Return to Transcripts main page


Democrats' Strategy?; Russian Spy Games; Dorian Survivors Forced Off Ferry Boat Leaving Bahamas; Record Summer Heat Wave Hits Huge Parts Of Alaska. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 9, 2019 - 16:30   ET



JOSHUA JOHNSON, HOST, 1A: Like he's the guy who's the most bankable right now?


JOHNSON: But if the Democrats think that they have got the bandwidth to deal with all the -- all these impeachment investigations and to help Democratic voters figure out which one of the field is the one who's going to beat Donald Trump, I'm not convinced that they and the base have enough bandwidth for that.


And here's how they're going to do it. I know you don't believe me, David. Two things, right? On the one hand, remember that the vast majority of the base -- I'm going to go 99 percent. They already know that don't want Donald Trump, right?

So there's no bandwidth needed on that piece. It's really about -- and this is the process playing itself out. We will have another debate this week. We have got one every month this fall, so people will continue to figure that out.

But I think on this point of corruption, this is a really important point, because it's not just corruption. Most voters think Washington is corrupt, whatever.

However, when it's corruption at your expense, it is your taxpayer dollars. And it's your taxpayer dollars that I'm diverting from a school that was going to be built at the military base in your town.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: That's for the wall.

FINNEY: For the wall, right?

It is your taxpayer dollars that I'm using to enrich myself through my hotel. It's when you further that argument to the point that it is corruption that is taking away from things getting done for you. And then the second piece of that argument that I think you're going to see is all the promises made, promises unkept.

Remember, the president said, you can trust me. It's OK. There will be no conflict of interest. It'll be fine. I will police myself.

We know that's not true and that's not happening, just in the same way steel isn't coming back, coal isn't coming back, jobs have not been created in a lot of the places he said they were going to be.

TAPPER: So it is true that we have never seen anything like this where a president holds on to his properties. I mean, Jimmy Carter even had to sell his one peanut farm. Holds on to his properties, and people in the government and other governments are essentially giving him money.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, so Karen discussed this earlier, and whether there's actual enrichment or the perceived enrichment.

So it's a problem either way, right? So it's something that I wish could be avoided, again, and talk about all the positive things, right, that we should be talking about.

Melanie makes a good point about there's this long laundry list of things to do in the Congress, right, whether to get things actually accomplished, USMCA, lots of things that...

TAPPER: The trade deal.

URBAN: Yes, the trade deal, right, that moderate Democrats, Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania and a slew of others, 30-plus others, were elected to get things done.

TAPPER: Congressman Max Rose.

URBAN: We're going to go to Washington. We're going to work with my counterparts across the aisle and accomplish things.

And they have got to go back and run. And they're going to run on nothing, zero. They have a very thin record to run on. They're at risk.


URBAN: They're at risk to do that, right? So, they're going to lose those seats. The House is going to flip. And we don't have -- the president's not running.

We only have to get 270. We don't need -- the president doesn't -- it's been proven, obviously because he's president, that you're not need the popular vote here. This is an Electoral College play. He's going to win again.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

Why the United States launched a secret mission to remove a top spy from Russia. The exclusive you will only see on CNN, that's next.



TAPPER: World lead now.

In a CNN exclusive, new details on a dramatic mission to remove a top Russian spy who was working for the United States over concerns about President Trump's handling of intelligence.

CNN Anchor and Chief National Security Correspondent, Jim Sciutto broke this story for CNN.

Jim, what are you learning?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, multiple Trump administration officials tell me that -- these are officials with direct knowledge -- that in a previously undisclosed secret mission in 2017, the U.S. successfully extracted from Russia one of its highest-level sources, covert sources, inside the Russian government.

A person directly involved in these discussions said that the removal of the Russian was driven in part by concerns that President Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence, and that that could contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy.

We should note the decision to carry out the extraction occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.

That intelligence concerning ISIS in Syria had been provided by Israel. The disclosure to the Russians by the president, though not about the Russian spy specifically, prompted intelligence officials to renew discussions about the potential risk of exposure, according to the source directly involved in the matter.

At the time, then CIA Director Mike Pompeo told other senior Trump administration officials that too much information was coming out regarding this asset.

TAPPER: And, Jim, this wasn't the first time they were concerned about the asset being exposed.

SCIUTTO: That's right. And this context is important.

At the end of the Obama administration, so going back months before, U.S. intelligence officials had already expressed concerns about the safety of this spy and other Russian assets, given the length of their cooperation with the U.S., this according to a former senior intelligence official.

Those concerns grew in early 2017, after the U.S. intelligence community released its public report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which, of course, said that Putin himself had ordered the operation.

The intelligence community also shared a classified version of that report with the incoming Trump administration, and that classified version included information about the sources and methods behind the assessment.

Senior U.S. intelligence officials considered extracting at least one Russian asset at the time, but did not do so, according to the former senior intelligence official. The meeting with the Russians in the Oval Office raised new concerns in the intel community, which continued to grow.

I should know this as well, Jake, because this was not done in isolation. Weeks after the decision to extract the covert source, the president met privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg.


Afterwards, I'm told, intelligence officials again expressed concern that the president may have improperly discussed classified intelligence with Russia, this according to an intelligence source with knowledge of the intel community's response to that Trump-Putin meeting.

TAPPER: We should note, obviously, Putin, a former KGB official.

What has been the response from the Trump administration to the story?

SCIUTTO: Of course I have reached out to the White House, the CIA and others.

A U.S. official suggested that there was media speculation at the time about the covert operative. But this official could not point us to any reporting, public reporting, about it.

Asked for comment, Brittany Bramell, the CIA director for public affairs, told CNN -- quote -- "CNN's narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life-or-death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false. Misguided speculation that the president's handling of our nation's most sensitive intelligence, which he has access to each and every day, drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate."

A spokesperson for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to comment. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said -- quote -- "CNN's reporting is not only incorrect. It has the potential to put lives in danger."

But, Jake, I should note, this removal happened at a time of wide concern in the intelligence community about mishandling of intelligence by Trump and his administration. And those concerns were described to me by five sources who served in the Trump administration, the intelligence agencies, and Congress.

I should also note this, Jake, that CNN is withholding several details about this spy to reduce the risk of the person's identification -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jim Sciutto, great reporting. Thanks so much.

Joining me now to talk about this is retired FBI and CIA Intelligence Analyst, Phil Mudd. He's written a new book. It's titled "Black Site: The CIA in the Post-9/11 World."

Phil, what do you make this news? What do you make of the extraction of this covert agent?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: This has got to be devastating for the intelligence community, not because of the political angle and President Trump, but the ability to get insights into a closed society like the Kremlin at a senior level is really tough.

We're not talking about looking at Russian troops on the ground in Syria intercepting communications. We're talking about somebody who might have enabled you to get inside the head of what Vladimir Putin was thinking.

That is really difficult to get. There's not going to be a backup for an informant, a source like this. The intelligence loss is critical.

TAPPER: So you're saying it's damaging to the U.S. intelligence to lose this Putin insider as an intelligence asset, but how damaging? What is the U.S. not getting now and what are the ramifications?

MUDD: Pretty basic.

You look at two big pieces of intelligence, intent and capability. Capability, again, let's take the Syria example. Russian military goes on the ground in the vacuum of the Syrian civil war. You can look through satellite photography and see how they're moving there. You can maybe intercept communications as the Russian navy moves in to transport people down to Syria.

All that's tactical information. Here's the question. What is Vladimir Putin thinking long term? Does he want to back Bashar al- Assad long term? Have do you get inside not the question of capability or action, but intent moving forward?

You need a human being, what we call HUMINT, human intelligence, to get inside his head. And that's going to be gold.

TAPPER: What do folks inside the intelligence communities say to you about President Trump?

MUDD: Well, a couple of things here.

First, I question whether this angle of the story about whether the president's engagement with intelligence was actually a spur in the extraction of the informant. I suspect there are other issues here.

What they do say is suspicion about how the president looks at intelligence generally, North Korea, Syria, et cetera. He is suspicious.

TAPPER: Phil Mudd, thanks so much.

Hurricane Dorian ripped apart their lives, and just when they were about to escape and get off the islands, they were kicked off a ferry that was going to bring them to Florida -- the heartbreaking confusion in the Bahamas.

That story next.



TAPPER: The "WORLD LEAD," as hundreds of hurricane survivors try to escape the horror in the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, a ferry boat company is coming under fire for adding to their misery. Some 130 passengers got off the boat confused over what documents they needed. As CNN's Rosa Flores reports, they're stranded in the Bahamas and trying to figure out what's next.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Reeling from the pain and trauma of having just survived the most devastating hurricane the Bahamas has ever seen, some Bahamians are now faced with drama and confusion as they try to evacuate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you don't have U.S. visa, please proceed to disembark.

FLORES: That announcement made on a ferry packed with evacuees Sunday night moments before it headed from Freeport to Fort Lauderdale.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 130 people had to come off the ship tonight.

FLORES: CNN affiliate WSVN Reporter Brian Entin was on board and says some of the evacuees who disembarked had to do so with their children.

BRIAN ENTIN, REPORTER, WSVN: At the last minute like this, you know, it's kind of disappointing. It's hurting because I'm watching my daughter cry.

FLORES: U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials say while a visa is required to enter the U.S. by boat, discretion can be applied in a humanitarian crisis such as Dorian. That discretion was applied Saturday when about 1,500 evacuees arrived in a humanitarian cruise ship in Palm Beach.

But Customs and Border Protection today telling CNN, last night's order to disembark was made by the ferry and not by CBP.


MICHAEL SILVA, SPOKESPERSON, CBP: Why they said that, I wouldn't know. And it's really heartbreaking for them to say that to these people that had really suffered more than -- beyond comprehension. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So there's just some confusion there. We will

accept anyone on humanitarian reasons that needs to come here. We're going to process them expeditedly.

FLORES: CNN has reached out to the ferry operator multiple times but has not been able to get in touch with them. Who can and can't get out is haunting evacuees who have made it to Florida like Natasha Harvey. Her 19-year-old daughter and disabled sister are still in the Bahamas.

NATASHA HARVEY, HURRICANE DORIAN EVACUEE: Well, some people came on the boat last night and they -- said they said, man, the people fighting to get out, only so much focus on them. We need help. We need all the help, please. Please, somebody, help us.


FLORES: President Trump weighing in on the matter from the White House saying that only people with proper documentation should be allowed into the U.S. and suggesting that this could be used by dangerous people like gang members and drug dealers to sneak into the U.S.

And, Jake, I should let you know that by talking to CBP officials on- site, they have not expressed that concern to us. Jake?

TAPPER: Rosa Flores, thank you so much. It was hotter in Alaska on July 4th than it was in Key West, Florida. Look at how the climate crisis. There is a problem for every waterfront city in the lower 48.



TAPPER: The Bahamians are just beginning to get a full sense of the devastation brought by Hurricane Dorian, the strongest hurricane to ever hit the Bahamas, this as far as we know. Scientists say climate change may be a factor in extreme weather patterns that have become the norm including the intensity of storms such as Dorian. It's not just in the hot parts of the world such as the Caribbean.

As part of our Earth Matters Series CNN's Bill Weir looks at the unprecedented changes taking place in the coldest part of the United States, Alaska.


BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Take a trip across Alaska this summer from the iceless north to the smoky south and you'll see that when it comes to alarming changes, the last frontier feels like the first in line.


WEIR: Fire season used to end on August 1st, like rainy clockwork, but it is so hot and dry the swan-like fire has been burning for two months. And the most populous part of the state is swallowing more smoke than ever.

BRIAN BRETTSCHNEIDER, CLIMATE SCIENTIST, UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA: If look at the actual observations, we had more than twice as many smoky hours in 2019 than any other season and, in fact, almost as many as all other years combined.

WEIR: And when Anchorage is hotter than Key West on the 4th of July, you can turn the steady drip of a glacier into something much more dramatic. That was a Calvin event last month at the Spencer glacier, just one of dozens of melting red flags.

BRETTSCHNEIDER This whole lake was there was no lake in early 1950s.

WEIR: Really?

BRETTSCHNEIDER: The ice -- so the ice went all the way down to the end of the lake down there.

WEIR: A recent study finds that since the 60s melting Alaskan glaciers have contributed more to sea-level rise than Greenland, Antarctica, or any other part of the world. Since every one of these molecules goes into the ocean, goes everywhere, this is not just a changing Alaskan landscape story, this is a Miami story. This is a Charleston and San Francisco Bay story.

BRETTSCHNEIDER: You know, once this water melts off and goes into the ocean, you know, as long as we have all this carbon dioxide the atmosphere, it's not coming back here.

WEIR: Health scientists like Mike Hong are equally worried about changes harder to see like new kinds of ticks bringing new kinds of disease north.

And when Dr. Jeffery Demain studied insect bite trends since the 90s, he found that way up in the Arctic Circle, stings from yellowjacket wasps jumped over 600 percent in five years.

JEFFREY DEMAIN, CLINICAL PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON: So the queens are now under snowpack without a severe weather, then they're surviving. So more queens, the more colonies, the more colonies, the more yellowjackets.

WEIR: And then there are the fish so vital to this economy. While Bristol Bay saw another epic salmon run, more and more streams are just too hot for the fish to spawn.

SUE MAUGER, SCIENCE DIRECTOR, COOK INLETKEEPER: The temperatures we saw this summer were what we expected for 2069.

WEIR: Really?

MAUGER: We're 50 years ahead of where we thought we would be for stream temperatures. So that's very alarming.

WEIR: Meanwhile, out at sea, this research team from NOAA is spending a summer measuring all kinds of Arctic change including those at the bottom of the food chain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we are looking at harmful algae blooms, so --


LISA EISNER, BIOLOGICAL OCEANOGRAPHER, NOAA: So they're taking samples for toxins in the water from harmful algae.

WEIR: When it's warmer, they're coming up farther north.

EISNER: And sooner maybe, yes. So it's a big -- that's a big concern for the communities because that's food safety.

WEIR: This state is such a gorgeous reminder of how Earth's Goldilocks climate held so many forms of life together in harmony. But in a too hot 9future, with more fire than ice, what comes next is anyone's guess. Bill Weir, CNN Anchorage.


TAPPER: Our thanks to Bill Weir for that. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram and or Twitter @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.