Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

Did Trump Official's Loose Lips Start Russia Probe?; Interview With Former National Intelligence Director James Clapper; North Korea's Shifting Tone. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 02, 2018 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And we're back with more in the world lead today.

U.S. officials are warning today that there are indications North Korea's planning a ballistic missile test sometime soon. As that secret operation moves forward, North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, says he is open to talks with South Korea, a discussion with Seoul about sending North Korean athletes to the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

CNN's Barbara Starr joins me now live at the Pentagon.

And, Barbara, just because North Korea wants to talk about the Olympics in no way means Pyongyang is putting its nuclear ambitions aside, of course.


And, in fact, the Trump administration, I think, as you would expect, was very skeptical, and just perhaps a bit worried about this overture. The State Department spokesman had quite a bit to say about it earlier today.


HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: Kim Jong-un may be trying to drive a wedge of some sort between the two nations, between our nation and the Republic of Korea. I can assure you that that will not happen, that will not occur. We are very skeptical of Kim Jong- un's sincerity in sitting down and having talks.


STARR: And, you know, this whole notion of Kim very savvily perhaps driving a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea is going to be something of concern to the Trump administration, because it will become increasingly difficult to talk about defending South Korea if there is some sort of rapprochement between the North and the South.

But Kim is not all about extending the olive branch in those statements. He also went on to say he wants to see ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads be mass-produced for operational deployment. He threatened the U.S. again and he warned that he always has that nuclear button on his desk ready to use -- Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara, tell us more about South Korea saying that it has made an effort twice a day for the last two years to try to reach out to North Korea.

STARR: They have. There is a sort of emergency hot line, if you will, where they can call through the Truce Village at Panmunjom, and they said they have tried many, many times to reach out to the North Koreans, who have not answered since February of 2016, and that they tried again twice after this overture about the Olympics and this sort of olive branch, if you will, from Kim.

So it's going to be very interesting over the next few days. We know that North Korea is making preparations for another missile launch. Whether they carry through on that now that they have made the overture to the South remains to be seen. And if they do carry through and do conduct another missile test, how everyone in the region and how the Trump administration reacts will be something to watch for -- Jake.


TAPPER: All right. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us, thank you so much.

I want to bring in retired General James Clapper. He's a CNN national security analyst and served as the director of national intelligence under President Obama.

Today, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley dismissed South Korea's proposed talks with North Korea. Take a listen.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We won't take any of the talks seriously if they don't do something to ban all nuclear weapons in North Korea. We consider this to be a very reckless regime. We don't think we need a Band-Aid. We don't think we need to smile and take a picture. We think that we need to have them to stop nuclear weapons and they need to stop it now.


TAPPER: What do you think of that?

CLAPPER: Well, I think if what she said implies the North Koreans must denuclearize before there is any prospect for negotiation, I think that's -- that train left the station a long time ago.

The North Koreans are not going to denuclearize. I can well envision a scenario where they would juxtapose a missile test and as well agree to talk with the South Koreans, which I think would be a good thing, and I think would be also a good thing if North Koreans did send a delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

That would do a lot, I think, to relax some of the tensions. But I think as far as -- I think negotiation is the only way ahead here. There's to me there no other realistic option. And I think we for the moment have to accept the fact that the North Koreans have a nuclear capability. They are going to insist on proving it because, when they do talk, when they do negotiate, they want to do so from a position of strength.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about the protests in Iran. President Trump has very vocally applauded the demonstrators and condemned the regime.

Do you think it was a mistake at all for President Obama in 2009 and the Obama administration, which you were a member of, to not more immediately and more strongly praise the protesters back then?

CLAPPER: Well, you can go back and do the could have, would have, should haves here, but, of course, the downside of praising the demonstrators is, of course, that gives ammunition to the regime, who has a lot of resources and is pretty capable at suppressing such demonstrations in the streets, which I anticipate they will.

I think it's very interesting what's going on. Not sure we fully understand the causes of these demonstrations. I'm reading where at least some of them were in opposition to President Rouhani, who is seen as a moderate.

But I do think overall it reflects the frustration that exists among the populace in Iran. And it also reflects the fact that what some allege was this huge windfall as a result of the nuclear deal really hasn't happened in Iran.

TAPPER: I also want to ask you about Pakistan. We're seeing protests in Pakistan in reaction to President Trump's first tweet of the year. He said Pakistan's given the U.S. nothing but lies and deceit. In response, Pakistan summoned the U.S. ambassador to explain and condemned what President Trump said.

What do you make of this all and is President Trump correct about how Pakistan tries to play both sides?

CLAPPER: He has a point. He has a point.

And I know that is always a source of frustration with the Pakistanis in the last administration. But at the same time, you have to remember that Pakistan allows the United States -- or acquiesces in the United States doing certain things, not the least of which is the collection of intelligence on terrorists, particularly in Afghanistan.

So it's a double-edged sword here. It's true. The Pakistanis harbor Haqqani Network and the Haqqani Network has blood on its hands, is the cause of deaths and wounding of many Americans. And the Pakistanis have this relationship with them.

At the same time, it has to be recognized that Pakistan has lost a lot of its own citizens to terrorism. So it's a difficult relationship. But I do think the president's got a point. TAPPER: The president also today tweeted about Hillary Clinton's

close aide Huma Abedin, and suggested she didn't follow security protocols. He also wrote -- quote -- "Jail!" referring to Huma.

Then he wrote: "Deep state Justice Department must finally act. Also on Comey and others."

This comes after the president told "The New York Times" -- quote -- "I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department."

First of all, what's your response to him referring to the Justice Department as the deep state?

CLAPPER: Well, I think it's pretty reprehensible to use that phraseology in any event.

I guess who that refers to are long-serving civil servants, career civil servants, who are patriots and dedicated to the country. I would point out that when you take the oath of office as a civil servant, you swear to uphold the Constitution. That doesn't say anything about pledging loyalty to this president or any other.

And if not doing so is what constitutes being part of the deep state, I think that represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what this country is all about and what our government's all about. And I find that characterization disturbing.


TAPPER: What do you make of him calling for jail time for Huma Abedin, who as far as I know hasn't been charged with any crime?

CLAPPER: I think the whole issue of a president, this one or any other, reaching out or pointing the finger at somebody who ought to go to jail or be investigated, again, is beyond the pale. I just think that's not proper.

TAPPER: There was a story in "The New York Times," reporting that it was actually a conversation between a Trump foreign policy aide on the campaign trail, George Papadopoulos, and an Australian diplomat in which Papadopoulos told the diplomat that the Russians had offered dirt on Hillary Clinton.

And then when WikiLeaks posted some of the hacked e-mails from the DNC, I believe, Australia then called U.S. intelligence services and that, "The New York Times" says, is what prompted the FBI investigation. Is it possible that something like that would have prompted an entire investigation?

CLAPPER: Well, it's possible, but I -- and, again, I don't know the specifics here, because George Papadopoulos was not a name on my scope when I left now almost a year ago.

I think it would -- it probably was one of several stimulants for the investigation, but was not the only factor. TAPPER: All right. James Clapper, retired general, former DNI, thank

you so much. Appreciate your time. And happy new year, sir.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Jake. Same to you.

TAPPER: New information about the possible roots of the Russia investigation. Did a Trump campaign official's boozy conversation in a bar eventually lead to the Mueller probe?

We will discuss that next.


[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with our "POLITIC SLEAD" and a significant development in what we know about what helped spur the FBI's Russia probe into 2016 contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians known to U.S. intelligence. The New York Times now reporting that investigation was prompted in part by a tip from Australia after Trump campaign foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos went out drinking with an Australian diplomat and told him that the Russians had told him they had dirt on Hillary Clinton. After DNC e- mails started being published by WikiLeaks, Australia called U.S. intelligence with what they had heard. My panel is back with me.

Now, you heard Clapper say he didn't know, but he thinks it would be a number of events. Why this is interesting and significant is that President Trump and others are trying to say that the FBI is corrupt and they had this Steele dossier, which they say has been discredited, which is not entirely true, and it's all because of the Steele Dossier and this whole investigation is based on nonsense.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and I think what we've learned through really great reporting is that that is not true, that the President doesn't have all the facts and neither do we. And there's still so much that we don't know that the Mueller investigation and his team that they have. So, look, I think it's notable that still to this day folks are still trying to say that Papadopoulos is just some coffee boy that nobody really knew. He was clearly having very high-level conversations, clearly on the radar of all of the Trump people. He was in these meetings. He had access and he clearly -- he clearly felt emboldened to speak on behalf of the Trump team.

TAPPER: One thing that's clear is that the Australians reached out to U.S. intelligence to say, hey, this happened. This Trump campaign aide had -- was offered this by Russians or cutouts for Russians, but the Trump campaign, as far as we know, did not. They never alerted U.S. intelligence. They never alerted national security or law enforcement officials.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Right. It's just that was routine to have meetings with people claiming to represent at least fairly high up people in the Russian government, which is a little startling. The Australian thing, I mean, there could have been other foreign intelligence services that reached out to the CIA. The CIA can't investigate U.S. citizens, so they have to go to the FBI and that's how the FBI started investigating. I have enough confidence in the FBI that they wouldn't investigate something on a lark if it was just a -- and this was a senior Australian official. I guess the lesson to this is you shouldn't go out drinking with Australians. They can drink anyone -- in my limited experience, they're good at that.

TAPPER: And how believable is it, Susan, that Papadopoulos would say something like this to an Australian diplomat and not to anyone in the Trump campaign where what we know of Papadopoulos and truly anybody in Washington, D.C. is you get ahead by having information and sharing it with people and impressing them and getting promoted. I mean, it's hard to believe you would tell an Australian diplomat and not the people you work with.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: So your common sense to me says that's not the way it would work, although we don't actually know yet. You know, we're going to find out. And you know, it's going to be politically useful or politically important if it was this incident and not the dossier that prompted the FBI investigation. But what is truly important is what they find actually happened. And regardless of what started the investigation, it's how the investigation ends that's going to really matter.

TAPPER: Yes, of course, I mean, but what's going on is there is this investigation and the President and his allies in the media and the Congress are doing everything they can to change the subject or distract, to undermine the FBI, to undermine Mueller, to undermine Comey, to undermine CNN, to undermine, I mean, you know, NBC, I mean, or the New York Times, Washington Post, there was clearly this effort that no matter what comes of the Mueller investigation, assuming it's something, they'll be able to say, well, you can't trust any of those sources. And if it's nothing, obviously they don't have to worry about it.

SANDERS: Well, yes, but I also think that it's important to remember that the White House, the President is not the end-all-be-all. Congress is a co-equal branch of government. And I think we have seen you know, some Republicans toe the line for Donald Trump on this issue. But it will be very different if and when Mueller comes back with something. This it comes as a credible investigation, if he comes back with something, Congress will have -- will have to do something --

KRISTOL: I hope -- I hope you're right.

SANDERS: They're a co-equal branch of government.

KRISTOL: I mean, I hope you're right but I would say he did come back with something pretty big exactly one month ago, which is a guilty plea from the President's National Security Adviser for a month and someone who is very, very close to him in the campaign. You think that might have given Republicans on the Hill some pause in signing up in the effort to discredit -- attack the FBI and discredit --

[16:50:03] SANDERS: You think so? KRISTOL: Well, you would think so but it didn't. So I find that genuinely shocking. I would have said before Flynn, OK, you know, they're kind of -- Mueller has really shown that he can get that much. Manafort thing is kind of a different you could argue. After Flynn, you would think any Republican on the Hill would just out of kind of common sense and self-preservation would decide I am not -- I'm going to wait to see what we learn here, but they didn't. Isn't that really shocking?

SANDERS: So that actually didn't shock me -- it didn't shock me because he was indicted for lying. And so had they indicted him on something else, I think it would have made --

KRISTOL: Why did he feel he needed to lie?

SANDERS: We got to wait on the investigation. I don't know.

TAPPER: We're going to take a very quick break and then I'm going to come back to Susan, not only to comment on what we're talking about but also to really answer to our trivia question. Who was the last person to be elected governor of one state and then senator of another state? As Mitt Romney possibly might try to do. Stick around.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: We're back with my panel. First and foremost, Susan Page, settle this trivia question for us because there's discussion that Mitt Romney who was formerly Governor of Massachusetts, might run to Utah to run for the Senate seat that Orrin Hatch is retiring from. You're saying that he would not be the first person to be governor of one state and senator of another.

PAGE: He would not. of course, we all remember Sam Houston, Governor of Tennessee, moved to Texas, Senator from Texas. And by the way, also governor from Texas and President of the Republic of Texas. For the purposes of this, Mitt Romney would join some pretty -- some pretty high-ranking people there.

TAPPER: OK. Now back to the conversation at hand, what do you make of the President's attacks on the deep state and the efforts to discredit anything having to do with the investigation?

PAGE: I think that's exactly what it's about. I think it's pre- emptive so that you don't believe whatever the report comes back with. Now, if it comes back and clears him, they can crow about it and they should if it turns out there was nothing to this. But assuming there is a report that shows significant wrongdoing that shows collusion or obstruction, they have -- the President and the White House have laid the groundwork to say you can't trust any of it.

TAPPER: And Bill, you were saying before the break that you're kind of surprised that there are still Republicans carrying water for the administration, given the fact that General Flynn, his own National Security Adviser -- former National Security Adviser has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his official duties for President Trump. There do seem to be a number of Republicans in Congress who are focused on other issues other than the investigation. They're focused on whether or not the people investigating this matter are biased. A few months ago they were focused on the unmasking. It seems to really be anything that they can find that might be something other than the focus.

KRISTOL: Yes, you would think they might want to focus on, for example, what sanctions they can work with Democrats actually to put together to deter the Iranian regime from cracking down more than it would have to or help provide communications devices to the dissidents in Iran. They sort of had 48 hours this weekend where I was talking to a lot of people interested in Iran, some former Bush administration officials, think tank types, former Obama administration officials actually, and they were all like maybe we can put this stuff behind us for a while and unite as a party and the administration and Congress and actually worries. This is a moment. I mean, it would be huge if we could help the protesters in Iran in terms of American foreign policy. We don't have to relitigate the Iran, you know, what happened in 2009 or the nuclear deal in 2015. And we all talked ourselves into this about 10 of us talking on the phone over the weekend.

And then you get up this morning and Trump is attacking, you know, people individually on Twitter. And then you go look at some Congressmen and Senators as they triple back to town and they're mostly interested in relitigating every foolish or not so foolish fight they have had for the last year. It's a little worrisome. I'm still hopeful that maybe some people could do some good here for the country. Nikki Haley I think has stepped up. (INAUDIBLE) she asked to a U.N. Security Council Meeting tomorrow. I think if she were the lead for the administration on Iran, that would be great. And maybe some people in Congress -- there is stuff they can really do that would really make a difference in addition to wishing the demonstrators well. I would be nice if they can get together when they get back -- what is it -- this next week and I guess next week at the House and actually pass stuff in a bipartisan way that would actually help a little bit.

TAPPER: I remember real disappointment, I was a White House Correspondent at the -- under the Obama administration for ABC News and I remember real disappointment in the first couple of weeks when the Obama administration was so silent and all these protests were going on. There was a famous girl that have been killed that had been protesting, I think her name is Neda. And, you know, people were really upset. Now I understand you heard General Clapper say, you know, you don't want to give the appearance of being part of this, otherwise it helps the Iranian regime crackdown. But also they were hoping for an ability to open up dialogue and start these nuclear talks.

SANDERS: Yes, you know, so I think we do have to be cautious in the fact that you don't want to allow the Iranian government to paint the protesters who are -- who we should be lauding and applauding and definitely finding out ways to support for standing up against the government. We don't want them -- we don't want the government to paint these protesters as American stooges and people who are just tools of the American government because that will undermine any potential changes that could potentially happen. And the Iranian government has been really good about being able to, you know, prop up folks to use as tools if you will. And so we don't want to do that. But I do absolutely think that there are ways that we should be able to do something but Donald Trump's tweets don't help.

TAPPER: Is there anything that can be done, is there any way for Democrats and Republicans to come together to help the protesters?

PAGE: This is one of those circumstances where it would be -- it would be really useful to have more international multinational or group behind you, a group -- maybe an organization like the United Nations. But is it ironic that Nikki Haley would be going to the United Nations looking for some unity on this days after she and President Trump were denigrating the U.N.?

TAPPER: All right, great job everyone. Thank you so much for being here. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Be sure to tune in tonight for a special edition of THE LEAD at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, a whole new edition. I'm going to talk to former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Leon Panetta. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SIT ROOM." Thanks for watching.