give, President Reagan famous declassified the signals intelligence that led the Americans to conclude that it was Russia that shot down KAL 007, the Korean plane in 1983. That was a process. He said, I'm going to do this for strategic reasons.
To just suddenly say something, it doesn't automatically become classified, at least by past practice. This is more like a disclosure that it'd be classification. It's not that the president can say whatever he wants about classified information, at least as it's been done by presidents up to this point.
BURNETT: And this is a distinction that may end up making a very big difference. We shall see, of course.
Our breaking news coverage continues, we will be right back.
[19:55:49] BURNETT: More on the breaking news at this moment. According to "The Washington Post," President Trump shared highly classified information with the Russian ambassador and the Russian foreign minister at the White House last week. The White House calling it seems a very narrow part of the story maybe false.
OUTFRONT now, former counselor to former President Bill Clinton, Paul Begala, former Reagan White House political director, Jeffrey Lord, and Washington bureau chief of "The Daily Beast" with me, Jackie Kucinich.
Jeff, let me give you a chance to respond here. Republican Senator Susan Collins has just come out and said, can we have a crisis-free day? That's all I'm asking.
Perhaps a lighter way of saying what Senator Corker, Bob Corker is saying, obviously, the chairman of the foreign relations committee, this is a stunning statement, it seems. He says they are in a downward spiral right now, referring to the White House and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that's happening.
Is it getting beyond their control, Jeff?
JEFF LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, it's not. And if I could just speak up for the opposition, and I should emphasize, I have spoken to no one in the White House, this is just me sitting here and watching your show, Erin, and reading "The Washington Post."
Let me just say, one of the things that struck me immediately about that story, is in the very first sentence, they said that according to former administration officials. Well, as I understand this story, there were three officials, the secretary of state, the national security advisor and someone else from the NSC staff who are in that room. That's it.
How in the world would a former official --
BURNETT: So, just to be clear, just to be clear, I'm reading it. It doesn't actually say that. It says President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials. So, current.
LORD: Right, right, how do former -- how do former U.S. officials know anything that went on in that room? I'm a former U.S. official, so is Paul Begala. I mean, neither of us were there. Neither of us know. How does that happen?
That gets to the question of leaks, which brings us back to Mike Morell, the Obama acting CIA director, who said there were leaks coming from inside the intelligence agency.
And my point is, people are doing this to embarrass the president. Instead of going to somebody, if the president made a mistake, instead of going to the White House and saying, hey, this was a problem, we need to deal with it. What they did is go to "The Washington Post", a "Washington Post" which I might add twice last week, once on the story about the deputy attorney general threatening to resign, which he later said to a local television station was not true, land secondly, when they said that former Director Comey had asked for more resources for the Russian investigation, which his successor, his acting director said wasn't true either.
I mean, there is a credibility problem here and we need to get this all out to balance a bit.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Jeffrey, you're too good a guy to smearing a bunch of good journalists and public officials. The leaker here is the president. The president told our adversaries -- excuse me, I let you go.
The president told our adversaries some of our most precious secrets given to us by some of our closest allies. The very same president who came into office, attacking the intelligence community, who get this timeline, on that May 9th, he fires the FBI director. He himself says he did so because he was thinking about the Russian investigation being a hoax.
The next day, he meets with the Russians, the very people who helped tilt the election in his favor and he gives them classified information. This is a catastrophe. If I could amend Senator Corker's comment by one word, by the way, Bob Corker, a respected Republican --
BEGALA: -- who was even rumored to be on Trump's short list for secretary of state. We are not -- they are not in a downward spiral, we are. This president has put our entire country on a downward spiral.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And I think this is why you're already calls from the Hill for the intelligence committee to be brief, because this raises more questions to members of Congress who have been caught unaware again for the second time in how many days? With new information that has large consequences for the country and for the Congress and for holding this president accountable.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Jackie. Thank you very much, Paul. Thank you very much, Jeffrey Lord. I appreciate all of your time.
And our breaking news coverage of this story continues right now with Anderson Cooper and "AC360."