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Trump Weighs Revoking Security Clearances of Obama Intel, National Security Officers; 5 Witnesses Given Immunity to Testify Against Manafort. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 23, 2018 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JAKE TAPPER, ANCHOR: All right. Tom Foreman, thanks.

[17:00:03] Follow me on Facebook and Twitter, @JakeTapper. You can tweet the show, @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Revoking clearance. In what would be an unprecedented move, President Trump is considering stripping former national security and intelligence chiefs of their clearances. What's behind the threat? Is it payback for their criticism?

Twitter tirade. The White House tries to explain away President Trump's hours-long Twitter tirade in which he calls Russia's election attacks a hoax and the president himself makes clear he has no regrets for his dire, ALL-CAPS threat at Iran.

Granted immunity. Paul Manafort appears in court in a green jail jumpsuit as a federal judge gives five witnesses immunity ahead of their testimony against the former Trump campaign chairman.

And from Russia with cash. An alleged Russian spy accused of offering sex to gain influence in Washington with financial backing of a Russian billionaire.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, President Trump considers revoking the security clearances of half a dozen former national security officials, including ex-FBI director James Comey, former CIA director John Brennan, former director of national intelligence James Clapper, and others. But some don't even have clearances any longer. The unprecedented move comes as the president, surrounded by scandals, is attacking an all directions. Is he blindly retaliating for their criticism?

I'll speak with James Clapper and Congressman Gerry Connolly of the Foreign Affairs Committee. And our correspondents and specialists are all standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin over at the White House. Our correspondent Kaitlan Collins is standing by.

Kaitlan, a truly extraordinary and unprecedented threat from the White House, but it doesn't seem grounded in reality.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, extraordinary is a good way to put it. It was unheard of that the White House is making this request, targeting these former national security and intelligence officials, most who worked in the Obama administration. And they made it quite clear today, Wolf, why exactly they are going after these people specifically.

Sarah Sanders was asked at the briefing today about a request from Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Republican senator, I should note, who had publicly called on President Trump to revoke John Brennan's security clearance. When asked if the president was going to consider that, she actually surprised the room by announcing that not only was he considering getting rid of Brennan's security clearance and stripping him of that but also five other officials, as well.

Now, when asked why it was the White House wanted to do this, something that is unheard of, Wolf, this is what Sarah Sanders had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia, or being influenced by Russia against the president, is extremely inappropriate. And the fact that people with security clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Now, Sarah Sanders didn't give a firm deadline of when the president is going to decide if these officials should lose their security clearances or not, but she did say she feels this because they have politicized their positions.

Now, asked if it's President Trump who has politicized these agencies instead, Sarah Sanders rejected that idea and said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: the president's not making baseless accusations of improper contact with a foreign government and accusing the president of the United States of treasonous activity.

When you have the highest level of security clearance, when you're the person that holds the nation's deepest, most sacred secrets at your hands, and you go out and you make false accusations against the president of the United States, he thinks that is a -- something to be very concerned with.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COLLINS: Now, these officials that have these high-level security clearances typically maintain them even once they leave their posts, Wolf, so they can consult with their successors, offer advice sometimes, things of that matter. It's very normal for them to keep their and retain their high-level security clearances.

Even Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who has pleaded guilty to lying to investigators, kept his clearance during the Obama administration when he was attending Trump political rallies, leading chants of "lock her up" regarding Hillary Clinton. Just to keep that in mind.

Now, Wolf, this was just announced a few hours ago, but it is already raising questions here in Washington about whether the president is using his power to retaliate against those who criticize him publicly, because several of the officials on this list have criticized the president in recent days, most recently over his summit, his sit-down with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

Now, that is what the White House is going to face questions about this but, Wolf, this is essentially unheard of.

BLITZER: It certainly is. I'm sure the current intelligence and national security chief serving President Trump are not very happy about this threat.

[17:05:08] Kaitlan Collins over at the White House, thank you.

The former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, appeared in a federal courtroom today here in Washington as a judge granted immunity to witnesses planning to testify against him.

Let's go to our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz. He's outside the federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, right outside Washington.

So what do we know about the five people, Shimon, receiving immunity?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, these five people just receiving this immunity this morning after a request from the special counsel's office, the judge here signed off on it and then ordered that the names, against the objection of the special counsel, of the prosecutors, ordering that the names of these five individuals be released. And since then, we have learned their identities. And here they are.

It's Donna Duggan, Conor O'Brien, Cindy Laporta. Now her firm, Cindy Laporta, representatives for her just put out a statement saying that her company, KWC -- it's an accounting firm here in Virginia -- they had done some tax return work for Paul Manafort for his business and personal tax returns.

And then the other two individuals are James Brennan and Dennis Raico, and they are believed, according to Internet records, online records, that they worked for a bank in Chicago. Now, prosecutors are intending to present evidence that Manafort was

seeking loans in exchange for possible positions for a bank executive in the Trump administration. And that could be as to why one of these people is being called here to testify, Wolf.

Also, clear that these people that the prosecutors have now identified have done or were doing some sort of financial, personal financial work for Paul Manafort, his bank work, and also his mortgage work for him.

BLITZER: Shimon, why has the trial now been delayed another week?

PROKUPECZ: Well, what happened today, Wolf, was that the defense attorneys for Paul Manafort came in and said they needed more time to review some -- about 120,000 records they had received relating to Rick Gates. And as we know, Rick Gates has been cooperating with the special counsel. He's expected to be a big witness here once the trial gets under way, which was supposed to start on Wednesday and now has been delayed to July 31 for jury selection.

The defense saying that they had received some some new information, new documents from an iPad, other electronic devices that belonged to Rick Gates that they needed more time to review.

And court right now, Wolf, is still in session. The attorneys are up there arguing other motions, other things they had been seeking. The judge also ruled today that neither the prosecution nor the defense can ask jurors who they voted for, what party they're affiliated with in the presidential election.

BLITZER: Shimon Prokupecz outside the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, thank you.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: Great to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's begin with your reaction to the breaking news. The White House now says President Trump is considering revoking the security clearances for several former top intelligence and national security officials. You see the six of them up on the screen right now. Do you believe this is a dangerous move?

CONNOLLY: I do. I think it's a terrible precedent. It is mean- spirited. It's petulant. But maybe more ominously, it's political retribution for an assessment or an opinion that's been shared by somebody, you know, who's informed. To try to silence that is obviously designed to have a chilling effect. That's not how American democracy works.

And if we're going to get into that kind of tit-for-tat, and if the Republicans remain silent about this, they're inviting, you know, this kind of retribution, should the tables get turned. I think it's just the wrong road do go down. I think it's actually

dangerous, because these are men and women who have served their country ably for decades. They've got great skills. They've got great expertise and knowledge and history. We don't want to lose it over political pettiness, because Trump doesn't like a particular critique.

BLITZER: Yes, no. As somebody who's covered the intelligence community for a long time, the potential ramifications as far as national security are very significant, because the current CIA director likes to consult with past CIA directors.

CONNOLLY: Of course.

BLITZER: "What was it like meeting with this other foreign intelligence chief?" A current director of national intelligence wants to meet with his predecessors. A director of the DIA or the NSA, they all like to speak with their predecessors. Potentially, how much of an impact could this have on national security?

[17:10:06] CONNOLLY: Well, let's keep in mind that the Trump administration is already pretty thin in the talent pool. There are a lot of positions they haven't filled. There's a lot of talent that, frankly, doesn't want to work for Trump.

So to actually now lose this cadre of former officials, who as you say, are often called in to consult with current officials in the Trump administration, I think is just a huge loss for America. And just a very unwise and foolish move by a very petty and petulant president.

BLITZER: It doesn't appear the White House did its homework before making the announcement. Two of the six officials that were listed by Sarah Sanders at the White House briefing don't even have current security clearances. We're talking about James Comey and Andrew McCabe. Comey, the former FBI director, McCabe the former deputy director.

So what does it tell you about the way the president is approaching this decision?

CONNOLLY: It tells you that he's operating out of personal pique, not out of any kind of strategy or thought-through policy. And, you know, in his case, I guess the consequences be damned. It's just not a good way to govern.

BLITZER: Yes, let's turn to another critically important issue. The president's threatening tweet today, as far as Iran is concerned. I'll put it up on the screen and read it.

He tweets to the Iranian president, Rouhani, "NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN. OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE AND DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!"

Do you believe, Congressman, that the president is bluffing, or is this a real threat?

CONNOLLY: Well, if the past is prologue, we know that he had -- he engaged in this kind of bluff, this kind of threat with North Korea. And it meant very little. And in fact, we went from threatening fire and fury to calling Kim Jong-un "an honorable man." That's quite a leap.

So I don't know that on the international stage he has a lot of credibility even when he caps everything.

But I think more importantly, Wolf, this is a classic Trump strategy at distraction. He wants to get the topic off the catastrophic meeting he had in Helsinki and the two bad meetings before that in the United Kingdom with Theresa May and with our allies at NATO -- allies at NATO. And so -- but Russia just dominated the conversation for the whole week, and he was hurting.

So let's distract with a new topic, and in this case it's Iran. Let's find a new foil that maybe all of us to focus on, and we'll forget there was a summit in Helsinki last week.

BLITZER: So you think he's just trying to do this as a diversion?

CONNOLLY: This is wag the dog time in Washington, D.C. And it's kind of a crude attempt, frankly.

BLITZER: As you know, as far as North Korea's concerned, yes, the president made those kinds of threats, fire and fury, the likes of which we've never seen.

CONNOLLY: That's right.

BLITZER: He wound up having that summit with Kim Jong-un in Singapore, as you know. Should he consider sitting down with the Iranian leaders, as well?

CONNOLLY: Well, we have a little different history here. We had a nuclear agreement worked without the allies, with Iran, with Russia and China. It was working in all respects. Every metric set in that agreement was being met. He ripped it up, and he ripped it up again out of petulance, because it was Obama's agreement.

And now he's in the soup. So there's no nuclear agreement. There's the risk Iran could slide back, having no incentive to cooperate. He's alienated us from our allies who worked so hard on that agreement and nothing left but belligerence, frankly, as a policy, vis-a-vis Iran.

He hasn't made America greater again here. He has significantly weakened our interests, and I think jeopardized the security of the world if Iran, in fact, decides to returns to his nuclear development program.

BLITZER: Congressman Gerry Connolly, thanks so much for joining us.

CONNOLLY: My pleasure, Wolf. BLITZER: Up next, the breaking news. The president considers the

unprecedented move of stripping top former national security officials of their clearances. Is he lashing out because of their criticism?

And one of those on the list is the former director of national intelligence, General James Clapper. He's been a very sharp critic of the president. I'll ask him about this and more when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Breaking news: in what would be an unprecedented move, the White House now says that President Trump is considering revoking the security clearances of former national security officials including former FBI director James Comey, former CIA director John Brennan, former director of national intelligence James Clapper and others. General Clapper is joining us right now on the phone.

General, thanks so much for joining us. First of all, what do you think that the fact that you're being targeted, along with some of your former colleagues, by the White House?

GEN. JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST (via phone): Well, it's pretty obvious, Wolf, what the reason -- you know, why we were singled out for this contemplated action is because of, you know, the criticism that we've expressed about and reservations we expressed about the president.

BLITZER: What's to stop the president from revoking security clearances for anyone who criticizes -- criticizes him? I take it he has the right to do so.

CLAPPER: Well, he does, and that's a key question. If now, when someone applies for a security clearance, are they going to add to the standard Form 86 a pledge of allegiance to President -- President Trump -- unswerving, compromising, complete loyalty to the president -- as a new criterion for having a clearance? That's a pretty chilling thing.

[17:20:27] BLITZER: Have you ever seen anything like this before? Is this unprecedented?

BLITZER: Absolutely not. Never seen anything like it. I was -- I was amazed. I was watching the White House press conference today. And that's the first I'd heard of it. And yes, I was taken aback, to say the least.

BLITZER: You served in both -- under Democratic and Republican administrations. Democratic presidents, Republican administrations. You worked your way up to become a four-star general. I think you spent 35 or 40 years in the U.S. military.

Would you have ever considered advising a president to revoke the security clearances of former intelligence officials for simply being critical of the current -- of the then current administration?

CLAPPER: Absolutely not. And I think the arch -- arch recent example of that was Mike Flynn, with his vitriolic criticism of Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration. And it never crossed my mind to even raise the issue about revoking his security clearance.

BLITZER: Why would someone who no longer works in the government like you right now -- you're retired -- need a security clearance in the first place?

CLAPPER: Well, it's more to take advantage of the experience and corporate memory of people, particularly those who have spent a long time in the business.

And I've had occasion to consult over the last year and a half with Trump administration officials, who will remain nameless so I can protect them, just to take advantage of the history and the background that I have. And the same is true of the others on our -- on the bad boy list.

BLITZER: Well, I know for a fact that current officials in the Trump administration, whether Mike Pompeo when he was CIA director, spoke with his predecessors. Dan Coats is the director of national intelligence. I assume he's consulted with you on several occasions over the past year and a half. I wonder if you could confirm that.

CLAPPER: I'm not going to go into who I have or haven't consulted with. Again, to protect the confidentiality of those conversations and, frankly, to protect them.

BLITZER: Because it's very, very common for current officials to speak with their predecessors, to get some sense. if they're having a sensitive meeting, for example, with a foreign intelligence official. They may want to call in a predecessor, maybe of a different party, maybe somebody who has a different experience just to get a sense of what it was like. That's why I've been told you still need some security clearances.

CLAPPER: Well, yes. And I did that in the positions, senior positions that I occupied. As director of defense intelligence agency, director of national geospatial intelligence agency, and certainly as DNI, I called upon formers, mainly to get smart on -- on the history of certain issues and things that I was -- I had under consideration at the time. So it is a useful resource to draw on.

BLITZER: It certainly is. What do you think? Will this have a chilling effect on former government officials to express their own political opinions once they leave office?

CLAPPER: Well, I think it does. I think it's a very sad and disturbing thing for the First Amendment.

BLITZER: And one quick question. Tell us, General Clapper, how many years did you serve in the active U.S. military, and how personally irritated are you right now that someone with your background in the military, 30, 40 years, whatever it was, is being treated like this?

CLAPPER: Well, obviously, I think it's pretty shabby. And I'm not -- just not me. I served 34 years in the military altogether. Counting my Marine Corps reserve time, and then 32 years in the Air Force and then another 16 years in three different civilian capacities in -- in the government, two of which were political appointee positions, both in Republican and Democratic administrations.

And I think it's -- this is terrible. You know? The substantive importance of it for me is minimal. I don't get classified briefings anymore. None of us do. And, per my cadence tweet earlier today, this has no impact on what I say or do.

[17:25:05] It could for some people, particularly if they are under employment with a defense contractor where a security clearance is required. Well, it could have real impact. In my particular case, it doesn't.

BLITZER: General Clapper, thanks so much for joining us, and once again, thanks for all of your service to our country. We're appreciative.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Wolf. Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Coming up, more on the breaks new. I'll speak with Republican Senator Marco Rubio. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee. And as President Trump weighs stripping former intel and national security chiefs of their clearances, we'll have a lot more on all the breaking news.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Breaking news, President Trump's truly unprecedented threat to revoke the security clearances of six former leaders of the U.S. intelligence and national security community. See the six up on the screen right now. All six have publicly criticized the president.

[17:30:38] Here's what the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, told reporters earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Not only is the president looking to take away Brennan's security clearance, he's also looking into the clearances of Comey, Clapper, Hayden, Rice and McCabe. The president is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance, because they've politicized and, in some cases, monetized their public service and security clearances.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in our political and legal experts.

Laura Coates, what's your reaction to this stunning announcement at the White House?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So what she described is a punishment for those who criticized the president of the United States, which is not at all what we think about, about democracy. That's more of somebody who is in a tyrannical situation that we are supposed to be in.

It's unprecedented for a reason, because one reason, it's just a symbolic gesture that makes no sense. It's counterproductive. They actually will still retain the information they were able to have when they were on the job and so, if you remove it symbolically, they can still comment from their own observations and their own institutional knowledge.

And also, its proper for national security, as Barbara Starr pointed out earlier on CNN this afternoon, the idea of there is a reason to have institutional knowledge, be able to call upon people to get them up to speed. If you lose, that where's it leave the nation?

BLITZER: It truly is unprecedented, isn't it?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Absolutely. And the explanation that Sarah Sanders gave is a little bit odd, which is, "Well, they're profiting off of it."

I mean, lots of people who are former national security intelligence officials go into consulting. Many of them get television contracts. This is not -- Jim Clapper is not the first person ever to do this. Neither is Michael Hayden. Neither is anyone else they named that they names. So it is odd.

And I do think it has that enemy's list feel to it, even if that isn't the intent, Wolf. When you say something like, these six people who have been -- what's common there? They've all been outspokenly critical of the president of the United States. When you do that, you draw that line. You're clearly sending a message.

It's not about disclosing. There's no allegation of classified information disclosed. This is about them saying things that the president doesn't like. And Sarah Sanders essentially said that, saying, "Well, they've been saying things about Russia that aren't true." Well --

BLITZER: Well, one of them, John Brennan, the former CIA director, suggests the president was treasonous --

CILLIZZA: Yes.

BLITZER: -- during his Helsinki summit with Putin.

CILLIZZA: And you can criticize. I think that's, over -- I think that given what we know and what I saw, I think that's over the line in terms of what's provable.

At the same time, John Brennan is the former CIA director, speaking from his own experiences and expertise. OK. He is entitled to that opinion and to explain that opinion. You get to criticize public officials in this democracy. That's how it works.

BLITZER: Sabrina Siddiqui, two of the six people mentioned by the White House, James Comey and Andrew McCabe, both formerly of the FBI, they don't even have security clearances any longer. What does that tell you?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": I think that reinforces the fact that this is, basically, a politically motivated move by the president. That it's part of the broader efforts he has made to portray himself as the victim when it comes to the broader issue of Russian interference in the U.S. election and the investigation that is related to that -- that it is a striking use of presidential power, even if it is within his authority.

Because as others have pointed out, it's essentially saying, "If you criticize me, this is a reasonable step for me to take." It's certainly retaliatory when none of the criticism is necessarily fictitious, as Sarah Sanders suggested.

These are officials speaking about the ways in which Russia interfered in the election and the contacts they were aware of within the Trump campaign and Moscow.

It's also stunning that after that week in Helsinki, where there was so much criticism by his posture toward Vladimir Putin that he's more focused, the president, on settling personal scores than he is focused on preventing future attacks on U.S. democracy.

BLITZER: And it also underscores, Bianna, that, you know, the White House clearly didn't do all their homework if two of the six don't even have security clearances anymore. But what does it say to you that the president, if he's going to do it, just do it. Why bother threatening to do it? What's the point?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Because we were talking about it right now, Wolf, and we're not talking about Russia and before that, we were talking about Iran. It's because he can dictate what we're talking about.

[17:35:04] I think he subsequently now made Dan Coats's job that much more difficult following what happened last week, when he acknowledged that he didn't know what was said in the Helsinki meeting with Vladimir Putin. He didn't -- Dan Coats didn't know what was going to be said prior to going into the meeting. And he didn't know that Vladimir Putin was going to be coming to Washington. Now he's got to deal with this, as well.

You know, it is kind of rich to hear Sarah Sanders say that, "Oh, the reason this is happening is because they lobbed all these baseless accusations." It appears the only person who really had baseless accusations thus far was President Trump.

He accused his predecessor of wiretapping him. He said he wasn't born in America. And you hear things like this, and you have serious people really start questioning how he has a security clearance.

Remember, the only one who mishandled classified information that we know of publicly was President Trump when he told the Russians in the Oval Office classified information that came from the Israelis. So it's a bit of a head scratcher. I think there's a reason we're talking about it now. And that's what he wants us to be talking about.

But when it comes to accepting intelligence, it's always baffling that -- how can you cherry-pick it? If you're told by your intelligence agencies that Russia is doing "X" and you don't believe it, why should you believe anything else they're telling you? That's the dangerous area.

CILLIZZA: There's a seat-of-the-pants quality to it, as well, in addition to Bianna says, in that this is clearly the idea of Rand Paul, the Kentucky senator, who tweeted about it. And then all of a sudden --

BLITZER: About John Brennan. Only John Brennan.

CILLIZZA: Right. But who tweeted about that idea. That John Brennan should have a security clearance, both because of the comments you reference about treason with the Helsinki summit.

And then all of a sudden Sarah Sanders, who clearly is ready for the question and wants to announce them, she immediately goes into it. She looks down; she's reading from something that's prepared. So this is clearly a direction they want to go.

Now all of a sudden, we're doing it, which I think explains at some level why the "I's" weren't dotted and the "T's" weren't crossed with Comey and McCabe who basically said, "Congratulations. You've robbed me of something I no longer have anyway."

GOLODRYGA: And it doesn't make sense that they're --

BLITZER: Go ahead, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: I was going to say, it doesn't really make sense that the argument is, "Oh, well, they're going to profit off of it" when it comes from President Trump who, remember, when Hope Hicks left -- again, she wasn't from the intelligence community -- but the first thing he said when I left is, "I hope you make a lot of money."

This is something that he's promoted for people who worked around him. So now to use it as a negative is, you know, that's not necessarily the best route to take.

SIDDIQUI: And this is also a White House that, for more than a year, had multiple staffers who were operating either with an interim security clearance or without a security clearance. You had the entire controversy with Jared Kushner, with Rob Porter, the former staff secretary.

So clearly, we learned earlier this year that they do not really have a very diligent process in place for how a security clearances are administered. So all the criticism that they had today with respect to who gets to keep them and doesn't you have to consider the messenger. COATES: And by the way, he just bolstered, probably inadvertently,

James Comey's comments about having to pledge allegiance to the president of the United States in order to have the position of notoriety that he once held as the head of the FBI. I guess there's some credence to that after all.

GOLODRYGA: At the end of the day this is not American. It's something that happens in Erdogan's Turkey and Maduro's Venezuela. Not in America.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stick around. There's more news we're following. Why the president's newest attack on Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe may be undercut by newly-declassified documents.

Also new details emerging right now about where an alleged Russian spy got at least some of her money.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:43:16] BLITZER: Multiple breaking stories, including President Trump's threat to revoke the security clearances for half a dozen former intelligence agency leaders who have publicly criticized him.

The White House also tried to justify the president's latest attacks on the special counsel, Robert Mueller's, Russia investigation. But some newly declassified documents appear to undercut the arguments we're hearing from both the president and some congressional Republicans.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju. Tell us more, Manu. What are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, this move to release this -- court documents detailing the FBI's efforts to try to surveil that Trump foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, came after the president agreed to allow the release of that very controversial memo authored by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes in which Nunes alleged abuse in the process to monitor Carter Page.

But when you stack up the warrant application with the Nunes memo, it shows some claims made by the Nunes memo are either misleading or not included at all.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU (voice-over): Tonight, newly-released documents detailed the FBI's suspicion that former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was an agent of the Russian government, undercutting House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes's claim that the intelligence used to obtain a secret warrant was biased.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: This is outrageous that this happened.

RAJU: Earlier this year, Nunes armed President Trump with ammunition to attack the Russia probe, releasing a controversial memo faulting the FBI's tactics to surveil Page.

In the memo, Nunes fails to disclose that the FBI sought to monitor Page because it believed he had been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government and for allegedly collaborating and conspiring with the Kremlin.

Instead, Nunes claimed the FBI used the dossier compiled by former spy Christopher Steele as the justification for the warrant. And the GOP memo faulted the FBI for not disclosing that the dossier was funded by a law firm representing the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.

In February, Nunes charged that the Democrats lied when they said that the FBI did disclose a political motivation behind the Steele dossier.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: These guys tell so many lies you can't keep track of them.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: That's not true.

NUNES: No. The court was not made aware.

RAJU (voice-over): But the FBI does make clear in the newly declassified and highly redacted documents that the information Steele was gathering was likely going to be used to discredit Candidate 1's campaign. Referring to the Trump campaign.

The Nunes memo suggests the FBI used a 2016 Yahoo! News article to corroborate the Steele dossier when, in fact, the unredacted sections of the documents show the FBI cited that article to allege that Page had falsely denied having meetings in Moscow in July 2016. Page, on Sunday, insisted he did nothing wrong.

CARTER PAGE, FORMER CAMPAIGN ADVISER TO DONALD TRUMP: Jake, this is so ridiculous. It's just beyond words.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU: Now, one other thing that the Nunes memo did not disclose was the fact that the FBI warrant was approved by four different judges who are actually appointed by Republican presidents. That was not included in the initial Nunes memo.

Now, Nunes did tweet about it after the release of that Carter Page warrant application, saying that those heavily redacted document -- the heavily redacted documents should be unredacted so we could see what's behind those black lines.

But, Wolf, when I asked Nunes' office today whether or not they had any comment about these apparent contradictions, they did not respond on the substance. Instead, they attacked the question and they attacked us for asking the question, but not engaging about exactly why they said what they said, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. The whole document, 412 pages. But as you point out, heavily redacted, so there's a lot of information in here that we simply don't know.

Manu, thank you very much for that report.

Coming up, we are getting some new details right now about the Russian woman arrested just as she was getting ready to leave the United States.

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[17:51:58] BLITZER: Tonight, we're learning new details about the Russian woman who is under arrest and accused of being a spy for the Russians.

CNN's Sara Murray is joining us right now. She has more on what some of -- where some of her money came from. Tell us more, Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tonight, we're learning more about Konstantin Nikolaev. This is the man that, according to prosecutors, is a Russian billionaire with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and who, allegedly, helped foot the bill for Butina's efforts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina naming Russian billionaire Konstantin Nikolaev as her financial backer in Senate Intelligence Committee testimony earlier this year, a source tells CNN.

Butina launched a gun rights group in Moscow.

MARIA BUTINA, FOUNDER, RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS: I think freedom is very important. And the basis for any freedom is, of course, gun rights.

MURRAY (voice-over): And used it to build ties into one of her key avenues influence into U.S. politics, the National Rifle Association. She even tried, along with associates, to arrange back-channel communications between candidate Donald Trump and Russian President, Vladimir Putin, surrounding NRA events.

Nikolaev's office acknowledged he invested in Butina's Russian gun rights group from 2012 to 2014 but said he hasn't been in touch with Butina since 2014. The funding was to support their efforts in Russia to raise public awareness around certain domestic issues, according to the statement from his office.

Court filings describe Butina's funder as a Russian businessman with deep ties to the Russian presidential administration but don't explicitly name Nikolaev.

According to Forbes, the 47-year-old is worth just over a billion dollars. He made most of his fortune investing in Russian ports and railways. He served on the board of Houston-based energy company American Ethane, which recently removed his image and bio from their website. Retired CIA chief of Russia operations Steven hall says Vladimir Putin

often taps local billionaires to back his influence operations, which lets the Russian President claim he wasn't involved in the scheme.

STEVEN HALL, FORMER CHIEF OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Now, all of these people can say, look, we're not members of the Russian government. And to the Western ear, that sounds right. But in truth, that's not really what's going on. You still have Kremlin control over this very wide net that Putin has cast.

MURRAY (voice-over): Butina's lawyer insists she is not a spy, and she has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent in the U.S. But she landed powerful introductions in U.S. political and financial spheres.

Alongside her mentor, Kremlin-linked banker, Alexander Torshin, Butina attended 2015 meetings with Stanley Fischer, then the Federal Reserve Vice Chairman, and Nathan Sheets, at that time, the Treasury Undersecretary for International Affairs under the Obama administration.

The Center for National Interest think tank arranged the meetings.

We facilitated meetings for Alexander Torshin in his capacity as a vice chairman of Russia's central bank, the executive director said. It was his decision that Maria Butina would accompany him as an interpreter.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[17:55:00] MURRAY: Now, tonight, we're learning that American energy company, American Ethane, still has Konstantin Nikolaev on the board, Wolf. They said there was a technical error over the weekend that led to his biography, as well as his photo, disappearing from the website.

All the rest of those directors, though, still listed prominently.

BLITZER: Technical error.

MURRAY: Technical error.

BLITZER: OK, very interesting. All right, Sara. Thank you for that report.

Coming up, the breaking news. President Trump is considering stripping former national security and intelligence chiefs of their security clearances.

And I'll speak to Republican Senator Marco Rubio of the Senate Intelligence Committee. I'll also speak with Stormy Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti.

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