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tv   Erin Burnett Out Front  CNN  May 15, 2017 4:00pm-5:01pm PDT

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scramble to get this story in the right place. >> david, thanks very much. our special coverage will continue. we're waiting for the president's national security adviser h.r. mcmaster to walk out and make a statement. our live coverage continues with erin burnett "outfront" right now. this is cnn breaking news. >> good evening within i'm erin burnett. breaking news. the washington post reporting this evening that the president of the united states has reveal top secret classified information to russia. according rgd to the post trump shared the classified information with the rush hand ambassador and the russian minister last week. this information involved isis. the report states it jeopardized a critical source of intelligence and we're awaiting a briefing from the national security adviser at those cameras. deena powell saying tonight the story is false.
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the president only discussed the common threats that the country faces. the u.s. ambassador is known to be a top russian spy. sara murray begins our coverage outside the white house as we await h.r. mcmaster approaching the cameras and speaking to the press. the moment that happens we'll bring you there live. what are you learning? >> we're looking for a fuller explanation from the national security adviser on exactly what happened in this meeting between rump with russian's foreign minister and the russian ambassador. the washington post is reporting that the president shared classified information. the white house has been scrambling for the last hour or so to figure out how they're going to respond to this. they responded by putting a trio of statements out from some of their officials and they don't all say the same thing, erin. as you pointed out, there's a statement from deena powell that flat out says this story is false. but it's worth noting that the white house also put out
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statements from secretary of state rex tillerson as well as national security adviser h.r. mcmaster already. those statements don't go that far. they do not say the story is flat out false. let me read you what h.r. mcmaster said in niz statement. they reviewed common threats to include threats to aviation. at no time were any intelligence sources 0 are methods discussed and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly. not a flat out denial that this story is false. the washington post report, they broke this story about what the president said to these russian officials does not say that he discussed sources and methods but it does say that he disclosed classified information, clearly the kind of classified information that was very alarming when u.s. officials found out about it. and obviously we're waiting to get more details on this sort of discrepancy we're seeing in these statements when h.r.
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mcmaster starts speaking. >> the washington post reporter that broke the story will be with me in a moment. i want to go to the pentagon for the response. barbara starr is there. do we at this time no what is it that the president revealed? >> well according to the washington post, and i'll leave tight the reporter you have to explain further, some of this had to do with intelligence that perhaps led to the ban on laptops onboard passenger cabins in airplanes. it's quite interesting that that statement referenced aviation. you could talk about that with the russians certainly. nobody wants to see russian passenger liners crash due to some intelligence threat they may not be aware of. but the post article clearly suggesting that the president shared some of the most sensitive intelligence information about this and that that information came from another country. and that is a key problem. when you get intelligence from another country, you can't share
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it with somebody else. it's very sensitive. it's very confidential. there's no expectation that you're going to share it with another country. countries want to know that they can tell the u.s. things that they can tell the president, the cia and that that information will be kept confidential. because if it is shared, it puts their own people, this other country that we don't know who it is, it potentially puts their people, their intelligence gathering systems, all of that at risk on the ground in very dangerous places around the world. it jeopardizes their safety, their ability to operate and what happens is they don't want to share with the united states anymore. so there's going to be a real question here about whether some confidence has been shaken in intelligence services around the world. >> all right. barbara, thank you very much. i want to get to the reporter that broke the story, greg miller, national security reporter for the washington pogs. my panel is with me.
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bob baer is here, mark preston, alan dhers wits. let me start with you so you can explain. you're going to share as much as you can but not enough to put lives at risk if that is what you're trying to do. you're not going to say the city from where this intelligence op ty was able to penetrate top level os f isis to try to protect lives. how top specific and specific was this information? >> as your other reporter summarized, this was really sensitive information about an ongoing and unfolding islamic state terror plot that's caused a great deal of concern among counterterrorism officials. and in a conversation with the russian foreign minister and ambassador, trump is going into details of what the united states knows about this unfolding plot, how the islamic state is pursuing it, trying to put it together, trying to pull
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it off. and at the same time trying to talk about some of the measures that the united states is taking to try to deal with it. and this is problematic mainly because this is information that the united states has mainly if not exclusively because of a foreign partner providing it that has some access to the islamic state. and so this wasn't intel that the united states was authorized to share, and especially not authorized to share with russia. >> and i want to read to you, greg, because this goes to the heart of what you're reporting, two statements from the white house tonight, one of which came from the secretary of state, rex tillerson say this, drurg president trump's meeting with foreign minister lavrov a broad range of subjects were discussed. among these counter terrorism. during that the nature of specific threats were discussed but they did not discuss sources, methods or military operations. in your report you're saying that while the sources and the
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methods may not have been discussed, but the information that the president shared they would be easily ascertainable, right? >> in fact our story says clearly that the president did not discuss -- did not name this partner, the source of this intelligence. >> the country. >> did not talk about the particular collection capability that was responsible for this intelligence but was providing details that came because of this intelligence stream. and the worry among a lot of the security officials that we talked to was russia, which has very capable intelligence services of its own, could try to reverse engineer this. could try to figure out what is this source that the united states has, who is the ally that the united states is depending on, where does this stuff come from. trump's reference to a specific city may have made that even easier. that's what the kpconcern is about. >> there's one sentence in your story, you write, moscow would be keenly interested in identifying that source and possibly disrupting it. >> that's right.
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so the relationship with russia and syria is so problematic, right, i mean on the one hand the united states and russia both regard the islamic state as a threat and want to deal with that threat and probably collaborate or cooperate to some degree in sharing information that might protect russians or aericans from attack. >> greg i interrupt just to listen to h.r. mcmaster. everyone, here he is. >> there's nothing that the president takes more seriously than the security of the american people. the story that came out tonight as reported is false. the president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries including threats to civil aviation. at no time, at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed. and the president did not discuss any military operations that were not already publicly known. two other senior officials who were present, including the secretary of state, remember the meeting the same way and have
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said so. they're on the record and their accounts should outway the other sources. i was in the room. it didn't happen. thanks everybody. thank you. >> so greg, let me just go to you first, okay, because i want to give you a chance. i want to make it clear. he's saying your story is false. but i want to be loud and clear. your story does not say sources and methods were disclosed. it says a specific plot was discuss discussed. am i correct? >> i think that's correct. the white house is playing word games to try to blunt the impact of this story, nor do any of the white house officials who are denouncing this story, nor have any of them offer explanation that that was above board and not problematic, why did the national security council feel it was necessary to contact the cia director to give them a head's up on what trump told the
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russians. >> you stand by the story, every word of it. he says it's false, you say no. >> absolutely. >> i want to go to evan perez. >> yeah, erin. i got to tell you. the words that h.r. mcmaster just spoke really does not contradict greg's story in the washington post report. we know from experience because we reported back on march 31st about the intelligence that was behind the laptop ban and we spent a couple of days doing conference calls with the u.s. intelligence agencies and they were specifically concerned about the aspects that greg was pointing out in the story, the things that greg allegedly toll the officials in the oval office there during the meeting are dpaktly the things that we were asked to keep out of the story because we were told that if we reported those things it would tell the enemy about the sources and methods, the way in which the u.s. had gathered this information. and its allies had gathered this
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information. so really, what we're talking about is you don't necessarily need to say, you know -- >> this is how we got it, yeah. >> this is how we got it. but just the use of certain words and certain aspects, details of the story, we were told that we should hold back and we did because we felt there was no interest for us to help the enemy and help terrorist organizations get through the security system here in the united states or around the world. so we held back a lot of those details and now apparently, according to greg's reporting, it appears that the president just kind of let that out in his meeting with the russian officials. >> so, greg, let me ask you in terms of the detail. you said it was a looming threat that he was giving details about. could you give me a little more information? he was walking through all sort of scenarios related to this laptop bomb. what was it that he was sharing? >> yeah. i want to be clear. the sources that we talked to were really worried about --
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they didn't want to compound the problem here so they were with holdsing details from us and we're withholding further details from our stories at the request of officials that we talked to today. >> just such as you're withholding the name of the city so ie sis wouldn't be able to kw that someone infiltrated their top levels. >> correct. >> go ahead. >> we're withholding some of that information. but we know more about what trump talked about in the session and the way it was described to us is he was laying out sort of details about the capability here. how the islamic state is pursuing this plot, how it's going to be developing it, what it's putting in place to try to pull it off, talking about situations in which you might have a greater impact or lesser impact under which circumstances. if it happened in this case, we could expect a big big problem, many casualties possibly or in other cases ith moo might be m muted. this is coming from a large
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intelligence stream. >> from your reporting, did the president have any idea what he was doing? he is in a meeting with the foreign minister of russia and sergey kislyak, the ambassador, who we have reported to be a russian spy and a top russian recruiter of spies in this country. any knowledge that the president knowing he was sharing this information that was so very be tent? >> well, i think there's a couple of things there. a couple of my colleagues described this meeting with kislyak and lavrov as inopportune at lebest. it's one day after he fired the fbi director. trump admitting that's part of his frustration. and then he's greeting the russian ambassador and foreign minister at the white house and having this lengthy conversation with them. it's problematic on so many levels. other officials that we talked to, and we include this in the story as well, express frustration with a lack of
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discipline for the president. so they prepare pages of talking points, trying to prepare him going into meeting like this, this is what we need to discuss, this is what you can expect them to raise. trump insisted that those be boiled down to a single page of bullet points that he can digest and even strays from those. >> and you report that some of this is bragging? >> yeah. the white house didn't dispute that. he launches into this by saying i got the best intel, get great briefings all day. wraps it up saying, can you believe the world we live? >> the bottom line seems to be that they're saying that your story is false. but they're saying you're saying something you're not saying at all. that's the conclusion i'm reaching here tharchlts's. >> that's a classic employ. >> here's the reality. greg's reporting would indicate that what h.r. mcmaster just said, this story is false, what
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deena powell is saying, those two statements are untrue. >> his statement is insufficient. >> h.r. mcmaster? >> h.r. mcmaster. the washington post story says that the president revealed classified information resulting from a secret source not that he revealed who the secret source is. oftentimes you can make conclusions about what the source is based on where it's coming from, to reverse engineer it. that's the point i would make. second point i would make is if the white house demonstrated credibility on any intelligence issue or any of the other controversy that have come out -- >> in terms of trusting the statements that come out -- >> from the white house podium or senior officials, you might be inclined to give this statement more. i'm stating an obvious fact. you might be incluined to give this statement more credibility than it was. i've been speaking to intelligence officials, current and former as the ripples of
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this go out. they make three points to me. one, it's classified information. two, revealed to a prime ad r adversary of the united states, russia. and three, it gets to a sensitive relationship. these relationships are difficult to build. >> this country that has agents' lives at this moment in the middle of isis. >> and we have relationships that our intelligence sharing that are public, france, germany, et cetera, the five i, the then we have others more sensitive, more uncomfortable rather for those involved. the final point i would make is this. if this relates to the laptop ban and there's a lot -- we're talking about aviation risks, even mcmaster referenced aviation risk. >> yes. >> let me just tell you. this is an extremely hot threat right now in the view of u.s. intelligence and counter terror. there is a debate going on right now about banning laptops, not
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just from these eight muslim majority countries but from europe and even talk on u.s. airlines. this is a clear and present danger. you're talking about the most urgent terror threat to the u.s. >> so greg, let me ask you, from the people you spoke to, when you were first told -- greg is not there? okay. sorry, as we get him back, let me go to you juliet and ask this question. we understand that the president walked through various scenarios. he was saying some with mass casualties when he was talking about this laptop bomb, the information that he had. does this information that he shared because he shared it with the russians put lives at risk? lives of the agents whose lives are on the line infiltrating isis and lives of regular civilians who could be on an airplane that because this source somehow ends up being put of commission are now at greater risk? >> yes. the short answer is yes. you know, we have a tendency to
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say it was dangerous what the president did or it could risk lives. this literally was disclosed in the middle of one of the most serious intelligence debates going on in government right now. we've heard pieces of it regarding the laptop ban. but it regards the extent to which isis -- and to be honest until this story i didn't it was isis that we were talking about. there were questions as to whether there were other terrorist groups trying to do this. to the extent that isis had the capability to get a laptop bomb near the skin of an airplane in the air and kill hundreds of people. we have a limited laptop ban going on now. there were rumors last year that we reported on cnn that that would be extended to europe. it was sort of put on hold. no one knew why. so this is, this is not some, you know, historic issue. this is the headlines and the washington post story seems remarkably legitimate and timely at this stage. >> bob baer, how serious is
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this? >> it's extremely serious, as juliet said. these bombs are chemical explosions, they can reach full detonation with a suicide bomber on an airplane. you can take down any airplane. there's in way to detect them with x-rays. this is an innovation that the islamic state has taken beyond our wildest imagination. and the only way we can actually stop these plots is to keep running sources inside the islamic state. and the president, by revealing this to the russians has lost control of this information. it's going to the syrians. it's going to go to the iranians. russia now lies in the ability to protect that source, whoever he is, wherever he is. has been seriously undermined. and i can toll you this. if a cia officer had revealed this information to the russians, he would be fired instantly. >> fired instantly. that will not happen to the president of the united states because he can declassify whatever he wants but that
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doesn't change the seriousness or perhaps lack of judgment that was just shown. >> this is worse than criminal. it's not criminal because the president can declassify. it doesn't violate the espionage law because it says that material that basically shouldn't have gotten to another side. he's safe from criminal investigation. he's probably safe from impea impeachme impeachment. but the worst case scenario is this is jordanian intelligence or israelian intelligence, they've got a guy who for years is on the inside, this guy is going to get killed. the information gets to hezbollah, iran, all of the u.s.'s enemies. we learned that the leak didn't come from russia. we learned that the leak came from an american source. why? here's what he says. he says the source didn't want to compound the problem. he's telling us he may not have wanted to, but he's telling us something that's important.
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that the leak came from an american source. there's an american intelligence source who is loyal to the united states who feels that the president did something so bad that he is prepared to go to the "washington post" and perhaps in some ways compound the problem because he thinks on balance he has an obligation to do that. >> some people watching may say this is compounding the problem. okay. the washington post is refraining the city for example in where this intelligence operative may have penetrated isis. isis can figure it out. russia can figure it out. that's the whole point of the story. what is the balance that the person leaking thought was important to share. >> there are lives at risk here. >> because from this person's point of view whether we know or not, the russians are going to tell the iranians, isis is going to know and all of these lives could be at risk any way. >> and the value of the relationship -- this is swe intelligence related to the
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great ers terror threat to the u.s. this another point i would make. does this damage the president? what is the risk to the president? it seems to be a clear and present risk to lives here. senator blumenthal, a member of the senate intelligence committee made that very point. that's to a key intelligent relationship and two, to the response to and prevention of the most immediate terror threat. >> so senator blumenthal is going to be with us in a couple of moments. let me ask you about the questions this raises. does this raise questions about the president's competence? i go to the washington post report where greg wrote and quoted a former official saying, does he understand what's classified and what's not? that's what worries me. >> yeah. well let me put it in two different veins. the geopolitical vein right now, you're looking at about 12:23 a.m. in london. you're looking at 2:23 in tel aviv. the think the head of those intelligence agencies, those
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countries who are big allies of the united states have not been roused from their beds to be told what is going on right now as we speak in d.c. we'd be foolish. and that comes to the question of competency and trust. can they trust, as jim sciutto was saying, can they trust giving president trump information. i think it's telling when you look at the electoral political fallout, you have paul ryan, the speaker of the house saying he wants to get a full account of the facts from the administration. at the same time you're not seeing any senators, any republicans who are rushing to the defense of donald trump. they're being a little more careful and taking a step back. i they's very telling. >> part of the issue is they're coming out saying that the story is false. but what they're saying is false isn't what the washington post reported. and what we've seen in their rendition of what happened with jim comey what they said ended up being completely untrue. people don't know whether to trust them or whether they're
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lying. >> there are been too many times in the past that the republicans have gone out on a limb and defended him. this is very, very serious. >> nobody will defend the president on this. they may say it's not true but if it's true he will get no defense on this. >> in the world of counterterrorism, when a terrorist organization thinks that there's someone near them who may know something -- first of all, that person who is a human asset getting close to isis, that person is likely dead. i'm being blunt here. so what happens when a terroristing organization thinks it's been compromised? one is they postpone what they're planning, which would be great, or they speed it up. all of our concern about what's goings on here is there is a tendency when an organization is compromised that they actually move faster to avoid detection.
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and so we are probably entering a more heightened sort of concerned time because of the fact that we now know but the russians knew a couple of days ago that someone or something, some intelligence was exploited. >> bob baer, what do you make of the point that july yiet is theying? that's what we saw in the brussels attacks at the airport. they thought they were on to them and they did it before they were ready. that is what we've seen happen before. the speedup. >> well, juliette is right. but more than that as a former case officer at the central intelligence agency getting a source inside the islamic state is almost impossible. we rely on our allies whether it's saudi arabia, jordan, israel to get inside these groups. they're closer. this is part of their world. to lose these sources, to lose these liaison services is a ka
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tast catastrophe. and breaches like this will get americans killed eventually. no better way to put it. >> we may have to ban all laptops starting tomorrow. this is an emergency. >> and to be clear, that would only slightly minimize the risk, right? it certainly doesn't take it away, what we're talking about here with a plane. >> and you have to address cargo issues as well. we know there's a debate under way about this very risk, about whether they extend to other flights and possibly to the u.s. eni think the professor is correct that if it's out there, you can't think about it. right? you might have to respond. >> so i just want to as we go to evan here, to give everyone a sense of the context here. donald trump or his campaign, right, is under investigation for possible collusion with the russians during the campaign. this meeting without question happened with one of the russians involved in the conversation, the ambassador from russian believed to be a
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top spy and spy recruiter for the elections. here is what trump said during the election. crooked hillary clinton were extremely careless in their hand ing of classified information. not fit. if february of this year the president, the real scandal here is that the classified information is given out by intelligence like candy. very un-american. and yet it is the president of the united states who has, it seems from this washington report, done just that. >> that's right. i got to tell you, the words that juliette just spoke, exactly the words that we heard from the intelligence agencies before we did our story back on march 31st. we heard exactly the same thing. if we said certain bits of information, certain details of what we knew from the intelligence, that the terrorists could either, a, kill people who were inside who they detected or suspected were spies or -- and, you know, they would simply speed up plots they had
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in mind or change their tactics which would make it much more difficult for us, the u.s. and the ally to figure out what they're up to. this is the danger described to us. it was pretty stark over a couple of days that we were on the phone with intelligence agencies. they were trying to get us to make sure that we did not reveal these specific details that according to the post the president has reveal. >> it's a serious mistake to conflate this with the issue of whether there were conversations before -- the whole russian thing, it's a serious mistake to conflate that. the republicans will make that an arguing point. i think you to forget about that and focus only on the national security threat. this didn't happen because there were meetings between the campaign and between the russians. >> no. >> so put that aside. get that off of agenda, focus only on the national security. >> the point you're making is unwitting collusion. >> it's collusion of a type if it turns out to be true because you're sharing with an adversary extremely sensitive information
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that should not be shared. >> so what we have so far -- stay with me. i want to make the point. we have a statement from rex tillerson that came from the white house, we have h.r. mcmaster going to cameras saying the story is false, no sources and methods were shared and we have deena powell saying the same thing. to be clear that does not mean the story is false. the story says he shared top secret information. it does not say he shared the sources. it would be easy to obtain them from the information. h.r. mcmaster saying the exact same that the secretary of state put out in a statement, not taking a single question. i want to go to michelle kosinski. you've seen that statement from the secretary of state and you have some unbelievable information. that statement from the secretary of state is a surprise to the state department? >> well a number of senior state department officials i talked to night, first of all, they were
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not all aware of the news when it broke. that tells us one thing. there was no preliminary damage control going out wide to all senior officials here at the state department. that's not to say some didn't know about it. but those i spoke to, a few didn't know that the news had broken when it did. then the statement that came from the white house -- i mean the officials i spoke to weren't sure what to say at that moment. later when i spoke to other senior officials, they didn't know that their own secretary of state had already put out a statement and that it came from the white house. two of those officials we notified about that statement. this is shyly unusual. what one of them said to me is this was surprising. another called it odd. one senior official told us that they were scrambling to try to first figure out what countries were involved. not only in this information, the partners that could have
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been involved in talking about the threat itself but also the allies where there now has to be damage control. they were not aware that this statement had even gone out as they were trying to asser stain what are the countries that they handled could have been affected by this down the road. that's the state of things right now. >> i just wanted to jump in for a second. stay with us. i want to go to john kirby who you of course know and our viewers know. he was the state department spokesman, also spokesman for the pentagon. john, let me give you a chance to respond here to michelle's reporting. she was the one who told two senior state department officials that a statement had come out from the secretary of state. so the state department didn't know about it. it came from the white house. how shocked are you? >> i'm stunned. i mean i think it just speak to a level of dysfunction at the state department in terms of at least the communications effort that i think is truly
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remarkable. i can't remember a single time -- and i worked for two secretaries of defense as well as a secretary of state where the principal, the cabinet official put out a statement, a public statement about something this big where the communications staff and the staff in general wasn't aware, wasn't tracking it, wasn't helping edit it, wasn't pushing it out. >> does it open the door to the fact of whether the secretary of state even knew? >> i think it probably -- i think that's an inescapable potential conclusion, yes. >> so on that note, let me just ask you. we don't know whether he knew or didn't know. no one at the state department seemed to know. what he said matches what h.r. mcmaster said and what deena powell said. the white house is trying to circle the wagons. senator corker has just came out and spoken, chairman of the foreign relations committee and he's said they're in a downward
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spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with what's happening. a pretty strong statement and a stunning statement from someone who had been rather an ally of this pous. >> you might expect to hear from a democrat but not a senior republican who has been sparing in his criticism of the trump administration through the campaign and now. >> this is the most sirius charge ever made against a sitting president. let's not minimize it. comey is in the wastebasket of history. everything else is off the table. this is the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president of the united states. let's not underestimate it. >> so what does that mean, though? you're saying this is the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president and yet it's not control. >> it's not control. >> not impeachable but more serious than things that were? >> absolutely right. >> what's impeachable is up to the congress. >> high crimes and misdemeanors, this doesn't fit into that category but something has to be done. and everything else should be put on hold and everything
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should focus on this. >> i want you to stay with me to give you a chance to react. i want to go to richard blumenthal. i don't know if you just heard what allen durs wits was saying, but he believes this is the most serious charge against a sitting president in american history. your response. >> what we know is it is a very very sirius threat to our national security and safety and that's why my hope is that republicans, democrats will come together in favor of an independent investigation through a special prosecutor and through an independent commission so that we can follow the facts wherever they lead and the appropriate remedy adopted. make no mistake, this kind of serious grave threat really requires a national response, putting country above politics. that's what i hope we'll be seeing. >> what needs to happen right
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now, though, senator? oviously the nature of what we're discussing right now is a president, an imminent threat to civilians, american and other in aviation. that's what we're talking about. so investigation, i hear you on that. but what needs to happen right snow. >> what needs to happen is for a full explanation from president trump. he owes the american people an explanation, not just a flat denial, which is really a nondenial that fails to address the details of this story. remember, one of the most telling details here is that the white house itself deleted from the official record some of the details of the disclosure so that there would not be peril to lives and sources and betrayal of allies nap's really what's at stake here. so what needs to happen is the truth needs to be uncovered and anyone responsible for this violation of the norms, if not the law of intelligence, has to be held accountable.
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>> your colleague senator corker, i just quoted him a moment ago just said, talking about the white house, quote, they're in a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with what's happening. how significant is that statement from senator corker? >> that is profoundly significant because it reflects the conflicting and confusing statements which is why the white house now has to provide a full explanation to the american people. people are going to be alarmed, astonished, appalled by the recklessness and carelessness at best of this kind of talk with the russians. remember, there's a common thread here. the russian interference with our elections, the foundation of our democracy an existential threat to our nation and potential collusion between trump associates if not the president himself and those russians. his firing of director comey when he was engaged in an investigation of that potential
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collusion. and then literally a day later this kind of disclosure. >> i think senator blumenthal is making a serious mistake in politicizing this issue. we should not be talking about these other issues. we should focus only on this threat. that's what the republicans and democrats should agree. democrats should not be trying to take political advantage of this. this should be a national security issue pure and simple in isolation of everything else that went through. >> but let me put this question to you, senator. do you worry that mixing this with the broader russian investigation is a mistake, that this is something more clear and present and specific to national security? >> the immediate focus should be on this threat to our national security and safety, no question about it. >> and senator before you go, let me ask you. i know last week you were talking about the comey situation you were saying this could lead down the road to impeachment but we weren't anywhere near that yet. i'm paraphrasing you.
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does this breaking news tonight change your view on that? >> the focus now should be on these facts, on an explanation from the president, which he owes the american people, on an inquiry and investigation into this potential betrayal of confidential information and risking american lives and possibly sources that may have provided this kind of information. that threat to our national security and safety has to be the focus right now. and i agree. it is an immediate threat that has to be addressed. >> i thank you. my panel is with me. we're going to take a quick break. president trump potential lly disclosing highly confidential information with the russians that could put others at risk. we'll be right back. at school.
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welcome back. as we follow the breaking news, you see the white house, president trump there in the oval office revealing highly classified information to top russian officials according to the "washington post." that report says that trump shared the classified information with the russian ambassador and the russian foreign minister at the white house last week. national security adviser h.r. mcmaster moments ago attempted to shoot down the story. >> there's nothing that the president takes more seriously than the security of the
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american people. the store trithat came out tonight as reported is false. i was in the room. it didn't happen. >> to be clear, what he says is false is that they didn't reveal sources and methods which the washington post story does not report happen. it reported that trump shared a lot of classified information about the aviation threat with laptop bombs to the united states civilian aircraft which the report says would make it easy for the russian to figure out who the sources were. jeff zeleny is out front at the white house. jeff, we saw that statement by h.r. mcmaster then he did not take a single question. looks like he was reading off of his phone with that brief statement. didn't take a single question and we're not going to hear more tonight? >> reporter: we're not. i'm told by a top official here that that is it tonight. no more explanation of these rising questions about this report. i was standing just a few feet away from the national security adviser when he made that statement. he was reading it word for word.
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carefully scripted. this reminds me of a week ago when we were standing here talking about the firing of fbi director james comey. the white house said we here not going to talk about it anthe president started watching television and his aides started explaining. but i think sending the national security adviser out they're trying to get ahead of this. but the issue is vis-a-vis a week ago, the credibility of the white house has eroded week by week. so the h.r. mcmaster, the national security adviser, he of course is a man of stature, no question but can he be believe. you're seeing the reaction on capitol hill. i've never seen the chairman of the foreign relations committee, senator bob corker. he watches his words very carefully. this is a different moment right now. right now the senior adviser officials are trying to reach out to capitol hill to urge the
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republicans to dial back their outrage. >> thank you. the panel is back with me. mark preston, your response to what jeff is reporting, that they want to quote unquote get ahead of it. that's an absurd thing to say considering the situation we're in. get ahead of it coming out with two statements that say absolutely nothing. the department of state doesn't know the statement is put out and then say nothing the rest of the night? that's getting ahead of it? >> we have often seen this in this white house where you have top aides who are scrambling to try to make sense of what president trump has decided to do. erin, this was supposed to be a big week for the trump administration. this is their first foreign trip. he's going over to saudi arabia, going to israel. he's going to stop at the vatican. he's going to the g-7 summit. he's going to nato. this is a week they're supposed to be preparing for this trip for him to go over, meet with the world leaders and explain what america's role is going to
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be moving forward when we talk about world politics in general and right now they are going into damage control in a way that is very very puzzling if not frustrating. again we have to go back, what our world leaders around the country saying to themselves when it comes to talking to donald trump about sensitive information. >> well and john kirby, from your perspective here when you look at the nonstatements frankly that we've gotten with h.r. mcmaster coming to the cameras, we're left with the reality that there are intelligence officials who felt this was of significant national security concern to leak it. okay. and my interpretation is that means it's going to keep leaking or it's going to leak to more people, right? it's not going to stop and go away tonight because they're not talking about it. >> no. i think that's right, erin. i think that your read is perfect. it seems to be where the source of this came from. and let's not forget, this is the same commander in chief who's alienated the intelligence community, almost all 17 agencies. he's made no effort to bridge
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the gap, bridge that divide with them. in the trump white house they have to think that not only is this story certainly by no means over anytime soon, but there could be more coming. >> bob baer in terms of the story again for those looking for details, the washington post reporting that trump went off script, began describing details about the islamic state terrorist threat, going through various scenarios with casualty counts among other things. what would be the motive, bob, for someone in the intelligence committee to share this as they did? >> with the washington post? >> yes. >> because they don't trust the president anymore. it's clear. if you're sitting out at langley and you have a sensitive source, can you trust the president with those details? normally you tell the president everything and he's got the sense not to pass it on to a foreign government, a hostile government. so is if you're sitting out at
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langley or at the fbi, you're saying should we give that to the president. and that breakdown of confidence is very damaging to the united states when you can't trust your own president. is he fit to, you know, to be given secrets. and clearly the intelligence community is saying no. >> and evan, let's be clear here. the washington post, we're being told, the white house saying this isn't true. but the washington post reporting that right after the meeting some in the room felt sufficiently concerned about what the president had done that they themselves, people on the president's team called the cia and the national sutter agency to alert them to the fact that the president had done this. >> right. and you could see from the statement that h.r. mcmaster read there from outside the white house, it was a narrowly worded statement. it basically said the story as reported is false. so that tells you a lot. it tells owe that they know that they have a real problem here. and the bigger problem goes back to the russia issue. it goes back to the fact that the president does not see
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russia as an adversary. he sees russia the way he saw it back during the campaign, as a country that the united states should be friends with, should be cooperating with against isis. and nobody disagrees with that. but the russians have other agendas. they want to prop up the regime in damascus, the assad regime which the united states doesn't agree with. that's the dang here. by revealing bits of information to tell the russians that we have certain sources, it could help the russians figure that out. >> and it's important here, too, because it's the russians. it shouldn't matter who was in the room. but i think it bears mentioning that one of the people in the room was sergey kislyak, at the center of a lot of the russian discussions. hes's meeting with sessions which is not disclosed. which is why sessions had to recuse himself from anything regarding russia. michael flynn lying about the meeting is why michael flynn lost his job. sergey kislyak involved to be a
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russian recruiter and spy. this is one of the people with whom the president of the united states shared this information with. >> every piece of the story shows such carelessness for the hard work of the people trying to protect the american public. it's jaw dropping at this stage. bob and john will agree with this. when you get your security clearance. when you go through the process, you're in government, the biggest concern of those who are telling you, you know, to keep secrets as pillow talk, saying you cannot tell your spouse. whatever you're doing, you cannot tell your spouse because loose lips and you don't want to tell your spouse because there's a certain it's not a perfect analogy, but there is a sense that trump does not view the russians as the enemy, but as a partner. that's the best of naivete.
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>> i should say tonight, the spokesman for the embassy are not denying it, they're just saying no comment. the president has the ability to declassify anything he wants, hence this is more criminal. you say it's not that simple. >> it's not that simple. there's a process for declassifying information, you talk to your intelligence agencies before you do it. president reagan declassified the documents to show that russia shot down the plane in 1983. that was a process, he said i'm going to do this for strategic reasons, it doesn't automatically become classified, by past practice. it's not that the president can say whatever he wants about classified information, at least as it's been cone by presidents up to this point.
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>> and this is a distinction that may end up making a very big difference. our breaking news coverage continues, we will be right back.
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more on the breaking news at this moment. according to "the washington post," president trump shared highly classified information with the russian ambassador and the russian foreign minister at the white house last week. up next is our panel, jeff, let me give you a chance to respond here, republican senator susan collins has just come out and said can we have a crisis free day? that's all i'm asking. bob corker, obviously the chairman of the foreign relations committee, this is a stunning statement, he says they are in a downward spiral right now referring to the white house and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that's happening. is it getting beyond their control, jeff? >> no, it's not. and if i could just speak up for
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the opposition, and i should emphasize, i have spoken to no one in the white house, this is just me sitting here and watching your show and reading the "washington post." one of the things that struck me immediately about that story, in the very first sentence, they said according to former administration officials. as i understand this story, there were three officials, the secretary of state, the national security advisor and someone else from the nfc staff. that's it. how in the world would a former official -- >> it says president trump revealed highly classified information to the russian foreign minister and ambassador in a meeting last week, according to former and current fi officials. >> how do former firms know what the heck went on in that room? how does that happen, that gets to the question of leaks, that gets back to mike morrell, the
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obama acting cia director, who said there were leaks coming from inside the intelligence agency. my point is, people are doing this to embarrass the president. instead of going to the white house and saying, hey, this was a problem, we need to deal with it. what they did is go to "the washington post." the story about the deputy attorney general threatening resign, and when they said that former director comey had asked for more resources for the russian investigation, that wasn't true either. there is a credibility problem and we need to get this all out to balance a bit. >> jeff, the leaker here is the president. the president told our adversaries -- excuse me, i let you go. the president told our adversaries some of our most
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precious secrets given to us by some of our closest allies, this president came into office, attacking the intelligence community. get this timeline, on that 9, he fired the fbi director. the next day, he meets with the russians, the very people who helped tilt the election in his favor and he gives them classified information. if i could amend senator corker's statement for just a moment, they are not in a downward spiral, we are, this president has put our entire company on a downward spiral. >> this raises more questions among members of congress who have been caught unaware again for the second time in how many days? with information that has large consequences for the country and for the congress and for holding
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the president accountable. >> thank you very much jackie, paul, jeffrey, i appreciate all of your time. our breaking news coverage of this story continues right now with anderson cooper and "a.c. 360." good evening, we begin tonight with breaking news with a striking bottom line, according to "the washington post" and the "new york times," the president of the united states revealed highly classified information to in a meeting with russian ambassador and the russian foreign minister after the firing of james comey. now the post broke the story, they're reporting suggests that when the president revealed this intelligence, reportedly gathered by an ally, and not to be shared with other countries, he was boasting to the russians about what he had. as you might imagine, this is touching off a