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Jared Kushner Stripped Of Top Secret Security Clearance; Washington Post: Foreign Officials Discussed Manipulating Kushner; Sources On Kushner Clearance Downgrade: "Kelly Won This One;" Jared Kushner Stripped of Top Secret Security Clearance; 11 Sick, 3 Hospitalized After Letter Opened at Military Base. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 27, 2018 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Again, Kylie (ph), thank you very much. That's it for me. To all of our viewers, thanks very much for watching. "Erin Burnett OutFront" starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: "OutFront" next breaking news, Jared Kushner security clearance downgraded as we're learning officials in at least four countries reportedly discussed ways to manipulate Kushner. Plus, what does the stunning move say about President's chief of staff? Did Kelly just win the biggest battle yet?

And 11 people sick, three now in the hospital tonight, a suspicious letter open to the military base outside of Washington to blame. The breaking details ahead. Let's go "OutFront."

And good evening to all, I'm Erin Burnett. "OutFront" this evening the breaking news, Kushner's top secret security clearance stripped. The President's senior White House adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, tonight without the clearance that allowed him access to the highest level of classified information in the United States, information that he just had access to daily since the President's inauguration more than a year ago.

And just moments ago, our Phil Mattingly, you see this here, Jared Kushner, he found him actually in the Capitol for a meeting, followed him for about four minutes, asking about the stunning development. Kushner refusing to say anything or answer questions. This is a major set back for the President's senior adviser.

He is one of the few people who actually see the nation's top secret daily security briefing every single day. He is the man who has been at the President's side from day one. A man whose responsibilities include, but are not even limited to, broker peace in the Middle East, relations with China, Mexico and Canada, overseeing the office of American Innovation, ending drug addiction. That is just the few of the things in his portfolio.

And that security clearance slashed tonight as Bob Mueller, the special counsel, investigators -- investigates Kushner's links to Russia and China and Middle East dictatorships. And tonight, more breaking news on this. The "Washington Post" is reporting that at least four countries, the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel, and Mexico, privately discussed ways to manipulate Kushner using his financial difficulties and political experience -- inexperience to their advantage. The "Post" also reporting that Kushner did not officially report contacts with foreign officials. It is a stunning set of developments at this hour and a major set back to a man at the center of President Trump's world, a man that Trump constantly praises.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jared is a very, very successful real estate man in New York. I'm proud of Jared.

Jared is a very successful real estate person, but I actually think he likes politics more than he likes real estate.

Her husband, Jared, very, very smart, good guy.


BURNETT: There's a lot to get to tonight on this developing story. I want to go straight to Jeff Zeleny at the White House. And, Jeff, what is the reaction inside the White House to this tonight?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Erin, there is no question about it. People around this building walk on egg shells when Jared Kushner's name is mentioned. He is the first among equals, of course the senior adviser, but perhaps more importantly a son-in- law.

But today's sort of bombshell reality that he no longer has that top secret security clearance coupled with that "Washington Post" reporting is raising questions here about what his future may exactly be.

Now, he's lawyer, of course, put out a statement saying he is going to keep doing his job as he's been instructed to, the work on Middle East peace and other manners. But the reality here is without the security clearance, that top secret security clearance, he will be unable to do exactly the job that he has been doing.

Now, he had an ability to ask the President to intervene here. I am told by a White House official he did not want special treatment. And the President signaled last Friday that it was up to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to make the decision on his future. It appears that -- it actually happened like that that Jared Kushner did not ask for special treatment.

But, Erin, on a day like this, when Jared Kushner was on Capitol Hill as you saw it, many was holding a conversation about prison reform, it was clear that he did not necessarily expect this, but he is going to keep doing his job at least for now. But that is the question here tonight, Erin, how long will Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, of course, stay at this White House? Will they stick it out through this? Or does security clearance matter changes interest here in working at the White House? Erin?

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Jeff. And on that, let's try to get some answers. "OutFront" now with the White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah. Raj, good to have you back with me tonight.

A day of some stunning and very, very quick moving development, Jared Kushner stripped of access to the nation's top secrets with the downgrade in his security clearance. Were you shocked by this, Raj?

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Well, Erin, good evening and thanks for having me on. You know, the White House has been saying the same thing about this matter and related matters for -- rather a number of months now. We do not comment on security clearances. We don't address them, acknowledge, or refute any of the reporting you're referencing. And frankly, we can't comment beyond that.

[19:05:04] BURNETT: So, but the question here though, and this is crucial when you talk about the White House and what all of you are doing, what this administration is trying to accomplish, Jared Kushner is at the center of that. He's one of the top people in the White House, senior adviser, son-in-law. You just heard the President among several of many comments he has said glowingly of Jared, tasked with peace in the Middle East, working on China, working with Mexico, one of the few people who actually reads the top secret presidential daily brief every single day.

Jared Kushner is at the center, Raj, of some of the biggest decisions impacting Americans right now. He can't do his job without the top security clearance. So what will happen to him now?

SHAH: Well, again, I'm not going to address your speculation. What I will say, you just mentioned a number of statements. I'll tell you one more from just a little over week ago in which the chief of staff said pursuant to his memo about interim and permanent security clearances, that he has full confidence in Jared Kushner's ability to do his job, to address the issues of Israeli-Palestinian peace. He also addressed the issue of U.S.-Mexico relation. So, you know, he's doing a great job on behalf of the President and he's going to continue in his role.

BURNETT: So he can continue in his role if he can't be briefed on what's going on with Iran or terror threats or anything like that? I mean, how can you do Middle East peace if you don't have security of clearance?

SHAH: Again, that is making assumptions and answering hypothetical that we're not prepared to address. We do not comment on security clearances and that is the policy of the White House.

BURNETT: So according to the "Washington Post," Raj, sighting current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence on this, officials in at least four countries, and I don't know if you heard me mentioned this but I want to make sure I list them again, United Arab Emirates, China, Israel, and Mexico, privately discussed ways to manipulate Kushner by taking advantage of his financial difficulties and his lack of foreign policy experience. Does this concern you, this report?

SHAH: Well, I'm certainly not going to address leaks of possibly classified information that former or current administration or non- administration officials are engaged in. Again, we do take leaks of classified information very seriously. This appears to be another one just like that and we're simply not going to address it.

BURNETT: Right. I understand you're upset about the leak, but what about the substance?

SHAH: Well, what I'm saying is I don't know that to be true and that would be a matter that is classified and as a result we're not going to be discussing it.

BURNETT: "Washington Post" is also reporting that H.R. McMaster, of course, with whom you also work every day, the President's national security adviser, has learned that Kushner had contacts with foreign official that not only did Kushner now coordinate through the National Security Council, he did not officially report them. Do you have a comment on that and the accuracy of that report?

SHAH: I do know that, you know, the National Security Council has addressed that and said that, you know, Jared Kushner's contacts with foreign officials have and will continue to run through the NSC.

BURNETT: So if there is truth to this that he did not coordinate anything to the NSC or an official report, if there is something to that, which the "Washington Post" just reporting, would that be acceptable, Raj?

SHAH: I'll stop you -- Erin, I'll stop you right there. You're asking me about hypothetical and I don't know to be true based on classified information, which we wouldn't be able to address. So, again --

BURNETT: Raj, that's a pretty simple question. If something happen, is it acceptable or not acceptable?

SHAH: Again, all of any senior official's activities on policy matters, on interactions with members of Congress or with foreign officials need to be run through the appropriate offices and individuals within the White House and within the agency throughout government. And that's being done and that will continue to be done. But I'm not going to address leaks from potentially classified information that is being speculated about in the press.

BURNETT: Right. And of course I understand, you don't like leaks but of course our concern is when the leaks are at the crucial nature, you know, what would be the reaction of this White House to that?

SHAH: Erin, but you have a bunch of officials claiming certain things are true. I have seen all sorts of reports in the "Washington Post," on CNN's website, elsewhere that are not true going back over the last year. So I would simply state that we're not going to address, you know, speculation about the potentially classified information.

BURNETT: So this does follow, Raj, on our reporting that the Special Counsel Bob Mueller is looking at Kushner's efforts, specifically to secure financing for the Kushner companies from foreign investors, China and Qatar, among them during the presidential transition including that building, 666 here in New York, which is reeling from financial difficulties.

The question for you Raj is very simple one but a very important one, because of who Jared Kushner is and the central role that he holds. Can you promise that he did not at any time use his role with President Trump to try to bail out his own personal finances?

SHAH: Well, I'll say that we have been cooperating with the special counsel with their process. We've been providing information, witnesses, et cetera, voluntarily with them. We do not comment on specific individuals, witnesses or information with respect to the special counsel's process. And it just goes to what the President has been saying from day one. There is no collusion. There is no obstruction. There is going to be no finding of wrongdoing. I think that applies --


BURNETT: If you're willing to say there is no collusion, why can you answer the question directly? In your opinion now say that Jared Kushner did or did not ever use his role to benefit himself?

[19:10:06] SHAH: What I am saying and what the White House has consistently said is that our communications with the special counsel and his investigative practices and the areas of concern that it's looking into are going to be addressed with the special counsel and not with the media.

BURNETT: The President has said, and been very clear, that the decision on Jared Kushner's security clearance is up to John Kelly, his chief of staff, that he made it very clear, he'll make the right decision, whatever the implication of what decision would be. I just wanted to play exactly what the President said for you, Raj. Here he is.


TRUMP: I will let General Kelly make that decision. And he's going to do what's right for the country. And I have no doubt he'll make the right decision.


BURNETT: Raj, is the President happy with this decision to strip Jared Kushner as his top secret clearance?

SHAH: Again, that's assuming information that we're not addressing or not commenting on. We do not comment on security clearances. And, you know, I can repeat myself over and over, but if we want to move on to something else that I can answer, we can do that as well. BURNETT: Does the President stand behind any decision that John Kelly made on that front today?

SHAH: Again, as I have said over and over again, I'll continue to repeat it, we're not going to be commenting on security clearances.

BURNETT: All right. Raj Shah, thank you very much. I appreciate your time as always. Thanks for coming on.

SHAH: All right, thank you.

BURNETT: And next, the scales of power may just have been tipped in the chief of staff's favor. He stood up and did what he wanted to do. Did John Kelly just win in the showdown with Jared Kushner?

Plus the breaking news, the head of the NSA says he has not been given the authority from the President of the United States to stop Russian interference in American election. It is a stunning admission. Why not?

And new details tonight about the expensive furniture for the HUD Secretary Ben Carson's office, you're paying for $31,000 table set. And the whistleblower who lost her job over this is speaking out tonight exclusively.


[19:15:45] BURNETT: Breaking news, Jared Kushner losing his top secret security clearance at the White House. Sources saying it's a clear victory for the Chief of staff John Kelly in his power struggle with Kushner.

One source close to the White House saying it is "very humiliating. It looks like General Kelly won this one." Another one GOP source telling CNN the downgrade "directly undercuts" Jared main job as White House envoi to the Middle East and greatly reduces his national security influence.

"OutFront" now, former Ethics Lawyer for President George W. Bush, Richard Painter, National Political Reporter for Politico, Eliana Johnson, and former Director of the Nixon Presidential Library, Tim Naftali.

And Tim, let me start with you. Obviously Raj Shah doesn't want to talk about security clearances. But this was a stunning blow to Jared Kushner and to the tight orbit around this President.

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Erin, this is stunning blow to President Trump. It was a surprise when he basically delegated this decision to General Kelly. After all, President Trump like any president before him could have decided that he put aside the concerns of the intelligence community and give his son-in-law security clearance. So he could have done this. He decided not to.

It looked as if for a while Jared Kushner was back stopping the President. He was reading the materials the President didn't want to read. Now he can't read those --

BURNETT: The daily briefing and all of these top secret things, yes.

NAFTALI: So this means that the President who generally is uncomfortable with people outside of his family orbit is now going to rely on people that are not related to him or married to members of his family. This is a big deal and it is striking to me that the President has said nothing. He must be fuming.

BURNETT: I mean, Eliana, I just want to play again the way the President played this, right? He said, "John Kelly, it's up to you. And I know you'll make the right decision." Now, whether that was a wink, wink, nod, nod or pressure or what, let me just play again what the President said to John Kelly about this crucial security decision.


TRUMP: I will let General Kelly make that decision. And he's going to do what's right for the country. And I have no doubt he'll make the right decision.


BURNETT: Now, Eliana, you first broke the story about Kushner losing his top secret security clearance late today. What are you hearing at this hour?

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, Erin, my understanding was the President was hesitant to intervene in the security clearance process because he was aware of the blow back that he would suffer if he simply granted Kushner a waiver and gave him a permanent clearance. And it's so interesting because he wasn't conscious of the blow back that he suffered for bringing his daughter and son-in-law into the White House in the first place.

Nonetheless, it's not worthy that General Kelly downgraded everybody in the White House who was operating on a top secret security clearance and made them operate on a secret security clearance, including Jared Kushner. So he's trying to address the fallout from the scandal surrounding Staff Secretary Rob Porter that occurred a couple of weeks ago and is not paying any attention to the fact that this is impacting Jared Kushner.

What security officials told me is that Jared Kushner now does not have access to the sort of intelligence that a normal person in his role would have access to. So he is now really operating with his hands tied behind his back.

BURNETT: And Richard, that's the crucial question. As Jeff Zeleny raised and Raj Shah did not want to weigh in on, which is can Jared Kushner even stay in the White House and do his job with his portfolio at this point?

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, his portfolio never should have been foreign policy to begin with. He doesn't know anything about foreign policy other than -- perhaps luxury vacation travel and launching loans from Russian banks and financing from China (INAUDIBLE) for his own family.

But he's not a foreign policy expert. He never should have been entrusted with the Middle East and he shouldn't be in that arena at all to begin with. I don't know what his job portfolio should be in the White House. I really don't think he ought to be there. But this is no great loss because I don't think he was a useful foreign policy adviser.

This President needs to get some foreign policy experts in this White House because there aren't any or there are very few except in the national security counsel has a handful of people. He really needs some foreign policy advice. He's not getting it and the state department is losing people right and left and we are in serious trouble.

[19:20:08] BURNETT: And yet this is a guy, Tim, Jared Kushner, you know, who reportedly was hanging out with Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia until 4:00 in the morning. You know, it sort of fancied himself, I think, with a lot of people who are in that 35 to early 40 age range in the Middle East to sort of become their friend. That he could become the peace broker because he had this various friendships.

We know, Tim, that he left out contacts with foreigners, including that crucial Trump meeting, the Trump Tower meeting, right, with Natalia Veselnitskaya, with the -- about the dirt on Hillary Clinton. He was enforced to revise his national security application form multiple times because this information was left out.

And as I mentioned, the national security adviser, the "Washington Post" is reporting, is saying Jared Kushner have contact to foreign officials but he did not report the way that he should have. What is the significance of all of this? Whatever you want to call them, omissions, lies, we do not know what the right word is at this point.

NAFTALI: OK. Well, there are two things. One, that presidents can use people without TS/SCI clearance to send messages.


NAFTALI: Presidents have done that in the past, so he can continue to carry messages. It's how foreigners will view him that matters now. They know that he's been brought down a notch.


NAFTALI: This is very humiliating. He is, therefore, less interesting in one respect to them because he won't know what he used to know. On the other hand they can manipulate him, because if he still wants to be a player despite the fact he doesn't have clearances --

BURNETT: They can dangle things out there.

NAFTALI: -- they can dangle, they can build him up. So he is, I think, in a much more vulnerable position now. And I wonder how long he's going to stay in the White House, frankly. BURNETT: And Eliana, do you have any reporting on that, that crucial question of what next for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump?

JOHNSON: I don't have any reporting on what their future is in the White House. But I will say that today's news not only of his downgraded security clearance, but of his extensive contacts with foreign governments and of what foreign governments are trying to -- how they're trying to leverage him has prompted a rash of speculation about just how long they'll be around.

Today was truly, you know, I was terming it, Jared Kushner's no good very bad day, because on top of those two pieces of news, we had a report that he potentially violated campaign laws by weighing in with an official statement on a political campaign. And it just seemed that every piece of news coming out today adversely implicated him.

And on top of that, his most trusted confidant in the White House, one of them, Josh Raffel, news emerged today that he is leaving the White House in the coming months. So it does seem that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are losing confidants and access by the day.

BURNETT: And, Richard, you know, the "Washington Post" also reporting officials in at least four foreign countries, including China, have tried to manipulate Kushner through his business arrangements and that the least, right? You know, I don't know if anyone remembers this, let me just show it to everybody again.

You may remember last May, Kushner sister, this is in China, reportedly went to China to get $150 million financing for housing development, Kushner family project. And as part of the presentation, she specifically and explicitly touted the family ties and Jared's role in the White House. We even see the name on the screen.

Richard, when you put all this together, do you think Jared Kushner tried to use his role to benefit himself financially?

PAINTER: I don't know what he tried to do. But other than the fact that he doesn't know anything about foreign policy, another reason why he shouldn't be in the foreign policy is he has financial arrangements all over the world. He's been going all over the world begging for money from the Chinese, and deals with the Russians, and then he's involved with the Middle East peace negotiations. He's got investments in Israel and financial ties there and he has too many financial conflicts of interest.

And if he participates in the government matter that has a direct predictable effect on his financial interest, that's a crime under the United States code 208 and he better not do that or he's going to end up in big trouble. So he ought to stay out of foreign policy with that type of investment portfolio and I think he will look seriously getting out of the White House.

BURNETT: We'll see what happens next, but obviously a stunning development tonight. Thank you all.

And next, why isn't the U.S. disrupting Russia's hacking of elections? So today, the NSA chief testified and said Donald Trump, the President of the United States, has not given him the order to do so.

And more breaking news, the latest on the suspicious letter that has made 11 people ill at U.S. military base is developing right now, three of them are in the hospital at this hour.


[19:28:43] BURNETT: Breaking news, officials in at least four countries 2privately discussing ways that they could manipulate President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. This is according to a report tonight in the "Washington Post" which says officials in China, Israel, Mexico and the UAE looked into how they could take advantage of Kushner's complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience. This development comes as we're also learning Kushner has lost his top secret security clearance, a major development tonight.

Kaitlan Collins is "OutFront." And Kaitlan, what are White House officials doing right now to ease the tension that clearly is now here between Jared Kushner and John Kelly, the chief of staff, who is the one who made this decision to strip this top secret clearance?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Certainly a significant amount of tension between these two here, Erin. And we know that White House officials worked over the last few weeks to try to identify a way that Jared Kushner could stay on in the role he has now with the portfolio he has now without personally appealing to the President for some kind of waiver so he could continue to access that highly classified information.

But with our reporting today, we show that Jared Kushner was downgraded from a top secret interim security clearance to a secret interim security clearance just like the rest of the people who are also operating under a similar one.

And though the White House is stressing that Jared Kushner is going to be fine and he's going to be able to operate in the same retrospect that he has been for the past 13 months dealing with the Middle East, dealing with Mexico, that is pretty much only the White House saying that. And Jared Kushner's daily life in the West Wing is about to look a lot different, because we know he was one of the top officials who requested almost more access to classified information than anyone else.

We also know that he had access to the PDB, the presidential daily brief, a document that has most pressing information around the world for the president. He read it -- reads it regularly. We know that as well.

So, he will not have access to either of those. And he also won't be able to sit in on the same meetings that he has been so far. We know the president is aware of the tension between Jared Kushner and John Kelly, but, Erin, it's hard to see how life is not a lot different in the West Wing for Jared Kushner from now on.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Yes, very different. And I think a lot of things you point out that, Kaitlan, so crucial, including that he was the biggest consumer the biggest requester of top secret information somebody who used it read it voraciously,

Thank you so much, Kaitlan.

And OUTFRONT now, the former director of national intelligence and retired lieutenant general in the United States Air Force, James Clapper.

Great to have you with me, General. I appreciate your time as always.

Look, Jared Kushner had top-secret security clearance and he used it. He was the top requester of information in the White House. He had the access to the presidential daily brief and now that access is stripped, downgraded. What's your reaction, General?

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, first, I think the Chief of Staff John Kelly did the right thing and I gather that Kushner's Kushner was one of perhaps or so that at least that's what's been reported there were in a similar status that did not have access to TS/SCI, you know, highest level of clearance access.

2So, my impression is that John Kelly made a decision across the board with everyone that was affected to include Kushner which is the right judgment now. As had been stated earlier, you know, the president ultimately is the ultimate clearance grantor and so, if he wants to make an exception and still give his son-in-law access, he can do that.

BURNETT: Now, "The Washington Post" is reporting a couple of crucial things, General. One of them that the officials from four countries, at least four, discuss manipulating Kushner in part because of his financial troubles and his inexperience on foreign policy. How concerning is that? And you know we understand those countries included places like China and countries in the Middle East.

CLAPPER: Well, it's very -- it's potentially very concerning. Now, and I'm not in a position to confirm that reporting, but let's just assume it is valid.


CLAPPER: And that that is precisely I think the one of the complexities in doing a background investigation on Kushner because of the potential financial complications that -- or dealings he may have with these countries who in turn could use that as leverage to influence policy outcomes by the United States.

Now, I'm given to understand that the actual background investigation phase of this of will be done relatively soon within a month and if that's true, then it will still be up to the White House, some senior official, presumably John Kelly, to then adjudicate what a background investigation has turned up and actually make the ultimate decision as to whether or not he would even -- he would be granted a clearance based on the results of that investigation. BURNETT: How big of a deal is this development though? When you

think about a senior advisor to the president, right? Among his portfolio, right, dealing with China, peace in the Mideast -- had traveled, had meetings with kings and dictators and all of the access that he has to suddenly use this clearance -- I mean is this an unprecedented moment?

CLAPPER: It is and it really puts him in a position if this sticks of dealing with way less than a full deck and all these sensitive portfolios. Just take Mideast as a case in point, having some familiarity with the situation there. I just think it would be very difficult to do anything meaningful without having access to the classified intelligence at the highest levels, to understand the subtleties and nuances of what's going on out there, not to mention dealing with the another portfolio of China, and has also been indicated it isn't just a question of access to classified information and what he can read or not.

The other complexity is attending any kind of meetings. White House Situation Room is typically set at the TS/SCI level.

[19:35:03] And so, if he were to attend a meeting and he's only cleared for secret, that really inhibits the conduct of business.

BURNETT: I want to ask you also a general about the NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers today he was on Capitol Hill testifying specifically asked about us efforts to stop Russian interference in elections at the origin of the attack, right, to go -- to bring it to the Russians. He said he has not received authority from the president of the United States to do this.

And I just wanted to play --

CLAPPER: Well --

BURNETT: I'm going to play for you, I'm sorry. I want to play for you what he said and also the White House press secretary trying to muddy the water and almost deny what he said. Here he is and then Sarah Sanders.


SEN. JACK REED (D-RI), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The mission teams particularly at the origin of these attacks have the authority to do so if granted the authority and I don't have the day-to-day authority to do that if granted the authority so you would need basically to be directed by the president through the secretary of defense.

MIKE ROGERS, NSA DIRECTOR: Yes, sir. In fact, I mentioned that in my statement.

REED: Have you been directed to do so given the strategic threat that faces the United States and the significant consequences you recognize already?

ROGERS: No, I have not -- REPORTER: He's in charge of cyber command. Why not give him the

authority? Nobody is denying him the authority.


BURNETT: Of course, the reality of it is, is she's trying to punt the issue and muddy the water, General, by saying no one's denying in the authority. But, of course, the White House has to give it to him. They have to go out and actively say you have the authority to do this on a day to day basis.

How big of a deal is it that the president of the United States is not giving Mike Rogers this authority?

CLAPPER: Well, it's both stunning and emblematic. I mean, this is -- this is consistent with the president singular indifference to the threat posed by Russia and that's that started when Mike Rogers was one of the four of us as a group who briefed then President-elect Trump on January of last year about this and he for whatever reason just can't accept it.

And what's required here is a whole-of-government if not whole of society approach here and that can only be led from the White House. So, good on Mike Rogers for telling truth to power here. And he is not in position to freelance particularly when it can -- it involves active measures.

He has -- you know, the NSA has a passive collection mission which continues 7 by 24 through 365. But to actually go out and do an attack at the origin as he put it, at the source, he has to have authority for that and I'd be -- I'd be I wouldn't be surprised if he hasn't even been asked for options.

As far as press secretary, well, she ought to get the Ginger Rogers Award for tap-dancing. That was a real artful dodge because after 13 months into this administration, this should have been -- this is a no-brainer. It should have been authorized a year ago. 2 BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, General Clapper. As always, I appreciate your time.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And next breaking news, an investigation underway at this hour. There was a suspicious letter that has made people ill at a U.S. military base, three of them in the hospital tonight. The breaking details this hour, and new details about the Florida school shooting breaking tonight. The gunman may have had plans for a bigger massacre.


[19:42:12] BURNETT: Breaking news at this hour, a frightening hazmat situation at a military base just outside Washington, D.C. Eleven people ill, three have been transported to a local hospital. They opened a suspicious letter. Barbara Starr is OUTFRONT at the Pentagon.

And, Barbara, obviously concerning situation at the military base tonight with people in the hospital.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is, Erin, but we do have some updated good news information at this point. A law enforcement official is telling CNN that the initial field tests have determined that this was not a hazardous substance. Now, tonight, the FBI transporting it all to their lab in Quantico, further in southern Virginia, very nearby though, for further tests. But the initial field tests are, it was not a hazardous substance. This was a letter that was open at this base near Washington earlier today, 11 people falling ill, three taken to the hospital.

The indications are in we are told from this law enforcement official, it was a letter that appeared to be addressed to the base commander, at points was illegible, was ranting, not clear if the sender had a relationship with the base commander, or it was just some, you know, perhaps disturbed, unhappy individual sending the letter.

But the good news is, right now, it does not appear that a hazardous substance was involved.

Nonetheless, Erin, as it is these days, you see a very rapid response from law enforcement military and emergency personnel responding, trying to make sure everyone is OK -- Erin.

BURNETT: And, Barbara, again as you point out, 11 people impacted, three people at a local hospital. If they're saying there's no tests for something negative, do they yet understand why they're in the hospital or what's happening there?

STARR: Well, you know, what happens is mail is screened and treated to kill off any hazardous substance or at least try and detect it. If there was something in this letter that was not hazardous, it may be that screening didn't pick it up, people opened it. It still could have been something perhaps with a smell or an odor or something that caused irritation on skin contact. We don't really know we haven't had a full briefing on it yet.

Some of these can be substances that are -- have a lot of irritant to the body, but are not hazardous, and we've seen this time and again. So, they're just making sure everyone is in good shape.

BURNETT: All right. Barbara, thank you very much on that breaking story tonight.

And next, the Florida high school shooter had 180 rounds left remaining. And that's not all. We're going to talk about some sunny new details tonight with a local lawmaker whose daughter is going to be going back to Stoneman Douglas High School tomorrow.

And demoted for refusing to spend taxpayer money on upgrading Ben Carson's office furniture.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said specifically $5,000 is not enough to buy a decent chair.


[19:45:03] BURNETT: That's coming up.


BURNETT: New tonight, shocking details revealing the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School. It could have been a lot worse. A law enforcement official telling CNN the shooter had 180 rounds left when he stopped shooting. Investigators say he might have tried to break a window in an attempt to continue shooting sniper-style at people fleeing the building. He was stopped though thank God by hurricane proof glass.

OUTFRONT now, the Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine. His daughter and his niece are both students at Stoneman Douglas. They were there the day of the shooting and school is set to start there again tomorrow.

Commissioner, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

I mean I just want to start with that. I mean this is going to be an emotional moment for you for your daughter for your niece. I mean how do you feel about your daughter going back to school tomorrow?

MICHAEL UDINE, DAUGHTER & NIECE ATTEND STONEMAN DOUGLAS: It's a difficult moment for the entire community. The Stoneman Douglas High School community is a very close-knit group of Parkland and Coral Springs residents and we're like a big family. And it's -- we went back with the -- with the orientation this Sunday. It was -- it was a little bit healing.

[19:50:00] I'm sure people are apprehensive about tomorrow.

But I think the students want to get back. The teachers want to teach. The students want to get back to learn and I think they want to get back to some level of normalcy after this complete tragedy.

BURNETT: Of course, they'll be rooting for both of them. And for everyone else going back without hard that will be.

We are learning tonight, Commissioner Udine, from investigators that the shooter had planned to do much even bigger of a massacre, but he had all this ammunition that we set a hundred and rounds still remaining and then official is telling us that there were swastikas edged on to his magazines. As you hear this, what is your reaction?

UDINE: You know, every day, it's just more and more shocking information coming out about this whole situation, and we had our county commission meeting today and the commission and -- I called for a -- I want a complete investigation on this by somebody with some national gravitas and stature that can come down here and that can look at the evidence leading up to the incident, the actual incident itself, and the response to the shooting, to really get some our arms around what the actual facts and evidence was here -- what was missed, what could be -- what could be changed so that this doesn't happen again in the future.

This community needs that kind of understanding so that we can move forward from this.

BURNETT: And I want to ask you about this because, of course, you know we all -- we all know there were there were missed signs. They were calls made. There were warnings given. They were not heeded and there are shocking discrepancies about, for example, the number of calls that law enforcement received relating to the shooter.

The Broward County sheriff's office says there were 23 calls and then they put out a statement, Commissioner, as you're aware saying, quote, since 2008, BSO responded to 23 incidents where previous contact was made with the killer or his family. Stop reporting 39; it's simply not true, all in caps.

We at CNN have records showing at least 45 calls made to the house since 2008. I mean, you emphasized a moment ago that you wanted a third party national independent agency to come in and investigate. Do you not trust the sheriff's office to do a fair investigation given these discrepancies?

UDINE: It's not a question really of trust or not trust. But there were so many different agencies that looked like they may have dropped the ball here. Every -- like you said, every different agency leading up to this seemed to have one piece of this puzzle, but nobody was talking, nobody was sharing, no one was communicating. So, there were so many warning signs that seemed to be missed.

I mean, the FBI missed something. You had DCF that was out there. You had information with the school. You had information that was called in to local law enforcement.

At some point, someone's got to say enough is enough, and there needs to be a comprehensive look at this. This shouldn't be coming out in dribs or drabs when the information is factual. It should be released, and it should be acted upon.

Only then will we be able to know what happened and what we can do to try and prevent this. The clues to this seemed to be there. It seems -- we seem to have had enough clues but they just didn't seem to be acted upon, and that's the tragedy in this.

BURNETT: Well, Commissioner, some of those calls of course came in to the sheriff's office, to Sheriff Scott Israel's office. He's, of course, described his leadership as amazing during all of this. Should he stay in his job? Do you think that he should stay or go?

UDINE: So, in my mind, that this whole -- this whole thing is so much bigger than Scott Israel. It's so much bigger than the sheriff of Broward County. You had the FBI dropping the ball here. You had other agencies dropping the ball. So, let's get a complete full investigation by somebody that really understands these type of mass casualty type of events, and then let's get the facts and then if changes have to be made, let's make the changes. But I'm concerned and I'm working on coming up with solutions so these kids can go back to school and it's safe so that the community can heal and we can go forward in that regard. Anything besides that is just noise to me right now. All these things will sort themselves later as these investigations come in.


UDINE: But I think the key here is really to get the facts out.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Commissioner, thank you very much and good luck tomorrow morning with that emotionally difficult but such an important day for your daughter. Thank you.

UDINE: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next the official who blew the whistle on an alleged attempt to spend tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on a table set and a chair for Ben Carson. The whistleblower speaking up exclusively to us.


[19:56:56] BURNETT: Breaking news: a whistle blower from the Department of Housing and Urban Development says she was demoted and she was demoted after pushing back on lavish plans to redecorate Secretary Ben Carson's office. This is stunning. You got to hear it for yourself.

And Rene Marsh has the exclusive.


BEN CARSON, HUD SECRETARY: There is so much that we are going to be able to accomplish.

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Ben Carson was assuming his responsibilities as the new secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a battle over office decor was brewing.

HELEN FOSTER, HUD WHISTLEBLOWER: I had a bucket in my car because I would throw up on the way to work and on the way home from work every day just out of anxiety.

MARSH: Helen Foster, the former chief administrative officer for HUD, says she was demoted and retaliated against in part for refusing to spend more than was legally allowed to redecorate Carson's new office.

FOSTER: One on one meeting with my boss who was the acting secretary at the time, and he told me again that $5,000 wasn't enough and said specifically $5,000 is not enough to buy a decent chair.

MARSH: CNN obtained Foster's November 2017 sworn complaint with the Office of Special Counsel. In it, she states she was, quote, taken out of my position as chief administrative officer after she refused to misuse taxpayer money she suddenly found herself in a role with no responsibilities.

She tracks it down in part over the dispute with the office decor.

FOSTER: My sense is that it was coming from Mrs. Carson's desire to, you know, have the ability to redecorate the suite.

MARSH: Candy Carson is a familiar face at HUD.

CANDY CARSON, WIFE OF BEN CARSON: We're really excited about working -- well, he's really -- I am excited just because you are doing it.

MARSH: She's joined her husband on official tours and events at the agency. She did not respond to CNN's request for comment.

Carson is already facing scrutiny for the role his family has played in his department, after reports last month his son, Ben Carson Jr., who is not a federal employee, helped organize an official listening tour in Baltimore last summer.

Agency lawyers warned it could violate ethics rules since Carson's son does business in Baltimore. As for Foster's complaint, a spokesman for HUD says the agency did not surpass the $5,000 limit and provide receipts totaling nearly $3,400. The agency said the only money spent was to put up new blinds in Carson's and his deputy secretary's office.

But recently, CNN has discovered the agency spent more than $31,000 to replace a dining room set in the secretary's dining room at the agency. HUD shared these photos and justified the purchase due to escalating cost for repairing older furniture.


MARSH: Well, Erin, a HUD spokesperson said the Carsons were not aware of the $31,000 purchase that you saw there. The spokesman said a career staffer decided to make the purchase on their own. And when asked whether they had such authority to spend that much money for the budget, the person said that is there understanding -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you so much. And incredible report. Rene, thank you.

And thanks for joining us. Anderson is next.