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Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) is Interviewed About Trump Irate at Outgoing Intel Chief After Lawmakers Briefed That Russia Prefers Trump Reelected; U.S. Prepares to Sign Peace Deal with Taliban; President Trump Reportedly Upset that Adam Schiff Included in Briefing about Possible Russian Interference in 2020 U.S. Elections; President Trump Criticizes Academy Awards During Rally. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired February 21, 2020 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- how this all happened. Dana, let me just start with you. Walk us through what happened, what was said, and what upset the president.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Let me just say for the record that we're confirming Maggie's great reporting from yesterday. And what I am told is that it was a very, very contentious meeting that ended up happening in the House Intelligence Committee last week. What should have been a very sober meeting because it was the person in charge in the intelligence community of election security going to the people who oversee the intelligence community, the House members, and saying here's what's happening, here's how Russia and other foreign countries are trying to weaponize, trying to get themselves involved in their elections, whether it is social media or through other means.
And as part of that briefing, she said that their understanding is that the Russians want to elect Donald Trump. Their preference is Donald Trump. The Republicans, we are told, again, confirming Maggie's reporting, were irate. Then one of them told the president, who was also irate, and kind of the rest is history. But what happened, what should have been a very important meeting to talk about strategy for defending the most important democratic action, which is elections, turned into what we see all the time now, a very, very partisan brawl.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Do we know, Maggie, from your reporting with your colleagues what part most upset the president about this?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So I think there's two aspects. One is clearly related to Russia. We know that the president does not want to hear information about Russia and election interference. He, according to a number of aides, sees this as some kind of an asterisk on his election from 2016. He does not want to hear that this is potentially happening again.
I do think the fact that this was related to Adam Schiff in the sense that Schiff was in the room for it, the president is incredibly triggered by all things Adam Schiff these days since the impeachment inquiry. We have reporting that even at a White House briefing with House officials, a number of House officials, which ended up blowing up and Nancy Pelosi ended up storming out last October, the president did not want the intelligence chiefs invited -- the congressional intelligence chiefs invited because he didn't want Schiff at the White House.
And so when he learned that Schiff had information, his concern was he's going to weaponize this against me. I think that a case can be made for why it is that the president is very upset about Adam Schiff. Adam Schiff, obviously, led the impeachment inquiry and has been one of the president's most vocal detractors. But it speaks to the fact that the president is unable to compartmentalize any of that. Previous presidents have had issues with how they thought they were being treated and they still managed to set it aside to focus on a shared fact set. That's not something this president can do.
BERMAN: And by all accounts, what was being presented was a fact set from the intelligence community.
HABERMAN: It's their assessment, right. It is their assessment in the same way that the 2016 assessment was that Russia interfered, Russia was behind the hackings of the emails that went out to WikiLeaks and elsewhere, and that was this, in their minds, pretty definitive. Does the intelligence community ever say, yes, we know with 100 percent certainty? No -- I mean, they do, but they have not here. And I suspect that's what you'll hear the president's defenders seize on. But they were presenting this as pretty confident information.
BERMAN: But he didn't want it said out loud. And then it became part of this cocktail.
HABERMAN: He didn't want it said -- I think it was two things. Again, it's not clear to me how much of it was that he didn't want it said generally or that he didn't want it said particularly in the presence of Adam Schiff. And I'm not sure that we're ever going to be able to --
BASH: Can we take a step back and talk about that, how totally dysfunctional this is, this incredibly important --
HABERMAN: By law, they have to brief Congress.
BASH: By law, exactly. That the House intelligence chairman and his counterpart in the House on the Senate side are supposed to get this information. And the fact that because of everything that has gone on, Adam Schiff has been the president's chief antagonist. There's no question about it.
But you know what, the fact that the president doesn't want him to know information, again, in order to figure out a really important strategy to keep the American electoral system safe, is remarkable. And that is, obviously, a trigger to use your word. But the other is something that has been underlying his presidency since day one, which is he hears Russia, he hears interference, and he hears, oh, my God, they're saying I'm not a legitimate president. And there is nobody who has been around the president who has tried to convince him that who has not come back and said, he won't listen.
CAMEROTA: Maggie, is the thinking that this is why DNI Director Maguire was ousted?
HABERMAN: I know there is a lot of thinking to that effect. I've seen reporting on that in a number of places.
Our reporting is a little more muddled. There are a lot of people who believe that that is at least the timing related to it. But our understanding is that Grenell was already coming in. This, I think, accelerated things. I think that it's possible that Maguire would have stick around for another two weeks or so. Maguire can only be there until March 11th. And frankly, if the president doesn't permanently nominate someone else, Ric Grenell can only be there until March 11th, too. But again, it is one of these things that whether it's true or not, that is the appearance. And because so much of this White House revolves around the president's feelings and them trying to make people understand the president's feelings as opposed to just here's a fact set that's objective, that adds to what I think Dana accurately described as the dysfunction around this.
BERMAN: It's not just a feeling. It's a result, too. The result is you now have Ric Grenell.
HABERMAN: NoW what I'm saying is they make policy based on his feelings and then they try to rationalize that to everybody else.
BERMAN: OK, what I'm saying is, even if we don't know for sure whether Ric Grenell is there because of that, he is there, and we do know that Ric Grenell has no intelligence experience, and we know that Ric Grenell, one of his greatest forms of experience is as a partisan loyalist to President Trump. So at least until March 11th, if not for longer if they do nominate someone else, you will have someone in charge of the entire intelligence community who, it seems, his primary qualification is that he'll be loyal to President Trump?
BERMAN: And why should we expect that the intelligence community will feel open to conveying information about the Russian intentions?
BASH: We shouldn't except that, look, what we could see is, depending on what the intelligence is, more leaks, more -- if there's something that they see that is truly alarming, trying to get around the system that is in place to -- that the president is putting in place to protect him. And again, adds to the dysfunction. This is -- again, this is about partisanship. This is about the president's feelings. But when it comes down to it, it is also about the inability to fix and to prevent a very, very, very big problem that we saw in 2016, which everybody is saying is already, as we speak, worse.
CAMEROTA: Yes, and also just the idea that, Maggie, that Republican lawmakers wanted the intel officer Shelby Pierson to omit the part about how they had intel that the Kremlin had developed a preference for Donald Trump. So now they want it -- they don't even want the full information being given to the committee.
HABERMAN: They've become Republican members, and we saw this throughout the impeachment fight. We have seen it any number of times, but it was on stark relief during the impeachment battle, have become something of an extension of the White House. They are not seeing their jobs as a check on the abuse of power by the executive branch or a check on how things are done governmentally. They are seeing their job as protecting this president. I don't think they all see it that way to the same degree, but I certainly think that a number of Republicans on the House Intel Committee do see it that way.
BERMAN: I guess I'm just struck by something Steve Bannon told "The Washington Post." This was last week when he said the president is now fully understanding how to use his power. He understands that you can put in an acting director of national intelligence for a few days or keep replacing them as long as you nominate someone. He understands that there are ways for him to keep this information quiet if he wants to.
HABERMAN: One of the things that I was thinking, actually, as we were having this conversation is, the president's political brand is literally taking a meat ax to institutions and accelerating distrust in them. We have seen it over and over and over again. Previous presidents, I think, have known that they have this power and they have declined to do this kind of thing because it could erode public confidence in what they are seeing in their government. That has never been a concern of this president.
Now, he and his allies will argue that's because he's been a victim of people within the bureaucracy who are trying to harm him. And I suspect we are going to see things that will validate that claim at least to some extent. But you are condemning the entirety of the government apparatus when you say something like that, and you are committing yourself to a course of continued distrust in institutions as opposed to trying to rebuild it back after the pretty difficult years for government over the past 12 years.
BASH: And one real quick, real world example of that coming back to bite him is that he spent so much time trashing the intelligence community. Obviously, he still is sowing the distrust right now. And then when he had to prove why he -- they assassinated Soleimani, the Iranian leader, he had to rely on the very intelligence that he was trashing. And so sometimes when you are the commander in chief, you have to be careful because you do need that to prove the points that you're trying to make at certain points.
CAMEROTA: And then he wondered why people were skeptical of where he was getting the intelligence.
CAMEROTA: One thing on the 2020 race that came up last night at the CNN town hall, Elizabeth Warren did this stunt, but it got a lot of attention, where she came with a contract that Mike Bloomberg could sign to release all of the women from NDAs who had ever signed one from working at the Bloomberg company. Interesting. However, everybody who works at the Trump Organization has also signed an NDA, and they can't talk either after leaving, which is why you often don't hear some of them speaking out. And so Elizabeth Warren --
HABERMAN: I think she'd probably bring it for Donald Trump, too.
CAMEROTA: She would, but she didn't mention that. And that part of the issue is who is the -- who are they going after?
HABERMAN: So I think that one of the things that was striking about Elizabeth Warren in the debate the other night, and she had I think what was widely portrayed as her best debate of this campaign, and a lot of people who like her were wondering why she didn't present that earlier on. She has been going after the moderates on stage as opposed to the person really in her way, who is Bernie Sanders.
I do think that what she was raising was Mike Bloomberg actually has a pretty compelling story to tell of his time as mayor, and he's telling it in paid media, but he's not telling it in his own voice or in his interviews and certainly didn't on the debate stage. And I think that the concern that you hear Democrats raise is, does Mike Bloomberg have too many issues, to your point, about the Trump NDAs that the president will use to muddy the waters? The president is going to muddy the waters regardless, but there are a lot of data points that he's going to say, why your OK with Mike Bloomberg but this is a problem for me?
BERMAN: Do we have time for a movie minute?
HABERMAN: That was a great callback.
BERMAN: This was the president at a rally last night criticizing the winner of the Academy Award best picture, "Parasite" which is subtitled but is a Korean film.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How bad were the Academy Awards this year? Did you see them?
TRUMP: And the winner is a movie from South Korea. What the hell was that all about? We got enough problems with South Korea with trade. On top of it they give them the best movie of the year? Was it good? I don't know.
I'm looking for -- let's get "Gone with the Wind." Can we get like "Gone with the Wind" back please? "Sunset Boulevard".
(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: I didn't hear the "Sunset Boulevard" part.
BERMAN: Gloria Swanson fans writing in how upset that we shortchanged that film here. So "Gone with the Wind," a film nostalgic about the era of slavery in the south, and then "Sunset Boulevard," which is, how would you describe it?
CAMEROTA: About a celebrity who has lost touch with reality.
BASH: Those are his two favorites? Well, OK. Those were -- talk about recall. Those were, for some reason in his head. Unclear why. Obviously, he spends a lot more time watching cable news than Netflix or Turner Classic Movies. Maybe he should be doing more of that.
But that was classic Donald Trump. He's throwing red meat, rolling his eyes about a movie with subtitles winning an American award as opposed to an American movie.
HABERMAN: It was very inside part, he said pretty specifically out loud in a way we don't always hear it. It's once again, everything about him is going to be he says different things before different crowds. So earlier in the day, he had had this sentence in one of his speeches or events where he talked about building an inclusive society, and he followed that up with a rally where he talked about why are we giving South Koreans an award.
CAMEROTA: Maybe he would prefer to give it to North Korea.
BERMAN: An inclusive society like they had in "Gone with the Wind"? Seriously.
HABERMAN: I think, as Dana said, it is classic Donald Trump. It is not a surprise to hear him say it. It is always a little jarring when you hear the president of the United States doing culture riffs on the Oscars as has now become a frequent part of our coverage, all of us, because we have to cover what he says. But look, it was a -- it's a xenophobic statement, and it clearly played to the crowd. And it got applause. But there is -- it's just -- people sort of are stunned when they hear it because you're not used to hearing a U.S. president say anything like that. But it is the kind of stuff he says fairly frequently, at least that genre if not that --
BASH: I've said it before and I will say it again. We'll always have Tara. You're welcome. You're welcome.
CAMEROTA: Frankly, Scarlet --
BERMAN: Who would have said he'd say "Sunset Boulevard"? I would never have pegged him --
HABERMAN: He loves that movie. No, actually he's been very consistent about this. This was a big thing during -- I think one of the pieces of his curriculum vitae that people forget about is that he wanted to be a Broadway producer at one point before he went into the family business.
CAMEROTA: I had forgotten that. I appreciate this reminder.
HABERMAN: So it's actually kind of important context. He is obsessed with movies, obsessed with Broadway, obsessed with --
BASH: He needs to update his catalog a little.
HABERMAN: Everything is preserved in amber. You hear lots of "Time" magazine covers and he talks about that constantly. Everything is -- all of his cultural references are fairly dated.
BERMAN: "Sunset Boulevard," a celebrity who has lost touch with reality. Maggie, Dana. Thank you.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Just trailing off into the ether.
BERMAN: I am just thinking. I'm just letting that settle in.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think this is where we roll the credits.
BERMAN: I'm just letting that settle in. I'm just letting it settle in.
CAMEROTA: All right.
BERMAN: Well, that's it, that's the "Sunset Boulevard". That's all good.
CAMEROTA: And seam.
CAMEROTA: All right. Thank you both very much.
Up next, we're going to speak to a member of the House Intelligence Committee who got that briefing on Kremlin interference. How did that go? What happened in there? What are they doing to stop it?
We discuss next.
CAMEROTA: A top U.S. election intelligence official told lawmakers last week that the Kremlin has, quote, developed a preference for President Trump to be re-elected in 2020. Sources tell CNN that after learning about the briefing, the president became irate.
Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Jim Himes. He was at that briefing as a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, good morning. Great to have you here with us.
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Good morning.
CAMEROTA: I know you can't reveal any of the classified information that you got at that briefing, but can you tell us what happened in the room? Did Republicans get angry about the intelligence they were being given?
HIMES: Yes, Alisyn, I'm sorry, I can't -- I can't talk about what happened in a classified setting or who may have reacted to what.
But I -- but I can point you to something that I think -- two things that are important.
Number one, look, you don't need an intelligence briefing to think about what Vladimir Putin might want. Would he want a return to sort of conventional, much more sort of confrontational policy with respect to Russia? Or might he want a president who will criticize everybody on the planet except for Vladimir Putin? Would the Russians be interested in the kind of polarization and division that you wouldn't just get with Donald Trump, you might get with others as well?
But, Alisyn, the other thing I want to point you to here is, regardless of what happened in the intelligence committee, what is of real importance here is what happened in the Oval Office when, if the press reports are to be believed, the president got extremely angry, threw a fit with his director of national intelligence. And people need to grapple with that a little bit because that is sending a message to the intelligence community that you better be very careful about saying things that I, Donald Trump, don't like.
And so, that's a huge problem for Congress and our oversight responsibilities. But it's a huge problem for the American people. You know, what if it turns out that North Korea takes a giant step towards a nuclear weapon. You think Donald Trump is going to want that out there because, of course, what it would say about his North Korean policy?
CAMEROTA: We're already seeing -- I mean, Congressman, we're already seeing this. We're already seeing that the intel about North Korea on some level is being ignored. I mean, all things like this are happening.
And I guess I'm just wondering, are you suggesting that DNI -- DNI Director Maguire was ousted because of this briefing?
HIMES: Well, I wasn't in the room so I don't know that. I do know that under the law, the president would need to replace it -- replace the acting DNI by March 11th anyway. So, look, it's quite possible that this move to Ambassador Grenell was a planned move.
It sort of doesn't matter because what really matters is the story that is out there that says that the president shouted at his director of national intelligence because of an intelligence conclusion. That's the key thing there because now, all of a sudden, senior people in the intelligence community may be thinking that if I give honest intelligence like if I can take you back, you know, 15 years or so, or 20 years, like there are no weapons of mass destruction, President George W. Bush, that my career might suffer.
And when that happens, this country is in a very, very bad place.
So I would suggest, Alisyn, that the right answer here is for Admiral Maguire who served a lifetime of standing up for his country and put his life at risk in the Navy for decades, to stand up and tell the American public what happened, so that the American public can hear it from him and not from "The Washington Post" and from "The New York Times."
CAMEROTA: We will see if he does that today or in the coming days.
Meanwhile, the job as you say is going to be open after March 11th. And Congressman Doug Collins' name was floated as somebody reportedly that the president wanted.
This morning, Congressman Collins said on a different morning show that he is not interested in that job. Thanks, but no thanks.
What does that tell you?
HIMES: Yes, Alisyn, I -- look, you know, Doug Collins, who I don't know terribly well, but he's been sort of an attack dog for President Trump in the impeachment hearings, Ambassador Grenell who I don't know very well but is known primarily for being an extraordinarily aggressive defender of the president, those two have that in common.
The other thing they have in common, and I don't line this as a slight because this is true of most people, is precisely zero experience with the intelligence community. And we need to grapple with that. What does it mean that, for the most sensitive, possibly the most important overseeing lethal activities, overseeing classified activities, overseeing dangerous activities, the president is considering people -- and again, this is not a personal slight at either one of them -- who have precisely zero experience with the intelligence community?
We should aspire, and I know this sounds crazy, but we should aspire to a world where the president appoints someone who actually has a little bit of subject matter expertise over the subject that he or she will be running.
CAMEROTA: But just help us understand. The big picture, is it your understanding, based on what -- what happened in the room, where you were, and then how the president has reportedly reacted, that intelligence officials can no longer speak truth to power? If they have important information about our election and they cannot tell the president or some Republicans on your committee?
HIMES: Well, I worry about that. On the one hand, Alisyn, I know the leaders of the intelligence community. They are patriotic people. They are good at what they do. They are sensitive to the political interference around intelligence. And, by the way, they're surrounded by midlevel people and other
people who are patriots and who I would expect to stand up and say, hey, this is not going right. The intelligence community is being used as a political tool.
On the other hand, Alisyn, people are people. People respond to incentives. They care about their careers. Why did the Senate of the United States not call a single witness in the arguably most important trial of the century?
Because the senators on the Republican side care about their jobs. It's that simple.
And so, it would be naive to say that even though the leadership of the intelligence community are very, very good people, patriotic people, that they don't understand which side their bread is buttered on. And that's why this president, interfering with intelligence, is such a serious thing.
CAMEROTA: Congressman Jim Himes, we really appreciate you coming on NEW DAY. Thanks so much.
HIMES: Thank you, Alisyn.
BERMAN: All right. We have some breaking news.
A possible peace deal between the U.S. and the Taliban. Could it bring America's longest war to an end soon? We have a live report from the Pentagon, next.
CAMEROTA: We have some breaking news for you right now.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just announced part of a peace plan for the U.S. and the Taliban, moving one step closer to trying to end America's longest war and remove troops from the region.
CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with the breaking details.
So, what's just happened, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.
Look, this is exactly what President Trump wants to be able to say on the campaign trail, that he ended America's longest war.
So, here's where we are. Tonight, in Afghanistan, which is just hours from now, a seven-day period of a so-called reduction in violence.