Return to Transcripts main page
John Brennan Gets Security Clearance Revoked; Guiliani: If Mueller Doesn't Finish The Russia Investigation In The Next Two To Three Weeks, We Will Just Unload On Him Like A Ton Of Bricks
Aired August 15, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Last time you and I chatted on the phone, there was this threat from the White House to revoke the clearances such as yours and - and Brennan's and others. This has happened to John Brennan, do you think this is a total stunt?
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE, UNITED STATES: Well yes, I do. I mean it's - it seems they're kind of making up the criterion as they go here on a base - you know, a very individual basis.
And as Jim discussed, to the extent that we have anything to offer, it has more to do with our past experience, not insight and access to current intelligence. At least for my part, I haven't had any access (inaudible) intelligence since I left the government on the 20th of January in 2017.
And the other thing I wonder about, of course there are other senior officials who have the clearances, who I won't name, who've also been vocal in criticizing the president who of course weren't mentioned here.
A couple of factual points in the press secretary's discourse that I would take issue with, one of which of course is the reference to the dossier and John's - John Brennan's involvement in that.
The dossier to (ph) repeat, as I said many times, was not, repeat, not used as a part of the formal intelligence community assessment that was rendered about Russian meddling in our - in the 2016 election.
She also referred to the 2014 situation with the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation of past practices by the CIA with respect to interrogations. These people need to understand that the network that the committee was using was a CIA network and CIA simply was discharging its due diligence responsibility for the security of that network.
Her statement leads you to believe that, you know, the agency was trying to spy on the committee, which was not the case at all. I have consulted with certain senior members of the current administration.
All of those encounters had more to do with history or corporate memory rather than any current issues, I won't name those people for their own protection. So will the republic stand or fall on whether John retains his assess to classified information or mine or any others that were named?
Of course not. The larger issue here to me has - throughout has been infringement on first amendment rights. And I think people ought to think seriously about that.
BALDWIN: How do you mean specifically on first amendment rights when it comes to security clearances?
CLAPPER: Infringement of - of our - our right to speak and apparently the corporateness (ph) of being critical of this president, which in one degree or another, all - all of us have been.
I thought the mention of - of Jim Comey and Andy - Andy McCabe who don't have their clearances anymore, it was sort of a - a cover for naming them in the first place, which was a non sequitur since they didn't have - they - at the time they were first mentioned, didn't have their clearances then.
I think the notion of - well (ph) the possibility of their clearances being restored is, you know, that's kind of a red herring.
BALDWIN: What about what Jim - Jim was also just reporting at the top that Dan Coates wasn't at all consulted, Director Clapper, on any of this. This was just something the White House and this president went ahead and just did.
How - how can - help the viewer understand how profoundly stunning that is.
CLAPPER: Well it's unprecedented, I don't know a case where this has ever been done in the past and the access to clearances normally would be done completely by a sponsoring agency.
So in John's case, the sponsoring agency is - is CIA. And normally if there were going to be an action taken like this, it would be done at that level and not by the White House or not by the president himself.
So this is, at least in my memory, is unprecedented.
BALDWIN: So to your earlier point about really alarm bells on first amendment rights of folks such as yourself, Mr. Brennan and others who come on or tweet or what have you and exercise their own opinions, thoughts, what can you do fight back?
CLAPPER: Well it doesn't really have any - if I had to use my access to classified information, really it doesn't have any immediate substance impact on me. I - I don't plan to stop speaking about, you know, my - when I'm asked my views on - on this administration.
There are some things I've agreed with that this administration's taken - actions they've taken. But lots of things that I don't agree with. So if they're saying that I can't - the only way I can speak is to be in an allegation mode of this president, I'm sorry, I don't think I could sign up for that.
BALDWIN: So you're on this list, we have your face up on the screen, Lisa Page, Peter Strzok, Michael Hayden, we also have Bruce Ohr, Susan Rice, Sally Yates, James Comey, Andrew McCabe.
Director Clapper, what do all these people have in common?
CLAPPER: Well I think they've either been spoken - outspoken about - about the administration or have directly run a foul of it and taken actions that were inimical to President Trump's interests.
So I guess that's what - what we all have in common.
BALDWIN: OK, James Clapper, thank you for hopping on the phone with me so much, former director of national intelligence responding to this headline out of the White House briefing today that - that the president has officially revoked John Brennan, former CIA chief's security clearance with - according to this White House, with - with more actions like that on the way.
Kaitlan Collins is our White House reporter, she's live for us right now. And Kaitlan, I understand Andy McCabe's attorney is responding to this news. What is he or she saying?
KAITLAN COLLINS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: That's right, Andrew McCabe's attorney Melissa Schwartz has tweeted out a statement pretty quickly after the White House made this announcement just now, Brooke, saying that Andrew McCabe's security clearance was deactivated when he was fired.
According to what they were told was FBI policy. She goes on to say you would think the White House would check with the FBI before trying to throw shiny objects to the press corps.
Now that of course is some criticism we saw when the White House first announced that they were considering revoking the security clearances of most of these people that are on this list.
They've added a few new ones today, including the former FBI Director James Comey who said he also does not have his clearance anymore. So they essentially said that the White House is just saying this, not really of this (ph) statement because they were actually concerned about these officials still having access to that information, but simply trying to make a statement about people who have criticized the president.
And Brooke, that was the overwhelming response to Sarah Sanders making this announcement in that room was that a lot of these people - all of these people on these lists are people who have criticized President Trump.
There is no one on that list who has not criticized him, so that draws the direct conclusion that that is a result of why they are either on this list or why John Brennan is having his security clearance revoked.
And when Sarah Sanders was asked is this going to be the policy going forward, are officials or former administration officials who go on television and criticize President Trump at a higher risk of losing their security clearance than people who do not?
Sarah Sanders did not say no to that question, Brooke. Instead, she said all of this is going to be determined on a case by case basis. Now if I could take you back to remind why this is all a thing in the first place and why the White House is even considering this, Rand Paul not that long ago, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky tweeted that he was coming to the White House and he was going to ask President Trump to revoke John Brennan's security clearance.
Now we're seeing that decision being made, but of course, Brooke, you can't ignore the fact that even the president's own former national security advisor Mike Flynn who pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about his communications with Russian -
BALDWIN: Not on the list.
COLLINS: He also lied to the Vice President Mike Pence. He is not on this list and he still has his security clearance. So you can't ignore the fact despite what the White House says that this is coming and none of the people on this list are people who have not criticized the president.
Brooke, it's also coming after that disastrous press - press briefing yesterday where the White House really struggled to defend itself in wake of the president's reaction to that book of that former staffer, Omarosa Manigault Newman, something the White House has been quite displeased with.
And a lot of people have drawn the conclusion that the White House is simply trying to change the subject by announcing this on the day after that briefing.
BALDWIN: Kaitlan, thank you so much, at the White House. Got another voice with me here, Jeff Toobin, our Chief Legal Analyst who's been listening to all these conversations and Brian Stelter is with us as well.
You know, listening to James Clapper talking about better watch it on the first amendment rights with this - with this, you know, White House and revoking the security clearances.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: Well I mean, this is without precedent in modern American history, I mean security clearances have never been used to punish people for speaking out.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: Now, it is true that this is a right uniquely given to the president to give or withhold security clearances. The limits of that right, as far as I know, have never been fully delineated by the courts. For example, the president could not say all black people are going to have their security clearances revoked, that all Catholics, all Republicans have their security clearances revoked.
That sort of irrational act would certainly be stopped by the courts. Where does this stand on that spectrum given the wide discretion the president has? I don't know. I think as usual, this will be more a political issue than a legal issue. People will make up their minds about whether the president is actually protecting national security here or simply punishing political enemies. That's likely the resolution here rather than any sort of legal fight.
BALDWIN: Jim Sciutto, you wanted to jump in?
JIM SCIUTTO, CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Just on that point, to be clear, the president can revoke anybody's security clearance. He's within the bounds of his power here, much like the president can fire his FBI director. Right? Why he does it is another question. We know that that's a subject of investigation by the special counsel as to what the president's motivations were on that. But on this issue, it is up to the president to do it.
He does not have to consult his senior-most intelligence officials. That said, it is relevant that he did -- he chose not to consult his senior-most intelligence adviser here, in this case the director of national intelligence, because you might -- you might guess or assume or expect that if these clearances are being revoked or studying being revoked for a national security or intelligence reason, you -- you might seek the advice of your senior-most intelligence official to say, is this person a security risk.
That is something we know the president did not do with the DNI, with the director of national intelligence. I've asked the CIA. The CIA for now is referring all questions to the White House.
TOOBIN: Jim -- Jim, I think you're -- you're right that this is a -- this is something the president is uniquely able to do. But I do think the courts would find some right on this. I gave some sort of silly examples earlier but I think they are revealing. If the president said, I am going to withdraw security clearances from every catholic person or every Republican --
BALDWIN: He can't do that.
TOOBIN: -- the court -- that's right. The courts would certainly step in and say that is not a legitimate purpose. Certainly the president's discretion here is broad but the courts would somehow impose some limits. The question here, first of all, is will this ever go -- come before a court. But second of all, will this be seen as something that is so outrageous, like the examples I give -- gave that they -- the courts would impose some sort of limits on the presidential power.
I don't know. But that's the question.
SCIUTTO: And to that point --
BALDWIN: -- jump in because I have a question to you, Jim, just on your reporting that -- that -- that Dan Coats was never consulted. I mean, play it out. Like, why wouldn't -- obviously we're not the White House, and we don't know why Dan Coats wasn't consulted but wouldn't you assume that the DNI would push back?
SCIUTTO: If it was genuinely -- listen, if this was genuinely a security issue, which -- which, frankly, let's be frank, does not appear to be --
BALDWIN: It's not.
SCIUTTO: -- because the one commonality with all these officials named here is that they -- they had --
BALDWIN: Critical of trump.
SCIUTTO: -- they criticized the president here. Now, again, the president has the power to do many things where he doesn't consult his senior advisers. But if this genuinely was an issue about security, would you expect he would have -- he would have consulted the senior- most intelligence official in the country. And just one more point I would make about this. You know, courts may -- may weigh in on this at some point down the road.
What is immediate is the loss of experience and counsel from a decision like this. I said to you earlier, Brooke, that we're looking at more than 100 years experience. I was just doing some back of the envelope math. I way underestimated. Because just two of the folks on this list, Clapper and Hayden, between them have 90 years of experience intelligence.
SCIUTTO: That's just two of them. So then you add in the others. John Brennan, 25 years. James Comey, a couple of decades. And through, remember, the most severe national security crises that this country has faced. The Vietnam War, the Gulf War, 9/11, the wars -- the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. You are exiling that experience and knowledge from counsel to this president and this administration.
And people at home have to make a judgment for themselves whether that is -- whether that makes sense to them. Does that make the country safer? That's the question this president has to answer. Does this make the country safer? Hard to see how the answer is yes.
BALDWIN: In terms of -- Brian Stelter, I want to bring you in. In terms of, though, being able to speak out -- because let's just be real, again, everyone on this list has been critical of this administration in some form or fashion. [15:15:00]
Listening to Director Clapper say not going to stop me from coming on TV and sometimes agreeing with his administration and sometimes not. It's not going to -- revoking security clearance is not going to muzzle these people.
BRIAN STELTER, SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Someone like Brennan might say I was on last night saying this president's dangerous, now he's trying to prove my point. But this revolving door, of course, has been going on for decades, right? You leave a government, you leave an administration, then you get a TV gig. The only thing different now is that there are more ex officials more concerned about this president and they are on TV more often expressing that concern.
That's why I found it so striking that McCabe's lawyers calling this an enemies list, others calling this a black list. Why would the president want to have a perception out there that he has an enemies list? Other than to distract from Omarosa?
TOOBIN: I don't know.
BALDWIN: And Mueller.
STELTER: And Mueller.
BALDWIN: Shiny bright object. Shiny bright object.
BALDWIN: And Manafort. Thank you so much. Let me get to some sound (ph). This is what Speaker Paul Ryan actually just said recently said about the -- the threat of revoking security clearances, right? This became a thing just earlier this summer. So here's what Speaker Ryan said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think he's trolling people, honestly. This is something that's in the purview of the executive branch. I think some of these people have already lost their clearances. Some people keep their clearances. That's something that the executive branch deals with. It's not really in our purview.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TOOBIN: What a profile in courage.
BALDWIN: Profile in courage, so says Jeff Toobin. David Chalian, trolling, so says the House Speaker.
DAVID CHALIAN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, CNN: Yes, I guess it was trolling when it was just a threat. Now it seems the president took it even a step further. I thought it was interesting listening to your conversation with Director Clapper. He's placing his concern about it -- about his first amendment right to speak, less from a national security point of view and more -- he was much more concerned about the threatening of a first amendment right here.
And that -- that is rather chilling to hear Director Clapper say that, Brooke.
BALDWIN: But he also said it wasn't going to stop him, right? It almost seems like in one sense, you're right, that the revoking of the security clearance -- he said he'd only spoke in more of in a historic way from current members of this administration and it was more about, you know, a sense of feeling muzzled. And it sounds like he and others won't. Abby, what do you think?
ABBY PHILLIP, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: I also thought it was really interesting Sarah Sanders added a couple of new names that we hadn't seen before to this list. She added people like Lisa Page, like Bruce Ohr, who the president has been tweeting about recently. She mentioned the Steele dossier as part of the justification for this.
PHILLIP: There is (ph) something else -- right, incorrectly, as --
PHILLIP: -- as James Clapper just pointed out. But there's something else happening here in which the president is starting to pull in the Russia investigation into this. Not just about people who are critical of him, but he's also starting to use this as a tool to react to people who he thinks have offended him through this probe that he is so upset about. And that also is -- I think on a separate level, putting aside -- I mean, separate from first amendment issues, even separate from national security issues, this is the president kind of putting his hands in the middle of something that is about an investigation into him and using the tools of the executive branch to do that.
I think that is also pretty notable here in what Sarah Sanders said is new about this. When she came out a couple weeks ago and said this, some of these names weren't there and now they are. And you have to kind of wonder why.
BALDWIN: Stand by, everyone. I want to get to this. Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, with a very direct threat, saying that they will, quote-unquote, unload on Mueller like a ton of bricks if they don't finish the investigation in two to three weeks. Let's talk about that. Coming up next.
BALDWIN: President Trump's attorney is escalating, his public criticism of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Rudy Giuliani telling Bloomberg News if Mueller doesn't finish the Russia investigation, quote, "in the next two to three weeks, we will just unload on him like a ton of bricks".
Those comments coming as Giuliani candidly admitted to CNN, part of his strategy is to sewing confusion. Here he was.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER GOVERNOR, NEW YORK: He didn't know. I know he didn't know.
CHRIS CUOMO, HOST, CNN: And if he did?
GIULIANI: I know it even beyond being his lawyer.
CUOMO: If he knew, is it a problem?
GIULIANI: He - no. And but he didn't know. He didn't know. I'm not even going to get into the hypothetical.
CUOMO: He did not know. OK. Because you get into the hypothetical about Mueller and the Comey - the Comey -
GIULIANI: Yes, I know, that confuses the hell out of people.
CUOMO: If fact counting is anything, we've never had anybody with the level of mendacity that he has, not even close. But we'll leave it there -
GIULIANI: It's in the eye of the beholder.
CUOMO: No, facts are not in the eye of the beholder.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Jeffrey Toobin is back with me, also joining us Josh Campbell. And so, Jeff Toobin, we've seen a lot of Rudy Giuliani on TV. Now he's talking about throwing bricks at Mueller if they don't wrap this up in a couple of weeks. You say -
TOOBIN: He's already been throwing bricks at Mueller. I mean, he's been calling Mueller's staff thugs, he's been - he's been critical. But I - the Mueller staff -
BALDWIN: -- see it as an empty threat.
TOOBIN: Well I mean there's one threat, there's one thing that the White House can do which was fire Rod Rosenstein if he refuses to fire Mueller and then find someone in the Justice Department who will fire Mueller.
Short of that, Mueller - Mueller is just going to go on doing his thing. And, you know, he doesn't talk to the press, we don't know exactly where he's going or what he's doing. But is all just talk unless and until they decide actually to fire Mueller.
BALDWIN: Josh Campbell, what do you think?
JOSH CAMPBELL, JOURNALIST: Well there's a lot of bluster here, but what's interesting is that they're not even trying to hide the fact that they're inappropriately influencing or at least attempting to influence an ongoing criminal investigation.
This isn't just any client, this is a president of the United States. And what's interesting when you look at some of what Giuliani has said, he has either flushed all knowledge that he gained during his career in the Department of Justice about how the department operates, or he's purposely lying and trying to distract.
If you look at the tweet and what he was saying, you know, this morning that the department has a policy that they don't take action in - on investigations within 60 days of an election, therefore Mueller must wrap up his investigation before the election.
Those are two separate issues. He knows it, he's trying to distract, but the policy states is you don't over action that might influence investigation, but that doesn't mean that every FBI agent out there looks at the - the calendar and says I need to finish my investigation before an election.
It's just pure nonsense.
BALDWIN: Let me - let me stay with you, as former FBI, you saw the news with John Brennan and the White House revoking his security clearance. We've now just gotten a response to all of this from Michael Hayden, former NSA NCIA director.
So here's what he says, if I were to lose my clearance, it would have a marginal impact on the work I do. For example, I'm on the proxy board of an American subsidiary of an Irish company to ensure that in doing its work, it respects the classification rules of the United States.
If my memory is correct, he says, I visited the agency once to get a background briefing on Africa about nine years ago, all of my other visits were either to attend a ceremony at the request of the agency or to research my book every word of which had to be cleared by the CIA and NSA.
With regard to the implied threat today that I could lose my clearance, that will have no impact on what I think, say or write, which jives with what Director Clapper said to me a couple minutes ago. Josh.
CAMPBELL: So this is another example of politicizing the intelligence process, politicizing the intelligence community, because as Jim Sciutto alluded to earlier, the big loser here is the intelligence community.
And by default, the American people. If you're an analyst sitting at NSA headquarters, at CIA headquarters and the FBI and you're working on a project, something that may be informed by something that one of these officials had overseen, you can no longer reach out to them.
They are no longer a resource to you. So out the door goes all that knowledge, because they can't be tapped into. But what I think is happening here, and we've talked about this before, I think inside the White House there must be a shelf filled with these evergreen issues that they can just pull off when they need to distract from something and launch.
And this was one of those instances. If you think about what we're not talking about, we're not talking about Paul Manafort, the president's campaign manager who's undergoing prosecution right now.
We're not talking about Omarosa and a lot of these racial epithets that we've seen. So I think that's at play here, a lot of distraction. One last thing that we cannot discount, and again, we know that this is a very impulsive president on his favorite means of communication, Twitter, yesterday, John Brennan said, and I quote, "it's astounding how often you fail to live up to the minimum standards of decency, civility and probity" directly to the president.
This happened yesterday, there's no question in my mind that Trump got word of that and responded, this is impulsive, it's meant to distract, I think it checks a lot of boxes for him.
TOOBIN: And if I can just add one thing, I think Josh made an interesting point here about the scope of the issues covered. One name we haven't talked about much, who (ph) which is on that list is Sally Yates.
Sally Yates was the deputy attorney general under President Obama who was briefly the acting attorney general when - when President Trump took over. President Trump fired her because she refused to enforce the first version of the Muslim ban, the immigration crisis that ultimately the courts overturned the earlier versions, upheld the later versions.
But I mean it just shows the scope of the president's anger. You have people on that list who were related to the Russia investigation. You have people related to immigration. I mean - and you have people related to the Steele dossier.
I mean, it is - it is sort of an all purpose way of punishing the president's enemies for doing their jobs.
BALDWIN: That's why people are already referring to this as the Trump blacklist. Toobin and Josh, thank you so much. And we're going to turn the page on this conversation and we're going to talk about Paul Manafort starting now, closing arguments underway in the Paul Manafort tax and bank fraud trial.
New details emerging as (inaudible) makes its final pitch to the jury and why they just mentioned the Trump campaign, a live report coming up next.