Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Delaware Senator Chris Coons; Travel Ban Trouble?; Obama Warned Trump About Michael Flynn; Federal Judges Press Trump Admin Lawyers on Travel Ban; North Korea Detains Another U.S. Citizen; Yates: Warned White House Flynn 'Could Be Blackmailed'. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 8, 2017 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Presidential warning. The White House admits that former President Obama himself warned President Trump not to hire Flynn as his first national security adviser. Why did Mr. Trump ignore the advice?

Travel ban trouble. A panel of federal judges presses Trump administration lawyers on the president's travel ban, questioning the intent of the revised executive order. They also noted that the president's vow to ban Muslims from entering the United States was still on the campaign Web site. Why was it suddenly removed?

And another American held. For the second time in three weeks, North Korea detains a U.S. citizen, bringing the number of Americans now held by the Kim Jong-un regime to four. What is Kim's endgame?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, revelations that the Trump White House received multiple warnings about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired by President Trump for giving misleading information about his contacts with Russia.

Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates speaking publicly about Flynn for the first time told the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee she told White House officials that Flynn was vulnerable to being blackmailed by the Russians.

In just a few minutes, I will talk to one of the key senators asking questions in that hearing.

Also tonight, the White House is now confirming that just days after the election President Obama personally warned president-elect Trump against hiring Flynn, who was fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency back in 2014.

We are also following right now new developments in North Korea, North Korea now holding yet another American citizen, a professor who had been teaching at a Pyongyang science university. Another American teacher was detained by the Kim regime just weeks ago.

We're covering all of that, much more this hour with our guests, including Senator Chris Coons, a member of Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

Let's get straight to the breaking news.

Our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is with us with the very latest.

Jim, the White House was warned that Michael Flynn was vulnerable to being blackmailed by the Russians.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Wolf, contradicting the White House.

You might call this a kitchen sink hearing. Everything came up, even the Muslim travel ban. But on the issue of Russia, the topic of this hearing, intriguing answers on some key questions. One, could the investigation go to the highest levels of the U.S. government? The former acting Attorney General Sally Yates says yes.

Two, on Trump business ties to Russia, that, according to the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, possibly still part of the investigation. On the issue of collusion between Trump advisers and Russia, no definitive answer ruling that in or crucially ruling out, but again on Flynn, Sally Yates contradicting both the president and the White House spokesman.


SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We felt like it was critical that we get this information to the White House.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): In a hearing sharply divided along partisan lines, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates sharply contradicted the White House version of events regarding fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Yates told senators that she gave the White House a forceful and detailed warning that Flynn lied when he denied discussing U.S. sanctions with the Russian ambassador.

YATES: We walked to the White House counsel, who also had an associate there with him, through General Flynn's underlying conduct, the content of which I obviously cannot go through with you today, because it's classified.

But we took them through in a fair amount of detail of the underlying conduct, what General Flynn had done, and then we walked through the various press accounts and how it had been falsely reported.

We also told the White House counsel that General Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI. SCIUTTO: In February, the day after his firing by the president, Sean

Spicer claimed Yates had only given a much less substantive heads-up about Flynn's comments.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The acting attorney general informed White House counsel that they wanted to give -- quote -- "a heads-up" to us on comments that may have seemed in conflict with what he had sent the vice president.

SCIUTTO: In fact, Yates said she made clear the president's closest adviser on national security was in danger of being blackmailed by Russia.

YATES: This was a matter of some urgency. We...


YATES: In making the determination about notification here, we had to balance a variety of interests. For the reasons that I just described a few minutes ago, we felt it was critical that we get this information to the White House, because -- in part because the vice president was unknowingly making false statements to the public and because we believed that General Flynn was compromised with the respect to the Russians.


SCIUTTO: The hearing was intended to focus on Russian interference in the U.S. election. On the key question of whether Trump advisers colluded with Russia in that interference, the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said he has not seen evidence, as he said in the past.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Is that still accurate?


SCIUTTO: Yates, however, was less definitive.

GRAHAM: Ms. Yates, do you have any evidence or are you aware of any evidence that would suggest that in the 2016 campaign anybody in the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government or intelligence services in an improper fashion?

YATES: And, Senator, my answer to that question would require me to reveal classified information, and so I can't answer that.

SCIUTTO: Overall, the hearing was a tale of two hearings. Many Democratic senators focused mostly on Flynn. Many Republicans focused on leaks.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Have either of you ever been an anonymous source in a news report about matters relating to Mr. Trump, his associates, or Russia's attempt to meddle in the election?

SCIUTTO: And unmasking. GRAHAM: Do we know who unmasked the conversation between the Russian

ambassador and General Flynn? Was there unmasking of this situation?


SCIUTTO: Now, on the issue of General Flynn's security clearance, we have heard from the president, the White House press secretary, again today that he already had a security clearance from the Obama administration.

But you heard from the former Director of National Intelligence Clapper today that for the most senior officials, including national security adviser, in his 40 years of experience, they are subject to, in his words, Wolf, a much more invasive security clearance process, contradicting again the White House account there, really explanation that it was up to the Obama administration in effect to clear Flynn, not up to the Trump White House.

BLITZER: Yes, you're going to be the national security adviser to the United States, you need the best, most thorough security clearance.

SCIUTTO: And vetting, absolutely.

BLITZER: Yes, all right, thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, for that.

And at today's hearing, we learned that President Obama personally warned president-elect Trump against making Michael Flynn his national security adviser.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

What are you learning, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House isn't denying that President Obama warned President Trump that he should stay away from Michael Flynn, but aides to President Trump are chalking up the former president's feelings as -- quote -- "bad blood."


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I just had the opportunity to have an excellent conversation with president-elect Trump.

ACOSTA: In the surface, it seemed like a cordial meeting between an outgoing president and his successor in the Oval Office just two days after a bitter election.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The meeting lasted for almost an hour-and-a-half. And it could have -- as far as I am concerned, it could have gone on for a lot longer.

ACOSTA: But behind closed doors, former Obama administration officials tell CNN President Obama offered then president-elect Trump a clear warning; Don't hire retired General Michael Flynn as national security adviser.

One Obama officials said Mr. Obama told Mr. Trump there were more qualified people for the position. That caution from one president to another came more than a month-and-a-half before Flynn spoke with the Russian ambassador about sanctions on Moscow and nearly two months before Flynn was fired by President Trump for not coming clean on the conversation.

SPICER: It is true that the president made it -- President Obama made it known that he wasn't exactly a fan of General Flynn's.

ACOSTA: Still, the White House is putting the blame on the Obama administration for granting Flynn a security clearance in early 2016. The president tweeted: "General Flynn was given the highest security clearance by the Obama administration, but the fake news seldom likes talking about that."

SPICER: Why didn't he suspend General Flynn's security clearance, which they had just approved months earlier? There were steps that they could have taken that -- if that truly was a concern, more than just a person that didn't -- had bad blood.

ACOSTA: But former Obama administration officials point out Flynn was in fact fired by the Obama administration over his contentious management style.

TONY BLINKEN, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: It's a huge effort at distraction, Wolf. In April 2016, Mr. Flynn was no longer working for the Obama administration. He had been let go in 2014.

ACOSTA: President Trump has repeatedly defended Flynn since firing the general himself. In late March, the president tweeted: "Mike Flynn should ask for immunity and that this is a witch-hunt. Excuse for big election loss by media and Dems of historic proportion," similar to the complaint the president aired two days after he showed Flynn the door.

TRUMP: I think he has been treated very, very unfairly by the media, and, as I call it, the fake media in many cases. And I think it is really a sad thing that he was treated so badly.

YATES: I'm pleased to appear before you this afternoon.

ACOSTA: The president has questioned the credibility of former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who raised internal questions about Flynn and warned the White House before she was fired by Mr. Trump over a different matter.

He tweeted: "Ask Sally Yates under oath if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to White House counsel."


QUESTION: Does the president believe that Sally Yates was the leaker?

SPICER: Again, I think the tweet speaks for itself. What he is saying is that the Senate should ask those questions.


ACOSTA: Now, the White House is still not saying much about Flynn and its own efforts to vet former national security adviser for that position.

But aides have said the retired general simply did not undergo a rigorous vetting process, as he was already a favorite of President Trump, not only as an adviser, but a surrogate who appeared regularly at Trump campaign rallies. Asked how much vetting Flynn received, Wolf, I talked to one former Trump transition official who described this way, in one word, none -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. Very interesting indeed.

Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's get some more on all of this. Our political specialists and analysts are here with us.

David Chalian, I want to play this clip for you. This is Sally Yates answering questions from Dianne Feinstein, the senator, on the fear that the president's national security adviser potentially could be compromised and blackmailed by the Russians.


YATES: Compromise was certainly the number one concern.

And the Russians can use compromise material, information in a variety of ways, sometimes overtly and sometimes subtly. But I will also say we -- another motivating factor is that we felt like the vice president was entitled to know that information he had been given and that he was relaying to the American public wasn't true.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: So what you're saying is that General Flynn lied to the vice president?

YATES: That's certainly how it appeared.


BLITZER: And yet after she notified the White House counsel of that, it took 18 days for Flynn to be fired, and he was only fired after "The Washington Post" reported that news that they had warned of potential blackmail.


What is certainly true in this entire scenario is that the public reveal of this information in "The Washington Post" is what prompted his firing. Those two things happened sequentially.

So the fact that it entered the public domain is what was unsustainable for the White House. That much is clear. But I do think you played the key clip there, because, to me, this whole day of testimony, the final analysis that people are going to walk way from here is that the acting attorney general went to the White House and said, your national security adviser has been compromised by the Russians.

And then now the question, the burden now is on the White House, why did you sit on that for 18 days?

BLITZER: What's the answer? Why did they sit on that for 18 days, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's the question for the White House, the question for Sean Spicer, the question for the president, the White House counsel, and everybody in between.

We don't know the answer to that. That is the question. Just in my maybe somewhat educated guess, in covering this now president, then candidate for a long time, is that he doesn't like to be told what to do, particularly when it comes to somebody who he has had intense loyalty towards because he felt that that was reciprocated, that Mike Flynn was very, very loyal to him all during the campaign, particularly at the end, and that he -- and they formed a bond.

They were together a lot on the plane during the campaign and that that was a very difficult bond for him to break. Could there have been more of a reason? Possibly. But I think at its root, that is probably one of the key ones.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But the fact that this is described, this was not a heads-up. This was urgent. And she made that very clear in her testimony. And, yes, you have to wonder why they didn't act more urgently as a result.

BLITZER: All right, everybody, stand by.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware is a member of the Judiciary and the Foreign Relations Committee. By the way, he is joining us live now following this three-hour-plus hearing.

Senator, what is your answer? Why do you think it took the White House 18 days to fire Michael Flynn after then the acting Attorney General Sally Yates had warned the White House counsel she believed he was already compromised and susceptible to blackmail by the Russians?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Well, that's a great question, Wolf. And that was a question that wasn't answered today.

We heard loud and clear from former Director of National Intelligence Clapper and former acting Attorney General Yates that Russia should be celebrating, that they successfully interfered in our election, and that it was blindingly clear that former National Security Adviser Flynn was a national security risk, he had been compromised, when Sally Yates took that information on January 26 to the White House, to the White House counsel. It was, I think, befuddling to hear that for weeks they failed to restrict his access to sensitive information or to reduce General Flynn's engagement in important national security decisions with regard to Japan, North Korea, with regard to a phone conversation between President Trump and Vladimir Putin.


So former Attorney General Yates said in response to a question on exactly that topic, because she left the administration January 30, she can't answer the question, why did they not take action sooner?

But , today, she made clear that her warnings to the White House were unmistakable and strong.

TAPPER: Sally Yates also said, Senator, that the White House counsel, Don McGahn, asker her why it mattered to the Department of Justice if White House officials were lying to each other, to which she explained concern about Flynn being compromised.

Do you think the White House knew about the potential impact of Michael Flynn's Russian connections?

COONS: Well, she certainly made it clear.

She also made it clear today that in a second meeting with the White House counsel, she was asked about whether he was potentially criminally liable and under what statutes he might be prosecuted. I thought that was also important information we heard in today's hearing.

BLITZER: Do you trust that the White House counsel, Don McGahn, is giving the president good advice, based on the testimony we heard today?

COONS: I don't know. I can't speak to that.

I know that Ms. Yates gave the White House counsel unmistakable evidence that the national security adviser was a national security risk and should be removed. But he asked her, is this someone should be fired immediately? And she said, that's not my call. That's the president's call.

She was removed from her position as attorney general just days later. So, it is hard for me to discern whether the White House counsel gave the president the advice that he needed to act on and the president simply failed to act for several weeks, putting our national security at risk, or whether the White House counsel failed to act. That's unclear.

BLITZER: She was removed on a different matter, that she didn't believe the president's travel ban was constitutional and didn't want to be involved in trying to implement it. That's why they fired her as the acting attorney general of the United States.

On the other hand, you trust that the White House was listening. Maybe the White House counsel, Don McGahn, was accurately relaying the information he had received from Sally Yates, but they didn't care.

COONS: It is entirely possible.

In fact, having met the White House counsel, I'm inclined to believe that he did convey that information dutifully and fully, and that the president and his core team of closest advisers simply chose not to act on it.

She was clear in her testimony today that in looking at the executive order on the travel ban, in the context of the campaign season and many public statements made by President Trump and his key surrogates, that she believed that courts would not uphold it, that courts in fact would overturn it or block it based on intent.

Ultimately, that's been proven true in several different court cases around the country. And, today, there was oral argument in the Fourth Circuit on the second executive order, where I suspect they are looking hard at the president's intent and whether or not, as he had promised in the campaign, this executive order was meant to be a religiously discriminatory Muslim ban.

BLITZER: Do you believe Michael Flynn actually committed a crime? I ask the question because we do know he was subsequently interviewed by FBI agents at the White House without legal counsel present. Do you know, Senator, if he told the truth or if he lied during that interview with the FBI? You lie to the FBI, that's a crime.

COONS: I don't know, of course. I don't have access to those transcripts or records. I don't know whether he was truthful or not.

I did ask Ms. Yates that. She declined to answer because she said doing so would reveal classified information or information essential to the proceedings. She was very careful today not to reveal classified information.

But there is another issue, Wolf, which was General Flynn's failure to report that he received tens of thousands of dollars from R.T., from Russia Today, and hundreds of thousands of dollars from Turkey.

A failure to file, as someone who was representing a foreign power, that may also have legal consequences for General Flynn.

BLITZER: Well, do you know for a fact, Senator, that when he got his security clearances renewed in April of 2016, he lied in those documents, he didn't provide information about the money he received from Russian TV or the money he received from Turkish elements?

COONS: That is what has been reported in the media, Wolf. I don't know that independently, but that's certainly what's been reported.

I will say this. I have reached this conclusion. I can't believe the Trump administration let General Flynn in the White House, let alone in the Situation Room, after the direct and clear warnings that President Trump got from President Obama and that the White House counsel got from the then acting attorney.

This man put our national security at risk, and I think there should be some consequences for his actions.

BLITZER: What kind of consequences are you talking about?

COONS: I think that is up to a court of law and the Department of Justice, but given the sorts of reckless actions that he took, given the ways that he misled the vice president, given the ways that he failed to report or to file, I think there is a range of statutes of which he might be -- he might have run afoul.


BLITZER: You see that happening? Do you believe the current Justice Department under the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, would actually do that?

COONS: I will say this. I have a lot of respect for the career professionals in the Department of Justice. And I believe the attorney general understands and respects the rule of law.

If a recommendation comes up from the FBI or from line attorneys at the Department of Justice that the former national security adviser broke the law, I believe that they would proceed.

BLITZER: Would you be open to granting Michael Flynn immunity in exchange for his testimony? That's what his lawyer suggested he wants.

COONS: That's not my judgment call to make. But I think if the national security adviser came forward with really compelling evidence that would make a significant different in the investigation, that might be a wise choice for the Intelligence Committee to make.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, Senator. This is an important day. There is a lot of breaking news that is unfolding right now. We need to take a quick break. We will be right back.



BLITZER: We are following breaking news, the former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testifying to a Senate panel that she told White House official on two separate days that the then National Security Adviser to the president Michael Flynn was vulnerable to be blackmailed by Russians weeks before he was ultimately fired by President Trump.

We're back with Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He's a member of both the Judiciary and the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, at another point in the hearing, Senator Lindsey Graham, who chaired this panel today, asked the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper about President Trump's business dealings involving Russia. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GRAHAM: General Clapper, during your investigation of all things Russia, did you ever find a situation where a Trump business interest in Russia gave you concern?

CLAPPER: Not in the course of the preparation of the intelligence community assessment.

GRAHAM: Since?

CLAPPER: I'm sorry?

GRAHAM: At all? Any time?

CLAPPER: Senator Graham, I can't comment on that because that impacts an investigation.

GRAHAM: It wasn't enough to put into the report?

CLAPPER: That's correct.


BLITZER: All right, Senator Coons, what does that tell you?

COONS: That tells me that there are some concerning ties between President Trump and his global real estate empire and Russian interests, or at least it certainly points in an intriguing direction.

I would have to review that more closely, because Director Clapper was very careful today. But what I heard in that tape strongly suggests that the ongoing FBI counterintelligence investigation ran into some ways in which real estate holdings by Trump and his family and investments in those holdings by Russians or by folks closely tied to Russian leadership may have raised legitimate concerns.

BLITZER: The Republicans today asked about unmasking. They asked about leaks. They asked about the president's travel ban, while Democrats, as you know, focused on Russian interference in the presidential election and Michael Flynn.

Is there a bipartisan mission here, because it seemed sort of divided today?

COONS: It was striking to me that, in the opening, a 50-year veteran of our intelligence community, former Director of National Intelligence Clapper, said, this is a pressing threat to America and to our democracy and it demands action and a response.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, and Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska both stood up and engaged that question.

You're right that, broadly speaking, most Republicans on the panel seemed to want to go down what I view as the rabbit hole of talking about unmasking and others asked questions about leaks and whether or not leaks were being investigated, always a legitimate concern. But there did not seem to be a broad bipartisan commitment to taking

on the challenge that Director Clapper laid in front of us, which is making clear that, on a bipartisan basis, we see the threat to our democracy and we're determined to act it take it on.

Senator Graham is leading a bipartisan bill with 20 bipartisan sponsors, 10 Republican, 10 Democrat, that if we moved it forward, would impose some real costs on Russia for their actions.

BLITZER: As you know, President Trump's travel ban is being heard by a dozen federal judges Richmond, Virginia, today. The judges are questioning a Department of Justice attorney who is trying to make the case that the executive order, the second one by the president, is not a Muslim ban and that the campaign statements should not apply, when the president said during the campaign he wanted a ban on Muslims.

What's your response to that?

COONS: My concern here is that there was not a significant change between the first and second executive order and that there were abundant statements on the course of the campaign trail by now President Trump about his intent, his desire to find a way to ban Muslims.

I will remind that you former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani reported publicly that candidate Trump in transition to his presidency called him and said, we have to figure out a way to make this Muslim ban work legally.

I think the court is likely to look that as probative evidence about what the actual intentions were of President Trump and senior members of his administration as they crafted these two executive orders.

BLITZER: Senator Coons, thanks very much for joining us.

COONS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead: Republicans go after former the acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to defend the president's travel ban.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Is it correct that the Constitution vests the executive authority in the president?


CRUZ: And if an attorney general disagrees with a policy decision of the president, a policy decision that is lawful, does the attorney general have the authority to direct the Department of Justice to defy the president's order?

[18:30:14] YATES: I don't know whether the attorney general has the authority to do that whether or not but I don't think that would be a good idea. And that's not what I did in this case.


BLITZER: More now on the breaking news. The former acting attorney general, Sally Yates, telling lawmakers she warned the White House that then-national security advisor Michael Flynn was "vulnerable to being blackmailed by the Russians."

Eighteen days later, Flynn was fired by President Trump. Let's dig deeper with the specialist and our analysts.

I guess the other point in all of this is not only is the president warned by Sally Yates, but earlier, two days after he was elected, elected on November 8. On November 10, the then-president told the then-president-elect, "Don't hire Michael Flynn as your national security adviser. There's a big problem there."

[18:35:45] DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: But it seems like that information was received by president-elect Trump only through a partisan lens. Only through the campaign that had just ended two days before which was his entire mindset obviously. Some might argue it still is in many ways. But we know he talks about the campaign a lot.

But back in that moment, he clearly was receiving that information according to Sean Spicer today, "Here's my predecessor who's no fan of Michael Flynn, and they fired them."

And so of course, he's going to say, I should. But we know that Donald Trump emerged from that meeting with President Trump [SIC] actually saying, "Well, I learned some things about health care that I now understand are important and maybe there are ways to keep pieces of President Obama's law that won't hurt too many people."

Some national security matters. North Korea, we know, he paid keen attention to that. But he did not pay attention, even though he had very little experience in national security matters, to hearing that there was a real concern from the sitting president about the guy he was naming as his national security advisor.

And I'm not sure that it was that he was digesting it through partisan lens as the White House is saying now. Because you're right, when he walked out of that meeting or when he was sitting in that meeting and talking about that meeting with President Obama, you could see that the sort of the weight of it all was coming down on him and he at the time seemed to be genuinely appreciative of the advice that he got and did not take it in a partisan way.

And that one of the reasons why he didn't heed President Obama's advice on Michael Flynn is, again, because he felt like he was personally over a barrel with regard to Michael Flynn. Not that Michael Flynn had something on Donald Trump, but because he felt such gratitude or loyalty or whatever it is that you want to call it to this guy who wanted to be national security adviser. Because he couldn't be anything else because the White House did know enough to know he wouldn't be confirmed probably or it would be a bumpy process.

BLITZER: And months at a time on the campaign he was at warm-up act at campaign rallies for the candidate. GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But it wasn't just Barack

Obama who warned him. I mean, I've reported that there were officials in the original transition who raised red flags to Donald Trump, particularly after they had their first intelligence...

CUOMO: This is when Chris Christie was running that transition.

BORGER: ... briefing. That's right, particularly after they had their first intelligence briefing. There were questions being raised not only by those folks but people in their -- on their national security team. Who also -- who also raised questions.

But every single time, Donald Trump would come back with, "He's been very loyal to me."

CHALIAN: And those folks were jettisoned. And Michael Flynn -- and Michael Flynn is. But again, as Dana point out, he didn't get state and he didn't get defense, which he also would have taken, because he would have had to be confirmed.

BLITZER: And today the White House is blaming the Obama administration for Michael Flynn. Earlier in the morning, the president tweeted, "General Flynn was given the highest security clearance by the Obama administration, but the fake news seldom likes talking about that."

Sean Spicer later said, you know, in April of 2016 it was the Obama administration that renewed his security clearances.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The trust that they had in Obama administration in hindsight is staggering.

BLITZER: They didn't do any additional vetting.

KUCINICH: No, that's the thing. And vetting for security clearance is not the same as vetting for the NSC. It's just not. It's a bigger position. It's an extremely important position. It may have been the most important position going into this White House.

And it sounds like, based on what Jim Acosta was reporting, that they didn't vet him at all. They just -- it was sort of like, "Well, this guy is on my team so that's going to be his job."

BASH: And James Clapper, who obviously, the Trump administration they viewed him through a partisan lens since he was -- even though he was a -- a life-long intelligence professional, he did most recently work for the Obama administration. He said in the hearing today that that is not how it works. You don't just, you know, kind of accept the clearance of former administration. You have to do former vetting when you have somebody at a high level like this.

BORGER: I think his quote was it is much more invasive and aggressive vetting.

BLITZER: James Clapper worked for 50 years in the U.S. intelligence community serving Democratic and Republican presidents. Everybody, stand by. More breaking news coming up. A critical court

hearing for President Trump's travel ban. We'll update you on that and all the breaking news right after this.


[18:44:48] BLITZER: There's more breaking news tonight. A critical court hearing on President Trump's revised travel ban. Our justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, is in Richmond, Virginia, for us tonight. That's where the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case.

Laura, almost the entire court heard arguments. Ten of the 13 federal judges were appointed, we should point out, by Democratic presidents.

[18:45:00] So, what happened?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: That's certainly true, Wolf. But both sides face some really tough questioning from the court this afternoon. The judges jumped right in, pressing the Justice Department to explain exactly how they are supposed to ignore statements from then candidate Donald Trump on the campaign when he spoke about Muslims.

One of the judges said this is the most important issue in the case. Another saying this is almost willful blindness. Take a listen.


JUDGE FLOYD: Surely after the executive order two was signed, Sean Spicer said the principles remain the same. Trump -- President Trump's statement concurrent with that time, you know my plans, Spicer, President Trump yesterday continued to deliver on campaign promises. Is there anything other than willful blindness that would present us from getting behind those statements?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Judge Floyd. Respect for a head of a coordinate branch and the presumption that officials act legally, which is to say the presumption of regularity. I think the Southeastern Legal Foundation part three of the brief does a great job -- by walking through what president made clear and granted he clarified this over time, but he made clear in months leading up to the election and after inauguration that what he was talking about was the threat from terrorist groups that operate in particular countries that have been designated a state sponsors of terror or designated as countries of concern because they are safe havens for terrorists.

He made clear he was not talking about Muslims all over the world. And that's why this is not a Muslim ban.


JARRETT: Now when he directed his questions to the plaintiff's attorney, Wolf, the issue really became, how do you remove the taint from this executive order if we're going to look at this campaign statement? The judges posed a series of rhetorical questions. One asking, well, maybe he could say sorry everyday. Another saying, well, are we supposed to look back what President Trump said in college?

And finally, Wolf, they said, if you can't remove the taint, how is the president supposed to protect the country?

BLITZER: All right. Laura, thank you. Laura Jarrett reporting for us from Richmond, Virginia.

Dana, I want to play a little clip. This is an exchange that Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general, had with Senator Ted Cruz on this very issue of why she was fired because she refused to go ahead and support the president's original travel ban. Listen to this exchange.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Is it correct that constitution vests the executive authority in the president?


CRUZ: And if an attorney general disagrees with a policy decision of the president, a policy decision that is lawful, does the attorney general have the authority to direct the Department of Justice to defy the president's order?

YATES: I don't know whether the attorney general has the authority to do that or not, but I don't think it would be a good idea. And that's not what I did in this case.

CRUZ: Well, are you familiar with 8 USC Section 1182?

YATES: Not off the top of my head, no.

CRUZ: Well, it is the binding statutory authority for the executive order that you refused to implement and that led to your termination. So, it is certainly a relevant and not terribly obscure statute.

By the expressed text of the statute, it says, quote: whenever the president finds that entry of any alien or any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interest of the United States, he may by proclamation and for such period as he shall deem necessary suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or non-immigrants or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem appropriate.

Would you agree that that is broad statutory authorization?

YATES: I would, and I am familiar with that. And I'm also familiar with an additional provision of the INE that says no person shall receive preference or be discriminated against an issuance of a visa because of race, nationality or place of birth. That I believe was promulgated after the statute you just quoted. And that's been part of the discussion with the courts with respect to the INA that this statute Trumps the first one you just described.

But my concern was not an INA concern here. It rather was a constitutional concern. Whether or not this -- the executive order here violated the Constitution specifically with the Establishment Clause and due process.


BLITZER: She basically crushed him.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I was going to say, Senator Cruz, you met your match. But crushed him is your word. And I think that that's just fine.

Look, he was trying to do legal gotcha with the code, and she said, you know, I'll hear your legal gotcha and one up you, which is the United States Constitution. That's what I was following. And, you know, it didn't work.

Look, not every attempt to kind of get at what she was trying to do went as bumpily as that one, but that was certainly one to remember.

[18:50:08] And Ted Cruz is the legal expert.

BLITZER: He's a very, very smart guy.

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: But he met his match.

BASH: He met his match.



DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: He did, but what he went on to say, and this is the crux of his argument and his complaint is that he believes she's making the argument that a litigant should be making in court, not what the acting attorney general should be making after the Office of Legal Counsel had ruled on this.

I'm just saying, he sort of agreed that she had an argument to make. He just thought she was making it in the wrong venue in that position.

BASH: That's fair.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But what they're trying to do is disqualify her as a liberal, right? I mean, the whole point of asking about the travel ban at this hearing and veering off in that direction was to kind of establish her bona fides if you're a Republican as somebody who is a liberal, was part of the Obama administration and shouldn't be trusted. And I don't think that succeed at all today.

BLITZER: And she really throughout all of these three hours of testimony today, she did remarkably well. You've got to admit. JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, she was very well

prepared for this hearing, for sure. One of the things she said, to your point, she seemed to try to take it back to what her job was, which was, you know, being true to the Constitution. Because she saw this, she thought this was unconstitutional and unlawful, that's why she chose to not --

BLITZER: It's very interesting, very interesting series of developments today on the Muslim ban from coming to the United States. During this extraordinary hearing in Richmond, Virginia, some of the judges asked, why is it still on the Trump campaign website, a ban on Muslims coming to the United States? Sean Spicer was asked about it at the briefing. He didn't know why it was still there.

Guess what happened? Shortly thereafter, it was removed from the campaign website. You can see it right there before and after.

BASH: And it's not like this is the first time it's been noted. I mean, Democrats have been saying this, we have been reporting it for, you know, however many days that the Trump administration has been as such, has been in office. So, it is -- it is noteworthy that it took the judges who are going to rule on this as a legal matter for them to realize, oh, wait a minute, it's still on there.

And this also came up as part of the question to Sally Yates about what her motivation was, and she even said that it was just like the judges have said, that it was something that the president, then- candidate said over and over again.

One quick thing I want to say about where Sally Yates is now versus before. You're right. She was now an acting position as attorney general, and she wasn't just a career person. But you know, she was attacked, Evan Perez did a story when he was at the "Wall Street Journal" about her being attacked by Democrats --


BASH: -- in 2009 because she went after Democrats in Atlanta for corruption. And so, they thought she was a Republican. So that kind of gives you a sense of where she falls, which is in the middle.

KUCINICH: She and Comey should get together --

BORGER: Now you know why people won't run for political office.

BLITZER: She was impressive today. There's no doubt about it.

All right. Just ahead, we'll have more on the breaking news, though. A warning to President Trump that his pick for national security adviser was vulnerable to be blackmailed by Russians.

Plus, another American now detained by North Korea. We're learning new information. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Another U.S. citizen is being held by North Korea tonight, the second American detained in three weeks.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.

You're getting new information, Brian. What are you learning?


This man's name is Kim Hak-song, born in China, educated in California. He was detained in North Korea over the weekend, suspected of, quote, hostile acts against Kim Jong-un's regime, according to state media. But the regime has not specified exactly what those acts were.

As Wolf mentioned, that makes two Americans now detained in North Korea over the past three weeks. Another American known as Tony Kim, that's a picture of him there, he was detained in late April in the same overall charge, committed, quote, hostile acts. Now, both these Americans, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song, are professors at this place, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. It's one of the few schools inside North Korea which employ foreign professors. They teach the children of North Korea's elite.

But analysts say in 2011, a writer named Suki Kim went undercover, posing as a professor at that university. She came out with a book in 2015 exposing the propaganda and isolation at the university. Experts say the North Korean security services might have recently gotten hold of the book and are now going after professors with connections to the U.S., Wolf. That's an intriguing story connecting that one undercover person to that book.

BLITZER: Yes. So, two American citizens in the last three weeks, but there are two other Americans who have been held much longer. There's a lot of military tension on the Korean peninsula right now.

TODD: A ton of tension, Wolf. Here you see the pictures of the four Americans, including a University of Virginia student, Otto Frederik Warmbier, they're being held in North Korea. Now, this comes as Kim Jong-un's regime has accused the U.S. and South Korea of plotting to assassinate Kim in a biochemical attack. South Korea's intelligence service says it knows nothing about an alleged plot.

You've also got the North Koreans conducting several missile tests recently, planning for just about what everyone believes is going to be a sixth nuclear bomb test coming up. And as Wolf mentioned, a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group is maneuver just off of the coast of the peninsula, so Kim could be holding these Americans, Wolf, as some kind of bargaining chip.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a tough, tough situation.

Brian Todd reporting for us, thanks very much.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.