Return to Transcripts main page


Intel Chief Testifies; Trump Asked to deny Evidence; Two Confirmed Dead in Terror Attack; New Trump Budget; Director Dan Coats Testifies Before Senate. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired May 23, 2017 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] REP. STEVE RUSSELL (R), OKLAHOMA: He said that to his knowledge there was not anything that would have violated these tenants in later testimony. We have to take him at his word also.

Having a memorandum for record is important. I do it. Many people do it all the time to try to capture conversations. If he felt -- if Mr. Comey felt that something was violated, he certainly would have reached out. And then later, when he was queried, he said, not to my knowledge, it's never happened. And so we have to, again, go back to the primary sources, to the people that can put the facts into context.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Director Comey never said it never happened.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Right. Director Comey said, I wasn't aware of the FBI investigation into this until --

BERMAN: DNI Clapper.

HARLOW: DNI Clapper said I wasn't aware of the FBI investigation, he said.

RUSSELL: No, I'm speaking -- I'm speaking to the earlier one where he was addressing in a later testimony if there were violations, you know, along these lines. And in that testimony he said, no, I'm not aware of any. It's never happened.

BERMAN: He said --

HARLOW: HE said --

BERMAN: His investigation hadn't been imped in any way when he was asked about that.

RUSSELL: Which is really the crux of the issue because it is about if there was violations on putting obstacles in front of that, which, of course, we would all have concerns about. I think the investigations show that, look, we all want the answers. We all want to get to the facts. But we also have to look at it impartially. We have to look at it from the first person sources so that we can actually deduce the facts and see what the context is.

HARLOW: Congressman, we're out time. Thank you for joining us.

RUSSELL: Thank you so much.

HARLOW: We're watching as they are getting seated there. DNI Dan Coats and the DIA Director Lieutenant General Vince Stewart, about to testify. We're going to monitor this and bring you more, of course, as soon as it happens. Stay with us.


[09:35:56] BERMAN: All right, happening now on Capitol Hill, the director of National Intelligence is testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. According to multiple officials, he is one of two top intelligence officials that the president, President Trump, asked them to publically deny that there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 election.

HARLOW: All right, joining us now as we wait to hear from Director Coats, who's going to be asked about this, no question.


HARLOW: After what we're told is pretty short opening remarks, so stay with us for that.

With us now is CNN's senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, also a staff writer for "The New Yorker," and our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Jeffrey to you.

A former senior intelligence official puts it this way to "The Washington Post." "The problem wasn't so much asking them to issue statements, it was asking them to issue false statements in an ongoing investigation." These are two of his handpicked guys. He goes to them and says basically, even though the White House isn't commenting, our reporting is, help me out here. This isn't the case. You know it. Go out in public and say it. Anything illegal about that?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Potentially. I mean it's potentially part of an obstruction of justice process that you could argue that the president was engaged in. This is what Robert Mueller will be investigating. When you --

HARLOW: So they would point to intent?

TOOBIN: Well, it's also just asking people to say something false for your legal benefit. I mean that is part of obstruction of justice, potentially. I mean, you know, you have to get what the facts were --

HARLOW: Right.

TOOBIN: What people actually said, not, you know, newspaper reports about it. But when you combine these comments with firing Director Comey, with his statement -- the president's statements to the Russians about why he fired Director Comey, it all adds up --

HARLOW: Pattern. TOOBIN: To a possible pattern of obstruction of justice, certainly something worth investigating.

BERMAN: Let me ask you this, can it still be obstruction of justice if the president is right, that there's absolutely no evidence --

HARLOW: That's a good point because it's an ongoing -- yes.

BERMAN: Of collusion between his campaign? If there was nothing there, and he knows it, is it obstruction of justice to say, you know, say something out loud?

TOOBIN: It can be. It can be. You don't have to succeed in obstructing justice to commit obstructing justice. I mean just the -- all -- the federal statutes, Title 18, Section 1503 says to attempt to obstruct justice is a crime as well as actually obstructing justice.

BERMAN: Even an investigation that might ultimately exonerate you?

TOOBIN: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean it makes sense when you think about it. I mean if you lie in the course of an FBI investigation, but the underlying crime that the FBI is investigating, you're either innocent of or never charged with, you could still be prosecuted for it. And that happens actually with some frequency.

HARLOW: Barbara Starr, there's an important twist to this all, and that is the fact that outside of DNI Coats, the other person that he asked is NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers, and he is an active duty military officer. Does that take this to another level?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I think many people think that is exactly what's happening. If you're in the United States military, you do not engage in politics. That's just really a fundamental tenant. The U.S. military is here. It's legitimacy derives from the fact it's here for the defense of the country, not to engage in the political agenda of elected officials. So if this, in fact, happened precisely as is being laid out now, it begins to really question whether the president fully understands the basic underlying tenant of the United States military that they don't engage in politics.

Admiral Rogers, by all accounts, declined the request. That's exactly what you would expect a serving U.S. military officer to do. But was this framed as an order? Did he have to deny the president an order? Was it a casual request? All these things remaining to be sorted out.

[09:39:57] But, again, this really goes, I think, both for Admiral Rogers, the U.S. military and even the intelligence community. These organizations really do derive their legitimacy from the fact that the public can believe they are there for the public good to carry out the defense of the country. When we have heard about politicization of intelligence over the years, and of the U.S. military, generally that leads to nothing but trouble. So this is a very concerning development. I talked to a number of officials this morning. The reaction I'm getting so far is really a big sigh and slumped shoulders. Sort of, what's next. John and Poppy.


BERMAN: All right, Barbara Starr, Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

We do have some breaking news. Former James Bond, Sir Roger Moore, has passed away. That's according to statements from his family posted to his official Twitter feed. He died after a battle with cancer. He was James Bond for much of the '70s and early '80s, "Moonraker," "For Your Eyes Only," "The Man with the Golden Gun," A View to a Kill." All the way into the '80s as well. Roger Moore was 89.


[09:45:26] HARLOW: All right, we are now learning this morning new details about the children. The children and the young adults injured and killed. Twenty-two people killed in this Manchester terror attack. Take a look at some of these photos. This is 18-year-old Georgiana Callander. She took a photo with Ariana Grande just a few years ago. Shows what a big fan she was and she was at that concert last night and her life was taken. And look at this. This is eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos.

BERMAN: Eight years old.

CNN's Erin McLaughlin outside the hospital in Manchester where many of the victims were transported.

Erin, what are you learning there?


That's right, we've actually received a statement from the school of eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos. Her headmaster released the following. I want to read you part of it. He said, quote, "Saffie was simply a beautiful little girl in every aspect of the word. She was loved by everyone and her warmth and kindness will be remembered fondly. Saffie was quiet and unassuming with a creative flair."

We're also hearing from the school of Georgina Callender, 18-year-old, killed in the attack. You mentioned there, she was a big fan of Ariana Grande. So much so that she actually met her two years ago and posted a photo of that on her Instagram account. Her school releasing a statement saying, quote, "Georgina was a lovely young student who was very popular." The school sending their thoughts to her family at this really horrendous time.

So that's giving you a sense of the magnitude of the loss. Those were two victims identified of 22 killed. Fifty-nine people injured, including at least 12 children admitted to the children's hospital, which is just adjacent from the hospital where I'm standing. So it really gives you a sense of loss, a sense of the tragedy that people here in Manchester and indeed across the U.K. are having to come to terms with today. HARLOW: Erin McLaughlin, thank you so much. You can't imagine being

those parents today.

Coming up for us, the administration calls the president's plan a taxpayer first budget. The reality of the plan, there are very deep cuts, deep cuts to entitlement programs, programs this president promised he would not touch.


[09:52:18] BERMAN: All right, a lot going on, on Capitol Hill right now. In the left-hand side of your screen, we're looking at a hearing which includes the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats. He's testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He is expected to be asked about the new report that the president asked him to publicly deny that there was any connection between the Trump campaign and Russia, make that statement he was requested to do after James Comey said that very thing was being investigated.

On the right-hand side of your screen, very shortly we'll hear from the former CIA director, John Brennan. He is there to testify before the House Intelligence Committee about the Russia investigations over the last year or so.

And we are also waiting to hear from House Speaker Paul Ryan. He's meeting with his conference this morning. He may very well talk about the new budget that we're getting from the president of the United States, as well as the events overseas and the various investigations.

Now, as we've said, the budget. Donald Trump's first budget hits lawmakers' desks this morning. He says he can balance it all in the next ten years, even while cutting taxes and spending more on defense and the border and infrastructure, and he also wants to create the first ever federal paid family leave program.

HARLOW: It also assumes really big growth in this country, 3 percent at least economic growth. The flip side, big cuts -- big cuts to programs that help the poor, like Medicaid and food stamps.

Our chief business correspondent Christine Romans is here with more.

So the way that the budget director, Mick Mulvaney, is framing this, that I find really interesting, he said, I don't want to measure compassion based on how many people are in these programs and getting food stamps and getting Medicaid. It's about how many people we get out of the program.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. And put taxpayers first and grow the economy so it's about jobs, not about social safety net, that you don't need them.

Let me run down the numbers for you here because critics are calling this reverse Robin Hood, take from the poor to pay to the rich. Mick Mulvaney's calling it taxpayers first. This is about taxpayers and getting the taxpayer out of the business of picking winners and losers and social safety nets. What it means for sure here, tanks and tax cuts, bullets and

billionaires. This is what the critics would say. Defense spending up. Border security up, including $1.6 billion to pay for a wall. And $200 billion in infrastructure spending. Where does that come from? It comes from non-defense discretionary spending being cut. We're talking about food stamps, that's S.N.A.P., we're talking about disability benefits and we're talking about Medicaid. Look at that number from Medicaid.

HARLOW: It's big.

ROMANS: $610 billion. If you believe the Congressional Budget Office and how it scores the companion piece of legislation really that is health care reform, it's more like $800 billion. The president promised on the campaign trail no core Social Security cuts, no core Medicare cuts, no core Medicaid cuts. But you can see them there in this bill.

It also assumes some pretty lofty goals here, 3 percent growth rate, the GOP health care bill passes, and that tax cuts won't add to deficit. It does arrive at a balanced budget, a fiscal hawk's dream over about ten years, but it takes these big projections and assumptions to get there.

[09:55:14] There's a biting op-ed in "The Washington Post" right now from Larry Summers, who used to be the Treasury secretary for the Democrats, and he says that if you believe in economic tooth fairies, you're going to get this done. But if this was the kind of budget you were presenting at a freshman Econ 101 class, you'd fail the student.

BERMAN: Christine Romans, great to have you here with us.

ROMANS: You've welcome.

BERMAN: Thank you very, very much.

In just moments we're going to hear from the former CIA director, John Brennan. He is expected to speak publicly at a House Intelligence Committee. This hearing is on the Russia investigation. Dan Coats testifying at the same time about the new dramatic reports that the president asked him to publicly deny there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Don't go anywhere.


[09:57:16] HARLOW: Senator John McCain questioning the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, right now. Let's listen in.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: To publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 elections. Coats and Rogers refused to comply with a request which they both deemed to be inappropriate. Is that an accurate reporting, Director Coats?

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Mr. Chairman, as the president's principal intelligence advisor, I am fortunate to be able -- and need to spend a significant amount of time with the president discussing national security interests and intelligence as it relates to those interests.

We scuff a number of topics on a very regular basis. I have always believed that given the nature of my position and the information in which we share is not appropriate for me to comment publicly on any of that. And so, on this topic, as well as other topics, I don't feel it's appropriate to characterize discussions and conversations with the president.

MCCAIN: And isn't it true that some of these leaks can be damaging to national security, Director Coats?

COATS: Leaks have become a very significant -- played a very significant negative role relative to our national security. The release of information not only undermines confidence in our allies about our ability to maintain secure information that we share with them, it jeopardizes sources and methods that are invaluable to our ability to find out what's going on and what those threats are.

MCCAIN: In light of the...

COATS: Lives are -- lives are at stake in many instances and leaks jeopardizes those lives.

MCCAIN: Thank you. In light of the tragedy in Manchester last night, doesn't it lend significant urgency to retaking Raqqah where all this originates?

COATS: Well, that won't solve the problem, particularly the homegrown and inspired attacks.

[10:00:00] Clearing going to the heart of ISIS and driving a stake through that heart, we assess, will significantly improve the situation, the plotting and the planning that comes from a centralized caliphate or safe haven for ISIS. We've seen the damage that's occurred.