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Trump Threatens To Revoke Security Clearances From Ex-Intel Chiefs Distracting From Putin Meeting; Ryan: Trump "Trolling" People With Security Clearance Threat; GOP Representative: Trump Got Played By Putin; Trump Exchanges Threats With Iran, Distracting From Putin Meeting. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 24, 2018 - 11:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Dana Bash in for Kate Bolduan. A presidential diversion tactic that could come with real security implications for the country. What President Trump is doing is transparent. He is singling out critics in the intelligence and national security world threatening to revoke their security clearances in attempt to turn attention away from still unanswered bipartisan questions about what happened in his one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This morning, the House speaker, he laughed it off.


REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE SPEAKER: I think he is trolling people, honestly. This is something that's in the purview of the executive branch. I think some of these people have already lost their clearances. I think he's just trolling people.


BASH: Well, the president maybe trolling people, but this is no laughing matter. It's something that really I think we all must take seriously, because Donald Trump is the president of the United States. This threat of political retribution is unprecedented.

CNN's Boris Sanchez is in Kansas City awaiting the president's arrival minutes from now. Boris, what is the White House saying about the president's thinking here, what's going on behind the scenes on this strategy?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Dana. Yes, one source indicates that President Trump is more than comfortable with how this discussion about security clearances is playing out. Sarah Sanders has made clear the president is displeased about how these six national security officials have publicly talked about relations with Russia and the Russia investigation.

We should point out that Sanders has said that this is something the president is still mulling over. They are exploring exactly how to go about this process of revoking security clearances, not a decision that's already been made. However, as was noted by Speaker Paul Ryan in that sound bite, two of the individuals that the White House is singling out, James Comey and Andrew McCabe, have had their security clearances revoked for some time. It's unclear if the White House was aware of that when this announcement was made.

Sanders has made the argument that the six officials are politicizing and monetizing their public service. Critics have pounced on that suggesting that there are Trump officials who have arguably done the same thing.

The president is -- it's uncertain if the president is going to bring this up during his speech to some 4,000 veterans here at the VFW National Convention in Kansas City. We have seen the president go the unexpected route before.

As you know, Dana, once he is done here, he is going to take part in a round table discussion with supporters, then take part in a fundraising lunch before heading back to Washington, D.C. -- Dana.

BASH: Boris, thank you so much for that report.

Let's get straight to one of the former intel chiefs that the president and his spokeswoman singled out, joining us by phone is James Clapper, former director of National Intelligence and now CNN national security analyst. Director Clapper, thank you so much for joining me.

First about what Sarah Sanders specifically said yesterday. She said they, meaning you and others, have politicized and in some cases monetized their public service. Have you made money since leaving office using your security clearance?

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE (via telephone): Not directly. The security clearance -- I guess I have benefitted from the 50 years of service both in the military and in civilian capacities in the intelligence community. I wrote a book about it. I appear on this network. It's, you know, by virtue of that experience. Well, a part of that, of course, is the eligibility or access to classified information. In a sense, yes, I have benefitted from that experience.

BASH: But currently are you? Meaning, if you didn't have your intelligence -- your security clearance right now, would you be saying the same things, writing the same book, making the same arguments?

CLAPPER: Absolutely. You know, I don't -- what this involves is my eligibility for access, which I have had continuously since September of 1963. It has no -- whether or not I have actual exposure to classified information on a daily basis or get briefings or anything like that, absolutely not. This revocation, if that is what it turns out to be, would have no bearing on whatsoever on what I'm doing, saying or writing about. Mike Hayden is in the same situation.

BASH: You said that you have had security clearance since 1963. Since John F. Kennedy was president? CLAPPER: Exactly.

BASH: So, for people not in the intelligence world, people who are not familiar with the way the government works, can you just explain why you and others maintain that clearance, even though you retired from the government?

[11:05:04] CLAPPER: Well, the rationale -- this is a longstanding practice that goes back decades -- that senior formers from these positions are granted continued eligibility for access to classified information. This is to facilitate consultation with those who are occupying or who are the current incumbents.

I have had occasion to engage with senior members of this administration who for obvious reasons will remain nameless, drawing on my 50 years of experience and my corporate memory and my background on certain issues.

BASH: You help them out? You help out members of the current president's operation, the current president's government?

CLAPPER: Yes. Yes. I have, at their behest, their request. Will the republic collapse if I no longer have that eligibility? Absolutely not. To me, though, this is a side issue. The bigger issue to me is the jeopardy to First Amendment rights. That to me is the much bigger issue here. We're being suppressed or oppressed because of our outspoken political views or criticism of the current president.

BASH: Well, I'm grateful you are still coming on and speaking your mind. I want to talk about General Michael Flynn. He ran the defense intelligence agency. He maintained his security clearance after retiring and got really political on behalf of now President Trump back in 2016. Remember this? Let's watch.


LT. GENERAL MICHAEL T. FLYNN, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): Lock her up. That's right. That's right. Lock her up. I'm going to tell you. It's unbelievable.


BASH: OK. So, that was him getting blatantly political. Not just that, General Flynn made $33,750 in the private sector from Russia's state tv station speaking in Moscow in 2015. He also made $11,250 from Russian charter cargo airline, $11,250 from a Russian-based cyber security firm.

He clearly monetized from and by the Russians. He had security clearance. You were director of National Intelligence at the time, Director Clapper. Was there any discussion when listening to that, when seeing the kind of money he made from Russia, of revoking his security clearance?

CLAPPER: No, there wasn't. Mike, he took advantage of his long experience in the intelligence and military by forming a company, the Flynn Intelligence Group, which was the platform, the vehicle for profiting from his past experience.

So, the obvious ironies here and the obvious double standard, I think, kind of speaks for itself. When he became very overtly and publicly political, anti-Obama, anti-Obama administration, there was never a thought about ending his eligibility or classified information because he became politically active. Absolutely not.

BASH: What we are looking at are pictures of Michael Flynn at a dinner with Vladimir Putin back when he was in the private sector making money. Last question, it's been eight days since the president met with Vladimir Putin. The only readout we have gotten from their two-hour one-on-one meeting is from the Russians. What do you make of that as somebody who has been in the intelligence world, the national security forum for 50 years?

CLAPPER: Well, it's worrisome against the backdrop of the president's continued ambiguity about recognizing and calling out unambiguously and clearly the extensive Russian meddling in our election and in our political processes.

Juxtapose against that ambiguity, reluctance for whatever reason, and then the mystery about just what it is he discussed with Putin in private and what he may have or not conceded, you know, as an American citizen, I find that very bothersome, very worrisome.

BASH: James Clapper, thank you so much for joining me this morning. I appreciate it.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Dana.

BASH: Let's continue to discuss this with CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large Chris Cilizza, and CNN political analyst, Jackie Kucinich, who is also the Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast."

[11:10:10] You didn't get the memo for the floral dresses.


BASH: I would call you a skunk at the garden party.

CILIZZA: Never on that e-mail list.

BASH: In all seriousness, what did you make of what you just heard from James Clapper?

CILIZZA: Well, I think the most important thing he said, Dana, is that the republic in his words isn't going to collapse if James Clapper isn't -- doesn't have the security clearance. He went on to say the most important thing, which is this isn't about Clapper or Hayden or Comey.

This is about free speech and your ability as a citizen -- forget as a former intelligence official, as a citizen to speak your mind. The thing to remember, there's no allegation of wrongdoing as far as I can tell by the Trump administration directed at these six people.

They are not saying they leaked classified information, they're using their access to classified information to get that out in the public. They're saying they are critical of the president and they are saying that there's ties to Russia and Donald Trump doesn't like that, and therefore, they're going to revoke the security clearance.

Doesn't mean they can't speak publicly, but why? I think it's meant to chill free speech. That, I think, Director Clapper nailed. That's the most important thing. Whether it's a distraction from Russia or not, chilling free speech is something we need to take seriously.

BASH: No question. I mean, it's a very, very dangerous road to go down. I will say I think there's a little irony in the fact that Donald Trump is saying that they monetized the situation and they already have books out and by raising the profile of James Clapper and James Comey, you are probably helping them monetize it even more, helping them sell books.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They aren't really unique in the fact that they left the administration and wrote a book. I mean, that is sort of what ex-officials do. I'm having a hard time thinking of a high-ranking official that hasn't left and written some manner of book. That sort of falls flat.

I think this is twofold. This is a way to change the headlines. The president doesn't want to talk about his relationship with Putin. Several of these individuals that he named, Susan Rice, James Comey, McCabe, these are villains on the right already. These are people that he can set himself up with and he can go to a rally today and his supporters know who it is.

BASH: Raw meat.

KUCINICH: It's easy to put up as adversaries to Donald Trump. That said he is not doing that with someone like Vladimir Putin. That's also something we should talk about. That's someone who has been an adversary on the U.S. stage and the president is trying to cozy up on it. People aren't buying that.

BASH: And on that point, I want you all to listen to what Congressman Mike Coffman told our Manu Raju about this issue of Putin. He is an incumbent Republican, who is one of the most if not the most endangered when it comes to November's election. Listen to what he said.


REPRESENTATIVE MIKE COFFMAN (R), COLORADO: I think the first summit was a terrible mistake. The second summit would be equally bad. The fact is that the president went to Europe and I think he was strong when it came to talking to our allies and weak when it came to Putin. Weakness invites aggression. I'm also very concerned about him meeting alone with Putin.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: You think that he got played by Putin?

COFFMAN: Absolutely.


BASH: I mean, you know, you certainly have a number of Republicans -- the majority of Republicans reluctant to say that. The fact that this is a Republican who is going to rely on not just the Republican base but independent voters in order to win re-election and he is being that tough, that could tell you something.

CILIZZA: Yes. Look, I think there are a lot of signs as it relates to the election in 105 days that Democrats are as well positioned as they have been since the start of this election. A lot of that has to do with independents and Donald Trump. I think what you saw -- do I think people follow foreign policy super closely? No.

Everything we know about politics suggest they don't. They do follow something like the summit. Where Donald Trump was -- his whole MO is I will be tough. I'll face down our adversaries. He does it in Iran and North Korea, but when standing next to Vladimir Putin, he said, we're to blame and Russia is to blame.

BASH: You walk the halls of Congress for many years. When you hear that, what do you think?

KUCINICH: I think it remains to be seen how this affects Donald Trump going forward because a lot of Republicans have latched on to when President Trump has wrangled by his handlers and gone back and said, no, there absolutely -- the Russians did meddle in the election.

They latch on to that, not his backtracking, but they do have -- people don't follow this -- the tweets day to day.

[11:15:07] The midterms will be either a reckoning or all systems go for Donald Trump's current strategy. We will have to see what voters say at that time because we are still 100 days out. I think it remains to be seen if there are consequences. If they are, you might see them change course.

BASH: A 100 days is an eternity in politics. Jackie, Chris, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, the war of words between President Trump and Iran gets even hotter. Iran's military now promising a crushing response to any new threats.

Plus, is North Korea taking new steps to dismantle its nuclear program? These satellite photos could have the answer. Details after the break.


BASH: President Trump's all caps threat to Iran is eliciting more reaction from Tehran. Two days after Trump warned Iran it would suffer the consequences if it kept threatening the U.S. The Iranian foreign minister tweeted today in part, "color us unimpressed. Be cautious." A military official said any threat to Iran would result in, quote, "crushing response."

Joining me now to talk about this are former deputy secretary of state under President Obama, Tony Blinken, and former member of the Bush National Security Council, Michael Allen. Thank you both. Your big brains and bringing them here today. Tony, let's talk about Iran. How dangerous is this?

TONY BLINKEN, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: It's dangerous on a couple levels. Let's start with why the president's doing this. In all likelihood, it's to distract from his very unfortunate performance with Putin, to change the subject. In changing the subject, what does this mean? He said if Iran ever again threatens us, very bad things are going to happen.

So, what happens today or tomorrow when Iran issues another threat of some kind? Is the president going to tweet, I really, really mean it this time in all caps? This doesn't go anywhere.

What it does say is that unfortunately, the president pulled us out of an agreement working with Iran, actually reducing and even eliminating the vast bulk of its nuclear stockpile and has basically created a crisis of his own making.

This is heading at some point to a bad place. If Iran starts to put its program back in place, at some point, we will be back where we were before the agreement we've reached, which is this terrible choice between either a lawing allowing them to have a nuclear weapon or going to war to stop it.

That's exactly what the agreement was designed to prevent. It's the agreement that the president tore up. So, we're now in a crisis in effect of his own making.

BASH: Can you imagine if the guy you work for, President Bush, tweeted something like this in all caps? Then Private Citizen Trump would have gone crazy about the fact he is a warmonger.

MICHAEL ALLEN, MANAGING DIRECTOR, BEACON GLOBAL STRATEGIES: He would have said warmonger. Now Bush did say the axis of evil. Here I think President Trump is trying to send a message to the Europeans that, listen, join us again in the maximum pressure campaign. I understand Tony's point that the Obama administration got us to a certain level.

Trump wants to get more concessions out of Iran. I think he is saying to the Europeans, cooperate with us on additional sanctions because I'm willing to go farther than that. I don't know that this is calculated very well to get Iran to cave at this moment. I think there is a little bit of method to the madness.

BASH: Michael Allen, Trump whisperer. That was impressive. Let's look at North Korea. There are images showing North Korea has begun to dismantle some test sites. This is -- if you can look on the screen. That's the satellite imaging. These have been important for the North Koreans in terms of getting its nuclear program up and running. Put it in context, Tony.

BLINKEN: Good if North Korea is actually taking steps to dismantle parts of its program. The bottom line is this. Unless and until they actually get rid of their nuclear weapons, the missiles and means to make them, we are not really getting anywhere.

It has to start with something they haven't done. That is a full disclosure and declaration of their entire nuclear missile program. Then we can begin to see if what they're doing is really meaningful. Even as they have apparently started to dismantle one site, there have been reports they are expanding others.

We haven't seen any net gain since Singapore. On a contrary, what concerns me is that, you know, the North Koreas are masters at what I call string, ring and walk, stringing out talks, ring out economic concessions, and then walk away from any hard commitments.

Already the pressure is lower from China because the president prematurely declared success. North Korea is getting a lessening of pressure. It does a few things like taking apart something it may have decided it doesn't need anymore.

But the vast bulk of the program is not moving in any forward direction. The jury is way out on this. At the best, we're at the beginning of a process, not anywhere near the end.

BASH: Speaking of dictator getting what he wants, Vladimir Putin seems to have done that in bigly as the president would say. Listen to the president's ambassador to the U.N. sounding quite different from what the president sounds like.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We don't trust Russia. We don't trust Putin. We never will. They are never going to be our friend. That's just the fact.


BOLDUAN: It feels like we got into a way back machine and she's speaking like the Republicans pre-Trump.

ALLEN: Good for her. That's music to my ears. That's the way most conservatives were brought up in the Reagan mold. I'm glad that she and Pompeo were there to make sure that we remind people that allies are good. Our alliance is good. Russia is not -- cooperating with Russia is not going to happen and cooperating with Putin is a real long shot.

[11:25:09] BLINKEN: I think Michael is exactly right. What's so striking about this is that when it comes to Putin and Russia, the administration speaks with one voice except the president's.

BASH: It sure does. Except the question is whether and how that disconnect is going to play out when the ambassador and others like Pompeo are sounding much more strident and much more traditional towards Russia and the president is not. We will see. That will be for another discussion. Thank you both so much for coming in.

Coming up for us next, let's just say the president follows through on his threat to revoke security clearance of former intelligence officials, could Congress do anything to stop it? We will ask a top Senate Democrat next.