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Did Trump Share Israeli Intelligence?; Republicans Defend Trump Revealing Classified Information to Russians; Chaos in the White House. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired May 16, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to continue on. You're watching CNN, breaking news here. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
We have just learned, as we just reported, that CNN is reporting that Israel, Israel was the source of some of the information President Trump shared with the Russians in the Oval Office one week ago.
President Trump just called that meeting with top Russian officials, which has sent his already battered White House into an entirely new crisis as -- quote, unquote -- he says "very successful."
But that's far from how several sources are describing it to CNN. They confirm details first reported in "The Washington Post" that President Trump revealed highly classified information to both the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador when they visited the White House last Wednesday.
Just a short time ago, National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster was in the room when the president met with the Russians and the national security adviser stressed that the president did absolutely nothing wrong.
McMaster also provided the context of what the president was saying at the time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
H.R. MCMASTER, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Then the president was emphasizing that we have some common interests here. We have to work together in some critical areas. And we have an area of cooperation with transnational terrorist organizations, ISIS in particular, an organization that had already taken down a Russian airliner and murdered over 200 people in October of 2015.
And so this was the context of the conversation in which it was wholly appropriate to share what the threat was as a basis for common action and coordination.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: All right, let's go to CNN chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper, also anchor of "STATE OF THE UNION" and "THE LEAD."
Jake, in addition to that, to the breaking news, sources tell you, they tell Jim Sciutto that the president did expose this classified information. So, in the intelligence community, folks you are talking to, what is their biggest fear?
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the biggest fear -- H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, and others in the senior levels of the Trump administration, when they pushed back on this story originally yesterday, they were saying the president did not divulge sources and methods, and then again McMaster today even saying that the president doesn't know sources and methods and indeed the idea of where this intelligence came from.
But the fear is that because of what President Trump did divulge to the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador, who, by the way, the intelligence community says is a spy and a spy recruiter, that that information is enough to be able to try to figure out the sources and methods, that, correct, the president didn't say where the information came from, but the idea that what he said might be so specific that the Russians doing counterintelligence, trying to figure out where U.S. intelligence comes from, that will enable them to figure it out.
And we should note that some of the information that the president said in this meeting with these Russian officials is information that we in the media know about the laptop computer threat from ISIS, but that we in the media had not reported because we had been told, don't report it, it will put people's lives at risk.
BALDWIN: Right. Right. We knew that in March, in fact.
What do you think of the fact that they moved up that briefing several hours earlier, that it wasn't Sean Spicer handling those questions, it was the national security adviser? And how much of the message today, Jake, essentially what I'm asking is, for the press vs. Republicans and Democrat Democrats down the road on Capitol Hill?
TAPPER: Well, Jeff Zeleny has reported that a senior administration official said that McMaster's appearance earlier in the day was to calm Republicans on Capitol Hill.
General McMaster is widely respected on both sides of the aisle. He's somebody who is respected within the Pentagon, a very brilliant man. But, that said, it's very clear that General McMaster is on a sort of cleanup duty.
He was not specific about whether or not President Trump shared classified information. He wouldn't go into that detail. He said that what the president did was wholly appropriate, and then he went to kind of define what wholly appropriate it is.
He said when the president of the United States shares information in the interest of national security, doing what he thinks is right for national security, it is de facto wholly appropriate. So, he was kind of defining the term that he was using. Look, there's
no cleaning this up. This is cleanup duty by White House senior administration officials . They put out one of their most respected individuals, H.R. McMaster, to talk about it. And that's why they did.
BALDWIN: OK, Jake, thank you so much. And we will see you tonight right here on CNN, 9:00 Eastern, for this debate between Bernie Sanders and John Kasich.
Also, this morning, the president tweeted that he has -- quote -- "the absolute right" to share information with the Russians. And minutes after his national security adviser briefed reporters, the president said this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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. As General McMaster said, I thought he said and I know he feels that we had actually a great meeting with the foreign minister.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: All right, so I have with me here Richard Nephew, who was the director for Iran on the national security staff under President Obama. He also the principal deputy coordinator for sanctions policy at the State Department. Also with us, Graham Brookie, who served on the National Security Council also in the Obama White House.
So, gentlemen, welcome.
And now that we have this new information, Richard, let me just turn to you. The fact that it was Israel as the source for this classified information, you are not surprised?
RICHARD NEPHEW, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I am not surprised.
I think a lot of the most high-quality intelligence information the United States gets from partners comes from Israel, as well as from our NATO allies. It's no surprise at all that Israel is the source.
BALDWIN: Do you think that, as this is one of the countries that President Trump will be visiting in the upcoming days, in addition to other major foreign leaders, despite the fact that -- quote -- "Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship," how is Israel going to take this and other allies going to take this?
NEPHEW: Yes, it's definitely going to come up.
I think a lot of people in Israel, especially in the intelligence community, are going to be furious about the risks that are taken with their information to their sources and methods.
You have to remember that they have got people who are risking their lives to collect this information. They may have taken significant policy and political risks to get this information. And now they see it all going to somebody that they didn't have any control over. And that's the most important part here. There's a process to do this right, and it simply wasn't followed.
Graham, to you. According to listening to H.R. McMaster earlier, the president had this information, he didn't know how sensitive it was, and wasn't briefed on the source of intelligence. So, what would the reason for President Trump to share this information be?
GRAHAM BROOKIE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL ADVISER: Well, intelligence that any consumer has in front of them has all of the homework laid out, in the sense that it has exactly what the sourcing and the method is right at the top of the page.
So, to the point that he didn't necessarily know exactly where this information came from belies to the fact that either he wasn't interested in reading it prior to the meeting or that his staff didn't necessarily prepare him for the meeting.
The disclosure thus is of grave concern and has immediate effects for security on the ground.
BALDWIN: Here's another piece of this puzzle that we have now, thanks to the great reporting from Dana Bash.
So, Richard, I will pose this to you, that she reports that concern about the intelligence being shared was raised by Homeland Security Adviser Thomas Bossert. Bossert, not in the meeting, read a classified summary of the discussion and realized that the plot was discussed, and apparently, not according to the folks who were in the room, but he thought, OK, alarm bells, we need to share this with the wider intel community, CIA, NSA.
Was that flaggable, in your opinion?
NEPHEW: Yes, absolutely.
I think the issue here is, these are long-term relationships that need to be maintained. And there's an absolute need to ensure that people know that there's now this information that is out there and that this has consequences. And so I think it was something that clearly he saw, made him very concerned, wanted to alert the authorities, so, that way, people could start doing damage control, not in public, but certainly in the private intel space.
BALDWIN: But the other piece, again, from Dana, Graham, to you, was that, OK, so this information -- this is according to Dana's reporting -- the information was brought up by Trump spontaneously in his conversation in the Oval. When the president brought up the classified information, he did in
the context of trying to push the Russians to be helpful with bad actors like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Does that make it any better, in your view?
BROOKIE: I don't think that it makes it any better.
Sharing information with a nation that is not our partner and is in fact an adversary on any number of policy issues, but here specifically in the fight against ISIL, they haven't been a reliable partner -- and, in fact, all of their actions in Syria have been not necessarily in the fight against ISIL, but promoting their last ally in the region, Bashar al-Assad.
So, the disclosure of information is a grave security risk, and not promoting U.S. national security interests whatsoever.
BALDWIN: OK. Richard, I see you nodding in agreement with Graham there.
Richard Nephew, Graham Brookie, thank you both so much.
I have got to roll on, because we have more breaking news, drama inside the White House. Sources are telling CNN that the president is furious over this chaos, and his staff desperately wants changes at the senior level.
We have that detail coming out today.
Also, we now know how this information got out of that meeting with the Russians. It was from one of the president's closest advisers, as we've been reporting. More on that.
You're watching CNN's special live coverage. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
BALDWIN: OK, so, we have more breaking news now.
CNN is reporting how the information got out of that meeting in the Oval Office in which President Trump revealed classified information with the Russians.
So, Dana Bash is back. She has got all this great information.
So, Dana, let me just have you reiterate your intel. This concern from this information divulged by the president came not actually someone -- from someone in the meeting, but someone who read the notes and passed it along. Am I right?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right.
And that is the homeland security adviser to the president, Tom Bossert, who clearly, when -- was not in the meeting, so didn't have sort of firsthand experience and knowledge of what the president really did say to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, but in reading it afterwards, felt that this is something that needed to be passed along to the intelligence community, and did just that.
That kind of got into the intelligence community bloodstream and ended up, because of people who were concerned, wanting to make it public in "The Washington Post." So, that's kind of that part of the story.
But we're also learning some more about what happened inside that meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador. And -- now, I should tell you that this is from an administration source who is familiar with the -- again, the content of the context of it.
And that is that when the president was talking about this classified information, it was through the prism of a plea to the Russians to be more helpful and to be more of a partner with the United States in helping to call out bad actors, namely, Assad in Syria.
And so this is the context in which the president told the story that included the classified information, the plot that we are now -- we have been talking about now for almost 24 hours, and that we heard from H.R. McMaster at the podium several hours ago that the president didn't know the source of it.
We now know that the source was Israel. Beyond that, who the actual source, meaning sources and methods, not just the country, but the way that we got that information, the president also didn't know that. And that is because the briefer, the president's briefer, was asked afterwards, this briefer said, no, the president wasn't given that information.
Now, this all kind of begs the question of, what does the president get told, what kind of information does he have, was he careless with this information when talking to a major foe of the United States in the Oval Office, Russian leaders, or was it just that he didn't have the tools, meaning he didn't have the information, whether he doesn't get briefed on a regular enough basis, whether or not sort of the content and the context of the information that he gets, we now have to put that into question?
But in terms of the intention, I'm told that it wasn't -- it could have been that braggadocios way that some people have thought, well, this is probably how it went down. Oh, you know, we want to hear how great our intelligence is. No, no, no.
I'm told that that's not the way it happened, to the point where the people who were in the room from the U.S. side, the president's secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, the president's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, and his deputy, Dina Powell, didn't sense that this was an uh-oh moment when the president told the story, meaning that the Russians could then figure out who the intelligence was from and could potentially hurt that source or method. Now, I should tell you that Jim Sciutto is hearing from intelligence
sources that they disagree with that. They think that the Russians would be able to figure out based on the context and content of what the president told them.
BALDWIN: Adding on to all of that, just quickly, Gloria Borger has got this new reporting on some of the anger, frustration, right, behind the scenes, members of the White House staff wanting some sort of shakeup.
BALDWIN: Tell me about that.
BASH: Look, this is a president who is extremely frustrated.
And the frustration and the tension kind of trickles down from the top. Because there is kind of a chaotic sense, every day, there's something new that they are on the back of their heels about, crises that, frankly, are not put upon them, but are created in some way, shape or form from decisions or events that happen from within the White House, from the president himself, the president is getting more and more frustrated.
Gloria had some great reporting on that from sources she's talking to. I have talked to sources who -- and this is sort of another interesting bit of color -- who talk to the president because the president spends a lot of time reaching out beyond the White House walls, a lot of time. Sometimes, it's to vent. Sometimes, it's just to sort of gauge people's read on things, how they view it from the outside in, instead of the inside out.
And so, yes, he's definitely complaining. There's no question about it. Now, is this new? I don't think so. But it seems as though it's reached a boiling point vis-a-vis a lot of his senior staff and how he feels.
Now, is it fair to them? Probably not. I mean, we know a lot of people who work in that White House who work very, very hard under really challenging, unique, kind of never-before-seen circumstances. And they are trying to catch their breath. So, I think a lot of -- there's a lot of blame that goes around.
But when you're the president, it's easy -- it's easy to kind of look around and say, oh, it's not me. It's you, you, you, or you.
BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.
Well, as they're trying to catch their breath -- Dana, thank you -- we're also now getting all kinds of reaction from members of Congress, how Republican leaders specifically are responding to these reports that the president shared this information with the Russians. Who is coming to President Trump's defense on this?
And does the White House, just quite frankly, have a credibility problem? What a series of self-inflicted controversies could mean for the Trump political agenda.
BALDWIN: Welcome back. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
Back to our breaking news here, now we know, according to officials telling CNN, it was Israel was the source of some of that highly classified information that President Trump shared with the Russians last Wednesday in the White House.
So, with me now on the phone from Jerusalem is CNN's Oren Liebermann.
And so, Oren, how will this bit of information now out publicly, how will this change intelligence-sharing between Israel and the United States?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems that Israel, especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are trying to keep it as far away from Israel as possible.
The prime minister's office had no comment. And, in fact, it directed us to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, which put out essentially a no comment statement, a statement that came from Ambassador Ron Dermer, and simply said, we look forward to strengthening the alliance between Israel and the U.S.
It seems Netanyahu wants to keep this controversy as far away from Jerusalem, especially with President Trump's upcoming visit. Netanyahu has never once criticized Trump since Trump's election.
And that includes when Trump was facing accusations of not doing enough against anti-Semitism, when Trump faced accusations of a Holocaust statement that failed to mention Jews or anti-Semitism. Netanyahu never criticized him then, and it seems he won't let that happen again.
He once again will try to let this pass, especially with President Trump coming. It seems Netanyahu wants to keep this controversy in Washington as much as possible, so that when Trump arrives here early next week, the relationship is as strong as it can be, even with a controversy of this magnitude and perhaps an Israeli source revealed to the Russians.
BALDWIN: Let me just quickly, Oren, follow up with you.
A Trump aide incorrectly stated that the president would be visiting the Western Wall in the West Bank, where it is not. Sean Spicer did correct it and saying, of course, he knows -- I'm paraphrasing -- of course he knows the Western wall is in Jerusalem.
Has there been a response from Israel on that? LIEBERMANN: Yes, this has been going on for a couple of days, and
Spicer's statements are just the latest. It's fairly lot here already, so we haven't seen a response to that.
But this all comes around planning for Trump's visit, when a U.S. official almost chastised an Israeli official that the Western Wall is in the West Bank, not in Israel. Israel sought clarification, and the White House put out somewhat of a clarifying statement, saying essentially that view is not in line with the president's views, but it did not actually clarify the president's views.
And H.R. McMaster only added to confusion when he refused to definitively say, yes, the Western Wall is in Israel. Spicer tried to clarify, but didn't actually say or make a definitive statement there. All he said is the Western Wall is Jerusalem. That is an obvious statement and a true statement.
The question wasn't, where is the Western Wall, is it Jerusalem? The question is, where is Jerusalem, in Israel or the West Bank? That controversy, that question, that row between U.S. officials and Israeli officials is still out there and it still very hangs over this meeting.
And part of that is the question -- and it gets back to the embassy. If Trump moves the embassy and acknowledges that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, it solves that question. But his administration and Trump himself have given no indication of what he intends to do.
And that is why there's this confusion of, what is the U.S. policy on Jerusalem, what is the U.S. policy on the Western Wall? Again, Spicer tried to clarify that, but in saying the Western Wall is in Jerusalem, he offered us no new information. Of course the Western Wall is in Jerusalem. The question is, where does the U.S. view Jerusalem, as Israel or the West Bank?
BALDWIN: Oren Liebermann, we will wait for that response from the prime minister. In the meantime, thank you.
Let's move along to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: You cannot connect the dots if you're helter-skelter. And that's what he has been. He hasn't even taken his briefings.
So, without being political or anything, because we try not to be in terms of intelligence, what the president did was totally outrageous, totally outrageous. If it was unwitting, that would be pathetic and dangerous. If it was intentional, that would even be worse. I don't know what's worse.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: That's House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi clearly questioning if the president is fit for office, adding to the litany of questions surrounding the president's credibility and competency.
Take David Brooks' opinion column in "The New York Times" this morning slamming the president, calling him a child in this op-ed.
He wrote -- quote -- "Most adults have learned to sit still, but, mentally, Trump is still a 7-year-old boy who is bouncing around the classroom."
He goes on to write: "He's thus the all-time record holder of the Dunning-Kruger effect, the phenomenon of which the incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence. Trump thought he would be celebrated for firing James Comey. He thought his press coverage would grow wildly positive once he won the nomination. He is perpetually surprised because reality does not comport with his fantasies."
Joining me is Tom Countryman, former State Department official who was fired shortly after Trump's inauguration, and Chris Cillizza, CNN politics reporter and editor at large.
Gentlemen, welcome to both of you.
Tom, let me ask you first, what's your take on how the president handled this classified information here and his ability to do so in the future?
THOMAS COUNTRYMAN, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: Well, clearly, any president does have the power to declassify national intelligence information.
The way in which he did it, however, raises very serious concerns. If he could have, certainly, asked his team in advance, I would like to share this information, and then there would have been a proper process of coordinating that within the U.S. intelligence agencies and with the ally who had given us the information.
He did not do that. He could have chosen to say briefly to the Russians, there is some information I would like to share with you, and it will be coming to you soon. And then he could have followed a proper procedure.