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McCarthy Working to Prop up Candidates; David Priess is Interviewed about the Infamous Bin Laden Memo; Second Flight Arrives in Kabul. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired September 10, 2021 - 06:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: We have some new CNN reporting.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his leadership team are quietly helping some Republican incumbents who are being targeted by former President Trump. And that puts McCarthy, as you can imagine, directly in the crosshairs of Trump's base as he attempts to win back the majority in the House.

Our Capitol Hill reporter, Melanie Zanona, is joining us now on this story.

This is fascinating to see these kind of working at maybe cross purposes here.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, this is one of the rare instances where Kevin McCarthy is not totally aligned with Donald Trump. And that's because the House majority is potentially on the line.

A number of these impeachment Republicans who Trump has either already endorsed against or could endorse against represent critical swing districts. And so there's concern in the GOP that a candidate, backed by Trump, could win the primary who can't win the general.

So, behind the scenes, Kevin McCarthy and his team have been working to prevent that. They have raised $100,000 each for five of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach. McCarthy has also privately asked Trump to back off at least two of them, David Valadao and John Katko, who are both potentially venerable and also very close to McCarthy.

And even though the NRCC doesn't get involved in primaries, I've learned that NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer actually did attend a fundraiser last month for Jaime Herrera-Beutler as a special guest.

So, look, all of this is putting them in a real bind because the right is very upset that they're not getting behind Trump's revenge campaign. I interviewed one of the candidates, Joe Kent, who's running against Jaime Herrera-Beutler and was endorsed by Donald Trump. And here's what he had to say about McCarthy. He said, quote, McCarthy is talking out of one side of his mouth, saying that he supported the MAGA movement, Trump and President Trump's policies, but his money is support Jamie Herrera-Beutler and four of the other impeachment voters. It's just part of the GOP grift. So me and the rest of the base, we've kind of heard enough from them.

And I went on to ask, would you vote for McCarthy for speaker? And he said absolutely not. So you can see why this is becoming such a headache for Kevin McCarthy and how this revenge tour (ph) could really complicate the GOP's path back to the majority.

KEILAR: I do always find it interesting when they actually do have to vote for speaker. Sometimes it's not always consistent.


KEILAR: So, you know, we'll see if that even -- even comes to be.

OK, but what about people like Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney, who have really been these lightning rods in the Republican Party?

ZANONA: Well, of course, McCarthy is not going to lift a finger to help their re-election campaigns or protect them from Trump-backed challengers. But it's also important to point out that Cheney's seat, there's no risk of that falling into Democratic hands, where as Kinzinger could be redistricted out entirely.

And McCarthy did already boot Liz Cheney from leadership earlier this year, but he is coming under increasing pressure from the right to go even farther. I reported last week that conservatives are now calling on Kevin McCarthy to actually remove Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger from the GOP conference entirely. Matt Gaetz went on his YouTube channel this week and really lit into McCarthy for not going harder.


But, as of right now, our sources suggest that there's no interest for Kevin McCarthy to go that route.

KEILAR: It's so fascinating to see this kind of behind the scenes look.

ZANONA: Certainly.

KEILAR: Mel, thank you so much.

ZANONA: Thank you.

KEILAR: Bin Laden determined to strike in the U.S. I know that is the title of a memo that you have heard something about before. Turns out that actually we have some new details that there is some regret from the author of that memo.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, while other ex-presidents will visit memorial sites, President Trump spending part of 9/11 commenting on a boxing match. The details coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S. Those seven words appeared in a presidential daily brief more than a month before the September 11th attacks. Twenty years later, we are learning new details about that famous memo.


Former CIA Officer David Priess recently spoke with intelligence leaders at the time, as well as the lead author of the memo, and Priess tweeted this, she told me, that's the memo writer, that she regrets not hitting the main point harder. She said, I've thought a lot about how the article reads. It would have been better to say all these threats we have seen all summer could be in the United States.

And David Priess is joining us now to talk about this. He was the daily intelligence briefer to FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General John Ashcroft during the George W. Bush administration. He's also the author of "The President's Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America's Presidents."

As you point out, this is really the most famous one, David. And it's fascinating to hear this story really of regret. Tell us about that.

DAVID PRIESS, FORMER CIA OFFICER AND DAILY INTELLIGENCE BRIEFER: Yes, that whole summer I was in the counterterrorist center along with that author and a small group of others who were analyzing the threats to the United States from terrorist groups. And there was no doubt in anyone's mind that a major attack was coming. This was not a surprise. And there had been a series of pieces put in front of the president into the president's daily brief, which contains many other things as well, but we were certainly pushing the president on the idea that bin Laden is up to something. Al Qaeda is planning something.

There were upwards of 40 different pieces in the president's daily brief in the nine months or so before September 11th talking about bin Laden. And what the author of this piece is referring to there is the fact that this specific piece on August 6th, the one that the 9/11 Commission published and therefore it became famous, it speaks specifically bin Laden's intent to attack in the United States. And it does it with a little bit of an historical feel, what has bin Laden said, what historical intelligence reporting do we have suggesting this. But she didn't actually say outright, Mr. President, everything we've been telling you all summer about this heightened threat, it all could be about the United States itself.

Now, she's under no illusions that that would have necessarily made a difference. The president sees five or six different pieces every day in the president's daily brief. Many of which have threats from around the world. But it's one of the many things that many of us who were working there look back and say, you know, could we have done one thing more to help prevent these attacks.

KEILAR: It is fascinating to know that there were so many of these memos. We know of this one, right? It is the most famous. But it's important to remember there were dozens leading up to it and that President Bush did ask about it. It's not like, you know, he -- it wasn't on his radar, bin Laden and al Qaeda.

Can you just take us through how this PDB memo was assembled?

PRIESS: Sure. Well, there had been a lot of attention to al Qaeda, as I mentioned. And memories differ as to the exact genesis of this one. The president of the national security adviser at the time, Condi Rice, have suggested that the president himself asked for it. Others remember that the briefer, Michael Morell, who later became the acting director of the CIA, that Michael actually thought this would fill a gap in the president's knowledge.

Either way, the analyst gets the call saying, you have something to write tonight to get to the president tomorrow morning. And she pulls together from the CIA perspective, here are the threats related to the United States from bin Laden and here's what we can say about why we should take that threat seriously.

Now, the threat from a terrorist group or anything is really comprised of two parts. It's the threat and the opportunity. But the threat is broken down itself into the intent and the capability. You may really want to do something, but can you do it?

This piece was mostly about the intent. It was about the desire to attack. But she felt it would be incomplete if she didn't answer a little bit about that capability to strike in the U.S. So she reached out to her counterparts at the FBI to see, can we put something in here about the actual al Qaeda presence in the U.S.? And back then it was not an integrated intelligence community. The PDB was largely a CIA thing. So she got input from the FBI analysts, called the FBI analysts back on the phone to make sure it sounded OK, and that was it. It did not get vetted by senior FBI officials. Perhaps if it had been there might have been more granularity about what was known even then about al Qaeda presence in the U.S.

KEILAR: And with that recommendation of more integration, you know, with the 9/11 Commission, that's the hope that the process would bring today.

I do want to read part of this memo. It says clandestine foreign government and media reports indicate bin Laden, since 1997, has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the U.S.


Bin Laden implied in U.S. television interviews in 1997 and '98 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and bring the fighting to America.


KEILAR: So, you know, you point out, this has a historic feel, but at least when you're talking in broad terms that is speaking to the intent and the goal and the ultimate desire in the future of al Qaeda. PRIESS: You're -- you're exactly right. And thinking like a

policymaker would, like the president reading this, the natural question that comes, if I read something in August of 2001 that cites an interview from 1997, my first question is, well, is it still an active threat? How do we know he still intends to do this? And this article does go on to explain al Qaeda has a very long timeline for conducting attacks. The east Africa embassy bombings that happened in 1998, those had been planned for years and al Qaeda was not deterred by setbacks along the way.

So it's a way of telling the president, bin Laden has said this. We also have some secret intelligence reporting supporting that he wants to attack in the U.S. And don't be fooled by the fact that it hasn't happened yet because they have a long timeline, so the intent is almost certainly still there.

KEILAR: As a lot of people involved in the war in Afghanistan have reflected on, you know, what was achieved here in the last two decades? One of the things that you'll hear people involved in the architecture of it will say to justify is they'll say, look, we haven't had another 9/11-style attack. We haven't seen that on U.S. soil. That makes it a success.

I wonder what you think about that assessment and also about moving forward here and the possibility of avoiding something like that in the near and even long-term.

PRIESS: Yes, there -- there have no doubt been countless lives saved in the time since 9/11 due to enhanced counterterrorist efforts. And for anybody to say that the investment that we made as a country, that the men and women who served in Afghanistan, that -- that it was a waste, they haven't talked to the members of the armed forces who have actually held that Afghan child and helped them get to school. And they would not have been able to do that with the Taliban in power for those 20 years.

They also don't think about the attack in 2006 where multiple airliners were taken down with liquid explosives over the Atlantic Ocean and perhaps 1,500 people died. They don't remember that because it didn't happen because the lessons learned from 9/11 and the efforts in the counterterrorism realm helped prevent that and many, many other attacks.

Certainly there's been no other major attack in the United States. And I have to tell you, from being in the counterterrorist center before and after 9/11, I would not have predicted that. I would have predicted that with what we already knew about al Qaeda, what we already knew about their worldwide presence and their determination to attack and attack again, it seemed a near certainty that they would be able to pull off a major attack in the U.S. because they only need to get lucky once in a while to pull off an attack. They can fail 100 times. They only need one to work to get those headlines.

The fact that that didn't happen is a credit to the United States' military efforts overseas, to the United States' intelligence apparatus, to diplomats, to everyone who worked on the counterterrorist effort after 9/11. And we should not lose sight of that just because the experience in Afghanistan ended so badly.

KEILAR: Yes. It may be something to think of as we put our shampoo in little bottles when we travel.

David, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

PRIESS: Thanks, Brianna.

KEILAR: Join Jake Tapper, Wolf Blitzer and Paula Reid as we remember 9/11. Live coverage beginning tomorrow morning at 8.

And a surprising, new development in the investigation of the Oath Keepers who are facing charges in the insurrection. What the feds are now referencing to search a lawyer's phone.

BERMAN: Plus, we are following breaking news out of Afghanistan where a new potential evacuation flight has just landed. We're live on the ground in Kabul, next.



BERMAN: Breaking news.

CNN has just learned that a new passenger flight has just landed in Afghanistan.

CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson live on the ground in Kabul.

Nic, we saw a plane leave yesterday. What do we know about this new flight?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It looks like it might be a similar type of flight, John. The indications here that we have, not confirmations, and I'll say again, indications are that passengers will be on it flying out. We know that yesterday Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that he welcomed the Taliban facilitating the flight out yesterday. We know that there were more than 30 Americans on it, 43 Canadians, 13 Brits, Germans and Ukrainians as well.

We don't know any more details than what I've said of the indications. But what we do know is that Antony Blinken said yesterday that there was an expectation on the Taliban to continue to keep good on that commitment to allow out any Afghans and others that have paperwork processed to allow them to go to third countries to leave Afghanistan.

So, it appears that this is the next phase in that. The Qataris have said that the airport was 90 percent ready yesterday for the resumption of commercial flights.


The indications yesterday was -- were that they would repeat the process of the evacuation yesterday. So, I think right now we're just watching this space to see and find out and get those details of who gets on. Who gets on, how they're processed, all those things are very sensitive here right now. But the Qatari foreign minister yesterday praised the Taliban for facilitating this.

BERMAN: Nic Robertson, great to have you back in country to be our eyes and ears there. This is something that bears watching, the duration, who gets on, such key questions. Thank you.

President Biden targeting the unvaccinated with a series of sweeping, new actions. What are the public health and political implications of this?

KEILAR: Plus, vaccinations in France surged after the government instituted nationwide coronavirus health passes. Should the United States follow this model?