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DOJ Watchdog's Report On Russia Probe To Be Released; President Trump Defends Saudis After Deadly Shooting On Pensacola Military Base; Will Impeachment Drama Have Dire Consequences For Democrats? Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired December 9, 2019 - 07:30   ET

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


[07:30:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The FISA warrant was valid because there was enough strange, weird, suspicious stuff circling around the Trump campaign that the FBI's antennae went up, as it should -- they're crime fighters.

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, I will say, Alisyn, that -- you know, the phrase I've used before at the time, contemporaneously, is that the dashboard lights were blinking yellow. And the concern that I and others in the administration had at the time was why all these contacts with Russians?

We didn't actually know at the time -- again, contemporaneously -- the substance of these discussions, these contacts, but that was of concern. And it had not to do with spying on the campaign; it was what were the Russians doing, and that was the concern here.

And I think yes, it is gratifying that apparently, the predicate -- the basis for initiating a counterintelligence investigation was valid. Well, I've felt that way all along.

CAMEROTA: When the ambassador of Australia calls the FBI and says somebody on the Trump campaign knows something they shouldn't and couldn't have before it happened -- before the WikiLeaks was released -- and how could that be unless they had some sort of special information, of course, the FBI would open an investigation. I mean, it just stands to reason if that's what we find out today.

But my question for us is -- so, if it turns out -- if this proves that the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, is a straight shooter, as people had believed him to be, do you think that Attorney General Bill Barr will accept these findings?

CLAPPER: Well, I don't know. I mean, that's going to be interesting to see what he actually says about it once it's -- once it's out. I mean, the media reporting is -- at least some media, is that he's skeptical or doesn't agree with it or doesn't think there was sufficient evidence to initiate a counterintelligence investigation. Well, I guess there's some subjective judgment here.

For my part, I think there was justification for it. But I don't know how the attorney general will respond to it once it's out. CAMEROTA: Do you think this redeems the reputation of the FBI -- the fact that yes, they investigate weird stuff? Some people, like Bill Barr, might refer to that as spying but they investigate. I mean, are they --

CLAPPER: Well --

CAMEROTA: -- spying on the mafia when they have an --

CLAPPER: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- informant that goes into the mafia?

CLAPPER: This is a -- you know, it's a great question, Alisyn, and it raises an issue that I encountered several times during my 6 1/2 years as DNI. And that is, you know, where is the line drawn between the safety and security of the country versus civil liberties and privacy?

And invariably, what I found -- for example, after the Boston Marathon and there was an I.G. report done after that. And one of the findings of that, essentially, was well, the FBI should have been more intrusive.

And I participated way back when in the investigation of the shooting in Fort Hood and they had the same criticisms, this time from Capitol Hill. Well, the FBI, the Intelligence Community should have been more intrusive.

So you almost can't win, and I think that this is a manifestation of that same debate.

CAMEROTA: Yes, that's really a good context to hear.

Former director James Clapper, thanks so much for being on with your expertise.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Three American sailors gunned down at a U.S. naval base by a Saudi national, but the president's reaction to this suspected act of terrorism is getting attention now from Democrats and Republicans. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:38:15]

BERMAN: Investigators believe the shooting at a Pensacola naval base was an act of terrorism. The gunman, a lieutenant in the Saudi Air Force, shot and killed three American service members.

President Trump has yet to call the attack terrorism. Instead, our next guest writes, quote, "The president's first instinct was to tamp down any suggestion that the Saudi government needed to be held to account."

Joining me now is David Sanger, CNN political and national security analyst, and a national security correspondent for "The New York Times."

And, David, you wrote a fascinating piece over the weekend and one of the things you noted from the president's initial response was this. "What was missing was any assurance that the Saudis would aid in the investigation, help identify the suspect's motives or answer the many questions about the vetting process."

What struck you as so peculiar about the president's initial response?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, John, usually when there is a shooting like this, the first thing you hear from the American president is, of course, that he expresses condolences to the American people, calls for an investigation, and so forth. There was none of that this time.

Instead, he passed on the condolences of the Saudi king who had called him clearly to try to contain some of the damage to Saudi-U.S. relations. And there was no discussion of what the Saudis would do to cooperate or answer the question.

This wasn't just a random Saudi who was there. It was a Saudi Air Force officer who had presumably been vetted and moved into this training program. And perhaps one reason is that the president doesn't want too many questions asked in Congress about the training program since the Saudi military has been accused of so many human rights violations in Yemen.

BERMAN: That may be one reason, but it's also not inconsistent with his response to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. It seems as if the president wants to run P.R. for the Saudi royal family.

[07:40:11]

SANGER: Well, that's exactly right. He was doing the Saudi's talking points.

And if you go back to the Khashoggi killing, what did you see happen there? The first thing the president and the secretary said was we will follow the evidence and hold anybody accountable who is responsible.

After the CIA came to a conclusion with high confidence that leaked out immediately to the "Times" and to others that this was probably the crown prince who participated in ordering at least his capture if not his killing, the president said well, the CIA has got a feeling about it. It wasn't a feeling, it was a formal assessment. And maybe did -- maybe he knew, maybe he didn't.

And since that time, the administration has shown tremendous annoyance when we have asked the question of where their investigation stands, what the Saudis have told them, or whether they actually have held anyone accountable. In fact, they've said it's time to move on.

BERMAN: What's your theory about why the president acts with such deference to the Saudi royal family?

Chris Ruddy from Newsmax, a friend of the president, says one of the reasons is because the Saudis were so nice to the president early on. They threw him a great party when he visited Saudi Arabia early on in his administration and the president is susceptible to that kind of flattery.

SANGER: Well, he certainly is. Early on in the campaign and then in his time as president, you noticed -- noted that he had made a lot of money with the Saudis who had bought a good number of the -- of the property in Trump Tower and other Trump properties. He discussed what an important ally they were and how impressive it was that they had made so much money.

But this is, once again, the president conflating his own personal relationship with the question of national interest.

And, you know, in this case, imagine -- just do the thought experiment, John. Supposing that the shooter in this case had been an immigrant (legal or illegal) if it had been from a country on the Muslim banned list that the president had turned out. I suspect that it would have been a very different Twitter feed that you would have read on the -- in the president's accounting of this.

BERMAN: Yes, and if you have any doubt about what the president or where the president places money in all of this just listen to one of the things that he said out loud early on about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The king will be involved in taking care of families and loved ones. He feels very strongly -- he's very, very devastated by what happened and what took place. Likewise, the crown prince. They are devastated by what took place in Pensacola and I think they're going to help out the families very greatly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Again, just listen to the way he places on the feelings of the Saudi royal family and then, the notion that the families will be compensated instead of saying there's no amount of money that will ever replace the loss of these three remarkable service members.

SANGER: That's right. They were all young service members, some with young families and you sort of start with what the loss was to them. And the financial compensation becomes sort of a legal after issue for this.

Instead, he started with that and it was almost, John, as if to say we're going to make this problem go away with money. We're just going to pay the families to be quiet about it. And, you know, this really does return you, though, to the question of why this training program is underway because many in Congress have been seeking to cut military aid and questioning why it is that we are training members of a military who clearly have been somewhat out of control in the biggest humanitarian disaster in the Middle East -- which is Yemen, right now, where the Saudis have been dropping cluster bombs and conducting other events that some people would call war crimes.

BERMAN: And there has been bipartisan opposition to the president's Saudi policies and Congress has stood up to the president on this issue. We will see what happens now.

David Sanger, as I said, it's a really interesting piece that you wrote. Thanks for being with us. What the president chose to lead with was peculiar.

SANGER: Thanks so much.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right, John.

We have some breaking news because police in New Zealand say there are no signs of life following a volcanic eruption on White Island overnight. That's based on aerial flights surveying the area. At least five people are dead.

Roughly 50 people were believed to be on that island when the volcano exploded, most of them passengers of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. Rescuers have saved 23 people, which leaves about two dozen unaccounted for. Emergency officials have now said that it is too dangerous for search and rescue crews to make it to the island.

And while voting to impeach President Trump is a big gamble for Democrats in Republican strongholds, like Oklahoma, that state's only Democratic member of Congress is under increasing pressure to reveal how she plans to vote.

[07:45:05]

And, CNN's Polo Sandoval spoke with voters in Oklahoma City. What did you learn, Polo?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Alisyn, Rep. Kendra Horn is not revealing exactly how she will vote when it comes to articles of impeachment. She says that she's reserving judgment until she sees all the evidence, taking what she's describing as a thoughtful and also intentional approach.

But as you said, we spent some time with some of her constituents over the weekend, Alisyn. Many of them here feel a bit frustrated. They believe that she and fellow Democrats are simply stalling to limit some of the political damage.

And as one constituent said, look, this is cowboy country. Here, you're either on or off the horse. You say if you vote yes or if you vote no.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANDOVAL (voice-over): Welcome to the Super Bowl of horse reining. Once a year, this old western riding competition descends on the heart of Oklahoma's 5th Congressional District.

DAVE MOORE, REINING COACH: This is America, second to none.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): As reining coach Dave Moore describes it, judges grade very spin, circle, and sliding stop on the arena floor.

DOUG MILHOLLAND, HORSE TRAINER AND TRUMP SUPPORTER: It's a lifestyle and we love our -- love our horses, we love our ranches and stuff that we raise the cattle and horses on, and we love our country.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): In this part of the country tradition is everything. So is politics.

On the minds of these horse men and women, Congresswoman Kendra Horn's political dilemma. A Democrat who represents a district that voted for President Trump, she sided with fellow Democrats to initiate the impeachment inquiry. Now, Horn says she will wait and see the evidence before she decides if she will vote to impeach.

MOORE: You don't (INAUDIBLE) around and don't worry about if you're going to get elected or not. Make it clear for us he did it or he didn't do it and it's against the law or it's not against the law, and move on. Because we're getting nothing done in the middle of this and that's what bugs us the most.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): Back at the stables, Doug Milholland warns a vote to impeach could carry political consequences for Democrats.

MILHOLLAND: If they would back away and -- you know, I think they could get reelected. But if they don't and they vote to impeach Trump, I think it will backfire and I think they'll lose the majority in the House.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): We heard the same down the highway at Rep. Horn's weekend town hall where some constituents say they don't feel represented by their lawmaker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's not one county -- not one county in Oklahoma that voted for Hillary and yet, we don't have a voice.

REP. KENDRA HORN (D-OK): But the reason that I voted for the inquiry is because when it went into the public forum there is the ability for both the majority and the minority to call witnesses.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): Nelia Cook supports the impeachment probe.

NELIA COOK, SUPPORTS IMPEACHMENT PROBE: If you have a president that is doing things that are suspect, I think you have to go through the due process because I think that's important. Because I'm really worried that the next president will go into their presidency thinking there's no consequences.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): Opinions vary in this dusty action-packed arena, but there is a consensus -- Oklahomans are watching the impeachment drama and they're watching their lawmakers even more closely.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANDOVAL: And one more consensus here that we heard from some of the people here on the ground. There is some hope here that Democrats will not expand these articles of impeachment to include any evidence that may have surfaced during the Mueller investigation, John. As I heard from some of the folks here there is concern here that that would make these lawmakers even more vulnerable when it comes time to vote.

BERMAN: And there is evidence from leaders in Congress they will keep it narrowly focused.

Polo Sandoval in Oklahoma. Thanks so much for being with us.

So, the man behind the characters that shaped so many of our childhoods has died. Caroll Spinney was the puppeteer who brought the Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch characters to life on "SESAME STREET." He passed away this Sunday at his Connecticut home. He was 85.

Spinney's death came on the same day that "SESAME STREET" became the first T.V. show to receive the Kennedy Center Honors.

And when you're talking about Caroll Spinney, when you talk about a life well led and you talk about someone who has changed the lives of so many people -- I mean, there just can't be anyone who has affected as many people as someone like Caroll Spinney. Just think about the generations of Americans that grew up with Big Bird and Oscar. I mean, seriously.

CAMEROTA: Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch? How can one actor play both those characters? The range --

BERMAN: We contain multitudes -- all of us do.

CAMEROTA: That's incredible.

BERMAN: I idolize Oscar. I feel as if Oscar --

CAMEROTA: And you channel Oscar sometimes.

BERMAN: I do. He's speaking for all of us.

Look, Caroll Spinney, a wonderful, wonderful human and he will be missed.

CAMEROTA: Well, the Republican impeachment strategy continues to shift the blame to Ukraine for meddling in our election. Is this part of a larger pattern of deflecting from Russia?

BERMAN: Oscar was misunderstood.

CAMEROTA: Was he? I look forward to you telling me all about that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:55:04]

BERMAN: The Upper Midwest bracing for a powerful arctic blast. CNN meteorologist Chad Myers joins us now live with the forecast -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The wind chill in Minneapolis tomorrow will be 20 degrees below zero. That's the sobering thought of living that far north.

Unfortunately, that air is moving to the east. Today, New York, D.C., Boston, raincoats. By Thursday, it will be parka time where wind chills are going to be down to around 10 along I-95 there up in the northeast.

Even a little bit of light snow possible for New York City, especially in the mountains to the west of the cities like D.C. and Virginia, Richmond and all of those. Charlottesville, that's the area that's going to pick up some snow. But one to two inches in New York City and turning much colder.

The high on the thermometer in Minneapolis is five. That's not even talking wind chill. It's that little bit of red that's on the bottom of your thermometer. Not going to see much at all.

Cold up there, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: You're enjoying this, Chad -- you are.

BERMAN: He's mocking Minneapolis. He's laughing.

CAMEROTA: You're deriving some sort of strange pleasure from this but I get it.

MYERS: They want to play in it. They're going to get it.

CAMEROTA: Yes -- yes, you're right. If they -- if they demand living there --

BERMAN: You mess with the bull, you get the cold, as they say.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Thank you, Chad.

All right, the Russian government carried out a top-down coordinated election interference campaign in 2016. That's according to a multitude of intel agencies. But you're hearing some U.S. lawmakers now trying to blame or also blame Ukraine. It's just the latest example of Russian disinformation magnified by the president and now, some prominent Republicans.

CNN senior political analyst John Avlon joins us. So, John, the Ted Cruz one surprises me because he was a critical

thinker, I think, once -- but he is now waving this shiny object over here while all of our -- hello?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Is this sort of a "SESAME STREET" homage? This Russian --

CAMEROTA: A little bit. I mean, because he's talking about Ukraine while --

AVLON: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- everyone tells us that the Kremlin is still interfering in the upcoming election.

AVLON: Right. What's extraordinary is because Ted Cruz was the victim of a disinformation narrative by then-candidate Donald Trump. He presumably would know better. But now, he's up on the Sunday shows pushing this sort of intentional attempt to distract and deflect, saying that we all agree that Russia was involved but Ukraine was, too.

And that's a transparent attempt to muddy the facts and create moral equivalence. And I'm old enough to remember when Republicans hated moral equivalence, but now they're trafficking it.

BERMAN: Can I just say take a giant step back here and look at Russia and what they're doing, not just attacking the U.S. election and other elections. Cheating is not a bug, it's a feature from Vladimir Putin and the Russian government.

The World Anti-Doping Agency just came out with a report a few minutes ago saying that the Russians had cheated, and doped, and lied about it for years. And now, they're being banned from the Olympics.

This is Vladimir Putin's way of life, it seems.

AVLON: That is exactly right. And remember that unanimous vote today by the World Anti-Doping Agency -- a complete ban on Russia's participation in international sports, including the Olympics for four years, because of this deep systemic culture of corruption and cheating.

And tone comes from the top. That's how they competed in the Olympics in the past. They extend it to their international efforts.

So when Republicans, right now, are trying to give Russia the benefit of the doubt or might be semi-wittingly trafficking in their narratives and disinformation campaigns, pay close attention at the track record on who you're getting in bed with because it's going to bite you.

CAMEROTA: Well --

BERMAN: And when he says -- when the president says the Ukrainian shot putter also tweeted -- cheated, you're going to know that the Russian propaganda is --

AVLON: That would be the tell.

BERMAN: Yes, if Ukraine also cheated here in the Olympics, yes.

CAMEROTA: Well, meanwhile, tomorrow, the foreign minister of Russia, Sergey Lavrov, is going to be meeting with President Trump, we believe. And the last time they met --

AVLON: It didn't go so well.

CAMEROTA: Well, I think it went well for Russia because President Trump spilled classified information much to the horror of the Israelis. This was the moment that -- and by the way, we had to get these pictures from the Russian photographer because --

AVLON: Right.

CAMEROTA: -- the White House didn't release there. And then it was later revealed that President Trump spilled all this classified information at which, again, horrified the Israelis, who didn't want the information out.

AVLON: And not only did he spill classified information in front of Russian cameras because American journalists weren't let in the room, he also bragged about firing Jim Comey and said he was a real nut job. And now, the pressure would be taken off him regarding Russia. But we all know how that played it.

It's curious timing.

BERMAN: Yes.

AVLON: It's in the middle of an impeachment inquiry.

BERMAN: Yes.

AVLON: Russian -- Putin's foreign minister back in the Oval.

BERMAN: Yes.

AVLON: And it does seem to be sort of an attempt to almost tweak and tease the process --

BERMAN: Exactly.

AVLON: -- because this is the core issue. The president seems to have a proclivity for foreign powers influencing our domestic politics and he's doing it right at the heart of an impeachment inquiry, folks.

BERMAN: Giuliani is in Ukraine while the president's being impeached. The Russian foreign minister is in the White House while the president's being impeached. It can't be an accident.

AVLON: Nope.

CAMEROTA: John, thank you very much.

BERMAN: All right, CNN's special coverage of the impeachment hearings continues right now.

END