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Trump Obsessed with Identifying Op-Ed Author; Obama Offers Stinging and Pointed Rebuke of Trump; New Letter from Kim en Route to Trump; British Airways Apologizes after Credit Card Hack. Aired 3- 3:30a ET

Aired September 8, 2018 - 03:00   ET

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


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BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Barack Obama takes aim at Donald Trump and President Trump fires back.

Meanwhile, the U.S. president is asking the Justice Department to investigate that anonymous editorial in "The New York Times."

Plus Kim Jong-un's new hand-delivered letter to Donald Trump.

Live from the CNN Center here in Atlanta, I am Cyril Vanier and it's great to have you with us.

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VANIER: CNN has learned that the list of possible authors of anonymous but damaging opinion piece in "The New York Times" has been whittled down by the White House to just a few names.

The source says U.S. President Donald Trump is obsessed with learning the identity of the person, identified by "The New York Times" only as a senior administration official. This comes as former president Barack Obama broke with protocol on Friday and publicly criticized his successor as a threat to American democracy. Here's CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

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JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump asking attorney general Jeff Sessions tonight to investigate and unmask the author of the anonymous essay in "The New York Times" that blasted him as unfit for office.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One today, the president calling it a matter of national security. Not simply as outrage over a senior administration official publicly saying he's ill-informed, impetuous and reckless inside the White House.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say Jeff should be investigating who the author of that piece was, because I really believe it's national security.

ZELENY: On a two-day campaign swing to Montana and the Dakotas, the president is telling his supporters that their decision at the ballot box in 2016 is being subverted by a government bureaucrat.

TRUMP: Unelected deep-state operatives who defy the voters to push their own secret agendas are truly a threat to democracy itself. I think it's backfired. Seriously.

ZELENY: Yet the president made clear he is seething.

TRUMP: The latest act of resistance is the op-ed published in the failing "New York Times" by an anonymous, really an ominous, gutless, coward.

ZELENY: Struggling to say "anonymous" but adding today the search is still on for the person responsible for the op-ed.

TRUMP: We're going to take a look at what he had, what he gave, what he's talking about. Also, where he is right now. Eventually, the name of this sick person will come out.

ZELENY: Asked how criticizing his presidency presents a danger to national security, he explained.

TRUMP: Supposing I have a high-level national security meeting and he has got a clearance and he goes into a high-level meeting, concerning China or Russia or North Korea or something and this guy goes in. I don't want him in those meetings.

ZELENY: Two months before the midterm elections, former President Obama stepped back onto the political stage today with his own message to the anonymous Trump official.

BARACK OBAMA (D), FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're not doing us a service by actively promoting 90 percent of the crazy stuff that's coming out of this White House and then saying, "Don't worry, we're preventing the other 10 percent."

That's not how things are supposed to work. This is not normal. These are extraordinary times and they're dangerous times.

ZELENY: Obama has largely remained publicly silent about his successor until today, in a speech in Illinois, where he called on Republicans to take notice of how Trump treats the rule of law.

OBAMA: It should not be a partisan issue to say that we do not pressure the attorney general or the FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents.

ZELENY: Trump, who has not spoken to Obama since his inauguration day in January 2017, responded to Obama's hour-long speech like this. TRUMP: I watched it, but I fell asleep. I found he's very good. Very good for sleeping.

ZELENY: But Trump made clear he's also worried about Democrats in the midterm elections, planting early seeds of an argument against impeachment.

TRUMP: "We will impeach him." "But he didn't do anything wrong." "It doesn't matter. We will impeach him! We will impeach."

But I say how do you impeach somebody that's doing a great job, that hasn't done anything wrong.

If it does happen, it's your fault because you didn't go out to vote.

ZELENY: So even as the president is stewing frankly about the identity of the anonymous author, White House aides are telling us that they believe they're narrowing down the list of possible suspects. But it is just that --

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ZELENY: -- possible suspects, unclear if the person will ever be fully identified -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.

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VANIER: While the hunt for that mysterious op-ed author has consumed parts of the Trump White House, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway offered some clues about where the search is focused. She spoke with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Do you think that source is inside the White House?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Most of us don't think that. The president just today said he believes it's somebody in national security.

But what I do believe is that who has said that ought to come forward and say it or ought to resign because the loyalty is not to the president or at all, it's loyalty to the presidency. It's loyal to the Constitution.

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VANIER: You can see more of Christiane's interview with Kellyanne Conway on Monday. That's when the new hour-long version of "AMANPOUR" debuts. See it Monday at 6:00 pm London time.

Political analyst Michael Genovese joins us from Los Angeles. He is president of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University.

Michael, why is Barack Obama back in the fray, do the Democrats want him on that stage or is that his prerogative as a former president?

MICHAEL GENOVESE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The Democrats were hungry for a face and a voice, President Obama is their only superstar. He can still give a great speech and he can still rile up a crowd.

And that speech today was intended for two audiences; one was the Democrats and the message was one word, "Vote."

There was also a message to Republicans, which is what has happened to the Republican Party?

Kind of a plea to say let's bring back some sanity to the party. The president might have an impact. The problem for Barack Obama is that, in midterm elections, he hasn't been able to re-energize the base, he has lost two midterm elections big time.

So the question is can he, not being on the ballot, bring enthusiasm to that base of the Democratic Party?

VANIER: It is hard to believe that he lost his own midterm elections when he was president, in office, now he is the one who is summoned to help the Democrats win the midterms, when he is no longer in office. I don't know whether the political calculus there is a winner for the Democrats.

Is there going to be more of this?

Will he get more involved?

GENOVESE: I think there have been so many personal attacks on President Obama and his agenda, I think this time around, I think Obama has something to prove, he has something to protect.

And I think he is going to be out there as the Democratic Party's number one voice and face.

Midterm elections are notoriously bad for the incumbent party, the president's party almost always loses seats in a midterm. So for Obama, he lost big-time.

The question is, can President Trump, not literally on the ballot, can he bring together his base or will the Democrats sweep in and control the House?

Maybe. But unlikely the Senate as well.

VANIER: I want you to listen to another part of the speech. Obama also used the speech to defend his record, which has come under severe attack from Donald Trump, listen to this.

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OBAMA: So when you hear how great the economy is doing right now, let's just remember when this recovery started.

(APPLAUSE) OBAMA: I mean, I'm glad it has continued.

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VANIER: This is one example -- there were others during the speech. The whole speech was peppered with things like this. And clearly, clearly it matters to President Obama who gets credit for what.

VANIER: It matters to all politicians, especially to presidents, whose historical reputation is on the line. And if President Obama continues to see his policies one after another discarded, then his legacy will be meager.

If he can show people that that legacy on the environment, the economy, civil rights, et cetera, on civility, has lasting power, then he can reclaim a bit of the luster that the history books may say, well, you see, I guess we figured out, he really was pretty good.

VANIER: Therefore, he needs some of the credit for the current economy.

Now Donald Trump thrives on enemies, we know that, he needs enemies. President Obama is one of his favorites. You might wonder if this might not help Donald Trump before the midterms.

GENOVESE: It normally would energize him because he has a clear target to shoot at. But after the excerpts of the book, "Fear," came out and after "The New York Times" anonymous editorial, he is really on the defensive.

If you heard him today, both in North and South Dakota, he was a president without the vim and vigor that he normally has --

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GENOVESE: -- in front of an audience of his friends and allies and supporters.

He was a bit more muted, a bit more calm or tame even. He didn't have the usual hunger and drive that a crowd -- that he feeds off in the crowd.

And so I think at least right now, President Trump is on the defensive and that is why the Obama speech can be very important and if Trump lets it go unanswered, this might actually stick politically.

VANIER: Interesting, Michael Genovese, from Los Angeles, thank you very much.

GENOVESE: Thank you, Cyril.

VANIER: While the search continues to find out which Trump official wrote that anonymous "New York Times" editorial, CNN's Brian Todd looks at the White House mole hunt.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's really an anominous (sic) gutless coward.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's enraged, paranoid and on a furious hunt for the person on his team who the wrote the anonymous op-ed in "The New York Times," slamming him. President Trump is enlisting his top aides in the search. He is calling on attorney general Jeff Sessions to uncover the writer.

TRUMP: I would say, Jeff should be investigating who the author of that piece was because I really believe it's national security.

TODD (voice-over): And he's pressuring "The Times to reveal the person's identity.

TRUMP: For the sake of our national security, "The New York Times" should publish his name at once.

TODD (voice-over): As the president himself acknowledged, it's not clear if it is a he. "The New York Times" says, one of Trump's outside advisers has told the paper the White House has a list of about 12 people who they believe could have written the op-ed.

The possible tactics being used in these high stakes mole hunt include an option that "The Times" says is being floated by people close to the president, forcing senior officials to sign sworn affidavits that could be used in court if necessary.

CARRIE CORDERO, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT COUNSEL FOR NATIONAL SECURITY: But I don't see a law that has been broken. Indeed, a person has a First Amendment Right to express themselves. So, I don't see why there would be affidavits that would go to any court because there's no legal proceeding going on.

TODD (voice-over): Republican Senator Rand Paul has even suggesting forcing staffers to take lie detector tests.

CORDERO: Unless there is some legitimate investigation under their guidelines and under law, I don't see how they would legitimately be able to use that technique.

TODD (voice-over): A source close to the White House tells CNN Trump's aides are also following leads based on how the editorial is written looking at keywords which stand out.

The writer used the word "lodestar," which means "guide" or "beacon." It's a word Vice President Pence has used several times in public.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Lodestar.

Lodestar.

Lodestar.

TODD (voice-over): Pence vehemently denies being the writer. A forensic language expert says, the word "lodestar" could have been placed in the op-ed to throw readers off, trick them into thinking it was Pence. Finding the actual writer using their words, he says, is tough.

ROBERT LEONARD, FORENSIC LANGUAGE EXPERT, HOFSTRA UNIVERSITY: You have to get an adequate set of known documents as samples from the various people who are candidates and then compare it meticulously to the anonymous document.

Also we're not looking for things that are really obvious to somebody who's trying to mimic somebody else, like "lodestar," but patterns of constructing the sentences, how they construct arguments.

TODD (voice-over): Whatever tactics are used, this is a mole hunt observers say that could paralyze an already besieged White House.

DAN PFEIFFER, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: These are really hard jobs, where you are under attack from events, from political opponents, from everything else. And if you can't trust the people in the foxhole with you, you -- it's just impossible to succeed.

TODD: Some Washington veterans, including former government officials, say they believe the op-ed writer will be outed, even if it takes decades, like it did with the Watergate source, Deep Throat.

Some say they wouldn't be surprised if the writer outed him or herself, to win public praise or score a book deal -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

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VANIER: The federal probe into Russian election interference has led to the first prison sentence for someone associated with the Trump campaign.

Former aide George Papadopoulos will spend two weeks behind bars for lying to investigators about his contacts with Russians during the campaign. Prosecutors had asked for six months behind bars. George Papadopoulos must also pay a $9,500 fine, do community service and be supervised for one year after he is released.

From one leader to another, a new letter from Kim Jong-un is on its way to President Trump, we'll be live inside North Korea to tell you about that.

Plus the U.S. East Coast bracing for a possible hit from tropical storm Florence, which could soon become a hurricane. We'll have the forecast next.

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(MUSIC PLAYING) VANIER: A new personal letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is on its way to President Trump. The president said he thinks it will be a, quote, "positive letter," this as North Korea prepares massive celebrations this weekend to mark the country's 70th anniversary.

It's always a big show and thankfully the one and only Will Ripley is live in Pyongyang to cover it -- Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We can start with that letter, nothing confirmed on the North Korean side about this. But President Trump said it was handed over at the demilitarized zone. State Department confirming secretary of state Mike Pompeo has received the letter.

We still don't know the contents of it. President Trump was expecting a positive letter and we have seen positive communications back and forth between President Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, whether it be on Twitter or the letters they have exchanged.

But things have been much more tricky with denuclearization talks. I can tell you from what we've observed here on the ground in Pyongyang, this is a city preparing for a major celebration this weekend.

The propaganda messaging everywhere is dramatically different. Last year we saw missiles and tanks aimed at the United States. This year, you see messages about the North Korean economy.

But when you talk to people on the ground, they are quick to say that their -- in their words -- hatred of the United States and mistrust will not go away overnight.

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RIPLEY (voice-over): At the height of U.S.-North Korean tensions last year, when fire and fury rhetoric was at a fever pitch, anti-American propaganda was everywhere in Pyongyang, from missiles blowing up the U.S. Capitol to a personal attack on President Trump.

RIPLEY: This propaganda banner says that the workers are motivated by their burning hatred for the United States.

And in fact, it reads "Let's tear apart the mentally deranged U.S. president Donald Trump."

RIPLEY (voice-over): What a difference a year makes. This is my first time back in Pyongyang since President Trump's historic summit with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Almost three months since their June 12th meeting, North Korea's nuclear program is still here. What's not here, at least as far as we can tell, images like this.

RIPLEY: A year ago, when we were here in Pyongyang, you couldn't turn a corner without seeing anti-American propaganda. Now, you're seeing much more of this. This is about building a socialist economy. Even the missile imagery itself has kind of faded into the background.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Government guides are always with us in North Korea, showing us exactly what the state wants us to see. This time, it's all about the economy.

RIPLEY: Nice to see you again.

RIPLEY (voice-over): I visit the same Pyongyang silk factory and the same worker, Kim Jong Hyang (ph), I first met two years ago.

RIPLEY: A lot of people used to describe to me emotions like, you know, burning hatred when they talked about America.

Do people still feel that way now or is it changing?

"Our burning hatred won't go away overnight," she says. "The Americans are approaching us diplomatically, but they're not very sincere."

Workers like Kim used to be surrounded by anti-U.S. slogans. Not anymore.

RIPLEY: This one here says, "Compete with the world --

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RIPLEY: -- "challenge the world, overtake the world." A lot different than nuclear annihilation.

What happened to all those signs?

RIPLEY (voice-over): "Those posters were everywhere," she says. "They may be gone now, but that hatred is still deep in our hearts. We don't have any illusions about the Americans. We can't let down our guard."

Here in North Korea, taking down posters is much easier than building up trust.

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RIPLEY: When you think about that, decades of hostility, being told that the United States is the enemy, just because the posters come down, doesn't change the sentiments of the people.

And that is a major obstacle for American denuclearize negotiators, like secretary of state Mike Pompeo, because the North Koreans simply don't trust the United States. This is one of the reasons why they are asking for a peace treaty and security guarantees first, before they give up their nuclear weapons, which is something the U.S. has said they don't want to do until North Korea surrenders a large part of its arsenal.

VANIER: What can we expect from this weekend?

We know it is usually an opportunity for the regime to send a message, so what you expect to see?

RIPLEY: I am standing in a press filing center that has been established here, empty right now. But later in the afternoon, it will be full of journalists. There's more than 100 of us here from all around the world.

That is one indication. North Korea rarely invites large groups of journalists into the country. It's very difficult to manage everybody but it's because they want to put on a show.

It's their 70th founding anniversary. We are expecting to see, still not confirmed, anything on the itinerary, but we're expecting a military parade. We will see soldiers, undoubtedly.

Will we see ICBMs?

That's one thing we will be watching for, questions about whether North Korea wants to send that kind of message right now, given the state of denuclearization talks or lack thereof with the U.S.

But also they're doing something they haven't done in five years, called the mass games, you might remember some of these images from 2013, tens of thousands of people, North Koreans who've been practicing for months.

They gather in a stadium and they all flip cards simultaneously to create images. Five years ago we saw things like a mushroom cloud, a missile going up.

What will we be seeing this year?

What's the message?

We'll be watching all of it very closely in the coming days -- Cyril.

VANIER: All right, Will Ripley, in Pyongyang, covering that live for us, thank you very much, Will.

As several major storms are posing threats to the U.S. and its territories, spread out from Guam in the Western Pacific, all the way to the East Coast. Let's start with tropical storm Florence, picking up speed and potentially deadly power over the Atlantic.

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VANIER: British Airways is apologizing to customers whose credit card information was stolen in a devastating cyber attack. The company says it's the worst hack that they have experienced since their website launched 20 years ago. CNN's Anna Stewart explains.

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ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Another tech disaster for British Airways, this time a hack of the personal and credit card details of some 380,000 people were breached.

The customers had all booked flights within the dates of 21st August and 5th September, a window of 15 days. Today British Airways came out with a full apology. They put a full advertisement apologizing in many British newspapers. And the CEO spoke to CNN.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: BA.com has been running for more than 20 years and we never had a data breach of this particular type. We now have teams that are working with our national crime agency and a very large team of actual forensic experts that are going through to try to understand exactly what happened.

Our focus remains with our passengers. We want to make sure they feel comfortable, that all their concerns are being addressed. If any of them have suffered any financial loss as a consequence of this event, we will compensate them.

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STEWART: BA said they have contacted all passengers who were impacted by the breach, also social media has been awash with reports from customers who think they have had their data breached but haven't received any contact from BA yet.

If you think you are one of these unfortunate people, you must act fast. The advice is change your password on the BA website. Also call your bank, you may need to cancel your credit card and have a new one sent.

Also just check your bank account, make sure no fraudulent activity has happened. As we heard from the CEO there, any financial losses as a result of this breach will be compensated by them.

Also worth noting, you should be extra vigilant in the weeks following a hack. Your personal data and credentials could be in cyberspace. So be mindful of spam, emails or letters.

Meanwhile, BA said it is totally safe to book a flight with them now. The breach is over and once the investigation gets going, hopefully they have a better idea of what happened and how they can prevent it happening again -- Anna Stewart, CNN, London.

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VANIER: That is it from us, "CNN TALK" is next.