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Trump in Hot Water Again; Memo Describes Trump Asking Comey to End Flynn Investigation; Jalalabad TV Station Attacked by Suicide Bombers; Israel Says Relationship with US Stronger than Ever. Aired 3- 4a ET
Aired May 17, 2017 - 03:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[03:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.
ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: And you're watching breaking news here on CNN. I'm Rosemary Church.
There's a stunning new controversy in what is becoming a daily barrage of developments involving the White House and Russia.
President Donald Trump recently threatened former FBI Director James Comey with the possibility that their conversations had been taped. Now sources say Comey has notes that document what he says the president told him in private.
One memo describes a meeting in which Mr. Trump asked Comey to end the investigation of the fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Lawmakers are calling on Comey to testify before Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA: If true, this is yet another disturbing allegation that the president may have engaged in some interference or obstruction of the investigation.
I also think that we ought to ask for the notes that were taken contemporaneously or shortly after those meetings and, of course, if there are any tapes as the president alleged, those should also be obtained by the Congress. If necessary, I think we should subpoena them, but hopefully we can obtain any of these materials voluntarily.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH: Now, if true, this memo is the clearest sign yet of presidential interference with the investigation into whether members of his campaign team colluded with Russian officials.
In an interview with NBC last week, Mr. Trump denied pressuring Comey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS HOST: Did you ask him to drop the investigation?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, never.
HOLT: Did anyone from the White House...
TRUMP: No, in fact, I want the investigation speed it up.
HOLT: Did anyone from the White House ask him to end the investigation?
TRUMP: No, no, why would we do that.
HOLT: Any surrogates on behalf of the White House.
TRUMP: Not that I know of.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH: On Tuesday the White House said this, "While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn. The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey."
Well, last week the acting director of the FBI told the Senate intelligence committee the Russian investigation was highly significant. He also said Comey's firing will not affect the probe. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. McCabe, can you, without going to the specific (TECHNICAL PROBLEM).
[03:05:00] (TECHNICAL PROBLEM)
SCOTT LUCAS, UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM SHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL POLITICS PROFESSOR: ... and the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, which is what sparked Comey's memo that you're talking about, but then there's the wider investigation into links between the Trump campaign and the Russians when Moscow interfered in the 2016 election. So, all of that is in play. Impeachment, no, not yet, but, yes, it is a possibility.
CHURCH: What is interesting is that very few republicans have stepped up to talk about this and White House officials don't appear too eager either. What are the political ramifications of this apparent inability to explain what is going on and how would you explain the state of the Trump presidency at this time? Can it survive this at all?
LUCAS: Well, the easy answer is that the state of the Trump presidency is chaos. On three occasions only in the past week we've had the White House issue denials. On the first two, which was the reason for the firing of James Comey and the possible existence of the tapes Donald Trump has undermined that White House effort and they've had to reverse their statements.
What does it mean in terms of republicans? They will gradually peel away more and more as they see Trump crossing the lines. This I don't think means as we discussed, you know, a dramatic move with impeachment but there's a wider effect and that is it paralyzes the White House.
They will be unable to make any positive move on their domestic agenda such as repeal of Obamacare, tax recoding or any positive move on foreign policy despite Trump's first overseas trip this week. In other words, this White House is now tied down like Gulliver, but unlike Gulliver, is unlikely to escape.
CHURCH: Scott Lucas joining us there from England, where it's just after 8 in the morning. Many thanks to you.
So let's bring in our CNN legal analyst Page Pate to weigh in our breaking news. Great to have you back in the studio again. So I want to start with the question of whether President Trump, whether what he did as far as the Comey memo goes, if it exists, whether that constitutes obstruction of justice.
And Nancy Pelosi, of course, one of the highest ranking democrats in the House put out this statement. I want to read it out. "If these reports are true, the president's brazen attempt to shut down the FBI's investigation of Michael Flynn is an assault on the rule of law that is fundamental to our democracy. At best, President Trump has committed a grave abuse of executive power. At worst, he has obstructed justice."
So, Page, which one is it, abuse of executive power or obstruction of justice?
PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think it is certainly an abuse of executive power, and I actually think now -- again, if the memo is true, if this is actually what he said to former Director Comey in their meeting, then it can also be obstruction of justice as a matter of law.
What the president apparently has done is he has told the acting FBI director at the time who was in charge of an investigation that may not have been focused on Trump at that very moment but certainly could have at least from Trump's perspective, he could have been a potential target of that investigation.
And so Trump speaking to a subordinate, the FBI director says, I think you need to let it go or can you let it go, leaning on him to affect that investigation. That is the textbook definition of obstruction.
CHURCH: Twenty four hours ago you and I sat in this very same studio talking about the story that was out in the Washington Post about President Trump sharing highly classified information with the Russians, and I said to you, does this constitute an impeachment perhaps or moving in that direction? You said we're not there yet.
CHURCH: Given what we know now, have we reached that point?
PATE: We're getting really close. I think we need to know what the White House's position is going to be on this meeting with former Director Comey. It seems as if they're denying that this is what occurred. They're denying the existence of the memo.
Comey needs to testify in front of Congress, and if Comey goes in front of Congress and corroborates what this memo says, if they produce the memo, then I think we have a credibility issue.
[03:09:55] If the president is not believable and if he's arguably violated the law by obstructing justice, then I think this is certainly grounds for impeachment. It's what happened with Nixon. Certainly could happen here.
CHURCH: All right. So we heard from another constitutional lawyer earlier, Harvard's Alan Dershowitz says there's a chance the legal troubles for the president won't amount to much. I want to listen to what he had to say on that very issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL PROFESSOR: When it is the President of the united states and we have separation of powers, the courts are going to resolve these issues in favor of the president if what he did was lawful. If he destroyed tapes, if he refused to comply with a subpoena, that's one thing.
But there's going to be -- we're going to see, there's going to be erring on the side of presidential authority and presidential power.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH: What's your reaction to that? That's his side.
CHURCH: A lot of people are saying the Trump administration can't survive this Comey memo, if it is out there.
PATE: Well, there are two different questions. I think what Professor Dershowitz is trying to argue is that he's the president, and normally you don't apply federal criminal statute on obstruction to the president who is in charge of the executive branch.
The argument would be, well, why can't you tell the FBI director what to investigate and what not to investigate? The FBI director works for the president. But that doesn't really get us to the question of whether it's obstruction or not. The question is whether the president corruptly influenced that investigation or tried to influence that investigation. So while it may not have been done before, you can't drag a president
into a courtroom and prosecute him, you can certainly use the violation of that law as grounds for impeachment.
So I don't think the courts will ever have anything to do with it. I think if there's a violation of the law and Congress recognizes that, they will move forward with impeachment and it will never see the courtroom.
CHURCH: The next step, of course, is we need to see these Comey memos, right?
PATE: Sure, absolutely.
CHURCH: How do we get them?
PATE: I know Congress is going to try to get them through the normal subpoena process. First they ask. They say, White House, please give us any memos. I think they've already done that. Ask for the memos, tapes if they exist, any record of that conversation.
If the White House does not cooperate then they can move to try to seek subpoenas of that information. The White House could operate then or even say we're going to resist the subpoena, its executive privilege we're not going to turn them over. Then it goes to a judge, and the judge has to decide just like in the Nixon case whether the executive branch can withhold that information based on executive privilege.
CHURCH: Yes, we keep talking about the Nixon era.
PATE: It is scarily the same.
CHURCH: Each day it gets closer and closer that there are their parallels for sure. Page Pate, pleasure to talk with you. I appreciate it.
PATE: Thank you.
CHURCH: And there is another breaking story we're following out of Afghanistan. Insurgents have attacked a state television building in Jalalabad. And officials tells Reuters there were at least three attackers who blew themselves up and at least one were still fighting security forces inside the building.
We will of course bring you updates as they come into us. When we come back the White House is facing more backlash as the intelligence community worries the president's actions may have put an ally at risk. That story still to come. Please stay with us.
[03:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The country is being tested in unprecedented ways. I say to all of my colleagues in the Senate, history is watching.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH: Chuck Schumer, a top democrat in the U.S. Senate there. He was describing the impact of a memo apparently by James Comey. It said to detail President Trump's request that the ousted FBI chief halt the probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. There's also concern about another issue, the president's disclosure of intelligence to Russian diplomats.
CNN's Jim Sciutto reports.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Tonight CNN has learned that Israel, a key U.S. ally, provided some of the classified information that President Donald Trump revealed during his meeting with high-level Russian officials last week.
Today the disclosure causing continuing concern among both democrats and republicans if the president unduly risked some of the nation's most guarded secrets. The White House maintained there is no issue.
H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: It was our impression of all of us that were in the meeting as I mentioned already that that what was shared what wholly appropriate given the purpose of that conversation and the purpose of what the president was trying to achieve through that meeting.
SCIUTTO: However, after reading a summary of the meeting, Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert was concerned enough to inform the CIA and NSA. Trump describes sensitive details about an ISIS plot to disguise bombs in laptops in order to take down commercial jets.
The fear expressed by some in the intelligence community is that based on those details, Russia, a U.S. adversary, could figure out the sources and methods used to gather the intelligence.
LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: You don't just get intelligence out of thin air. You get intelligence because we deploy spies, because we deploy people who are willing to put their lives on the line and because we work with other intelligence agencies around the world that help provide that kind of information. But it's done on the basis of confidence and trust.
SCIUTTO: Now both democrat and republican lawmakers worry that Israel might withhold crucial information in the future.
SCHIFF: If the source is a sister intelligence agency of a friendly country, that country could decide it can't trust the United States with information or, worse, that it can't trust the President of the United States with information. That obviously has very serious repercussions, and particularly if we are talking about information about a threat to Americans posed by ISIS.
SCIUTTO: As part of its evolving defense, the president's national security adviser said today that the president did not even know the origin of the intelligence.
MCMASTER: 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.
SCIUTTO: Today former CIA Director Leon Panetta slammed Trump for the disclosure.
[03:19:59] PANETTA: President of the United States cannot just do or say or speak whatever the hell he wants. That's just irresponsible.
CHURCH: Our correspondents are following this developing story, Oren Liebermann is in Jerusalem, and Diana Magnay joins us from Moscow. Thanks to you both.
Oren, let's go to you first and get some reaction from Jerusalem to reports that Israel was the source of some of that highly confidential intelligence that President Trump shared with Russia. What's being said about that and does the official reaction match what's being said behind closed doors?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At this point, Rosemary, very little is being said. Israel and specifically Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to keep this controversy as far away from Jerusalem and as far away from himself as he can.
In fact, the prime minister's office directed us to the Israeli embassy in Washington for a response from the ambassador who basically gave a no comment saying that the relations between the U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials are still going strong and they look forward to working on them when Trump visits next week.
And that appears to be the reason why Israel is not making any comments. In fact, the only comment we have gotten so far -- and this was in a tweet just a few minutes ago from the defense minister -- was basically the same comment, saying U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials and the security relationship is very strong and it will continue to grow stronger just as it always has.
So again, Israel wants to keep this controversy as far away as possible with President Trump's upcoming visit to the region now in less than one week. But this is just one more in a series of misunderstandings and worse that have emerged in the days and weeks leading up to this trip.
Adding to that is the question about the embassy which Trump has never made clear his position on, as well as now a misunderstanding or an argument or disagreement about where the Western Wall is, is it in Jerusalem, is it in the West Bank, all of that hangs over this meeting, a meeting between Netanyahu and Trump scheduled for Monday. And these are the questions that we want answered, that want to be
answered. And yet, Netanyahu and Trump are trying to keep these controversies as away from the meeting as possible because of the optics of the meeting. It would be good for both leaders for this meeting to appear as it went off without a hitch.
And that's why we're seeing so little said either in the open or behind closed doors in an attempt to make sure the relationship and the security relationship and the appearance of that relationship between the U.S. and Israel is as strong as possible.
CHURCH: Yes, certainly a lot from them to discuss. I'll come back to you in a moment, Oren. But Diana, to you now. How is this all playing out in Russia? What's being said about the Comey memo and, of course, the other bombshell issue of U.S. President Trump sharing that sensitive intelligence information with Russia?
DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nothing is being said yet about the Comey issue, and I would be surprised if the Kremlin were to comment on that or the foreign ministry seeing as it really doesn't have nothing to do with Russia at all. But that is pretty much Russia's line on everything that has been going on in Washington despite the allegations by various U.S. intelligence agencies that it has everything to do with Russia.
Let's go back through to the intelligence, the transfer of classified intelligence that President Trump is supposed to have given to the Russians. The comments yesterday from the foreign ministry spokeswoman, from the Kremlin spokesman, again, both extremely dismissive of these reports. Not confirming or denying it really.
And actually, it would be difficult for them to do either. It's not the kind of information perhaps that would be given to spokespeople. But they definitely tried to disassociate themselves from this reporting.
The foreign ministry spokeswoman saying, once again what we are seeing is a disinformation campaign, we are seeing attempt by interest groups within Washington to steer the political narrative and that these media report, U.S. newspapers as she described as dangerous.
And from the Kremlin spokesman he said, you know, we do not want to have anything to do with this nonsense. I think you do get a very real sense of frustration that the Kremlin is having to bat away these endless sort of questions that keep coming up as a result of the political chaos in Washington.
On the other hand, of course, there is the suggestion that the Kremlin is rather enjoying it. And if you believe the line that President Putin from the start has been orchestrating a campaign to try and undermine western democracies, as has been put out there by various U.S. intelligence agencies as being his intention, then, of course, this is all working not just according to plan but possibly even better. Rosemary.
CHURCH: Yes, I would think so. Oren, back to you now. What impact will the sharing of that sensitive Israeli information have on the intelligence relationship between the U.S. and Russia and, of course, Israel?
[03:25:03] LIEBERMANN: Well, we spoke with a very high ranking official in the ministry of defense a few months ago and he said that regardless of who the president is, the relationship between the U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials is so strong that no one person, not even the president, can get in the way, and he stressed that.
But a lot has changed since then, especially in the last 24 to 48 hours. We spoke with a former head of Mossad and this was before we knew it was Israeli intelligence that was at the heart of this and an Israeli source that may have been compromised and he said, this is Danny Yatom, it's a question now of does Israel -- does the compromised party need to re-evaluate its relationship with American intelligence officials.
That would not be a decision that will be taken lightly as we saw everyone at this point on the U.S. and Israeli side is trying to reaffirm the strong relationship between U.S. and Israel.
But for a former head of Mossad one of the most secretive agency in the world to come out and say that is an indication of just how serious this is, again, not a decision to be made lightly if there's a scaling back of intelligence sharing with the U.S.
Because -- specifically because that relationship is so strong. That is a very powerful statement coming from a man who is very much in the know about the intelligence, what it is and who it is shared with.
CHURCH: All right. Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem, Diana Magnay there in Moscow. Thank you to you both for joining us with those live reports. I appreciate it.
Well, there seems to be a new White House controversy every day and even Capitol Hill is struggling to keep up. We will have reaction from lawmakers to the Comey news. We're back in a moment.
[03:29:56] CHURCH: Our breaking news. The White House is scrambling to contain another major controversy involving President Trump and his former FBI Director James Comey.
On Capitol Hill lawmakers are demanding answers, but they're struggling to find any.
Our Manu Raju reports.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Capitol Hill grappling with yet another bombshell, this of course, the report of James Comey apparently raising enough concerns about President Trump trying to get him to quash the investigation into Michael Flynn, his former National Security Adviser that he wrote in a memo saying that he was concerned about what happened.
Well, a lot of lawmakers also want to know what happened. That is republicans and democrats alike wanting to get to the bottom of this. Members not being briefed on it, even members of the Senate and House intelligence committee really have no idea what happened here other than expressing concerns about what happened including one prominent conservative.
SEN. MARK WARNER, (D) VIRGINIA: If that's accurate -- I don't have any reason right now that it is not, I'm just hearing it from one of our staff people -- to say that we would have some concern would be accurate. That would be troubling. For me to act like it is not a concern would be remiss on my part.
The larger concern is just what seems to be a lack of communication discipline coming out of the White House. And I think some of that is driven by the desire to have an immediate response to everything.
And even, you know, you hate to have to clarify all the time. I would prefer they wait a couple of hours, you know, half day and get everything right the first time so that you don't raise more suspicion.
RAJU: Now, this comes as House oversight chairman Jason Chaffetz prepared a subpoena for the memo saying he wants to learn more about it, him and other committees also wanting to hear from James Comey, publicly wanting him to testify. The question is will he do that and when will he do that. That is something that Capitol Hill is waiting for.
Manu Raju, CNN, Capitol Hill.
CHURCH: Well, some lawmakers are talking about impeachment in regards to the Comey memo. Earlier, CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked one senator if he thought Mr. Trump's actions warranted such a consequence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: If in fact these allegations reported first in the New York Times and now being confirmed by CNN and other news organizations, if these allegations, senator, are true, are we getting closer and closer to the possibility of yet another impeachment process?
SEN. ANGUS KING, (I) MAINE: Reluctantly, Wolf, I have to say yes simply because obstruction of justice is such a serious offense. And I say it with -- with sadness and reluctance. I'm not -- this is not something that I've advocated for or the word has not passed my lips in this whole tumultuous three or four months.
But if indeed the president tried to tell the director of the FBI who worked for him that he should drop an investigation, whether -- whether it was Michael Flynn or whether it was some investigation that had nothing to do with Russia or politics or the election, that's a very serious matter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH: CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley joins me now from Dallas. Always a pleasure to speak with you, sir, and to get your historical perspective on matters of this magnitude.
So let's start by taking another look at what President Trump apparently told James Comey according to this memo that's come to light. I want to read it out. "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."
Douglas Brinkley, the White House denies this ever happened. But if this memo is an accurate account of what was said by Mr. Trump, what do you make of the wording in this memo and what does it tell you about his presidency?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, it's a bombshell revelation and it creates really dark and dangerous waters for Trump's presidency. To be having the audacity and the gall to pull aside the head of the FBI and intimate that even though your campaign's under federal investigation, you want to try to maybe nod and wink and let Flynn off the hook, trying to meddle and influence peddle with the head of the FBI, it's going to lead and it is leading to charges of obstruction of justice.
I'm not saying it has been proven, but it is in the air now and then people are starting to look at can the Trump presidency survive. I mean people are starting to say, we might this year have a president Pence.
That might seem a little harsh by me to say that, but this is very serious and it is -- it has hit a boiling point now. There are just too many associations with Donald Trump and Russia that are too strange and bizarre, and he constantly refuses to come clean. So we're in a country baffled by the behavior of our president.
[03:35:02] CHURCH: We do seem to be in an extraordinary point here and CNN commentator David Gergen says President Trump is, in his words, in impeachment territory. I want to just listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: If I was in the Nixon administration as you know and I thought after watching the Clinton impeachment I thought I would never see another one, but I think we're in impeachment territory for the first time.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Really?
GERGEN: Well, I think the obstruction of justice was the number one charge against Nixon that brought him down. Obstruction of justice was the number one charge against Bill Clinton which led to his indictment in the House. He won in the Senate. And I think -- I'm a lapsed lawyer. I cannot tell you whether it meets
all of the legal definitions but I can tell you from a lay point of view it looks like he was trying to impede the investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH: Douglas Brinkley, as an historian what is your view on this? Is Mr. Trump in impeachment territory and does this memo constitutes obstruction of justice on the level we saw in the Nixon era?
BRINKLEY: Well, remember with the Nixon era it happened in the second term of Richard Nixon, so people had four years of him. He had accomplishments. We did Apollo 11 and went to the moon. He had, you know, created the Environmental Protection Agency.
You know, we had the breakthrough with China all in his first term, and then Watergate caught up with him. So it was a second term phenomenon. This is Donald Trump from day one in the White House has not been able to get this Russia crisis behind him because there's no logical answer for his behavior, and there is obviously a connection between General Flynn and Donald Trump.
Flynn was really the only foreign policy adviser for Trump early on in 2016, and this is a deep and serious investigation. You know, usually Watergate it was like a drip, drip, drip. This for Donald Trump is like a slap, slap, slap every day.
And I don't know how much longer this administration can absorb this kind of media environment where he's just getting lambasted daily. I mean, you wake up and there's just another new crisis in the White House.
Meanwhile, morale is apparently down in the White House. There's confusion. He doesn't have an alter ego figure to -- an adult, so to speak, that he can trust and talk his way through all of this. It may in the end Donald Trump gets away with it, but it's going to be a very acrimonious environment the next few months here and maybe longer in America.
CHURCH: We've seen him bounce back though on a number of occasions he's with problems that he's confronted, but some analysts are now suggesting the Trump administration cannot survive the Comey memo.
You are talking there about the likelihood that we would see a Pence presidency. I mean, that's pretty extraordinary. So you clearly agree that this could be the turning point?
BRINKLEY: It could be, but remember during Watergate with Nixon republicans have to turn. I mean, they control the Senate and Congress. A group of, let's call it 10 republican senators, are going to have to have had enough of Donald Trump and stand up in a way that John McCain, for example, is right now and you're starting to get Senator Corker.
And you are starting to get people speaking out from the republican side against Trump. Unfortunately, we're a very divided partisan country and some people want to see this from a democrat versus republican lens when in truth it's about who is an American, who believes in our electoral process, who believes in the sanctity of our institutions and Donald Trump is seeming to have abused his authority regarding the FBI.
CHURCH: Some strong words there. Douglas Brinkley, giving us an historical perspective on that, talking in terms of being in dark and dangerous waters. Many thanks to you for joining us. We appreciate it.
Now we'll take a break here. But still to come on CNN NEWSROOM, more on the ever-growing airline bomb threat posed by ISIS and other terror groups. Do stay with us. We're back in a moment.
[03:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CHURCH: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM.
Well, President Trump is defending his controversial decision to share sensitive intelligence information with Russia. At the heart of the matter, growing concern that ISIS and other terror groups have new ways to bring down airliners by hiding explosives in laptops and other devices.
CNN's Brian Todd has the details.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The threat of a bomb on a plane is what prompted President Trump to discuss terrorist threat intelligence with the Russians. The president tweeting he discussed, quote, "facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety." The Washington Post reports it was more specific than that.
GREG MILLER, WASHINGTON POST CORRESPONDENT: It was really sensitive information about an ongoing and unfolding Islamic state terror plot that has caused a great deal of concern among counterterrorism officials.
TODD: When U.S. officials recently imposed a ban on laptops in passenger plane cabins on flights from eight countries CNN was told there was concern that terrorists had developed ways to hide explosives in laptop battery compartments.
Is there something specific about a given laptop that allows a terrorist to kind of more easily conceal something?
ROBERT LISCOUSKI, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well, we're not getting into how they would do it, I would tell you that the laptop contains components that would be easily -- more easily mimicked to be a real device from it might not be a real device.
TODD: Tests show even a small amount of explosives could have devastating consequences. A laptop bomb is how this Somali plane was almost downed last year. This photo publish by the New York Times shows the explosives on upper right, hidden where the DVD drive was but they could still be seen under a scanner.
Terrorists have been targeting planes for year. The underwear plot in 2009, the printer cartridge plot in 2010 were masterminded, intelligence official say by bomb-maker Ibrahim al-Asiri who worked for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Could he have shared his expertise with ISIS?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: I think it would be surprising if the leadership of AQAP took the strategic decision to share their advance bomb-making capability with ISIS. The leadership of these two groups are at logger heads, they can't stand each other.
TODD: Still, ISIS has advanced its bomb-making capability. The group brought down a Russian jet in the Sinai Peninsula in 2015 with a bomb implanted in a soda can. How did ISIS get better with this?
CRUICKSHANK: It had access over the last several years to urban areas, potential access to laboratories. Because there have been so many people from all around the world that have been recruited into its ranks, the fear is it has people with a sudden scientific pedigree, a sudden scientific know-how.
[03:44:59] TODD: U.S. Security officials are meeting with their European counterpart this week to discuss the proposal to possibly expand the laptop ban to some airports in Europe with flights to the United States.
A homeland security official tells us the reports that President Trump disclosed classified information about the laptop threat will have no bearing on those negotiations.
Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.
CHURCH: The disclosure of the classified information may not impact negotiations on the laptop ban, but those in the intelligence community worry about the possible impact it could have on their work.
Let's get more on that. Steve Hall joins me now. He used to head up Russia operations at the CIA. Good to have you with us.
STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's good to be here.
CHURCH: So given your experience at the CIA, what impact do you believe the president's sharing of highly sensitive information with the Russians will likely have on how allies work with the U.S. and share intelligence, and how might it change the way CIA agents work in the field?
HALL: It is certainly going to have a negative effect. I would perhaps even say a chilling effect. Regardless of what actually was said, which is still the subject of some, you know, contention, and regardless of what the president's motivations may have been for saying it. The fact remains that there is now going to be a perception out there that this president, that this administration will have a tendency in the future if he chooses to share information, importantly that has not been pre-cleared by the service, the foreign intelligence service that provided it, in this case the New York Times I believe is reporting this was the Israelis.
So it's one thing to have your own intelligence, American intelligence from the CIA or the NSA and to speak as the president about that information. It's de facto declassification which the president is allowed to do.
But it's quite another thing to take something that has been pass to you as part of an agreement with another foreign intelligence service and then pass it along to yet another service, the Russians, and that sort of adds insult to injury, the fact that it was indeed Sergey Lavrov, the Russian minister of foreign affairs.
So it's really going to have a chilling effect. Other foreign intelligence services I think are going to think twice and become more conservative before they decide to pass something to American intelligence.
CHURCH: What do you mean, though, when you say chilling effect?
HALL: Well, what's going to happen is -- and I think we have already begun to see some of this in the press. I think you have a former senior Israeli intelligence official saying, well, you know, Israel is going to have to think twice before it passes this level of sensitive information to the Americans in the future.
And if the Israelis are saying that, then I think other services are going to say that, too. In the most, I guess, charitable interpretation some of our closer allies might say, you know, we need to be a little bit careful with this administration because we don't know exactly what they're going to do with the information that we pass them.
And so perhaps we ought to be a little more careful, a little more circumspect before we pass information in the future. And the bad part, one of the bad parts about it is they won't tell us when they're doing this. They will simply dial it back a little bit, and the United States will be a less safe place because we will be getting less intelligence from our critical intelligence allies across the world.
CHURCH: All right. I do want to listen for a moment to how U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster responded Tuesday to the Washington Post report of President Trump sharing this highly classified information with the Russians. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCMASTER: It is wholly appropriate for the president to share whatever information he thinks is necessary to advance the security of the American people. That's what he did. As to your question on had that information been shared previously, I'm not sure about that. (OFF-MIC)
MCMASTER: When did he make the decision?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When did he make the decision to share the information?
MCMASTER: He made the decision in the context of the conversation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH: So how did the sharing of this highly confidential information with the Russians advance the security of the American people in any way as H.R. McMaster just suggested there, and how was it wholly appropriate?
HALL: I think McMaster would say about his boss, the president, who he should be defending because it's his boss, would say that, look, we need to share terrorist information, counterterrorism information and intelligence to folks that we believe can help us, other countries that can help us in this fight.
And I think this administration believes in my view somewhat mistakenly that the Russians can help in this regard. So I think that's what he would say in terms of why.
The wholly appropriate language is interesting because I suppose you can make an argument that says, look, if the president believes that the safety and security of the United States is at issue, is at risk, then pretty much whatever he does would be wholly appropriate as long as as, I suppose, it's not illegal.
[03:50:03] The problem with the wholly appropriate argument is that foreign intelligence services who are passing us this information are strategic allies, will look at that and say, well, you know, it might be true that it's wholly -- that the president believes it's wholly appropriate to pass this type of information without clearing it with us to the Russians.
If that's the case, then these services are going to say, it's wholly appropriate for us to not pass as much information to the United States so that we can protect our own information, so that we can protect the sources and methods by which we acquired that information. So, the wholly appropriate argument kind of goes in both directions.
CHURCH: We will be watching very closely the impact of all of this. Steve Hall, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
HALL: My pleasure.
CHURCH: In the CNN exclusive, former U.S. Attorney Ggneral Sally Yates speaks out after President Trump fired her for refusing to defend his travel ban. How she's responding to criticism from the White House. That's next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (WORLD SPORT)
[03:54:58] CHURCH: Back to our breaking news. Sources say fired FBI Director James Comey wrote a memo detailing a meeting where President Trump asked him to end the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
The White House denies the allegation. Flynn was forced to resign for lying about his conversations with Russia's ambassador to the U.S.
CNN spoke exclusively with the U.S. official who warned White House Counsel Don McGahn the Russians could blackmail Flynn. President Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to defend his travel ban.
She testified last month before Congress, and in her first television interview she defended herself against criticism from the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SALLY YATES, FORMER UNITED STATES ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: I know that we conveyed a sense of urgency when we went over and met with the White House counsel.
COOPER: And in your testimony he is saying you didn't make it sound that way either, that it was an emergency?
YATES: I don't know if I used the word emergency, but when you call the White House counsel and say, you've got to meet with them that day about something you can't talk about on the phone, and you tell them that their national security adviser may be able to be blackmailed by the Russians and that you are giving them this (AUDIO GAP) so they'll take action, I'm not sure how much more of a siren you have to sound.
COOPER: That's not a typical day at the office?
COOPER: Don McGahn actually asked you at that first meeting whether or not you thought the national security adviser should be fired. What did you say?
YATES: I told him it wasn't our call.
COOPER: Was the underlying conduct illegal? Was it illegality involved?
YATES: There's certainly a criminal statute that was implicated by his conduct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH: And you can catch the full interview next hour right here on CNN.
That's it for me. I'm Rosemary Church. Remember to connect with me any time on Twitter. I want to hear from you. The news continues now with Max Foster in London. Have a great day.
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