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White House in Nonstop Chaos; Stopping North Korea; Defending Trump. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 16, 2017 - 16:30   ET



BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: One European diplomat telling CNN: "It's a big deal. And we want to make sure sensitive information is handled properly."

The problem? The very sensitive intelligence came from another country, which had not given its permission to share it with the Russians, according to "The Washington Post," which broke the story.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The Russians could figure out exactly what that source was, and they could then take that information that they get from this revelation and they could then spoof the source.

STARR: Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, a top Russian spy, was in the room. In the world of Russian espionage, he would know how to use what the president told him.

LEIGHTON: If it's a human source, that human source could be fed all kinds of information that may not be true, or it will be true enough, but there will be a detail that will endanger operatives, it will endanger potential operations against ISIS.

STARR: The Russians could also feed fake information into vital communications intercepts, secretly changing the overall picture for the U.S. of terror plotting. It's not clear if President Trump knew the sensitivity of sharing another country's intelligence.

H.R. MCMASTER, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The president wasn't even aware, you know, of where this information came from. He wasn't briefed on the source or method of the information either.

STARR: Some members of Congress don't believe it's a major breach, but there may be long-term damage.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The rest of the world is now going to say, hey, we're never going to share information with any intelligence community members of the United States, because they are going to give it to the president, and he's going to share it with our potential adversaries.


STARR: So, if you take the administration's position that it's all OK, the question McMaster got today is, why did his own aides find it necessary to call the intelligence community after the meeting with the Russians?

Mr. McMaster suggesting it was possibly out of an abundance of caution -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us, thank you.

Joining me now is Lisa Monaco. She is the former homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to President Obama.

Lisa, thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.


TAPPER: So, I know you want to stay out of the politics of this and just talk about the facts.

Based on your experience, might this revelation stop Israel and other allies from providing the U.S. with intelligence?

MONACO: Well, look, I don't know what information was shared, and I don't know the origin of that information and which partner was the one to provide it to us.

But I think we have got to be very concerned about what an episode like this does with respect to the relationships that we have built up over many, many years.

Let's step back a minute, Jake. Since 9/11, over the course of the Bush administration, the Obama administration and through work from the CIA, FBI, across our national security community, tremendous relationships have been built up with what we call liaison partners. That's the CIA equivalent, the FBI equivalent in other countries.

And the information from those partners has been the source of vital intelligence, in fact, intelligence that I know for a fact has stopped plots. So those relationships, they are built on trust. The currency of those relationships is trust.

If that account, that trust account is depleted because of episodes like this, my colleagues in the national security community are going to be very worried that that information won't be forthcoming in the future, and that poses a risk to national security.

TAPPER: In March 2015, when were you still in the White House, ISIS claimed that it had found an Israeli spy in their midst, and they executed this individual. Is there anything about that you can tell us?

MONACO: Nothing that I can share, no.

TAPPER: Is there a risk that if information is made public that comes from a possible spy, that ISIS will hunt for the mole? MONACO: Sure.

Well, what we know is that terrorist groups, al Qaeda, ISIS and others, have absolutely undertaken what we call mole hunts, searches for spies in their midst when they see information appear in the public realm and when they see that there's information that we're witting of, that we understand, about their plotting activities, and then they go and they hunt down the spies in their midst.

And that both cost lives and, again, imperils very sensitive access to national security information that's vital to protect the homeland.

TAPPER: So, CNN's Evan Perez back in March broke the story of the laptop bomb threat. He was then and continues today cautioned by the Trump administration not to report the name of the city where the intelligence on the laptops came from.

How would that information be OK to share with the Russians, but not with the American people through the media?

MONACO: The concern, I imagine, would be, Jake, that, particularly in a place like Syria, where the United States does not have a presence, has not had a presence for some time, the access to information there through our partners, through sources on the ground is very fragile.


The intelligence community considers it very fragile and very fleeting. So, anything that jeopardizes, provides a detail about the source of information and could expose one of those axes, that's a real danger and imperils the source of that information.

TAPPER: Whether or not it's in a media report to the public or sharing it with the U.S. adversary like Russia.

MONACO: Well, that's exactly right.

I mean, certainly, I spent a lot of time when I was in the White House being upset when I saw information about plotting appear in the newspaper. But when you're talking about sharing information, sensitive information with an adversary, a very aggressive adversary in the intelligence realm, you're going to be worried that they can take that piece of information, add it to a number of other pieces of information that they have at their disposal, and put a picture together that may not be in our interest for them to have.

Let's remember, Russia is not our friend. Our interests are not aligned in Syria and in many other parts of the world. It is true that Vladimir Putin has said many times he wants to go after ISIS in Syria. We have seen precious little of that. What we have seen is Russia's interest in propping up its client, Bashar al-Assad.

TAPPER: Take a listen to what National Security Adviser McMaster said about President Trump's knowledge about the information that he shared. Take a listen.


MCMASTER: He shares information in a way that's wholly appropriate.

And I should just make -- I should just 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 or method of the information either.


TAPPER: McMaster suggesting there that kind of just came up in conversation, that the president was just sharing this information on an ad hoc basis.

Is there usually a process for a president sharing intelligence with the Russians or even with a closer ally like the U.K.?

MONACO: In my experience and over the time I spent in the White House, Jake, in preparation for any meeting with a foreign -- a foreign leader or a representative of a foreign country, whether it's by the president or myself or the national security adviser, there was a rigorous process that went into developing a strategy for that meeting, what should be the main points that are made certainly by the president.

It would be preceded by a briefing by experts, career professionals in the National Security Council staff to let the president know, here are some potential pitfalls, some areas to be concerned about, things that may come up, some things you may want to raise, some things you may want to be aware of, not going too far in certain areas.

And the preparation, importantly, Jake, for those meetings and certainly for any meeting by the president with a Russian official is going to be vetted by the experts in the National Security Council staff, from the intelligence community. And there's going to be careful thought and vetting that goes into what gets said in that meeting.

TAPPER: Or at least that's how it used to be done.

Lisa Monaco, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

And a program note, tonight, a CNN exclusive. Anderson Cooper talks to former acting Attorney General Sally Yates in her first television interview since President Trump fired her. You can see it only on "A.C. 360" at 8:00 p.m. Eastern tonight.

They just conducted their most successful missile test yet. Is North Korea also putting together a secret army to attack the United States on another front?

That story next.


[16:42:45] TAPPER: Welcome back TO LEAD.

Let's stick with politics.

And we will dive in with our august panel.

Julia Ioffe, let me start with you. You have a piece in "The Atlantic" talking about how Russians are always trying to use the common terrorist threat as a way of cozying up to the United States, but it's almost always done in a self-serving way.


That's especially the case after 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea. Beforehand, there was some cooperation. The Russians, for example, warned the U.S. about the Tsarnaev brothers. They're the ones who blew up the Boston Marathon in 2013.

There were other moments of cooperation. But after 2014, when Russia found itself isolated and under international sanctions, they have been trying to use Syria and terrorism as an excuse to kind of worm their way back in into Western kind of geopolitical circles.

And it's usually -- you know, they are doing their own thing and it's often raising the alarm -- sounding alarm bells of organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch. They don't need our help. What they are trying to say to the West is, you need our help.

TAPPER: Right.

IOFFE: So you need -- for that, you need to bring us out of isolation. You need to lift sanctions. You need to bring us back into the fold.

It's not about counterterrorism.

TAPPER: And, Susan, we just heard Lisa Monaco saying that the Russians have been trying this before. Oh, you know, we will join you in the fight against ISIS. But, at the end of the day, they don't actually try to fight against ISIS. They end up killing other moderate groups and propping up Bashar al-Assad in Syria, because that's really what they have.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": But, of course, they have a very friendly voice or friendly ear, I guess, when it comes to President Trump, who is making the same arguments, that he's less concerned about human rights, he's less concerned about spreading democracy, and he's more concerned about the fight against ISIS and more interested in kind of transactional relationship, where maybe they would do something to serve our interests, and we would look the other way on things that involve their interests.

TAPPER: It's so weird just watching this all play out.

People on Twitter -- and I guess it's not tough to predict anymore. President Trump, somebody reports something shocking that President Trump has done. President Trump's staff comes up with a story, whether it's the Rosenstein memo or, no, this "Washington Post" story is not true or whatever.

And they squander all this capital. And then President Trump in an interview or sends a tweet basically confessing to what everybody reported on him doing in the first place.


I mean, this is who he is. I mean, we have been watching him for 18 months, two years. And in this particular instance, look, I think we're in the middle of assessing if this -- this is somewhere in between oh, my gosh, treason, and maybe not such a huge deal, and we're trying to figure out where we are.

That's the whole of this Presidency is going to be that. There was some things about McMaster's testimony that were reassuring, that look, the cover wasn't blown and this wasn't compromised, our relations weren't - our relationship weren't compromised but some of his - Trump's story and some of what happens in the aftermath of this meeting seems to contradict though, like going and seeming to do some damage control. It's within the rights of the President to disclose things, but there is a process for doing that. And President Trump to his - to his fans delight on the trail is not a man who is careful with words or parsing what he can say and cannot say and what is wise to say and what he shouldn't say and that's going to come out in exactly these meetings.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD ANCHOR: And Susan, what's so odd about this is just when Evan Perez broke the story of the laptop computer threat back in March and Trump administration officials then and today are continuing to tell Evan and CNN don't report these specific details, including the name of the city where this Intel came from. Don't report it because it could cost people's lives, it will damage national security. This is the same information that McMaster and others admitted today Trump shared with the Russians.

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: And this is not a sustainable storyline for any President that last week he fires the FBI Director who is investigating his campaign. This week he engages in behavior that make - raises questions about how deeply he understands the classified information, international relations, the place of the United States in the global system. This is - this may not be treason, but it is definitely a big deal, and it comes on the heels of another big deal last week, and you cannot - it seems to me, week after week have a President who is careening from crisis to crisis. We see the cost already when it comes to his support among republicans on Capitol Hill. You see republicans going a little further each - with each one of these to distance themselves from Trump or to criticize the President and tell them to cut it out.

TAPPER: Right. Is it unsustainable because here's my question, do you think republicans are actually ever going to - is there a Howard Baker among this group or is it ultimately just, well, I want to hear more from the White House or I'm a little concerned?

How long did it take from the Watergate break-in to Nixon's resignation, about two years?

TAPPER: I was like three at the time. I can't tell you.

JULIA IOFFE, THE ATLANTIC STAFF WRITER: I was not yet born. But I hear from you know, people are saying it was about two years and I think this is in some ways, unfortunately, this echoes what we've been - what people were saying throughout the campaign. This is not sustainable. His campaign can't careen from crisis to crisis. He's alienating republicans, republicans on the Hill, mainstream republicans, but his support is still like 80 percent among republicans, among the base, and in some ways that's how representative democracy works. The leaders - the republican leaders on the Hill can't just, you know - you know, sniffle at that and toss it on the bus.

HAM: Well, I think that's why the distinction between something like treason and a big deal is a real big deal because if you are like the President as many of his critics are careening as well, people do not view you as a reliable narrator as well. We've already got one unreliable narrator in the President and my -

TAPPER: You're talking about critics on the left that are -

HAM: Yes. And if careening constantly just as the President does then that is not a good look for you and you're not trustworthy. So I think that's part of this as well and how it translates in the public square.

PAGE: But it's different from a campaign. You can careen from crisis to crisis in a campaign and you can come across as the disrupter, something a Americans - lot of American voters were interested in, but when you're the President of the United States, there are real consequences to decisions you make.

HAM: Something I worry about.

PAGE: There are - there are economic consequences that will affect course of the economy. There are geopolitical consequences that will - that will affect our ability to work with other nations on things that really matter. The reality of the job and the reality of the consequences of the stuff the President takes are going to matter and they're going to matter more and more. We're only in what, day - what is it, Day 115? We've got 1,000 more days to go.

TAPPER: Yes. True.

IOFFE: But I just want to say though. The problem with this and after the 2016 campaign is what is reality? If you look - if you watch Fox News which, you know, a huge portion of the country does, last week talking about the Russia investigation, they weren't talking about the Russia investigation, they were talking about the Russia conspiracy. So they've already --

TAPPER: How well was a conspiracy theory -

IOFFE: Right. So they've already - they've already delivered the verdict to a huge number of Americans, a huge number of very active American voters that this is not an investigation but just a witch- hunt and a conspiracy. So -

HAM: But other side has delivered a conclusion as well and that's the problem. You've got these two poles and the truth probably is somewhere in the middle and if you want to make a case responsibly against President Trump, you have to recognize that body in there and convince people of it. That's what I think -

IOFFE: But the word conspiracy is not exactly a responsible word as opposed to investigation. And what I'm saying is that -

HAM: (INAUDIBLE) proven.

IOFFE: What I'm saying is that, much like in Russia, unfortunately, the American public is increasingly coming to inhabit two parallel informational planes, parallel planes do not intersect and they live in two parallel informational realities. How do - how do you bridge that gap? How do you make sure people have the same set of facts? That's very hard to do.

[16:50:12] TAPPER: We're trying to do that by being the channel that you're not referring to here at CNN. I just want to play a little bite from Mitch McConnell who asked about what happened and this was his response.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R) KENTUCKY: I think we can do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things so that we can focus on our agenda.


TAPPER: This is a big problem that republicans voice all the time is they want - the reason that they are biting their tongues, the Paul Ryans and Mitch McConnells of the world, is so that a republican agenda can pass, tax reform, etcetera, health care, and they all lose the ability to do that.

HAM: Yes. I mean, none of this President's moves are highly strategic, and I think it's possible, really believable, that someone inside the White House who's even an ally of Trump's, a close ally could have said, he needs a broadside on this kind of thing to understand that this is really the gravity of these situations, and that is a real problematic and something I worried about the campaign.

TAPPER: Oh yes. The calls are coming from inside the House to a quote, "he knows you're alone." Thanks one and all for being here, really appreciate it. Be sure to tune in tonight for a CNN special event. CNN's Dana Bash and I will be moderating a live debate between Ohio Governor John Kasich and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. It all starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only hear at CNN. More in our "WORLD LEAD," just days after North Korea conducted its most successful ballistic missile test yet, security experts are worrying that the Kim Jong-un regime may have launched secret offenses in cyberspace. The world's top cyber security experts are pointing to evidence that North Korea may be behind the massive global ransomware attack which infected 300,000 computers in 150 countries. CNN's Will Ripley joins me now. And Will, why do experts say that North Korea could be behind the massive global cyber-attack?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, these really are the top minds in the world. And what their looking at is what I'm going to show you right now. These lines of code that don't make much sense to you and me but if you look on the screen you see code from WannaCry, the malware in this latest attack and then also code from the Lazarus group which was tied to the Sony Pictures hack in 2014 which the U.S. has blamed on North Korea and actually charged North Korea for that attack. You look at the two boxes, and you can see sections of code that are exactly the same. That's what the researchers are looking at. It's not definitive. These are early days, it could be a false flag planted by another hacking group to make it look like North Korea but this is what they are thinking and there are similarities by other hacking attacks by North Korea. This was a major attack. 300,000 machines affected in 150 different countries. Critical infrastructure, hospitals shut down as a result of this, so real lives at stake and they can do this attack again if they don't figure out who is responsible and try to block them.

TAPPER: So Will, if North Korea was indeed behind the attack and it's not conclusive yet but if they were what kind of new threat does that North Korea pose to the world. This is just another front in which they are gaining ammunition.

RIPLEY: Obviously the United States, China, Russia, all have cyber armies but we know North Korea is growing it's considerably. They have just have under 7,000 cyber hacker soldiers according to South Korea and what these people are tasked to do is try to hack into government systems and steal cyber weapons. For example, the U.S. has for years reportedly tried to sabotage North Korean missile launches by conducting cyber-attacks. If North Korea would have --steals those kind of cyber weapons and use them against the U.S., the President of Microsoft compared it in conventional weapons terms to someone stealing your tomahawk missiles and using them against you. And that's not to mention also the huge financial damage that Bangladesh bank heist, the financial losses were close to $100 million. That was also blamed on North Korea back in 2016.

TAPPER: And Will, I understand the U.N. is holding an emergency meeting on North Korea right now, but whether it's the cyber-attack or the expanding missile program, is there anything that can really be done to stop North Korea at this point unless China really exerts itself?

RIPLEY: Well, that's what the U.N. Ambassador to - the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley is speaking about. She spokes just moments ago and she said look, she goes against the allegations from Russia that somehow the United States is intimidating North Korea. She said it's North Korea doing the intimidating not only with this cyber activity but also with this missile launch over the weekend, believed to be North Korea's most successful launch ever, went so high it was essentially almost in outer space before crashing down to 60 miles from Russia's pacific fleet. And we know that North Korea is developing more of these missiles. They've told me on the ground there repeatedly when I have visited Pyongyang, they will continue to develop these weapons.

TAPPER: All right, Will Ripley, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Turning to our "MONEY LEAD" now, automaker Ford could soon make deep cuts in its staff following months of sliding stock prices and stalling U.S. sales. The Wall Street Journal is reporting a new round of job cuts could affect 10 percent of its global workforce which is about 20,000 jobs worldwide. Reuters and The Detroit News say the staff reduction plan would affect salaried workers who do not have union protection, mostly in North America and Asia. That means the plan may not affect 57,000 hourly employees here in the U.S. who work on assembly lines, the kinds of jobs that President Trump has pledged to help create. Ford is staying mum so far about these reports, refusing to either confirm or deny them, but there have been signs the job cuts could be coming. Last September Ford announced it's looking to reduce costs by $3 billion on heels of sharply lower first quarter earnings.

So just why is it so problematic for officials to reveal that Israel was the source of some of the intelligence that President Trump shared with the Russians? A member of the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committee will weigh in next. Stay with us.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: Happening now, breaking news, major breach.