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NYT: Trump Ordered Security Clearance for Kushner over Objections from Senior Staff, Intel Community; Interview with Rep. Don Byer (D-VA); Cohen Testimony Sparks New Calls for Trump Tax Returns; Otto Warmbier's Parents Speak Out after Trump Says He Believes Kim; Democrat Governor Jay Inslee Jumps into 2020 Race. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 1, 2019 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

How did the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, get a top-secret security clearance? So we have the clearance. Why did the president lie about it? This is all after a new report in the "New York Times." It says the president overruled the resistance from top intelligence officials, even his chief of staff and White House counsel, to Kushner getting top-secret clearance. This directly contradicts what the president, Kushner's attorney and his wife, Ivanka Trump, have all said about the review process. Listen.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. I don't think I have the authority to do that. I'm not sure I do. I wouldn't do it.

IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF DONALD TRUMP: The president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband's clearance.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: What were the problems early on?

IVANKA TRUMP: There weren't any.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: So no special treatment?



BOLDUAN: None whatsoever.

Joining me now is "New York Times" national security correspondent, Matt Rosenberg, who contributed to this report.

Matt, it's great to see you.

What have you heard about the amount of resistance from White House staff and intelligence officials to Kushner getting that top-secret clearance?

MATT ROSENBERG, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: You know, Kushner's security clearance was a problem, from the get go. He filed first firms listing no foreign contacts when he had a lot. Over the last two years, the way the process works, you get an FBI investigation, the CIA goes through intelligence. What they found were a lot of entanglements with foreign business men and foreign officials or business men who were tied to officials to their own countries and intelligence officials, and that there was a real question over whether Kushner had the discretion and the judgment to be trusted with American secrets. And that these entanglements can be sources of leverage, that perhaps there was a deal or something that Kushner's business wanted to do overseas that would be leveraged. For security clearances, this is pretty standard. There are a lot of easy ways to get disqualified from having a security clearance. Financial problems are number one.

BOLDUAN: With all of this, in your reporting, John Kelly, chief of staff, White House counsel wrote memos about it. How many memos do we know that Kelly has written? I haven't heard of any others. That says something here.

ROSENBERG: I think at least one of the former officials said Kelly took copious notes. I think it probably safe to assume he wrote some memos. I assume Don McGahn being White House counsel wrote a lot of memos. They were both deeply concerned. We were told that Kelly believed Trump ordered him to do this. Give the guy security clearance. Maybe the president sees it differently. I don't know. But General Kelly certainly walked out of the Oval Office. And Don McGahn laid out his concerns in another internal memo. I think there's the question why lie? That's the big question because the president has absolute authority to give the guys a security clearance if he wants them to have it.

BOLDUAN: That's right.

Let me play you what Abbe Lowell, Kushner's attorney, told CNN back in May about this very issue. This has been going on since the beginning. Listen to this.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Who made the decision to restore his security clearance?

ABBE LOWELL, ATTORNEY FOR JARED KUSHNER: The Intelligence Community and the FBI. It happened in the normal course. It happened the way it happens for thousands of people.

There was nobody in the political process that had anything to do with it. There was nobody who pressured it. It was just done the normal regular way.


BOLDUAN: Now Lowell gave a statement to you guys and says this: "In 2018, White House and security clearance officials affirmed that Mr. Kushner's security clearance was handled in the regular process with no pressure from anyone."

I'm trying to figure out if these statements from Abbe Lowell and your reporting can both be true. I don't really see a way. Please correct me if I'm wrong. I don't get it.

ROSENBERG: Anything is possible. There's a world in which he is going to say that they told me it was normal so that is what I said. I don't know what went on between him and the White House and what he knows and what he doesn't know. I think there's a bigger question here, too, about the why lie or why not be straight about this?


[11:04:54] BOLDUAN: Just to remind everybody, the president has the authority to grant security clearance no matter what the concerns are or the concerns that are raised. That is one of the abilities that is unique in powers to the presidency. The fact that with that in mind, the president, Jared's attorney and Ivanka, all said the president unequivocally did not interfere in the process, it raises the question, why lie about it if you've got the power.

ROSENBERG: I can't speculate about motives. I don't know for sure. I do know that there are outstanding questions about why Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump or what expertise do they bring to the White House beyond being the daughter and son-in-law of the president. A lot of people without security clearances tend to have expertise in any number of subjects. A lot of presidential advisers come in for a reason. But why two family members are there, need this clearance, and the White House doesn't feel comfortable telling the public we gave it to them despite red flags, there are a lot of questions the White House has to answer about this.

BOLDUAN: For sure. There are only more questions today.

Matt, great to see you. Thanks for coming in.

ROSENBERG: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Great reporting.

Joining me now to discuss this further, Democratic Congressman Don Beyer, of Virginia.

Congressman, thank you so much for being here.

You have been asking questions about Kushner's security clearance the entire time that they have been in office. What do you think of this new reporting?

REP. DON BEYER, (D), VIRGINIA: It just confirms what we have suspected. I didn't think it went all the way to the president. We were here on CNN last week pointing out that this guy, Klein, who had been in charge of security clearance had granted 30 over-rulings of security clearance professionals, among them Ivanka and Jared. Now we find it goes right to the top. I like what Adam Schiff said that there should be no nepotism exception for national security clearances, which is exactly what we have.

BOLDUAN: The president, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner's attorney, they all said very specifically that there's no interference by the president. Do you think they are all lying?

BEYER: I think it is clear that Ivanka is lying, that the president is lying. On Abbe Lowell, the statement he put out was clearly untrue. He may have been aligning what the White House told him. The fact that both Don McGahn, White House counsel, and chief of staff, John Kelly, took extraordinary measures to document their objections to the ruling.

Kate, one of the things we have in Congress, Ted Lieu, from California, and I have a bill that would remove White House security clearances to the FBI director to grant and to take them away and not leave it up to something that could be potentially nepotism.

BOLDUAN: I wanted to ask you about that. You are putting together legislation to fix what went wrong here. Would it have prevented if your fix would be in place, would it have prevented Jared Kushner from getting security clearance? You want to take that power away from the president?

BEYER: I think it absolutely would. In fact, we see right now that Jared doesn't have the highest level of clearance. And that's because under the law right now the CIA grants that and the CIA won't give that to Jared Kushner. We need to bring the whole thing, including top-secret, back to the FBI. By the way, we don't expect that President Trump would actually sign this legislation. We are creating a path for the years to come.

BOLDUAN: I see what you're saying.

But the president has this power to give security clearance where he wants to.

BEYER: Yes, he does.

BOLDUAN: You do not like it. You might not like exactly what he is doing here or what he has done. You have been asking a lot of questions about it. Unfortunately, it's not a crime to lie to the press. Is there really anything you can do about it when it comes specifically to Jared Kushner, is there anything you can do about it now?

BEYER: I'm not on the Oversight Committee but I am pleased that Chairman Elijah Cummings and Chairman Schiff, on the Intelligence Committee, will dive more deeply into the documents. Perhaps there will be something there that gives us a legal hook. In the meantime, though, the president has the absolute right to do this, but he also took the sworn oath to protect the American people. It takes somebody like Kushner, with foreign entanglements and very complicated financial difficulties, including the famous 666 Fifth Avenue and then with all the Russians he met with during the campaign, this is just a disaster.


BEYER: He really should resign.

BOLDUAN: I want to read for you what the "Washington Post," how they describe what is behind Kushner's clearance problems that he has had: "Some foreign officials whose communications were intercepted by the U.S. intelligence privately discussed how they could manipulate Kushner taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties he had at the time, and his lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former intelligence officials familiar the intelligence reporters on the matter, who spoke of the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject."

Do you have any sense of what exactly this was about?

[11:10:05] BEYER: Yes. First of all, we just have to look at 666 Fifth Avenue and the dilemma that they had. It almost took the Kushner family fortune under until they were able to get foreign loans. Following up on the government shutdown and I represent more federal employees. One real concern with them not getting paid was they could get behind on their bills and mortgage and lose their security clearance and lose their job. The number one reason people don't get security clearances is because of financial difficulties. The is exactly what Jared Kushner brings to the table, very complex, difficult financial entanglements.

BOLDUAN: Sounds like there are more questions than less.

You are on the Ways and Means Committee, tax writing committee. Michael Cohen said in testimony this week that the reason the president hasn't released tax returns is because the president fears being put under audit, not because he is currently under audit. Your committee has been looking into getting the president's tax returns. How confident are you that you are going to get them?

BEYER: I am confident that -- we will ask for them and have strong legal arguments justifying our asking. I think all the things that Cohen laid out this week, the inflation of assets to get bank loans, all the shenanigans with his foundation to avoid taxes. I'm less confident we will get that in the short run because I assume the White House will fight it to the Supreme Court. What we want to do is make it so bullet proof that the Republican Supreme Court has to say these tax records need to be turned over to the American public.

BOLDUAN: You are not frustrated that you have an issue.

BEYER: No. We want to make sure that -- we only get one chance so let's do it absolutely right. We know it is likely to go to the Supreme Court. We have to create the bulk of the evidence with that in mind.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, thank you for coming in.

BEYER: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Appreciate it.

Coming up for us, President Trump says he believes Kim Jong-Un didn't know about the treatment of American student, Otto Warmbier, in a North Korean prison. Now his parents are speaking out. We want to hear what they have to say.

Plus, another candidate is jumping into the race for 2020. He makes the case this campaign is only about one issue and it's not Donald Trump.


[11:16:45] BOLDUAN: The family of American student, Otto Warmbier, is speaking out and making it crystal clear who they think is responsible for their son's death. This after President Trump's shocking statement that he takes Kim Jong-Un's word for it that the dictator knew nothing of their son's condition.


TRUMP: He felt badly about it. I did speak to him. He felt very badly about it. But he tells me that he didn't know about it and I will take him at his word.


BOLDUAN: And now Otto Warmbier's parents are having their say.

CNN's Brian Todd is in Washington with the latest.

Brian, the family put out a statement.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, some sharply worded statements from the Warmbier family this morning, some heart felt rhetoric going back and forth between the White House and the family. First, we will tell you what Fred and Cindy Warmbier said. They said, quote, "We have been respectful during this summit process. Now we must speak out. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son, Otto. They are responsible 41 imaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that."

So the White House quickly going into damage control operations here this morning. Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to President Trump just spoke out about this on FOX News and tried to offer context. Take a listen.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Of course, he holds North Korea responsible. He has deep affection and shares the grief for the Warmbier family. That will never end, as will not the president agreeing with the Warmbier family that Kim is responsible. Chairman Kim did not know the -- what the president is saying is there's no indication chairman Kim knew what happened with Otto Warmbier when it happened.


TODD: That is an important distinction to make whether Kim Jong-Un knew what happened to Warmbier at the time that Warmbier went into a coma. We did a lot of reporting. He quickly went into a coma. By all accounts the North Koreans panicked, got in touch with American counter parts and arranged for transfer back to the United States where Warmbier died a couple of days after getting to the United States. Kellyanne Conway saying it was Kim Jong-Un not knowing what happened at the time he fell ill quickly. Clearly, Kim Jong-Un knew about the detention and arrest of Otto Warmbier. Now they are throwing into doubt whether Kim knew at the time that Warmbier had gone into a coma so quickly and faded so quickly.

BOLDUAN: It's one of those things where there seems to be a distinction that does not matter in the context of what is really said.

Good to see you, Brian. Thank you so much more for bringing it to us.

TODD: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Much more to come there.

Joining me now is CNN national security analyst, Shawn Turner, who served as a senior adviser and spokesperson for the director of national intelligence.

Shawn, what's your take? You heard Kellyanne Conway trying to offer context that he holds North Korea responsible but all he was saying was that Kim Jong-Un didn't know about Otto Warmbier's condition at that moment. What is happening here?

[11:19:57] SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Anytime an American citizen is contained in North Korea it is rarely about the alleged crime that they have committed. It is most often about North Korea trying to force engagement with senior U.S. officials. To be clear, there are no scenarios in which Kim Jong-Un would be unaware of the status of one of the very few American citizens to be held in North Korea. When we hear the president provide cover for Kim Jong-Un and to say these things that in my opinion are really reprehensible when you think about how they struck the family, I think this is just another example of the president unfortunately kowtowing to a ruthless dictator.

BOLDUAN: I want to ask you about that in a second. Along the lines of what you are saying, Bill Richardson was on my show yesterday. He has negotiated. He has been to North Korea many times and negotiated with North Koreans many times. He said it is inconceivable that Kim Jong-Un would not know about an American that is being held in one of his prisons because that is an important bargaining chip for North Korea on any number of issues. So it is inconceivable that that would be the case. Maybe we shouldn't get lost or let it be lost the fact that we should feel so horribly for the family. They don't want to have to be the arbiter -- they don't want to be in the middle of this. TURNER: Kim Jong-Un rules his country with an iron fist. He had to

know what was going on. We have tracked what happened in North Korea enough to know that anytime something happens that is a surprise to Kim Jong-Un, we know how he deals with those sorts of things. You are absolutely right that he had to have known. With regard to the family, I heard the Congressman suggesting that the president's motivation for saying the things that he said or to because he was trying to build a relationship with Kim Jong-Un. We have to understand that the president has an obligation to the American people. He has an obligation to the Warmbier family to make sure that they know, that the American people know that he understands the pain that they are going through and that he stands with them. Not with Kim Jong-Un. And for the president to come out and say that he believes Kim Jong-Un over what we know in the Intelligence Community and what is clear based on information we have, I believe he owes him an apology. It happened because of the way North Koreans treated this American.

BOLDUAN: Shawn, thanks for being here. I really appreciate the perspective today.

TURNER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, a new candidate jumps into the 2020 race. Will running a single-issue platform cut through the noise of the crowded pack and set him apart from the rest?


[11:27:33] BOLDUAN: The crowded 2020 Democratic field is getting more crowded today. Washington Governor Jay Inslee announcing his run today, the first governor to enter the race and the first candidate to run almost exclusively on one single issue. Listen.


JAY INSLEE, (D), WASHINGTON GOVERNOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (voice- over): We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change and we're the last that can do something about it.

(on camera): I'm Jay Inslee and I'm running for president because I'm the only candidate who will make defeating climate change our nation's number-one priority. We can do this. Join our movement. This is our moment.


BOLDUAN: So how does Inslee stir things up?

Joining me now from Seattle is CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich.

Vanessa, what does Governor Inslee bring to this race?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN REPORTER: Hi, Kate. He certainly brings an important issue to the race. You mentioned climate change. In that clip you just played, he goes on to talk about how he would bring clean energy jobs to the state here. He also talks about how this is going to be his marquis issue. As he moves into the next couple weeks, he is going to be expanding upon some of those policies around climate change. He talks about the Green New Deal. He says he supports it but he says it doesn't go far enough. Later today at this solar company here in Seattle he will be sort of laying out four key principles around climate change. We will hear from him a little bit later.

We also know that he is entering a really crowded field so the question is whether or not a single-issue candidate can really cut through the other candidates. We know Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders are running on multiple issues.

In the next couple of weeks, he will be launching his climate mission, tour stopping at local businesses just like this one here in Seattle, really trying to connect with voters to see if he is able to make climate change an issue that sort of sweeps voters on with him. So if you take a look at some of his platforms that he will be coming out with, you will see a couple others but climate change really being the most important one. We'll hear from him on what that is going to look like.

BOLDUAN: That will be fascinating and interesting to hear his initial pitch.

Great to see you, Vanessa. Thank you so much.

Joining me now for perspective on this is CNN political analyst, Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich.

It's great to see you, Jackie.


BOLDUAN: What do you think? Is it a gamble to run on a single issue in the Democratic primary?