Return to Transcripts main page
Trump, GOP Claim Routine Intel Activity was Nefarious; Judge Questions Whether Michael Flynn Perjured Himself. Aired 7:30-8a ET
Aired May 14, 2020 - 07:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CO-ANCHOR, NEW DAY: Mayor Bill de Blasio, thank you very much for your time, great to see you --
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK STATE: Thank you, Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Republicans in the Senate releasing a list of officials in the Obama administration who they say sought to unmask names from classified intelligence reports before Donald Trump took office. A closer look at what is really going on and what the president's role on this is.
JOHN BERMAN, CO-ANCHOR, NEW DAY: New fallout this morning after two Republican senators revealed the names of Obama administration officials who requested to unmask Americans named in intelligence documents. Now, they were completely authorized to do so and those requests were approved by the NSA. Still, the president claims without evidence that the Obama White House was trying to undermine him and his former National Security adviser who was mentioned in some of the reports. CNN's Sara Murray live in Washington with the details here. Sara?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Well, the president and his allies are taking what is a relatively routine intelligence matter and whipping it up into this conspiracy theory, suggesting without evidence that somehow former Obama administration officials were out to get Michael Flynn and by association, President Trump.
MURRAY (voice-over): Senate Republicans releasing a list of Obama administration officials who sought the names of Americans discussed in intelligence reports in the weeks before Donald Trump took office.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, the unmasking is a massive -- it's a massive thing. MURRAY: It's the latest attempt to discredit the FBI's Russia
investigation, and accuse the Obama administration of undermining President Trump and his first National Security adviser, Michael Flynn. The list names top Obama officials who quote, "may have received Flynn's identity." It includes former Vice President Joe Biden. During the transition, Flynn made phone calls to foreign officials and later lied to the FBI about what he discussed.
The calls were picked up in surveillance of foreign diplomats. Americans' names are redacted in foreign intelligence reports, requesting to unredact them or unmask them its routine intelligence work. There's no evidence the requests were made for political purposes.
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Procedures weren't bypassed. Rules weren't broken. All of the rules were followed. This was an individual who was captured and overheard on a lawful surveillance of a valid foreign intelligence target as far as we can surmise from the documents.
MURRAY: Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson and Senator Chuck Grassley who jointly released the list of names after they were declassified by acting director of National Intelligence Rick Grenell, admitted they don't know if the document revealed wrongdoing. I'm alleging nothing, Johnson said. A document from the National Security Agency notes that the officials who requested the unmasking were authorized to do so.
The practice is routine in the Trump administration too, where unmasking requests have increased from Obama's final year in office. But that hasn't stopped Trump and some of his allies from claiming without evidence. This was part of a deep state conspiracy orchestrated in part by Obama and Biden to sabotage Trump's presidency before it even began. The president is driving the narrative using the hash tag, Obama Gate.
TRUMP: Obama Gate. It's been going on for a long time.
MURRAY: And he's using the disclosure of the list to attack his 2020 rival.
TRUMP: I watched Biden yesterday and he said he knew nothing about anything. He has no idea -- he knows nothing about anything. Nothing at all. And then it gets released today that he was a big unmasker.
MURRAY: In fact, Biden asked for only one report. Biden's campaign said all the list shows is the breadth and depth of concern across the American government, including among career officials over intelligence reports of Michael Flynn's attempts to undermine ongoing American national security policy through discussions with Russian officials and other foreign representatives.
MURRAY: Now, this list that Senate Republicans have unveiled its part of Attorney General Bill Barr's review into the origins of the Russia investigation. But in a recent interview, Bill Barr said that of all the people who are under review, none of them is running for president. John?
BERMAN: All right, Sara Murray for us in Washington, thank you very much. Joining me now is James Clapper; the former director of National Intelligence. He is one of the Obama officials who made unmasking requests. Now, we should note that Mr. Clapper is a CNN national security analyst. George Clapper, thank you so much for being with us.
I want to ask about the specifics in a second. But first in terminology here, the people need to understand because some of the phraseology that's being used is fundamentally dishonest. People are saying Obama officials requested to unmask Michael Flynn. That's not how it works. You don't request to unmask a named individual when you are making a request for unmasking, what are you doing?
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, John, you're exactly right. And what happens here is that when NSA, who is collecting foreign intelligence, and collects intelligence on a known validated target who is engaging with a U.S. person, that U.S. person's name is masked or protected by being referred to as U.S. Person 1, U.S. Person 2, U.S. Person 3.
So, when you see these reports, to understand the context and the importance of what's going on, you almost have to have the actual name. You don't know who it is in advance. So in my case, they cite -- list cites -- provided by Nakasone; the director of NSA, three occasions where I requested unmasking, which turned out to be Mike Flynn.
BERMAN: So, you did not know that it would be General Flynn when you asked to unmask these conversations?
CLAPPER: Well, no, I did not. Now, it's possible -- I mean, this is three and a half years ago, so I don't remember the specific reports in question. But it's possible that the context may have suggested that, but I don't know. And again, if I had known that, I probably wouldn't -- there wouldn't have been a need to ask. But no, you don't know that in advance.
BERMAN: So, the idea that Obama administration officials asked to unmask Michael Flynn is inaccurate on its face because you don't ask to unmask a specific individual. You ask to unmask or name an unnamed or unknown individual.
BERMAN: All right.
CLAPPER: That's correct.
BERMAN: Broadly speaking, how many unmasking requests did you make, say, in a given week? CLAPPER: Well, great question and it varied and I don't recall the
exact number. But over the six-plus -- six and a half almost years, I served as DNI, I would say perhaps once a week -- one or twice a week, perhaps. But it would vary.
BERMAN: So --
CLAPPER: Not every day, but fairly frequently. It's a routine thing. It's appropriate and legitimate. When you have a valid foreign intelligence target engaging with a U.S. Person, is it for example an insider, someone in the government engaging with that foreign adversary? So, it's important from the standpoint of potential jeopardy that National Security that you know -- you understand what's going on.
BERMAN: So, you would make those requests once or twice a week, and to be clear, the number of unmasking requests actually went up in the years of the Trump administration from the Obama administration. Do you remember why you made these specific -- and there were three, December 2nd, December 28th, January 7th. These requests to unmask the name of an individual?
CLAPPER: No, I don't. I don't recall what prompted a request that was made on my behalf for unmasking. I don't remember the specifics or what it was in the single report that was suggestive enough that I was concerned and felt that I should know who was actually involved.
BERMAN: Aside from these requests, what concerns did you have about General Michael Flynn in this period, which was from the day after the election to the inauguration?
CLAPPER: Well, there was general concern about the number of engagements with Russians that we were seeing happening. We may not necessarily have known what the content of these engagements were, but there were numerous engagements by representatives of the Trump camp with Russians. So that was of concern, general concern anyway.
And so that, I think is what attracted the attention of me and other then serving national security officials.
BERMAN: Now, you have said this under oath, you've said it on TV before, but I'll have you say it again. When you were director of National Intelligence, did you see any direct evidence of collusion between General Flynn or any Trump campaign official with the Russians?
CLAPPER: Oh, no, I did not. Of course, collusion is not a formally defined term certainly in a legal sense. But if you read the intelligence community assessment, particularly the highly classified version and as well as the unclassified version, you won't find the C word anywhere in that report.
BERMAN: Does the absence of evidence of collusion indicate to you that no requests for unmasking should have happened? If you had seen no evidence of collusion there, why ask for names like this in the Intelligence reports? CLAPPER: Well, it could have been as I say, other reasons why you
would unmask. Again, when you read -- the bulk read of the report, it may not tell you what exactly is going on. So, whether it was collusion or what, what you're trying to determine, does this pose a threat to our national security?
BERMAN: Now, the vast majority of these unmasking requests that came from Obama administration officials actually came before the December 29th call between the Russian ambassador and Michael Flynn where they talked about sanctions, that was a conversation that Michael Flynn admits to having lied about after. Again, the bulk of these conversations came before that.
Many of them came around December 14th, 15th and 16th. Not from you. But do you remember anything suspicious happening at that time?
CLAPPER: No, I don't. But I did note the cluster around that period. So -- which prompted several officials to request unmasking. So, again, I don't recall the specifics of what reporting, but occurred then, but apparently it alarmed several people enough to request unmasking. And John, I should make the point here that the NSA program, which is foreign intelligence is completely separate from the program that collected the transcript of December 29th.
BERMAN: Again, that's right. This list of names asking for unmasking from the NSA, that's a separate program than that phone conversation which was part of an FBI program.
OK, so asking for names, nothing wrong with that. Unmasking in and of itself, nothing wrong with that. Leaking classified information, and by definition, these phone calls were classified. That's a problem, correct?
CLAPPER: Oh, absolutely, it is.
BERMAN: And if anyone did leak the contents of these conversations with or without the name, that would be a problem, yes? We've lost the shot. I wonder if we can just get him on the phone to finish this. Let's try to get Director Clapper back. All right, we're going to work -- we're going to work on getting that shot back. But joining me now is Jeffrey Toobin; CNN chief legal analyst to talk a little bit more about this.
Jeffrey, again, we were talking about the legality of unmasking, and the outrage that is out there. Is there anything legally wrong, or what are the legal implications for any of the information released yesterday?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: There are none because this is a perfectly routine operation of government. This is how the system is supposed to work. Names as Director Clapper just said. In these raw intelligence reports, the names of Americans are not supposed to be disclosed. That's a protection of American civil liberties. So if the policymakers want to identify the Americans, they have to ask, who is that person?
They have to have them unmasked. That's how the system is supposed to work. That's how it worked. And the idea that there is anything improper that went on here is a "Fox News", President Trump fantasy. But nothing -- but it's just not true.
BERMAN: Is there any immunity, Jeffrey, that exists by being a member of a presidential campaign or presidential transition or for that matter, presidential administration in terms of your name being unmasked in a request?
TOOBIN: Not at all. And in fact, you would want more disclosure about people who are important and have high-level access. I mean, if someone who is involved in a major way in a presidential campaign, in a presidential administration is involved in something that is potentially improper, you would certainly want their name disclosed because you'd want to stop it.
If -- so the idea that, as you suggest, there's some sort of immunity for a high-level person, the opposite is true.
BERMAN: Jeffrey, stand by, we have General Clapper back. General Clapper, the idea of the leak which is something that's also being focused on here, that would be illegal, correct?
CLAPPER: If you -- you know, if it involves classified information, absolutely.
BERMAN: David Ignatius put out this famous column on January 12th where he mentions the phone call between Michael Flynn, the December 29th phone call. Did you leak that information?
CLAPPER: I did not.
BERMAN: OK, good. Then again, and I was just talking to Jeffrey Toobin about the idea of immunity here. One of the things you're actually looking into, people suggest how can you be spying or looking at a member of the Trump transition. In fact, you would be even more concerned if it were an active member of the administration, the Obama administration. Sometimes you want to know if current administration officials are talking in ways with other governments.
CLAPPER: Well, absolutely. And then, one of the concerns you have is particularly with Russians, most of whom are going to be connected with the government, is if there is engagements with their -- with them, is there recruiting going on, for example? Or are the Russians attempting to obtain leverage? And if it -- if it is someone involved in the -- in the current administration, you'd certainly want to know that.
So, it's a general concern, a general alarm, and that's why this is such an important and, frankly, routinely used tool.
BERMAN: And again, the idea that somewhere floating is that there was no justification for being concerned about General Flynn during this time period. What would you say to them? CLAPPER: Well, I mean, I know Mike Flynn and, you know, I don't --
you know, it was -- it's of interest to what exactly was going on, again, with the Russians who are -- and it wasn't just Mike Flynn, it was others. So what exactly is going on with this engagement with our primary adversary, the Russians.
And so that's -- I think, why the warning lights on everyone's dashboard was on. It wasn't a specific concern about Mike Flynn. Just in general, why all the dialogue and engagement with Russians.
BERMAN: Senator Lindsey Graham has requested you come testify before his committee on this issue and larger issues surrounding General Michael Flynn. What is your response to Senator Graham?
CLAPPER: Well, given my age demographic, I'd be happy to come after I've been vaccinated for COVID-19.
BERMAN: Would you testify remotely?
CLAPPER: Well, as I -- I could do it remotely as the case with the Fauci hearing or a respond to questions or that sort of thing. But I don't particularly want to put my life or that of my wife's life in jeopardy for in-person testimony.
BERMAN: What is your response to those, and you've seen the headlines today, and you've seen some of the coverage who are saying this is proof of a political witch-hunt?
CLAPPER: Well, I don't think it's any of such thing. Again, this program which is long existed, and the way it operates is designed to minimize the identity of U.S. persons who may be engaged in innocent activities. And it's a very valuable tool to know about what is going on in these engagements with valid foreign intelligence targets. And I can't stress that enough.
And that's the predicate for the operation of this -- of the program. And it's a very important capability for protecting the National Security of the country.
BERMAN: Why do you think the president and some Republican senators are raising it in this fashion then?
CLAPPER: Well, I think this is part of the narrative to create the impression that, there's something -- there was something untoward or improper or illegitimate going on here, and there was not. And as General Nakasone's note, explanatory note emphasizes that this was a legitimate process and the people that got these reports were authorized recipients and were authorized to request unmasking and that those procedures were followed.
BERMAN: Just to read that, each individual was an authorized recipient of the original report and the unmasking was approved through NSA's standard process which includes a review of the justification for the request. General James Clapper, thank you for walking us through this and helping us understand the reality. Appreciate it.
CLAPPER: Right, thanks John.
BERMAN: We'll be right back.
CAMEROTA: One of the many graduation traditions derailed by the coronavirus pandemic is the senior portrait. But the class of 2020 is capturing this moment in their own way.
CAMEROTA: Across the country, graduating seniors are making this moment their own. And creating a national gallery of pandemic senior portraits. A visual record of the times.
JONAH DEATON, GRADUATING STUDENT OF SOUTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY: We're living in something that is going to be talked about and remembered for years to come.
CAMEROTA: Jonah Deaton is part of the class of 2020, a new graduate of Southeastern University and a photographer. He shot these self portraits in his backyard in London, Kentucky.
DEATON: I wanted to do something to visually represent what I was feeling, and represented what all of the senior class of 2020 was going through at the time.
CAMEROTA: The photos quickly went viral.
DEATON: The pictures themselves we're able to show them, there is joy. You can find something good in every bad situation.
CAMEROTA: Portrait photographer Tiffany Smith hopes to spread a little joy of her own.
TIFFANY SMITH, PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHER: As a photographer, there is not much I can do to take this thing away, but I can donate my time and give them something to look forward to.
CAMEROTA: Smith offered free portrait sessions to the seniors at her local high school in Perryopolis, Pennsylvania, when word got out, the whole class wanted their turn in front of the camera.
SMITH: We are going to make it, they are taking it back whatever was robbed from them isn't completely gone.
CAMEROTA: Their moment captured in photos as unique as each graduate.
CAMEROTA: And be sure to tune in as the nation pays tribute to its 2020 high school graduates. In an hour long special, it is called graduate together, it's Saturday night starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN.
We have breaking news on a court ruling striking down the stay-at-home orders in one state. NEW DAY continues right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Wisconsin Supreme Court overturning the state's mandate to stay at home.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This will cause spikes across the state, there's no question about it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. Rick Bright is giving fair warning, without more action, the year 2020 will be the darkest Winter in modern history.
ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The idea of having treatments available to facilitate the re-entry of students would be a bit of a bridge too far.
TRUMP: To me, it's not an acceptable answer especially when it comes to schools.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump questioning the accuracy of the coronavirus death toll in the U.S.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The number of deaths we have right now is not the right number. It is higher.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: Good morning everyone, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.