Return to Transcripts main page


Trump's Military Parade Postponed; Security Clearance Firestorm Grows; Manafort Jury Deliberates; Trump: I Canceled Military Parade Due to Cost. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 17, 2018 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The president making unprecedented threats against political enemies. Well, it is Friday.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump going deeper into dangerous territory, today flat-out threatening to revoke more security clearances of potential witnesses in the Russia probe.

Wait until next year? President Trump says he's canceling his military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue as the estimated cost explodes. So he starts a brand-new political brawl in the process.


Plus, 200 tapes? Omarosa rattling the White House, claiming to have more recordings understood her bed than your average Grateful Dead fan. But can Omarosa be believed?

Welcome to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin on this Friday afternoon with our politics lead.

President Trump escalating his war on current and former national security officials, ones who either support or have been part of the investigation into any possible conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Before departing the White House today, Mr. Trump defending his decision to strip former CIA Director John Brennan of his clearance. And he fired back against the charge he is seeking to silence critics. Plus, he threatened to take action against others.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Security clearances are very important to me, very, very important. And I have had a tremendous response for having done that.

There's no silence. If anything, I'm giving him a bigger voice.

I think Bruce Ohr is a disgrace. I suspect I will be taking it away very quickly.


TAPPER: That came as at least 15 top former senior and intelligence and military officials, Democrats, Republicans, independents, publicly condemned President Trump, writing in an open letter -- quote -- "We have never before seen the approval or removal of security clearances used as a political tool, as was done in this case."

That letter and other criticisms prompted this from White House counsel to the president Kellyanne Conway today:


KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: Why does -- why is everybody so obsessed with the president of the United States that they can't even begin or finish a sentence without mentioning his name five times? It's kind of weird and it's infecting people on the news now who fancy themselves security experts.


TAPPER: Why is everybody so obsessed with the president of the United States?

May I hazard a guess? Perhaps people keep talking about the president of the United States, the most powerful person the planet, because he keeps making comments and taking actions that are shocking and unprecedented? Does that -- does that make sense?

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

And, Kaitlan, the president made clear against today that these decisions are being driven by his resentment of the Russia investigation.


Despite aides saying that this is for national security reasons, the president in his own words and unprompted today drew a direct line between revoking these clearances and the Russia investigation.

Now, this investigation has frustrated the president for a long time now, but it appears that now he has found a way to vent these frustrations.


COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump lashing out at the Russia investigation today, reminding critics that his presidential powers go a long way.

Defending his decision to strip former CIA Chief John Brennan of his security clearance and rejecting criticism that he's trying to silence his critics.

TRUMP: If anything, I'm giving him a bigger voice. Many people don't even know who he is. And now he has a bigger voice. And that's OK with me because I like taking on voices like that. I have never respected him.

COLLINS: That as sources tell CNN Trump is prepared to revoke more clearances in the coming days. His next target, Bruce Ohr, a little known Justice Department employee.

TRUMP: I think Bruce Ohr is a disgrace. I suspect I will be taking it away very quickly.

COLLINS: Trump has repeatedly targeted Ohr because of his contacts with Christopher Steele, the former British spy who investigated Trump's ties to Russia.

The Department of Justice has said Ohr has no involvement with Robert Mueller's investigation.

TRUMP: For him to be in the Justice Department and to be doing what he did, that is a disgrace. That is disqualifying for Mueller.

COLLINS: Trump reveling in what he sees as rave reviews.

TRUMP: And I know that I have got tremendous response from having done that, because security clearances are very important to me.

COLLINS: But the reviews haven't all been positive.

In a stinging rebuke, more than a dozen former intelligence officials issued a joint statement criticizing the move, calling it ill- considered, unprecedented and an attempt to stifle free speech.

The president in his own words today drawing a direct line between revoking clearances and the Russia investigation.

TRUMP: Look, I say it. I say it again. That whole situation, it is a rigged witch-hunt. It's a totally rigged deal. It's not us. It is a rigged witch-hunt. I have said it for a long.

COLLINS: Trump showing little interest in sitting down with the special counsel.

TRUMP: Mr. Mueller has a lot of conflicts also directly yourself. So, you know that. Mr. Mueller is highly conflicted. In fact, Comey is like his best friend. I could go into conflict after conflict.


But, sadly, Mr. Mueller is conflicted.

COLLINS: The president encouraging Mueller to wrap things up.

TRUMP: Let him write his report. We did nothing. There's no collusion.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, the big question now is whether or not the president is actually going to follow through on these threats to strip these other officials of their clearances or if they're just that, empty threats -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us.

Let's talk about it with our experts.

Alfonso, that list of members of the intelligence community, former members, former senior leaders, has grown and now even includes former Defense Secretary Bob Gates, who was CIA director during George H.W. Bush's reign, and Gates.

That's an unusual name for this. He tends to stay out of politics.


And, frankly, I think the person has admitted that this is reprisal. And this is unprecedented. We haven't seen this before. I think by revoking Brennan's -- or trying to revoke Brennan's clearance, he's sending a message to the others, you better not criticize me.

This is not good for the country. It certainly contributes to a more toxic environment. Now, having said all of that, there's one case and that's the case with Bruce Ohr, where this is a suspicious person. I mean, if he was having some sort of communication with Christopher Steele, and Steele was giving him information and he was relaying that to the FBI, I'm not sure that's the kind of person that should have clearance at this point.

TAPPER: It's a senior Justice Department official. Why would...

AGUILAR: No, and they should have clearance. But what I'm saying is that some of his behavior is suspicious, and I think it merits some sort of internal investigation.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Why is that suspicious? I don't understand. Why would it be suspicious for him to be dealing...

AGUILAR: Well, this is Christopher Steele.

He's doing opposition research for a firm who was being hired by the Clinton administration.

POWERS: No, it's a totally legitimate firm. I'm sorry. I'm really tired of this trashing the Fusion GPS. It's a completely legitimate firm.

I know multiple journalist who have done a lot of background work in Christopher Steele. Christopher Steele is a very respectable person.


AGUILAR: Then you communicate with a career Justice Department official, so he sends information...

(CROSSTALK) NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Yes, because they're concerned about Russian interference in our election, which bore fruit, because the intelligence community actually determined that the Russians were interfering in our elections.

So it actually turned out that Christopher Steele really was right and he was trying to communicate right...


AGUILAR: To be fair, I'm not saying that his clearance has to be revoked. I'm just saying that he seems suspicious. There may be conflicts of interest there and they should be looked at.

But in general, my general reaction, this is not good.

TANDEN: Let me just say, I think it's one thing to ask questions about this. It's another thing for the president of the United States, not Justice Department officials, not I.G. officials, inspector general officials, the president of the United States just mouthing off that someone should lose their clearance, a career official, I mean, this is what you would expect in some -- in basically an authoritarian dictatorship, where people just sort of say government officials are stripped or punished for their political opposition or how they behave.

It's outside the bounds of what we would normally say the rules and guidelines of our government...

TAPPER: And what's interesting about this letter, Amanda, it comes, first of all, after Admiral McRaven, retired Admiral McRaven, who was in charge of special ops during the bin Laden raid, American hero, used to be chancellor at University of Texas, after he comes out and objects to what the president did with Brennan.

These 15 individuals, Democrats, Republicans, independents, a lot of them clearly disagree with John Brennan and say so in the letter. They don't necessarily agree with what Brennan is out there saying.

But they are concerned about the precedent. They're concerned about what President Trump is doing, not because they agree with Brennan necessarily. And yet President Trump says that his decision to revoke Brennan's clearances is getting a tremendous response.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is getting a tremendous response, not the way that he thinks.

I mean, essentially, what these people are saying to the president of the United States, if you act in this manner, we no longer wish to serve you. You are losing talent. You are losing guidance.

And God forbid if something were to ever happen, Donald Trump would not have these people available to him because they say, you take away Brennan's Clarence, we don't want ours. So what does he do on that day? I mean, this isn't like -- if you like that Donald Trump gets advice from people like Omarosa, keep going down this road. But if you want him to be able to call on people like me like Admiral

McRaven, then you better change.

TAPPER: And that's what's so weird about this, is because actually people like McRaven and Brennan, their credibility has to do with what they have already done. It doesn't have to do with whether or not they still have security clearance.

And so this really seems to be -- it doesn't make the nation safer to say we're not going to take any lessons or advice from John Brennan, Bill McRaven, Bob Gates, et cetera. It makes this nation less safe.


I mean, I think that the other thing to remember is that -- well, first of all, Donald Trump doesn't care. Obviously, he doesn't care about that. What he cares about is that he's been insulted.

And I think Neera is right. This is all part of the sort of profile of the authoritarian wannabe and the kind of things that you expect from more despotic countries that are led more by despots, not democratically elected presidents.


But the other thing I think is interesting about this is that I wrote a book about free speech really from a sort of left side, saying this is a very liberal value that I think a lot of the left isn't taking seriously.

And guess who really loved the book? Conservatives. And now they completely have no interest in free speech whatsoever, because one of I talked about was, it's not just the government oppressing free speech. It's when you take away just the ability -- when you try to delegitimize people, which is exactly what Donald Trump is trying to do

He is trying to delegitimize them. He's making character assassination attacks against John Brennan, he's erratic or whatever. And he really is trying to silence free speech and criticism.

TAPPER: Alfonso, I want to play for you some sound from Kellyanne Conway talking about the decision to revoke John Brennan's security clearance.


CONWAY: why is everybody so obsessed with the president of the United States that they can't even begin or finish a sentence without mentioning his name five times? It's kind of weird and it's infecting people on the news now who fancy themselves security experts.


TAPPER: That's not the bite I wanted. Let me play now the bite I wanted, which is kind of Kellyanne Conway talking about specifically the decision to revoke Brennan's clear.


CONWAY: I know it says former CIA director, but what is he doing currently to merit that security clearance?

This is not about being a critic of the president.

QUESTION: Will more security clearances be pulled?

CONWAY: That is up to the president. He has the authority to do that, but it's not willy-nilly.


AGUILAR: This is a problem with Kellyanne, I don't think, as you were saying, understands national security.

You want the current CIA director to be able to discuss things with former CIA directors that can provide context to different issues. So it's really surprising.

And, yes, this is all about reprisal. Having said that, is Trump being despotic? I don't think he's behaving as a despot. I think his comments are totally out of bounds, are over the top. But, I mean, he's not a despot. He can say whatever he wants.

POWERS: Are they the characteristics so somebody who would lead Russia, or are they the characteristic of somebody who would lead the United States?

AGUILAR: Right. Yes, but you have to be careful, because to compare Vladimir Putin to Donald Trump, I mean, that's a stretch.


TANDEN: Is it more like every other president, we have had, or is it more and more like a person who would take -- punish his enemies, like despots do? I don't know. It seems pretty clear to me.

AGUILAR: But do you understand I am criticizing his commentary?


AGUILAR: I'm just saying he has the right to say that. But I think it's a stretch to call him a despot.


TANDEN: Both John Brennan and McRaven, is that these are people who were intimately involved, led, in fact, the effort to capture and kill Osama bin Laden.

And we have a president of the United States who is essentially engaged in political reprisals against people who have done a lot to protect this country. And at the very least, he's putting his own ego over our own national security interests. That's outrageous.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.

We get a lot more to talk about.

Coming up next: the president's latest sparring partner, as he blames others for his decision to cancel the grand parade he wanted.

Plus, as the jury wrestles with verdict in the Paul Manafort trial, President Trump not mincing words about what he thinks they should do.

Stay with us.


[16:17:29] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back.

President Trump's dream of a massive show of military might marching down Pennsylvania Avenue might have to wait. Today, President Trump said he's canceling the military parade originally scheduled for Veterans Day because of excessive costs which he blamed on Washington, D.C.

I want to go back to CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

Kaitlan, there's a dispute how and why the plug was pulled and it involves the mayor in D.C.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Jake. The president's big military parade is canceled and blaming the city of Washington saying it's local officials not the Pentagon who drove up the costs for his parade.


COLLINS: He saw it and he wanted it.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's one of the greatest parades I have ever seen.

COLLINS: A grand military parade, this one put on during a Bastille Day trip to France last year.

But when President Trump learned a parade in Washington would cost according to some reports north of $90 million, he halted it and blamed D.C., tweeting: The local politicians who run Washington, D.C. poorly know a windfall when they see it. When asked to give us a price for holding a great celebratory military parade, they wanted a number so ridiculously high that I canceled it.

Trump's current hometown mayor fired back, writing: Yup, I'm Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington, D.C., the local politician who finally got through to the reality star in the White House with the realities of parades, events, demonstrations in Trump America. Sad.

Bowser's estimate is just for security, road closures and emergency services. It doesn't include the biggest item on Trump's wish list -- a military show of force.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: We don't need a parade to celebrate all this president has done for these brave men and women in the uniform.

COLLINS: The White House downplaying the news that the price of pomp and circumstance could instead pay yearly salaries for more than 4,500 active duty soldiers.

But it was President Trump who insisted on the parade in the first place.

TRUMP: We are thinking about Fourth of July Pennsylvania Avenue having a really great parade to show our military strength.

COLLINS: As for new parade plans, the president says he'll instead go to the Paris parade, celebrating the end of the war on November 11th, which for what it's worth is Veterans Day here in the U.S.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, the president said that the parade could happen next year in 2019 when the costs go way down, though he didn't cite any evidence for why he thinks the costs would go down by next year -- Jake.

[16:20:04] TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins at the White House again for us.

Amanda, what's going on here? Why did he want the parade? Why is it being canceled? Why is he picking a fight with Mayor Bowser?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, who doesn't like a parade?

TAPPER: I know. We all like a parade.

CARPENTER: I like a parade. He went abroad. Saw how awesome it was.

TAPPER: You know what? The Pentagon didn't want to do this. The soldiers didn't want to.

CARPENTER: There's ways to scratch this itch. Every Friday all summer long down at 8th and I, the marine barracks, they do a parade. Every Friday evening, it's beautiful. Go visit that. They would probably love to have you.

Go to a military base. Go see the planes fly. Like there's ways you can do this if you want to highlight the veterans. You don't have to have the tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue to show your might for the whole world.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It doesn't highlight the veterans.

TAPPER: It wasn't to highlight the veterans. CARPENTER: I know.

POWERS: It was for him.


CARPENTER: I want to see a parade.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was to celebrate Donald Trump.


TAPPER: So the American Legion said that the money spent on the parade could be better put to use on the actual needs of veterans and also given the fact we're still at war and 1 percent of the country sacrifices so much for us.

Alfonso, listen to how White House adviser Kellyanne Conway responded to questions about the American Legion to my colleague Abby Phillip.


CONWAY: It's their perspective. Excuse me. I think you should focus on the president's record for the military and the veterans. He's been the most pro-military and most for veteran president in modern times. That's their opinion and it sounds like you share it since you're in the business of opinion and not news most days.


TAPPER: That's their perspective about the American Legion, that's their opinion and it sounds like you share it since you're in the business of opinion and not news most days. That's her response when asked, will the American Legion says this.

ALFONSO AGUILAR, FORMER CHIEF, U.S. OFFICE OF CITIZENSHIP: Right. Well, I mean, how do you respond to that? I think the American Legion makes a very valid point. Why are talking about this parade? Look, it's all about Trump, for his self aggrandizement, to promote his image and also to please his base. But -- I mean, obviously $92 million seems like an awfully big amount -- amount of money for a parade. I think it's better if we don't do it.

TAPPER: So, 92 is an estimate floating around out there. The city was about to charge $21.6 million and the city of D.C. provided a breakdown and I'm no expert on these things, and it looked pretty reasonable to me. You have thousands of people turning for a parade, potentially millions.

NEERA TANDEN, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I think this demonstrates the efficiency of the D.C. government. I'd like to applaud them for saving the taxpayers $97 million or $21 million.

Nobody really wanted it. The Pentagon didn't want it. And the American people didn't seem to want it. The only person that wanted it seemed to be Donald Trump and his ego. AGUILAR: But there's nothing here --

TANDEN: I appreciate the D.C. government saving me as a taxpayer money at the expense of Donald Trump's ego.

AGUILAR: I agree. Having said that, there was interest in the Department of Defense to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War and important to --

TAPPER: Isn't that happening next year? The World War I 100th anniversary? That's what I thought.

POWERS: Yes. But also the type of military parade he wanted to have is a more militaristic parade, at least the way it was explained.

TAPPER: Tanks and missiles.

POWERS: Showing off our hardware, right? And so, this is not really about honoring.

AGUILAR: The whole point I'm trying to make is that you can't have the commemorations and do it in a more reasonable way. You don't have a huge parade with a lot of hardware.

TANDEN: A World War I commemoration is great. I think we all think that's something important to do. And seems very different than the parade Donald Trump was talking about.

TAPPER: A February Quinnipiac poll found 18 percent of respondents thought a military parade would be a good use of taxpayer money, 75 percent said it would not. And this is back when the estimate between $10 million and $30 million. Not almost $100 million.

CARPENTER: Yes. I mean, it's not like the government is awash with money. What's the federal debt? Like $20 trillion.

TAPPER: Twenty-one.

POWERS: Where's the fiscal responsibility? I mean, I can remember having arguments with Sean Hannity about -- he was mad that the Obama donors on spring break and Obama paying for it. What about the people to go with them and they had to have bodyguards and whatever. I mean, this is all we heard about was the government spends too much money.

TAPPER: You seem to suggest that Sean Hannity is inconsistent. I don't know what to say about that.

POWERS: It's not just Sean Hannity though. (INAUDIBLE) responsibility and complaining about every penny that was spent in the Obama administration and now people would -- are just kind of like, OK, to have this --

TANDEN: To be fair, $1.5 trillion tax cut paid for by the deficit larger than the military parade.

TAPPER: True. Everyone, stick around. Was it Trump being Trump or part of a strategic plan? How the president may have crossed a line today during deliberations in the Paul Manafort trial. Stay with us.


[16:29:31] TAPPER: For a moment, if you can, try to pretend that we're in an era before this current one and just imagine the former campaign chairman for the president of the United States of America is on trial for various felonies.

Now, imagine that the jury is in the middle of deliberations. It's an un-sequestered jury. And then imagine that the president, the leader of the free world, publicly calls the case unfair and a sad day for the nation, praises the defendant and leaves wide open the possibility of a pardon.

I know many of us have become numb to it but there was a time when that kind of thing is considered inappropriate.