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FBI Pledges FISA Reforms After Inspector General Finds Fundamental Errors; FBI Says Saudi Gunman Legally Purchased Gun Used In Pensacola Attack; Washington Post Reports American People Were Misled Over Afghan War Failures. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired December 10, 2019 - 07:30   ET



JIM BAKER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL, FBI, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL SECURITY AND CYBERSECURITY, R STREET INSTITUTE: -- extremely opaque and I can't really figure out what in the world he's actually saying. And so, I would have to wait to see, you know -- to see exactly what he comes up with.

I was quite surprised that he did it -- that he made that statement. I don't see how doing so really is consistent with the attorney general -- I'm sorry, with the Department of Justice policies, procedures, norms. And it's something that the inspector general criticized us for doing with respect to the Hillary Clinton investigation, so I don't get that one.

The attorney general -- look, he's complaining that the FBI and the start of this investigation with something like he says, the thinnest of predications or something.

Well, we followed the attorney general guidelines that were established in 2008 by President Bush's attorney general. And the current attorney general can change those guidelines anytime he wants to if he thinks the predication standard for the FBI to open an investigation is too low. He hasn't done that, to my knowledge.


There were several -- multiple errors found of judgment and practice and policy when it came to the FISA application -- serious infractions --


BERMAN: -- here, and that had to do with the FISA applications to surveil Carter Page.

What's your reaction to that?

BAKER: So, those are completely unacceptable -- I'm not going to defend those -- and people need to be held accountable. There's just no doubt about that. That was unacceptable. I've worked for literally decades on trying to improve the FISA process and trying to make sure that the -- what the government -- the United States government was filing with the court was full, complete, and accurate. And so, I'm extremely disappointed and I applaud the steps that the FBI director is taking to address the process, and I support the recommendations that the -- that the inspector general made.

But look, it's a hard -- preparing FISA applications in the middle of investigations of this nature and counterterrorism investigations is really hard and so there's a lot of work to do. You can't just expect you're going to solve this problem. It's something you have to keep at every single day.

BERMAN: One of the arguments you will hear and are already hearing from some is oh, well, the Carter Page FISA applications were flawed. That means all of Crossfire Hurricane was flawed.

BAKER: That was just --


BAKER: No, that's not true. That's just completely wrong.

It misunderstands the role of a FISA. FISAs are an investigative tool. FISA surveillances and searches are investigative tools; they are not an investigation.

The investigation is much broader than that. You have to have a different standard to open the investigation. You use a whole bunch of investigative tools throughout it -- FISA is one of them.

FISA was only one -- was only used with respect to one person in this investigation. So that's just completely false.

BERMAN: If I can ask you one last thing.

Christopher Wray, in that interview -- I'm not going to play the sound right now. Among other things, he said he's seen no evidence that Ukraine attacked the 2016 U.S. election. Christopher Wray seems to be standing up to the President of the United States on this and other matters.

You've lived through one FBI director being fired by the President of the United States. What do you think will happen with Christopher Wray if he continues to choose to stand up to the president like this?

BAKER: Well, I applaud him for saying what he did and it's the right thing to do, so that's a great thing.

Look, I would doubt that the president, having gone through what he went through after he fired Jim Comey -- I mean, you know, his reaction -- I won't say it because some of it was quite colorful, let's say, that was recorded in the Mueller report. But I don't see the president firing Director Wray at this point in time. I think he learned his lesson that that's a bad idea. BERMAN: Jim Baker, thank you for being with us and sharing your unique insight into this historic moment. Appreciate it.

BAKER: Thank you.

BERMAN: Alisyn.


Now to this story. The death toll is rising from a volcanic eruption in New Zealand. We have an update on the search for the missing, next.



BERMAN: New developments this morning in the deadly volcanic blast off New Zealand. At least six people have died, eight still missing.

Nine Americans were among 47 people exploring White Island at the time of the blast. The group's local tour guide was killed and many of the survivors suffered burns. Emergency crews are still unable to get on the island but police say as far as they can tell there are no signs of life.

CAMEROTA: While the FBI says the Saudi gunman who attacked a naval air station in Pensacola legally bought the gun used in that attack that killed three U.S. servicemen last Friday, officials are also investigating whether a cyberattack on Monday is related to that shooting.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is live in Pensacola for us with more. What have you learned, Brynn?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn, officials further explaining that gun purchase, saying that the gunman was able to legally get it with a hunting license that he was able to get here in the state of Florida with a non-immigrant visa that he held.

Now, as far as the investigation, it's still a global investigation. And it's our understanding from a source that up to a dozen Saudi nationals are still being restricted to base -- basically there to answer questions of authorities. But it's causing some tensions -- their confinement -- so much so that a high-level defense Saudi attache has come here to Pensacola to help assist with all of this.

But investigators really want to know what they knew, you know. They have told, according to a source -- investigators -- that they were a part of a party before this attack even happened where they were viewing mass shootings. Also, they are able to point to the -- to the demeanor of the gunman and authorities really want to know did they have any advance knowledge of this attack before it was carried out.

Now, investigators are also analyzing the digital footprint of this gunman. Now, we are aware of a Twitter account that aligns with the killer and has not been confirmed with the FBI, but it basically retweets a lot of prominent Islamic clerics that identify or have ties to al Qaeda. And it actually posted a really chilling message just minutes before this attack was carried out, really expressing hate for America.

So officials are really looking at social media as well as credit card statements. All of this, again, to just determine if this gunman was radicalized in any way and point to a clearer motive about what caused this shooting.


Now, separately, here in Pensacola, the city underwent a cyber incident, strangely. It shut down a lot of city services. But the FBI says they have no indication as of yet if that had any connection to the shooting that took place here on Friday morning -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Brynn, it will be very interesting to hear what President Trump has to say about any al Qaeda connection and terrorism. Thank you very much.

OK, back here, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg getting permission to disclose the names of his clients during his three-year stint at McKinsey -- that's the consulting firm -- and they waived a confidentiality agreement that he had been under.

CNN's Abby Phillip is here with more. Abby, do we think that this is going to reveal some sort of deep, dark secrets about the clients that he was working on?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's less clear because this was during a period of time for Pete Buttigieg -- he was in his early 20s working at McKinsey for about 2 1/2 years. But it has been hanging over his presidential run for months now. Since over the summer, he's been asking McKinsey to let him out of this nondisclosure agreement. They have now.

But it's happening, in part, because of Elizabeth Warren, who has been pushing him to be more transparent about this -- a period of his life when he was working for this corporate consulting firm -- and also about his fundraisers. He is one of the candidates, unlike Warren, who has these big-dollar fundraisers, including this week, some of which are happening in New York.

And the fundraisers have been closed. Now the campaign says they're going to open those fundraisers to the media. They're also going to continue to disclose the bundlers. These are the uber-wealthy people who raise money from other extremely wealthy people for presidential candidates.

BERMAN: I find the Pete Buttigieg-Elizabeth Warren dynamic to be fascinating. And I think up until very recently, under-covered here because his rise in Iowa has come largely at the expense of Elizabeth Warren and there is overlap there among their support.

PHILLIP: They are fighting over the same voters. When you are in Iowa and you talk to voters, they are looking at Elizabeth Warren and they're looking at Pete Buttigieg even though they are on different parts of the ideological spectrum -- Warren being more progressive, Buttigieg trying to stake out a more moderate lean.

But this issue of transparency actually goes to the heart of that. You see a lot of Warren supporters pressing Buttigieg not just about opening the fundraisers but about having them in the first place. Many of them saying that he is taking money from this very corporate interest that Elizabeth Warren is trying to rein in.

CAMEROTA: I want to go back to the mysterious McKinsey years because he hasn't been able until now to disclose that. What he has said is that he was basically an underling -- a grunt there -- a junior person who spent a lot of time in a conference room doing PowerPoint presentations.

I mean, do we think that there will be anything revealing?

PHILLIP: Well, that's probably true to some extent. He says he did a lot of math, he did a lot of analysis, he created a lot of PowerPoints.

He worked for companies -- and we can show you -- a nonprofit health provider in Michigan, a retail chain grocery store in Toronto. He even did a contract with a U.S. government agency in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But you hear some of his critics saying that if you look at the contracts -- for example, a health care company in Michigan -- there's a big debate in the Democratic primary right now about Medicare for All, about how health care works in this country. Some people are saying we want to know what he advised this health care company. Also, who is this health care company?

We'll learn a little bit more about that as soon as this week, even as early as today, about who exactly some of these clients were.

BERMAN: And the next Democratic debate, which will air on CNN, one week away.

Thank you, Abby.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much.

BERMAN: We really appreciate it.

A major investigation into America's longest war. Did U.S. officials mislead the public about the war in Afghanistan? The lead author of a truly explosive new report joins us next.



BERMAN: A major investigation by "The Washington Post" has uncovered major revelations about the nearly-two decade-long war in Afghanistan. The "Post" reports that top U.S. officials repeatedly misled the American public to conceal doubts about the likelihood of success in Afghanistan.

And, CNN's Jim Sciutto has been digging through this report. And, Jim, I know it's not the Pentagon Papers -- it's different -- but it's almost within the same vein.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Oh, it's pretty damn close, right? I mean, this is deeply, deeply disturbing and alarming and it should be for the American people. A campaign of lies for -- through multiple administrations, we should make clear of both parties, through America's longest war, misleading the American public on early fears that this war was unwinnable.

And it harkens back to the Pentagon Papers and to that's what that established regarding the Vietnam War.

It is worth a read. This is deeply important.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): A massive new trove of confidential documents obtained by "The Washington Post" reveals U.S. officials systematically lied to the American public about the Afghan war, virtually since the beginning, 18 years ago. The objective, to conceal widespread fears that America was losing.

The "Post" says it has obtained more than 2,000 pages of documents, some part of a lengthy government report called "Lessons Learned.''


And that, quote, "Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul and at the White House to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case."

The report includes interviews with more than 600 people with firsthand war experience.

And includes memos from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who once wrote in April 2002, six months after the war began, "I know I'm a bit impatient, but the fact that Iran and Russia have plans for Afghanistan and we don't concerns me." He ends the note with, "HELP!"

General Douglas Lute, who served as the White House's Afghan War czar for Presidents Bush and security adviser to Obama, is quoted in the report saying in 2015, "We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan. We didn't know what we were doing."

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: What we're looking at here is something that calls into question not only our military operations but also is a dishonor to the sacrifices that have been made by the servicemen and women in Afghanistan over these years. This is an inexcusable way to run things. SCIUTTO (voice-over): The revelations are reminiscent of the Pentagon Papers, a top secret Defense Department study of the Vietnam War, which were first made public in 1971 when they were published by "The New York Times."

LEIGHTON: It's very similar to what happened with the Pentagon Papers because I -- again, a strategy is being called into question. The rosy picture that's been painted by our political and military leadership is not the real picture on the ground.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): To date, the U.S. has not carried out a comprehensive accounting of how much it has spent on the war in Afghanistan. Since 2001, the government has spent or appropriated between $934 billion and $978 billion, according to an inflation- adjusted estimate cited in the "Post." In the report, one unnamed executive with USAID estimated that 90 percent of what the U.S. spent was overkill.

The "Post" says it obtained the documents through the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year quest.

In response to the piece, Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell said Monday, quote, "There has been no intent by DoD to mislead Congress or the public. Most of the individuals interviewed spoke with the benefit of hindsight."


SCIUTTO: The military spent years, decades even, rebuilding confidence after what was discovered in the Pentagon Papers, changing the way commanders were educated -- a whole host of processes. And to have a similar result on -- decades later on what has turned out to be America's longest war is just deeply disturbing.

You know, the political implications are interesting because as you know, President Trump has spoken repeatedly about the possibility of pulling troops out of Afghanistan. He wants to do it. Every time he's gotten right up to the step where he would do that the military has cautioned him it would be a real mess.

How does the president read this and does that make it more likely the troops are gone before the end of his term?

BERMAN: He will think it will justify --


BERMAN: -- the cause he's been making.

Jim, it really is fascinating. Thanks so much for laying it out for us.

SCIUTTO: Thanks.

CAMEROTA: And thank you for that.

So joining us now is the lead reporter on that story, "Washington Post" investigative reporter Craig Whitlock.

Craig, it is hard to overstate the magnitude of what you've unearthed here and reported on. And so -- I mean, Jim took us through some of it. Can you just briefly tell us how hard it was for you to get your hands on all of this information and how long it took?

CRAIG WHITLOCK, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, it did take us a while. It took three years.

At the end of the Obama administration I had gotten a tip that might that Michael Flynn, the retired Army general, had given this long, unpublished interview where he was just -- he gave this blistering critique of the Afghan War.

And he was in charge of military intelligence in Afghanistan for a while, so we were really interested in what he had to say. And we tried getting a copy of this interview that he had given to a government agency called the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan.

First, we thought we would get it and it was a pretty straightforward request -- these weren't classified documents -- but this agency started digging in its heels and we ended up having to sue them twice in federal court. And we only just this past August got the remainder of the documents.

We're still suing them, trying to get the names of all the people who gave these interviews and we only know about 100 names -- the rest have been redacted.

So there's a lot more there. This is -- I don't want to say it's more than the tip of the iceberg but we still don't know everything yet.

CAMEROTA: I mean, and thank goodness for the Freedom of Information Act that allowed you to win those -- some of those battles.

But let's talk about some of the key takeaways from what you've now unearthed.

So, number one, year after year, U.S. officials failed to tell the public the truth about the war.


And what you found out was the Bob Crowley, who was based at military headquarters in Kabul, says "The strategy became self-validating. Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible. Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone."

And so, what are we take from that? That they were intentionally lying to the public?

WHITLOCK: Well, and it's not just Col. Crowley. There were many other interviews. There was one with a senior National Security Council official -- they redacted his name. But he said that these statistics -- these distorted numbers, they would always try and cherry-pick some number that made it look like things were going well.

Like if the number of American troops getting killed was going up, they would say it would show that we're taking the fight to the enemy. If the causalities were going down they would say that shows we're winning, too.

But this National Security Council official said this went all the way up to the White House to the cabinet level and ultimately, to the President of the United States -- at that point, President Obama. That they knew these statistics weren't right, they knew that they weren't telling the truth, but they still would -- this is what they would tell the American public.

So we see this time and again in these papers where they knew the war wasn't going well but they were resolved to present a different picture to the American people.

CAMEROTA: I'm glad you're pointing that out. I mean, that's bipartisan deception.

Let's talk about Donald Rumsfeld, OK, because we remember that he was one of the salesmen at some point. And so what you found was that the U.S. and allied officials admitted the mission had no clear strategy and poorly defined objectives.

Here's what Donald Rumsfeld said that you have found. There were hundreds of Donald Rumsfeld memos and here is just one portion from September eighth, 2003. He says, "I have no visibility into who the bad guys are. We are woefully deficient in human intelligence."

So, what are we to make of how Donald Rumsfeld dealt with all of this?

WHITLOCK: Well, it's even worse than that with Rumsfeld.

So a couple of years later, the documents we obtained showed that he got some confidential reports from people who had gone to the warzone -- some retired generals, another civilian adviser -- and they came back with these reports to Rumsfeld and said the war is going really badly. The Taliban is starting to win. We need to do something or we're going to lose this war.

Rumsfeld read these memos and he was very concerned.

At the same time, though, the Pentagon is putting out talking points. His own speechwriters put out this big, long list of -- you know, five years into the war -- this was 2006 -- this is why we're winning.

And they put out all these ridiculous statistics to show that things were going great. Like, the number of roads paved and how fast people are driving on the roads. And the number of women who had become chicken farmers. And they put out these talking points saying look, these naysayers in the media say we're losing, but we're winning. Rumsfeld saw this. He wrote a memo and he said this is brilliant. We need to get these talking points out to as many people as possible. And yet, at the same time, his own people in Afghanistan are telling him he's losing the war.

CAMEROTA: I mean, and that leads to $1 trillion squandered at the end of this, 2,400 lives lost. And I want to get to that part of the takeaway.

This is number four that says, "The U.S. wasted vast sums of money trying to remake Afghanistan and it bred corruption in the process."

Here is the quote from Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. "You just cannot put those amounts of money into a very fragile state and society and not have it fuel corruption. You just can't."

So it turns out that that $1 trillion that was squandered, so much of it didn't go to rebuilding roads or any of that stuff. I mean, it just -- it ended up creating corruption.

WHITLOCK: Well, these papers we obtained, they just -- they have horror story after horror story.

They have people in the warzone -- aid workers, military officers saying they were under enormous pressure to spend money. That people back in Washington didn't care what they spent it on. They didn't care if it made any sense. That Congress, the Defense Department, and others wanted to spend money like there was no tomorrow during the Obama administration because there was such a rush to show results during Obama's surge.

And again, you just get account after account of people saying build schools, build roads, build -- you know, dig ditches. We don't care, just spend the money. We want to try and show the Afghan people that this war is working. And it was really just kind of mindless.

But the power of these papers -- it isn't one person saying this or two or 10, it's dozens and dozens of people who were directly involved in the war giving these pretty blistering accounts.

CAMEROTA: These accounts are staggering and I encourage everybody listening to go and read your report in "The Washington Post." It is just jaw-dropping how much the public was misled throughout all of this.

Craig Whitlock, thank you so much for coming on and sharing it with our viewers.

WHITLOCK: Thank you.


BERMAN: And thank you to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM" with Max Foster is next.

For our U.S. viewers, House Democrats about to make a huge announcement on impeachment. NEW DAY continues now.