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Interview With West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin; White House in Nonstop Chaos; Stopping North Korea; Defending Trump; Russia Responds to Trump Intel Sharing Reports; Senate Intel Committee Reacts to Trump Sharing Intel with Russia; Officials: Israel Was Source of Intel Trump Told Russia. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 16, 2017 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: What did the president not know and when did he not know it?

THE LEAD starts right now.

The White House national security adviser defending President Trump sharing intelligence with the Russians, saying today the president wasn't fully briefed and did not know where the information had come from. Why not?

Plus, deeply disturbing, downward spiral, very troubling -- Congress reacting to the stunning report, and those are just the Republicans.


Then, after its most successful missile launch yet, new clues show that North Korea was likely behind Friday's global cyber-attack. What's it going to take to stop Kim Jong-un?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Explanations today from the White House simply do not add up. In March, CNN's Evan Perez had learned from numerous officials that intelligence deemed credible said that ISIS was developing laptop computer bombs to be used on international flights.

Before reporting this on CNN, Perez talked to Trump administration officials, who cautioned Perez and subsequently CNN executives to not report certain details about the threat, including the city from which some of the intelligence was collected.

By reporting the city's name, Trump administration officials insisted, that would tip off American adversaries about sources and methods used to gather the intelligence. It would, they insisted, get people killed.

CNN did not report the details. CNN did not report the name of the city. But last night, "The Washington Post" reported -- and CNN has since confirmed -- that government officials say that President Trump in a meeting with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, revealed highly classified information about this specific ISIS laptop threat. "The Post" reported that the president -- quote -- "described how the

Islamic State was pursuing elements of a specific plot and how much harm such an attack could cause under varying circumstances. Most alarmingly, officials said, Trump revealed the city in the Islamic State's territory where the U.S. intelligence partner detected the threat" -- unquote.

It's the same city. It's the same city that CNN was cautioned not to report. But here's the president's national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, when asked earlier today about the president sharing the name of the city with the Russians.


H.R. MCMASTER, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: If you were to say, hey, from where do you think a threat might come from territory that ISIS controls, you would probably be able to name a few cities, I would think.

And so it was -- it was nothing that you would not know from open- source reporting in terms of a source of concern.


TAPPER: Again, this is the same city that intelligence officials say, if we told it to you right now, it would get people killed, but somehow we're simultaneously supposed to believe that President Trump sharing this information, the city and more with a U.S. adversary, Russia, is -- quote -- "wholly appropriate," as McMaster said repeatedly today.

That's a term he also seemed to define in terms of, if a president does it in the name of national security, it is by definition appropriate.

Now, last night, after the story came out, the Trump administration originally pushed back against the notion that President Trump had divulged sources and methods of intelligence-gathering, which neither "The Washington Post" nor CNN had reported.

What we all had reported is what the government was saying back in March, when we showed the restraint with publication, the same restraint that the president did not show with Russian officials, that he shared information that then, as now, could lead to U.S. adversaries, say, I don't know, Russia, using counterintelligence to try to figure out how the U.S. knows what it knows.

And just so you know, as of today, before this broadcast, we are still being told by the Trump administration to not report the name of the city, and we won't.

The White House is in damage control mode once again.

And Jim Acosta is at the White House for us.

And, Jim Acosta, I have to say, once again, it seems as though the president is undercutting members of his own White House team who are providing what they hope are explanations for things he has done.


The president did that last week when it came to the firing of FBI director Jim Comey. He is doing it this week when it comes to this information he shared with the Russians. And as for that information, we should pass on that U.S. sources are telling us here at CNN that the source of that information that the president provided to the Russians was the -- was the government of Israel.

At least some of that information came from Israeli sources. And all of that is unfolding as the White House is still refusing to say that the president even shared classified information with the Russians, as the stonewalling here at the White House continues.


QUESTION: Did you reveal classified information to the Russians, sir?

ACOSTA (voice-over): For President Trump , the question of the day is not about his meeting with the president of Turkey. It's about the meeting the president had last week with top Russian officials in the Oval Office, where he shared classified information that came from a key U.S. ally, Israel, on threats posed by ISIS terrorists.


QUESTION: Mr. President, did you share classified intelligence with the Russians?

ACOSTA: But time and again in front of the cameras, the president would not answer the question, opting instead to offer a general assessment of his Russian encounter.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had a very, very successful meeting with the foreign minister of Russia. Our fight is against ISIS. We're going to have a lot of great success over the next coming years

ACOSTA: The president defended his information-sharing on Twitter. "As president, I wanted to share with Russia in an openly scheduled White House meeting, which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety, humanitarian reasons. Plus, I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS and terrorism."

MCMASTER: It's wholly appropriate for the president to share whatever information he thinks is necessary to advance the security of the American people.

ACOSTA: National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster also declined to answer whether the president disclosed classified information. McMaster said the president didn't know where the information came from, a jaw-dropping moment for reporters in the Briefing Room.

MCMASTER: I just should make maybe the statement here that the president wasn't even aware, you know, of where this information came from. He wasn't briefed on the source and method of the information either. So I'm sorry. This is going to have to be the last question, because we do have the president of Turkey coming, I think, momentarily. Thank you very much.

ACOSTA: For McMaster, it was yet another careful explanation of the president's actions, after he first cautiously danced around whether Mr. Trump shared classified information.

MCMASTER: At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed.

ACOSTA: The president is now coming under criticism for something he accused Hillary Clinton of during the campaign.

TRUMP: We can't have someone in the Oval Office who doesn't understand the meaning of the word confidential or classified.

ACOSTA: Leaders from both parties appear to be showing signs of exhaustion from a White House in nonstop chaos.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I think it would be helpful to have less drama emanating from the White House.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The truth, as it were, sits atop shifting sands in this administration.


ACOSTA: And it does appear that the information that the president provided to the Russians did concern some members of this administration.

We're told that one key member of the administration, the homeland security adviser, counterterrorism adviser, Tom Bossert, was one of those officials who raised concerns over here, Jake. And I'm told that CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who is expected to talk to members of the House intelligence community -- committee -- later on this evening, he is expected to field questions about the president's meeting with the Russians and what he shared with the Russians last week -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jim Acosta at the White House for us, thank you so much.

Questions being raised, of course, about whether or not President Trump can be trusted with classified information. Our next guest just left a classified hearing with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. The latest revelation from the White House that President Trump shared

classified information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak is raising questions, to say the least, on Capitol Hill.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: My point is that Lavrov never should have been in the Oval Office to start with. He's -- the Russians used precision weapons to kill innocent women and children in hospitals in Aleppo. I would -- I cannot imagine why he would ever be allowed in the Oval Office.


TAPPER: Members of Congress want to know much more about what President Trump told Lavrov and Kislyak.

Joining me now is Senator Joe Manchin. He's a Democrat from West Virginia.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Good to be with you, Jake.

TAPPER: So, you just came out of an Intelligence Committee briefing.

Has the administration briefed committee members on what President Trump did disclose to the Russians?

MANCHIN: No. No, that hasn't been done, Jake. We would like for that to be done. If there's a tape, if there's any of that transcript, we want to see it.

TAPPER: So, you're calling for the tape or the transcript to be shared with the Intelligence Committee.

What do you know about the nature of the information, beyond what CNN and "The Washington Post" and others have reported?

MANCHIN: Well, basically, what they have been reporting is things that has been talked about. I don't know the verification they have and their sources.

The only thing I can say, Jake, is, there's 19 senators out of 100 that are privileged to that type of information, whatever it may be, at that high classified level. That means 81 senators, I can't talk to. When I come out of these meetings, I can't talk to them. They ask me direct questions. I can't answer them.

If I do, I'm going to get thrown off the committee, or even worse. With that being said, I'm very much concerned about people and our allies and our intelligence community might be put at risk.

TAPPER: So, as I said at the top of the show, when CNN was about to report and break the story of the laptop bomb threat in March, the Trump administration really pushed back and made sure that we did not provide certain key details about the threat, including the name of the city where some of this intelligence came from.

But we know -- the White House has confirmed that President Trump shared the name of the city. Explain for our viewers, if you will, why that name going to the Russians is so problematic for so many people.

MANCHIN: Jake, that's just something I'm not going to delve into. I'm just not going to do that.

TAPPER: OK, fair enough.

But you have called the news that came out last night deeply troubling. Explain why you feel it's deeply troubling.

MANCHIN: Well, deeply troubling because, when you think about, we have the most intricate, professional intelligence-gathering community in the world, the United States of America.

And we have allies, Jake, around the world that depend on us, as well as we depend on them. There's been a trust factor there for many, many years in place that's kept our country safe.

Even with the things that have happened, we have been kept, with the biggest target on our back in the Western world, fairly safe. Is that all going to be for naught now, if they don't think they can share this information or won't do the job because they think it makes them vulnerable? That's why it's so troubling to me that people in relationships and people's lives could be in jeopardy.

TAPPER: And we know now that the intelligence, at least some of it, it was shared with the United States from Israel. Do you worry about how this might affect the strategic relationship between this close ally, the United States has and the Middle East, and the United States?

MANCHIN: Jake, with all due respect, I'm not going to confirm or deny or any of that, speaking about that. I really am not.

TAPPER: I hear you. I understand.

MANCHIN: No one really should.

TAPPER: All right. National Security Adviser McMaster said today that the president did not know that the information was classified when he shared it. In fact, he said, quote, he wasn't even aware of where the information came from.

You deal with classified information frequently. Our viewers have seen how careful and cautious you are. How could the president not be aware?

MANCHIN: Can't answer, that Jake. Whoever briefed him, he knew enough to be talking about what he talked about in generalities. They should have been briefed on that, and I can assure you anything with sensitive information has top secret classified classification on top of it, classified, top secret. That means it doesn't leave that person, doesn't leave that position or that area, and it stays right there. You either see what you see and you keep it to yourself.

I can't explain this at all. I really can't. I wish we had an explanation, but I can't.

TAPPER: Can the president be trusted with classified information, sir?

MANCHIN: Well, I would just -- I'm hoping -- I'm really hoping, Jake, that someone is able to sit down with the president and get him to the level of all the people in the world, not just 330 million Americans, that depend on us to get it and get it right, and to protect them also and to be able to make decisions based on intelligence, information that we received, that nobody else has.

If that is not basically what the allies can trust us with, it's going to make it very difficult. He's our president. I want to work with this president. I've tried to work with the present administration, and I will continue to do so, but I would caution him, caution him to -- to be extremely careful.

Russia is not our ally. Russia is not our friend. Russia does not wish the American -- the United States of America or the American people well, that we know.

We have trusted allies who have fought with us in every war. They have been willing to fight and die for us for the same causes we believe in. We know who our friends are and we know who we can trust. We've relied on their information exchanges back and forth for many, many years, and the same with us to them. With that, you ought to stick with your friends.

TAPPER: Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, thank you so much, sir.

MANCHIN: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: What does Russia have to say about the classified information President Trump shared with a Russian ambassador/spy and the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office? We'll go to Moscow next. Stay with us.


[16:22:20] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The world lead now. A guarded response from the Kremlin after reports that President Trump shared highly classified information with Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting last week. On a conference call with journalists today, a Russian spokesman -- a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin interrupted a question on the topic to quickly dismiss the reports as, quote, utter nonsense.

Matthew Chance at CNN's Moscow bureau joins us now. And, Matthew, the Kremlin is coming off as, shall we say, irritated

over this latest controversy in Washington.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, irritated, Jake, if not absolutely angry. I mean, Dmitry Peskov, who is Putin's spokesman who we spoke earlier on the conference call, didn't even want to let us finish the question before he interrupted saying, look, this is nonsense, and I haven't got any comment on this. He said, we absolutely do not want any relationship to this nonsense and then he refused to answer any further questions even subsequently. So, a pretty categorical response there from the Kremlin.

On the foreign ministry's part (ph), they also speak to us, not many officials do, but the foreign ministry does as well. The foreign ministry spokeswoman was scathing, she called the allegations part of an information campaign to create evidence of Trump connections with Russia, and she also recommended that people don't read American newspapers because she said that they are dangerous.

But, of course, Jake, all these comments, frustration, underlying just how concerned the Kremlin is because they really believe or they real --

TAPPER: Matthew --

CHANCE: It could be a real relationship that could brew with the White House, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Matthew Chance, thank you so much.

So, what does sharing intelligence of this nature with Russia mean for the source of the actual information and America's ability to rely on other nation's foreign intelligence in the future?

Stick around.


[16:26:54] TAPPER: We have some breaking news now. Let's go live to Capitol Hill where the ranking Republican and the Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committees are talking.

Let's listen in.

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: -- confidence or possibly shake your confidence.

REPORTER: Is your confidence shaken at all?

BURR: Not until we have a conversation with individuals that were in the meeting so we know what was said.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Let's give us a chance. This happened -- was reported yesterday. There's been quite a flurry, you know, trying to go the extra mile. We owe the White House a chance to present us with the information, present us with the truth. We want to know from people in the room, but we also want to see if there are, again, these supposed transcripts that we get a copy of.

BURR: You've got to understand that, inherently, Mark and I are concerned any time we hear or read an intelligence story in the media. We believe that things that are that sensitive should not be part of the news cycle.

REPORTER: Do you think that there is a national security risk then when U.S. officials or people who are in these meetings keep leaking out --

BURR: I think there's a national security risk anytime anything about the intelligence community is reported publicly and leaks are a definite concern that we have of this administration.

REPORTER: The White House insists the president's actions were wholly appropriate. Do you take their explanation at face value?

BURR: Well, I would prefer to have a conversation with an individual that was in the room about what actually was said and then we can legitimately comment about whether we have concerns about what was said.

REPORTER: Sir, have you had trouble in getting in touch with the White House today regarding --

BURR: We've had a very busy day but we hope to talk to them before we leave.

REPORTER: Are you optimistic --


BURR: We're optimistic we'll get an answer.

REPORTER: What have they said to your request for transcript?

BURR: We don't know if there is a transcript, but somebody made notes.


TAPPER: All right. That was chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Burr of North Carolina, and the ranking Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia, talking about the big story that we're covering, what exactly did President Trump tell Russian officials that may or may have been highly classified.

More in our world lead now. A short while ago, U.S. and diplomatic officials confirmed to CNN that Israel was the source of some of the classified intelligence that President Trump shared with Russians last week. This comes as intelligence experts are warning of major if not deadly repercussions, including the potential loss of American lives and key intelligence sources.

Let's bring in CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

And, Barbara, there is a very real concern among officials that this could cause serious damage to U.S. efforts to counter ISIS.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Very serious, Jake. Look, when you want to share intelligence with the Russians, the U.S. intelligence community has very specific procedures and policies how to go about doing that. But it looks in this case very much like the president made an ad hoc decision by himself.


STARR (voice-over): CNN has learned that Israel provided some of the classified information on terrorism and aviation security that President Trump shared with Russian officials in the Oval Office. Sharing that Israeli intelligence caused dismay across Capitol Hill, the intelligence community and in some world capitals.

One European diplomat telling CNN: It's a big deal and we want to make sure sensitive information is handled properly.