Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

New Laptop Bombs Could Evade Airport Security; Schiff Views Sensitive Docs at the White House; No Takers Yet on Flynn Immunity Demand; Trump Floats Working With Democrats on Health Care; As Americans Fail Drug Tests, Employers Hire Refugees; Four Teams Left in March Madness. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired April 1, 2017 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: It's also played role in prohibiting travelers from flying out of eight countries from carrying laptops and other large devices on to planes.

CNN's Pentagon reporter Ryan Brown joining us now.

So, Ryan, how did intelligence officials discover this threat?

RYAN BROWN, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Fredricka, officials are telling us that they achieved this intelligence via two key sources. One was human intelligence, the other was intercepts. Now what various different sources were telling them was that there was an ability to power on these laptops for brief periods to avoid detection potentially of these bombs. And there was also -- and they've also learned that these terrorist groups may actually have acquired sophisticated screening equipment used by airports to detect laptops or detect bombs hidden in laptops. So these were the kind of two key intelligence items that were obtained that kind of led them to implement this ban.

WHITFIELD: And Ryan, we know that the United Kingdom has implemented similar measures. Any sign that other countries might be doing the same?

BROWN: Well, the officials talking to us said that, you know, western airports, western airlines tend to have a little bit more robust screening procedures, so that's one of the reasons the countries were designated. Now other countries who might not have this intelligence are learning more and more about this threat and may indeed extend that, but there's no immediate reports of additional countries planning to also implement the ban at this time.

But again, given how easily these bombs could potentially be modified, we've heard that it could be, you know, implements that could be found at home that could kind of make these bombs. That could raise some concerns potentially lending other countries to implement that ban.

WHITFIELD: Ryan Brown, thanks so much from Washington. Appreciate that.

All right. Let's discuss this further now, joining me right now CNN national security analyst and former assistant secretary of Homeland Security, Juliette Kayyem, CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson, and CNN safety analyst and former FAA safety inspector, David Soucie.

Good to see all of you.

All right, Juliette, you first. So how realistic is this threat to you?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the threat is realistic in the sense that for some time there has been a threat string related to the attempts by terrorist organizations to essentially try to evade the security apparatus that the west sets up. So you have to view it a little bit -- you know, we do a defense. They do an offense. We then switch. It's a constant change. And so in that sense, the news is -- you know, it's disconcerting, but it's not that shocking.

I think the challenge on the defense front is how extreme do you want to make the measures? No laptops on airplanes. No laptops from certain airports given that we know there's this one particular threat. Because of course there's other ways to minimize the threat. You go after the bomb makers. You change your screening procedures to be able to pick up this kind of threat. And so it's -- we're in sort of a wait and see mode to see how much the international global aviation security system is willing to deprive people of something they anticipate or expect on air throughout the world essentially.

WHITFIELD: And so, Nic, let's talk more about these potential bomb makers. I'm talking about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and in Yemen. People there have been known for their bomb-making technique. Tell us more about what we know about them and any connections to whether they are responsible for this new kind of bombing that could be -- that could be fairly undetectable in these small devices, electronic devices?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has a bomb-maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, who has developed sophisticated techniques to try to evade -- as we just heard there evade normal airport screening. He created, was the developer of the underpants bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, try to bring down a plane over Detroit Christmas Day 2009. He developed and sent out from Yemen two printer bombs that were addressed to the United States. They were intercepted, thanks to the help of Saudi intelligence, but they were so sophisticated.

One of them was intercepted in the UK. The police here had it in their hands and they couldn't even figure out it was a bomb, it was so sophisticated. So the concern is -- and there's intelligence that emerged in 2014 that Asiri and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were sharing this kind of information and technology with their associates, with al Qaeda and other places. Now 2009-2010, that was before ISIS really took off in Iraq and Syria.

The concern is now that those ISIS affiliates that he may have shared that information with may now perhaps be in the hands of ISIS. And you look at the laptop bomb in Somalia in 2016 last year and it's well known that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has had almost for a decade now increasing connections with Al-Shaab, the al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia. So the concern there is that there's sort of -- if you will -- a certain amount of public domain information that allows you to see a link.

[11:05:10] What intelligence authorities have behind the scenes, we don't know. But the real concern is that spread of this key sophisticated bomb-makers expertise and skills.

WHITFIELD: And so, David, now that reportedly these terror groups have obtained these screening devices, if that is indeed the case, then is it possible for airports, for the screening devices to be updated so that they are far more sophisticated than any of these terror groups may have gotten their hands on?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Security at airports is a continually evolving thing. It's reactive. So as the intelligence comes forward, those machines are continually upgraded. What we're seeing here is the fact that the airports that haven't been upgraded to detect this type of weapon have not been done yet. So that's -- it's on the mitigation side. It's the threat and mitigation and that balance between the two. So the mitigation in these airports has been identified as not adequate to identify and mitigate this threat. So therefore that's why those particular airports -- if you notice, too, it's not about just the -- it's not about the passengers that might fly into those airports and back out again because they're within the secure area.

It's about the people who initiate from there and that's where the threat really is. There will always be threats. It's the chance and the ability to mitigate and upgrade those mitigation measures that counts.

WHITFIELD: And Juliette, how concerned are you that while these terror groups might be trying to come up with the most evasive type of bomb to be in these electronic devices, is it your feeling that it is powerful enough to try to take down a whole airliner or would it be a concerted effort that there would be many people with these kinds of devices or bombs that would have to work together?

KAYYEM: Well, no. It would be one. But the good news is there aren't that many bomb makers who would seem to have the capacity. Think about it, you not only have to make the bomb. You have to get it -- you have to have someone willing to get it on the airplane through all airport security, that that person is not picked up before. There's no intelligence about them. And then be able to detonate on air. So there's still -- you know, there's still barriers to this happening even if you do prove that manufacturing is going on.

So the challenge for the security apparatus is, do you focus on the low probability, high consequence event? Or as I see Nic standing there in London the higher probability but lower consequence event like, you know, cars and people using vehicles or guns or whatever else. And that's the range. We do -- but I do think a bomb like this could bring down an airport, but there's a lot of steps between proof of manufacturing and getting it on the airplane and detonating where something like this could be mitigated.

WHITFIELD: And then, Nic, what are the greatest concerns that intelligence -- you know, global intelligence has about AQAP and its ability to do something like this?

ROBERTSON: You know, AQAP if you look in Yemen it's been under civil war for the last couple of years and it's really been more internally focused. And there's certainly a strength of argument that says a lot of AQAP has really sort of been heavily sort of tribal and it's internally generated. It doesn't have a significantly large component that's focused on external operations. However, within the -- within that civil war last year and the year before, you know, al Qaeda took over a major port city. They got ahold of the bank there, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and were able to walk away with $100 million.

This was an organization that was scraping by in Yemen on pennies prior to this. So they've got the physical space. They've got the money. They've got the expertise and the question is do they have the intent and can they find the operatives? And they've done it once or twice before. You know, al-Siri is a ruthless killer. He gave a bomb to his brother, inserted in his brother's abdomen to try to kill a senior figure in the Saudi intelligence, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef. He detonated -- his brother detonated this bomb killing himself and injuring the prince.

He was willing to sacrifice his brother in an attack. So you have to factor all of that into the calculations and the problem is and we saw here with the IRA in the UK, and as they said, you know, we have to be lucky every time. They only have to be lucky once. And that obviously is a concern and the challenge for security authorities trying to contain a threat like Asiri's.

WHITFIELD: And David, is it removing the danger to have these devices checked as opposed to being able to have them in the cabin?

SOUCIE: Yes. The idea of having a check as opposed to taking them apart and looking what's inside of them is the fact that you're still again just trying to mitigate that -- mitigate that threat. So being able to do that ahead of time is imminently important, but this is not an imminent threat. If it was an imminent threat, this would be worldwide and it would happen immediately.

[11:10:01] So there is no idea. They haven't identified. They actually haven't accepted or received or identified a bomb and taken it out of circulation. This is intelligence and acting on intelligence, not on imminent devices.

WHITFIELD: David Soucie, Juliette Kayyem, Nic Robertson, thanks to all of you. Appreciate it. We'll see you again soon.

All right. Coming up next, the House Intelligence Committee's ranking member rips the White House after viewing sensitive documents about Russia. And this morning, President Trump is attacking the media. What both men are saying next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: All right. The specter of Russia continues to hang over the White House this weekend with two congressional investigations under way and the demand for immunity from former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn is ready to testify to the committees about what he knows about possible Trump campaign connections with Russia, but as of right now, neither committee says they will take Flynn up on his offer.

[11:15:09] The ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, California Democrat, Adam Schiff, went to the White House to view national security documents connected with investigations, but despite all of this, the president again says it's nothing to take too seriously. Tweeting this morning, this from President Trump, "It is the same fake news media that said there is no path to victory for Trump that is now pushing the phony Russia story. A total scam."

All right, let me bring in CNN correspondent Ryan Nobles now from the White House.

So, Ryan, the documents seen by Congressman Schiff, are they the same documents seen by the committee chairman, Devin Nunes, that caused so much controversy?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to what Adam Schiff said yesterday that is what he was told. But Congressman Schiff seems to have a much different impression of what he reviewed than what Congressman Nunes reviewed a couple of weeks ago that started all this controversy.

Listen to what Schiff said in a statement yesterday after reviewing those documents. "It was represented to me that these are precisely the same materials that were provided to the chairman over a week ago. Nothing I could see today warranted a departure from the normal review procedures and these materials should now be provided to the full membership of both committees. And the White House is yet to explain why senior White House staff apparently shared these materials with but one member of either committee only for their contents to be briefed back to the White House."

And if you remember how this all played out, this is when Devin Nunes held a press conference and announced that he had come into receipt of some materials that seemed to at least somewhat back up Donald Trump's claim from a few weeks ago that he was under surveillance by the previous administration during the campaign and during the transition. But Nunes didn't say where that material came from or what the material contained, other than to say that it wasn't connected to the Russia investigation.

Now Schiff himself has not said or provided any specifics about what this material contains, but he believes firmly that it should have gone through the normal process. Now how this impacts the investigation at large still remains to be seen.

Fredricka, of course, there have been big concerns that at least on the House side that the investigation has become too politicized and it may be difficult for them to draw a final conclusion -- Fred. WHITFIELD: And then, Ryan, there was a rather odd moment at the White

House yesterday, the president peppered with questions and he simply walked out before even signing an executive order.

NOBLES: Yes. This was an odd moment, to say the least, in the Oval Office. The president came out, gave a few remarks about these executive orders and was signing -- that he was scheduled to sign having to do with trade. And as soon as the questions started, he just got up and walked out. And he hadn't signed those executive orders yet. In fact, it was the vice president, Mike Pence, who walked over to the resolute desk to pick up those executive orders and walk them over to the president.

Now the White House tells us that the president did end up signing those in private after the fact. We're not sure what led to this kind of awkward moment but that's exactly what happened here yesterday.

WHITFIELD: OK. It was definitely unusual set of circumstances there. All right, Ryan Nobles, at the White House. Thanks so much. We're going to talk more about that and other things. And we're going to talk also about Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who wants immunity and apparently is not getting any of that thus far.

Let's bring in our panel right now to talk about this. National security analyst Juliette Kayyem, CNN political commentator and "Washington Post" assistant editor David Swerdlick, and national security attorney, Mark Zaid.

All right. Good to see all of you. OK. So, Juliette, let me begin with you. Now that the House Intelligence Committee's ranking member, Adam, you know, Schiff has seen documents, although in his statement it's -- you know, he doesn't justify in any way why Devin Nunes wanted to break, you know, protocol the way that happened. So what does this tell you about the material that Schiff may have seen and whether that is the same kind of material that Chairman Nunes saw?

KAYYEM: Well, so we don't know because Adam Schiff was completely dependent on the White House just given how badly Nunes just did this. I mean, the whole thing is absolutely ridiculous in terms of if it was or we now know it was White House staff who gave Nunes the information. So I think what Adam Schiff is trying to do is reset the House Intelligence hearing and put it back into the normal process, which is this is an independent investigation.

Devin Nunes, I have to say at this stage, was either played or is playing all of us. I'm not quite sure yet and I -- you know, and I think Paul Ryan ought to step in at this stage because if you want the House Intelligence Committee to work and to function, it cannot do so with Nunes.

[11:20:05] So I think what you saw in both the silences and in his -- and in Adam Schiff's acknowledgment that there was -- you know, there was nothing here to sort of, you know, justify the madness that had happened over the last week is trying to sort of put this back on track. I don't know if the House Intelligence Committee can survive what Devin Nunes did. It probably could if he's replaced. WHITFIELD: And so, David, is the pressure on for the House speaker to

make a move since Nunes thus far has said he's not recusing himself? Is it your feeling that the House speaker will feel the pressure and say maybe the chairman does need to step aside?

KAYYEM: Well, I think -- in this instance what you're starting to hear from other Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee is concern about it.

WHITFIELD: OK. So, David, what do you think?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Fredricka, I -- I, you know, concur with Juliette's assessment to a degree. I don't think there's a lot of pressure on Ryan right now in part because the Senate investigation is proceeding, at least for now, much more bipartisan spirit and they haven't had these missteps that Congressman Nunes has sort of made these unforced errors in the last few days. And so in Congress folks are looking now to the Senate to make sense of this and to gain back some credibility of the overall investigation.

I think where the pressure might come in down the road on Speaker Ryan is the fact that his credibility as speaker of the House of Representatives will be at stake if it turns out later on that he placed too much faith in Congressman Nunes' leadership of the House committee to investigate this and turns out that the House committee's investigation was messed up by his conduct over the last week going to the White House, apparently speaking out of turn to the president without Congressman Schiff, the ranking member and his Democratic counterpart.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And it doesn't help that so many testimonies and interviews were cancelled in the House mysteriously, you know, at the -- you know, at the surprise of many of the other committee members.

So, Mark, if most of the pressure now is on the Senate Intel Commission's investigation, in your view, what's behind not wanting to grant immunity to Michael Flynn? Would that mean the Senate Intel Committee just feels like there's not enough there-there for his testimony to make that kind of exchange?

MARK ZAID, NATIONAL SECURITY ATTORNEY: No. It's just premature at this moment. I think it was a good legal strategy by Flynn's lawyers to make it public that he was trying to seek immunity or that he was willing to talk. There's a lot of reasons why. And it's a very difficult environment here in Washington, D.C. when you have a politically charged national security matter that involves so many different angles. But the Senate committee and whether the House gets back involved, there's a lot of things they need to do first before even thinking about giving anybody immunity.

I mean, we know from reporting -- because it would be classified if we had seen it -- of transcripts of Flynn's conversations with the Russian ambassador. They're going to want to review all of that. They're going to want to look at his SF-86 which is his national security questionnaire to see what he might have put down with respect to his involvement with Turkey and Russia in the past. And they're going to want to talk to a number of what we'll say is smaller players to get the story straight to see before they go to someone as big a fish as Flynn.

WHITFIELD: And then, Juliette, would there be some concern that if the Senate Intel Committee were to grant that kind of immunity, it would have an impact on the FBI investigation and some way it would impair that arm of the investigation?

KAYYEM: Given what we've seen from the Senate leadership, they would not do it if the FBI said don't do it. I mean, it's just -- they work together, in fact, it's the FBI that provides a lot of the information to the Senate hearing. So you're not going to see some let's give it to Flynn to shut off the FBI investigation. The reason to give Flynn immunity both from the prosecution side and of course from the more public Senate side is that he has something that makes the picture clearer and may have something on someone in particular. We don't know if this is related specifically to the Russian hacking issues or other financial issues, like what Mark was saying. There's a lot of stuff behind Flynn that's questionable.

WHITFIELD: And quickly, David, is this more deflection that the president would say, yes, go ahead. Grant him immunity, even after, you know, President Trump fired Flynn?

SWERDLICK: Yes. I'm not sure what President Trump was hoping to accomplish with that tweet yesterday where he said Flynn should request immunity. I mean, number one, let's be clear, just because Flynn is requesting immunity does not mean that he committed a crime, but it's just one more sort of drip, drip, drip of what's coming out day by day in this -- in this ongoing controversy that keeps the public attention focused on the investigation into Russia ties and has people wondering every day if this can't be just simply cleared up by having a public hearing, what is there behind the scenes that Americans don't know?

[11:25:04] Maybe there's nothing, but if there's nothing, why not just have a hearing? Why not just hear what Flynn has to say?

WHITFIELD: Right, contrary to what the president had to say and even Flynn, they were talking about immunity and the real parallels of an admission of guilt.

All right, Juliette Kayyem, David Swerdlick, thanks so much. And Mark Zaid, good to see you.

All right. A programming note, the popular political podcast "The Axe Files" with David Axelrod is coming to CNN. Be sure to watch its television premiere, a special conversation with Senator John McCain. That's CNN special airing tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern time.

All right. Coming up, Bernie Sanders is criticizing Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign and the Democratic Party. What he's saying and why next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: House Speaker Paul Ryan is putting pressure on his fellow Republicans to forge a deal on health care warning them if they don't reach a consensus on repealing and replacing Obamacare, the president could make an unwelcomed change, of course.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)