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National Security Adviser Michael Flynn Quits Amid Scandal Over Russia Dealings; Three Names Top List For Flynn's Replacement; Democratic PAC Looks Into Clinton Loss; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired February 14, 2017 - 10:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:30:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Today, you know, while he said that the National Security adviser should go or should be gone, he did not seem to go that next step to say that there is more information that we need that the Republican-led House will pursue.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Right.

BERMAN: In trying to figure out what happened here.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's exactly right. I mean, John, I think that was the key news in that he did not commit to any sort of investigation and just to follow up with what Poppy said, Speaker Ryan said that as soon as the White House lost confidence in the National Security adviser, that's when -- well, he said -- he asked for his resignation. The White House says he offered his resignation. That that's when, you know, the parting of ways happened.

As Poppy points out, the timeline -- that's not quite right. The timeline is that on January 12th, David Ignatius in "The Washington Post" first reported that Flynn may have spoken to the Russian ambassador about sanctions and that in subsequent follow-up questions to the White House, that's when we got these -- we got these denials. Then, of course, in late January, the acting attorney general talked to the White House counsel and said that Flynn may be vulnerable to blackmail because he lied to Pence and perhaps others.

So they had to have started to look into this on January 12th and investigate it. They had the transcripts. They are the White House. They had the transcripts of Flynn's conversations with this ambassador. Certainly by late January when the acting attorney general is telling them, hey, guys, he lied, they knew this. So I don't think it's accurate that they parted ways because he lied. I think they finally accepted his resignation because it became a big explosive news story thanks partly to Adam's great reporting.

HARLOW: Let's take a moment, guys, and listen to some new comments from Republican Congressman Peter King of New York. He just spoke -- from Manu Raju. He went further than Ryan Lizza -- Ryan Lizza. Excuse me. Than Paul Ryan did on this. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you think that the public has a right to know whether or not the president directed Mike Flynn to talk about sanctions or the Russian ambassador?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I think that should be asked of the president. Again, the executive privilege. The fact is, I think, the president should discuss, you know, what he knows and what happened.

RAJU: You do? You think he should divulge that?

KING: Look, to the extent, diplomacy, talking about some sensitive issues, but for the most part, I think it's important for the president to, you know, lay out what happened, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: All right. We just got Manu Raju up. He was obviously in that briefing.

Manu, you're with us. I mean, Peter King does go further than Paul Ryan did.

RAJU: Yes, he did. And that was part of what I was trying to get Paul Ryan to say when I asked him, does he think the American public deserves to know whether or not Donald Trump when he was president- elect instructed Mike Flynn to talk about the issue of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. And Ryan chose to answer a different way saying that he believes that it was the right decision that Mike Flynn resigned. That he believes he considers himself, Paul Ryan, a Russia hawk and he understands why that the new administration believes it could have better relations with Russia but not addressing that question about what the president of the United States may have known and whether he should actually explain to the public exactly what he told Mike Flynn.

Now he was asked a follow-up question by me and others here about whether Congress should investigate. He said, I don't want to prejudge anything. So the speaker does not want to provoke a fight with the new administration and it comes as Democrats are pushing very hard for an independent investigation aside from what's already happening here in Congress. The House Intelligence Committee is one of the committees that is looking into the broader Russia issue, but just moments ago, the Congressman Devin Nunez, who's the chairman of that committee, said that those discussions between Flynn and Trump would not be covered by their investigation because of executive privilege.

So it's not clear exactly the scope of this investigation, whether it will get into that, but on the other side of the chamber, some Senate Republicans are suggesting that they will go a bit further telling our colleague Phil Mattingly, Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying that Flynn should testify in front of his committee to discuss what happened. Probably happen in a classified setting, but at least they plan to look into that aspect, Flynn's discussion with Russia.

So we're seeing this play out on Capitol Hill. But probably not as much as some Democrats want. Expect for more calls for that independent bipartisan investigation -- Poppy and John. BERMAN: So, Alice Stewart, House Speaker Paul Ryan, as Manu was just

saying there, says he doesn't want to prejudge the circumstances of the conversation between General Flynn and the Russian ambassador and what President Trump and then president-elect Trump knew about it.

[10:35:10] Doesn't want to prejudge the circumstances but at the same time the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, David Nunez, is not going to investigate the conversation, what the president knew. Jason Chaffetz, the chair of the House Oversight Committee, said, you know what, he's going to let this work itself out, too. He's not going to investigate it.

So, you know, the speaker may say he doesn't want to prejudge the circumstances but he's not going to ask anyone to go find out what those circumstances are.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do agree with him. We don't want to prejudge the situation. We don't need to get ahead of our skis and point blame where it doesn't lie. But we do need to have some questions answered. I think Peter King is right. I think the president does need to come forth with what he knew about what happened.

And, look, we all understand this administration. We've had alternative facts and now incomplete information. And the runway is very short when it comes to clarifying what happened here. And I think it's perfectly understandable for people to have questions. Whether or not a full investigation comes of this is yet to be determined, but I don't think bunker mentality with regard to --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: I mean, Alice, you know, if you want to find out the circumstances, someone has got to man up and do the investigation.

STEWART: I'm not saying we shouldn't. I'm saying, you know, that would probably be the best way to do it and put the information out on the table because that's the best way from a communications standpoint we're going to be able to put this behind us. And, you know, clearly many people here in Washington are hesitant to go ahead and make a statement that they will have an investigation.

But in my view, given the history of how this unfolded, I think as much information as they can put on the table is the best and quickest way to put this behind them and talk about what I think was the actual more very important to the American people is the Obamacare situation that they tried to focus on this morning. But clearly that's being overshadowed by this bigger story.

HARLOW: This is certainly in the news. This is all the headlines.

Ryan Lizza, to you, though, why then -- you know, if an investigation needs to happen and Peter King went much further than Paul Ryan did, Paul Ryan just seemed to say, you know, well, there's already a committee that's investigating this and the House Intelligence Committee is already looking into this and the broader issue with Russia.

LIZZA: Yes, I think that they just -- like the White House, they're hoping that the resignation sort of takes care of this piece of the whole Russian investigation and that they're not -- they don't want to be overly focused on some of the questions we've been batting around here. You know, the most important one of which is that -- you know, the famous question that often gets asked of presidents when one of their staffers does something wrong. What did the president know and when did he know it?

And I think, you know, they are the same party and there's a little bit protecting going on. And just to back up a little bit, I want to go become to something that Alice said before. It is true that there might be a completely innocent explanation that Flynn was talking to the Russian ambassador as any incoming national security adviser does. And if there's no necessarily any scandal here. And then the scandal is only that he did lie to his superiors about it.

The reason that people are suspicious that something else is going on is from the evening that Obama announced the sanctions on December 29th, the next 12 to 24 hours, the entire Russian government said that they were going to respond in kind. The Foreign minister, Foreign minister's spokesperson, Vladimir Putin's personal spokesperson. All of the Twitter feeds of the Russian government. You can go back and look at all of this.

They all said, we will not tolerate this. We're going to respond in kind to these sanctions. And then that was the same period that Flynn is talking to the Russian ambassador. And the lo and behold, the next day early in the morning in Washington, the afternoon in Moscow, Putin puts out a statement and says, I've decided against all of that. I'm not retaliating. I'm just going to wait for the new Trump administration to take office and deal with all of this then.

So that is the sort of mysterious change in posture of the Russian government that led U.S. investigators to go back and say, wait a second. Why did they flip on this and that's what led them to the conversations between Flynn and the ambassador. So just to -- I just wanted to throw that out so viewers understand why this is so suspicious.

BERMAN: And again, did the president know or the president-elect know at the time? Those are why --

HARLOW: And the president tweeted the next day, great move basically by Vladimir Putin.

BERMAN: Right. And that's why those questions are being asked.

Guys, stick around. A lot more to discuss. Let's go to Capitol Hill. We find CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly there.

Phil, you've been speaking to members. You have some new reaction. What are you hearing?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's exactly right. I think one of the wild cards is we try and figure out who will be looking into what or if anybody will be looking into anything at all is the Senate Intelligence Committee. And they already announced in a bipartisan fashion they had launched an investigation into Russian meddling into the U.S. election. And included in the explicit mandate, guys, of that investigation is looking into contacts between campaigns and Russian intelligence.

[10:40:07] I just spoke to Mark Warner, he's the vice chair, a Democrat from Virginia, of that committee. And he told me explicitly, he believes Mike Flynn now needs to come up and testify in front of the committee as part of that investigation.

Now why does that matter? Well, the committee has subpoena power. And they've made very clear that they are willing to use it. It would need Republican sign-off to do that. I think that's kind of the big question here. But in terms of who is looking into this, how much power do they have? If there's a real investigation, one that may have teeth, it's the Senate Intelligence Committee and the top Democrat, the vice chair of that committee told me explicitly, Mike Flynn needs to come in front of that committee and testify. And again that committee has subpoena power if it's willing to use it.

One other note, guys, I spoke to Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and as we've heard a lot of Republicans say, maybe this is a done issue. Maybe we don't need to look into this. Corker was very clear. He said, this issue, there are so many things going on right now. Congress needs to take a deeper look into this. He didn't say whether or not his committee would do that. But he made very clear committees will be looking into, at least on the Senate side of things, it's something that people need to keep an eye on. Delve deeper into because it's just simply not going away any time soon, guys.

HARLOW: Phil Mattingly, great reporting. Thank you very much for our entire panel. Also Manu Raju and General Hertling, Alice Stewart, Ryan Lizza, thank you guys.

We're going to take a quick break. Back with all this breaking news on the other side.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:45:53] BERMAN: So Michael Flynn is out at National Security adviser. Who is in? There are three leading candidates right now to become the next National Security adviser.

HARLOW: The man you see there in the middle, General David Petraeus, he is heading to the White House today.

Our Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with all her reporting on who of these three it is likely to be. Petraeus not leading the pack right now because, as the White House has completed, he comes with a lot of baggage. Needless to say. Who is at the front of the pack right now?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning. Three senior retired military officers. It looks like right now Vice Admiral Robert Harward may be the leading contender. This is a former Navy SEAL. He is very close, we are told, to Defense Secretary James Mattis. He worked for Mattis a couple of times. He has already served on the National Security Council.

I've interviewed him. He is one very smart guy. You don't get to a four-star position like this unless you are. Someone who also headed the detainee operations in Afghanistan. Does he has the big international, geopolitical experience that Petraeus has had? No, but this is a guy who knows how to manage things.

The other two contenders, retired lieutenant general Keith Kellogg. He is older. He has had a lot of experience in past years. A decorated Vietnam veteran but Kellogg has not served in recent years during the whole ISIS era. He doesn't have the experience in that, even though right now he has stepped in to be the acting NSC adviser with Flynn's departure.

So that brings us to David Petraeus, the former head of the U.S. Central Command, the former CIA director. Of course, very experienced on the international stage. Petraeus, make no mistake, has been wanting to get back into government service since he resigned as CIA director following a scandal about his disclosure of classified information. He is still on federal probation until April because of that violation of law for disclosing classified information. So he comes with baggage, and, in fact, if he got the job, he would have to notify his probation officer of his new employment. So that could be a bit awkward for the White House.

So the question now, all up to President Trump. Who does he want to pick and does he actually want another senior retired military officer in this crucial job -- John, Poppy.

BERMAN: It seems like that is what he is choosing from right now. Barbara Starr for us at the Pentagon. Thank you so much.

What about the Democrats? What will they do? How will they seize on the White House shake-up? We have that, plus some really surprising new research from Democrats into what they think went wrong in 2016.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:53:05] HARLOW: The stunning resignation of President Trump's National Security adviser overnight raising big questions this morning about what was going on behind the scenes at the White House. Now Democrats demanding a full classified briefing on Flynn. They and many Americans want to know what the president knew, when he knew it, what the rest of the folks in the White House knew, when they knew it, and why they didn't say anything to the public until now?

Joining us now is Guy Cecil. He is the chairman of Priorities USA. That is a former pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC that now positions itself as a progressive strategy group.

Nice to have you on.

GUY CECIL, CHAIRMAN, PRIORITIES USA: Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: Your reaction to all of this, this morning?

CECIL: Well, first of all, I think it's most important to say that the resignation of Mike Flynn is not the end of this question. It's just the beginning. And that everyone, Democrats and Republicans alike, should be calling for a full, thorough and independent investigation to understand the nature of the conversation between Flynn and the Russian ambassador. But more importantly, what the president knew, what this administration knew, when they knew it and how they acted upon it.

It is critical that we have an independent review of this matter in order to get to the truth which is something that every American, regardless of party, should care about.

BERMAN: All right, Guy, we have -- we brought you on because you, you know, were with Priorities USA. You funded a study. A really interesting study. Looking at people who voted for Barack Obama for president and then Donald Trump. And there are a number of people who did that quite obviously in several key states. You look at Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida. What did you find in this study?

CECIL: Well, I think there were two really important things that came out of this. Number one, Democrats are in the middle of a debate about whether or not our future success depends on doubling down on the Democratic base and working to expand turnout operations or whether we should refocus our energy on white-working class voters. And I think what our research shows is that the answer is this is a false choice. That our political success and frankly the heart of our party depends on reaching out to both.

[10:55:10] Second, when it comes to these Obama-Trump voters, half of them already have mixed feelings about voting for the president. And of those, only one-third, one in three, actually believe he will be a good president. And so it's critical for Democrats, as we think about 2017, as we think about a complicated and big map in 2018, focus both on persuasion and on turning out the Democratic base if we hope to have success in the coming elections.

HARLOW: But one thing you did find is that the ads that your team and others like you put out that pulled into question the president's tone and temperament, those didn't work. Do you know why?

CECIL: Actually, if you look at the full results of the poll, the temperament issue and whether or not Donald Trump has a temperament to deal with national security, the very thing we're talking about this morning, was in the top three issues of things that concerned them. And the one interesting thing about this poll is we tend to think of swing voters or white working class voters and one set of demographic boxes, and Democratic voters in another step. But there is enormous alignment between their concerns.

They are concerned about two things. Number one, the temperament of this president, his judgment when it comes to national security, and the fact that he may, in fact, stumble us into a war and secondly that he is going to betray his promises to working class and middle class Americans. So --

HARLOW: So, Guy, what were those ads about tone and temperament that did not resonate?

CECIL: Well, I don't think it's a question of whether or not they resonated. I think we're simply in a different time and space. Look, there is no question that Democrats looking back were frustrated by the fact that we couldn't bring more attention, for example, to Donald Trump's business record or the fact that we don't believe that he will actually honor his promises to working and middle class Americans.

It's one thing to be a candidate for president. It's another thing to be the president. And we saw this in his first act making mortgages more expensive. We now see United States senators who want to get rid of protections for overdraft. So the point of our research is not simply looking back because the fact of the matter is our decline with white working class voters started before this election. It's actually been a 10-year progress.

BERMAN: And Guy, this isn't meant to be, you know, a cruel question, but people read this study and are listening to you and they're like, you know they're asking, why should we be listening to Priorities USA when they spent so much money and it didn't work electing Hillary Clinton?

CECIL: I think it's a totally legitimate question. And I think whenever you're involved in races, I've been involved in races where we've won and races where we've lost. And I think you have to approach all of this with a little bit of humility in both circumstances. But the fact of the matter is that our research today shows that looking forward path means that we must move beyond treating the American people as simply a list of demographic boxes.

And I'll just give you my own personal example. My grandmother raised five kids in poverty as a waitress. My parents spent 20 years paying off medical bills for my brother who was diagnosed as an infant with neuroblastoma. I am a gay man who cares about marriage equality and I have an African-American niece and nephew who I have a particular set of worries and concerns about.

The party must be a party that can care about the tipped wage worker, can care about health care access, can care about economic opportunity and can care about things like marriage equality and criminal justice reform, and our success as a party means devising a path forward that includes all of those things and doesn't just prioritize one over another.

HARLOW: So when the autopsy is written on what didn't go your way in this past election, other than, say, not going to Wisconsin in the general and some other missteps, what do you think is the biggest takeaway that the Clinton camp can learn from this that can be applied to the midterms and in 2020?

CECIL: Absolutely. I think the most important thing is that working class people and middle class Americans wanted change. And I don't mean change in some large political context or change just in terms of elected office holders. But their life is not getting better. Families that made $39,500 eight years ago that are now making $40,000. Eight years ago they had a fifth grader who was hoping to go to college, and today that person is struggling to pay for six credits at a community college.

We must do a better job communicating not just by demographics, not just by micro-targeting but by delivering a compelling, inclusive, expansive progressive message, a Democratic message, about what it means to have full opportunity in our country.

BERMAN: Guy Cecil, thank you so much for coming in and talking to us about this study that you all conducted. Appreciate the time, sir.

CECIL: Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: Yes. It's fascinating.

Thank you all for being with us. Quite a morning.

BERMAN: Yes, a lot going.

HARLOW: Lots of news. It will continue right after this. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN" starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We are following breaking news.