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President Trump Looks at Stripping More Security Clearances Soon; Pentagon Postpones Trump Military Parade; Pentagon: China "Likely" Training Pilots to Target the U.S.; Jury Begins Second Day of Deliberating in Manafort's Fraud Trial. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 17, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:07] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. This morning President Trump is defiant. Despite growing criticism a White House official tells CNN the administration is poised to strip additional security clearances from top officials, many of them tied to the Russia probe. At risk, those names Press Secretary Sarah Sanders listed earlier this week.

What ties them all together? They have either been publicly critical of the president or tied to the Russia probe in some way. At the same time, 13 former intelligence officials both from Democrat and Republican administrations have written a letter backing up former CIA director John Brennan and slamming the president's move calling it, quote, "an attempt to stifle free speech."

Now among those calling the president out this morning is General David Petraeus, whom you know the president has repeatedly praised. And if the White House was hoping this clearance fight would overshadow the feud with ex-aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, they may have underestimated the former reality star. The "New York Times" reports that the ex-White House aide is believed to have as many as 200 tape recordings of her time in the White House.

Also this morning we're on verdict watch. Minutes from now a jury reconvenes to deliberate in the trial of ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. We'll take you live to the courthouse in moments but let's begin at the White House this morning on this clearance battle. Abby Phillip is there.

And Abby, we knew sort of this laundry list of people were at risk of losing their clearance. The White House said that clearly this week. But now we know a little bit more about why.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. And the reason we know more about why is actually because the president himself told us. He said that he believed if all these people were involved with the Russia investigation then something needed to be done about it.

Now we are learning from sources that the president is interested in moving forward with this list of nine individuals in addition to John Brennan who they identified this week as being at risk of losing their clearance, the president feeling emboldened by the situation. However, he's getting a lot of pushback including from some people who have not really previously criticized him. One of those is Admiral William McRaven. He was involved in the bin Laden raid. A respected figure on both sides of the aisle, and he wrote this in an op-ed yesterday for the "Washington Post."

"I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well so I can add my name to the list of men and women who had spoken up against your presidency. Through your actions you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, you have humiliated us on the world stage and worst of all divided us as a nation. If you think for a moment that your McCarthy era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken."

So you're seeing there strong words there from someone who is not used to being so outspoken on matters like this. But we posed this issue to the White House counselor Kellyanne Conway this morning in a gaggle and she was also similarly defiant. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What's your message to Admiral McRaven, though, Kellyanne?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: He's a former CIA. He's a former CIA director who since then has shown no interest in helping this administration.


PHILLIP: So Kellyanne ignored the question about McRaven and instead attacked John Brennan as someone who she said was being paid to put his opinion even though there's no evidence that Brennan is being paid for the things that he's saying and writing, but clearly, Poppy, this is an issue that the White House is leaning into and we can probably expect to hear more about it in the coming days.

HARLOW: She's probably talking about the fact that he's a contributor, right, for another network, but you're right, she did not answer that question at all about the relevant point which was McRaven.

Abby, thanks for the reporting.

Let's get an intelligence take on this. CNN national security analyst and former director of communications for U.S. national intelligence, Shawn Turner, who is with me.

When you hear words like that, Shawn, like from McRaven who, you know, who led the takedown of Osama bin Laden, words from a true American hero, a patriot, do you think they will have an impact on the president or cause him to further dig in?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you know, unfortunately the history here suggests that the president will further dig in but I think it's the case that we have to understand that what Admiral McRaven did with his op-ed and what these 12 senior national intelligence officials did is they sent a very clear message, Poppy, that this really isn't about security clearances.

This is really about the right of informed private citizens to be able to speak out when they feel as though there's aspects of a president's governance that are problematic and they want to send a very strong message that just because you have left government and you still maintain a security clearance does not mean that you should lose your right to do that. So while I think the president is probably going to dig in, I think he's in for a real fight here because I don't think these individuals are going to back off.

HARLOW: I did find this part interesting when you read further down in McRaven's opinion piece. He says, quote, "The criticism will continue until you become the leader that we prayed you would be."

[09:05:06] So in essence, I mean, it does show that he hopes that they can affect change in the president. He's not writing off change may come.

TURNER: Yes. And I think you're right. That's a really important point. You know, look, Poppy, I have been -- I have defended the president when he made national security decisions that I thought were in the best interest of the safety and security of this country.

HARLOW: Right.

TURNER: And like a lot of the individuals on that list, I've been critical of him when he made decisions that I thought were not in the best interest and what I think that people need to understand is that what Admiral McRaven and all these other individuals are saying is that we have a right to do that as private citizens. And we support our president. We want our president to succeed.

It's in the best interest of all of us if the president is successful and I think that despite the fact that the president is threatening these individuals and doing so in a way that's very problematic, they all still want them to succeed and to govern and to lead us.

HARLOW: Right. So, Shawn, I mean, let's just take the case of Brennan because the other people on this list, it's just threats at this point. Right? There are security clearances. It seems likely from the "Washington Post" reporting, from our reporting but we don't know yet. But when it comes to Brennan and you look at the op-ed in the "New York Times" yesterday morning from Brennan where he said, you know, essentially, yes, there was collusion on the part of the Trump team.

He said it's hogwash to say that there was no collusion. That's before Mueller's team has come out with their findings.


HARLOW: Is that reason to be critical of Brennan and to say, you know, this has gone too far?

TURNER: Yes. Look, I think that as was indicated in the letter, there are a lot of people in the national security space who are of the opinion that on occasion maybe John Brennan has gone too far with regard to the degree or the type of pushback, that he's -- that he's engaged in. But I think the important thing is that that is -- it's his right to do that.

In the letter I think that -- I don't read it as someone who came from the intelligence community, I don't read it as him forecasting anything based on any inside knowledge but I do see it as someone who is very forward-leaning in his criticism of the president and you see varying degrees of that with the other people on that list.

HARLOW: OK, Shawn. It's nice to have you here this morning. Thanks for the expertise.

TURNER: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: Have a good weekend.

All right, let's talk about the politics of this. Sabrina Siddiqui is with me, politics reporter for "The Guardian," Amber Phillips joins me now, politics reporter for the "Washington Post" blog "Fix."

So, Amber, to you, the "Washington Post" reporting this morning, as you know, Josh Dawsey and et cetera, is that the president thinks this makes him look good, that he is strengthened in this fight with Brennan among his supporters? How do you read the president's confidence right now?

AMBER PHILLIPS, POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST'S "THE FIX": Yes. The president seems like he has found an effective boogieman in John Brennan. It comes at a time of course this week when they're really concerned about other things happening in the White House and officials going rogue.

I think that one of the reasons the president wants to, as Abby Phillip said lean in to Brennan being a critic of the president is because he has been exponentially critical of Trump over the past year. I went back and looked at a May congressional hearing of last summer where Brennan was sitting before the House and didn't even want to say the word collusion. He said, I don't know, I don't know. That's up for an investigation to look at.

HARLOW: Interesting.

PHILLIPS: Now he's outright accusing the president of such. Of course -- so there's an argument to make that Brennan is being political here. It's an easy one to make whereas Brennan's is more nuanced, that the facts compel him to speak out.

HARLOW: You know that -- I'm glad you went and looked that up. That is an important point.

However, Sabrina, being political, being critical, right, the counterargument is well, that's not a reason to strip someone of their security clearance. The reason they have security clearance is to help current intelligence officers in areas where they may have expertise from their work and can be of assistance on current issues. Listen to what Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican senator of South

Carolina, here's what he said that really struck me.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: When you look at CIA policy about how former directors should behave, they indicate that a former director should act if they're still a member of the organization. Mr. Brennan has gone way over the line in my view and I think restricting his clearance, pulling his clearance makes sense to me.

He's reached a conclusion on collusion that I haven't reached and, you know, he's using the aura of his past job in a political way that I think is unsavory.


HARLOW: Fair point, Sabrina?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICS REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, as you point out, one question that's been raised throughout this controversy is why John Brennan kept his security clearance and others who've left the law enforcement or intelligence communities continue to retain a clearance and it is in fact because they do continue to consult on matters of national security.

Now nothing precludes them from speaking out as private citizens and there's been little doubt that the president's action was intended to be more punitive to try and retaliate against his sharpest critics.

[09:10:08] And so there is an aura of attempting to silence those who have expressed disagreement with his tenure in office. I think we've become almost immune to the ways in which the president has broken from the norms and traditions of governance but it is notable that throughout his presidency he has been willing to go to war with the intelligence community and this is another example of him doing that.

Now I don't think that the criticism is going to deter him, as we pointed out. He tends to dig in, in these moments and Lindsey Graham's comments are notable because I think a lot of the Republicans on Capitol Hill have shown that they are willing to stand behind the president time and again and their reaction to Brennan further reinforces that they certainly do not intend to take any action to limit his authority, to strip security clearances.

If anything, they expressed widespread support for the way in which he took action against Brennan. The question of course becomes what if he were to go and target other officials and it depends of course on the way he goes about it but if he was to suddenly strip several security clearances then perhaps this would be a controversy that merits some sort of response.

HARLOW: Amber, let me just get you on the optics of this, and the timing of this, right? I mean, the other "Washington Post" reporting from your colleagues is that they wanted to drop this now in the middle of this week when there was so much drip, drip from Omarosa with these recordings and now we know from the "New York Times" reporting there may be 200 tapes. You would think, you know, she'd put the most sort of persuasive ones out at the beginning of this book tour but whatever they are there might be 200 tapes.

Have the optics turned out better for the White House at the end of this week with the talk and the controversy over the Brennan issue versus Omarosa?

PHILLIPS: It's hard to say because we're talking about both simultaneously. You know, it does suggest both the fact that the White House on Wednesday afternoon had Sarah Huckabee Sanders come out and just dropped this Brennan security clearance announcement more or less out of the blue. They've dangled this as a possibility but they hadn't really touched on it since. That they are worried about these Omarosa tapes.

As you said, the tape themselves and reporting in the "Washington Post" and "New York Times" suggest they're unnerved by all of this. The question I have is whether they're unnerved just by the general anxiety of having someone tape them in their private conversations for months and not knowing what could come of that or where they're concerned something very specific will come out.

So what I'm going to be watching for going forward is whether there are other arguable distractions the White House drops as Omarosa very skillfully draws media attention toward her. That would suggest to me that they might be concerned there's something specific in those tapes that they really want to bury in the news.

HARLOW: Yes. All right. Ladies, Sabrina, Amber, thanks for being with me today. Have a good weekend.

President Trump says he is cancelling a military parade -- a military parade he asked for. Why? What's the reason behind it? We're going to get into that.

Also verdict watch, day two kicks off in just minutes. Jurors in the Paul Manafort trial sending the judge four questions, and they're fascinating. We're going to find out what the judge said and that they all mean ahead.

Also, should deported parents be brought back to the United States to be reunited with their children? That is a key question and it is playing out in court right now.


[09:15:00] POPPY HARLOW, HOST, NEWSROOM: This morning, the big military parade that the president had asked for on Veterans Day has been canceled. In a series of tweets, the president blasted some D.C. politicians blaming them for ballooning the cost of it.

Instead, the president says he'll go to two other events this year and work on planning the parade for next year. So what happened, right? Barbara Starr, she joins me from the Pentagon. You know, it might make sense to spend money on other things, right?

Other than a parade, especially veterans. But I mean, how -- he wanted the parade, so what happened?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Poppy, this was all the president's idea. The Pentagon didn't ask for this, the Pentagon did not propose a military parade for Mr. Trump.

Last year, you remember, he was in Paris on Bastille Day, he saw the French military parade through Paris which is quite an impressive sight, came back and said he wanted something like that. So the military follows orders, they begin planning and for them they came up with a cost estimate of some $90 million to put on something that would be somewhat like that.

A lot of that actually may be a little less than half, would include security costs -- federal security costs, the D.C., Washington D.C. Police Department, you have to be able to cover security not just for the parade, but any protests, any damage to city streets, that sort of thing.

But how it was canceled is what's so interesting. Mr. Trump cancelling it this morning. Yesterday, Defense Secretary James Mattis said the $90 million estimate was more the media's fault. Have a listen.


JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, UNITED STATES: I'm not dignifying that number with any reply.


MATTIS: I would discount that and anybody who said that, I almost guarantee you one thing, it's frightening, I need to stay anonymous, no kidding because you'll look like an idiot.


STARR: Well, he's saying that, you know, the media who writes these kinds of things needs new sources. Let me say that it was very clear that the estimate was about $90 million and it turns out several hours after secretary Mattis was on that airplane in South America on a trip, that is when late last night, the Pentagon came out and said that they were postponing the whole idea, Poppy --

[09:20:00] HARLOW: OK, Barbara, we're also learning this morning about a really important new report about China and what the Chinese military is preparing specifically its pilots for through its training. What are your sources saying?

STARR: This is a report that the Pentagon delivers to Congress on a fairly regular basis, looking at Chinese military capabilities, intentions, budgets, what they're spending and that sort of thing. And what they're saying now is that the Chinese are developing the weapons capability -- and capability is important, no one says the Chinese are attacking us, but the capability to be able and reach out and attack U.S. targets in the region if they wanted to.

This is something where they talk about that they are training their pilots for missions, they're pursuing a nuclear capability for their long-range bombers and they're adding additional long-range bombers. So really beefing up that capability to being able to expand their influence, expand their military capability so they can reach out hundreds if not thousands of miles beyond their shores.

It's what you typically see nations doing. The Iranians and North Koreans, the Russians, this is what nations do, China is doing that, a lot of countries are looking to have that global military power reach. It's something that worries the Pentagon a good deal -- Poppy?

HARLOW: Absolutely, Barbara, thanks for the reporting on both of those fronts. Have a good weekend. So the jury in the Paul Manafort's bank and tax fraud trial begins day two of deliberations in just a few minutes. They had some really interesting questions that they brought to the judge trying to get clarification yesterday in the middle of their deliberation.

So what do those questions point to? A good sign or a bad sign for Paul Manafort? We'll discuss.


HARLOW: So any moment, the jury in the Paul Manafort bank and tax fraud trial will reconvene to deliberate for a second day in a row. This is after the jury sent a note to the judge with four questions including explain the meaning of reasonable doubt.

So to explain the meaning of reasonable doubt, our Justice correspondent Jessica Schneider joins me now. Help me through what this all means, four really important questions from the jury.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a reasonable doubt is that high standard that prosecutors have to prove, and it often does cause a little bit of confusion for juries. Reasonable doubt was the standard that the defense team really seized upon in their closing arguments.

They stressed to the jury and reminded them, look, prosecutors here, they have to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. If you are to find Paul Manafort guilty, it has to be beyond a reasonable doubt.

Also the defense team in their closings kind of laid a little bit of pressure on the jury. They said look at Paul Manafort, they pointed to him in the courtroom and they said right now Paul Manafort sits here an innocent man.

Only you 12 members of the jury can decide whether or not he's guilty, and they pressed upon the jury this reasonable doubt standard. So yesterday just before 5:00 p.m., this jury came back and said to the judge, can you please lay out for us this standard of reasonable doubt. It was the one question that this judge actually answered, and he put

it this way. He said "reasonable doubt is not beyond all possible doubt. You could perhaps have a little bit of doubt, it's just beyond reasonable doubt here." Who knows if that actually clarified anything for the jury and the big question of course, Poppy, is you know, was this a good sign for the defense or the prosecution?

Well, the defense took it as a good sign, they came outside the courthouse yesterday, they said that we were pleased with all of these questions from the jury. And that's probably because it really shows perhaps that this might not be a slam dunk case.

If there're still --

HARLOW: Right --

SCHNEIDER: Some questions, these jurors might be asking, can I have a little bit of doubt and still convict or how much doubt is too much doubt here, so that could be playing out in the jury room.

You know, the defense team feeling quite confident at the way that --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCHNEIDER: These jurors asked these four questions yesterday, Poppy.

HARLOW: Right, they certainly are. All right, Jess, thanks for the reporting, let us know what you hear as the jury start to deliberate, so let's talk more about this with former U.S. Attorney Michael Moore.

What's your read? I mean, the defense came out, they said on camera yesterday this is -- this is good news, this is great news for us. And remember, they took a big risk, right? They didn't --


HARLOW: Call any witnesses, they didn't present a case, right? They just are betting that the prosecution didn't make its case. How do you see it?

MOORE: Well, I don't think there's anything particularly unusual about a jury asking questions like this. And these aren't particularly questions that tell us one way or another, which way the jury may be leaning nor is there much to read into the time it's taken thus far to reach a verdict.

And there's some administrative functions that a jury has to do, they select the foreman, they talk about breaks, they talk about schedules, this type of thing. And remember they've got a lot of documents and evidence to go through at this time, some of the things that they have not yet had a chance to see.

They also have to sort of prioritize and categorize their case and decide which evidence matches up with exhibits and counts. So --

HARLOW: Well --

MOORE: The questions on reasonable doubt, let me -- I think that can cut two ways. Number one, you know, the prosecution is going to say, look, we don't have to prove this beyond all doubt, and you've got --

HARLOW: Right --

MOORE: A basis on some actual reason not just a hinky feeling somewhere in your stomach, right? You've got to have a reason for it.

HARLOW: Sure --

MOORE: The defense is hoping that the jurors hang on to this Hollywood definition like there's going to be a "Matlock" moment and everybody is going to come in, and suddenly there will be this great confession of the signed document.

And you know, it proves everything and removes all possibility, and that's just not the law --

HARLOW: Right --

MOORE: So I can see why the defense wants to spin it that way, but I don't think it's necessary as indicative of where the jury is headed.

HARLOW: What about some of these other questions that are really getting into the nitty-gritty detail of what Rick Gates testified and what the document showed. Two things, right?

MOORE: Right --

HARLOW: One, they had a question on when a person is required to file a foreign bank disclosure and that's because there's this 51 percent threshold, and we know Manafort and his wife each held like 50 percent, right?

MOORE: Right --

HARLOW: And then there's also this question about the definition of shelf companies. What's --