Return to Transcripts main page


GOP Senators Deflect from Barr by Blaming Obama, FBI; Trump's Fed Pick Withdraws after Sexist Remark Firestorm; Pentagon Says Military Sexual Assaults Increase Sharply. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired May 2, 2019 - 13:30   ET



[13:32:10] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: So no hearing for attorney general William Barr today. He chose to sit this one out. But really we had two hearings for Barr yesterday. One by the Democrats with questions about the Mueller report and obstruction of justice, and another by Republicans on the committee, who were much more interested in the Clinton e-mails and taking aim at some of the FBI agents who were involved in the Russia investigation.

We have James Clapper, who was the director of National Intelligence in the Obama administration, with us.

And it was Republican Senator John Cornyn who asked, why didn't the Obama administration do more about Russian interference starting back in 2014 when they were warned by the Intel Community that this was going to be an issue, that Russia was going to try to influence the election? What do you say to that question?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, first of all, there's a long, long history of Soviet and then Russian interference in our election process going back to at least 1960s. So unfortunately, you know, there's a certain ambient level of Russian activity that we kind of anticipated. For me, just speaking for me, through '15 and '16, we began to see -- and by the way, all truth isn't revealed in one day -- that as this unfolded, we gained more and more insight into what the Russians were doing and the magnitude of it. And certainly, by the summer of '16, it was very, very disturbing, certainly to me personally. I've seen a lot of bad stuff in 50 years in intelligence but nothing bothered me as much as this. So yes, speaking personally, I would have -- I was an advocate for doing more earlier and more aggressive. But to say that the Obama administration did nothing is not true. For one, the president, unlike our current president, directly confronted very pointedly Putin and told him to cut it out. Didn't ask him, are you doing this, because he accepted the intelligence that he was getting. We made an announcement about it, put out a public release. I say we, secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and I on the 27th of October 2017. Unfortunately, I got emasculated by -- on the very same day the revelation of the "Access Hollywood" tapes and the dumping of John Podesta e-mails, so our message got lot. I do think -- and then, of course, the criticisms levied on the Obama administration. We might ask, what was the Trump campaign doing at the same time, with aiding and abetting the Russians and having dozens of contacts with Russians, some of whom were connected to -- officially to Russian intelligence. And --


KEILAR: Not legally --


CLAPPER: And not reporting that.

KEILAR: To be clear, not meeting the legal definition of aiding and abetting.

CLAPPER: Well, I'm using that in a parochial or colloquial sense, I guess.


[13:35:00] CLAPPER: But -- and certainly, the president, Candidate Trump, on the 27th of July exhorting the Russians to go out -- an adversary, an enemy of ours -- to help him and his campaign against his opponent. And by the way the Russians complied with that request about five hours later.


CLAPPER: So it's a bit much. And then the other thing, of course, is -- is probably the stiffest action that the Obama administration took on the 29th of December, with the sanctions, the expelling of 35 Russian operatives and the closure of the two intelligence doches (ph), and what did the incoming administration do but undermine it by informing the Russians, you know, disregard the sanctions.

KEILAR: Michael Flynn, you mean?

CLAPPER: Exactly.

KEILAR: We've talked about this a few times but I want to see what you think now because Barr addressed this in the hearing last month. He used the word "spying," which is a pejorative. I think it's very widely accepted -- you feel this way and others in the Intel Community feel it's a pejorative way to talk about surveillance. He was talking about surveillance of the Trump campaign members and associates, who had contact, which is often repeated, with Russians during the election, Kremlin-linked Russians. He was asked about that. Let's listen.


SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): Have you ever referred to authorized department investigative activities officially or publicly as spying? I'm not asking for private conversations.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm not going to abjure the use of the word "spying." I think -- my first job was in CIA. I don't think spying has any pejorative connotation at all. To me --


BARR: To me, the question is always whether or not it's authorized and adequately predicated spying. I think spying is a good English word that, in fact, doesn't have synonyms because it is the broadest word incorporating really all forms of covert intelligence collection. So I'm not going to back off the word spying, except I will say -


BARR: -- I'm not suggesting any pejorative. And I use it frequently as did it the print media.

WHITEHOUSE: When -- when did you decide to use it? Was it off the cuff in the hearing that day or did you go into the hearing intending --


BARR: It was actually off the cuff to tell you the truth.


KEILAR: It was actually off the cuff he said. Although to be clear, he paused, thought about -- you could tell he was thinking about what he was saying and used the word spying. And he seemed to double down on that, and I just want to be clear about that. He said, "I don't think it has a pejorative connotation at all." What do you say at all?.

CLAPPER: Having spent 50 years in the intel business, I would respectfully disagree with that. I do think it's a pejorative term. It connotes illegality, rogue operations, this sort of thing. It's not a term of art that's used within the Intelligence Community. And I always used to cringe whenever I would say my name in the headlines somewhere where head spy testifies or something. It just --


CLAPPER: I have an aversion to the word.

KEILAR: And you think he knows that?

CLAPPER: I do. What made it pejorative particularly, of course, is in the context of what the president has been saying about spying on his campaign, which in my view is -- is not true.

KEILAR: Because you hear him co-opting the language of the president, which is clearly pejorative.


KEILAR: And you can't divorce those things.

CLAPPER: Exactly.

KEILAR: There were a couple questions raised about the Trump campaign and offers of help from the Russians. Here's part of that.


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D-): Does the fact that Mr. Mueller found the Trump campaign was receptive to some of the offers of assistance from Russia or the fact that the Trump campaign never reported it in -- reported any of this to the FBI, does that trouble you?

BARR: What would they report to the FBI?

LEAHY: That they were receptive to offers of assistance from Russia.

BARR: What do you mean by receptive?


KEILAR: What about that exchange?

CLAPPER: Well, I thought it was a valid question on Senator Leahy's part. And I thought this is one of -- one example of the attorney general parsing words and hair-splitting. You know, quibbling over definitional issues which, you know, I don't think, you know -- you hope that he would rise above that. I will just say that, during my time as the DNI, we began to observe all these contacts with Russians, not that we understood necessarily the content of any of these discussions, but it -- it certainly raised the yellow flag on my dashboard, warnings were on, why all these contacts with Russians which, of course, weren't being reported.


KEILAR: Should it have been reported? So when he says, well, what would they report --

CLAPPER: Well, one would think -- I mean, maybe I'm reflecting my -- my Korean War experience, but one would think when the Russians, and so many times were trying to engage people connected with the Trump camp, that there might be an -- perhaps a logical explanation for it. But they were very numerous. And, again, we didn't fully understand why. But when valid Russian intelligence targets, U.S. intelligence targets were engaging with members of the Trump campaign that was concerning.

[13:40:19] KEILAR: Director Clapper, thanks so much.

CLAPPER: Thank you.

KEILAR: We always appreciate your perspective on this.

Just in, another presidential Fed pick is out. Stephen Moore withdrawing his name after many of his misogynistic comments from the past were exposed.

Plus, how much do you think an education at Stanford costs? For one family, it was $6.5 million, and they didn't pay it to the school. A new twist in the massive college admissions scandal. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:45:19] KEILAR: Economic commentator, Stephen Moore, is out as a candidate for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Moore's nomination was controversial from the start. And Republican Senators expressed growing doubts in recent days due to past disparaging comments that Moore made about women extensively reported on by CNN's "KFILE."

CNN's politics and business correspondent, Cristina Alesci, joins us here from New York.

Tell what else you've learned, Cristina, and what is President Trump saying about Moore's withdrawal?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN POLITICS & BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: President Trump has obviously tweeted out that he supports Moore's economic policies but that Moore is withdrawing his nomination. I just want to read a little bit of Moore's statement. He says, "I'm respectfully asking you" -- the president -- "to withdraw my name from consideration. The unrelenting attacks on my character have become untenable for me and my family, and three more months of this would be too hard on us."

Now he calls it attacks. We call it facts. As you noted, one of our investigative units, "KFILE," uncovered these columns that Stephen Moore had written that basically were very sexist against women, saying women shouldn't be refereeing men's basketball game and suggesting they shouldn't even be present at those games, and that led to Republican Senators basically not being able to support Moore's nomination. This is an embarrassment for the White House, especially because another nomination for the Fed, another nominee for the Fed, Herman Cain, had to withdraw his nomination a couple weeks ago after his previous allegations on sexual harassment came to light again. And this is just more evidence that the process at the White House, especially when it comes to the Federal Reserve nomination, is quite messy and doesn't -- and there's no system attached to it.

Aside from all of this controversy, conservative economists had questions about Stephen Moore. Because the Federal Reserve is supposed to be a place where politics is removed from the discussion, and a lot of economists saw Stephen Moore as being more politically inclined than necessary for this very serious and prestigious position.

KEILAR: Cristina, thank you so much for that.

We have more on our breaking news. CNN has obtained a letter from the White House to Attorney General Bill Barr, and it's blasting Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team. Why they were so upset about his report?

And hundreds of people quarantined on a Scientology cruise ship as the measles outbreak grows.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [13:52:24] KEILAR: A cruise ship, like this one, which is reportedly owned and operated by the Church of Scientology, is under quarantine. Health officials in St. Lucia identified one confirmed case of measles on board, and due to the highly infectious nature of the disease, no one is allowed to leave the ship. The Church of Scientology has not responded to the request for comment. Right now, the U.S. is in the middle of a huge outbreak with more than 700 cases reported in 22 states, as you may know.

And ahead of a damning report on sexual assaults in the military, the Defense Department is taking a step to criminalize bad behavior among the ranks. Testifying before the House Armed Security Committee, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced a directive to make sexual harassment a stand-alone military crime.

Let's bring in Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Tell us why the military is doing this.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, you only have to look at what happened here today at the Pentagon. They released their annual report on sexual assault and the numbers were not good. One official telling me there's nothing good in this report.

Let's go right to the bottom line up front here, 38 percent increase in 2018 versus 2016 in sexual assault cases. And when you look just at women, 17 to 24 years old, the numbers get even worse, 44 percent.

Earlier today, on Capitol Hill. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a presidential candidate, was very passionate about her concerns that the military simply isn't doing enough. Have a listen to what she had to say.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): The percentage of cases that are ending in conviction are going down. I am tired of excuses. I am tired of statements from commanders that say zero tolerance. I'm tired of the statement I get over and over from the chain of command, we got this, ma'am, we got this. You don't have it. You're failing us. The trajectories of every measurable are now going in the wrong direction.


STARR: Now let's be clear, very senior commanders in the U.S. military are extremely concerned about this. The commandant of the Marine Corp issuing a number of tweets to the Marine Corp force saying this has got to stop, leveling his very deep concerns about all of it.

And as you said, Brianna, the acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, trying to criminalize sexual harassment, ordering the Pentagon to take a look into how to make this all happen and how to make the programs they have even try, at least, to work better -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Barbara Starr, thank you for that.

[13:55:05] An extraordinary accusation. The speaker of the House accusing the attorney general of a crime. And it comes after Bill Barr didn't show up to testify at a House hearing. The consequences of both, ahead.


[14:00:02] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Erica Hill, in today for Brooke Baldwin.

And we begin this hour with breaking news. We are learning of a letter from a top White House lawyer to Attorney General Bill Barr --